In the meantime a huge backlog of photos and stories has been piling up. So what else has been going on here for the past three months? Might as well start with late last October. The humidity of the summer was finally gone and the night sky became incredibly clear again. On this particular night the moon had not yet risen which made the stars more vivid. The most hardest thing about this shot was keeping the goats and horse from rubbing on the tripod and ruining the picture. I wound up giving them a bucket of grains in the corner of the barn so they’d leave me alone.
Almost everyone enjoys a beautiful sunset but with most of the U.S. population living near large cities, the show in the sky stops when the sun goes down. Around here I’ve noticed that on almost any night when the moon is new or hiding behind the ridges, it’s hard to walk outside without being distracted by the ocean of stars above your head. The night sky is spectacular and the Milky Way is usually on full display. It can’t look too much different than it did thousands of years ago when Native Americans thrived among these same ridges and valleys. There are no cell phone towers or glaring lights from nearby cities junking up the view and it’s rare to see the blinking lights of a distant jet. Hanging out with the beasts in the fields at night it’s not uncommon to see the flash of a meteor out of the corner of your eye, and still have enough time to look up and watch it flame-out on the horizon. The feeling one gets when gazing on such a scene is much like Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” , a vast, animated sky that almost feels alive.
As predicted, the murderer showed up again, picking off my best hens one-by-one. I soon caught a break when I found fresh tracks around a pile of feathers. Ah, a fox. Remember that 2013 smash hit “What Does the Fox Say”? Well, I fantasized that this particular fox would say, “Damn, I picked the wrong barnyard” right before I blew his head clean off with double aught buckshot. I spent the weekend upstairs in the barn, sitting in an old rocking chair with a gun across my lap but he never showed. Monday afternoon came and another chicken disappeared…I clearly needed to bring in the experts. I contacted a local farmer and a few days later the “experts” arrived in the form of two, eight week old Great Pyrenees puppies. But what could they do, looking like innocent white plush toys? As it turns out, a lot. Great Pyrs are bred to be livestock guardian dogs, not house dogs and once fully grown they will flat-out destroy anything that dares to harm their livestock. The fox seemed to sense this and immediately the killing stopped. So now instead of being used as a sniper location, the rocking chair is once again a great place to just sit and enjoy the scenery.
It’s often said that if you hear your chickens raise their “alarm call”, you’d better go check things out because something is probably trying to kill them. Four times this past month they’ve sounded the alarm and every time I’ve gone out to the barn/woods/pasture to save them, the coast was clear. So this morning when I heard them screaming from the barn I decided to ignore it. It’s a long run out from the house and I wasn’t about to fall for their trickery again. Plus I wasn’t finished with my coffee.
After about twenty minutes I walked into the barn and saw a few hens pacing around in the first stall. They were nervously looking at the ground, then at me, that back at the ground. Pure white feathers were everywhere like someone had slashed open a pillow and walked around the barnyard with it. Even worse, these feathers belonged to Mary White, a fine snow-colored hen who lays blue eggs…and she was nowhere to be seen. I put on my detective hat and began to comb through the evidence. Unfortunately it told a tale of horror. Whoever the predator was, he first attacked Mary White outside on the South side of the barn. She ran inside for cover, through a small opening and into the “chicken kitchen” feeding area. The foul beast also ran inside and cornered her to continue his violent assault.
After he subdued poor Mary he dragged her back through the kitchen door, across the stall, and under the rear wall to the outside. A long trail of feathers snaked through the pasture, up the hill, and under the fence next to the woods.
From there the trail went cold and somewhere in the dark forest the distant scream of a chicken echoed in the shadows. Back inside the barn I reassured the animals that the danger had passed and everything would be fine. But I had seen this type of carnage before and knew the killer would soon be back.
To be continued…
We bought the new farm “as is”. In other words, when the previous owners retired and moved on to smaller accommodations, they left everything behind for us. A tractor, mowers, a generator for when the power goes out, well-groomed pastures and hay fields, a workshop complete with tools, cords of seasoned firewood for the wood stove that heats the house, and a big barn stocked with hay. They even left us a beautiful horse and 2 hard-working barn cats. Of course there’s other things left behind that aren’t so pleasant such as pasture gates in need of repair because they’ve been smashed down by falling trees, well water spigots that leak and need to be replaced, overgrown cattle chutes, and long lines of fencing in need of repair.
Still, I’ll take that any day of the week because at least we’re not building a farm from scratch like we’d been doing down in Savannah. Digging hundreds of fence posts holes by hand is great exercise but not exactly a pleasant affair. After the first 10 holes you’ll be uttering every curse word known to man and inventing a few new ones for good measure.
It’s been busy two weeks for sure so repairs and leisure time have to wait. The mind races and feels uneasy due to all the unpacking. You have to re-learn all your routines because the farm is laid out completely different from where we just moved, so simple tasks seem to take twice as long. There’s even a bit of culture shock because we’re now even further out in the country and don’t yet know any of the neighbors. But of course all that is to be expected when moving to a new place, and it’s good to challenge your brain with new experiences. The tension of moving is already being pushed aside when you notice pleasant little scenes such as how the morning mist moves out of the valley and over the ridges, the animals roaming over the hills enjoying themselves, the warm color of sunlight in the barn at the end of the day, and how random strangers give a friendly wave as you pass each other on the back roads.
After two fantastic seasons we have decided to sell the farm. In fact, we’ve already sold it. Not due to burn-out as can be the case with a lot of small community farms these days, in fact it’s quite the opposite.
We originally started with a small flock of chickens, dairy goats, heirloom vegetables and herbs, all for our own use. A little surplus bounty became more and more as we grew our operation and added more animals. Selling at the local farmers market became the next logical step and things began to take off. By our second season, attending the weekly market was mainly for social purposes, as whatever we had to sell was bought by customers who came to the farm 6 days a week. By the time day 7 rolled around (market day) we were picked clean. A waiting list was created…you may have had to wait 10 days to receive your eggs and milk, but when you got them you knew they were fresh. For the past 11 months no egg or jar of milk has left this farm that was over 2 days old. New customers were coming out of the woodwork but we had to turn them all away, not something you want to do when you’re trying to grow a business. We needed more room.
So we sold the homestead and bought a larger farm in an area we’ve always loved, the Appalachian Mountains, in Northwest Georgia to be specific. It’s a beautiful place full of ridges and valleys, expansive rolling farmland, clear-running creeks and waterfalls, caves, and plenty of trails to explore in the Chattahoochee National Forest. We will be moving soon so check back for updates as we make our transition.
Days of heavy rains and wind last week were somewhat of an inconvenience. It’s hard to dig post holes for new pasture fencing when the holes keep filling up with water. Goats hate to get wet and will stay inside and eat supplemental food instead of browsing on fresh pasture. Even some of our favorite forest trails are under water so forget going for a walk in the woods (the area behind us is called Woodland Swamp for a good reason).
On the other hand there are certainly benefits to all those showers. Garden vegetables seem to grow faster from rain instead of well water. The blueberries are looking fatter and wild blackberries are definitely bigger and juicier than before…and they are everywhere.