the un-pretty, and a love of farming.

I know I am the first to be guilty of prettifying the farm through the eyes of the blog. I can't imagine many would come here to read about cow shit every day even if that is the very fiber that makes up my  every-day. The farm isn't all ripe purple and red tomatoes and buckets of beans and wonderfully coiffed sheep and fresh milk. A lot of the farm is. But more than a fair amount is cow shit.

Tuesday was a wet day. Here we are a day shy of the Ides of March and the Vermont countryside is amidst a desperate battle between Spring's coy calls and Winter's melting end. One day it will be 50°F and sunny, the next 15°F and bone gray. Tuesday was 48°F and raining. The two elements created a firestorm of melt for the snowpack on the hill. We decided to head to Montpelier for a day of errands to avoid the drear of the rain. We got back from our day of no-responsibility in time for evening chores and to discover the sheep, chickens, and cows all standing in 4 inches of completely sodden hay. The sort it looks at first that you can step onto but no sooner have you done so then your poorly shod foot has sunken into a bath of what can only be described as poop water.

A flood of poop water through our three most dependable stalls. We had, we quickly and sadly saw, chosen the location of our winter manure piles poorly. They had created dams and funnels for water where they would be most destructive. Our barn and our animals sit at the bottom of a series of hills raising nearly 600 feet above. All of the snow from the top had been melting all day from the rain and the warmth and was gushing downhill. The torrents of melted snow had been so fierce that the road to the barn was nearly impassible, streams had cut violently through the packed gravel so that we were nearly unable to get home from town.

Half of this rush of water was busy destroying our road while the other half was diverted to our barn and through the manure pile. This is how our animals found themselves standing in what was essentially sewage.

The temperatures were starting to drop with the sun and of course we couldn't leave our animals standing in this mess. So we got to work digging trenches to re-route the coming water and forking up the sodden hay to allow the water in the stalls to drain too.

We hadn't thought chores would be so laborious so we were there without headlamps. All but one of the far lightbulbs in the barn were out. We worked in the fading light and then in darkness. We worked by familiarity with the barn and by feel.  Our boots slogged through water to determine where it was and where it needed to go. I allowed myself more than once an un-small amount of pity for having to be pregnant and work so damn hard and be so damn cold and wet. We forked and dug until our hands were frozen and our eyes were dizzy from the strain of the dark. We had diverted most of the water. We had made dry beds for the sheep and cows. Nick's face was literally covered in the poop water (from digging trench) and my legs were drenched.

We both reeked like the wrong end of a cow.

We counted bailing twine and tools with our hands in the dark to make sure we weren't leaving any traps for our sweet beasts. Hammer, hoe, shovel, push-broom, fork and 8 strands of twine. Then we walked the quarter mile uphill to home together. We unceremoniously bathed the shit off. We ate pasta and let our sore bodies fall asleep amongst the soft creatures of the housecats and dogs.

This is the part of farming that never gets any photos. Partly because it's ugly, and also because there is no time or place for a camera.

This is the part of farming that binds you to your herd and makes you question your career decisions and makes you grateful for your love of farming.


  1. ugh. i definitely would have pitied myself in that situation too. (and now i feel like a complete wuss since i've pretty much sworn off shoveling snow since getting pregnant!) but you did what needed to be done. and if you still find yourself grateful to be a farmer after experiences like slogging through poop water, well then you know you're on the right path in your life. and that is truly something to be grateful for.

  2. i know what a real farm work is and i still love it, its everything where my heart is and forever will be. this is the reason i am buying my very own first farm next year and the reason why i want to be covered with cow shit too (okay, i dont mean it literally, haha) but you should understand

    i wish the best and much sunnier days to your farm :)

  3. So appreciate the varied perspectives you bring to this blog. I think it's natural that when blogging we'd rather capture, remember and spend energy on the things we enjoy and are grateful for, but not a bad thing to occasionally give the poop it's due too. :-) Life!

  4. This is the side of farming that we farming bloggers are notoriously bad at highlighting, so this post is a refreshing change. (Although I must admit that I am down to just chickens and geese as the moment, so life is suddenly 100 times easier.)

    I've been there done that and had the leaking wellie boots to prove it when we had our herds of pigs. What with the mud, the muck and the little dead animals it's enough to put you off farming......but then the sun comes out and the chicks are born and you taste the wonder of a homegrown tomato and all's well with the world again.

  5. I sometimes wonder if blogs don't make others feel inadequate at best (and depressed at worst) for this very reason. They often show other's lives thru very thick, rose-coloured glasses, making the rest of us wonder why our own lives can't be so "pretty" and wonderful (read photoshopped). But it is the fact that you never do this that keeps me enthralled by your words. Not saying you make your life out to be terrible (the opposite actually) but you give people the benefit of the doubt, and write interesting and thoughtful posts that highlight the good with the bad. Anyone who has ever raised any sort of animal knows that sh!t happens, which is why this post is so great. In fact, some of my most humbling moments have happened as I'm sprawled flat on my back, slowing sinking into a solid inch of chicken coop stew. (Especially with the girls still dancing around me at the flung feed).
    So yes, thank you for this post. I really enjoyed it.

  6. I love to hear about the good, the bad and the ugly. Life isn't pretty all of the time, and that's what makes it magical :-) Keep the stories coming, I prefer real over fantasy any day!


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