Sigh. Josh and Gwen have been busy since the New Year. We’ve been quiet because for a few weeks there wasn’t much to report, and then all of a sudden too much, and we were too crabby to talk about it.
This happens to be the coldest winter since we’ve lived in Washington, with most nights (and many days) in December below freezing. This meant the added chore of breaking up ice in the waterers and chiseling frozen pig poop out of the snow. It also means it’s been too cold (and windy) to do most of the winter outdoor projects, like building a greenhouse and a hügelculture raised bed, which are on our shortlist.
In most ways, the cold necessitated a pretty restful month at Bellfern Homestead. The pigs are in their winter confinement area, where they spend most of their time snuggled in a porky heap, and the chickens stay close to home. The cold even negotiated a truce between two flocks of chickens–the House of Capulet and the House of Montague–who had been antagonistic neighbors all summer and fall. On one particularly cold day they agreed to put aside their differences and snuggle up in one giant pile, and they have been combined into one House of Chickendom ever since.
Among its many assets, our farmstead came with a funky rental unit–I call it the chateau, which is a pretty grandiose overstatement–that has recently been inhabited by a like-minded friend who is excited about our vision for a sustainable food system and wants to be part of it. We’re so lucky to have her here. But the chateau has problems that didn’t come to light until it got really cold and had someone living in it full-time.
In the course of one week, the following problems have surfaced in the chateau:
- The drain pipe from the kitchen sink clogged and backed up
- The water pipes froze
- After finding and thawing the frozen section, the fittings cracked and disintegrated
- The gas range started leaking gas, and our repair guy said the whole range needs to be replaced.
And that’s just the chateau. While we were scrambling to head off each crisis, one of our chickens stepped in a hidden rat trap and broke her leg, and the whole flock of chickens got worms. And since the dogs hoover up the random chicken poop, they probably have worms too, as do the pigs, and so the whole animal kingdom of Bellfern Homestead (minus Gwen and Josh) are getting dewormed. Josh and Gwen fervently hope to never need deworming.
We have agreed to be done with bad news for a while. If I can have just a few days where nothing breaks, and no animal is sick or suffering, I’ll be able to appreciate the good that has come out of all of these unfortunate events.
2016 was a year of firsts and learning curves. We had some exciting small successes (we made wine and cider from our own fruit! we raised and sold our first farm product!), and quite a few fails. The first time we fail at something is always the hardest. We feel guilty about whatever we did to cause the problem (left a rat trap where a chicken could find it), or how we might have prevented the problem (better insulated the pipes), and we’re not confident about how to fix it (why isn’t the drain snake unclogging this?). Our inexperience as farmers is glaring at times. But the second time it happens is not as scary. For example, I’m now a pro at identifying and treating worms in our animals, and discovering the chicken worms yesterday wasn’t as traumatic as it would have been a year ago. We also know 100% more about the innards of the chateau than we did 1 month ago, knowledge that will make our lives much easier next time a drain clogs or a pipe freezes. And I learned how to splint a chicken leg, which involves about what you’d expect–gauze, sticks, and athletic tape. In the decades of chicken ownership ahead of us, that was probably not our last broken leg.
With a year of tremendous firsts behind us, we’re thankful to have a little more confidence going into the year ahead.