Birth, Death and Compassion

17 04 2015

After we had our chicks a couple weeks or so, I woke one morning to find one in bad shape. Initially I though she was dead, but when I picked her up to remove her I discovered she was still breathing.  Unsure what to do I put her in a separate box and tried to give her a little water with a syringe.  She struggled for a couple days, barely moving and only taking in the water I hand fed her.  I felt sure each time I checked her next she would be dead, but she just kept going.  I debated about whether to go ahead and kill her to spare her suffering or just let nature take its course.  Finally, mercifully, she died.  Now reflecting on the incident, I am afraid I did the wrong thing with good intentions and prolonged her suffering by keeping her hydrated. 

Earlier this week we had our first litter of pigs born.  Although there were five, I could tell right away one looked much smaller and weaker.  The next day I watched the piglets closely.  The runt made little effort to nurse and kept burying itself under the straw.  After consulting with Bones, we decided to bring him inside to try to hand feed him.  He barely ingested any milk preferring to nestle into our arms for warmth. 

Not knowing much about caring for a runt , our options seemed limited – keep him inside under a heat lamp and continue trying to hand feed him or put him back with mama to take his chances.  Remembering the bird, I was hesitant to prolong the suffering of another creature who clearly had little will to live.  So we put him back with mama pig.  The next morning he was dead. 

It is possible that he might have lived longer if we kept him inside, but I don’t believe he would have survived long term. Something more was wrong with him than just being little.

I want to be compassionate in my care of our animals, but I also want to be realistic.  Although we will do the best we can to prevent unnecessary or unexpected death, death will come again.  We will lose animals to disease and predators.  We will kill some ourselves to put meat on our table.  And sometimes we will bid death to come to relieve the suffering of an animal.

My years of work as a chaplain gave me a certain comfort with death.  I do not fear death as many do. I have seen people run from death with great fear and I have seen others welcome death as a friend.  The latter were surely more at peace when death finally came, as it does for us all.  I know it sounds cliche, but death truly is just a part of the cycle of life. 

Perhaps I am finding that the transition from chaplain to farmer is not as much of a stretch as it might seem at first glance. 

The Critters

16 04 2015

Since arriving at our homestead we have added a few critters to the mix.  Allow me to introduce them.


Fido has been with me before I even met Bones.  I think he is continually dismayed by every new addition to the clan.  He longs for the glory days when it was just the two of us.


Springer is the most loyal of dogs.  A formerly lazy city dog, she has embraced the country life with gusto.  She’s dropped close to 10 pounds and her coat has an incredible shine and softness to it since moving here.  She spends her days alternating between exploring the woods and laying guard around the house.


Scamper was our first addition post move.   He is full of puppy energy and impetuousness, but is very much a sweetie.  Scamper loves to be by my side as I go about the day.  I know he will grow up to be a great farm dog, if I can only convince him not to kill the chickens..


Djimbe, Viola, and Balalaika are our breeding trio of rabbits.  We are raising them in a colony.  The does and their future kits will all occupy a large pen with plenty of tunnels and hiding places.  The buck is in his own pen for now, but will move to a rabbit tractor once we get it built.


Charlotte and Wilbur are our potbelly pigs.  Charlotte just had a litter of 4 healthy little piggies.  She seems to be a good mom and is protective of the piglets without being aggressive.  Wilbur is working away at plowing and fertilizing our fields in his mobile pen.


We have eleven chickens.  They just moved our into their coop after a bit more than a month in the brooder. Max is our rooster.  Most of the hens don’t have names yet, except for one Ella Grace has dubbed Perfexa.


And finally, we have five guinea fowl.  The ticks here are horrendous, so we called in guinea reinforcement.  I can’t wait until they are old enough to send out on tick patrol!


9 04 2015

After many years of dreaming, we finally moved to our own place in Virginia.  After my grandfather passed away, my mom inherited a 15 acre property in the countryside of Virginia.  I visited this property many times as a child with my grandparents.  Poppop had worked hard to purchase the property, and together he and Lulu began building a cabin there, planted gardens and harvested timber with dreams of retiring there some day.  They were not able to finish the cabin before Lulu became sick, and the place slowly began going into disrepair and the land reforesting.  Because it held so many good memories for me, I asked Mom if I could have the property.  We considered renting a house in town while we built a house on the property, but as it happens, an adjacent property with a house went up for sale when we were finally ready to move.  And so, here we are with 25 acres, finally living our dream, and hopefully helping some of my grandparents’ dreams for the land come true in the process.  We have a lot of work ahead of us!


