Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

All I Want For New Year’s…

Posted on | January 2, 2012 | 12 Comments

is my groove back.

Brianna started it.  About a week ago she got a bad scratch on her teat.  4 inches long, all the way to the orifice.  She had to be milked as she is a heavy producer and risked mastitis without it.  Also, she and Carmen are our only providers until kidding starts in January.  But who would have thought that one little scratch would have shattered our delicate peace and put our sanity at risk?

Milking Brianna now meant a slow careful process of holding her damaged teat in just the right way and squeezing with the just the right amount of pressure and using just the right amount of bless your heart, you poor thing/pull up your panties and be a big girl! in your voice while talking to her on the stand.  Anything less and you’d be wearing the milk bucket on your head and goat hoof prints on the back of your hands.

But it doesn’t end with just the extended and emotionally exhausting time spent milking Brianna.  See, everything in the barn runs on a delicate time line.  Each animal is fed in the same way and the same order.  Any interference and the animals spin out of orbit into a psychic and celestial chaos that would leave even Nostradamus quaking in his, um, velvet slippers (what did 16th century seers wear on their feet??).

Of course, you think I’m exaggerating.  That’s only because you’re not here to see how the chickens, who have finished their scraps, wander into the barn, wondering why I’m still around, and discover there is still sweet feed in the trough on the milk stand.  Normally, the milking is done long before the chickens have consumed every last bit of egg shell, bread crusts, and leftover peas in the chicken pasture.  But now I am stuck using my one free hand (“Free” is a relative term. In this instance, my “free” hand means the one that was beginning to cramp from such careful milking and had to be rested until the other hand begins to cramp.) to sweep chickens off the milk stand and out of the feed trough.  I also have to change my consoling words to bless your heart, you poor thing/pull up your panties and be a big girl/GET OFF, YOU STUPID CHICKEN!!! Really, friends, the challenge in altering feeling, tone, and pitch in such a short statement is amazing.  Farming is not for people with a limited vocal range.

So, you’re starting to understand the horrific chain reaction Brianna set in motion.  But it doesn’t end there.  Soon, the barn cat wanders in, too, wondering why it has taken so long for his milk to appear on the deck.  Little Bit figured out a long time ago that milk comes from the goats and goes into the milk bucket.  He used to stand right beneath the udder, trying to get his paws or his tongue inbetween the squirting milk and the pail.  Which is when I started feeding him his kitty treat/vitamin on the deck before coming out to the barn.  Actually I take several treats and let him watch me hide them among the flower pots.   By the time he finds them all and gobbles them down, I’ll be back at the house and can top off his cat bowl with some fresh steaming milk for his breakfast.

Not in this brave new world.  Now I am still milking when the cat finishes and he joins the chickens clambering onto the milk stand.  And my free hand is now used to alternately sweep chickens out of the trough and Little Bit away from the udder.  Plus, you guessed it, shotuing:  bless your heart, you poor thing/pull up your panties and be a big girl/GET OFF, YOU STUPID CHICKEN!!!/No, Little Bit! Since Little Bit is essentially a good cat, he gives up on stealing his breakfast directly from the milk flow.  But then he commences chasing the squawking, flapping chickens around the barn so that they begin to fly into fencing and bounce off the walls.  Which doesn’t change my increasingly desperate refrain at all.

I could go on to explain how CC, the pony, has finished her handful of grain and tries to break down the gate into the barn, seeking her hay which is always distributed after milking.  And how Papa Noel, the pig, escalates his morning grunts to frantic squeals, afraid that I have forgotten to bring him fresh milk for his pig pellets.  Never mind how Josie, a nonmilker, decides that Brianna has had way too much feed on the stand and tries to pry the cattle panel dividing the milk room from the rest of the barn open with her big Nubian head.  Suffice to say that me and Brianna are both beginning to think that mastitis is an appealing option and my free hand considers cramping to be the lesser of all evils.

But it isn’t fair to blame Brianna for everything.  After all, even before Brianna got her scratch, Sampson appeared to be losing popularity in the chicken coop.  Sampson is one in a long line of Delaware roosters that has ruled the roost at Woodland Pond Farm.  His father and grandfather before him all acted as excellent stewards of the flock–watching for danger, leading foraging expeditions, and keeping the eggs fertile.  All of this while simultaneously never turning a mean eye or sharp spur towards me, the children, or any visitors.  If that doesn’t seem impressive to you, then you’ve never owned a rooster.  However, accidents do happen on a farm and although I won’t go into the gory details of his family lineage, we do keep a back-up rooster in case Sampson should run across, say, a loose chicken-killing dog in the front yard or a gun-toting neighbor that hates to hear a rooster sitting on the property fence line for his morning crowing session.  The current back up rooster is Speckles.

