1. Be comfortable with shit. Talking about shit, smelling shit, touching shit, listening to critters shit, eating shit. Yeah, you heard me. I am not sure how it happens, but when we are raising broiler chickens, 1/3 times I go to fill up a chicken waterer, while rinsing, the dirty water splashes back onto my face. Usually into my mouth or onto my lips. I turn my head, I purse my lips, but it doesn’t matter.
Manure is a huge part of the farm experience. Yes, there are lots of moments where you get to restfully gaze upon your livestock. But that’s only after you have spent your time cleaning, composting, and helping your animals create shit.
2. Be comfortable with sex. Animals don’t get a room. The plus side is that you will never need to have The Talk with your children, because it will be abundantly clear what goes where. Your success depends on the healthy sex life of your animals. You will have ewes to tease, hormonal animals on the loose, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to actually get your hands right in there and HELP align a boar with the sow. That girl is shiny because she is covered in cum like a glazed doughnut.
You get to see it, hear it , smell it. That cute billy goat I post pictures of? His beard is used as a deliciously scented aromatherapy fan to entice my lovely doe. He has formulated just the right balance of urine and ejaculate to make himself irresistible to the opposite sex.
3. Be comfortable with birth. Hopefully, you never have to assist. In a perfect world, all goes well, every time. Maybe you think, “I’ll call the vet if there’s a problem!” And you will. But unless you are a millionaire, most times, you won’t. You will have to learn how to midwife your critters, and you will gain intimate knowledge of what a cervixes feel like, and how to put prolapsed uterus’ back inside the body of the appropriate animal.
You will start habitually keeping your nails short and your children will become adept at spotting the puffy & dripping vulvas that indicate birth is near. They are a good height for it, after all.
4. Be comfortable with noise. You can’t put a bark collar on a rooster. Our boys will start announcing their manhood at around 4am in the summer. I get up at around 3am to start shutting windows in preparation. I have been soothed to sleep more than a few nights this winter by the repetitious smashing sound of our ram battering his shed to smithereens. You can hear cows bawling and coyotes howling from miles away. The footprints of mice in your attic. Both of which will wake you from a dead sleep.
When it’s harvest time, tractors, combines, grain dryers and the like will run all day and all night. Gotta make hay while the sun shines. This heightened industriousness pleases me greatly. If you think you’d be pissed instead of pleased, consider a different locale.
5. Be comfortable with spontaneity. Not the “guess what honey, we’re going to Tahiti!” type of spontaneity. I’m talking about the “You’re heading out the door to some Very Important Once in a Lifetime Event and it’s at that very moment your steers get out, or someone decides to maim themselves on a previously hidden hazard and you have to not only kill them but clean them” type of spontaneity.
6. Be comfortable with a life with no spontaneity of your own choosing. We took a day trip recently, and in addition to the 2x I did chores that day, I had to arrange for 4 farm visits from extremely understanding friends. Who were already familiar and comfortable with our routine. One of my tasks for these wonderful, giving souls included “catch and pin the +200lb ewe so her ram lamb can nurse.” It takes a village.
I remember a summer day a couple of years ago, we were supposed to go get our passports renewed in the city. I had reservations about going. We had a brooder full of broiler chicks and I don’t normally leave them for longer than a couple of hours at a time. Chickens are an extremely suicidal bunch. Well, we went. And we came back home to discover that the brooder door had snapped and blown shut, and our broilers were… broiled. It was horrific. Many were dead from the heat of the day already, and many more were dying. They were almost a month old and it was a complete waste. A good number of the survivors died before slaughter. If I couldn’t catch them in the act of dying and found them dead, we obviously couldn’t eat them. I may as well have taken wads of our hard earned money and lit it on fire. Composting fat chicken corpses is a shameful waste.
And so, when the brooder is full, mama stays home. When new animals arrive, mama stays home. When the babies are due, mama stays home. When it’s a hot day or a very cold day, mama stays home. When it’s chore time or milking time, mama heads home.
Home is where your heart is; home is where your herd is; home is where you are.
7. Be comfortable with death. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Rural life is equal parts beauty and brutality.
Accidents happen, and you will have to be prepared to end a life out of mercy. Immediately. Could be a tiny little critter like a baby chick in need of culling. Could be a big critter like a horse who has cleared a fence and gotten hit by a car. Could be a ewe torn apart by a coyote. How are you going to end a life quickly and humanely? Are you ready?
If you think you are going to just keep a few animals, and once they are done being productive you’re just going to let them live out their years in healthy contentment, and you will never see violence… you are dreaming a beautiful dream.
Predation happens. When you already live in the middle of nowhere, where do you catch and release the racoons who are tearing your chickens to pieces? Miles away is still next door and it’s not very neighbourly to pass your problem along.
A couple of years ago we had chickens killed by coons every day for nearly two weeks. And we dispatched a coon every day for the same duration until the slaughter stopped. Wake up, dispose of shredded corpse, get a mouthful of shit water, fill feeders, shoot coon, dispose of corpse, reward self with morning coffee. Rinse, repeat.
8. No matter the weather, you’ll weather the weather, whether you like it or not. Chores need to be done, about the same time, every day. Sun, rain, sleet, heat, snow. The more extreme the weather, the more you will have to check on your critters.
This morning, chores were a treat. It was not snowing. (It is April and in Canada, that means it’s still winter). The shining sun made me happy enough not to care about the poo pond that is my entire yard and pasture. Boot stealing mud, everywhere. And as I type this, it’s time for me to go do chores. It is a torrential downpour out there. In about an hour, I will come in chilled to the core, soaked in rain and shit.
AND I WOULDN’T HAVE IT ANY OTHER WAY.