Farm work is an invitation to relationship. From getting to know intimately a piece of land — where do the birds like to live, where is the coolest spot in summer, where does it stay wet after heavy spring rains — to understanding the needs and behaviors of animals, respecting the natural forces of weather and the seasons, and the many chances to practice humility and gratitude in the face of uncontrollable events that often lead to failure, and enjoying the unexpected small beauties and appearances of grace.
That said, losing it, occasionally, has been part of my farming experience. For example:
Breeding season was almost over. Usually, I bring a buck to the does in heat with a truck and horse trailer, but it was easier, I thought that day, to just load Daisy Mae into the front seat and drive her to the boys. Part of the reason I bring the buck to the does is the bucks' living space is, well... akin to a university fraternity. The bucks are rambunctious and parade behaviors that are about one-upping. When in rut, they literally knock down the walls of their house. I put Daisy Mae on a leash and led her over to this den of debauchery (come on, isn't that a bit overboard on the poetics — KEEP READING...) where the three boys stood peeing on their own beards and forelegs, making catcalls that sound like a chorus of monkeys and cavemen. I took the leash off Daisy Mae, whose tail was wagging approvingly, and brought our buck, Storm, out to meet her. She was definitely in heat so the two got down to business, and fait accompli, I began to take Storm back through the gate to his brothers. As I turned to shut the gate, Daisy Mae snuck in behind us. So, the debacle began! Those three horned beasts and that vixen transformed into a grunting, head banging cyclone of fur I proved helpless to disassemble. Finally, brandishing a plastic feed can lid like a gladiator's shield, I charged into the fray, swearing in languages and idioms I didn't know existed. After what seemed a long perplexing contemplation on the possibility of impregnation by all three bucks, Daisy Mae was leashed and out the gate. Panting, I got her into the pick-up, and as I climbed behind the wheel, gruffly exclaimed, "this is all your fault!" She calmly "maaaaa-ed" at me and I clearly understood her meaning to be "really?!" As a caretaker of animals, it "really?!" is my responsibility as the more evolved mammal to prevent preventable events like this one. I was a little lazy, cut a corner, stepped out of a routine without upping my awareness going in to it. It was my fault I lost it!
It was a cold evening in April when an older doe was close to giving birth. I was keeping a vigilant eye on her because older does can have complications and I was worried about the predicted below freezing night temperatures. As night came on, her progress was slow at 10pm and midnight. Finally at 2am, she was close to pushing. As hard labor began, she started to bear down and cry out. After ten minutes, I could see the small front hooves of her kid. Then a tiny black nose appeared, and after a few big pushes, out gushed a flood of goo and fluid and a baby girl. It was freezing, and I toweled off the kid then stuck her inside my coat, as mama was on her side again, hollering and laboring. This went on for 40 minutes with the usual appearance of those front hooves and nose, but that kid was not coming out. The umbilical cord usually breaks at some point as the kid moves through the birth canal, then they will need to breathe air soon. I sanitized my hands and began probing and gently working to help the kid out. The baby in my coat was squawking to nurse and mama looked exhausted. Suddenly, a wave of despair rolled over me, a quicksand pit of incompetence pulled on me, and tears welled up in my eyes. I felt I just couldn't bear the pressure and loneliness of the moment. I am trained for this during kidding season when a work week can be 100 hours with maybe no full nights of sleep. I said a little prayer. Decided to call the vet for help. As I stepped out of the shed to pull out my phone, the crisp clarity of the cold hit me and I noticed the night sky. That blue black infinity was sprinkled with glimmering stars and the vastness and silence took me aback. One farmer, doing what I love, in the context of blessing and beauty. The birth turned out fine. I called the vet, got the kid out, and called the vet back to cancel.
It's all so groundless-- on a rare occasion, the result is tragic, the birth doesn't go well. Farming is the ground where simplicity, accountability and service meet the edge of fear, holding back and falling short; getting it right or losing it becomes a flowering of something more transparent and spacious and loving, if you'll let it.
White Lotus Farms Herd Manager