Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Tonight while doing my usual evening chores I came upon a sad sight. One of the little laying hens, a tiny brown babe, was dead on the ground. No sign of struggle or feather—not the work of a hawk or a fox. It simply died of exposure. Perhaps this little gal wasn't tough enough to get her share of feed from the scattered grain? Maybe she was too scared to drink water from the big-girl font and died of dehydration? Who knows. I reached down to pick her up and bury her under the compost pile.

I was quietly surprised she was still warm and limber in my hands. I looked closer. She was still breathing... She was failing fast, but still with us. She must have accepted 6 weeks as her life's work. I refused to agree. I wasn't giving up without a fight.

I walked her over to the well, keeping her close to my chest and breathed warm air on her. Her eyes half-opened. I dropped her beak into the stream and she barely drank, but some of it seemed to slide down her now slowly opening and closing mouth. I brought her inside by the wood stove and brooder. I set her on a small basket of wool and hay I keep on top of the dryer to collect eggs. I put her on the wool and set her chilled body right under the warm light. I watched her chest slowly rise and fall. She was trying now.

I left her there with a prayer and some hope while I returned to my evening chores. As much as I would have liked to play chicken ER, there are priorities I need to address. One chick gets a second chance, but she can't hinder the meals and water of dozens of other animals waiting. I had lactating mamas bleating for grain. I had rabbits parched for more water. I had my own dogs to feed and walk. The farm is so many parts it is like our own bodies. You can't stop everything because you get a papercut on your index finger. You bandage it up and continue with your life.

I pushed her out of my mind while I went about the regular work of replacing water buckets, counting lambs, collecting eggs, checking on the new bunnies, and feeding the dogs. My brain didn't trot back to the thoughts of the gasping pullet, but they did seem to latch onto something I heard a few weeks ago. In that video I shared here about Novella Carpenter's Ghost Town Farm in Oakland—she did a short bit on the importance of endurance. She said that running a farm, even a backyard homestead, is something you work up to. You don't start with 6.5 acres, a flock of pregnant sheep, 50+ chickens, dogs, bees, geese, ducks, rabbits, an old barn, and a giant garden. You start with a 5x5 raised bed and a trio of hens. Maybe three rabbits in a hutch and plant an apple tree—canning your own jam or sewing your own hooded sweatshirt. You get the jist.

When I look at the things I do in a normal 8-5 work day it seems so utterly normal, but the girl from Knoxville might have thrown up after a week of it all.

Endurance certainly is the word.

I started with such a small project list. In Idaho I had a few raised beds, backyard chickens, bees, and hutch rabbits. It seemed like so much to handle then. Now it seems almost too little to even consider. This farm went from being an idealist hobby into flirtation with self-reliance. Now I am head-over-heals in love with it all. I signed that mortgage and accepted this farm as a partner and friend. It takes care of me and I take care of it. It feels like all those late nights reading about gardening and sheep in rented apartments and busting sod all over the country on stranger's land was training me for this place. Endurance training. And it all started with an apartment in a city with a red dog and a hankering for the mountains. Look at all the trouble I got myself into now...

The little pullet was sitting up and drinking water as of just a few moments ago. She has the whole brooder to herself by the wood stove with feed and clean water. I hope she makes it.

I hope I do too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're making it just fine. It's always amazing to me when people say "how do you do it all?" meaning the baking, farm chores, garden, working temp jobs, etc. and I think "Huh, it's just a regular day!" Guess we're tougher than we thought, right? Hope your lil' girl makes it.

April 6, 2011 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

I think you both will.

April 6, 2011 at 10:22 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As long as there is life, all things are possible! I used to think I was just trying too hard, then I realized the rich rewards I reap from the whole process. It is worth it :)

April 6, 2011 at 10:39 PM  
Blogger Kimberlie Ott said...

Oh, you'll will sooooooooo make it!!! Great job learning the balance of things! Your doing great!! Happy Spring Jenna!

April 6, 2011 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Dayle said...

Pullet prayers from the Midwest!

April 6, 2011 at 10:54 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

I believe you will.

April 6, 2011 at 11:05 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Oh mercy! I think this post was for me. I'm currently in the staying up late drooling over garden books and devouring all the sheep and bee info I can from the internet (the library here is pretty lacking) whilst residing in an apartment I don't own. You give me hope that I'll make it out of the dream and into a hobby farm or even...dare I say it...self reliance. Thanks for sharing your experiences so that people like me who have yet to live the dream can live vicariously!

April 6, 2011 at 11:05 PM  
Blogger Vermonster said...

Hard to believe that you have been in Jackson for nearly a year now. I've been playing catch up reading your post and realized that. You've made it nearly a full year on that 6.5 acres. Gibson's a year old now. It hardly seems possible. I also read that you are foraying into the world of dating. So many changes in a year. Though some days it may seem like there is not enough of you to give to everything and everyone who need it, you are a blessed woman, and you will make it.

