Running any size farm is a fair amount of work. It demands early mornings and late nights. Requires working in the cold, heat and everything in between. It is being willing to sacrifice your own comforts for the lives of your animals and/or plants you tend. Opitimizes the belief that this work is God's work and your hands are the tools that are used.
There is great return for your investment. Some of which is monetary. There are eggs to be had and sold, and if you have priced free range organic eggs you will definitely know raising your own chickens is worth the time, effort, and cost.
Of course here there are goats to be milked, which saves this family on costs of dairy products such as milk and cheese. There are those who turn their noses up at goats milk, but with the right breed and feed, you will be pleasantly surprised. It takes a little time to learn to milk... trust me on that one but after a few days you will look forward to the time spent with your sweet goats.
These sweet creatures become a part of your family and work their way right into your heart. They bleat and I swear they smile when you come their way!
Oh sure, there are moments when they are ornary and they kick you in the head or coming leaping across the yard only to land in a great heap on your head ... which you didn't see coming because you were engrossed with something you were reading on your iPad! (True story)
...but just like when your children were small, there are these moments, when you sit quietly together just enjoying each other's presence. It make the kicks in the head worth it some how.
With every new addition to the menagerie, one becomes more and more convinced of the rightness of this way of life.
You look forward to the early morning clucks of excitement that you... their 'long lost friend' has returned!
Faithful companions of ten years must make room for new arrivals and learn the rules of getting along.
Endless moments of pride as your own brood learns the responsibility and compassion which is required when caring for animals. (My dear Lil Bit saved her own money to buy this horse herself! She feeds and cares for him daily!)
One day you wake up to find the life you never could have dreamed of is yours. You are richer and more blessed than you ever could have imagined, living life under your own terms, in the wild beautiful country and you really don't mind tip toeing across the mud, in your stilettos, for a date night with your cowboy (true story).
For years, it has been a HUGE dream to have milk goats! Luckily, the cowboy shares my enthusiasm for healthy eating, raising as much or our own food as possible, and a love for goats. Having combed the local buy/sale list and asking around regarding who sells goats in the area, I finally came into contact with a wonderful family who had just the "babies" for us!
So, without any pens or feed ready for them, we headed out to "take a look" at one goat. I researched the breed she had available, and felt the Lamancha would work well for us. Upon arriving at the farm, we were greeted warmly by kids (of the human sort), friendly faces, and goats. Oh I just wanted to scoop up the babies and hold them! What is that reaction with me and babies of any species???
After moments there, I fell in love with "the wrong goat." Curious, bright eyed, and affectionate she warmed right up to us. I have a feeling she would warm up to anyone! Flower was just the perfect animal to take home, and after a little thought about it, they decided they would sell her as well. My good natured cowboy agreed to bring home TWO goats!!! Am I lucky or what??
Flower was loaded into the car... yes CAR.. rather easily. After a few cries, she settled into the seat with her head in my sons lap. My excitement was running so HIGH I didn't even blink twice about driving out of the driveway...without my husband. In the back of my mind I knew the "farmers" were bringing the other goat along. Yeah. I forgot that since his accident that A. He cannot lift a goat into a pickup. and B. He CANNOT ride as a passenger. After explaining to them he is unable as of yet to get into a passenger seat, they good naturedly allowed him to drive. Yeah... I felt pretty bad later! They got Daisy (formerly known as Coco) into the truck. (We had to rename her as a beloved dog with the same name passed not too long ago and we felt she needed a happier name!)
My son was left to "goat sit" while we ran to the hardware store for supplies, and to pick up another passenger. On the same local buy/sell list I also found a chicken. Her poor little family had been wiped out by a weasel and she was the only survivor. OF course I then had to track down a few more chickens, so she wont be lonely... and I succeeded at finding five more who will make their home on our little acreage later in the week. I had a WONDERFUL conversation with our chicken's "former human mom" about goats, and she shared my excitement for them! I am not sure her husband is as thrilled about them as we are!
After a brief introduction to the dogs, and learning Daisy is not going to take any nonsense from the puppy, we got to work on the pen. Goats, like children, do not have an instruction manual but I can tell you that when a goat charges your dog, you should most likely be aware of an escape route or you will have a muddy behind and a dog in your lap!