2 07 2012

The last couple weeks have been a little crazy as I’ve made another big change with work.  I started a new job with a network of farms for refugees.  The organization provides space and training for refugees to learn agricultural skills (or use the skills they already have) as a way to provide supplemental income for their families.  My job is to take the produce from all the different growers and sell it at a few different Farmer’s Markets.  I am very excited about the position and am enjoying it so far!


On the homestead front, it’s been a little crazy trying to figure out my new schedule and how to balance that with all my farming work at home, but the garden keeps on growing and the animals keep on eating.  I’ve got 50+ peaches sitting on my kitchen table that will hopefully be processed into salsa and whatever else I can come up with today.  Our tomato plants are ripening like crazy.  I have several bags of paste tomatoes in the freezer waiting till I have enough to make sauce.  The heat here has been stifling the last few days, so I need to make sure all the plants have enough water to survive, and I’m rotating the rabbits between a cage indoors and their hutch outside so they don’t overheat.  The tilapia have grown enough now that we can more easily see them in the tank darting around.  I need to start some more plants for the grow bed since we lost most of them while trying to figure out the pump and timing system.  The bigger the tilapia get the more important it is to have plenty of plants in the grow bed filtering the water.

Friday Farmer

15 06 2012

Another busy day lined up for the Friday Farmer.

This morning we’re headed to feed the goats and then wash bins for Farmer Joe.

At home, there’s lots of milk to be processed.  I’m thinking goat’s milk ice cream and a batch of yogurt.  I’ve had great success with this recipe for Strawberry Honey Goat Milk Ice Cream.  I’ll probably use another fruit today – maybe cherries or blackberries.

Our fridge is becoming overrun with the glut of fresh produce from our garden and the CSA.  I need to put some of it up – so I’ll be blanching and freezing beans, making preserves with cherries, picking and freezing some blueberries, and maybe some carrot pickles.

The worm bins still need to be emptied and the garden could use some weeding and pruning attention.

And, then, there’s the huge mess in my living room and the pile of dirty dishes….

Wild Cherries

13 06 2012

Near our house are three wild cherry trees.  EG and I have been enjoying picking and snacking on them.  I’m planning on making a Black Cherry Conserve with them.  We can’t get enough.

Yet every time someone sees us eating them and asks if they are edible I get quite strong reactions once they try them.  The taste is a bit on the bitter side.  Someone compared it to a chocolate stout beer, a very robust and unique flavor. Most folks, generally the American born and raised folks, scrunch up their faces and decide to pass on eating anymore.    But a fair number of folks on our neighborhood were born and raised internationally and most of them are as enchanted with the cherries as we are.  Many of them have fond memories of similar cherry trees in their home countries.  I find the contrast in reactions quite striking.  Confirms for me that Americans, in general, have far too much of a sweet tooth.  I have been working on removing the processed sugar from my family’s diet.  We don’t eat a lot of sweets, the only candy is very dark chocolate, and anything I bake I sweeten with honey rather than white sugar. We still enjoy some Ben & Jerry’s now and again.  But I am pleased that EG is able to enjoy these less than sweet cherries.  Makes me proud that she has not gone the way of the typical american sweet tooth.

Working out the kinks

11 06 2012

The weekend has been spent trying to work out some issues with the aquaponics system.  The timer we set up seemed to be running appropriately, but we could never see the grow bed flooding.  When we examined it more closely, we found one end of the pump tubing was jammed with with rocks.  We freed it up, but then discovered that the pump is just not working.  Best we can figure is that it strained too much against the rocks and burned out the motor.  Now we need to buy another pump.

We also are still having trouble with the grow bed flooding too much.  We added one bag of pea gravel, which meant removing all the plants and replanting them.  We lost a few plants that way who couldn’t quite handle the stress.  Unfortunately, the one bag of pea gravel still didn’t get it to the right level.  So we’ll need to dig up and replant a second time.  I need to figure out how to do it better this time to stress the plants less.

At least, the fish are still very small so the amount of waste they are producing won’t over run the system while we try to figure out how to get it running appropriately.  I probably ought to start some more seeds on the chance we lose too many more plants in the next round of adding gravel.  This round with the aquaponics is most definitely about working out the kinks.  Hopefully we get to harvest at least a few fish and vegetables out of it.  Either way, it’s good learning and we’ll by pros by the end of it.