Saturday, January 10, 2009

feed day

So they are calling for another storm tonight. Reports vary, but a decent cap of snow is on the way for certain and I am wearing my heaviest pair of Carhartt socks. Outside my kitchen window I can see the first flakes starting to fall in the glow of the porch lights. They are welcomed guests. Welcomed because I am totally prepared.

Last night at the book store a young audience member asked me what my 'favorite part about farming was'. I told him it was that feeling of being done. Which I tried to explain as that profound sense of accomplishemnt you feel when animals are fed, gardens are watered, and all the chores needed to run your farm are over. Earned respite is my cocaine. To stretch out in a hammock, or curl up in front of a fire tired and happy from hard and dirty work is an addicting sensation for me. It's a refuge from everything. Tonight I feel like that because today was a special breed of farm work. It was feed day.

Feed days aren't planned. They happen out of necessesity. I was running low on my chicken's combination of layer crumbles and scratch grains and the sheep were getting dangerously low on hay. I had enough to get us through the week, but something about snow coming made the idea of procrastinating very unappealing. I wouldn't feel right putting off the effort knowing the grain bins were scraping the bottom and hay stash was down to three bales. So after a decent farm breakfast of scrambled eggs and pancakes I warmed up the haytruck (my station wagon's nickname) and the dogs and I headed west into New York.

I live just a few miles from the state line. If you take a winding dirt road from my cabin you'll cross over into New York. It's a swell drive, taking your passed beautiful farmhouses and postcard landscapes. Annie hangs out the window eyeing horses, sheep, goats and calves. To them it's a regular safari, but I was more practical about our roadtrip. I was heading to an old barn in Shusan. Hidden behind it, was my favorite feed store.

If you pull into the driveway and roll down a small hill, you'll find D&D feeds. It's a small operation, but ran by good people and whenever I can get there for feed I do. The dogs waited in the car and I went in to place my order. I needed a hundred pounds or so of poultry feed, and as I walked inside I was somewhat shocked by all the cars. Then I remembered...snow is coming and in farm country bad weather requires tailgating. I went in to join the party.

Inside half a dozen people (and a dog named Tucker) were discussing the storm. I placed my order for layer feed and scratch and lsitened to the meteorologists amongst the alfalfa pellets. It's funny how talk of snow changes when you pass the state line. Upstate New York is a lot more farmy than Vermont is. Tell a room full of Vermonters that snow is coming and the snowboards, cross-country skis, and snowshoes come out. They load up the Subaru with hot chocolate in the cupholders and head for the slopes. But Tell the same news to a room full of New York Farmers and low voices start discussing if the stock water heaters have been set, and if enough hay was brought down incase they couldnt get into the loft. They worry if the truck's engine can handle the freeze, and balance their Stewarts coffee on the dash while they look for extra flashlight batteries. One state's recreation is another states reason to worry. This is of course a rash generalization, but it's what I've come to notice. My heart leans on their side of the state line.

When my chicken side of grocery shopping was done, I loaded up the car and lugged the 50-pound bags onto the porch. I remember when I got my first chickens in Idaho, and bought my first bags like this. Oh man, how heavy 50-pounders felt before I seasoned my body to it. Now I've learned all the shoulder and arm tricks that make carrying a feed bag as hard as a throwing a backpack across your shoulder. You learn as you go.

Now it was time to go buy hay. Come closer folks because I have a little secret I am slighty embarrassed to admit...I love buying hay. I love everthing about it. I love that money I work for is going to buy food for sheep—a form of commerce exchange that used to be a pipe dream and now is an item on my to-do list. I love driving to Hebron with an empty backseat and driving back with it so full I can't see out the rear windows. I love talking to Nelson, my hay enabler, who met the same day I drove those sheep home and have loyally bought from him ever since. I love the backroads. I love the smell. I love the people I meet who are also buying hay, and I love grabbing those green, beautiful, bales by the baling wire and loading them into my car. I love how it makes my arms hurt. I love that I am doing this only because three weird sheep depend on me for everything. That first scarf I knit from those guys will be knotted with those same sore arms and green bales. I look forward to it like nothing else.

I don't know how normal it is to love heavy packages of dead grass? But I do. It's a reality of this life I have carved out for myself and I'm running with it. Hay and coffee. The two pillars that will hold up the base of any future happiness this short life may bring me. May they live forever.

I drove back home to Sandgate with hay sticking out of the hatchback and the heat and radio blaring. Ironically, Jack Johnson was on EQX. A musician known for his summer surf tunes. Yet here I was in 11-degree weather, rolling over white hard-packed roads, as the ukelellis and guitars lead me home. I liked the soundtrack, it made me laugh outloud at the crows rising from the dead cornrows. A girl from suburbia driving hay to sheep is about as out of place as Jack Johnson tunes in a vermont winter. You have to fall in love these things as they happen.

So here I am, inside my cabin with the snow falling and a sense of peace. I have a garage loaded with hay and enough feed to last the birds for weeks. I have a decent pile of wood outside the front door, and a fire going strong inside it. In front of my fire is the iron stag that always adorns the hearth. He means a lot to me. (Someday I'll explain to you why I surround my life with antlers, and what they mean to me.) I have my heart set on watching High Fidelity with some hot chocolate and watching the snow fall. I can now have that feeling again, the reason for all this, that sacred "doneness" I was talking about. It was a good feed day guys. Really good actually, and now I am off to do my favorite thing about farming, which like I said before, is nothing at all.


Blogger Mare said...