Speckles was chosen for his interesting spots, but he has been known to sneak up on us with an ugly gleam in his eye on a few occasions and tends to hog food for himself instead of sharing it with the hens.  Primarily, we kept him because he accepted a submissive position in the flock, kept to the back pasture, and didn’t engage in the kind of bloody battles that usually occur between 2 roosters on a farm.  But apparently trouble has been brewing.

Although, I hadn’t seen any displays of aggression, Sampson appeared to have been ousted.  Speckles was on the main roost in the barn at night and Sampson was often wandering in the back pasture.  I even spotted Sampson foraging with a flock of guineas, instead of hens, and often he was just sitting in the leaf debris, looking depressed.  Several times I went up to him with treats just to see him walk around and make sure he wasn’t injured.

“I think he’s sick,” I told the Other Half.  “Maybe I should separate him and give him some special treatment.”

“Maybe he’s just humiliated because he got overthrown by a guy named ‘Speckles,'” pointed out the Other Half.  Which is a valid point.

In any case, it was just another sign that things were out of whack.  Just another niggling worry that followed me around my daily chores and kept me up at night, pondering the pervading sense of disorder on the farm.  And perhaps it was this loss of sleep that caused me to tumble into another mistake.

We arose on New Year’s eve with the intent to butcher the remaining spring roosters and juvenile ducks that I had been saving for a special occasion.  The 6 roosters and 2 ducks had been confined in the brooder room overnight, off their feed.  The day dawned sunny and in the 50’s—perfect weather to get the job done comfortably, and the kids were off school to help with the work.  But things started to go wrong as soon as we began to hang the birds for slaughter.

Pretty began an impassioned plea for one of the orange roosters.  She doesn’t usually defend the evening meal, but she was convinced this guy had a solid character and excellent colors for interesting offspring.  I insisted we were not keeping 3 roosters around the place.   And she, in desperation, suggested that Speckles’ time had come.  Speckles had never been entirely trustworthy, she noted, and besides, this would let Sampson reestablish himself as head of the flock.

There were 2 very important lessons in what happened next.

First, always live your life to the fullest.  Because sure enough, Speckles went from happily foraging with his newly-won harem in the woods, to hanging upside down from the monkey bars in 5 minutes flat.  You never know when the tides are going turn against you, people.  Which is why you’ll never find any chocolate is this house unless it is in the process of being eaten.  I refuse to die with uneaten chocolate in my pantry.  Say what you want, but that is a sign of a life not fully lived.

Second, never mess with Mother Nature.  If the stars are stacked against you and your farm has entered a wobbling trajectory around bedlam, do not try to fix it yourself.  It is much better to ride it out and keep your head down, then to mess with forces beyond your understanding.  I know because somehow, in my excitement over restoring Sampson to power, I forgot the whole purpose behind confining poultry without food for 8-10 hours before slaughter.  Butchering a rooster with his crop full of his breakfast and his intestines full of other unmentionable stuff is a classic farm FAIL.  No matter how much we rinsed that meat, we were not going to eat it.  So it went to the dogs.  And although I appreciate the value of natural feeding and the cost savings in dog food, giving the dogs a taste for fresh raw chicken is a bit counterproductive.  Also, just plain stupid.

But that wasn’t all that happened.  Just as the last bird was hung, the baling twine securing one of the ducks snapped and he fell abruptly to the ground.  Since his feet were still tied we quickly grabbed him and hung him up again, this time tripling the twine.  But, several minutes later, as soon as my back was turned to help Middle with the knives, he snapped free again.  He didn’t even mess with trying to run away, but went straight to flapping his powerful Muscovy wings, and flew off to the pond before any of us could do more than say “Are you freaking kiddin…”

Now before you start worrying about the cruel, long-suffering death that would occur to a duck whose feet are tied together, you should know I promptly sent Big and Little down to the pond with instructions to lure him onto land with some feed and then let us know so we could all help capture him again.  After all, how hard could it be to catch a severely hobbled duck?  Which just goes to show that I had no idea that in the process of busily paddling underwater, a duck is quite capable of unwinding the twine around his feet.  Whereby, he will then walk proudly out onto land, greedily eat the offered feed (remember he missed dinner the night before), and then joyfully fly away, never to be seen again. Leaving us in stunned silence on the pond bank and illustrating quite clearly how the phrase “lucky duck” came into being.  Who knew?

