Sunday, February 22, 2009

"You need to get a pickup, girl"

Were the words said to me yesterday morning as the proprietor of D&D Feed walked inside to meet me, pulling off his hat and mittens as he made his way into the main office. He had just noticed the current state of my transportation and did not approve. Outside the Subaru was in its usual train-wreck state. All the seats in the back were folded down to make room for the five bales of hay I just picked up in Hebron over at Nelson Green's farm. The back hatch couldn't shut so it was lashed down with dirty baling wire. The front passenger-side seat was already loaded with 75 pounds of Scratch grains and rabbit pellets. I had been waiting near the front desk, having just called the number on the door in case anyone showed up to pay for their stuff. I nodded when he made the truck comment. I'll get there eventually. We all know this.

After some conversation about tomorrow's snow report and a signed check, I left the feed store. I was a few short miles from home and trying to juggle a very loaded station wagon with the ice-covered back roads. At one point in my life an open back hatch might have made me cold, bothered me even, but I rarely flinch at anything over -4 degrees anymore. And to be honest, I was too wound up to consider the wind chill inside the car. I was still reeling from Nelson's place.

Earlier that monring when I pulled up to Nelson's giant post-dairy farm no one was there. So I walked up to the house to see if anyone was home. I was confused because I called and made an appointment, but was told by his wife he ran to town, and if I could, would I please load the hay myself?

Well, of course I would. I was just anxious about how to go about it. I turned and faced the giant hay storage barn across the dirt road. It was about seven times the size of my cabin. The only way to get in (that I knew about) was a small loft hatch one of Nelson's farm hands would crawl into to throw bales out of.

Okay. I was going in.

Now I've been buying hay from Nelson for months. The day I drove home with the flock in the back seat, he was outside this very farm as I drove past. He was loading bales into the back of someone's truck when I pulled over to ask him (then a complete strange) "Do you have any hay?" and he laughed out load at my sheep taxi and said "Sure! You have any sheep?" That same day I that I welcomed the first hoofstock ever to Cold Antler Farm, I went back to Nelson's and together we loaded the car with eleven bales. A partnership had been made.

But now I was left to my own devices. I parked the car near the hay barn, turned on my hazards, and walked to the hatch door. I crawled up into the loft, and for a few holy moments I stood there and took it all in. I was standing in the soft, dusty, beams of winter light in a giant wooden barn. All around me forty-foot walls of second cut hay towered over my head. It was beautiful. Moments like this are like farm pornography. For me they're blantant moments of self-indulged pleasure. A bit of fantasy come true. Someday I'll have my own barn loaded with hay like this. I stood in awe, ridiculously happy at the sight of it.

Sometimes I worry if it's normal to gain inspiration from piles of dead grass...

I recently saw a magazine at Wayside that made me do a double take. The cover actually had a headline "What to do with an old barn!" which instantly made my heart drop into my lungs. The idea that some people have perfectly good barns and have to look to their coffee tables for ideas on what to do with them, breaks my heart. An unused barn being converted into lofts or gallery space makes me livid. I can't stand the gluttony of unused farms. Not when I'm at a place in my life where I would do anything to work that hard on my own land. My problems would be fitting in all the animals, figuring out lambing jugs and creep feeders, not if I should hire a historical society to restore it for the state's collective rural nostaglia... Christ, why don't you start eating caviar around some Victorian-novel orphans?

But a barn is a long way off, and I shouldn't be so bothered by what other people do with their land. After all, it is theirs, and none of my business what they do with their land. Right now I need to focus on what is going on in my current farmlife. Things like a pregnant Angora doe, and a goose-in-waiting. I have fences to mend, bills to pay, feed to stack, mouths to fill, and hay to put up. A pickup, a border collie, a flock of Scottish Blackface sheep, and a million other dreams will all have to wait for now.

It's good to want things, but dangerous to need them.

18 Comments:

Blogger Donna said...

Isn't it funny how most farmers' think you can't farm without a truck? I just got my first farm truck and she's beautiful even if she does have some dings and scratches. (One of those times in life when an opportunity sorta fell in my lap.) I had been doing just fine farming with a 4x4 Chevy Blazer and a small utility trailer. Keep plugging away at your dreams...you never know when the opportunity will fall in your lap.

February 22, 2009 at 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Sandy Jones - Omaha said...

Donna might have hit on something there. Maybe some type of trailer can get you by until the right truck comes along. I have a small truck which is just fine in the city, but even then, there are times when I wish for a car again. Times when I need my load covered in an ice storm, or when I have extra dogs or people to transport and they shouldn't be riding in the back end for safety reasons in the city. But then again, I'd never want to be without a truck! What's a girl to do?

February 22, 2009 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Stacy said...

Donna and Sandy have good ideas!
I bet you could find an old trailer at a farm auction for cheap, and a bunch of other fun gizmos too.

February 22, 2009 at 10:21 AM  
OpenID mountainchicken said...

The Camry rocks hay, saddles, feed, and dogs. As far as she's concerned, she's a big 'ole farm truck.

And if you're really looking for a truck, see if a trade is possible. Check big city classifieds where people are looking to get rid of trucks that they can't parallel park easily.