April 6, 2011 at 11:45 PM  
Blogger Chance said...

Great and relevant post, wierdly, you post on things that are frequently exactly what I need to hear. Endurance. BTW, Novella Carpenter is now having her endurance sorely tested as the city beauracracy hammers down on her. Hope she survives the test. Hope your pullet does as well. One thing that I am sure of -- you will!

April 7, 2011 at 3:49 AM  
Blogger City Sister said...

Yesterday I had a hen that I thought was gone too...but she was just out of her little chicken head brooding away (we don't have a rooster.)

April 7, 2011 at 6:43 AM  
Blogger DarcC said...

Endurance is right! I just took a 3-day 2-night business trip and my father came up to horse, chicken, and dog sit for me. When I returned I asked him "so did you love it here?" to which he replied "I don't know how you do it!" And he didn't have to go off to his day job even!

Here's hoping pullet pulls through. Mine are all doing great, but one of my Ameracuanas might actually be a bantam of some sort (she's teeny and has feathered legs), and I think I one of the RI Reds is a rooster.

April 7, 2011 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger NMPatricia said...

I have often wondered in my mind how you do it and this great post answers. And pretty obivous when I think about it. A journey starts with a single step sort of thing. I still am filled with respect and admiration of you. Not sure I could do it.

April 7, 2011 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger Kasha said...

How is the little hen today? I hope she is feeling better!
You are doing juggle alot and still stay mostly positive. That's a hard thing to do sometimes.

April 7, 2011 at 8:39 AM  
Blogger gabi said...

My first step will be moving somewhere that gets actual sun! the cave I live in cannot support outside growth besides moss and Hosta. I farm at my parents house and boyfriends mom's house.

my step would enable me to plant a garden in my own yard and begin the building of a chicken hutch and a bee hive.

April 7, 2011 at 9:16 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

After drooling over the lovely set of books up for grabs I decided it would be greedy of me to just want them to feed intellectual curiosity. I am on the wrongh side of seventy now and my days of lugging horse feed, mucking out, feeding calves and looking after a large garden are gone. I still rise to the lure of spring, and as soon as the chill wind stops blowing up here on my Nova Scotia mountain I'll be out stacking wood and cleaning up some pruning. Great post about what makes a far5mer tick and what your priorities must be.

April 7, 2011 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Lydia said...

Great post! We are in a suburb that does not allow any kind of farm animal unless you have 4 acres (boooo ... we have barely an acre) but we do compost, use rain barrels, line-dry our clothes, and are starting an 8'x11' vegetable garden this weekend. One day, one day, I will build up the endurance to have our own thriving homestead.

April 7, 2011 at 9:57 AM  
Blogger Dreaming of Jeanie said...

Much like many others, your posts inspire me to do better and be better. You're such a great writer, too. Can I be you when I grow up?

April 7, 2011 at 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now Jenna, you can't leave us hanging! How's the chicken????

April 7, 2011 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger SouthernHeart said...

I have absolutely no doubt that YOU will make it! I hope little chick does too...


April 7, 2011 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

I am so glad for you! We lost our sweet rooster this morning. He was at the bottom of the pecking order and I think he just died of a broken heart. We fed him separately from the rest of the flock to ensure he got his share-but nobody wanted to be his friend. We loved him and cared for him and cuddled him-but in the end I think he just wanted to be a part of the group. I hope your little gal pulls through strong and healthy! Thanks for sharing your story. ~Wendy

April 7, 2011 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Moments of reflection are always a treasure. A wonderful reminder of how far you have come and how far you have yet to go. I think it is amazing everything you have accomplished. You will make it, and I hope your chick makes it as well. :)

April 7, 2011 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger RabbleRoost said...

I used to think it was a chore to care for a hutch of three rabbits...

Now I'm up to ten rabbits (with more on the way hopefully, yikes!), two geese (which I think are both ganders... sigh), three ducks, six chickens, and four goats here right now, with more in one's belly, and two others on "layaway". :)
I've got my hands full, but like you said, you can handle things better the more you get used to them. This year the garden will be enlarged and I'll have root vegetables and winter squash to store over winter. I can use some for animal feed and cut down on the grain bill.
I hope your little chicky makes it, it's always a sad thing when they seem to give up for no reason. Maybe give her some molasses or cooked egg to perk her up a bit?

Eventually I'm going to have a whole herd of goats, so this is good practice. Hey, even you had only a couple sheep for a few years before jumping in! :)

April 7, 2011 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger downeast becka said...

lovely words of wisdom...i breathed life back into a mess of bees that fell into the snow when their hive fell off our sunroof porch (bears) and there is something magical in encouraging life back into any being...thanks for your encouraging works!

April 7, 2011 at 8:57 PM  

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