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Spring is the season of new life; of things being born and of things coming back to life. On a farm, this is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.
Here on Three Paddocks Farm we have a small selection of livestock that we’ve accumulated for various purposes. Our own consumption, our own experimentation and our own investment. They bring us pleasure, anxiety and hopefully at least some of them will bring us income down the track.
Sometime, they also bring us sadness.
Of course, there’s Cheeses and Butterball, not so much calves now, yet I still think of them as the boys. They’re happily rotating through the main paddock eating the last of the pasture from last season’s rains. We hope that soon enough they’ll be joined by two more new-born calves, when Debbie and Jim at the Allard Dairy have some more males to place. Our experiment with raising dairy cattle for beef continues.
There’s Bev and Tilly, the goats we bought to the Farm to help deal with weed problems but have yet to make it to the patch where we actually need them to in. You see we’re fairly certain that Bev is pregnant, likely to birth any week now, which means she needs to stay enclosed and protected. That’ll be an expected delight to have kids if all goes well.
There’s Luke the rooster and a flock of chickens and chicks who insist on free-ranging in our garden and scratching up everything. Hatching the chicks was part of an experiment for our daughter, Rush, a budding entrepreneur, who wants to breed the chicks for sale. Truth be told, it’s lovely to see them grow.
Then there’s the odd critter whose presence we’re less pleased by. Monty the giant python, who makes regular appearances and who we think lives in the roof, is welcome to stay. The brown snakes who have started reappearing as the days get warmer are definitely uninvited.
But in the midst of spring’s new life, death can be closer than you think, hence much sadness on the Farm in recent times.
In the last ten days we’ve had two deaths. One that required an intervention, and one that was a mystery. Both sparked tears as they were two of the animals Rush had claimed as her own.
There was Sookie, a much-loved chook who had come to as a retiree from La Finca Booyong. Sookie had personality and was still a regular layer. She was Rush’s absolutely favourite and was regularly taken for walks in the paddock, always shown to visitors and rarely left alone. Unfortunately she became ill very quickly and it was abundantly clear that she was not going to recover. I had to put her down, before we buried her in the vegetable patch.
Then there was Meep, one of Rush’s first chicks hatched. Meep hatched some days after than the rest of the chicks, so was rejected by the two hens. Luckily for Meep, that meant she was taken in by Rush and hand-raised, and consequently became firmly attached to humans. She seemed to have no idea she was a chicken. She had a heat lamp and enclosure in our library and was pampered at every turn. After three weeks of luxury, we insisted that Rush start to transition her to life outside. It didn’t go so well with the other chickens at first, but we persevered with more and more grass time for her.
Yesterday, on only day two of a full day outside, Meep went missing.
Despite prolonged searching, I couldn’t find any trace of her. I did find a crow lurking near where I’d last seen her, so our suspicion is that Meep had been taken. While the other chicks enjoy the protection of a strident mother, Meep was fending her herself so would have stood no chance against this larger predator. The circle of life? Perhaps, but still devastating.
I feel immensely sad for my daughter who had been so focused on and so diligent in caring for this chick. She cried floods of tears that I could not do anything about.
I feel disproportionately sad for a chick who probably died scared. Was her vulnerability human folly? Quite probably and we should have worked harder to bond her to the other chickens earlier.
So while it is a reality of having livestock on a farm that death is inevitable, some days that feels tough. And small-scale though we may be, I have yet to meet a farmer of animals who doesn’t care deeply for their livestock’s welfare from beginning to end. The people we work with, from places like Esperanza Farm, Hayters Hill, Boorabee Dorper and Brooklet Springs – and of course Cheeses Loves You – exemplify this and it is why Table will continue to work with them all.
The quality of product is icing on the cake.
To me, one of the most compelling reasons to support small-scale, artisan producers because they are fundamentally real people, making real food at real places.