Vermont Farms in Spring: A time for friends
Vermont Life's spring edition would have you believe that
spring on a farm is awash in pale greens and bright flowers. This would
be true.. in June. At the end of March there is simply no nice way to
gloss over the realities of a spring barn yard. Muck dominates the landscape.
Waste hay compacts to a squishy mass underfoot and mud sucks boots off
feet. What appears to be adequate drainage any other time of the year
sends spring runoff straight into the sheep sheds, turning the inside
world into mire if not equal to that of the outside, running a close
Visiting children need boosts before they'll pop out
of the mire with their boots on. Truck tires spin, spraying brown goo
across the yard. Even dogs bog down and, after trying to run though
the muck, collapse in melting snowbanks to cool off.
But no amount of muck beats a spring chicken coop for foul. Home poultry
management books suggest that winter coops allow a buildup of bedding
on the floor of the coop. This is to provide an insulating layer for
the birds, as well as a tacit acknowledgement of certain realities:
in winter there is nowhere for the average homeowner to put chicken
Layering fresh bedding under your hens works very well…
as long as temperatures stay below freezing. Come spring, however, the
ammonia which was frozen, turns to a gas. Most unfortunate, because
that ammonia which is so unpleasant when you open the coop door is also
a valuable fertilizer. When a farmer says "profits are evaporating,"
sometimes they mean that literally.
At the same time profits are evaporating in as a noxious
gas, the hens are focused on spring. There's a reason we celebrate Easter
with egg hunts. Chickens, as the days grow longer and the temperatures
hover consistently around 45F, eggsplode. The farmer, lulled into complacency
by a reasonable winter production of a few dozen eggs a week suddenly
finds a dozen eggs a day, a dozen and a half, two dozen…. In days
of yore with no refrigeration and few means of preserving the bounty
anything that used up eggs in quantity must have seemed like a really
good idea. Especially if that something involved hiding the little blessings
with the hopeful consequence that some of them might not find their
Someone, rather cleverly, decided that the Easter celebration
should include the Easter ham… and under the combination of freshening
cows, storms of eggs, and left over ham, a clever cook created the quiche..
A great many eggs can be hidden in a quiche. A dozen eggs can, in fact,
be hidden in a quiche. That's a little less than a day's production
right now. Thankfully, quiches freeze well.
another month we'll leave the excess egg production for the broody hens
to set. Around our place the greening spring is celebrated with lambs,
the growing spring with chicks. Mud season, not very sensibly, is celebrated
with puppies. A new one arrives this weekend. Another set of paws to
track in mud, and on short legs, a little belly to drag dirt in with
But today is the day we handle the ewes, getting them
ready for their lambs. The cavalry arrive.. young friends to keep the
girls occupied with corn treats and a strong back for lifting. With
a little help we make quick work of it: hooves, injections, check for
udders, make sure they're healthy, and off the stand. Hefting a particularly
wide load our friend remarks "they're much heavier!" My experienced
ewes are bloated on both sides.. twins at least. My yearlings aren't
showing yet, prompting the annual worry, are they pregnant? The husband
consults his standby medical tome, the Merck Manual: "Proof positive
of a pregnancy is the delivery of a fetus," he says solemnly. "Not
helpful," I tell him.
A cry from the chicken yard, the kids can't get the door
closed. Another cry… someone is stuck fast in the mud! Doors are
slammed, kids plucked from muck, we set the ewes free to leap out into
deep spring snow… and sit around on a piece of machinery squinting
from the glare, talking summer.
A visit, a snack, and off they go to capture the last
of winter. Neighbors stop by to chat in the sun, and leave with eggs.
More friends drop by, out for a drive on a sunny March day. Another
excuse to speak of spring things; of wood to cut and hay to find, of
how his brother's sugaring is going, and whether his son will hunt turkeys
"We'd like to visit your farm," the emails
say "with our children, they've never seen a farm." They have
seen a farm, of course, in their picture books. Where the chickens haven't
molted away their feathers, and the sheep aren't knee deep in ooze.
In the picture books children run barefoot in the barnyard by choice,
not because their boots have been sucked off their feet and left behind
in the mud.
"In June," we write back "we host visitors
in June." In March we host friends.
an eye on the farm at FarmCam!
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Vermont Physical Therapist we depend on for Manual
Therapy and Myofascial