The forces, including my friends, encouraging me to scale things back as I age are strong. My friend Steve, hearing of my fall garden planting plans, told me not to be too ambitious. “Put ‘manageable’ as the adjective in front of every farm activity before doing it. Let it be your touchstone adjective.” Think “manageable” spinach; “manageable” collard greens. Keep just a “manageable” herd of sheep. You get the picture.
He has a compelling logic on his side. Older guys like me simply can’t do as much as we could when we were younger. We can’t move as fast, can’t lift as much, are less sure of our footing, and have less stamina. I have a full time law business to run and it seems endless house-guests to entertain. Can I really maintain a full farm operation on my own too?
Indeed, Steve helpfully sends suggestions for how to achieve manageability. Recently, he suggested that I tear down the old, dilapidated, 100 foot long chicken coop, which one might justifiably find an eyesore, and buy a small portable chicken coop. He sent me pictures of some attractive ones on the market, sufficient to nest 7 birds, enough to supply my own needs. I could get rid of the old, unproductive birds I have, and, he suggested, reduce my work. He definitely has my welfare at heart.
Compelling as his arguments are, my impulses to stay the course are strong as well. I resist shrinking the operation. And I have support in my resistance, in part from my boyfriend, Eric, who thinks the answer is less in retraction (though he’d recommend some here and there) and more in better planning and logistics (his forte). It doesn’t hurt that he’s willing to bring some of his own youthful energy and sweat to add into the mix.
Chick Meets Grain Photo by Mark Scherzer
And so it was that this Thursday, returning from an overnight jaunt to the City for dinner with Eric, I walked into the house to a ringing phone. “It’s Dave at the Germantown Post Office, and you have a box of chicks here. It looks like one died when the box somehow got whacked on the top, but the rest look fine.”
I dashed right over, and brought home not 7 but 24 lively Rhode Island Red chicks, hatched and shipped from Iowa the day before. I carefully counted each one out of the box, and dipped its beak first in water, to acquaint it with the concept of drinking, then in grain, to do the same for eating. I then placed them in a brooder box, where a wonderful Dutch invention, which the manufacturer calls the “Comfort warmteplaat” and I call the Motherboard — an energy-efficient heating plate the chicks go can under to simulate being under mother hen — awaited them. So began their life at the farm.
I don’t really view this as an expansion of farm activity. This spring I had thirty some odd chickens here, but after a hard season of predation (thankfully now resolved) I am down to thirteen. And those thirteen are for the most part two or more years old. As older hens tend to lay only in the Spring, and sporadically, the 24 new arrivals will simply get the farm back to baseline.
Nor do I see the addition of 24 chickens as creating any greater burden than a flock of 7. Of course the quantity of food and water you have to supply increases, but in neither case does feeding, watering and collecting eggs take more than 20 minutes a day. With 7 hens, especially in winter, you’ll have a bit more than you need for your own use but not enough dependably to advertise the excess for sale. With 24 young hens, producing 14 dozen eggs a week, there is not only plenty for home use but also an ample supply to sell, enough to cover the costs of feeding them. The chicken coop, while dilapidated, has much more room than a small portable coop for the chickens to live their rather chaotic social lives. I can resolve its eyesore aspect through painting. (Note to file: get Macho Matt back here to manage that process.)
I’m also hoping that the successful addition of new chickens this year will give me the emotional motivation to resume a farm activity I really loved in the past but which I last successfully did the year my partner Peter died — raise turkeys. Eric (to whom I gave a turkey just two weeks after I met him) is encouraging me.
Oddly, President Biden’s Philadelphia speech this week warning of the dangers of antidemocratic MAGA-Republicanism resonated with my thoughts about the farm as much as they did politically. I have to admit, I don’t find him an inspiring speaker. While I endorse his prescriptions, I’m not sure I agree with all his premises. There are a lot more autocratic, theocratic, Putin-admiring Republicans than he says.
But, like Biden, I’m an old guy who believes in what he’s been doing (in his case, trying to realize a “government by the people”; in my case, trying to operate this farm). He’s not afraid of reiterating what may seem like tired and trite ideals and he perseveres in trying to live by them. He’s not retracting. By preserving the old structures you make it easier for the next generation to reinvigorate them and achieve something. There is value in staying the course.
In Their New Home Photo by Mark Scherzer
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
Zucchini: pale green, small 3 for $2, medium $2 each,
black zucchini are coming
EGGS: $5/doz Less plentiful (flock has been decimated by predators) but still available
Lamb chops $14/lb, ground lamb $7/lb, riblets $10/lb., butterflied leg of lamb $14/lb, shanks $12/lb
Fresh horseradish root: $4/lb.
Garlic chives (flat leafed): $1/bunch
Shiso leaves, $1 for 10
Email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.