Saturday, December 9, 2017

Rooster's Crow

Watching his slow moments the evening before, I knew something wasn't right. And...after years on the farm, you just know. Without any visible injury or sickness, he hung his head low as I left the coop. 

Throughout the evening, I felt an anxious tension that lay heavy on my spirit. So I wasn't surprised as I cracked open the coop door this morning that I saw him. Laying in a heap under the roost, he lay cold and life-less. 

In his reign, his beautiful red and green feathers boosted pride and health at The Britten Roost.  Protecting his ladies, crowing with gusto at any sign of danger, educating fair crowds...he was one of the good ones. Big Foot had become the iconic rooster for our property.  And, just like that he was gone. 



Heading off to led a 4-H Poultry meeting, in my hurriedness, I scooped him up and dropped him into an empty feed sack. Without the fanfare, it hardly seemed like the right ending to a king, but the harsh reality of being on the farm. Even in this cold gesture, I knew his gentle presence was going to be missed. 

It wasn't until I was back on my property that I could fully grieve his absence. As I worked later in garden snipping away at the tangled grape veins, I watched his ladies leisurely pecking the ground as they free-ranged. The snow-capped mountain image was sharp and the sun blazed brightly through the forest line. 

Snip, snip; each cut sounded louder than the other. Though everything at a glance was normal, it wasn't. It was oddly quiet without him "talking" to his ladies. I found solace in my work today, almost a deep loss in knowing his absence created the silence. My checks, rosy by now from the brisk winter air, seemed to sting not from the cold, but from the emptiness. 

Yes, just a rooster, many would say. But, our relationship stood really more for a time-honored tradition of respect between a farmer and a rooster. Big Foot was my farm icon. He was my rooster crowing on a fence post and he would be missed. 

As I rounded up the hens calling out to them and rattling the metal bucket filled with scratch, I glanced at his predecessor, a smaller version of the king of The Britten Roost. As he stood there protected behind chicken wire from the ladies he would soon serve; I wondered if he knew of the "shoes" he would soon need to fill in the coming months. I began to think of the future and wondered if he would carry his father's gentle spirit or if I would be leery of stepping into the coop in the days to come. 

It would take time to determine if he was friend or foe. Days before I could once again fill the morning air at The Britten Roost with a rooster's crow. 




Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dairy Post: November 28, 2017

Author's Note: To practice free-writing style, Drew has encouraged me to write down my day-to-day activities occasionally as a writing exercise. Over the years, I've had numerous people wonder what it is like to be at The Britten Roost on a day-to-day basis. These new writing entries, I've titled "Diary Posts" will be this glimpse into life on our property. Enjoy. 

By 7:40 am, I had already cut and scooped the contents of three sugar pie pumpkins, placed them on cookie sheets and was turning on the oven. Despite my lingering cold, I was going to make the best of today. The kids were off on their perspective days, the laundry machine was swirling, and I was frying a couple of delicious farm fresh eggs up for breakfast. I read a couple of emails, downed another cup of tea, and put a few things away from our "morning rush". The washer machine announced its completion so I set myself downstairs to change loads.



Knowing it was garbage day, I found myself outside scooping dog poop in the back yard by 9 am. Glamorous, I know. But, these things must get done. Once I cleared most of Ginger's by-waste I then began picking up all of the logs and sticks she had scattered. Our log piles are located behind the house which are covered under our back porch. This means Ginger has ample access to all of the sticks and logs a dog could dream of and for me, well...it means I play a game of  "52 Card Pick-Up" every few weeks. I used to get annoyed about the logs she drug out, but know I tell myself it is a "work-out" that most people would pay for. Some days even I have to "trick" myself to get the work done.

After I pulled down the recycling and garbage to the end of the lane, I walked slowly back enjoy the light mist of rain that freckled my face. I was greeted by a bark. Ginger was waiting in the garage for me. I couldn't resist her youthful demeanor so I took a few minutes to kick her old, soccer ball around the back yard. Noticing a few more leaves had fallen, I grabbed my rake and pulled them close to the gate to push them out into the woods. I forgot my quick, but, faithful friend so Ginger rushed the back gate and began tromping through the woods. After calling her back several times, she ran back to me smiling. I decided to put Ginger away in kennel while I finished up sweeping up the back patio and preparing the soil for grass seeds. My dad had always called it "roughing the soil" which in layman's terms means dragging a rake back and forth over and area. After preparing the soil in a few key areas, I hand-seeded them with grass seed to help some of the barren areas. This summer's drought caused much plant damage on our property, including some grassy areas. 

