A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 14 June 2008
This has been a busy week as I taught fiber art for a summer camp. It was a lot of fun because we did weavings, wet felting, needlefelting & learned to draw farm animals. On Friday I brought everyone homemade bread & jam along with honey, real butter & whole milk. We also got to watch yeast rise!
I know that sounds funny but yeast is what makes the bread rise & it is real live little animals – sort of...
So that means my mornings on the farm have had to be a little quicker than usual. I've been going out at 6 a.m. just as it is light enough to see. My only goal first thing in the morning is to feed the chickens & check on all of the new chicks. Katy, my daughter, will take care of the rest of the farm throughout the day.
Lila, our big Anatolian Shepherd dog who stays in the house & front yard loves to go with me. Every morning for years & years she has run around the back of the house as I open the gate & barked at Fern, the Border Collie. Fern barks back & the two dogs run up & down their sides of the fence barking & jumping. If the fence wasn't there it seems they would kill themselves but maybe they just enjoy pretending to fight. Lila is not allowed in the barnyard as the other Anatolians, Amy & Regina, & our Great Pyrennes, Rudy, are in charge of the rest of the farm. So Lila stays behind running up & down the fence with Fern while I move on with my morning.
As I walk to the barnyard gate, I look for Bart, the crippled sheep who needs help getting up. He has a wonderful shallow dip in the yard that he loves to lay in so that is usually where I find him but sometimes he will be under a tree in an orchard. Bart is not hard to find because he begins to talk to me as soon as I call his name. I bend down, put my knee where he can brace himself against it & then gently lift his shoulders. He pushes hard with his back legs, wobbles a little, stand up, shakes off & then trot off to begin his day. He usually starts by walking over to watch Lila & Fern run up & down the fence. That is still big excitement even though they do it several times a day every day.
I go on through the barnyard gate & am usually greeted by a handful of goats & sheep who are hoping I have a few peanuts in my pocket. I often carry peanuts in the shell as they don't mess up my pocket & the animals love them. It is especially handy to be able to throw a few peanuts away from me to distract the animals if I am trying to get through a gate with an armload of something. The animals run away for a second, I can balance my load while unhooking the gate & slip through without a few extra creatures joining me.
I feed the peanuts to the animals with the shells on. They love to crunch them up & eat the whole thing. I guess eating peanut shells is not a lot different than eating all that hay, leaves & briars like they do all day long. One little goat thinks that she doesn't need me to take the peanuts out of my pocket for her to eat. If I stand still for long she is right beside me chewing on the outside of my pocket. The peanut shells crunch but the whole mess stays right in my pocket. She does this as often as she can even though she sure isn't getting anything to eat except maybe a little peanut shell dust drifting though the cloth of my pocket.
One funny little Shetland sheep greets me each morning with a wave. Yes, I said it waves. It picks up its right front leg that looks like a skinny stick attached to a big fuzzball body. Without even bending its knee, it waves that little leg up & down in the air exactly three times. Then it puts its foot back down & waits to see if I will give it a peanut. I do give it one if I have it. Even when I don't reward it with a peanut, it still waves the next day.
As I cross the front of the barnyard I glance in all the water troughs to be sure they are filled. As hot as it has been, we have to check the troughs constantly. I then walk into the old barn where I look for Vincent, our LaMancha goat. He is getting old & likes to sleep up on a board ledge at the edge of the old barn. As he gets older & slower, I pay more & more attention to where he is just to be sure he is not “down”. Goats do not tolerate pain as well as some animals so if they are injured or just sick they will try to hide & then grind their teeth in pain, stop eating & drinking & can soon die if we don't do something for them. We keep special pain medicine here & can also carefully force them to eat & drink so they don't just curl up & die.
As I walk though the front of the old barn, I am greeted by Regina who stands on her hind legs & peeks over the half-door at the back of the barn. Even though she knows Katy won't be feeding her for a while longer, she still likes to be petted as I walk by. I go out through another back door towards the chicken house. I've told you before that our chickens can come & go anywhere they want on the farm but they do most of their sleeping & nesting in just a few places. Fortunately, the chicken house is one of them. And right now there are over 75 little chicks all over the floor in the chicken house too!
After stepping over Sequoia, a giant Navajo Churro sheep or perhaps Kermit, a big black goat with huge horns, I open the chicken house door. Often a few ducks quickly scurry away from me. They like to lay their eggs in special boxes in the first room of the chicken house – but they do not like me to catch them in there laying. They squawk & run. This makes all the little chicks scatter around the floor. If one little chick gets separated from his friend in the scattering, it begins to peep & run around until it finds its gang. I have to walk very carefully as the chicks are no bigger than a toddler's fist & probably squish pretty easily. I haven't stepped on any yet but I've really had to watch my step.
The chickens have already begun their day as it is light out. They are already checking their feed troughs, drinking at the little pond & scratching around just in case a few new bugs moved into their house in the night. There is a small night light in the chicken house & the chickens love to snack on the dead moths that have fallen underneath it.
I haul buckets of feed out of the big feed bins & pour it out in about six different troughs & pans. The chickens eat stuff all over the farm all day long but I always want to be sure they have plenty of grain that is easy to find. Right now we are feeding “crumbles” since we have lots of little chicks & ducklings around. This type of feed is ground into smaller pieces so it is easier for the little ones to eat. It also fills my shoe up better when I accidentally stand too close to the trough I am filling. Twice this week I had to wash my feet before I could go off to teach as one of them was covered in chicken feed bits.
After a quick walk around the chicken yard I have to head back into the house to get ready to teach. I love to teach but on a day when I didn't have to, I would spend almost an hour fiddling around the fields & barnyard. But this week I've left the fiddling & extra checking up to Katy – she does that pretty well also!