Monday, March 26:
I have been guilty of a capital crime.
Father, forgive me, for I have sinned – I have omitted to document our failures, putting others at risk of discouragement.
For penance, I will publicly accuse us of all the recent dumb mistakes, near-catastrophes, and downright failures I can think of in the next ten minutes.
Failure number one: the ten eggs we put under the first broody hen of the season not only failed to hatch; when we carried them over to the pig pen and opened them one by one, only two of them appeared even to have been fertile. A complete waste of nearly a dozen eggs, unless you count the screams of appreciation with which the three pigs greeted their unexpected treat.
Two: the second “broody” hen didn’t even stick to her nest for a week. When the girls realized she was promenading more than she was setting, they turned her loose, but forgot to lodge a notice with the management, so those eggs, too, eventually went to the pigs. Happy pigs.
Three: maybe we told you this one already. Isabel (our older milk cow) was bred twice last fall, to the tune of fifty bucks a pop, and remained open, as evidenced by her monthly attempts to climb whomever was milking her. Not our fault, but when a farmer wastes a hundred bucks, that counts as a failure. After attempt #2 failed to take, we determined to milk Isabel until Baby calves and begins lactating, and then see what’s what. Some of our customers have been asking for quarters of beef . . .
Four: let’s see. How about our letting the chickens invade the orchard all winter, with the result that they have done material damage to the new strawberry patch we set out last summer. Thank goodness we haven’t yet pulled out the old strawberry patch.
Five: if we’d watered the carrot and lettuce seedlings as we should have last September, the germination rate would almost certainly have been higher, and we’d still be harvesting winter vegs.
Five-and-a-half (this one was not quite fatal): We walked out of the house on Sunday intending to load up for Mass, and saw one of the yearling calves on his back and upside down on the hill. He couldn’t get up. This is one of the hazards of living in hill country; cows are heavy and awkward, and they can easily get their weight into positions from which their awkwardness prevents them getting out again. The second half of this hazard is that cows which find themselves upside-down for extended periods of time, die. In this position their gastro-intestinal tracts stop functioning, they bloat, and the pressure this puts on their internal organs kills them alarmingly quickly.
This is what it is to be responsible for other living beings.
Happily, when S-5 sprinted up the hill in his dress pants, vaulted the fence, and heaved the steer onto his chest, the feeble twitch of his tail which had been the only detectable movement when he was spotted was transformed to a scramble of legs and in a moment he was on his feet, shouldering his way in among his fellows for his share of a flake of hay. He can’t have been down for long: as I say, in the upside-down position they die, quickly. Maybe we weren’t responsible for his awkwarkness, but if he had died, we’d still have felt like failures.
Rule number one for living a philosophical life while farming: the more creatures that live on a place, the higher the death rate. It stands to reason. Yet this does not prevent us feeling like failures when an animal dies.
Ten minutes are up, but rest assured that, had we but world enough and time, this list would be a lot longer.