Sore muscles, busted up knuckles, pulled backs, hornet stings, irretrievable splinters, all kinds of fun.
The last few days have brought ache and pain of a different kind.
The aches and pains of the farmer's heart.
Its one thing to butcher a healthy animal in a humane and dignified way, its quite another to euthanize an injured animal.
I don't know that I will ever go through the motions of that process disaffected. I had to put down one of our chickens on Good Friday, after our boxer broke into the chicken coop. It was a visceral hurt, cut quick in the gut and permeating the brain and wrenching out grief you didn't know you could ever feel for a chicken. One was more than I could take. J put down the other chicken once he arrived home.
On Saturday I loaded the kids into the car and we headed out to a local farm and picked up four new hens and headed home. Quick and easy, I thought.
Thus began a weekend of trial and error.
Did you know that introducing adult hens into a flocks of other adult hens is a bad idea?
Did you know that you have to quarantine the new chickens from the old flock for thirty days before integrating?
Did you know that the old gentle flock will suddenly turn into the bitches from Mean Girls the minute you try and move a few new hens in?
Yeah. It got ugly real fast.
Quarantine for thirty days?? Are ya kidding me?
We have a grand total of ONE chicken coop. Its a great coop, thick cement on the outside, predator proof, nice wood nesting boxes. Truly, a great coop. But it is coop, singular. J built a fantastic chicken tractor but it is by no means a long term solution if you need to quarantine chickens and keep two separate flocks. This was made abundantly clear on Monday morning.
I made my early morning trudge to the coops with their feed bucket and met with carnage a la king. Turns out our dog was whining last night for a reason. A fox dug a hole underneath the tractor and destroyed all four of our new hens.
A heavy salve of guilt and horror was smeared over Friday's raw wound.
I wanted to leave the mess for J to deal with when he got home. But I have four boys in the house waiting to run outside and play. So I took a deep breath and barreled through the clean up.
I knew going into this that farming would not come to us instinctually. We are sorely lacking in basic farm knowledge. But we will get it. Hard earned and sweat soaked, it will come to us.
10 minutes later I walked inside, half defeat and half determination, if such a mixture is possible. I picked up the phone and called my favorite farmers, my Abuelos. Knowledge a plenty over there.
Abuela E commiserated with me over the losses. Six chickens in three days. Ouch. We didn't get to eat a single one. Wastefulness. Which stings on a whole other level once you have shared a home and broken bread with someone who has nothing.
She started sharing her stories. Her false starts and her trials and her errors and her miseries and her moments of frustration. I listened and laughed and teared up a few times. I felt grateful that at the age of 30, I can still pick up the phone, call grandparents and let age old wisdom soak in through the receiver.
I don't know how much the boys will remember of this trial and error phase of farm life. Will they remember seeing their Mama's tears on that Good Friday when she had to kill a hurting friend? Will a hazy memory of the fox hole and the explosion of feathers ever break the surface?
Boys, this is worth it. All this heart ache and pain. We do it because we love it, yes. But we also do it for you.
A few days ago Cubs came bounding into my room, overall-clad and freckled, sun-streaked hair and cheeks pink and sweaty from the outdoors. "I love farm work! I am a great farmer boy."
Those words were said proudly, with great enthusiasm and joy.
It made me want to press forward, it made me know that I could.