Saying Goodbye to 2016
Homestead Reflections

Saying Goodbye to 2016

The beginning of December and I don’t have my decorations up yet.

Normally by November I can’t stand the excitement anymore and the tree has gone up. The lights are lit, the stockings are hung with care, and I spend my evenings sitting by the fire watching Tim Allen morph into Santa.

This year is different. I don’t know if it’s the lack of snow. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because my house is currently sitting in a half finished state. But somewhere along the line the magic got lost.

I really think it’s because I’m waiting. I’m waiting for 2016 to end. I’m waiting for a new year. A fresh start. A chance to begin again.

It’s been a very hard year on the farm, and it’s made me step back and to assess what’s going to happen. And while 3 Birch Farm will continue to be, I still need some time to be nostalgic and to really absorb everything. So please bare with me as I get this out so I can push forward.

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2016 started with Dexter. I can’t tell you how unbelievably happy I am that I didn’t listen to that vet. I’m not against vets in any way, but I think doing research and getting second opinions are very important before you do something as rash as putting your dog down. I didn’t put Dexter down, and the vet was wrong when he said Dexter would never walk again. Dexter can run, walk, and prance if he feels like it. He jumps up and down off the couch and the bed (something I really tried to stop him from doing!), his back is strong again, and while we do our very best to stop him from pushing it too far, I can say my dog is not handicapped.  One life was spared.

Then there was 20 eggs that fully developed and never hatched. Only 5 hatched, and of that 5, 2 needed help getting out of the shell. At 2 weeks old one of the chicks seemed to be a little sleepy one afternoon and by the next morning it was dead in the nest, tucked under mama hen’s wing.

There was Chelsea’s birth and the terror we felt when we couldn’t get that kid out of her.

There was the hail storm that destroyed my tomato and pepper plants, followed by the drought that made the summer long, sticky hot, and almost unbearable.

There was Ruthie the hen who was killed by Fenton the rooster, and then Fenton the rooster was “taken around back”. Ivy the hen developed water belly and finally gave in to her battle in her sleep one night. 2 days later it was Mrs.Wiggles the rabbit who suffered a stroke and had to be put down. That same day we sold Sophie the goat. 2 days after that there was Abbie, who ran out the door one night despite my best efforts to keep her in. She never came home again. I never knew how much I loved that moody cat until she wasn’t there anymore. Always up for an adventure, she’d walk with us when we walked the dogs at night, went with me into the woods one morning when I was following Charlotte the hen to see where her hidden nest was, and would help round up and chase the chickens back, when they were at the neighbour’s house, again. Abbie, who had been with us during the very hardest of times, who got a respitory infection that had almost killed her during the first year we had her, and who I had kept alive with chicken stock and water, squirting the liquid into her every 2 hours for 2 days as she lay limp on the floor. She moved with us from rental house to rental house, clearing each new place of mice and keeping a patrol every day that we lived there. I lie awake at night now listening to a mouse that has made its way into the wall beside the bed, chewing and chewing well into the night, only this time I don’t have Abbie to take care of it for me. While no one likes to walk into a murder scene in the morning, with blood and mouse bits everywhere, the fact that I never had to set traps for the mice was a good thing in my mind.

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2 days after Abbie disappeared we lost Lucy. An abandoned cat we found at an old ramshackle farm house that was listed for sale. We went to look. The pictures in the listing showed the real estate agent had never even walked up the driveway, and we explored the place finding long hidden beauty among the overgrowth. An apple orchard off to the side of the house, a pond that was so overgrown it was impossible to tell it was there until you were right up on it, and in a filthy disgusting greenhouse full of flies, a cat, who I thought was dead at first. Until, ever so slightly she moved. She couldn’t hold up her head, and her fur was so unbelievably matted I didn’t know how we would ever help her. The heat in there was extreme and how she hadn’t simply baked to death I’ll never know. But she needed help, so we wrapped her in a sweater we dug out of the back of our SUV and we took her home. For 2 days my mother and I shaved her with an electric shaver. She was so terribly matted we had to shave her right down to the skin. She never fought us. She never clawed, she never bit. Occasionally she’d cry. She was a trooper. And she was getting healthier and stronger. She cuddled and purred and lived with us for a month. And then one day she started to fade. I fed her kitten formula with a syringe, even more determined to keep alive after Abbie had disappeared. But it wasn’t to be.  4 days after she started to fade, and 2 days after Abbie disappeared, she died in her sleep in our bed, tucked up close to me. Our vet said she was old and it was likely she had cancer. Living with us, getting proper nutrition and love perked her up a bit but in the long run she was still sick.

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Then there was Jezzabelle, Lois, and Samantha. Which is an on going predator problem we are still fighting with today. A silent very fast killer whom we never see, the only sign its been there at all is a headless chicken body laying in the leaves. When we aren’t home the hens are locked in their coops, which makes me feel horrible. When we are home they are allowed into their run and Bowser our dog stays out with them, walking the fences and making alarm barks whenever something moves in the woods, but this isn’t a permanent solution either. Winter is just on the horizon and Bowser isn’t climatized. He loves running the fences, digging holes, and stealing a bit too much chicken food, but he also loves sleeping on the couch in front of the wood stove. After well over a month of having live traps set up, a solution is looking like it’s fading more and more.

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But we are doing what past and present farmers have always done. We hope that next year will be better. We take what we have learned this year and try not to make the same mistakes again. We don’t let our other cat outside. We are looking into livestock guardian dogs. I can protect my chickens by keeping them in a coop, but should, someday, something were to come for the goats, I don’t know how to protect them. Oliver just about smashes the door down on his shed when I’m 10 minutes late letting him out in the morning, there’s no way I could hold him in a barn for the entire day, even if it was for his own safety. Whatever this predator is that we have stalking us, it comes during the day. We’ve decided that the best thing to do is defense, since our offense of trapping and hunting has come up empty.

SO yes, I want 2016 to be over. I want to leave it behind with all the heartbreak and disappointment. I want to find merriment in the Christmas season, but it’s hard when you’re always walking fences, checking live traps and trail cam pictures, and always looking over your shoulder because something is watching you and you can feel it. Our little cabin in the woods, which was once so homey, feels haunted.

2017 will hopefully be better. Already there’s the promise of new life, with goat kids just beyond the horizon. Phoebe will kick off the kidding season in March, followed by Chelsea in April and Bailey in June. We have a new goat kid coming to the farm this weekend, which will put our doe count to 4, unless Chelsea continues to push my buttons, in which case she’s out of here. If 2016 taught me anything it’s that nothing is permanent. There’s new baby chicks to come, seed catalogs to be pondered over with a cup of hot coffee, and maybe, just maybe, a greenhouse to be built. Oh yes and a dining room to be completed!

And amen.

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