An Extra Effort

One of the joys of living on a farm is the ability to walk out the back door and harvest what is needed for a meal right out of the ground, or the orchard, or the berry patch, or from within the hen house. “Eat local” can’t begin to compare with “Eat from the Backyard”.

So over the years on the farm, we’ve raised chickens–starting with the chicks under a hot lamp, watching the growing pullets start laying dainty small eggs which, over several months of hen development, become full size oval jumbo AA eggs, discovered warm in a cozy nest under a hen’s breast. There is distinct satisfaction of a “eureka!” moment anytime a new egg is gathered. It is even more gratifying when the egg is broken in the pan and two yolks pour out instead of one, a symbol of that hen’s extra effort that day.

When our hens were free range, the finding of the nest and gathering of the eggs was definitely a greater challenge than simply opening a chicken coop door. It required investment of time and ingenuity to think like a hen trying to hide her brood. I would remind myself that a hen’s brain is smaller than a walnut and mine is, well…. bigger, so this should not have been such a difficult task.

Our chicken raising days ended abruptly a few years ago when a marauder of some sort dug its way under the wire into the coop in a stealth operation in the dark of night and, leaving only feathers behind, took and stole off with every hen from the roost while she slept. We didn’t have the heart to replace them given the possibility of that happening again, no matter what precautions we took.

So these days our fresh eggs arrive weekly with my husband’s uncle, who graciously shares his plentiful egg crop with us when he comes for Sunday dinner. I do miss the daily egg hunt, the cackle of a hen as she is about to lay, the musical hum she makes when she is happily brooding on the nest, and the feel of her plump fluffiness as I reach underneath her to wrap my hand around that warm smooth oval surface.

It all comes back to me when I break one of those fresh eggs into the pan and it is a double yolker.

Some hen made a special effort, just for me.

Buttercup Bantams bred by Benjamin Janicki at Janicki Buttercups
Buttercup Bantams bred by Benjamin Janicki at Janicki Buttercups

There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere…

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It’s manure spreading time at BriarCroft–time to recycle six months of accumulated Haflinger poop (plus shavings) back to the fields from where it originated. The fields soon will be too wet and mushy to run the manure spreader over without cutting deep ruts, so October is our window of opportunity to reduce the mountains of manure that have accumulated over the spring and summer so we can start “fresh” for the fall and winter. There is nothing quite so satisfying as making good use of what appears to the average citizen to be noxious organic material.

Au, contraire!

This poop is the best fertilizer in the world, because it is produced, with love and not much effort, by our Haflingers.

Scooping poop out of stalls is a therapeutic exercise in more ways than one and usually far more satisfying than pitching the figurative stuff
all day in other settings. There are a few Haflingers that are ‘pilers’—beautifully barn trained creatures that they are, leaving nice neat little collections tidily in one corner of the stall, one deposit on top of the other, so that when you are cleaning, you have only to remove 20 lbs. of manure in one forkful without having to do a thing to the rest of the stall except fluff the shavings. Then some Haflingers are of the ‘the more the merrier’ variety–leaving many small piles around the stall like so many Easter eggs to be found. It is more time consuming to clean, but satisfying as the stall looks so much better when you leave it than when you walked in. Lastly are the Haflinger ‘blenders’ whose stalls remind me somewhat of my children’s bedrooms on a very bad day. If you dare to open the door, you’ll find a whirlwind of everything mixed together, impossible to sort clean stuff from dirty stuff and the temptation is to just walk back out and close the door without even trying.

We pile our manure loads onto cement slab, and as the months go by there is greater challenge to accomplish the dumping of the load as the wheelbarrow must be pushed or pulled up the pile. Eventually one feels like Sisyphus attempting to roll the rock uphill only to have it roll back down again and have to start again. Manure piles do settle though, and shrink with the decomposition taking place, so it is possible to keep loading on top and not see a whole lot of change in the height of the hill over time. When the time comes for spreading, we start digging into the pile, revealing layers as if on an archaeological dig. The steam rises from the opened pile, and sometimes the heat is so great that I barely touch it comfortably with my bare hand. It steams in the manure spreader and as it flies out the back of the spreader onto the fields, it appears to be a great gaseous chemical concoction that we are throwing back to the grass (which of course it is!)

We are rewarded with the growing grass in the spring–indeed this is the ‘pony’ in this pile of poop–in fact many ponies! Brown smelly organic material returns back to the land to provide sweet green organic material for the next winter. It is a remarkably simple formula. We purchase no additional fertilizers, we buy little outside hay. The Haflingers provide for the fields, the fields provide for the Haflingers, then the Haflingers provide for the fields once again. Our mission, as we choose to accept it, is to get it back out to the fields, and when the grass is ready to harvest, bring it back in. Transformation of waste to nourishment all in one year’s time.  In this day and age, this is referred to as “sustainability”.  I call it good stewardship.

Can I say the same of the things I cast off as “worthless waste” in my own life? There are stinky, yucky, messy and ugly parts of myself that I wish I could throw away, flush and never see again.   Is it possible that I should be figuratively gathering it up, to haul off and pile up to decompose all on its own, in the fervent hope it will be somehow transformed into something useful?

Instead I tend to let the piles accumulate around me in my daily life.  Rather than shoveling into a transforming clean-up, I remain messy too much of the time.

So perhaps I better start looking for the “pony” buried deep in my own pile . I know he’s in there just waiting to be found.  I just have to get dirty and start digging…

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