Winter is upon us at Daisy Hill and as in the past it is once again rearing it's ugly head. I quickly learned that owning and running a hobby farm is not for the faint of heart. It is hard work, really hard. But more than that there is a lot of heartbreak, a lot of death and loss. This is never more clear than during a harsh Michigan winter. This year we were lucky to have such a long stretch of warm, mild weather and really not much snow at all until January. It was easier on us as caregivers to not be shoveling snow paths to all of the outbuildings as early as November, not be dressing in 5 layers of Carhartt's , not be hooking up heat lamps, extra bedding, extra heated bowls and extra sweaters for the goats. It was much easier weather-wise. However, with every kind of climate on a farm comes every kind of problem. Warmer, wetter weather means more parasites. Mites and lice love warm wet climates. It also means that everything, every area where animals live becomes a mud pit. Everything gets smelly, really smelly. And everyone and everything is dirtier. The last two winters were particularly rough. We had multiple days where the temps dropped way below freezing. We lost animals to the severe cold both years and it was devastating. Not only did we feel guilty that we couldn't prevent the losses, but we were heartbroken. When one of our animals dies, it is a hard loss. They are our pets, not just livestock. We spend the majority of our time with them, caring for them and loving them. Some animals are really expensive and we have to drive many miles to get them. Some are particularly sweet, or tame, or were a bottle baby who really never stopped acting like a baby. Some are just sweet rescues who were in such bad shape when we got them that they are hardly recognizable now. So to lose one who you have nourished back to a healthy, happy creature is just too much to bare. I have learned to not call anyone my "favorite". It seems that once you call it your favorite, it somehow manages to be the one who gets eaten by a predator or contracts a mysterious disease and passes away. I no longer have "favorites". They are all just equal. They are all wonderful, magical creatures who we share our lives with. Wether we rescued it, hatched it, assisted in its birth, or just went and bought it, they are all special and enhance our daily existence. Three weeks ago we lost one of our gorgeous bucks to an illness. We took him to MSU to try to save him but he lost the fight. I cried and prayed before I knew we had to put him down because I wanted him to make it. Then I cried again when we did give the o.k. to put him down. The second cry was because I knew he was no longer suffering, almost like a relief. That is how my farm emotions have evolved. I have learned to live with the loss. It's not any easier, but it's almost expected. Today I found one of my young Silkie chicks, not quite full grown, trampled and flattened like a pancake in the smaller coop. She was my daughters favorite. The other birds must have trampled over her when they were all filing in for the night to get out of the deep cold. It made my heart sink when I saw her. I had to fight back my tears of frustration. It was an accident. Nothing more. A sad accident. But a few minutes after that I found a nest in the Flemish Giant hutch and seven day old baby bunnies. My heart soared! The doe who we assumed could not get pregnant had secretly delivered a littler of seven kits! It was a joyful moment, and my pain of losing the Silkie swiftly disappeared. That is how it goes on a farm. Life and death. Pain and joy. Tragedy and miracles. It goes full circle, this circle of furry, feathered lives. The good and the bad. But the small miracles always outweigh the losses. Each and every time. Every time a tiny chick emerges out of it's shell, every time a tiny goat drops on the ground, just born, all wet and strong, every time a little fluffy nest stirs with newborn bunny kits, it's all worth it. All of the pain and sadness becomes a faint memory and the joys of the new lives encompass us, captivate us, and help us to remember why we love doing what we do.
When my husband Roger married me 16 years ago I don't think he ever thought he would one day be living on a farm, raising our 3 kids along side our many farm animals. In fact I don't think he imagined that we would have done any of the crazy things we have done since we bought our farm 3 years ago. I have been thinking lately what it is like for him to be married to a farm enthusiast, animal fanatic, soul-searching, live life to the fullest kind of woman. Luckily for me he is incredibly supportive of allowing me to follow my dreams and he is very, very easy going.
Roger and I met and fell in love like most couples through mutual friends. He had just moved back to Michigan from Telluride, CO and I was living in my own home and working as a Realtor. We had both traveled extensively, both loved the outdoors, adventure and had similar goals. We eventually got engaged and married in 1999. We both knew we wanted to try and start a family right away because we were both 30. As luck would have it I did get pregnant right away with our first son. We had another boy 2 years later and a girl 2 years after that. Our family was complete. We were living happily in Birmingham and even though we had a nice home, our kids attended good schools and we were close to our families, something just never felt right for me. I wasn't comfortable in our setting. I longed for more. More green space, more fresh air, more passion and a simpler, slower way of life. I knew that I belonged on a farm. I had always loved animals and I knew that our family would benefit from a change in lifestyle and I believed that Roger would too. So after much begging and convincing, we finally sold our home and bought our old farmhouse on 7 acres. It was a dream come true.