After letting Ginger back out, I made my way up to the grain shed to grab the wheel barrow. I raked a few piles of leaves here and there as I made my way back to the chicken coop. I had loaded up the rest of the pumpkins displayed at the front door and added them to the growing pile of pumpkins by the coop. We had been blessed by several families' Halloween/Thanksgiving pumpkins and gourds which I had been breaking and giving to the chickens. The added protein, variety and food was a bonus for our chickens and helped us keep our feed costs down in the winter months. 

As I finished dumping the last load of leaves down into the woods, the soft drizzle had suddenly turned to a full-on down pour. Since the idea of coming back out in the cold rain, didn't sound too appealing I decided to go ahead and chore the animals while I had the chance. I was pleased to see the six new chickens we added to the flock last Friday were doing well and already mingling with the established flock. It is always a gamble when you mix new birds into your flock as they have to "re-establish" the peaking order and sometimes they just don't play fair. In addition, we always do bio-security measures to quarantine, inspect and dust the birds for mites as a precaution.

As I stood filling the last of the remaining chicken waterers, the rain had started to drip through my hair. No bueno. My hair was already making ridiculously large curls, so, I made my best effort not to dawdle. But found myself, sweeping a bit and gathering eggs before I made my quick walk back to the house. Just recently the chickens egg production has increased slightly to an average of 6-8 eggs a day. This was a huge relieve as we count on these eggs to pay for their feed and supplies. Not to mention, many of my regular buyers have become anxious for their regular egg orders to be filled. You would think that 26 possible egg layers would have more, but with the reduced hours of light and many of the hens molting this is still a fair number. As I quickly walked back to the house in the rain, I was grateful for having already pulling the recycling and garbage down. I was soaked.



By the time I had made way back into the house, the air was filled with a thick aroma of pumpkin.  I went ahead and slid the now soft pumpkins out of the oven to cool. Of course, without properly cooling the pumpkins I began peeling back the layers of the outer skin. I'm not sure what the temptation was, but within a few strips I was washing off my fingers with cool water and wondering why I didn't wait. To ease the time, I found myself folding a load of laundry and celebrating that every sock had a mate...well, at least this load. 

After peeling all of the pumpkin and putting it into a large bowl, I mashed the goodness with my potato masher. The warm, soft texture was easy to combine. After measuring out 4 lbs into their containers. The thought of pumpkin muffins and bread became a reality as I pulled out the deliciousness later that afternoon. 

My afternoon was complete. A fire in the fire place, warm pumpkin muffins and the opportunity to share my day.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank you for your continued support of our farm. We are blessed by your friendship and love.
The Britten Roost
Drew, Katie Jean, Fiona and Keegan









Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dairy Post: November 22, 2017

Author's Note: To practice free-writing style, Drew has encouraged me to write down my day-to-day activities occasionally as a writing exercise. Over the years, I've had numerous people wonder what it is like to be at The Britten Roost on a day-to-day basis. These new writing entries, I've titled "Diary Posts" will be this glimpse into life on our property. Enjoy. 

Even though the mountain peeked out from the clouds, today's weather was grey sprinkled with rain. However bleak, the few fall leaves dotted the yard and hung to some of the trees branches almost like trees filled with butterflies. Most of my work is done for the day, so I sit and enjoy a sweet orange and a hot cup of tea. The tea is surely a welcome warmth as somehow in the last few days I've seemed to lose my voice.

I finished cleaning the rest of the house today. Mainly the kitchen which needed some love as we left the turkey carving supplies and cutting boards to this morning. Keegan's Boy Scout troop enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast together last evening and we had volunteered one of our farm-raised turkeys. We had left in a hurry since our turkey needed just a few more minutes to ensure it was perfectly done. It made for a whirlwind of events and both Drew and I were quickly carving the turkey to make it on time. The kitchen definitely got the brunt of the craziness. We were proud to share our bounty. There is something empowering being apart of the entire process of raising, harvesting, and cooking your own turkey.

