I've been hesitating to write this blog as the fall has been particularly difficult this year at Fallen Branch Farm. Normally, we are able to enjoy harvesting, preserving, and preparing for winter. We usually have more time to enjoy the animals and even do some exploring beyond the farm. However, I have had two knee replacements and the recovery has been ongoing. Paul has been doing all of the work on his own while I keep busy doing seemingly never-ending physio. In addition, we have had to say good-bye to some of our beloved animals. Farming teaches you many things. It grounds you and keeps you in touch with the cycles of life. We experience the joy of new life and growth but we also experience loss. This fall we said good-bye to Marigold, Oliver, Maggie, Nellie, Poppy, and Coco. Needless, to say that there have been some sad times and that the faces of the farm are changing.
We brought our three little pigs home to the farm in the back of our vehicle in a dog crate. Who knew that they would soon grow to be almost 800 pounds each! Who knew that we would grow to love them so much and that pigs were so smart and affectionate. Ever been sandwiched by two big pigs or had your ears cleaned by a pig when working in their house? Watch your tools or they will end up being chewed by a pig! There was also the time we had to build a floor under Maggie, our gentle giant, during her first farrowing in a flood. It wasn't easy! Our everyday visits to the pig yard became a highlight of our day and the trio expected treats of apple. They can be very gentle when they want. They also became an attraction for people driving by and stopping to see our three "little" pigs. It's amazing how they never seemed that big to us. Being part of the farrowing was something we always looked forward to with Maggie and Nellie. The last time Maggie delivered 16 piglets. It's amazing to see the moms with these little babies each about the size of a Guinea pig. It was so fun watching the new families being introduced and seeing what a good dad Oliver was, allowing the kids to climb and chew on him never being angry. We have a new couple now but we will always remember our original "three little pigs".
After we moved to the farm we decided to add to our animals. We only had goats and chickens at the time. After a lot of research we decided on Icelandic sheep and we found a breeder. We went to see the sheep and picked out our four ewes. Of course I had to have Poppy, the white one with the little brown ear. Coco was beautiful and so were Maisie and Clover. They were each very unique in appearance. We have had a few birthings now and they are way more stressful than delivering pigs! Once you get through the birth then you have to hope the baby or babies are able to latch on to mom. No one told us about first time moms! They are not always the easiest and a lot of times they don't really know what to do. Last spring we were bottle feeding three lambs and milking a ewe. Sounds fun but it can be pretty exhausting when added to all the other chores. Although nothing is quite as sweet as bottle feeding a baby lamb, even when they end up pooping all over you as they drink. Over the past few years we have kept three of the lambs knowing that eventually we would need to start getting rid of our older ewes. Well that time has come and so quickly! We have discovered that by having a small number of animals at our farm we get so attached to each one and these decisions are very difficult ones to make. Much discussion and deliberation goes into each decision about the welfare of our animals. Our little flock is now made of Lily (Poppy's daughter), Gracie (Coco's daughter),Georgia (Maisie's daughter), Maisie, Clover, and of course Balthazar.
Marigold is a tough one! We got her and Belle to be part of an agricultural program that I was teaching at an inner-city school. Along with Sebastian, Lola, Jasper, and Basil, they became an integral part of that program and drew many students to the program. Academic students and those with special needs as well as at-risk students all benefited from exposure to the animals in the classroom. The goats worked alongside students in the gardens and even in the classroom. When thinking about retiring from teaching a main concern was what to do with the goats. Well, here we are at Fallen Branch Farm! Our city goats needed a period of adjustment to get used to grass and quiet away from the concrete and noise of the city. They have now been enjoying four years at the farm and still command the most attention from anyone who visits.
This fall, in between my surgeries, we noticed that Marigold was not eating and seemed lethargic. Originally diagnosed with pneumonia, she did not respond to a variety of antibiotics. She was also treated for parasites and when she was still not eating was put on IV and probiotics. Blood tests showed signs of infection and we continued with antibiotics. Always rebounding, we did not want to give up on her. She responded to treats of apples and bananas and oak leaves. We spent as much time as possible with her, even getting her a jacket so she could get outside and graze with the other goats. Just after my second surgery, we got news from the vet that she had a form of paratuberculosis. She would never recover and would slowly waste away. So we decided to say good-bye and Marigold was euthanized that day.
Goats are strange animals. They are not suited to large-scale farming. They love their little family groups. Marigold was the matriarch and kept things in place and running smoothly. During her illness, the other goats were always on their best behaviour and hovered closely around her. Upon her death, they became quiet but still clinging to each other as a group. They ate very little. We tried keeping things normal for them with visits and walks in the field. Yes, I was walking with a walker to hold me up and Paul brought along a lawn chair so I could sit and watch. Then they started fighting with each other which was hard to watch. Four weeks later they are still sad and trying to figure out their places in the new situation. It has been sad to watch.
We have a poster in our barn with a flock of sheep at the bottom of a mountain. A black goat is perched at the peak. It seemed illustrate perfectly the hierarchy at our farm. We will definitely miss our Marigold!
At this time of year we are thankful for all we have - home, family, friends, and the animals entrusted to our care. We look forward to a year of healing, new beginnings, and new memories. Merry Christmas and Happy 2020!