We had decided that if we didn't love it, we could always move back to the suburbs, but I knew that that wouldn't be the case. I knew deep down that we would fall in love with our new lifestyle. And we did. The kids quickly adjusted to their new schools, made new friends and we seemed to fit in to our new laid back life quite well. I no longer had to wear yoga clothes to the bus stop or put make up on to run to the market. I could just be me. It was so refreshing. No pressure to be perfect and outdo the neighbors. No associating with people who did not seem sincere or real. It wasn't just a change of scenery or real estate, it was a change of social environment, social status and social economics. It was immediately noticeable in the local stores where people all called you by your name, and in the school where mom's didn't have to be elected to become a room mom, everyone was welcome to help out and everyone was pleasant. Neighbors were friendly and welcoming. No one was nosy about our business. No one cared if you built a bonfire, rode a snowmobile down the road or had chickens crowing in the yard. It was definitely NOT the suburbs.
Now that I had it, finally had it, my farm, my dream, my own little piece of paradise I didn't waste a minute starting my dream farm menagerie. We came to the new house with our 3 dogs, our 2 cats, a tortoise, a mini pig and some fish. But the first farm animal on my list was a goat. I knew I had always loved goats and couldn't wait to get one. I spent long hours researching goats, the breeds and how to care for them until I found my first one to buy. Roger pulled into the driveway one night to find me waiting on the porch with a tiny white Nigerian doeling who I named Daisy. She was our first and our mascot. It was love at first sight. And of course I hadn't prepared Roger for my new companions arrival, I figured it was better to just surprise him. And that is how it began. He would come home and there would be a new critter (or critters), waiting to meet him. Being married to me isn't easy. There are many surprises and many projects on my "can you please build me this?" list. A farm girl is always dreaming up her next improvement to the farm, her next garden install, her next pasture fence, her next breeder pen, or her next home improvement or remodel project. A farm girl is passionate. She loves being surrounded by animals, and flowers, and children(in my case) and nature. A farm girl is strong, stubborn and determined. If she can do it herself, she will. She is brave and isn't afraid to walk out in the dark in her pajamas to close the coops at night. A farm girl is hard working, doesn't mind getting dirty, getting pooped on, or getting attacked by a bad rooster. She isn't afraid to assist with a birth, push in a prolapsed uterus or pick up a dead animal with her bare hands. She will feed the organic veggies from Whole Foods to the geese and bunnies before making a salad for dinner. She loves to cook and create, upcycle and design. She wants her home to be magazine worthy and her barnyard to look like a page from a storybook. A farm girl will also almost always "round down". When a farm girl's husband asks how much something had cost, she will always round down to a more acceptable amount. This is also often referred to as "wife math." I have found this to be true with many of my other farm girl friends. A farm girl would rather get a new chicken than a new purse. And she would rather have a barn full of animals than a box full of jewelry. My husband can attest to that as I am very good at buying my own gifts for special occasions, a new lamb for Mother's Day, a few new Silkies for my birthday, or some rare geese for Valentine's Day. Plus it takes the pressure off of him to find me a perfect gift.
As a farm girl I am constantly planing, scheming, and finding ways to improve the farm. I am always thinking ahead. What will my garden need next year? How can I expand it? How many chickens can I breed this season? Next season? What breeds should I add? Where can I move the geese so they stop pooping all over the driveway? Should I get an LGD to guard the property and prevent more loss to predators? How many goats kids will we produce next Spring? How can I improve the birthing pens? Should I get a pair of Peacocks since they are so pretty and I think I need them walking around just for ambiance? These are the things I think about all day and night. And that is along side the usual never ending list of to do's and kids activities and sports, etc....So for my husband, who's world consists mainly of work, uptight clients, work, helping with the kids, and what ever is left over, it is hard from him to accommodate my ever growing needs. He comes home, exhausted from his 12 plus hour day, and tries his best to be in it. In my world, my head, my needy, greedy, growing to do's and can we's and should we's? He is a knight, a Prince, a giver of givers, and he always, always makes room for his farm girl and her passions. He really never says no. He is a yes man. Like a line from the country song by Jason Aldean, "it's your world and I'm just in it, aint no other way to spin in." He is truly amazing and I don't know how he manages to handle it all. I am forever grateful for his ability to appease me and make us a priority. And I know that this world that we have created for ourselves and our children gives him a great sense of peace, pride and tranquility. At the end of the day, after all of the chores and the work and the stress of the day, it is a place of calm and spiritual healing. This farm girl just wants to live life to the fullest and for every minute to count.