Last fall we picked up some salvage wood for pens and we used that to make the initial pen. The use of the word "we" really means my three boys! The cowboy directed and they built the panels In short manner of time, the pen was up, and as I predicted, it was not goat proof. Both of our girls made quick work of escaping! Daisy took for for the hills, running as fast as her Miniature Lamancha legs could carry her. My son was not thrilled to have to chase after her, rope in hand, through the spring mud and the muck, through a horse pen in order to bring her home.
Finally, the last of the boards were on the pen, and it was deemed "goat worthy." We were most hopeful we would be able to get the chicken coop finished too, but I think I over estimated the ease of building! NOW, it was time to milk. Again, we weren't quite ready for goat owner ship, so there was no milking stand available. We improvised and brought her up to the porch! Milking is not easy. Not only did my hands wear out fast, I know my strong cowboy was frustrated to not be able to do it either. Another thing the accident has changed for him; the ability to do basic and simple farm chores.
I think there is definitely a reason for the saying "no use crying over spilled milk." I really do not believe it originated at the table! It was most likely penned by a person who had goats and was trying to learn how to milk! Even Ms Flower got in on the milking, though I am not sure her climbing my back and giving me kisses was helpful. It however lightened the mood!
He was frustrated... I was frustrated... and I think Daisy was frustrated if her reaching around to grab a hunk of hair with her teeth and yanking it out of my head was any indication! Eventually I had to go inside and watch another YOU TUBE instructional video, both of which made me disheartened. It really couldn't be as easy as Ruby's owner or as that 3 year old "milking champion of the world" made it out to be! I learned a little technique and headed back out.
We just weren't having much luck. We ended up with under a half a quart full of hair, and then dirt once she placed her foot into the pail! There were visions of her drying up or developing mastitis. I left a message with her previous family and went back to work. We just kept milking every couple of hours to relieve her discomfort, through the night. Her former family got back with us and assured us we were probably milking right, but that due to stress she may not be letting down. By 8 am this morning, we had success!!! Well, more than yesterday!
I have visions of goat cheese, and feeding my family wholesome goodness from our very own place. We are on the right track. Today, we will be making a milking stand! If you are looking into goats, I can tell you to start with a full size breed as the Miniature breeds may produce as much milk but it is no easy feet getting down to milk them!! Daisy's temperament is true to her breed, being docile and shy. She is warming up to her new family and I think we will be friends soon. She was VERY patient this morning as we milked and her milk let down! Flower, who is a Nubian, is loving, curious and full of mischief... we love it! I would already recommend her her breed! The milk smells sweet and as soon as it is cold, I will venture a taste. If I have enough by this evening, I will try my hand at goat cheese!
After all the milking difficulty of yesterday, my Lil' Bit came home. Who new we had a Master Milk Maid in residence??? Apparently last summer, when she visited her friend, they milked goats daily!
Day two is no less amazing than day one... maybe even more wonderful as these beautiful girls have just settled right into our family. After taking a seat on the ground, Ms Flower came over and laid next to me and made the cutest little sound. Every few minutes she would look up at me with adoring eyes. I am HOOKED!
Sometimes running a farm.. or getting one up and running (such as what we are in the process of doing) is spendy proposition! We moved from a 240 acre farm to a much smaller 2 acres... un-fenced and ready for us to figure out how to "homestead" on a much smaller space.
As we begin putting things in place, I began wondering how many others would like to start a small "farm." We decided, as a family to chronicle, how we will set this up for as little money as possible! I hope you will follow us in our new journey!
Our fist big challenge is fencing. It is important to have a secure and safe environment for your animals. It is perhaps, with the exception of a barn, one of the most expensive parts of farming. We were lucky to score some old fencing (thank you to a local FB page!) from someone who was upgrading! It will be the perfect material to set up pens... maybe with a little extra left over for some household projects with the old wood! We were hoping it would fence our whole place... but it wasn't quite what we need. Our next step is to head to the woods and collect wood to build what is known as "Jack Fencing" for our perimeter. We will cut already dead wood ... which also helps make the forest healthy by removing wood that could become forest fire fuel!
