Bed Spreading


When I glanced out the  window and saw the large shavings truck pull up to our barn to dump its load in the shavings shed, you’d have thought it was the Second Coming.  I could almost hear the trumpet sound and the heavens sing.  It was that welcome and long anticipated.

We’re in the middle of a wood shavings shortage in the northwest and have been for over a year.  Even pellet stoves are going wanting. Here we are in the land of the evergreens, of thousands of acres of woodlands, and in the old days, a saw mill on every corner.  Many factors have threatened the lumber industry in our part of the country: less expensive lumber coming down from Canada, the spotted owl and the Endangered Species Act, and most recently, a new housing slump because of the economic down turn.  The mills shut down for extended times so the shavings stockpiles have evaporated quickly.  In addition, the mills have decided that their own shavings can convert to pretty decent fuel for steam powered machinery, so they are keeping it and burning it themselves, when previously, it went to whoever would haul it away–free.

No more.

I always try to plan ahead for when I’ll need my next truckload of shavings for bedding the horse stalls.  A two week lead time used to work pretty well, and by the time I’m scooping my last wheelbarrow load to haul to the barn, the truck will drive in ready to dump the next mountain for me, usually lasting about 2-3 months, depending on the time of year and how many horses we have.

I called in early December, knowing I’d need more shavings soon, but hadn’t run out yet.  The local friendly shavings guy said he was out of the business.  It’s not looking good, I was told.  Orders were backing up and the stockpiles were gone.  They were totally dependent on the mills starting back up after Christmas and I was totally dependent on them.

Meantime I was starting to be very careful in my stall cleaning strategy.  No more wasteful scooping of shavings and poop–I needed to filter out the good shavings as best I could.  It easily doubled the cleaning time, this “panning for poop” approach.  But I stretched the shavings I had another week or so.

Then I had to go buy baled shavings at the feed store to tide me over.  This is an outrageously expensive way to go–easily 6x the cost of bulk shavings hauled in by truck.   Pretty soon, even the baled shavings were sold out and none anticipated any time soon.  Then we resorted to straw bedding–a truly desperate measure.  Cleaning straw beds in horse stalls is one of the most difficult jobs as the horse manure just sinks to the bottom of the straw bed and has to be searched out like so many brown Easter eggs.    Straw makes Haflingers happy though–it is like a constant brunch underfoot.

So I was near despair and so were all my local horsey friends.  Then my ship came in from British Columbia today.  Yes, it is costing 150% more than it did when I last had a truckload hauled in a year ago.  But it is sweet fluffy shavings and it made my day.

When I came home tonight, it was pure joy to put on my muck boots and head to the barn.  I started in on the cleaning process and realized that two months of scrimping had left these dirt floor stalls in a sad and mired state.  They are not damp, but they are in dire need of a deep clean that I cannot even begin to do–it will take weeks to dig out all the old stuff so the new bed can be spread.  All I could really do was put on a coating of fresh clean shavings tonight on top of the layers, knowing full well they will be mixed up thoroughly and spoiled by the morning.  However, over time, I will manage to get back to the clean beds I once had.

We can tend to accumulate a lot of muck in our lives, never really doing a deep clean when it is needed.  We get pretty used to sleeping in it, eating in it and not even noticing it after awhile.  But the day when fresh new clean stuff arrives in our lives, how do we react?  Just put it on top of the muck and hope no one will notice what is still underneath?  Abandon the old stalls and build new ones, ready for a fresh start?  Or dig down and really get rid of the old dirt, working as long as it takes to remove it?  What an amazing thing to have a chance to clean it all up!

All I know is that I celebrate that there is still renewal that can come into my life when I least expect it or deserve it.  I can start again and hope for the best.   There is nothing like a sweet fresh bed to rest in.

The Farm Dream



This time of year our farm is brilliant, verdant and delicious to behold.  The cherry orchard blossoms yield to fruit and the pastures are knee high with grass.  By mid-June, the daylight starts creeping over the eastern foothills at 4 AM and the last glimpse of sun disappears at nearly 10 PM.   So many hours of light to work with!  I yearn for a dark rainy day to hide inside with a book.  Instead the lawnmower and weed whacker call my name, and the fish pond needs cleaning and the garden must be weeded.  It’s not that things don’t happen on the farm during months like this.  It’s just that nothing we do is enough.  Blackberry brambles have taken over everything, grass grows faster than we can keep it mowed down, the manure piles spread on the fields in May are growing exponentially again.  The fences always need fixing.  The stall doors are sticking and not closing properly.  Foals have gotten large and strong without having the good halter lessons they needed when they were much smaller and easier to control.   The supply of bedding shavings is non-existent due to the depressed lumber industry, so our shavings shed is bare and old hay is now serving as bedding in the stalls. The weather has become iffy in the last week so no string of days has been available for hay cutting– we are low on the priority list of the local dairy man who cuts and bales our hay,  so we may not have anything but junk hay in the barn this winter in a year when hay will cost a premium.  No one is buying horses in this economy, not even really well bred horses, so we are no longer breeding our stallion and mares, and for the first time in 18 years, have made the painful decision not to be part of our regional fair.

Suddenly our farm dream seems not nearly so compelling.

We have spent many years dreaming about the farm as we hoped it would be.  We imagined the pastures managed perfectly with fencing that was both functional and beautiful.  Our barns and buildings would be tidy and leak-proof, and the stalls secure and safe.  We’d have a really nice pick up truck with low miles on it, not a 25 year old hand me down truck with almost 200,000 miles. We would have trees pruned expertly and we’d have flower beds blooming as well as a vegetable garden yielding 9 months of the year.  Our hay would never be rained on. We would have dogs that wouldn’t run off and cats that would take care of all the rodents.  We wouldn’t have any moles, thistles, dandelions or buttercup.  The pheasant, deer, coyotes, raccoons, and wild rabbits would only stroll through the yard for our amusement and not disturb anything.  We’d have livestock with the best bloodlines we could afford and a steady demand from customers to purchase their offspring at reasonable prices so that not a dime of our off-farm income would be necessary to pay farm expenses.   Our animals (and we) would never get sick or injured.

And our house would always stay clean.

Dream on.  Farms are often back-breaking, morale-eroding, expensive sinkholes.   I know ours is.  Yet here we be and here we stay.

It’s home.  We’ve raised three wonderful children here.  We’ve bred and grown good horses and great garden and orchard crops and tons of hay from our own fields.  We breathe clean air and daily hear dozens of different bird songs and look out at some of the best scenery this side of heaven.  Eagles land in the trees in our front yard. It’s all enough for us even if we are not enough for the farm.  I know there will come a time when the farm will need to be a fond memory and not a daily reality.  Until then we will keep pursuing our dream as we and the farm grow older.   Dreams age and mature and I know now what I dreamed of when I was younger was not the important stuff.

We have been blessed with one another, with the sunrises and the sunsets and everything in between.  This is the stuff of which the best dreams are made.