Long Day, With Surprise Arrivals

Last Sunday I left for morning chores at 6 AM and didn’t get in until 9 PM. A long, very hot day. Whoever heard of 85° F in May in the Adirondacks? However by time I peeled off my coveralls, half the cabin knoll was fenced.

I had been pushing to get this done because the day before, D and I had spread the three giant manure piles: my own winter supply, the many truckloads from Larry’s barn, and a load from Allen’s. The north pasture (shown here) and the south were both frosted with dung and no longer available for grazing.

Jon came out and pounded fence posts for me. Here he is in the midst of checking one for plumb with a level at the base.

You may notice that I absentmindedly instructed him to set the posts in this section backwards, facing into the woods. This is the sort of spatial “blindness” to detail that trips me up all the time. So often I have to go back and fix my work. I’ll probably pull and reset these ten posts sometime in the fall. No time now.

Between moving the sheep at Betty’s and struggling to finish the knoll field fencing, I worked outside all day long, racing the clock and sweating. Monday I would be out of town, driving downstate. I had to finish. It made me crazy to see the horse and cows stuck in the barn paddock, eating dry hay and gazing sadly at the green grass over the wire.

The day before I had made a plan with D to drop off my truck in town with his son-in-law to fix its non-functioning window. Given the time pressure, I figured that in the same trip I’d pick up something simple at the grocery store to serve the family for supper so I didn’t have to spend an hour cooking.

Naturally I was running late. At 5 PM I was watering the sheep again at Betty’s, sunburned, grimy, worn out, and dehydrated. I texted to D to let him know I was delayed. Since this is a common occurrence with me he didn’t even bother to reply. I bounced the truck over the ruts out of Betty’s field and drove hell for leather to town.

I was drooping in the grocery store checkout line when my phone rang. It was Rick, my hay man. My heart sank. Oh no! A hay delivery!?

“Hi, Rick!” I said, trying to muster enthusiasm. I asked politely how he was. “Are you at my farm?”

“Yep!”

I wilted further. I was so tired, so hot, so flattened, the last thing I wanted to do was throw hay bales. “Really.” I tried to sound cheerful. “How many bales did you bring?”

“Ain’t brung no hay! I got piglets!”

“Piglets!” It was almost a yelp. I could feel the eyes of other customers in the checkout line turning in my direction.

“Sure! Seven!”

Seven! It’s true I had discussed the vague possibility of piglets with Rick a couple of months ago, but since then life had become so hectic I had tentatively decided that  this summer I would skip raising pigs altogether.

“Piglets,” I repeated weakly. Nothing was set up for the arrival of pigs. I had no pig food on hand. The Pig Palace had not been repaired at the end of last season. My new season fence batteries had not yet arrived. Oh my.

“Rick, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know you were coming. I’m in town, at the grocery store. I’m dropping off my truck and a friend is giving me a ride home. I won’t be able to get to the farm for at least twenty minutes.”

“No problem!” cried Rick, with his usual jovial friendliness. “It’s a beautiful day, I got a cold twelve-pack of beer, and me and the pigs will just sit and wait ’til you get here!”

There were only a couple of crushed cans on the ground by the time D and I arrived at the farm. The jostling three-month-old piglets in the back of Rick’s truck looked healthy but hot.

I explained to Rick that I couldn’t raise seven pigs. That was OK, he assured me, because he wanted to keep the single gilt (young female). I knew I had a built-in market for four pigs. D decided to buy one for me to raise. So while I slid the gate open and shut, Rick carried five stout piglets into the sheep stall. This worked out perfectly, as it left one castrated male to keep Rick’s gilt company. Like most creatures, pigs are happiest when not alone.

D busied himself carrying buckets of water.

Rick is a kind person of considerable feckless charm. I’ve never seen him not smiling. He extends me credit and puts up with time payments. I always enjoy our conversations about animal husbandry. However the only thing predictable about Rick is his good intentions. He is invariably juggling a great many jobs and and deals, working night and day, which can make his follow-through slightly erratic. More than once I’ve aged considerably when Rick has not shown up at an agreed time.

Still I am always touched by his essential generosity. Rick had seen the piglets on Craigslist and knew they would be perfect for me. After paying for his gas (he lives an hour away), he made no profit on the transaction.

“I’ve got you a Jersey bull, too!” he confided happily as he was leaving.

I quickly served my family dinner, borrowed a bag of pellets to feed the pigs, and went back to fencing in the long twilight.

It was very peaceful snapping insulators onto the T-posts and stringing lines as the shadows lengthened and tree frogs began trilling. Freddie, my dear barn cat who thinks he’s a dog, followed me from post to post to roll on his back for belly rubs.

It was pitch dark when I finished the fence and drove home.

The next morning I had to drive downstate, so I fed the livestock hay at 6 AM, to take the edge off their hunger, and then turned them into the new field at 8, on my way out of town.

Birch was excited to explore the new space.

Soon everyone was grazing. The grass is very poor, thin, and weedy —  but it’s another step toward the dream.

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