Don't let challenges discourage you from self sufficiency. Keep an eye out on Craigs List, Facebook, or your local paper for things other people might wish to cast off! You will be amazed at what you find!
Sometimes, I shake my head at the idea of desiring to have animals and be as self sufficient as possible. but this city girl is really hooked on this country girl stuff! I cannot wait to get every thing ready for new animals friends! Chickens, goats, pigs, and horses are on the list... not to mention a desire for bee keeping are on our list!
Spring is amazing and wonderful, particularly here on the farm! A few weeks back we got quite the surprise... the mare we thought was just looking like she has been fed a little two much hay was, in fact, expecting. Beauty had many problems conceiving due to a cyst on her ovary issue. I should back up and tell you a little about Ms. Beauty. My mother in law acquired her a few years back out of Canada. She is a silver Norwegian Fjord (You can really see the difference in coloring in the picture below). Her coloring makes her unusual for the breed and my MIL got her to breed with the Stallion, Rocko, we already had here on the farm. After hormones, vet visits, ultrasounds, and much help from my guys to help breeding be successful, we gave up thinking it would happen.
2 weeks prior to her impending delivery we discovered Beauty was expecting. My daughter, Lil' Bit was excited ...needless to say. She and Beauty have a wonderful relationship and have spent much time together with 4h projects and all.
My Lil' Bit is one of those kids who is right there into every aspect of farming and animal husbandry. She came down on many occasions letting me know about her mare waxing up ( you don't want to know) and milk being present etc etc. She was up every hour or so the night we knew the delivery would be impending but when her Nana rushed down to get her, that horse delivered so quickly, the cute little Filly was already born by he time they ran back up to the barn! She was that quick!
It is important for my family to have the horse's name reflect their heritage from Norway. We combed the internet and after Lil' Bit deciding peanut wasn't going to cut it, she chose the name Elli. Elli was a Norse Goddess who beat Thor in a wrestling contest. The irony was not lost on those who know my family as I have sons who have been wrestling their whole lives placing yearly at competitions!
My cowboy and his family use a gentling method from the start. Part of this "training" is developing the idea of the person being "in charge" so that the horse works cooperatively with the human :) Ted is helping develop this in Elli by picking her up and moving her around.
Phew! Everyone is tuckered out. We will post new pictures as Elli grows and let you know how they are doing. Mama and baby have been great this last week. Elli is already in a halter being led about the farm. She loves getting out for a walk with Mama and Lil' Bit everyday!
I have noticed a lot of farm life centers around breeding and babies. Until living here I really had not really focused many thoughts on it. I just assumed it was a natural part of life which comes easily and effortlessly. Boy have I been "edumacated." I can definitively state I am amazed there are pigs, horses, or any other creatures in the world. Maybe the difficulties which arise are because of breeding practices and domestication..who knows but it isn't an easy task here on the farm to get the 'job done ' sometimes.
My sons and my mother in law have been pitching in with my husband and daughters pig project. I am spitting distance from the farm yard (I don't spit) so while I may try to avoid these tasks like the plague, it isn't as if I can avoid it entirely and be unscathed in the process of all this! Most times I'm in fits of laughter or hysteria, or a mixture of both.
After our own sow was bred this fall I was "put on notice" we have had two other farmers bring their sows (girlie piggies) to our farmyard to breed with our Boar (boy piggy). My husband spent a great deal of time explaining the process, getting a breeding area ready so as to make it easier on me. I listened with wide eyes with no intent in my heart of ever completing this task for "my man" while he is out of town working hard for our family. He must have noticed the glint in my eye, as he stopped mid explanation "It is very important to make sure the sow isn't to small for the boar because we don't want...." then switched gears to " I should get Boo (our son) and mom to do this huh?" BINGO...we have a winner.
