AgriCulture: The Safety Net

Hi All, Mark here.

It’s a balmy winter Saturday. The sun is ever higher in the sky. The breeze is mild. About half the pastures and lawns are bare; only a thin layer of slushy, melted, refrozen, and remelted snow covers the rest. The ground is soft. It’s the sort of day that says “Look for the crocuses to pop.” Yesterday was almost as nice. These are the kinds of days that generally send my spirits soaring.

Paul “Ties a Yellow Ribbon” Photo by Mark Scherzer

So why did I wake at 5 this morning with a feverish anxiety dream about the farm? Why were my sheep giving birth to rabbits? Why was a new dance venue opening across the street with, I was assured, highly amplified music all night, which would not only make my home unlivable but also deprive the farm, my biggest asset, of any value? Why was the order of everything unraveling, leaving me no safety net?

Maybe because these balmy days are occurring in late January, not early March. Had this weather come after a deep polar vortex, or weeks of consistent cold, it would be a welcome reminder that winter is not eternal. But it’s more like a reminder that winter has barely ever started.

As of tomorrow, January 29, New York City will have gone longer without accumulating snow than in any previously recorded winter. It may be a completely snowless season there. In Germantown, where we average 46 inches of snow annually, we’ve had no more than about 6 inches so far. Our small snowfalls were followed so quickly by rain or warm weather that I have only had to shovel the driveway once. Sure, February is usually the snowiest month, but I doubt we’ll come close to our annual average.

Even the mountains up north have been unusually warm. Only yesterday, after a few significant snow dumps, did Eric and I work up the confidence to commit to a few days of mid-February Vermont skiing. Otherwise, plunking down a room deposit seemed a bit like buying cryptocurrency – highly speculative.

No wonder I’m anxious. In the last few years, the social order and work routine as it existed most of my life was upended by COVID. The geopolitical order was shattered by Trumpism and Ruscism. And now it turns out that the foundation of all life, the earth and its atmosphere, is changing, perhaps sooner than we wanted to believe it would. If none of the order of your world is steady, how do you make life choices? Unfortunately, you have to assume that things will fall apart, and choose with all your worst anxieties always in mind.

I’m convinced that this is not only a human reaction, but is deeply ingrained in the entire animal world. I’ve concluded this because I’m not the only uneasy one on the farm these days. My chickens, too, have had their world rocked by change and uncertainty, and I observe them reacting by assuming, similarly, that there is no safety net.

You may recall that last fall a weasel was decimating my young chickens at night. While that problem was resolved, in the last couple of weeks a daytime threat has loomed over all of them: a very large and very present hawk, which I’ve seen eating prey on the ground near the pond, perching in a tree outside the parlor window, and swooping down onto the front lawn. While I didn’t see it in the act, I am quite sure it also killed two of my chickens and totally eviscerated one of them, eating all the meat off the bones.

I was pretty sure the hawk was the culprit not only because it has been so present (the rabbits and chipmunks that seemed to multiply in the yard have been scarcely observable lately), but also because of the way the chickens react whenever the hawk can be seen or heard above – by running into the coop and hiding in the corner, preferably under a solid surface. I realized, also, that the chickens had become far more vulnerable to hawks than they’d been in several years. On his Thanksgiving visit, Perry, the son of my later partner, Peter, enjoyed a chainsaw saturnalia, which included radically pruning back the vines and branches that had covered most of the chicken coop’s front yard. It left an open space for swooping of which the hawk could now take advantage.

I had hoped a scarecrow might help, but one on-line post said it would only provide a better perch for the hawk to use to survey its prey. Instead, I decided to restore the netting that once covered the chickens’ front yard at the level of the eight-foot fence. Last weekend I pressed our visiting friend Paul, always an eager hand, into service. We not only shielded the open section of yard, but at Paul’s suggestion added periodic yellow caution ribbon to alert the hawk to the netting.

While I think the chickens are once again secure from aerial attack, they have not yet figured that out. If they are aware that the hawk is observing them from the fence post tops or nearby tree branches, they continue to hide in the coop. I expect, after the trauma of the hawk attacks they witnessed, they will continue to do so until the hawk stops coming around. I get it. They have no reason to have confidence in their safety net. It’s so hard to know in this world when you are secure.


Not much. I am getting impatient for eggs but am pretty sure the new layers will be producing imminently. Meanwhile, please consider ordering a whole or half lamb cut to your specifications at $7/lb hanging weight.


Email us your order at, 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.


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