 As I struggled this morning to wake up, I questioned my thought process leaving this mess, however, the work needed to get done. After getting both kids to the bus stop, I walked up to the chicken coop to drop the remaining turkey carcass out into the coop. The chickens were quick to gobble up the treat.  I decided they'd like some fresh air and a chance to stretch their legs so I let them out to free-range for awhile. Later when I went back to the coop, the carcass was stripped clean in only a few hours. In the meantime, I got some loads of laundry going while I deep cleaned the kitchen.

After finishing the dusting and vacuuming, I headed over to my dear friend Kasey's home. They were heading out for the weekend and I stopped by to go over the chores so I could check on their cats and chickens in their absence. We chatted a bit about and then she helped me load up her three chicks and supplies. Not only are we cat and chicken sitting, but we get to have the chicks live with us for the extended weekend as they need extra care. Since chicks need access to fresh water at all times, it made more sense for me to load them up and care for them at my home instead of making lots of trips. I made sure to let Drew know last night that I was "chick sitting" for the weekend. I didn't want him to get home from work and suspect that I had gone off and bought more baby chicks. This may have happened a time or two. Oops.

After I got the chicks settled, Fiona came home. The kids have an early release today due to the Thanksgiving weekend. After welcoming her home, I went into the back bedroom and worked on folding more clothes and putting them away. Keegan was not far behind her and I got to spend a little time with him while he ate lunch. We then headed out to the coop as I needed to dispatch a couple of hens. I needed my best chicken wrangler to help me catch the correct birds. I had been watching them for awhile and knew it was in the best interest to ensure the health of my other birds by ending their lives. This is always a difficult part of flock management, but it is a necessity. As I pulled out the killing cones, Keegan helped me catch the hens. Keegan and I thanked them for their service, before I completed the task. After we finished bagging the chickens, Keegan went ahead and went back inside while I cleaned up those supplies and fed and watered the animals for the evening.

As I walked back into the house I noticed there was another load of laundry to fold, so I walked it up with me to the bedroom before getting into the shower. The hot shower was a welcome relief from the cold rain and I let my mind wonder as I let the water beat down on my back. I took my time getting ready after my shower, finishing up folding the last load of laundry in between. I pulled out some pumpkin puree from the freezer to make pumpkin pies later with Fiona in the evening. Even though we aren't hosting Thanksgiving, I still am going to make a few pies for our family. We love pumpkin pie and the milkman even delivered the heavy whipping creme with today's order. We are set.

Drew will be home soon, so I best close for now.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Get Less and Live More

Dreams. We all have them. Whether big, joyful or adventurous...they somehow become woven into a part of our daily thoughts.

Sometimes they consume us. Our dreams push us. And, other times we snuff out the glimmering dream light.

I was the latter. 

Always encouraging others to act upon their dreams, but never following my own. I worked all day long building others confidence to be empowered, but yet...I hid my own dreams and thoughts away. Honestly, I don't know why. I've always been fairly successful in whatever I set my mind to, but this just seemed...so radical. What was I doing?



For years, I've been pushing away my dreams...to write and homestead. But at the end of June, I jumped over the cliff. Not literally...thank goodness. But, in a reality I felt like I had taken an enormous risk. Had I really given up job growth opportunities to can applesauce and clean chicken coops all day? What had I done?

I mean really...who does that? At 42 years old I wondered if I had hit my mid-life crisis? When others were buying a dream home or the convertible they always wanted; looking at other people's dreams suddenly seemed so glamorous. And me...I wanted to farm and write. Gee.

It is easy to believe that your idea is crazy, especially when you find yourself outside of your property. This idea, my dream, was so far from the societal norm of have more and get more. Honestly, most can't wrap their mind around that...they have been programmed to find the next bigger, better thing. My dream...took me farther from that.

In the past few months I've been met with many blank stares as I explain I left my job to farm and "hopefully write the book I always wanted to". Oddly, I watch their eyes blinking like a cursor waiting for the words to form. Instead I form their words in my head..."What happened? What's wrong with her? What is she doing?"  And I breathe silently to myself...all I wanted was to get less and live more.