The day arrived for the first sow. My son arrived ahead of time...bless him! Farmer 'so and so' unloaded the cutest pig I have ever seen. If a pig could be beautiful, this little gal was. Big brown eyes surrounded by gorgeous eyelashes.Even my mother in law pronounced her a pretty pig. Poor little dear was terrified and things got off to a rocky start, which I will spare you the details as I wish I had been. Lets just say a little more help was required and the lecture of size and breeding compatibility was now understood by this farmers wife. Still through all of it, the kids kept mentioning the beautiful piglets Boarus was going to have with her!
Round two with the next sow went a little better than the previous engagement with only one hitch. Late one night I returned to the homestead with the most awful racket filling the air. I never knew pigs could scream, and believe me it is an awful and LOUD noise! I raced into the house to find the boys throwing on their clothes and mud boots so they could go see what all the ruckus was about. Apparently, she had scratched herself lightly on a piece of wire and was somewhat of a hypochondriac. I was assured she was going to live and things settled down once again. For days after she left, all my kids commented on the ugliness of this particular sow. "Poor little homely girl" my daughter said. I had to laugh, I'm afraid to say my eye for the aesthetically pleasing has rubbed off a bit on these farm kids.
What I'd really like to know is why the breeding schedule ALWAYS lands on the weeks my cowboy is gone? I can tell you one thing, if Ms. Olivia goes into labor when he is gone, he may have to hire a piggy midwife. I really don't want to be up to my elbows in mud and piggy stuff in the cold. So once again the hints of spring are on their way. I'll have more tales to tell.
Lil'Bit being interview by KPAX
For sometime now, it has been with growing amusement , our two bottle fed runts and two ducks have been forming a relationship and somewhat strange bond. It began when we finally decided the runts, Thumberlina and Tinkerbelle (fondly known as Lina and Tink), were no longer going to be sheltered indoors. I came to this decision quite rapidly in the span of two days. Without a care to what others believe, I am of the firm opinion that pigs DO stink...they stink to HIGH HEAVEN.
So we began crating them outside our back porch at night, and they were allowed to wander around the back yard during the day. Harness and leash training began in earnest after their first week, as we knew with County Fair time rapidly approaching they would need to be able to exercised and handled in a safe manner. Fair time means 5 straight days of us away from the farm and with their bottle feeding schedule being every two hours, there was no way to leave them behind!
I did a lot of research on the internet about domesticating pigs and followed advice from vets and experts so as not to cause undo stress on the Wee ones. At first you would have thought we were trying to kill them! They wee-wee-weed in protest at their walks on the harness, and then after a few tries, they were like any domesticated pet only kind of cuter!
The ducks decided feeding time was a good time to get a closer look at the little piggies and approached quite bravely. They began picking dirt and other unseen things off the backs of the piglets. Pretty soon the piglets and ducks were constant companions. After five days absence at the county fair, it was assumed the ducks and piglets would have forgotten their bond. The ducks came waddling as fast as duck feet can carry, happily quacking at the return of their adopted family. The reunion was a full fanfare of wings waving, feathers flying, pigs oinking and leaping and all!
Once the piglets could no longer be trusted on their own with their mighty plow noses that like to dig up everything in sight, they had to be confined. Much to our chagrin, my mother in law took quite a liking to this unlikely crew. She'd take them down to her garden and allow the ducks to go on bug patrol, and the piglets to dig. If they got in her veggies she would lightly tap them on the nose with a cane and they'd take to weeding again.
Thinking the pigs were beginning to grow too large to continue being bed fellows with the ducks, we fenced them in and the quackers out. The ducks would have none of it. Even weeks later they remained at the outside of the piglet's pen only leaving to eat and return to their shelter late at night. Many attempts at breaking into the pen were observed and recorded with the many feathers flying about. Finally it was decided they should be allowed to try live in the habitat with the pigs.
So far there have been no mishaps as the piglets grow larger. Life is so funny. Some of the bonds we create are considered odd or strange but are some of the biggest blessings and sometimes lessons in life. I watch this bizarre menagerie and it makes my heart smile. We need all the smiles and laughter we can glean in this life.
There were many nay sayers and people who went out of their way to speak their mind when Seth and I "joined forces" and blended this family of ours. As we shared a meal together for our 12th Family Thanksgiving yesterday, I'm glad we chose our own path and followed our own hearts. Laughter, stories, and the sounds of family filled our home yesterday. Though odd our bunch may be, we make a great team this family of ours.
