It’s over. As of this afternoon, there are eight lambs, one calf, 150+ chicks, and eight piglets in the barn (or, in the case of the piglets, in the woods).
My favorite photo from this birthing season features a handful of semester students grouped around a lambing pen. They are holding themselves and each other, so intent and beautifully bearing witness to what’s happening in the lambing pen below. What you can’t see in the photo is that I’m in the pen, one gloved hand fully inside a contracting ewe named Hermione, turning an upside baby into the correct position to be delivered by a very patient and attentive mama.
It was an intense assist, and the attention and tension within that small band of watchful students are palpable. I love the sense of communally holding this farm that washes over me when I help a student cut an umbilical cord in the middle of the night in the sacred space of our barn or when I feel the presence of every person in reach of me also holding their breath through a mother’s contractions. Birthing is messy and beautiful and raw and real: what a gift to be held in and to hold the light of so much life.
Leaning into Resiliency
When Greta calved two weeks ago, the birth itself was only the first of the hurdles that she faced. With some help, she delivered a whopping 54-pound calf named Gilbert. Already tired from many middle-of-the-night trips to the barn to check on the animals, we farmers were dismayed to find that Greta had mastitis – an inflammation of the mammary tissue – in one-quarter of her udder, and we started milking around the clock to try and flush the bacteria out of her system. Hilary and I spent some wild hours in the barn, made more difficult by the fact that the swelling in Greta’s udder and tiny teats of a first time mom made milking near impossible and a kicking-worthy affair for Greta and sometimes a tantrum-inducing affair for me.
Two weeks later, we’re happy to report that Greta is free of infection and standing like a gem during milking. I thought about resiliency so often throughout this trial, grateful that Greta was able to bounce back from her infection and trust us to engage in the intimacy of the dairy-based relationship and glad for the rejuvenation that came after a few nights of solid sleep for us farmers.
The Second Most Ridiculous Day on the Chewonki Farm in Recent Memory
Though nothing can top a day a few summers back when 16 hours of straight-out working and a series of unfortunate events epitomized “Type Two Fun” (the kind of thing that’s not fun in the moment but that you have to laugh and revel at later), a recent Tuesday was almost just as challenging and ridiculous.
The short story involved escaped piglets in the woods and a long series of “this, too?” moments, and the day was capped off by 107 chicks arriving by mail. We always order our chicks by mail from a hatchery in Pennsylvania, but we were thrown off kilter when they arrived two days early and overwhelmed that the hatchery sent us double our order of 50 birds. At the time, it seemed like a big deal, especially given a recent run of low-sleep nights that lessened my capacity for gracefully dealing with the unexpected. Two days later, the hatchery sent us another 50 birds due to a clerical error. We are now raising 150 meat birds instead of the anticipated 50 and are grateful to the local slaughterhouse for flexibly and nimbly working with us on this most adorable but unfortunate mistake.
After weeks of wondering if Theresa, our large white ewe, was pregnant or just chubby, she produced a single lamb this afternoon in the midst of the Summer Programs Open House, finishing off our lambing season. A few dozen visitors – future campers and their families – stopped into the barn with Garth Altenburg, Boys Camp Director, to check on Theresa mid-way through her laboring. The families lingered for a few moments and then moved on to finish their campus tour, though Garth encouraged them to stop back in the barn if their family schedules permitted doing so after the Open House ended. One young man looked me straight in the eye and said, quite formally, “I don’t think that our family schedule will permit us to stop back by this afternoon. Best of luck. I hope that all goes well with the birth.” So kind!