Living on an acreage and caring for animals give you a connection to nature and her rhythms like no other way of life.
It teaches you that you don’t have near the control over things you think you do. Instead of dominating nature, you work with her. Sometimes you can get her to agree with you. You learn to work in harmony with her cycles and seeming whims. It’s a way of life that offers both great joy and great heartbreak.
Joy and Heartbreak
The joy comes when the garden is harvested, it’s bounty preserved and enjoyed in the cold months. It comes when a new calf is born or when a new batch of baby chicks is in the garage growing into laying hens. Those little peeping fuzzballs are adorable!
We smile while we sit on the bench in the elm grove watching the little calves romp in the field with their little tails in the air bucking, kicking, chasing, and head-butting each other in play.
The heartbreak comes when you do everything you know to do to save an animal, but it just can’t be saved. Or when a random hailstorm destroys all your hard work in the garden or in the field. It comes when a late freeze kills all the flowers on the fruit trees in the orchard and there will be no apples, pears, cherries, or peaches that year.
This week we experienced the joy of making hay. It’s hot, sweaty, hard work but it brings neighbors and family together to get a tough job done. I do my part to keep the iced tea flowing and to thank everyone at the end with a big pan of chocolate sheet cake or cookies.
The fresh hay in the barn is so fragrant. It gives a tremendous sense of satisfaction knowing the cattle will well-fed during the winter.
I wonder if they remember the hot, sunny summer days while munching on their hay on a frozen February morning the same way we do when we open up that jar of home-preserved peaches or spiced pickled beets when we sit at the dinner table on a frozen winter evening.
The Cycles of Sowing and Reaping
Every spring I get to witness the crops being planted all around us. It never ceases to amaze me that a hard, dead-looking kernel of corn grows into an 8-foot-tall plant that literally feeds the world. It feeds both human and animal.
The tiny little seed I put into the potting soil in the empty Oui yogurt jars and set in the windowsills in March grow into tomatoes and peppers that feed and nourish me and my family. And I save the seeds and repeat the process every year. That cycle is incredible.
Did you know one row of Waltham Butternut Squash will produce enough seeds to plant several acres the next year?
And yet, one year I had a bumper crop of spinach, and have never been able to get it to so much as sprout again. I don’t understand.
Can Cows Control When They Calve?
We go for several years with no problems getting our cattle bred (we artificially inseminate our cattle). Then we had one year where no matter what we did we just couldn’t get them to conceive. We finally got them bred very late, and it threw our calving schedule way off. Another cattleman friend said he had the same problem. We checked all our equipment and racked our brains for the source of the problem. We still don’t know why it happened. But things are back on track now.
We have one cow that I swear can control when she has her calf.
She’s had multiple calves always on her due date. This year her due date fell during a week in April when we had several days of freezing drizzle. A calf born in weather like that will die if not tended to immediately.
Every night that week I went out in that nasty weather at 11 p.m. and again at 2 a.m. to check to see if she was in labor so we could save the calf. Every time I checked her she was relaxed and chewing her cud. She went past her due date and I began to worry that something was wrong.
She went over her due date by 5 days. When the cold weather broke she had that calf on a beautiful, warm, sunny spring morning.
That old gal knew exactly what she was doing.
The Doe in the Orchard
Last summer a doe would come to our orchard in the middle of the day to eat the green apples that had fallen to the ground. She was rail-thin and clearly struggling. I’d seen several does with twins and even triplets. She was probably one of them.
Normally I clean up the apples that fall to the ground to avoid attracting deer and other varmints. But last year I left the apples on the ground for her. She ate every one of them.
As a mother, I had to help. But I didn’t want to help too much. Leaving the apples on the ground for her seemed a good balance between helping and letting nature take its course.
Spiders and Snakes
I understand that the big snake that sometimes shows up in the barn and scares the bajeezus out of me when I flip on the light is just hunting mice. It’s a Prairie King Snake and non-poisonous. It’s actually being a help and fulfilling its role in nature’s balance. But Jeez Lou-eeeze! Hang a sign on the barn door that says, “The Snake is In.” Give a gal a little warning, will ya?
But snakes don’t have hands, so I guess that’ll never happen.
The big yellow and black garden spiders and I give each other a wide berth. They are morbidly fascinating and their webs always amaze me. They help keep the pests off my garden plants. But they’re spiders. They have 8 eyes and 8 legs. Ugh.
Nature is a balance of scarcity and abundance. The hideous and the beautiful all play a role in the dance of life.
I don’t pretend to understand it all. The best I can do is learn my place and play my role to the best of my ability.
May we all play our roles well,