Three little quack quacks!
God really knew what he was doing making babies, any kind of baby, cute and sweet and innocent. They melt your heart and you want to take them home...or at least I do. Hence why with a "doe eyed I've been sick and you love me" expression sent the way of my husband, I became the proud "mama duck" to three little waddlers! Took my son and I just a few moments to pick out the three we thought were the cutest, but an hour to decide on feed dishes, waterers, feed, medicine in case they get sick, and then there is the choice of bedding material. By the time we left the store I know my husband was either regretting his decision to agree to the additions or was trying to figure out how to avoid eye contact with me the next time there were small creatures around.
I envisioned taking them home, setting up their little home by the stove and watching them bathe in my claw-foot tub. Oh the pictures I would have and the blogs I could write. I began to slightly question my decision after thirty minutes of loud peeping; how in the world was I going to sleep through this racket? Ducklings are no shrinking violets and what seemed cute at first was rapidly becoming annoying. However, as with any task I undertake, I decided I'd just figure out a way to live with it.
Once we arrived home and the little critters were safely housed in what will be their home for a few weeks, until the weather warms and I can make a predator proof oasis, I took to the internet to learn all I could about these little ones. I love the internet with it's vast array of educational information right at my fast little fingertips. I was thankful right away, as I learned the bathtub idea was a poor one. You see, when ducklings are hatched (not born as my daughter corrected me) in the wild, they sit under their mama, which I knew. What I did not know was their mama has glands which produce an oil. This oil waterproofs the mama and her babies and allows them to swim without becoming waterlogged and then drowning. I would have felt like a horrible mom had I put my little ones in the tub, surrounded my children, only to have them sink to the bottom. The thought just horrifies me right down to my tippy toes!
There were a lot of great pointers and much needed and wonderful information on the web. What the web did not cover was the mess....and oh heavens...the smell! You cannot underestimate the smell of three small waddlers! The little ones out grew their first box rather rapidly. We also found that while they may not be able to swim, they still 'love them some water' and while drinking they bathe themselves, and their entire habitat with water. At first I thought, they cannot be going through three quarts of water a day! I did not realize it was because they were throwing it everywhere, until my first round of "cage" cleaning! Every inch of the box was soaked, so we had to adjust and realize a card board box just wasn't going to cut it!
We have all sorts of things here on the farm, so the search for another home became the focus. We found a wire dog traveling cage someone had given us. While preparing the home, I made the mistake of putting the ducks on the floor with my daughter watching them. After a few piles of loose You know what, back in a box they went. Time out to bleach the floor and then back to their home. We lined the bottom third of the cage with thick painters plastic, using black Gorilla tape(I LOVE THIS STUFF) to secure it to the sides of the cage. Then in an attempt to make sure there is a dry place for them to bed down, we placed a box with bedding in it on one side with short edges for them to climb over. Then we placed wood shavings over the floor of the plastic covered cage. We placed the waterer and feeder at the opposite end. Then with much trial managed to get the heat lamp attached to the cage. I did not realize baby ducks are just as curious as human toddlers, and ended up with a slight mishap with the duckling and the heat lamp, but thankfully all is well! So, set that heat lamp where they cannot come in contact with it if you decide to give ducks a home.
The stench issue was the next problem we decided to tackle. My dear cowboy man is all for animals being "IN THE BARN" which was said with a stern man voice. I'm sure it is another moment of "thank God I love her" which I imagine happens a lot for him. After a days of twice a day cage changing, I'm beginning to see the wisdom of it. However I want them to be people social, so I have to balance the two, knowing with mono I will not be trudging up to the barn, as just walking across the house wears me out some days. This weekend our plan is to spend some time on a compromise. A warm, protected, outside and close to the house duck habitat! I have envisioned a cute cottage style, painted with a fence around and over it, while cowboy man ...I'm sure has other ideas! This should be an adventure in compromise!
