Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Defeat vs set backs

We've had a heck of a week here on the farm.

There's been a mile long list of things to do, including some major projects like running new electric fencing for the meat chicks (now in a NEW upcycled pallet coop), re-configuring the barn for piglets, moving the quail down to the rabbit barn, cleaning out the hen house from winter bedding (hens are out on pasture for the summer),setting up the hen house to be the turkey house, moving the turkey chicks... we won't bore you with the rest. Or the list of things that have not been done yet, which is arguably longer.

We're making progress, and feeling really good about our decision to focus on the livestock. We have a beautiful crop of garlic coming up, and seedlings for our home garden popping through the soil in the greenhouse turned poultry brooder. It's given us a chance to build better infrastructure, analyze finances and feel less stressed about the weather (only slightly, though).

But today, it was just one of those days where everything we touched turned too... well... shit. We picked up four piglets today from a local farmer, and made arrangements to get a few more down the road in a few weeks. The four will be our big heavies for the early fall, we'll raise more for later in the season. The ride home was noisy and rather pungent. One piglet, named Mad Eye for his one blue eye decided he strongly disliked motorized vehicles and squealed, at the top of his tiny pig lungs for the entire 40 minutes. It was a heroic, but highly irritating effort on his part.

Once we returned home from the pig journey, we set about getting the porcine accommodations in order. We had worked late last night, running fencing and mucking out a pen in lower barn. We hauled the pig filled dog crate from the back of the van into, the (we believed) well secured electric fencing and let the little beasts out.

Within moments, they had it set in their minds that no amount of electric would hold them and sped off in 4 different directions. Cue the farmers, in full sprints, trying to remain calm, without yelling or chasing, rounding them back into their preferred location. We did it, fed them some corn and quietly went about lowering the fencing and checking the charge. It was running hotter than a July sun, so we waited a few moments for them to test it out, give up and just eat their snacks in peace.

No luck. Mad Eye, unlike other pigs we've had, decided that it would be better to keep moving forward rather than back up at the shock of the fence- hit those horrible high notes again and just kept running, taking a good section of the fence (which we set up with step-in posts so we can keep it on fresh grass) with him. That damn pig got it in his head he was under siege, and terrified (still screaming, mind you) he bolted high to the top of the next door hay field, then back through the pasture, down across the road and into the bramble, 4 acres or so down. While I tried to track him through the nasty wild rose bushes, Kim managed to get the remaining three piglets, now worked up, into the main barn and safe. Meanwhile, I trekked through streams, rocks, thorns, trying to keep sights on Mad Eye. I lost him.

I walked back up to the farm, deflated. Kim joined me on a pig hunt, and we searched high and low for about an hour. Realizing it was just hopeless, we dragged back up to the house, figuring we could at least get the other three locked into their pen (they were currently just loose in the barn, but too short to rattle the rabbits) to calm down while we re-accessed our fencing options to prevent another disaster.  We figured we'd drink a bottle of water, and head back to look for Mad Eye again with a better plan, and maybe some hedge clippers. Suddenly, we saw Mad Eye, trucking across the road back towards the farm like he knew exactly where he was headed. This isn't uncommon, pigs don't like to be alone, and almost always return, but we had only let him out for moments before the episode and we thought for sure he had lost his bearings in his terror.

We both broke out into an all out run, knowing we really only had one more shot at this. Sweating, thoroughly shamed and thorn ridden, we raced back up to the barn. With me on one side and Kim on the other we finally herded little Mad Eye back into the safety of the barn, where he happily greeted his associates.

Farming. It will make you realize that nature, even livestock, always wins. We do our best, but there is always something new to learn. It's certainly not our first pig escape, but it's our first of this magnitude where the fence was running hot but the pig went forward rather than backward. So now, we've got the crew in their barn pen, calming down and realizing this is where the food comes from and it's really not so bad. The place where we picked them up didn't work them a whole lot, so we have to establish a relationship and then try to teach them the electric fence again. This time, with more posts.

Last I checked, Mad Eye and the crew were grunting through a pile of hay and sopping up water, seemingly enjoying refreshments after their jog through the farm. I made sure the gates outside were locked up tight though, just in case.

You'd think that'd be enough for a day, but even after all this, we still had afternoon chores to do. The tractor had been running poorly all day, and we had hooked it up to the batter charger (think it had a poor draw on it yesterday) all morning. I went to go check on it, and she fired up with no issues. Grateful, I rode down to the barn to pick up feed for the masses.

Naturally, my hope that the charger was all the tractor needed was dashed when it stalled, in the middle of the road, with a wagon attached to the back. Figuring it just needed a jump, Kim pulled the van up. She started, then stalled. Again. Three times. Despite our pig-cardio that morning, we had no choice but to detach the wagon, pull it into the side of the road, then push the tractor in neutral across as well. The battery is now charging again, we're hoping that's the only issue but may have to make a call to get it serviced.

We finished out chores by hand, not terrible on a usual day, but with a little more drag in our step after the mornings work.

The good news is, it's all fine. It was just a really rough day. It's always tough to make every mistake, call every play wrong, and have no one to blame but yourselves. But, it happens. We dust ourselves off and regroup. We try again. Because, well- there's no other choice. No one else is going to fix it. And that's the difference between being actually defeated, and just having a set back. You're only defeated if you don't come back, if you don't keep searching for the piglet, or try to fix the tractor.

Too often, I think we get this beautiful but idealized notions of farming. Truth is, sometimes it's scraped up skin, being out smarted by a pig and broken tractors. It's struggling to get into a farmer's market, forgetting to order feed, and to-do lists that never end. That's beautiful too, in it's way. You just have to squint a little to see it. And indulge in a brownie to soothe your wounds. Or two. Probably two.

1 comment: