farming, Uncategorized

Cut, Cut, Clamp.

Sadie and I woke up extra early, made the coffee extra strong, let the dogs and cats out and drove up to the barn. I let the chickens in the yard to peck, then we backed the van up to the pig sty. 3 little barrow’s had a date with destiny – a destiny named Dr. Lyle.

We put some straw in the trusty wire dog kennel, which – now that I think of it, I have no idea how long we’ve had it or where it came from. It’s the very same kennel that held all the pullets I got what feels like months ago. Sadie poured the last of the milk in the pan, and we watched the piglets gather around.

I’m a very mission-oriented person. When it’s time to get down to business, I’m ready. I don’t want to stand around or talk about it or scratch heads or hold a meeting, I want to get the job done. Once the pigs settled in and began slurping, I crouched down,  my right swooped out, almost like I was throwing a low curve ball, and I came up with one piglet dangling upside down, squealing like a banshee.

We put the wire cage in the back of the van, and in he went. The other piglets were nervous now, no one was interested in drinking anymore milk. They just saw their brother get yanked to the sky then disappear. Sadie laughed, we cornered the piglets and I went for it. Brother number two was in my right hand, squirming and screaming bloody murder.

It was serious business now, the rest of the piglets bolted out of the sty and made a break for the yard. We herded them back and shut them in, Sadie went for the little black and white piglet and he went right between her legs.

Pigs are smart – they know what you’re thinking. You’ve gotta be quick, especially when they are all stirred up and cautious. ‘Round and ’round they went, like the demolition derby on the final lap. Neither pig wanting to be first or last. We all took a little breather, then I went in for the final grab. Mission success – well, the first part anyway. I held him up like a fisherman would his catch, and boy did he hate it.

We were in the van and back down the hill by 7:30. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was golden yellow on the green mountains, and there wasn’t a bit of humidity in the air. We drove with the windows down, partly to enjoy the air, and partly to avoid the stink. Our piggies are still little, but they’re pigs alright.

When we got to the vets office, it was pretty quiet. I knew all that was about to change – we let them know we arrived and got the kennel into the exam room. Dr. Lyle came in, we moved the table and chairs out of the way, and he began to set up: A metal bowl full of blue sanitation liquid, a scalpel, forceps, and the emasculator. He wasn’t a very big man, he’s older with white hair, but he had a seriousness about him that I liked. He was ready for the mission, hands calloused and arms strong with years of practice.

Dr. Lyle gave the word, and his assistance crouched down in the kennel and slowly reached for one of the piglets, who jerked back and startled his brothers. They were climbing over each other trying to get away. But she was as gentle as she could be, tugging their legs and talking sweet, trying to coax them out.

I knew it wasn’t going to get us anywhere. I reached in and swiped for the nearest hind leg – up that little piggy came and went right in her lap. Man did he scream, every single animal in that entire office went deaf, on and on he screamed, I tried to holler for her to stroke his chin but there wasn’t really any point. The plan was for her to hold the piglet upside down so Dr. Lyle could, well you know.

That piglet was fighting and squirming like I had never seen. Dr. Lyle tried to show her how to hold him, and ended up staying that way. He put the piglet’s shoulders between his knees, then told her to hold his back legs towards the ground so he was bottoms up. She was still having a hard time with it, so Sadie and I kind of stepped in. We were  used to the screaming anyway. I’m not sure what she thought when she heard ‘piglets’ but it couldn’t have been this.

I knelt down and reached between Sadie’s shins to clamp the piggy’s mouth closed, then the ear-splitting squeals were somewhat more tolerable. The vet tilted his chin towards the table, so I passed him the scalpel. He made two small cuts, about an inch and a half long, then handed me back the scalpel. I passed him the emasculators (I know it’s an awful name for an instrument, all it does is clamp the vessels off so the piglet doesn’t bleed out). It was all over in about 45 seconds.

The vet tech passed me the piglet so carefully, it was like she was holding a stick of lit dynamite. In he went and out came the brother, squealing just as loud. We had a bit of a system now, Dr. Lyle held the pigs shoulders between his knees, Sadie got the hind legs and I closed his mouth before passing back the scalpel. Cut, cut, clamp, he was done.

Finally, the last piglet, the black and white. The first one to eat – the big boy. He screamed right through my hand and jerked so hard, the Vet made three tries before he actually cut. I turned his head loose and helped Sadie with his hind legs, taking back the scalpel and passing the emasculators over her head.

Once he was back in the kennel, we all breathed a sigh of relief, standing and stretching. The vet tech opened the door to leave and we saw all the other tech’s, wide-eyed and watching. Sadie and I laughed, apologized, and washed our hands.

We got the kennel loaded, thanked everyone and apologized again, and hit the road. The piglets were very quiet, and I felt bad for them, but also very relieved that – for now at least – we would only have 5 to raise. Sadie reached in her purse and pulled out some Hardee’s coupons, man did that biscuit taste good, and we headed for home. Just another day on the farm, and all said and done before 8:30am.

farming, Uncategorized

Pig Slop

Sometimes, Monday’s are Monday’s. I’ve had Monday’s on the weekend, the middle of the week, you name it. It just seems to be a good way to say ‘you know, today is kicking my butt, it feels like a Monday.’

Well, yesterday I had a Monday Monday. I woke up late, missed breakfast, and got to work with hay in my hair and mud smeared on my legs. Oh well! 8 hours, and bottomless cups of coffee later, I made it back home.

I checked the stock and took the chickies some extra water, then made my way to the garden and started weeding. The tomatoes have completely taken over – we tied and staked them but you can hardly see the stakes now. The stalks are so long, they laid on the ground, took root, and continued growing to the sky. Each plants has several pale green tomatoes, about the size of my fist, hiding between their leaves.

I brought some squash and zucchini inside, decided to have dinner and call it a day. If you live on a farm, you have to get up early. It’s part of the job description. Over the weekend, we took my cousins to Gatlinburg, and didn’t get home until after midnight. I’m not exactly a morning person, I’m kind of a forced morning person now, and even that can be rough after 8 hours of sleep. Anyway, it had been a late night and an early morning and I was ready to get back on a normal sleep schedule.

When I heard the dogs barking, I knew Sadie was home. I shuffled outside to meet her, and saw she had a big grin on her face. Then I realized she had something up her sleeve. I was warm and dry in my clean pajamas, it was almost 10:00pm, and it was about to go down. We walked out to the van and she opened the door to 3 big five-gallon buckets full of cafeteria leftovers. Piggy slop!

I hopped in the van and we took the lantern up to the barn. Sadie took one of the smaller buckets and we brought the piggies their first taste of macaroni and cheese, baked potato, garden salad, and hamburger buns. Oh man did they enjoy it, I don’t think they even came up for air. We left them to it and drove to the shop to put the rest of the buckets in the fridge. I was yawning so big it made my jaw sore.

When I opened the van door to unload the buckets, the one closest to the door tipped off the seat, the lid rolled onto the ground, and the contents fell on the floor of the van and all over my feet. Wonderful. I took a step back and felt warm creamed potatoes squish between my toes. I righted the bucket and started scraping soggy white bread, potatoes, and who knows what else back into the bucket.

Oh the smells, the textures! I was up to my elbows. Warm, cold, slimy, gooey, I experienced all of it. Have you ever tried to scrape creamed potatoes off the dirt with your bare hands? Well, now I can say that I have.

Once I got most of it back in the bucket, Sadie came around and put the lantern on the scene. It wasn’t pretty. When I opened the van door, it smeared slop in the door track. The bucket lid landed gooey side down, you know, and made quite the mark on the carpet.

I called Casey over and she got to work. I put Sadie’s head in my hands – just so she could experience the magic. I wanted her to wear some creamed potatoes too. She grinned, she’s a good sport, and then we officially called it a night.

That’s enough Monday’s for one week! We don’t have too many exasperating days on the farm, but when we do, they seem to all squeeze into one. Just like potatoes between your toes.


farming, Uncategorized

In the Garden

We had quite the storm Thursday night, one of the worst since I have been here. It woke me up around 3, I could hear the wind driving the rain against the window, and the lightning almost looked like a strobe. When the sun finally came up, some of my pepper plants were almost lying flat on the ground. Several stalks of corn had tipped over, so did the squash and zucchini plants. Their leaves are so big now, I’m a little surprised the roots held.

But we definitely needed the rain. The next morning it was cool and breezy, such a wonderful break from the humidity. The ground was still wet, I went out into the garden and poked around, piling dirt back around roots and stalks. We have a few baby green tomatoes, but not much else yet. Once it starts, it will be a stream of veggies all summer.

Next year, I’d like to plant several rows of field corn for the pigs. Even now, I think they will get much of what Sadie and I can’t eat in time. They have already doubled in size, and have appetites like you wouldn’t believe. Well, maybe you can. There’s a reason they say ‘eat like a pig’ !

When I got home from work yesterday I let the hens out, it was still warm by 5:30 but they had been up since Wednesday. I threw some young apples to the pullets and the pigs, they are too tart for me to eat, Sadie calls them “jaw lockin'” and she’s exactly right. Casey and Abbie kept me company in the yard and I couldn’t help but go back to the garden.

It is much easier to pull weeds when the ground is soft, I worked between the rows for a while, tying a few tomato stalks as I went. The garden is such a peaceful place, it’s a wonderful way to let your mind go, to unwind and focus on what your hands are doing. I know you can get everything at the store, and it is definitely easier. But there’s something magical about growing and tending your own.

I would be lying if I said our home-grown veggies tasted the same as something organic from somewhere else. They taste way better. They taste like all the cool mornings, hot days, rainy nights and long evenings spent between the rows. The bugs, the dirt, the weeds and thorns. They taste like sweat and mountain air, crisp and fresh with maybe a little grit somewhere in there.

It’s a piece of you, it’s planning and planting seeds smaller than a breath mint, then taking care that they have sun, water, fertilizer and enough space to grow. And boy will they grow! The corn has reached beyond my height, and the beans have already climbed the string we tied over them. The roots go deep, and the stalks grow high. Then one day you look out and there’s a tomato, a pepper, a cucumber, ready to be picked, washed and eaten. It’s amazing, absolutely unfathomable.

Did I mention it’s also delicious? We will can tomatoes, green beans, the zucchini, the okra and corn we will freeze, the potatoes will be cooked and eaten in every way imaginable, the squash will go over pasta and in casserole. The cucumbers will go into salads, and into jars to become pickles. The peppers I slice and eat, but some may make it to pizza or chicken salad. I can hardly wait – I’m making myself hungry thinking about it.
Part of me gets so excited, I want to till up the whole front yard and sow seed, to move the horses and have an entire pasture of corn to run through, to listen to in the wind. We’re not quite there yet, but maybe one day. And I know those crops will taste as good as our little garden will. Little seedlings we can watch grow until they are ready to be picked and eaten. And every night, walking back to the house with tomato juice running down my chin and my arms full of hickory king corn.

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A Good Kitty

Sadie and I stayed up a little later than we wanted to going over the Verizon and the Direct TV bill. It was a little depressing, we called it quits without really deciding anything and I’m all ready for bed. I was just about to turn off the lamp when little white kitty jumped up on my bed. She crawled on my chest, purring, and kept head-butting me in the chin.

Over and over she kept butting my chin, as if she was saying “stop worrying about bills, pay attention to me, I’m cute. Stop worrying.” I started scratching her ears and petting her from head to tail, she eventually started to settle down and start kneading on my hair. Just like her mama.

I know cats can’t talk, but that’s the message I was getting. At least, it was a message I needed to get. I love all our critters, the hairy, slobbery, squawking and squealing ones. From Tug to my tiniest pullet, I wouldn’t trade a single one. They are what makes this life so special. What makes me occasionally jump out of bed in the mornings. I say occasionally because the majority of the time, it’s for coffee. And then to see the animals.

Lately I’ve been spending the evenings in the garden, partially to avoid the heat, and partially because I love watching how long it takes for the sun to completely disappear. The shadows get longer, and the mountain ridge shines in gold. Each leaf framed in an orange glow that slowly slips into evening. The sky goes from red, to pink, to soft purples, then eventually everything melts into that velvety dark blue, flecked with silvery stars.

I like listening to the birds get quiet while the crickets awaken. The lightning bugs come out, one by one, dancing above the fields and through the trees. It feels a bit like a fairy tale, with dirt under my nails and the smell of the tomatoes in the air. It’s absolutely intoxicating. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked down from the chicken coop, or crossed the street to go check the horses, I’ll get this feeling in my chest when I think I live here.

There are days when I can’t get enough of it. When I watch the sun disappear, then I want to pull it back up – not all the way, just until about 7:30pm, so I can experience it again. The slowing down, the calm, the quiet of the frogs and the crickets singing everything to sleep.

The other day I was in the barn lot moving hay, all sweaty and busy, I came out of the barn for some reason and something caught my eye – the sun was setting and sending golden beams out through the clouds. I shut the gate and hopped on the ATV, driving across the road to take it all in. Jimmy had finished raking hay that day, some of the round bales were sitting in the field, but most of it was lying in rows, waiting to be baled. The smell was almost overwhelming, strong like fresh cut grass, but sweet like hay, the best combination of both.

I sat right down and watched the sun set over the river, in it’s golds and bright pinks and deep blues. It was absolutely stunning. And I made a mental note to make time to do that more often, to stop and look up, and watch what’s happening.

White kitty just curled up on my leg, I think she’s hinting that she’s ready for sleep. Zoe’s stretched out under my bed, one of her favorite places, and I just heard her give one of those deep sighs. It’s time for bed. But I might just creep outside, one last time, to see the lightning bugs and feel the cool night air. To smell the tomatoes and feel the soft tilled garden dirt beneath my hands and feet.




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This little piggy

3 weeks ago, when Sadie was off work, I invited her to ride out to White Pine with me to go pick up the latest batch of pullets. It’s about an hour away, but the girl selling the hens made me an excellent offer. We put the wire kennel in the back of the van, stopped at the ATM, and hit the road. We were going to get 4 barred rock pullets and 5 black sexlinks, each about 5 months old. Hens usually begin laying at 6 months, so it was a great time to bring them home.

I love riding places with Sadie. Sometimes we talk and laugh and tell stories, and sometimes we just let our minds wander or stare out at the beautiful rolling hills of East Tennessee. It’s peaceful.

When we pulled up at the house, it was anything but peaceful. The driveway sloped sharply down a hill to a bare dirt yard crawling with chickens, cats, dogs and puppies. At the end of the driveway was a hog pen with three of the biggest pigs I’ve ever seen inside, grunting and smacking on corn. To the right of us was a small wire pen with a nanny and three baby goats, all bleating.

Caitlyn met us and walked us down, she introduced us to her father and her two younger brothers, and showed me to the pullets. They were beautiful. There was a burn pile blazing nearby, and a truck loaded with a sow, piglets, meat birds and several bales of hay. Caitlyn explained that she was moving and they were taking the sow to auction.

Sadie and I have talked about having Pigs several times. Because the horses use so much of the pasture, we are really not set up for cattle. We could have goats, but that would require replacing the barbed wire fencing with square wire, and probably running electric wire over that. Pigs are a bit more feasible for the acreage we already have.

The only problem is that we know nothing about raising pigs. Some people keep pet pigs, or breeder pigs, or feeder pigs, it depends on what you want to do with them. The thing about pigs is that they can’t sweat. If they get hot, they have to have somewhere to wallow to cool off. Like any animal, they need shelter, access to food and clean water at all times. But they are very intelligent, easy to train, and grow like weeds.

We went over to the truck to look at the piglets, which were a Duroc/Berkshire breed, known for their hardiness and tasty flavor. Caitlyn’s brother scooped one up and put it in Sadie’s arms. When it began to squeal, Caitlyn rubbed his chin to calm him down. At 4 weeks old, he wasn’t bigger than a loaf of bread.

You should have seen Sadie’s face holding that piglet. It was like Christmas morning. When the piglet began to doze off, I knew we were in trouble. I tried talking her into just getting a pair, but Caitlyn kept saying “I’ll make you a good deal if you take all five.” A good deal for her, yeah.

I bought the wire cage too, the pullets went in the trunck of the van and the piglets rode on the floor behind the drivers door. Caitlyn’s Dad followed us to the ATM, and I shelled out the cash for the piglets and the cage.

Oh how Sadie laughed and laughed! I didn’t say a word, I think I was in shock. I felt like someone just told me we were adopting five infants, all I could think was “we don’t have a fence, a pen, milk, bottles – ANYTHING.” We were extremely unprepared, and I couldn’t get a handle on it.

We had planned on meeting some friends for dinner at Cracker Barrel, we left the van running with our latest mouths to feed, and went inside. The waiter came over and asked how we were doing, and I blurted out “We bought five bottle piglets.” He looked as startled as I felt, and proceeded to congratulate us before taking our drink orders and striding off.

Sadie laughed again, I said “We bought FIVE piglets!” and started laughing with her. I still can’t believe it. We swapped stories, cleaned our plates, then walked back to the car to show them off. Sadie held one and oh how it squealed, we were getting looks all over the parking lot.

On the drive back, we planned out where we would keep them. The shop? The horse trailer? The bathtub? We ended up driving to the chicken coop and putting the little squealers in the chicken’s laying room, which used to be a draft horse stall. We decided if Sarge couldn’t get out, neither could they.

Sadie and I walked back to the house, it was now almost 10:00 and I was pooped. You never know what may happen in a day on the farm, but I would not have guessed baby piglets for anything. We weren’t prepared, but if I waited to be fully prepared for every decision, I wouldn’t be on the farm in the first place.



Table Scraps

Thursday, around 12:15 am, the Tom cat woke me up yowling. I had Zoe laying on one side of me, and two kitties on the other. He had to wait.

Fast forward to about 5:30 am, and he has his paw hooked under the basement door, rattling it back and forth. I slung off my covers and got up. My bedroom window is just above a low stone wall that makes up the front flower bed, so I opened the window and – well, I didn’t toss him. I sort of set him in the flower bed – and shut the window.

When I turned around, Mama Kitty was sitting at the end of my bed. I opened the window again, picked her up, and set her outside too. But somehow, in the four seconds she was up there, she decided to PEE ON MY BED. When I carried her to the window, she peed on the floor, down the wall, on the window sill and, I presume, continued outside.

I grabbed up my quilt and sheets, held them high and headed for the washing machine.

That was when my sleepy little bare-feet stepped in, can you guess? Dog poop. I stepped in dog poop while carrying cat pee sheets to the laundry.

I hopped the rest of the way. When Sadie asked why I was up, I said “you don’t wanna know.”

In hindsight, I should have made sure the cats were out. And I should have made sure Sadie didn’t feed Zoe any scraps at 10:30pm. It’s our responsibility to care for the critters, considering that we are both in bed by 11, it can be a long night for them.

The good thing is that I saw an absolutely beautiful sunrise that day. It comes up over the mountains on the northern part of the pasture now that it is getting closer to Summer. The sky was soft blue and pink and purple, it transformed into a stunning golden orange behind the silhouette of the mountain range.

Things have been fairly busy on the farm, the weather has been so perfect, I couldn’t tell you the last time I picked up a book, much less written anything down. Spring time is captivating. I want to be outside all the time, if I don’t have a project in mind, it just takes walking out the door to find one.

The garden is coming in so nicely, most of our equipment has a ‘place’ now, a designated spot in the barn or in the shop, it’s easier to get things done when you know where they are. I know that sounds obvious, when my Uncle got very sick, things changed, we haven’t had anyone to help clean things up for a long while.