I have also learned a lot about how tolerant the other animals are in our home. The dogs are learning not to even look the ducklings way or get put outdoors, and the cat has not climbed back up on the cage since it sent them into fits of hysterical cheeping which caused me wild eyed and wild haired to leap from the bed to shew her from the room. I think the sight and sound of me running through the house was enough to scare any creature into rethinking duck for a midnight snack.
I have been asked many times why in the world I chose ducks. I must confess the decision was mainly because they are cute followed by some quick thinking reasoning of 1. They are great bug eaters and since I want to be as organic as possible here, this is a good opportunity to try something new. 2. They are cute ( yeah we already covered that). 3. IF they are girls they will lay eggs. I say if because you cannot tell the difference until later :) ...if they are the egg laying kind I will be able use the eggs for eating purposes and to paint the shells. The eating part we shall see...if I like the taste otherwise the pigs will get the insides of the eggs).
We have discovered joy we did not have pre-ducks. They really are funny to watch. We don't have TV, so this is great entertainment. We also discovered one of them is quite musically inclined and cheeps to the sound of the microwave or computer beeping sounds and even mimicked the cell phone beep so well we did not realize it came from the duck! I now have someone to talk to during the day, and the kids have fun laughing at me for one more thing and it has given them great facebook status fodder. I am sure there will be many more adventures, and Ill keep our tales of ducklings updated.
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No pigs were injured during the shoot
The sunshine has come to my beautiful slice of Montana. Who knows how long it is here for but it has made me giddy and full of energy. It is the first day I have had my husband home in about a week, and there were fences to be repaired. I know this because too many times this week my Facebook status reflected the numerous times pigs showed up at the back door, and the frustration I expressed at my yard being tilled up by Miss Olivia. However exasperating all of these problems this week, I was not about to let it rain on my sunshine day parade. Little did I know the excitement I was in for!
Upon consuming my morning smoothie I heard the tell tale signs of pigs at the back door. I think we could set our clocks by them, as when they escape it seems to be the same time of day. I wonder if ten am is "let's get frisky" time or what? Before we could make our way to the barn my husband wanted to make sure I was bundled warmly and there was no chance I would get muddy or cold. I wasn't too keen on the coveralls and really do not understand why they can't come in red or hot pink but beggars can't be choosy! So, outfitted in coveralls 3 sizes too large and mud boots, we made our way out to capture 6 little pigs and their mama.
Thinking mama Olivia would just follow the slop bucket was an error in judgement. My oldest son Kenneth to the rescue. "Watch how I get 'er done" and we did but our sides were aching and we were out of breath by the end of the pig circus. Kenneth stalked closely on hands and knees to mama and babies who were scraping a bit of chicken food off the ground, his sites set on a particular piglet, which I have now come to learn squeals the loudest and causes mama and babies to chase him all the way to the barn. He grab the little tike, it set off to screaming wee wee wee all the while my son ran as fast as his legs could carry him back to the pig pen! Who knew a sow could run so fast. It was all I could do to get a couple of snap shots in of Kenneth being chased by mama and babies as they ran past!
Once all the little Houdinis were squarely back in their pen, we set out to find where the damage to the fences in order to keep them safely where they belong and out of my back yard! I am amazed at the amount of damage a few curious pigs can do! While there is not much we can do to keep the little pigs in their pens short of concrete walls, we were able to shore up mama Olivia's pen, for now. The little tikes should stay pretty close to her and as long as we can keep her confined...they should not be a problem.
Much to my dismay the next item on the piggy to do list was to check out my husband's bore. Apparently he has an injury to an unmentionable spot...yikes. My job? Scratch his belly, which apparently he loves, so my husband can check out the seriousness of the injury and then "doctor" it up if need be. I haven't scratched the underside of a bore before and you can imagine the conversation which ensued. We have lots of "conversations" around here. I never know if my sweetheart is just getting a good laugh or if the task is really a necessity. The farm boys sure do get a kick out of seeing what they can get a city girl to do.
Luckily Mr. Maxmillian Boaris' injuries were not too serious and only required a little soap and water. If only that could do the trick for his pen! I have heard tales that boars are not to friendly. While Mr. Boaris is pretty friendly with us, he has not been too friendly with his lodgings! I can honestly say teenage boys and pigs do have a lot in common but must confess they are not this damaging to their environment. The pen has had all the fencing boards removed and he had demolished the shed he had for shelter. I don't know what he did with all the parts but the only thing remaining was a few pieces of plywood and some boards.
