It’s been a frustrating spring and summer on the farm this year. We lost a third of the meat chickens we raised, almost all within ten days of their scheduled demise. We have now lost 2 lambs in three weeks, and treated both Buster the 600lb calf and the other lambs for parasites. In our vision of natural we have no idea if following standard advice about parasite treatment is foolish or wise. Nor do we have any idea why we found the latest lamb dead after no apparent illness.
When I found the most recent dead lamb, I called my husband. Together we looked for signs and shared the glumness of death and the frustration of our ignorance and helplessness. We shook our heads, sighed and shook our heads again.
“Hey,” said my husband, tired. “It’s not 50%.”
We smiled, strangely comforted with the reminder that we were not alone.
I had lunch recently with a Dutch couple in their early seventies. They made their living as farmers of lots of things, but chickens were a mainstay.
“We’re about ready to quit with the farming stuff,” I told them.
“Don’t quit,” the woman said.
“I’m not sure we’re smart enough for farming,” I said.
“No,” she said. “It’s not like that. Things happen.”
“You should see all the terrible things happened to us in the beginning,” the man said.
Two stories he told me. One night after dark, something broke and started a flood in the barn. It was fall, all the chickens were laying beautifully. He was looking forward to a good profit that year. A few thousand chickens died in the flood that night. The rest were so traumatized they stopped laying completely.
Another time a bird flew up into a fan in the barn where he was raising new chickens. The sound of the bird caught in the fan scared all the chickens. They flew up against the back wall of the barn in a panic. Two thousand survived. Two thousand were crushed and suffocated at the bottom of the pile.
“All night long,” said his wife. “All night long, we carried out dead chickens.”
It was honestly the most encouraging conversation I have had about farming in weeks, possibly months.
“We aren’t in their league,” I said to my husband, “but maybe we don’t have to give up. I mean, we only lost a third of our chickens, right? Only a sixth of our lambs- heck, we’re doing great.”
Well, maybe not great, but it’s not fifty percent yet. And when it’s laugh or cry, sometimes laughter helps. With hats off to our Dutch heroes, we carry on.