A favorite quote that I found that relates to farm girls (or any girl) everywhere:
"Love what you do and prepare to dedicate your life to your passion, it will not always be easy or fun, but nothing will reward you more."
And, "follow your arrow wherever it points."~Kacey Musgraves
Now that we are nearing the end of another school year, I was thinking how raising kids and getting through each school year is like a race. In the Fall we go back-to-school shopping. We buy clothes and endless supplies and stock up on lunch snacks and new shoes. It's fun and exciting and we are actually ready to get back to a routine. We want to have a schedule and be busy again, and we feel rested and rejuvenated after the long summer. Thinking about that now seems absurd. How could we really be tired of the lazy days of Summer and really want to get back to the starting line? But it happens, just like clockwork, every Fall there we are, with our foot on the block waiting for the gun to fire.
The race starts out with a bang! We are prepped and ready. Out of the start gate, the kids are off. They have their first day of school outfits, fresh haircuts, new lunch boxes and backpacks. They are organized and so are we as parents. We have read through the mounds of handouts, filled out endless forms, signed all of the slips, stood in the lines at registration and orientation, and written umpteen checks. We have written and highlighted on our calendars, made lists and placed sticky notes for all the reminders. We have signed up for the sports, the after-school activities and the multiple other enrichments. We have enrolled in the email blasts and sign-up genius lists. We have signed the waivers and the emergency cards, all 3 copies, per kid. We have it covered. Our houses are clean, the groceries are stocked and we even got a car wash. It feels good to be ready and we blast out of the start gate with gusto. The race is on.
Then as we are all sprinting through the first few laps we decide we can settle into a moderate jog. We fall into a pattern. We keep up but we slow our breathing and find a comfortable rhythm. The kids get used to waking early and going to bed on time. We volunteer and donate and bake and carpool. It becomes surprisingly easy. The pace is set and it remains there for many, many, miles and months.
Then we round the bend directly slamming into the holiday season. Things get rough in the new terrain. We have to run uphill, through very rocky twists and turns for almost three months. It's stressful but we push through it with all our power. It takes a toll, physically and mentally and we suffer a bit of a set back in the race. But then, just when we think we cannot pull ahead, Spring arrives. Like a cool drink of water, we sip it in. The sun reappears and we peel the layers of clothing just to feel it on our skin. We get our second wind and our momentum suddenly picks up again. The kids feel invigorated and distracted and begin to lose focus of the finish line. They start becoming forgetful. They lose their belongings constantly and start slipping on their assignments. The finish line is too close and they just can't remain motivated. Parents are constantly bringing up the slack, running forgotten lunches to school, administering cold meds for those coughs that have lasted for months, gathering sports equipment that was left on the field, and trying to remember that one last mandatory school trip meeting. We struggle to stay on top of it, the sign-ups and birthday invitations come at us from all directions and the lists and sticky notes seem to swallow us whole. Not to mention the ever intrusive events; last minute meetings with clients, trips to the E.R., weddings, and funerals. Our houses are dirty, messy, and unorganized, and our cars haven't seen a wash since November. But somehow we manage to squeak by without feeling like utter failures as parents, friends, sons and daughters, and spouses.
As we close in on the final lap, we begin to care less about finishing first. We know will just be happy to drag our tired, battered bodies across the line. At this point there is no shame in crawling. We see and feel the colors of Spring splashing across our chests like the hues of a color run, and all we want is to bask in the glow of soon-to-be Summer. We are done with rushing and impossible schedules. Done with the e-blasts, permission slips, appointments, play dates and lost and founds. And done with the race. The air is filled with renewed joy and an eagerness to just be. We are all just be proud of entering the marathon of all marathons, and in the end, whether we drag or dash over that line, we are all winners.
"The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." ~George Washington Burnap
I am Amy, a mother of 3 wonderful teens. I am a self proclaimed animal fanatic, hobby farm enthusiast and lover of all things natural. I enjoy writing, junking, cooking, creating, decorating, home renovation, gardening, exercising, spending time outdoors, traveling, working our farm, raising our children and living life to the fullest.
Lulu, Misa, and Pearl, all part of one happy family!
Me and the guy who made it all possible, Rog.
Lulu with Dexter the Mini pig.