This caring for animals is serious business and spring brings with it a lot of tasks to be accomplished. I look around at all we need to get done in the coming months and it can seem an all consuming and over whelming to-do list. However, if I close my eyes and turn my face toward the sun I can be thankful for all we have and how far we have come. We have made it through a long hard winter and the spring is much wanted and so far...it is so perfect...pigs and all!
Katie Maye January 1, 2009 - February 6, 2011
Life on the farm is full of beginnings, blessings, and the sometimes harsh realities that come along with endings. As a mother I want to protect my children from the heart wrenching moments each of us at one time or another face, but I am aware these moments are just as much a part of life as the sweetness we are gifted with.
A few weeks ago, while my son was wrestling in the Divisional wrestling tournament, we received a call from our daughter, Em, alerting us Olivia, our pig, was in labor. I was shocked a 13 year old was so confident and knowledgeable on the signs of impending birth.Even more surprised that she new what it meant for "water to break" and "contractions to begin." I was at a total loss to these terms even as an adult facing the sure arrival of my first child, and realized that being raised on a farm may have it's advantages for my daughters. Em and her Papa were watching over Olivia, and wanted us to know piglets would soon be breathing their first breathes of crisp Montana air. Em was confident she and Papa could handle things until we could get back to the homestead. Handle it they did, and 7 little lives made their way into our hearts and farmyard. Yes, this place we call home is of life, hope, and little ones.
Sadly, the very same week the 7 new lives made their way into the world, we lost our beloved Katie Maye. She came into our lives while Seth was away, over Valentines day, 2 years prior. He was attending a wrestling tournament across the state. After years of marriage, I still have certain expectations of Valentine's Day, and my husband half a state away was not in my plans. They say blending lives in a marriage is like blending two tribes. Seth and I have found our "tribes" of origin are very different. So, this particular Valentine's day I found myself choosing between several little Aussie Mix puppies, as a gift to myself.
My son, Kaleb, and I held each cute little bundle, talking over the differences. Katie was hiding behind a desk. The owner said she had crawled behind it and would not come out after her favorite litter mate was given to another home the day before. I had to see this puppy, as she seemed pretty smart and aware for being so young. From the first moment I saw her beautiful blue eyes, I knew she was the one. Kaleb bundled her little six week self up in his shirt and she snuggled right in. For the next two years I came to realize that our pets often times choose us. While she may have been a gift I was getting for myself, her heart belonged to Kaleb.
Katie faithfully waited each day for his return home. She loved jumping into his arms and learning the tricks he was so patient at teaching her. It always seemed Katie was wise beyond her years. The fall before she left us, our dogs began barking frantically. Seth went out to check what was in the barn yard. When Kaleb went to put his shoes on and join Pa, Katie became frantic, placing herself between Kaleb and the door, hair raised, seemingly pleading with him to stay within the safety of her protective watch and the indoors. We soon discovered a large black bear was treed just outside our house.
Katie's loving and protective nature extended to two pups my other daughter, Lili, had brought home. Katie never left our farm yard. She was faithful, patient, and knew what the boundaries were. As the pups grew they began to wander, and she followed them across the highway as had become "Houdinis" at escaping the confines of their kennels and she was not ok with them wandering off . From the moment the two vivacious and rather large puppies came to live with us, Katie adopted them as her responsibility. The dogs disappearance was immediately discovered and my family went after the them, to get them back to the safety of home. Sadly, Katie, knowing she was not allowed by the highway and seeing the family coming and calling, she darted back across without making sure the way was clear. She was hit by a dear friend. Katie Maye was surrounded by her loved ones as they said goodbye and she died in "her" Kaleb's arms.
Life is full of harsh realities but with the bitter comes the sweet. Katie Maye was with us for such a short period of time yet filled our lives with the love and happiness only a four legged faithful companion can bring. Yesterday, when I walked to the barn to "show off" our cute little piglets to a friend, I felt a stab of loss because I knew Katie would have joined us, wanting to watch over "her people". Everyday I get out of the car I miss her happy howling welcome. Each time I turn out the lights I am reminded I will not have her to pat on the head during my nightly ritual.
