Today started at 6:30am with, “Your goats are out and I’ve got to get to work.”
This post isn’t about the goats, especially since they trotted right into their pen at the sound of, “I’ve got treats!” No, this post is about the nonstop marathon of the past six months.
Exhaustion brings silence. I haven’t posted as much on social media. And my blog has been neglected. Last night, I went to bed with my plate still full of food because I was so tired I didn’t want to deal with chewing. I think my dinner is in the fridge but I haven’t had time to look.
Christmas weekend of last year, we moved into the multi-family redneck-hippie commune farming project, the 130 acres of once-glorious farmland that has been neglected for so long the soil has reverted back to saline sand. Chunks of rusty tractor gears stick up between rabbit brush, artifacts of a farm-that-was. The houses still stand (in a manner of speaking) so we’re living in them as we push to make the land profitable again. Or, at least, functional.
The previous tenants moved out of three dilapidated houses, leaving behind piles of garbage, broken-down vehicles, and dead appliances that we’re still working to haul off, as funds for dump fees permit. (Does anyone want a bunch of nonfunctional washing machines?) They also left the barn cats, which are doing a great job catching mice, and a couple dogs that we agreed to take in.
There are four families here, each with a different focus. Ours is horticulture. This year, we won’t be able to do the community gardens or teaching plots; we can only feed our family. And the land just wasn’t ready for us.
It took 12 pickup loads to transport all the soil we had created through a composting-in-containers method we’ve been working on for the past 5 years. Even more loads to carry all our secondhand farming whatsits (which is the term for something that was never intended to be farming equipment in the first place, but now it is.)
Each weekend has been work, from Christmas Eve til now. On those days it’s rained, we come inside and try to paint another room. And you can mark the seasons by how many walls are done in my office…which we started painting four months ago.
We moved out here with one duck, two turkey hens, three dogs, 10 chickens, and 11 rabbits. Since then, we’ve set up two successful beehives in the garden. Cassie, who belonged to a previous tenant, lounges with our other dogs. Two pigs eat and wallow while building a freezer full of bacon. Garrett (from one of the four families) gave me a tom turkey for Christmas, and now my two hens have a total of 13 babies.
Six more ducks waddle around the coop, beside who-knows-how-many growing chickens. (Between 20 and 35. If you don’t know what “chicken math” is, Google it.) I have six adult goats: four dairy girls and two fainting goats. All the adults have had babies, plus we have four bottle babies. So that’s…15?
…I have six goats. But my goats have some goats.
The gardens are almost planted, except for one bed of pole beans that’s waiting until we can purchase two cattle panels ($25 apiece) for them to climb. I also need to seed another 4’x4′ bed of okra. All gardens have bottoms of hardware cloth or wood…because gophers. They’re surrounded by chicken wire…because quail and rabbits. Soon they’ll all be topped with hoop houses made of cattle panels then wrapped in chicken wire…because ground squirrels, unrelenting sun, 70mph winds, unpredictable frost patterns, and livestock that can get loose in the way my goats did this morning.
We’re exhausted. I’ve had the same cold for two weeks and lost my voice for three days. The doctor says I’m “farming too hard.” Nothing else wrong. Just going nonstop. It’s me (41 years), my husband (44 years), and our daughter who just turned 17 years old.
The day is scheduled before it happens. Get up at 6:30am, feed animals and milk goats and do all the watering I can before it gets hot. At 10am, I’m either on a conference call, working on the magazines, or traveling 70 miles into Reno for my other job. 7pm is time to milk the goats again, then start caring for all the other animals before dark…unless we’re just getting back from working in Reno, and then that all happens later. The goal is to do as much as we can at night, so we’re not rushing in the morning. Then we crash into bed, trying to make it there soon enough that we can get a restorative sleep before the next morning.
Everything between 10am and 7pm depends on the day: Are we working in Reno? Is a magazine in edits, with deadlines pending? Is it 100 degrees outside? Any new animals born today? Do I have food that will spoil if I don’t preserve it this very second? Will a garden bed die if I don’t water it within an hour? Are we still painting rooms, building gardens, building animal shelters, repairing stuff? And do we have any help today?
Usually, it’s just us. The LDS missionaries have been amazing, coming out most Saturdays and helping with the kind of work most other people absolutely refuse to do. You know, the kind that might stain your clothes and roughen your hands. We’ve had a few friends make the long drive from Reno to help for a few hours. And all this hard work has set a solid conviction: If there happens to be any food surplus this year, after all our efforts, it goes to those who have actually come out to the land and gotten dirty to help us. Work on the farm, go home with food.
Now I’ve got to go, because there are 50lbs of apples sitting in my dining room, waiting for me to can up quarts of apple pie filling. (No, I didn’t grow them. My apple trees are still tiny. I found a super sale.)
Until next time…
Don’t Die Out There!
On the 6th Day of June, the Homestead Gave to Me…
- 13 turkey poults
- 12 truckloads of soil
- (we won’t talk about how many chickens…)
- 10 calloused fingers
- 9 baby goats
- 8 gallons of goat milk
- 7 ducks a’ quacking (all day, every day)
- 6 no-till gardens
- 5 broken washers
- 4 shedding puppies
- 3 farmer tans
- 2 buzzing hives
- …and a bad case of dehydration. (Seriously. The doctor says I need to drink more water, or else.)