So, You Think You Can Farm

April 8th, 2013

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.

Endless.  Pooing.

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.

25 Responses to “So, You Think You Can Farm”

  1. Mom says:

    Brilliant xx

  2. alex says:

    You should write a book about farming/farm life.

  3. Charley says:

    Love it. I live on a farm (not mine), I grew up around farms and farmers and I sure as hell couldn’t do what you do. I think it’s the death aspect that counts me out, just too much of a bleeding heart sissy. Probably asked you before but have you read The Egg & I by Betty MacDonald? One of my favourite books as a kid, about her life on a chicken farm, very funny, your writing reminds me of her!

  4. Zayin says:

    Puts me in mind of my childhood.
    It was awesome. We used to reek of chicken shit, then my mother would scrub us all as neat as pennies and put us in our fanciest frocks to attend church. No-one was going to look down on us!

    Many of the famers I know are neat/clean freaks outside of the yard–they want to defy the stigma of being smelly or unkempt. My aunts houses gleam and shine and they would kill you if you appeared at the table unwashed. Stinking one minute–polished the next. It was fairly incongruous.

    (Unless you’d been handling liver or petrol–those scents don’t shift easily)

  5. Lacey Jean says:

    I love this. A whole lot. The farm life is shitty. In the most literal sense. Farm life is all consuming, heart wrenching, cold, filthy, exhausting and brutal. It is also beautiful, full filling, life giving, and sweet. I too, am one of those that thrive in a life of carhartts, shit, dirt and mascara. I really enjoyed this post. It’s the cold hard, beautiful truth!

  6. kate says:

    So much work, though I’ve always envied friends raised on farms, your family is so lucky to have those experiences. It takes some serious strength to make the hard decisions for animals in your care, they’re lucky too.

  7. Ivy says:

    I’m going to form a band called Puffy & The Dripping Vulvas.

  8. April says:

    #5: I almost hit one with my car when I came home one night, it was standing in the middle of the driveway, just on the other side of a bend.

    #7: We lost a hen overnight to a fox or a raccoon, blood and feathers everywhere, I hope that animal was REALLY hungry.

  9. April says:

    And by “one” I mean cow. I need an editor :)

  10. Mo strange says:

    Haha! Love this post. You have a way of stating facts and still making it sound so appealing!

  11. Adriana says:

    This is such a wonderful blog entry! I enjoy reading your blog but this one has to be my favorite entry. You tell it like it is. Plain and simple. I don’t live on such a big farm like you but I do have some property that I slowly want to build up with animals and gardens. I’ll have to run thru this list overs and over again. I’m a city girl that moved to the country and its a big adjustment and a lot to get use to. Thank you for shedding some light!

  12. MissNomer says:

    I’ve met a lot of people who just want to keep chickens in their backyard in a cute little designer coop, but when I mention things my farming friends tell me about, like egg binding, culling, and raccoons pulling chicken bits through unsecured parts of the coop they go pale. I hate that the media glosses over the reality of keeping animals.

  13. ElyceM says:

    Wow. Just wow. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this even though I’m one of those people guilty of “dreaming a beautiful dream”. Thanks for keeping it real. I think I’ll stick to living vicariously through your blog and instagram…. I’m definitely not cut out for that shit… (animal poop and generally speaking).

  14. Derek Mc says:

    Hello from the other end of Ontario:

    You forgot bathing in shit. I fell into the muck at the bottom of the manure pile. I was wheeling a load up the manure pile during an ice storm. I slipped and ended up sliding down the side of the manure pile into the pond at the bottom. My mother made me strip down outside the house the stench was so bad. I’m pretty sure she burnt my coveralls.

    If you have pigs then there’s the delightful smell of pig shit every time your hair gets wet, I started shaving my head after that. Now my wife and I have a garden and I only have to shovel shit once or twice a year or I can just use mushroom compost :-)

  15. Heather Newman says:

    Growing up on a farm I sometimes forget that people don’t know these things. I am reminded when people express their shock that I would let my children eat the animals they raise in the summer and I wonder “What exactly did you think we were going to do 100 chicks?”

    Shit, sex, birth and death are all part of life. The hard part is that we live in a world that tries to pretend that these things are more or less glamorous then they really are. It’s great that you can explain these things in a way people understand and appreciate. We don’t all have to grow our own food to value of where it comes from.

  16. agronomades says:

    it is a rather shitty dream – soaking but not sulking in it. you may not believe it but this is an encouraging post! for me anyway. no holds barred, no illusions. not like that fiesty ‘real world’ with the bullshit – real, organic, composting shit only. the kind that is still stuck on your pants as you head into town. the shit that will never let you down. this has been a comment about shit. xo

  17. Thank you for this, I could not agree more x 100. One of the reasons I enjoy your instagram feed so much is that you share an accurate unglamorized view of farming. It can be so rewarding but it’s damn hard work (I grew up on a 100 acre horse farm myself). I don’t think a lot of folks who dream of moving out to the country and raising animals realize this.

  18. regina says:

    so so so true, farm life is a far cry from what i imagined. lots of poop, lots of death, lots of money and hard hard work.
    i love our animals, our daughters are in 4h and we love it. but it is more work than i ever imagined!

    thanks for the great post!

  19. Ashley I was wondering, what breed of sheep is Eunice? I know the others are Scottish Blackface and Welsh Mountain.

    Also are you keeping your breeds separated in different pastures? How is that working out?

  20. fiona says:

    That was so well written!

  21. Twwly says:

    Priscilla – no, they all hang out together, unless it’s sexy time. The black welsh are bred to our ram Grenache, who is in his own pasture. The buck has to be separated from him, or he tries to kill him. Another pen. The black face ram is borrowed.

    Eunice is a British milk sheep cross.

    All is well. :)

  22. Martini says:

    is it sick that this just made me lust for the rural life even harder? someday… <3

  23. Jess says:

    Thank you so much for this, and for your blog. I love checking in once in a while, you are living the dream! My dad has a small farm, so I do understand the reality of walking the fences, husbandrying the animals, etc, and the romance people imagine is not the whole picture, nevertheless, I hope that one day I can move out of this massive city I live in and have a bit of space to make and grow things.

  24. Mike says:

    Buying a 25 acre farm. Should close in 45 days. I am very excited and the long time reading of your blog has helped. Thanks.

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