I too love hay. I love to talk about good hay...I used to buy fresh bales from a local farmer for my herd of...don't laugh... guinea pigs! Yep, 50-60 "piggies" go thru a lot of hay! Enjoy the snow...It is beautiful here in Upstate NY tonight.

January 10, 2009 at 10:51 PM  
Anonymous Rae said...

1. I love High Fidelity - the book AND the movie.

2. Listening to Jack Johnson during ANY weather always feels apropos.

January 10, 2009 at 11:34 PM  
Anonymous debbie said...

hey jenna, your fire looks interesting - like a pyre. can you teach me (via your blog) how to build a fire in a fireplace someday? I live in brooklyn with a fireplace (main reason i live in this apartment, actually) but i cannot for the life of me build a successful fire and am stuck using duraflame logs. They just don't teach you that sort of thing when you grow up in the city! I'm fire-challeneged. Help!

January 11, 2009 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

How to Build a Fire.

Okay Debbie, it's really easy. You'll just need to remember 2 things. Fires need air to breath and they burn up. If you make it so air can get under the flame and stack things like a teepee, you can start a non-duraflame fire. But hey, i use those starter logs too. It's a quick way sometimes to get things going in a hurry. No judgements here.

You may need to "light the flew" if your fireplace is on a lower level of the house. This means opening the hatch (flew) and throwing some burning newspaper or old toilet paper rolls up there to make sure the air is drafting up the chimney and not into your house. When you're flew is open, and taking smoke up, you can light a fire.

1. Start small. Get small kindling style sticks or small "firestarter" slats. Orvis sells this stuff called "fatwood" that is gangbusters at this. You're going to want to make them into a teepee shape, with some paper or dry grass or anything that will burn easy underneath them.

The firestarter, that thing you orginally light (the paper, what have you) needs to ignite something slightly larger than itself and burn up. Little dry twigs (old pine is amazing for this) and those slats you can buy in stores will work great.

2. Slowly add larger wood to your small fire, placing it like a Teepee. Point the wood so it can burn up, leaving the bottom airy. If you pile wood on top of each other you'll just smother it. So stack it in a circle, or semi-circle. Using the back wall of the fireplace as a prop.

3. Keep your fire in the back. You don't want smoke thinking your house is where it should go. The closer to the back of the fireplace you burn, the least likely you'll have a smoky house. I learned this the hard way.

4. When you have medium sized logs going, it's okay to let the fire fall into itself. No more Teepee action needed. You can also start to add bigger longer burning wood to last longer.

I hope this helped? The main idea is to start with that tiny twig teepee and slowly add onto it.

January 11, 2009 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger girlwithasword said...

Every time I read your blog, i am astounded and how beautifully you write. thank you for sharing your gifts with us all!

January 11, 2009 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger kate said...


I agree with what you are saying about that region of New York. I live in Albany and have a tiny cabin in a very rural area of SW Vermont that I've owned for a year. On every trip there and back, I pass through some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, with the farms, winding roads, and people waving as I pass by.

My place is a bit north of yours, and the Vermont skiing industry and its culture are not as intrusive. My dirt road is off a road with a family owned dairy farm, and on the other side of me there's a family owned horse ranch.

I have to check up on this, but I also think you and I are in the Taconic Mountains, not the Green Mountains. In Mass, some people wrongly consider the Taconics part of the Berkshires, and in VT wrongly consider it part of the Greens. The Taconics are actually part of the Appalachian Mountains.

I was surprised when I learned that, but I'm a hiker and like to find these things out. I'll make sure to double check.

I love your blog and our mountains, whatever they are named!

January 11, 2009 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger gretchen said...

Thank you for sharing your daily stories. I have been reading for the past couple weeks after coming across your book. You are illustrating the life I'm making my way toward. I am grateful for the honesty and possibilities.

January 11, 2009 at 6:49 PM  
Blogger DrZ said...

I recall in your book you mentioning the merits of organic feed for the hens. After having way too many organic vs local discussions with friends at the grocer, I wonder, are the suppliers you mention in this post organic?

January 11, 2009 at 8:04 PM  
Blogger Jeff_in_Pawlet said...

Kate (& Jenna),
Yep, we're in the Taconics, not the Greens. Since the Adirondacks are part of the Lauretians, it's the west side of Appalachia- maybe that explains a lot...

January 11, 2009 at 8:43 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

DrZ, When I buy from them I buy Nutrena, and it's not organic. But I think helping local small businesses is better for our local economy and small farmers struggling around here. I am going to see if he'll carry some organic feed for me too. I buy organic when I can, but i'd rather help out a neighbors business than buy it online. I am stubborn that way.

Kate - Oh i think you and Jeff are right, but when I say 'a scrappy green mountain freehold" I pretty much just mean Vermont in general, since it's the "green mountain" state. But you are right. However a "scrappy taconic freehold" just doesn't have the zang i crave.

January 11, 2009 at 9:02 PM  
Blogger kate said...

Jeff, thanks for the info!

Jenna, I hear you. I don't give a hoot either.

But.... if you really want to get some people's goats.... How about a scrappy Appalachian Mountain freehold?

These things get political...... Funny, political mountain naming.

Just having fun (since I didn't learn it too long ago!).

Scrappy Green Mountain freehold is fine!

January 12, 2009 at 7:42 AM  
Blogger Nushi said...

Still catching up here... Loving hay is not a problem, its a way of life!!! This past fall when I was mowing with the old sickle bar mower, I loved every hot, sweaty, mosquitoy second of it because I knew that with every snip of the blades, the horses / cows would get one more mouthful!

February 4, 2015 at 3:17 PM  

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