Saturday morning our friends Ross and Wheeler and Emily came to the farm to help with some projects. The bull calves were past due their castration date, but Philip was not feeling well enough to help me take care of that last winter, so we waited for a good weekend according to the farmer's almanac. You can read other posts about our adventures with castrating bulls in previous years. Since we do not have chutes and squeezes and all sorts of other fancy farm equipment we use the best equipment around: our friends.
Same morning, Jason and Josh came out to work on repairing the footings of one side of the tractor shed. They jacked up the sagging wall, dug holes, mixed cement and used Thomas on their team to get the new milking area ready to pour a concrete slab.
Rebecca and Phil and Ingrid (remember Ingrid, our intern last year?) organized a gang of workers from their church. Their mission: begin the spring barn dig out. Maybe 20 some odd kids and young people and even some not so young people manned (womanned) the pitch forks and began to dig out the foot or more of barn bedding that would be used to fertilize our pastures.
Trent and Dawn and kids came over with their John Deere to help till the garden and also use the front loader to move mountains of manure.
The day was perfect. Sunny and mild, sweaters were shed and t-shirts were donned. Ross and Wheeler asked if I wanted them to build me a clothesline. I didn't even ask! How did they know I desperately needed a clothesline? Of course I said yes, and they went to the barn, found the post hole digger and immediately went to work. I drank another cup of coffee for boldness, swept the floors and cried because I missed Philip being here for our annual barn dig out. As you may have read in former years, the spring barn dig out is an amazing opportunity for family togetherness. We would fuss a little, trying to get people motivated to tackle a seemingly impossible task. We would plug in the radio, fight a little over music choices, then finally get to work over the course of two or three days until the job was done, manure spread and clean fresh stalls, sore, but stronger muscles, and a trip to Pop's for sandwiches and ice cream our reward for completing a very hard job.
I never thought I would cry about someone else working on our barn.
So tears dried, I donned the work boots, grabbed the iodine spray bottle and scalpel and joined to the team to round up the calves. We moved them into the barn, and used a gate and a fence as a squeeze. A couple of strong guys held the gate tight as another fellow chained it closed to a fence. Legs were tied. A bucket of grain was fetched, a treat to keep the "patients" distracted. Someone held the tail of the animal up over its back to keep it still. I reached up and proceeded to perform an operation that has given people more tender beef and better herd management for generations. It isn't a very delicate operation. I needed some help with the larger calf and Wheeler was obliged to help. As soon as we were done, the big guy was released into a clean pasture and immediately began to graze the luscious grass. As you can imagine, all barn dig out halted for the chance to witness this educational experience! I think it might have been more exciting than the average reality tv shows! In fact, I think that Wheeler and I could make a good team for a medical reality tv show, as he explained all the workings and proper names for the tubes and vessels and tissues and organs. I don't think anyone got too woozy, but then again, I was fairly tucked in and under rather large animals and didn't much pay attention.
For anyone out there who is hoping to work their own self-sustaining farm operation, it is vital you gather around you a team of friends and strong people, because you have to do some of your own vet work, especially that of castration. Some folks band little baby bull calves and that works, but then they often choose to implant hormones to replace those that were taken. We have read that if you let the calves get bigger, they develop enough natural hormone to grow nice and large and that makes sense to us. I did not grow up learning how to castrate animals, but I did see my dad do it on smaller animals and I read about it online and watched others castrate baby goats and learned how important it is to carefully pull so the cord is ripped instead of cut straight across, to prevent heavy bleeding, and that it is important to carefully pull to get enough of the cord.
So both calves were blood free and happily grazing the rest of the day and while I had so much help and the scalpels and iodine available, we took care of the bucklings and banded the lamb tails as well.
After lunch a couple of cow shareholders came out to the farm to make some purchases. I milled some corn and wheat for one customer and the work on the clothesline, the new milking area and the barn continued. The little kids even went around the farm and had a trash picking up contest to gather detritus left by the wind.
I believe only one manure throwing episode broke out. Seems like apart from watching the farm operations, the human manure spreader job was the hands down favorite of all the kids. They loaded the trailer, drove through the field, and distributed to straw and manure evenly with the help of pitchforks.
Maybe someday we will acquire a mechanical manure spreader. But I think I would be sad to take away from the kids one of their favorite jobs!
So the barn is not quite clean. We knew that it would probably take a couple of days of hard labor. But it is coming right along. And the clothesline is ready for me to go out and load up right now. Which I believe I will do, since the sun is bright and shining and we will soon need to load up some lambs into the back of our new pickup truck and deliver them to the butcher.
How can I say thanks to this amazing community around us?
All the people who give of their time, their resources, their love and labor? It is overwhelming, this generosity that has been extended to us in our time of need. Sometimes it is hard to receive because it is so humbling. But I open my arms and receive and say thank you, hoping that in their time of need they will receive a hundred fold, even a thousand fold what they have given me. I open my arms to receive and say to my children, "See how we are not alone!"
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard:
that went down the skirts of his garments;
As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion:
for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." Psalm 133