Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

That’s What Friends Are For.

Posted on | April 5, 2013 | 13 Comments

Well, it was an insufferable beginning to the week.

There were broken gates to fix.  The hose in the barn had progressed from having a leak to having a waterspout that sprayed you as you went about the chores.

Julia developed a massive blocked salivary gland.  Which scared the crap out of me, thinking it was CL (even though she had always tested negative) , until the vet assured me otherwise.  Salivary glands.  Who knew?

The pigs had been assigned to till the section of the garden that had the last of the spinach.  So no more fresh spinach for us until the freshly seeded spinach is ready for harvest.

It’ll be a while.

Due to a chilly and cloudy spring, there will be no transplants coming out of the greenhouse to go into the garden next week. The majority of the seeds we planted last month in the greenhouse still have not sprouted.  The ones that have, are so scrawny that there is no way they are going into the garden yet.

Most the of Silkie chicks that we hatched have died (weak??  trampled by the bigger chicks??  too much food competition??) even though the Welsummers and Cornish Cross are flourishing.  And the 6 Silkie chicks from December have developed into 3 hens and 3 handsome and unnecessary roosters.

Brianna suddenly rejected one of her kids, kicking and butting him whenever he tried to get to the teat.  So poor Tucker needs to be bottle fed.  Which means poor me once spring break is over and Pretty goes back to school.  Really, how dare Billy be in line for the bottle when his mother is saving all her precious milk for him.  The nerve of some kids!

It was all a bit overwhelming.  And I was standing in the yard, picking the first tick of the season off my arm (not too cold for ticks apparently!), wearing my woe-is-me face, when I had a funny thought.  Whenever the troubles of the farm become daunting I remember a funny story that a good friend told me.

She had a small flock of ducks living on her pond when one of them became injured.  So she made the little duck a home in the barn.  She gave it expensive medicine and special food.  She gave it a large washtub pond with a ramp to swim in.  And she emptied that large washtub of yucky, slimy duck water every couple days so it could have a fresh pond to swim in (If you don’t have ducks, you can’t possibly understand how yucky and slimy those buggers can make their water.).  She cleaned that duck’s personal pond and hauled water and gave medicine for 6 weeks.  On top of all her regular barn chores and her full time job.  Until the duck was all better.  Then, in triumph, she released the healed duck and watched it paddle out on the pond to the rest of the flock.  The flock immediately turned and began pecking the duck.  They pecked it and attacked it until it eventually went under the water and never came back up.  Never.  All the while she was standing on the pond bank, screaming and yelling and throwing rocks at the flock to no avail.

When she told me that story we laughed and laughed and laughed until we cried and worried that we might pee our pants.  Which is probably not what you did when you read that story.

Unless you are a farmer.  Because once you are a farmer you will be shocked at how often your best efforts have horrifying results.  I mean, shocking, unpredictable, appalling results.  And you will be forced to watch weeks and weeks, hours and hours, of time and effort (and, of course, money) get its head shoved under the water until it never comes back up.  And you will realize that all you can do is call a friend and say,  “Can you freaking believe that??????!!!!!  What kind of a moron hauls a washtub full of water to an injured duck for weeks and expects that to end well???  I should have known better!!!”

And every time she told me that story I laughed again.  Because it never got old.  And every time I felt like I was wading through the thickest of troubles on my farm, I remembered that story and laughed.  Because at least I didn’t spend weeks sloshing yucky, slimy duck water all over my shoes and forcing pills down a duck’s throat just to watch that duck get murdered as soon as it recovered.  At least I didn’t do that.  And because I have a slight ability to learn from other people’s mistakes (although it does compete with my innate and inexplicable sense that surely that won’t happen to me), I never will.

You’re on your own, ducks.  There will be no personal ponds around here.

So as I headed in to get my drill to fix the gate and as I dug around in the mud room for the extra pack of nipples for bottle feeding, I had a smile on my face.  That’s what friends are for.  To make you laugh until you think you are going to pee your pants.  To make your troubles look small.  To remind you that you are not alone in your expensive, time-consuming, and disastrous exploits.

I decided I would write a blog post about that duck story.  Really, it was just too good not to share.  Now, you might not believe this (based on the grammar mistakes and the typos), but sometimes it takes a while for me to create my posts.  Once I have an idea for a post, I need to get some pictures to prove to you that this stuff is really going on.  Or you would probably think that I make it up.