I am following my dream.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

All Creatures Great and Small

Caring for a homestead has its ups and downs.

There are no made-up Hollywood scenes on the homestead, instead the harsh realities of blissful moments mixed with the grit of true work; the real deal.

  • Moments of pure delight as you watch a baby chick pipe its way out of a brown egg under the watchful eye of a broody hen. 
  • Elements of the unknown and despair when you come out to the coop to realize a beautiful hen is motionless in a small heap in the corner.  
  • The shocking surprise (and shrek!) when a rat jumps up as you are gingerly talking to your goats. 
  • And yet, other times on harvest day as hold and thank each animal as you carefully complete the circle of life on the prize-winning turkeys.

This is my life.

I have always been drawn to this life...one of wonder and awe caring for all creatures great and small.

As a child, I dreamed of being a veterinary. I remember reading all of James Herriot stories wishfully re-living each line of books knowing that one day I would follow in his foot steps. Sadly, I recall the day our local librarian said I read all of his books; how puzzled and lost I felt. Thankfully for me, my family soon moved to the country and I began my own small "collection" of rabbits, barn cats, dairy goats and a retired show horse. I was in my element, reliving my childhood stories out in real life.

Though homesteading is often romanticized by the movie industry, caring for animals also means you become your own veterinarian. And soon you find yourself de-worming, cleaning and bandaging wounds, clipping hooves, dusting birds and dealing with whatever needs arise to cut down on possible veterinarian bills. This also means you make life and death decisions of the animals in your care. Can I nurse it back to health? Do I end its suffering? What are my best options? Sometimes there are famous come-backs and other times disappointment that despite best efforts, the life has ended.



These are hard decisions.

This Christmas Eve, I find myself at a cross road for a particular, prized show bird. I am unclear why it is injured or where, but knowing I need to step in and become James Herriot for a moment. As the bird rests quietly in the comfort of a pet taxi in my laundry room I need to make a choice, of which I'm unclear. These are the tough moments at The Britten Roost, our homestead, but I am truly honored to care for all creatures great and small.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

On and Off it Blinks

Hello. It's me. As I sit in the stillness of the house, no words form. Like a blank canvas, it begs me to fill the pages with words; my thoughts. Over and over the cursor, flashes on and off...as a silent reminder that no typing is occurring. On and off it blinks. Yet, no fancy words, stories or pictures...just the raw realness of nothingness.

Where do I start? 
Where have I been? 
What do I want to focus on?

I find myself asking these questions with this new gift of time. Even as I sit and type these words, my my mind wonders about the answers to these questions.

On and off it blinks.

Having worked in an exempt role for several years, I knew I needed to step back, reconnect, recharge, refuel. And now after years of fighting a ridiculous pace...I'm almost at a lost. 10-20 hours a week newly discovered and I am uncertain what to do; where to start. 

The struggle is real. 

On and off it blinks. 

I suppose if this was during the deep of gardening season, I would not find myself in the place. But in a sense, I'm rediscovering me. I've cleaned the house, recovered the dining room chairs, enjoyed tea with friends, read a book, shopped for groceries, and organized 'the junk pile' to name a few. All in my back of my mind longing to start writing again. Nagging me, begging me. But where do I begin; what do I share? 

On and off it blinks.

How do I say I'm not sure what this new "normal" looks like? Or how do I share that I'm refocusing on what matters - my family, sharing life, working in my garden and God. I'm not sure. And then I wonder if it is the stillness that makes me ask these questions. Was my pace before so hurried, so rushed that I didn't think about me? Could I not quiet my heart to let God speak? 

On and off it blinks. 

I am finding less is more. So many things to share, to type; but still at this moment I'm watching the cursor continue to blink on and off. On and off it blinks. Like a lighthouse...it calls to me giving me confidence to type the new word. 

I sit and stare at the blinking cursor in the stillness of my living room, Tomorrow, I hope will begin more words, stories and pictures. Tomorrow. But tonight, I cling to this idea of my 'new normal' and continue to watch the cursor.

On and off it blinks.