The girls and I took a mini vacation this past week, visiting family in Minneapolis.
My brother, Jeff, was playing a gig in St. Paul, and we decided awhile back that we’d show up to surprise him and then stick around for a bit. Minneapolis is home to many people that we happen to love and getting there doesn’t happen with any regularity. Leaving the farm mid-winter for such a frivolous outing was no small feat.
But more on that in a moment.
The Great Travel Fiasco that kicked off our journey included a puking child, a cancelled flight, marginally debilitating fear of flying, and forgotten cash. None of this dampened our spirits, however, and when all was said and done, we made it to the Twin Cities with time to spare. We managed to grab something to eat and head to the show in perfect time to completely shock Jeff into a state of highly-uncharacteristic speechlessness.
While the girls and I enjoyed music, food, game-playing, swimming, and family time, Dave was left alone to run the farm completely on his own. Now, normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but this weekend Dave managed to summon Really Bad Mojo like some kind of homesteading thaumaturge.
It started almost immediately. As we were driving down to the city to catch our flight, the storm hit here in East Chatham. Midway through the morning there was already somewhere in the neighborhood of eight inches of snow, and there was no indication it planned to stop anytime soon.
While the goats don’t mind the snow, and the pigs don’t really mind much of anything ever, the chickens have a fairly brobdingnagian problem with snow. One could grow old waiting for them to come out of their coops in the morning. They huddle in there like teenagers on chilly school mornings, invariably making us wonder why WE bothered to get up if they aren’t going to.
Once they are finally up and about, the snow can prove daunting and even dangerous. If paths aren’t cleared for them, they will attempt to traverse the snow and this can be problematic. They can literally get stuck. Dave encountered one hen whose feet fell through the snow, trapping her on her belly, unable to move. Luckily he found her and moved her. The majority of them just stay in the coop or the garage all day.
Being a chicken in winter is a fairly huge downer.
Being a pig is much simpler. They are perenially undaunted. They pyramid together for warmth and sleep when they’re not eating. For Dave, the biggest challenge was maintaining their water. I have previously described The Dragging of the Hose from cellar to pig pen, which works like a dream, unless of course the temperatures are hovering around, say… -20F.
On the 50 yard walk from cellar to trough, the HOT water in the hose froze. Faced with a only a thin trickle of water, Dave walked the length of the hose looking for a kink. Finding no kink, he realized what had happened and was now faced with the unenviable task of hauling five-gallon buckets of hot water from the cellar faucet to the pig troughs, over and over and over and over.
Better him than me, I must say.
The next morning was much of the same. The hose, despite having been stored in the cellar overnight, wasn’t thawing. Dave was back to the buckets. He then cleared the chickens the path to their beloved garage where they can shit on the hay bales and make a general nuisance of themselves.
And occasionally lay an egg.
Up until this point, things were difficult, but not unreasonably so. It probably would have been nice to have another set of hands to pick up some of the slack, but none of this was undoable. It wasn’t until Saturday that the Really Bad Mojo kicked in full-force.
He was gone for much of the day Saturday, and upon returning decided to do chores early. This was when he noticed some tracks between the little pond and the back garden. Following them, he realized they originated in the pig area, meandered up the side of the lower garden, snaked past the bee hives, turned back toward the pig area at a diagonal across the garden, and then back into the pig run. Since all of the pigs were in their shed, he was left to wonder if they’d had a visitor or a successful escape-and-return outing.
Since the pigs weren’t talking, there was nothing to do but feed and close up the chickens. This was when he found Huck dead on the ground in the back of the coop. Huck was our Bantam Splash Cochin Rooster who went everywhere with his lady, Molly. They were the cutest darned chicken couple you’ve ever seen and losing Huck hit us hard.
If you’ve been reading this blog with any regularity, you might know that we recently lost Cookie the bunny. This was a real heartbreaker for our daughters and losing Huck so soon after losing Cookie was a bit more than we decided to lay on them. So, if you’re reading this and you know the girls, Huck is TOTALLY FINE. We will definitely probably maybe tell them at some point.
Also at some point on Saturday, another (unnamed) chicken must have found its way into the belly of a fox or the claws of a hawk, because we were down two birds, not just one, at lights-out.
By this point, Dave was feeling defeated and ready for us to return home.
It’s a difficult thing, when animals die. Whatever the reason or the circumstances, there is an element of loss that happens much too frequently and continually challenges our resolve. It is much better not to be alone when it strikes.
Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, the girls and I had packed our bags and headed to the airport for our trip home. We had a relatively uneventful flight, followed by a pretty darned easy drive back up from the city.
Sometime while we were up in the air, Dave was sitting on the couch eating when Charlie the dog became weirdly agitated about something outside. I say “weirdly” because Charlie is pretty much agitated by something outside 100 percent of the time. There was something different about him this time though, so Dave got up to see what the trouble was. Seeing nothing outside the window, he put on his boots and jacket and went outside for a look. This was when he caught a glimpse of a pig standing in the driveway looking back at him.
This explained the tracks.
He yelled, “Hey Pig!” and ran toward it. Driveway Pig took a couple quick steps away from the large, yelling man before completely ignoring him and resuming his exploration of Stuff. Eventually, Dave managed to lure him back to the pen with a feed bucket and he followed, walking right over the (inexplicably not) electrified fence.
It was right around this time that Dave left me a voicemail message saying simply, “I quit.” I had to wait until I got home to find out why. He’s gonna be a tough one to replace…