Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thoughts while falling asleep

This is not a farming story per se, but it started with a rooster crow in the middle of the night.

Midnight is not a usual time for a rooster to crow, and we have had a raccoon in the neighborhood lately, so I was awake immediately and ran down to check on things.

The goats were all peacefully lounging, and all the chickens were accounted for. All were perched in the rafters except for Dustin, our new rooster (I promise he'll get his own story soon) and Granite, a big white hen.

I watched them climb back up to the rafters. They appear to be safe up there, but on the ground they are easy prey.

When I went back inside, inevitably I could not sleep. I tried reading Middlemarch. It was the section of Middlemarch when the reader starts to realize what a long book it is. I caught up on some emails I should have sent out earlier. I deleted some photos from my phone and reorganized my mailboxes. Still waiting to sleep.

It occurred to me what a fortunate life I have, and in that half dozy state of comfort, I began to list all my blessings.

I have my parents, and all my siblings, my spouse and my child. I don't want to take these people for granted. I am incredibly lucky to have known them and luckier yet that they are all still around.

I have all five senses intact.  I don't feel enslaved to my senses, but I have not lost any of my wonder at them. The crow of a rooster still wakes me up in the dead of night and I feel fortunate that this is so.

I have made friends, and they are knitting together into a community. In my younger days I wouldn't have believed this possible. I like people but I'm the first to admit, I don't really 'get' the secret of being comfortable socially. I'm delighted to have friends who accept this, and who are comfortable with the same kinds of friendship I am.

I am also no longer ashamed to like being alone.

I am healthy. I keep waiting for aches and pains, but if I have any they are no worse than the different ones of my twenties. I'm on a plateau, where I've learned all my triggers, and know how to avoid them. It may not last indefinitely, but at this moment I can honestly say I've never felt better.

I have always loved animals, and I am able to have them in my life in ways that are productive. I have made peace with the fact that I will outlive most of the animals I care for, and that I will participate in the respectful end of life for many of them. And occasionally eat them.

I was getting sleepier as I went on making my list. I would think of new things and try to fit them into broad categories of gratitude.

And as I fell asleep, one last random thought floated into my lapsing consciousness. Don't ask me why, but I thought to myself

"And I have absolutely no fear of spiders".

Goodnight everyone.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Crimson Clover - an ode and tribute

It’s already October - the main harvest is over
And the rain’s a harsh lover when soil is uncovered

Will erosion take over? Can the weeds all get smothered?
It’s time to discover, my one favorite cover:

Crimson Clover, Over and Over

When the long stems of barley  just seem too darned gnarly
When you want rhizome action, and break up soil compaction
If you want some good forage that’s not fuzzy like borage
It’s too cold for buckwheat and you shout out, oh  f#@& wheat
It’s too tall for my mower just give me that clover!

Crimson clover, over and over

It attracts pollinators you’ll be glad for them later
If your soils acid, lime it and you need a mild climate
Just broadcast and plant it then take it for granted
Till in spring you discover the most beautiful clover!

Crimson Clover, over and over!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Goodbye Cosmo

We are very sad to announce that Cosmo, the rooster, is gone.

Cosmo joined Several Gardens Farm as a young rooster back in 2003, as part of a group of bantam chickens given to us by neighborhood children. We did not know his age at the time, but we estimate he was between 7 and 12 months.

He was our faithful rooster for eleven years. Few humans could have show the courage, generosity or loyalty he did. He never ate anything until his hens had been given first choice. He never ran from danger until the flock had made good its escape. Then he would run screaming from his predator, diverting them from everything but the red comet of noise he could become.

He never knew how tiny he was. He took on fights with stray roosters in the neighborhood, with a huge drake duck, with his own evil and ungrateful son. Never once in his life did he win a fight. We often had to rescue him. But he was always gentle with people, to the point of letting kids pull on his feathers or cuddle him like a baby.

He never abandoned his hens, even if it meant being constantly beaten by another rooster, or stalked by a cat. He knew his duty. Once a foolish hen flew into the neighbor's yard and was attacked by their dog. Cosmo went in to get her. I went in to get him, too late for the hen.

This summer he slowed down. He became too weak to climb up to the perch and began to sleep in a nest instead. He stopped leaving the barn, except to eat, drink or sit in the sunlight. Courting the hens was ancient history.

Then about a week ago, he started wandering off. He had a very strong sense of place, and never left the yard, but suddenly he was showing up at the neighbors. He was losing weight, and looking wrinkled in his skin. His crop was never full any more, as though he had stopped eating.

I began to lock him up at night, which I had never done before. Then we locked him up in the days, too, as he couldn't stop wandering. But it was a strange wandering - he would sit still for hours, then walk off to the fence line, where he would huddle miserably. I began to make plans for his end of life. I could see it was soon. While it would have been nice for him to peacefully pass, I was getting ready to bring him a quicker ending.

Then one day, I let him out to sun himself and went away for a bit. I came back and he was gone. Three days have past and we haven't seen or heard him.

A rooster doesn't hide. Can't hide. I am certain if he were alive, Cosmo would crow. I have hunted down every rooster cry in the neighborhood. I've discovered many, well loved roosters that I knew nothing about, but none of the crowing is Cosmo.

I have to conclude he has died. I never believed that animals 'went off to be alone to die', but I can see the logic for a rooster. As head of the flock, most roosters have a huge investment in the chicks that are their offspring, and in the well being of the hens who care for them. A weak, old, disoriented rooster could bring down predators on his whole flock. Walking away, letting them catch him far from his family, might be a last service he can give to the flock he has cared for so valiantly and well. I feel guilty and horrible for letting it happen but there's a certain sense in it.

To his great credit, Cosmo has made me a lifelong fan of roosters. I will find another one - many roosters need homes. I will try to find one as gentle, brave and devoted as our Cosmic Cosmo, and I will try to let him be his own rooster, instead of making him fill the giant shoes of his tiny predecessor.