When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy. – Rumi
I’m not a big fan of winter, especially on the farm. Everything takes so much longer. Just getting out the door is an Olympic sport – base layer, mid-layer, hoodie, barn coat, hat, thick socks, lace up the boots, scrounge around for some gloves, but decide to go without them – they’ll only get wet anyway. I start with the goats, grabbing a big armful of hay. I toss it over their fence line to lure them away from the gate. Then fill their bucket with grain, unplug the fence, no sense in electrocuting myself, and then push the gate open against the weight of the goats. They’ve abandoned their hay in favor of the sweet grain. Stepping through the pen takes concentration and agility. One goat is under my legs, another is trying to rip the bucket out of my hands. The twins decided now is the best time to go head to head in another round of head butting. And the littlest one stands in their feed trough, vying for the best spot to scarf some feed. I start to pour when Caramel knocks the bucket from my hand, sending grain cascading over goat bodies. At least half makes it in the trough.
Next, I check their water. It is frozen, of course, so I grab a stick to break the ice. Their bucket fills from the rain cisterns on the house. The line is frozen at the moment, but the sun should hit it soon and restart its flow. In a few weeks, it will stop flowing as the temps refuse to rise above freezing. Then I’ll have to haul water in buckets from the house.
I start to leave the goats when the chickens come running across the lawn. They heard the sounds of the goats’ metal feed can and are hoping for a handout. I get a scoop of the goats’ grain and toss it onto the lawn. The chickens have their own feeder in their coop, but they seem to think the grain is sweeter on the goats’ side of the fence.
Next on the feed line is the hogs. I have to walk back to the barn for their feed. There I measure out the right amount for each set of pigs. They are separated into three groups at the moment. Mickey and the piglets, Wendell (our boar), and the market hogs. I distribute a bucket each to Wendell and Mickey and then fill their water buckets from the house. The buckets are heavy and awkward when filled with water. Some near-freezing water splashes on my legs and feet as I walk. My hands are already wet as I try to lift the buckets over the fence line, splashing more down my front. Mickey turns to the water immediately, drinking in deeply, before burying her snout again in the bucket of grain.
The market hogs are off in the woods, so rather than carry buckets of water, I fill a rain barrel on my tractor cart and haul it back there. The road is bumpy and uneven, so the water sloshes about. The animals know the hum of the tractor means food is coming. As I round the back of the cow pasture, Molly Weasley (our milk cow) comes running up the hill. Her water is still full, thank goodness, but I do have to reach in to break the ice. My hands, red and cracked now from cold, tremble a little as I stuff them back into my pockets. I need one hand to drive though, so I alternate warming them up against the warmth of my skin under my shirt. Molly looks at me eagerly expecting hay, I assure her I’ll be back with it soon. As I hop back on the tractor and make my way through the woods.
The market hogs are still sleeping soundly, I’m a little early this morning. As I approach, I can see them snuggled snout to tail in their pig “donut” – a nest made of leaves and straw. The sound of the tractor startles them and they shoot out from the nest in four different directions, squealing in alarm as they run. We do this every morning. A waft of steam rises from their nest. I’ve tried before to give them shelter, but they prefer the pig donut. I once found a previous group of pigs lying in their snug donut covered with several inches of snow. Finally, they realize it’s me and rush back to the fence line, snorting happily and hungrily as I toss in their grain. While they nose around in their food, I fill their water buckets from the rain barrel, once again getting splashed with frigid water.
Pigs fed, I drive back to the hay bales to fill the cart with hay for Molly. It feels good to do the work of forking hay into the cart, finally generating some heat to warm my body. With a full cart and a slightly warmed self, I drive back toward the house with Molly’s hay. She is waiting, not so patiently, where I left her on the fence line. I toss the hay over and give her a good scratch behind her ears. She’s too busy eating to pay me much mind, but I’ll stop back in later and give her a good brushing.
My final stop of the morning is to open the hoop house. It is always surprising how much warmer it feels in the hoop house, even without a heater. I’m a little late getting it open, so the sun hitting the plastic has already formed a condensation that “rains” on me as I walk through the structure. Everything outside is frozen, but in here, it looks like spring.
With all my chores done, I head back to the house for a warm cup of coffee. My toes are frozen, I can’t feel my fingers, I’m huffing a bit from trying to move quickly through the routine, and my stomach is rumbling from hunger. Having fed all the humans and animals in my care, I finally get to feed myself. There are plenty of things on my list to do today, the to-do list is never complete, but first, coffee and warmth.
I suppose this may seem like an odd reflection to have about joy. I can see how this might come across as misery to most. Admittedly, it’s not my favorite part of being a farmer and I am known to engage in the favorite pastime of farmers everywhere – complaining about the weather. Still, there is much joy to be found here. I find joy in caring for these creatures of mine. The goats, an endless source of entertainment in their antics and mischief, but also the affectionate way they push against me or press their faces against mine. The earthy-ness of the pigs with their soulful eyes and the warmth that emanates from their rotund bodies. The gentleness of our cow and the peace I feel standing beside her. The ache in my muscles and the bitter cold sting in my hands, reminders that I am alive and able to do the job that I love another morning. The sense of pride in my work, a job well done, a life well-lived. And finally, the coffee, warming me from the inside, made sweeter by the morning’s work.