We’ve been in the house just a month and a half, but again time feels funny- so funny, in fact, that a few days ago Vera said “How long have we been in the house? 6 months or something?”
I’m meditating on rhythm and ritual and structure as a way of enabling me to sustainably live in the creative way I want. This farm living will only work well if I can still feed my family at the end of the day, you know? I don’t want to get swept up in an impractical and overly-busy farm life only to burn out and create a less-than-peaceful space for the moments we need rest and togetherness. I’m seeing the potential freeing beauty in a morning chore routine… Is this growing up or something? I can see it giving me freedom- both in terms of time and just the alleviating some of the mental load that life requires. I’ve never really been lacking in the vision department, nor in terms of being willing to put in the effort to pull something off. Jeff and I have plenty of ideas and muscle. But I sense that if I’m to “level up” this farm in the way I’ve been visioning, ideas and muscle aren’t all that’s needed. I need to make a number of tasks routine rather than an afterthought, simply to free up the brain space for more creative projects. This structure, however, is not one of my built-in features, and so I’m kind of in a study mode trying to work it all out. Anyway, as I go along with this I can see myself holding regular slots of time for writing, for studying, for exercise, for work, for meal prep, etc. At first that kind of scheduling turned me off because it seems so mechanical (I like to be inspired!), but it occurred to me that people have always been linked to rhythm and ritual as a way of connecting with their responsibilities and finding their footing. Who am I to mess with ancient wisdom?
Anyway, these systems are not exactly in place just yet, so I include the above picture as a simple metaphor for what the last month and a half of living here has felt like. Vera and Asa, gleefully sploshing around in a mud puddle pretending to be baby pigs. The glee lasted most of the evening, and was well worth it. I even walked around in it myself, letting it squish through my toes and offer me some level of child-like clarity about the world. But at the end of the day we had to figure out how to clean the mud out of their hair without mucking up the house too much, and a few tears were shed in the hosing off process. It’s all good, and messy, and worth it. We are just working on making the clean up a little easier at the end of the day. So, here’s what the last month’s metaphorical “mud puddle” has been for us:
Baby Ancona ducks, 16 of them. We shuffled the chickens out of the bathtub just in time for these little babies. And oh my, are they adorable. And messy. Extremely messy. But super duper cute and funny.
The morning after we got them one of the ducks was mysteriously soaked. Their water wasn’t knocked over, but there was this sad cold baby, getting trampled by the others. I was afraid we were going to lose it just like the two chicks we lost the week before. But, I had to try something. So I brought it carefully upstairs and dried it on the kitchen counter with a hair dryer. Things weren’t looking very good. But, sure enough, the duckling perked right up after a while. I was finally able to put it back in with the others and it ate and drank and acted like nothing had happened! Such a relief. I’ve since grown kind of attached to the little one, and I named him/her “Berry” after Wendell Berry (who is my current reading obsession at the moment).
Now, a month and some change into raising 30 baby birds in my basement, I actually think I have a fair amount of insight about how to do it… you know, after the fact. I learned that these babies change pretty drastically about every week- enough so that they are in need of some kind of shift in their care and accommodations. However, Jeff and I would find this out by butting up against this big change. We’d reassess the situation, pull together our time and resources, build the new scenario, and then we were set! For about 3 days, that is. Then we were suddenly up against the next growing pain, and then the next. It was lively and fun and hilarious and very messy. We aren’t really interested in perfection the first time around, though. This is a pretty cheap and fun education, if you ask me. Next time we’ll know how to run things a lot more smoothly.
The chickens moved into their new spot in the basement, and were relatively stable for the next week. Which was a good thing, since the ducks kept us on their toes. Within a few days we switched from these disposable pads to towels that we’d wash. Every couple of days I’d take the two towels out and spray them with the hose and then wash them. Pretty easy!
Meanwhile the chickens started looking more like strange feathery dinosaurs, which is as it should be.