So, with visions of grilled duck breast for dinner fading away, we finished the slaughtering, and I contemplated Coq au vin in its place.  Until, of course, I scanned some recipes and realized it was way more time consuming and labor intensive than I had the energy for.  After all, I had to be up bright and early for another draining milking session in the barn.  So I settled for beer can chicken for our New Year’s meal.  A bit more redneck than I like to start off the year, but at least slightly amusing.  Don’t they look like 2 chickens sitting there for a chat?  Well, 2 headless chickens…

The chicken was delicious, served up with fresh garlic and butter brussel sprouts from the garden, and we even managed to get all the Christmas decorations down while dinner was cooking.  I thought perhaps the turmoil was behind us, and suggested we have a nice bonfire with the newly naked Christmas tree to symbolize the ending of the year and a fresh new start.  I pictured us sitting peacefully in the crisp evening air, warming ourselves over the cheerful flames, and enjoying sweet, melted marshmallows.  Obviously I had never burned a Christmas tree in the past.  I didn’t realize that it burns with the speed and heat of a nuclear explosion and that roasting marshmallows over the flames would result in burning your skin so badly that the flesh peels off in strips.  Besides, there’s no time for marshmallows because every second will be spent chasing down large sparks that fly 25 feet into the air and then drift into the woods where you have to stomp them out before they start the entire farm on fire.

Apparently I won’t be getting back in the groove any time soon.  As a matter of fact, there’s no end in sight.  Because as I reread this post, I see the tense is horribly skewed.  Past, present, and future are all jumbled together in a nonsensical mess.  I’d try and fix it, but I’ve already learned my lesson.  Let it be and just try to live to see another day.  I might even start using my free hand to hang on by my fingernails instead of swatting away chickens.  And I think I’ll check the freezer for any chocolate ice cream…


12 Responses to “All I Want For New Year’s…”

  1. Andrew
    January 2nd, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

    I’m sitting here, still chuckling ten minutes after reading your latest post. However, I do have to ask if Speckles and Sprinkles are two different roosters?

  2. admin
    January 2nd, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

    Yes, Andrew, Speckles and Sprinkles are/is the same unlucky rooster. I made the changes so other readers not as savvy as you aren’t confused 🙂 See how wrong things are over here??

  3. Terry
    January 2nd, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

    I love reading your posts because it makes what goes on here seem like we live in a serene glade with unicorns bedecked with flower garlands, not the bedlam it often is. If I feed the hens before the rabbit things go awry, but nothing like the chaos in your milking barn. Happy New Year!

  4. Gary D
    January 2nd, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

    OMG if this is what I have to look forward to I may never breed my goats and give up on the idea of fresh goat milk. LOL
    Our farms have so many similarities it is ridiculous. I am now doubting we will ever raise a pig either. Have you tried cows? We are toying with the idea of raising 2 in the spring for the freezer next winter.

  5. Erika Robbins
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 4:45 am

    lol…..the first year we burned a Christmas tree I thought “that’s it–that sucker is coming DOWN after New Years……”

  6. Tracey of These Nine Acres
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 6:42 am

    Wow. I thought I had it bad with 2 horses, 4 goats, 4 cats, a dog, and 2 fish. You’ve got me beat hands down. And I am ok with that 😉

    Hope things settle back into normal rhythm soon.

    And you know what is the one lesson I will take from all of this? My new favorite quote…I will not die with chocolate sitting in my pantry…Off to eat all the chocolate I can find!

    Have a good one!

  7. Linda
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    Yep…life on the farm. You do live that same life we used to live. We are retired now and do not milk, or kill the poultry (although we did). I only keep 4 hens and of course Terry is still farming full time. We had t downsize as we got older as it became HARD to do.


  8. Kelsie
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 11:01 am

    I wish I could laugh about this but I think I will cry with you instead…How I miss the rhythm that keeps things flowing how they should.

    Hopefully soon you will find your groove again and I will get a little wind in my sails.

    But regardless, life on a farm will continue to go on and we will continue to tend the flocks and our families, because we are country gals and that is what we do.

    Blessings and love Kelsie

  9. tipper
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    Great post! I don’t have a farm-but I can still relate to those unexplainable times in life when something gets off kilter and nothing goes right till it sets itself back in place : )

    I’ve really enjoyed poking around your blog today!!

  10. Lynda
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 11:59 am

    Laughing and crying and laughing some more. I am glad that you stopped by the Farmlet today and that you left your web address so I could find you! I do hope that things are off to a better start today.
    Thank you, Stevie!
    ~ Lynda (who is now your newest subscriber)

  11. buttons
    January 4th, 2012 @ 6:00 am

    Wow I am so happy you dropped by my blog, I could not tear myself away from this story. You are a very descriptive writer. I like that.
    My emotions were thrown every where. First I think you baby is going to be a lawyer the way she made the verdict change to the innocent rooster and the in her eyes evil one was now hanging. Well done. She is very smart.
    Second I have butchered turkeys and chickens so I know how this goes and I do not want to go back to it. I do enjoy eating them but as I age I find myself lazy :
    I love the way you made me laugh and almost cry almost in the same sentence. Thanks for visiting me. B

  12. Tayet
    January 4th, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    Hi! Tayet from In a Goat’s Shoes. Thanks for leaving a comment.

    I hope your cycle soon returns to normal and Brianna’s udder get’s better in a hurry!

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