Then I need to find a time when I can sit down at the computer and type out my thoughts.  I have to pry the kids off the laptop and then listen to them ask, “Are you done yet?  Are you done now?  When will you be done?  Can I do something real quick?  Will you be done in an hour?”  until I scream at them that I will never be done and it’s my lap top anyway and everyone will NOW GO OUTSIDE TO PLAY and I put them and their dogs outside and lock the doors.  So there.

Then I have to heavily edit my idea.  Because I can’t share everything.  Some of it is just too real.  Too politically incorrect.  Too much cursing.  Too much blaming other people.  Other people that read the blog.  Then I have to limit the sarcasm.  I know it doesn’t look like any of the sarcasm is cut out.  But it is.  Oh believe me, it is.  I need to unplug and replug in the router several times to get an internet connection.  And then finally, finally, after several days of effort interspersed with milking and making dinner, going to work and picking up kids from sports practice, then I can publish the post.

And I was in the midst of that effort when I got the news.  My friend had passed away suddenly of a massive heart attack.  She called a friend to take her to the hospital when she began having pain and that friend immediately told her to hang up and call the ambulance.  Which she did.  But when the ambulance arrived she was already gone.  They were never able to revive her.

Like all her friends and family, I was stunned.  Shocked.  It just didn’t seem possible.  My friend was in her 60’s and had her share of health problems.  But the kids and I had been out to her farm less than 2 weeks before she died.  We trimmed goat hooves and gave vaccinations.  Then we sat on her front porch admiring her new rose bushes and the beds she had prepared for blackberry plants.  It was beautiful spring day. We both had shorts on and the sun felt so good on our pale, sun-starved legs.  There was a light breeze that kept us cool during our barn chores and was invigorating as we laughed and chatted on the porch.  The kids ran around in the grass, playing with the dogs, and throwing the frisbee back and forth.  The guineas squawked in the driveway, the roosters crowed in the pasture, the pigs snorted happily in the hay rolls.  The goats eyes us warily, hoping for some more treats but without hoof trimming attached to it.

It was a perfect day.  Perfect.  The kind of day you would choose to have if you knew it would be the last day you would spend with a good friend.  If you got to choose such things.  Which you don’t.  So I will be eternally grateful for getting that day.  That day was a gift from God, that I opened without even realizing what an incredible gift it was.

And all the while that I was bemoaning the state of affairs at my farm, and laughing over her duck story, and planning my post, my friend was already gone.  I just didn’t know it yet.

It’s just like her to tickle my memories as she exited this world.  To leave me chuckling as I circumvented the mud pit by the leaking hose.  Grinning over the pathetic plants in the greenhouse.  You might not believe that, but I do.  Oh, I do.  That’s what friends are for.

And if that duck story wasn’t amusing (or horrifying) enough to live on indefinitely, my friend left lots of other reminders of her time on this earth.  She gave me my very first dairy goats and taught me and Pretty everything we know about basic goat care.  She handed us hoof trimmers and loaded syringes and just let us have at it, with her confidence alone driving us on.  We watched kidding for the first time at her farm, in 20 degree weather, standing in the barn with numb fingers and frozen toes, and wanting to fight the does for space under the heat lamps.  Over the years, we traded goats and chickens and guineas and veggies and eggs and animal care and feeding and husbandry tips.

And, of course, we swapped stories about the most ridiculous and outrageous things we had done on our farms that had unforeseen and grisly endings.  Chicks that were saved from a murdering mother hen, just to be gobbled up by a black snake in their new “safe” pen.  Dogs that died on the 85 mile per hour dash to the emergency vet just to be charged the $75 exam fee for walking in the door with weeping children and the dead dog in your arms.  Roosters that were rescued from the butchering block just to be snatched up by coyotes in their new home or suffocated in transport containers on their way.  Ducks that became entangled and hung in the flagging tape strung between the trees to protect them and their ducklings from hawk attacks.  Dead baby goats, foaming at the mouth, discovered by visiting 5 year olds.  Managing to flush a hen’s impacted crop yet kill her by getting fluid in her lungs.

Hysterical, I know.

I realize some of you are crossing me off the list for your funeral service right now.  Deciding you do not want me standing up to speak or writing your eulogy.  Lest I start giggling about dead kittens.  Guinea pigs with foul-smelling cysts.  A goat kid trotting around happily, oozing CSF, after disbudding.  I could go on.  And on.  And on.  My friend and I could have sent you from the room, screaming.  All the while we laughed and cried and clinked our glasses, complimenting each other on our hardiness.

