Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mornings in January

I walk down to the barn after running back up to the house to throw on an extra sweatshirt. It's not quite cold enough for a heavy overcoat, but chilly enough that I'm grateful for worn leather gloves and thick socks. There are huge snow flakes swirling around my head, and a small table sits in the front driveway with a wooden crate perched atop. In the crate are winter CSA shares, decedent hand crafted treats worked on feverishly for two weeks. There is no car in the driveway, Kim has already left for the morning's Albany delivery. It's been a few days since I've been down to the barn, working early and long shifts at the cheese shop while Kim keeps the home fires burning.

I slide open the old, paint chipped barn doors and to my left, 4 of the 17 rabbit kits sit straight up in the grow-out pen, atop a mountain of hay. They look like prairie dogs, curious and wild eyed, waiting for the sound of a tin lid lifting off of a storage bin and the rustle of a feed scoop. A pop door rattles open and two young goat does burst in, throwing their body weight against a pallet lined pen, as if no one has ever fed them before. Those two are about to be three, with a new fellow coming to town to finally start the process of turning the goats into breeding stock... and then dairy animals.The smell of the barn is that sweet, a little damp, winter brew... cleaner then a chicken coop, but teaming with life and pungency.

I set down a five gallon bucket filled with water I was carrying, and fill another with hog feed, nearly a full 25lbs of it for the beasts I can hear announcing the sunrise up the hill. As I walk up, I see downed electric fence spots, and that though we moved them days ago the hogs have plowed through the thawing ground with vigor. They need more space, so I make note to reopen the second pasture gate once the battery is finished charging up, the insurance policy against our own episode of hogs gone wild. The biggest pig is a real brute, tossing the smaller boys aside to eat more than his share, so I split up the feed into several dishes and watch for a moment. The sheep mosey to their side of the gate, indignant that thus far I'm only here to fill their water. I ignore their affronted faces, fill water for them and the pigs and make my muddy way over to the overflowing creek spring, where I refill the bucket.

Once back down to the barn, I use the spring water to fill the goat's bucket and set the rest near the still locked hen coop. The pitch folk is coated in snow, and as I brush it off I notice the call ducks have weaseled their way out of their hut and at staring at me like bobble head dolls, head's slightly askew. Noticing my attention, they bark in loud voices, demanding their rations under the punishment of further, rather vulgar noise disruption should they wait any longer.  After heaving a fork full of hay to the goats, I scoop grain to the ducks who commence happy quacks until they notice their water too, needs filling. Usually I'd then move onto the rabbits, but we're running late, and Legs the Rooster is becoming impatient from inside his brothel confines.

I again, fill a bucket with feed and open the broken coop door, where, like a feathery clown car hens erupt and begin their all day quest to satiate their never ending hunger. Hopscotching through the crowd, I forgo filling the hen watering jug to return to the now exceptionally grumpy sheep with their fork full of hay, pausing to fix another section of pig fencing on my return back down.

The rabbits, ever patient, (and thus last on the list), click their tongues against water bottles as they finally get filled and fed. It sounds like a typing pool when they all get going, and never fails to make me laugh a little. The newest batch of rabbit kits has a runt with a bad eye, and I pull the palm sized critter from the pile of his siblings to apply eye drops to sooth his ills. Usually, at 3 weeks we help the babes out of the nest if they are particularly sloth like, to prevent the build of bacteria in their living space. However, with temperatures dipping well below zero during the earliest days of these babies arrival, we dared not remove them from the comfort of the fur and hay lined cavern their mother built. The eye infection is a direct result of not removing them sooner, and it will clear up with proper care of a saline treatment. Still better then frozen 3 week old rabbit kits.

Once the rabbits have all been tended, I stand in the door way of the barn quickly tallying the afternoon's chores for later. A few rabbit cages need scraping of old hay and manure, with fresh layers of hay provided for snacking and comfort. The pig stall needs a good scrape, along with a liberal application of wood shavings and hay. The hen water, while fine for now, will need 5 gallons later, and, has a mild build of water sediment, so it will need the apple cider vinegar to ward off bacteria. The hens will also need fresh, dry shavings so they can commence making a giant mess of the coop immediately upon my completion. The goats, should the snow keep up, will be furious they can't control the weather, and will take nothing but the driest hay from the safety of their indoor pen. The barn cat is out of kibble. With the animals now happily enjoying their morning, I can feel their forgiveness at my horrible condition of only having but 2 hands to feed them at much too slow a pace. The big snow flakes keep falling, and I sigh the sound of a man who finds his greatest peace in the profoundly unremarkable job of a livestock breakfast concierge.

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