Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Life and Death on a Farm

Dad, me, and most of my possesions packed in a pick-up.

Just over a week has passed in my time at Nature's Harmony farm in Elberton, GA, and I have already seen, tasted, smelled, and touched more than I could have imagined I would have in an entire year somewhere else. It is no surprise to me that there is life on a working farm, but I am finding myself consistently amazed by how much of it there is. Before I embarked on this journey, I must admit that I was afraid that I would be a little bit bored out on the farm. However, it is wonderful, in the word's truest sense, to be out in the fields watching the hens peck for bugs, the cows grazing in their paddock, the pigs playfully chasing each other, the dogs keeping all the hawks away, and the sheep running in a flock. Even the smallest life is amazing. Yesterday, I was cleaning out one of the water troughs for a cow and I noticed a small, glistening beetle swimming in the water, moving slowly then bursting with speed like an ice skater.
And not only is there life on the farm, but life that is beginning. Last week, one of our sows had a farrow of piglets. Apparently this particular Berkshire sow, Tweeter, is not the best mother because last time she farrowed, she trampled all of her piglets before they even grew big enough to dodge her enormous weight. Tim and Liz showed patience with her though and hoped that the mothering instincts of the Ossabaw sows she is with will wear off on her. It seems to be working this time around as she is now learning to take care of her piglets without a farrowing hut. Though one piglet has been lost already, 5 are still looking healthy and strong and Tweeter is learning how to take care of them.

Tweeter and her piglets.

We also had a calf born on the farm yesterday named Pollyanna. Her birth through a wrench in the morning plans that I had to finish painting the dairy barn, but it was a welcomed opportunity for me as I got to watch Tim and Liz take care of the young heifer and feed her the milk which her mother was refusing to give her. Apparently this particular mother hadn't weaned her other calf, who is a little bit older, and Pollyanna was a week and a half early, so she didn't have any milk for her. Tim and Liz had to head out to get a special milk supplement that has the antibodies for the calf which are only produced in the first 24 hours after birth. Today, Pollyanna and her mother, Promise, are back on schedule and we are hoping for the best. Pretty soon, we expect one of the Aleutian Pyrenees on the farm, Anna, to have her first litter of pups who will help her and her mate, Jethro, to patrol the farm.

Pollyanna just a few hours after birth.

Anna hiding under the broken dump truck, Dumpy.

Another part of the farm that has been a surprise that I can't say that I was expecting was all of the death. I am not naive and I know that it is the natural course of things for death to follow life and precede more life. But I have lived in a world that has been mostly sheltered from this knowledge of death. As violent as our T.V. and video games are, our culture does not realize that death is, in fact, natural and unavoidable. Yet knowing that death is inevitable has not made it any easier to be around it. When all of the guinea hen's chicks died or when we found a dead Bourbon Red Turkey, my knowledge of death grew, and yet I still did not feel comfortable with it. By far, my least favorite job on the farm is moving the chicken tractors. Every day we move the chickens to fresh grass and new forage, and every day we find at least 5 dead chickens which we take to the compost pile. Apparently this is due to a respiratory illness in chickens which spreads like wildfire. Because Tim and Liz don't use antibiotics and instead prefer to breed out these weaknesses, many chickens have been taken by this illness.
In addition, I also took part in my first "processing" day on the farm. To say that we "processed" chickens is a bit of a euphemism in my opinion, because what we actually did was kill them and clean them out. I don't think slaughtering is the best word for this either, because neither does justice to the reality of what is happening. We are killing a chicken as painlessly (for us and them) as possible and preparing it to offer sustenance to us and the farm's customers. I don't particularly enjoy it, but I understand that it is a necessary part of providing good food to people who care about the way that the way the chickens they eat live and die. It is as it should be, we are taking from the world which gives to us and which we in turn must give back to.

Dead animals in the compost pile.

My first farm dinner. Homemade meat sauce with bowtie pasta,
roasted tomatoes, and baked acorn squash.


  1. Fantastic post! You'll no doubt learn alot about life, death, nature and food in the next year, while making friends and building relationships along the way. Welcome to Nature's Harmony.

  2. Kerry - It's good to see that you are having so many feelings and thoughts about all of this. The death on the farm is, as it should be, so difficult to reconcile. Never let yourself become desensitized to this because once we stop caring is when our job as farmers becomes meaningless. Instead, allow yourself to accept things that are unpleasant and uncomfortable to us and relish in the life on the farm. In the end, the wonderful days will win out. You certainly have the makings of a fantastic farmer and we're lucky to have you with us for the year!

  3. I really enjoyed this post! I'm glad to see that you are making the most of the blessings that are awarded you by being on a farm that you wouldn't find elsewhere. I've found myself trying to find creative ways to use photography to enjoy Columbia.. so far I've found some pleasant surprises. It's also still a little lonely.

    Best of luck! You're going to grow a ton from this. Can't wait to hear the stories at Bryan and Sarah's wedding!