I know you’re thinking that this memorial is too blunt.  Too blithe.  Too blasphemous.  But I know my friend gets it.  I just know that she is chortling to herself, that she and B’Uddernut are looking down at all they have established and are well pleased.  That Ben and Jerry came running to greet her and that they will all spend eternity avidly watching over the rest of our adventures.

And I still cannot believe that we will never sit in the swim spa again, sipping wine, and laughing until we cannot breathe.

I cannot believe I will never see her again.

Yet every time I start to cry about it, I start to laugh.  Because all the joy and merriment of our times together is more powerful than the sadness.  Because the learning and the lessons that she passed to me have been passed to my children and will eventually be passed on to their children as well. (OK, at least to Pretty’s children.  Big will be living in the city somewhere.)  Because as much as I will miss her, I will see her every time that I look at my goat herd, born and bred from her stock, browsing in the woods.  Because she will be standing beside me every time that I find an injured or dying animal and pause, weighing my options and wondering whether I want it to end badly right now or after 6 exhausting weeks of time and money.

That’s what friends are for.  To stand beside you during the difficult times.  To laugh at your dead animal stories.  To pass on their knowledge and leave you smiling through your tears.

Go in peace, friend.  You are loved.  You are remembered.

Perhaps by the time we meet in that big swim spa in the sky I will have a tale to top your duck story.  Probably.  Maybe.  Let’s hope not 😉

This post is dedicated to Sharon Rupp, owner of Tranquility Acres at Tinn Top, and founder of more Nigerian Dwarf goat farms than can probably be counted.  She was a beloved friend, excellent teacher, and animal lover extraordinaire.  She was a fine example of a woman—-exhibiting strength, humor, and kindness.  It was an honor to be her friend and to raise my daughter in her sphere of influence.  Her gentle spirit touched many lives and will live on through all that knew her.


13 Responses to “That’s What Friends Are For.”

  1. Kim
    April 5th, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear of your friend’s passing Stevie, she sounded just your sort of friend, two peas in a pod! Hugs to you and your families. x

  2. Grey Wolf
    April 5th, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

    Very sorry about the loss of your dear friend. I hope your memories of her comfort you when you miss her most. She sounds like a wonder person to have known.

  3. Rich
    April 5th, 2013 @ 5:16 pm

    My dearest condolences for the loss of your friend. The memorial was very moving.

  4. CC
    April 5th, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

    Ah! I knew her once. She hosted our camp kids and taught my teachers on a field trip. SHe donated time and insight as we created Noah’s Ark Today for ALBC. She loved her goats. She was just building the birthing room when we met. Odd. I thought of her so strongly the other day when I put my little newborn lamb into our newly upfitted barn, glad at the miracle that we had comfort and safety from bad weather for that wee one. I thought of her and felt proud that this time around I was doing it right, as she had once shared was the only proper way to treat a mother and her newborn. Wow. She was your friend. I only met her a few times, but her kindness and love of the animals, reverberated. Thank you for your wonderful post.

  5. P Flooers
    April 6th, 2013 @ 6:08 am


  6. Jill
    April 6th, 2013 @ 6:35 am

    Friends. Must have them. They lift us up when we need it most.

  7. Mamaprepper
    April 6th, 2013 @ 7:49 am

    Sending love, hugs and prayers your way. Sharing your love and memories of her is a great tribute and I’m sure it makes her smile down from heaven. You wrote a wonderful post. She sounded like a wonderful woman that will be dearly missed.

  8. April Eldridge
    April 6th, 2013 @ 9:09 am

    So sorry for your loss. She sounded very lovely. Your words were touching.

  9. ayan
    April 6th, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

    Stunning eulogy–resounding with love, passion & reality. May you have peace.

  10. Lin
    April 6th, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    Aw, crap. I’m sorry to hear that you lost your friend. It sounds like she gave you many gifts–especially the ability to laugh. You were lucky to have her friendship. She was lucky to have yours.

    Hugs, my friend.

  11. carolyn christman
    April 8th, 2013 @ 5:21 am

    Thanks — I think of Sharon all the time and feel her presence, with love, hilarity, and friendship. Being fully in the moment is the glimpse of eternity

  12. Kimberly Pennell
    April 9th, 2013 @ 6:05 am

    Sharon would love this posting of her duck story. I can hear her voice now, chuckling. She was a very special lady, that has touched many and will be missed.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Jodi
    April 11th, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

    Ditto what Lin said. And thanks for sharing.

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