I drive the tractor up the trail and am standing at the site of the as-yet-to-be-built meat chicken pen which is currently stacked with rough cedar planks. I am pointing to a pile of woodstove-sized lengths.
“Does this pile need whacking?” I call to the Bearded One. The word “splitting” eludes me.
He looks up and interprets my position and hand gesture. He chainsawed the pile to stovewood lengths earlier, and is now examining the aviary for rat holes. Happily there are none.
“Yes!” he calls back. “A lot of it does!”
“I need that big whacker!” The word axe eludes me.
“Shush!” says the Bearded One. “The neighbors will hear you.” I scream with laughter — we seem to be stuck at about age 14 when it comes to sexual innuendo — and go fetch the axe from the barn.
I’m not really good at splitting wood, I think. But at least I’m not kneeling and laying the pieces on top of one another anymore. The Bearded One noticed my sorry technique last week, I snapped at him for noticing, and then he kindly showed me how to prop the pieces and whack them while I’m standing up. Ahh…
One reason for my grumpiness and need to whack firewood is the making of our monthly shopping lists. The glaring truth is that I can supply our household with only a small fraction of our food from my labors. We’ve run out of potatoes, carrots, onions, jam, and all other home-canned foods except dried zucchini.
In fact, the only farmlet-grown food we’re eating these days is eggs. The hens are averaging 4 or 5 a day. We’ve even given a couple of dozen to neighbors.
Self-sufficiency was never the goal, I think. Nonetheless, the flavor of the concept does hang around. The hoop house. The goat barn. The root cellars. The gardens. The aviary. The eggs. The meat chickens. We sometimes imagine ourselves working toward or working on “self-sufficiency” — just because we have a bit of backyard livestock around these days. It’s just not really so. I open the upper pasture gate on my way to the barn for the axe.
Cheetah and Jane, the two Ameraucana hens, race by like Kitty Hawks, running and flapping their grown-back flight feathers. They flap-stride 8-10 feet per step. Cheetah is the dullest of the hens, freaking out regularly, always the last off the roost in the morning, but she can run like the wind.
Before the farmlet, I didn’t know how much chickens love to run. Or how they do everything together. They are a flock of eleven individuals who all go to sleep at the same time, get up at the same time, and dust bathe together every day.
The goats are in the barn when I walk in looking for the axe. Pearl, the boss, looks over at Sage, the second boss. A signal passes, and large goat bodies scurry around and slam into the siding. The game — Chase LaLa Out of the Barn — is on, and I watch as Pearl and Sage flush LaLa, the scape goat, the black mohair pygora, through the narrow door.
They run around the upper pasture, light on their hooves. They dance, specifically the pasodoble’ — facing each other and rearing up, then falling back down and clacking horns. It’s funny and sensual and I cheer them because I know they goat-love LaLa. They are a herd, a team. Sage licks Pearl’s eye clean.
The goats all take turns guarding the barn door from the chickens. We left it open this week as an experiment. To keep chickens out of the barn is also to keep the goats out of the barn — their home. To keep it open for the goats means keeping the chickens out of the entire upper pasture, which also means the goats can’t go down to the lower pasture. Everything impacts everything.
Chickens create too much chaos in the goat’s space, though. Pearl literally wedges herself diagonally in the open barn door to keep the chickens out. This is a brand new behavior. She is very territorial about the whole thing, and as the Bearded One’s Forest Gump voice says, “We shouldn’t bring another animal’s poop into their house — that’s all I have to say about that.”
I’ve seen the goats protect the chickens, too, though. Once in the lower pasture, the chickens were all frozen because they heard a chipmunk chirping, and the goats went over and stood among them. When an owl has been sighted, the chickens follow the goats around closely.
I find the axe and return to the wood pile. I’m a strong 55-year-old woman, and I’m grateful that I can still chop wood and carry water…and tomorrow drive into a harbor town to go grocery shopping.
Around here, self-sufficiency goes hand-in-hand with Costco.