A few days went by, and the ducks had basically doubled in size and I was having to change the towels in the bathtub twice a day just to keep up with the mess. So we moved them into their own play pen, with four towels to roam around on. Should be good for a while, right? I enjoyed maybe one cycle of the “skip a day” cleaning schedule until I was spraying and cleaning those towels twice a day. Oof! Plus they were growing like crazy, needing water constantly, and sploshing everywhere. Water birds, indeed. Not a thought for water conservation in these little guys!
Below is the duck pen after just a few hours.
The chickens, while definitely less wet and messy, started to tap into their roosting instincts. They were up on the edge of their pens all the time, and we were catching escapees and returning them to the pen twice a day at least.
Below you can see a full day of mess with those ducks. Gross. It was a mixture of poop, water, and feed, all mashed into a soaking wet towel. Delightful. I tried to be reasonable, telling myself things like “I have 16 baby ducks, and this is just like changing their collective diaper! No big deal”. And it wasn’t really a big deal, but also it stopped working. The water mess was getting so great that it would completely fill the towels and start leaking off the tarp onto the floor.
Since the chickens started getting out we had to put things on top of their pen to deter them. This worked for about 3 days as well, until we had the whole thing covered in old drywall pieces and cardboard, and even now I still have to catch a couple of them from time to time. One in particular, who I’ve named “Maude”, is especially good at escaping through the narrow slits above her.
Sensing the chickens’ readiness to move outside, Jeff got to work building their coop. I could tell he was excited for a building project, and he dove right in.
At this stage it’s almost finished! We just need a door for humans and a better latch to keep out predators (and to put a little netting up to deter hawks) and then we’re done! However, the ducks had other plans.
The towels ceased to work for us and so I switched to a healthy layer of straw. This worked for a few days, but then was in need of changing daily, and was leaking out onto the floor again, and I just couldn’t take any more of it. We moved them to another spot in the basement with a fresh tarp and straw, and when that started making a mess on the floor the same day, I just started wringing my hands. I decided that I didn’t care if they had their feathers in, I’d rather heat their coop outside than mop up poop water another day.
Jeff hopped on the tractor and started clearing their yard space behind our old shed.
We decided that half of that space would be duck house, half for tool/straw/etc storage. Jeff framed it out, and we had a duck pen in no time.
Below is the view through the shed part to the door of the coop. They have a little duck door out the back that goes to the yard.
I put a fresh layer of straw down and we moved them out last night. They were a bit freaked out but I’m thrilled. We sat in there with them until they calmed down a bit. The woman we bought the ducks from said it was a good idea to sit with them from time to time so they can bond to us. We haven’t been incredibly inclined considering the mess they make, but we took the opportunity on clean straw. They’ve grown so much!
Next we’ll finish the chicken coop, and that will hopefully end the birds-in-the-basement saga, at least for the time being. Otherwise, Jeff and I have been busy building a greenhouse on the south side of the house to house the microgreens. I finally live with the microgreens again! It’s already making the pace of things so much easier.
The two of us built it easily. It was just cattle panel fencing and plastic, with a wood frame on either side. It’s been working well, although I can tell I’ll have to shift things again soon with the heat coming on.
Market started up again, and I’ve had a good time going. I noticed at the first market that it was almost like no time had passed. I think I’ve been going there for enough years that it isn’t the same kind of work for me that it once was. 🙂
I also started a garden on the east side of the house, which is really the only cleared space available. I dug wood out of a scrap pile to make the beds and filled it with old microgreen soil. I don’t have a totally current picture, but now it’s filled with grapevines and gooseberries and bush cherries, and I’ll be tucking some annual vegetables in there too.
We’ve also just been spending a lot of time outside, enjoying these woods. It’s been a wonderful month, now that I really think about it. My grandfather passed just last week, which was a big, sad, amazing experience for us- I’d like to write more on the subject but I don’t have the time just now. Next post. But I’ll close with a few photos from our first 6 weeks of living in the woods.