But now it’s getting back to where I’d like it to be, and it’s rewarding. It’s good to be able to sit on the porch and look out over all Sadie and I have accomplished this Spring. I can’t believe I have been here a year. I can’t imagine ever being anywhere else.


Father’s Day

Today at church, our Pastor mentioned that when he taught high school sports, most of the boys treated God as they did their own Father’s. That an astonishing number of them didn’t know their Dad’s, or had a broken, painful relationship with them. Those boys thought of God as distant, uncaring, unavailable.

Our earthly Father’s inform the way we view and relate, or disbelieve, our heavenly Father. I felt sorrow for the boys he mentioned, and for the staggering number of children who grow up in broken homes. But I also smiled, because I could see exactly how my Dad informed the way I understood Christianity.

My Dad is a lot of things, and I’m sure many bloggers today are looking back to reflect on their own Father’s, whether good or absent or what have you. My Dad is a great Dad, has been for as long as I have known him. But he is also a Spiritual Leader, a servant, an extremely dedicated worker, a Patriot, a husband, a good steward, has an incredible head for numbers, finance, and for navigating the world we live in.

On several of my Birthday cards, I read the words “I held you first” in the black ink of a pen I could recognize anywhere. Apparently, he may or may not have nudged the nurse out of the way, and was the first person to hold me when I entered this world.

His voice is the one coaching me, pushing me to do better, sternly correcting me when I am wrong – corrections that I know now come from a place of love and experience. I was not the most obedient, or the most respectful as I approached my twenties. The fact that he was simultaneously so tender, loving, and commanding at the same time still marvels me to this day.

Sure, I am the third out of four, maybe he had the parenting thing figured out by the time my headstrong, sarcastic self came along. Growing up, Mom was encouraging, loving, a refuge. He was too, but in a different way. My Dad made sure I knew where I stood, where my place was in the family (which was not the main decision-maker, despite all my efforts). Above all, I am thankful for that. He stood his ground when I toed the line, time and time again, out of love. It’s an incredible kind of dance that takes grace, patience, and resolve. It has made me the person I am today.

The work ethic he taught me undeniably is the reason I have been able to stay on the farm. If I didn’t know how to, or didn’t care to, work until after dusk, or work until the project was completed, I have no idea where I would be living.

At the same time, he was home every night for family dinner, where he wanted to hear about each of our day’s, and tell us about his. Even when it made us late for plans with friends or TV shows. As hard as he worked, he knew when it was time to step away from the desk, head home, and be with his family. He rarely, very rarely, if ever, worked on the weekends. He could have made more money, had a better reputation or position within the company, and he chose to be with us instead.

I am still learning that dance, to be committed, work hard, and get the projects done. But also know when to step away, to rest, to enjoy family. To say no to a bigger paycheck, because there is something more important on the other side. It is especially hard here on the farm, where projects and chores are a part of daily life. When things break and animals get loose and it doesn’t go as anticipated.

There is no way any of this would have been possible without my Dad being a strong Spiritual leader. He drove us to church every Sunday, to Youth Group, to prayer meetings and baptisms. We wore matching shirts the day I was baptized, he was standing on stage with me as I spoke my testimony aloud. He read us scripture, taught us to memorize it, and hosted more Bible Studies than I can remember. Deacon, Elder, Nursery Worker, he leads by serving.

He didn’t, and doesn’t, do these things out of obligation. His life was completely changed by Jesus Christ, and he has not been the same since. We understood reverence at a young age. We learned the sobriety of taking communion, it wasn’t a ritual, it was real. He lived, and continues to live that out each day.

My Dad is a Math teacher, a mechanic, a banker, a veterinarian, a chauffeur, a Doctor, a landscape artist, grill master, and as he called his father, a Mr. Fix-it Fox. We would lay broken toys needing glue on his desk, the next morning my toy horse or my brothers wooden derby car would be brand new again.

How do you say thank you to someone who has done all that? How do you fit that in a card, and send in the mail? To the man who has made me who I am, and will continue helping me navigate life, I am proud to call you my Dad. I love you, Happy Father’s Day!