A week ago we received our chicks from the hatchery. 500 little balls of yellow fluff that we raise for meat. This year we are trying out a new system, one that we have yet to hear of anyone doing: we are brooding them on grass. While many others have moved to a pasture-finished or pasture-raised poultry system, common knowledge tells us that they still need to be started indoors, under steady heat and with controlled feed and light. However it seems we are not so common.
Having acquired a natural gas brooder last year, V built a movable shed from insulated panels and mounted the brooder after converting it to propane. It’s working great – right out of the box they were ignoring their feed and going after ants, grasshoppers and clover. It also means we play a different role, one a bit closer to the mother hens. With the few large storms that have blown in, we’ve had to go out and chase them in and are trying to teach them to find safety under the heated shelter; clustering together under a momma hen might work but there are lines we draw and hovering over a brood of chicks in the grass to keep them dry and warm while we get wet is where this one goes.
I contrast the role we play with these chicks (indoor or outdoor brooding: you are playing the role of hen in terms of teaching them what to eat, when, and how to stay safe) and the role we don’t need to play when our ducks or hens have set their own. We don’t do anything but try to get a glimpse or a cuddle from them.
Our mama pig, Mildred, farrowed 10 piglets this spring and watching them all together has been one of the best things about our farm. The piglets seem to spend a fair bit of time at mama’s snout, not just her teats. They seem to be watching where she puts her snout and what she puts in her mouth. It wasn’t long before they were starting to root in the dirt and chomp on bits of grass. As soon as they were tall enough they were propping up their front hooves on the feed barrel and checking out where mama liked to stick her head. They happily explore the yard they are in, able to wander a bit farther under the electric fence than the adults can, going a little farther each time but also sticking together and returning close to their parents when they encounter something new. Our adventurous, independent, confident piglets have added very little chores to our list because mama is doing it all, although they have slowed us down because they are so great to watch.
Upon learning we would be welcoming our own child in December, a good friend of mine who has been a midwife for decades wrote us and said “you guys will do great, you are farmers, you know how to do this.” I laughed thinking, “I’m not so sure that helps”. This summer I have become a keener observer of our animals, reflecting on the way they are raised and nurtured. I better understand what she was telling me and I find great peace and calm in watching nature work.
It brings me peace and calm amidst the lists of things we are told to buy before baby comes (by advertising and corporate-sponsored parenthood sites) and the shelves of books toting various baby-rearing philosophies. It brings me peace and calm because – like the chickens, hens, pigs and other animals – humans have been bearing and raising children for millenia. Peace and calm because we were both blessed to be raised by parents and siblings who cared for us and nurtured us. Peace and calm because I’ve many amazing women around me who’ve done this before and who are there to support us through.
This has gotten long and is coming late for both Mother’s and Father’s Day but what this article is really about, is it is my ode to parenthood and my love letter to the four people who cared for V and I, and the families they brought us into. Thank you for teaching us what to eat, where to find it, how to grow it, and for giving us the confidence to explore – knowing home would be there to greet us when we return.
***This piece is part of a regular column in the local newspaper that Brenda writes, often inspired by our farm journey and adventures. It first appeared in The Chautauqua in 2013.