We buried Katie on a hill over looking our beautiful valley. My children have said their goodbyes. As I write this I am profoundly grateful for the place she held in our lives and our hearts. She will never be forgotten. I will live each day in thankfulness for the gift of Katie.
Briana Rivinius Photography
There are many strange and humorous events a born and raised city girl finds herself compelled to participate in while living on a farm. Yes, I admit, I live on a farm...I understand this fact. I understand that there are all sorts of "farmy" things one must do while playing the role of a country girl. Perhaps God himself could find the antics of this proverbial fish out of water quite amusing, and tonight would have been no exception.
Many Montanans find they have to be diverse in their means of income, and my family is no exception. By nature, these are a tough, rugged, and strong people, just like the landscape that surrounds them. You have to be flexible or the winds of this existence can break even the most resilient of individuals. I am a southern girl, and while we possess a steel of our own, I am learning that the nature of this life is a "horse of a different color"!
My husband, Seth, fancies himself a part time pig farmer. He raises a small herd of them. As I write this, I am not even sure if swine are even in herds or if there is some other name by which a group of them are called. So, if you are a swine aficionado, please forgive these blunderings, as I do not find myself well versed in swine speak. Seth has been wearing the hat of painter, and dry-waller this week on an out of town job. As usual, the nightly call came to remind us of tasks normally his job to perform here on the farm. I find I will do many things, when he is out of town, that are outside my comfort zone (and believe me there are a lot of things about this life that are outside of that zone), but tonight THE line was drawn when asked to trudge up to the barn. The task to be completed not only had me gasping in horror but indignant with embarrassment.
I took a moment to picture myself...with my new stylish red hair-do, bundled like the boy from "The Christmas Story"...my feet swimming in my husband's rubber boots, which are way too big (one cannot wear stilettos or even normal shoes in the pig pen) to accomplish the desired task of checking to see if Miss Olivia is lactating. Yes...you read that correctly. Apparently one checks these things out when a sow is facing the impending delivery of sweet little piglets. Who knew?
I immediately and adamantly refused. Seth went on to explain to me the importance of this task, the seriousness and gravity of her situation. Miss Olivia could go into labor within 12 hours of milk being present. I could only laugh hysterically as he described in detail how one would check for lactation in a pig. Again, with this vivid imagination of mine (yes, it is my understanding that I was a precocious child), I pictured myself climbing under a three hundred pound piggy in mud and other unfriendly stuff, grasping a hold of....well you get the picture! Not happening...NO WAY ...No how! In all seriousness, I did not want the paper to read that my death came under a sow! My last breaths were not going to be checking for lactation of a pig and being crushed in the cold mud in the process. No matter how friendly Miss Olivia was reported to be, I would never risk that sort of humiliation; knowing my luck I wouldn't die but have some part of me broken or permanently maimed and have the story repeated of how it came to pass. Though amused with my resistance and excuses, Seth persisted in his insistence.
My first question, once I dried my tears of shock and hysteria, was to inquire as to why he had not called his mother first, only to discover that EVEN she had declined! This very capable woman, who the very first time he took me home as his girlfriend, I might add, was hiking up the hill with a gun strapped to her side in order to put some poor sick animal out of its misery ( I remember my thought being "I hope I never get sick here"), EVEN she had refused the task of checking for lactation. My husband then had the audacity to tell me it was just like milking a cow or a goat...whoa... like that was sure to change my mind given my vast milking experience of zero!
So, I did what all good women do...I delegated the chore to our seventeen year old son (knowing that he can move much quicker than I if he needed to avoid any potential maiming...although Seth assured me it was not a danger), and laughed even more hysterically as the task was repeated to him and watched as incredulous expressions crossed his face. All is well on the farm tonight. No pigs are lactating (God must be smiling on me), Miss Olivia is safely incubating her babies, but the events have driven me here...to write...to share...and to hopefully add a little humor to your world.