I too mourn for converted farmhouses and understand the allure of hay barns. Dust motes + sunbeams + hay + barn cats sleeping = nirvana

February 22, 2009 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger Carrie and Justin said...

Mmmm, I've still got the farm pornography image in my mind ~ I think you hit the nail on the head there mama!!
I think it is a triumph the things we CAN do without the things we think we need. I don't have a truck yet either, and I'm always terribly impressed with myself for all the things I fit in the back of my Jeep, especially when there are two kids in the back seat!

February 22, 2009 at 12:27 PM  
Anonymous Annie said...

Trailers can be dangerous and hard to steer/control. You'd be better off with a beat up pickup.

I have a mostly-unused barn, I'm ashamed to say. So far it's been used for storage, with one end used as a woodshop and pottery studio. We really do want animals, we just are kind of incompetent in figuring out how to go about it. We almost got some sheep this weekend, but then my husband claimed the fences needed still more work. I think he's just gaslighting me.

February 22, 2009 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger kate said...

Jenna,

Would you mind sometime pricing this stuff, and how long it lasts, to give a picture to a mostly city girl like me? I have some property in Vermont and you've given me some daydreaming ideas.

Like, how much is a bale of hay? Is there a range of prices? Less if you get more or are regular?

What are scratch grains and rabbit pellets? One for chickens, maybe, other rabbits? How much is that, and how long does it last?

Just trying to get a handle on the expenses. I did some daydreaming about getting animals (bartering) but want to get a feel for operating expenses, since I suspect it's a killer as far as the economy of doing things. Just want to picture it better!

Thanks!

February 22, 2009 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger kate said...

P.S. Maybe we could sponsor a bale or a bag of something too! Or the animal that eats it!

February 22, 2009 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

hey there kate

the hay i buy is second cut. hay is priced by when during the season it's cut, usually second cut is the most nutritious, so it's the most expensive - but there are a lot of variables. Somtimes it's not the case. A bale can cost anywhere from 3- 5 bucks, maybe even more. I go through 1 1/2 bales a week for my three sheep, but they also eat a winter grain/cracked corn feed. I probably spend 25.00 a month feeding sheep.

scratch grains are what iI add to the layer feed, it's mostly cracked corn with some other grains in there. It's like adding extra fat and bulk to the birds' diet. Cracked corn is like liquid heat for chickens. I buy a 50 pound bag of this, and 50 pounds of layer mash (chicken feed) and together it's probably 20.00 or so.

rabbit pellets are just rabbit feed. the 25 pound back cost 6.25 and will last me a month with two adult breeding rabbits. I got through more when bunnies are here, and use a milking doe (higher protein feed) when bean blossom is rearing.

you learn as you go. But the only way to really budget is to start off with something small like a few chickens and see what they run you. Do your paperwork as you go.

hope that helped.

February 22, 2009 at 1:57 PM  
Anonymous RayMan said...

Jenna,
Try advertising in a local (statewide) periodical / newsletter with a "farm wanted" leader. Ask for a private mortgage @ low % rate. Describe what you want and why. "I am a published author, fully-employed graphic designer with STROG desire for farm and the 'good life'".
What's the worst that can happen?

February 22, 2009 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger jere said...

i've hauled hay in a jeep cherokee for six years and going strong. they think it's weird at the feed store, but they really hate it at the car wash! but it works for me, and at least i don't have to unload just because it rains!

February 22, 2009 at 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Annie said...

Wow. Hay costs around $10-13 a bale out here in california. Maybe that's why we don't have animals yet.

February 22, 2009 at 9:38 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

annie that is crazy!

February 23, 2009 at 6:17 AM  
Blogger Ava Apple said...

Your post is quite timely. Just this weekend an old friend came over to the island to help out putting in three new raised gardening beds and I mentioned to her that I wanted to get a truck. She looked at my old Mazda Miata, that my city friends have come to equate me with, and said she was gonna make an emergency call to my pal, Kate, in NYC. Apparently, I have lost my mind and Kate needs to come and kidnap me off to one of the largest cities in the world!
Here's to insanity...and, yes, farm porn!
Crazed Ava

February 23, 2009 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Depends on the type of hay, too. Here, I can buy bermuda or johnson/sudan grass for $4-$6 a bale. Alfalfa is more like $12-$13.

To Kate - the more you can allow your animals to forage, the less you'll spend on feed. My chickens find most of their own food except during deepest winter, and so they eat very little commercial ration. Don't forget that they can get kitchen/garden scraps too!

February 23, 2009 at 12:01 PM  
Anonymous Judy said...

Long live the Subaru! I too have been heckled for hauling livestock, feed, and firewood in my ol'girl, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it, in my opinion.

Thanks for the barn porn! Right there with you girl!

February 23, 2009 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I'm with you Judy, and Sandy's advice about the trailer seems to be perfect right now. I almost have that thing paid off, i'd hate to have another car payment right now. So I'll evolve up to a truck as my farm and world grows. But thanks to all for the advice.

February 23, 2009 at 9:08 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

This reminds me of one of my favorite poems of all time: "Hay for the Horses" by Gary Snyder:

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

February 28, 2009 at 11:17 AM  

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