This is a story I wrote about last Tuesday, I hope you enjoy!
We both stir at 4:45am as the boisterous spring bird songs spill through the bedroom window screen. I pull on yesterday’s clothes conveniently left on the floor, and head downstairs to the kitchen. My sleep softened feet feel the grit on the floor, so I slip on my crocs, which are lined with more grit. There’s a pot of water already on the stove, I turn on that burner and place a lid on top to hasten the boil. No matter the morning, I just cannot wait for my first hot slugs of the thick rich brew I call my cowgirl coffee. Having cows now, well calves actually, I finally feel like a real cowgirl. I walk into the egg room to get the collecting buckets and Andrew goes into the walk-in cooler, which is located in what used to be our livingroom, to pull out the assembled CSA share boxes. I tell him I’ll back up the car to our “loading dock” off the front of the house, because I’m better at driving reverse in a stick. Andrew’s often a bit surly and sleepy in the mornings, but this statement of superiority riles him out of his haze and he insists he’s doing it.
While he’s backing up the Subaru, I finish getting most of the share boxes out of the walk-in, and slide the heavy and huge cooler full of duck eggs out as well. Andrew’s got to hustle if our plan for him to get to Minneapolis and back before 9am is going to work. If he can do that, then I can go on the second delivery run and make it there by our noon CSA promise. I’m amazed to watch him pick up the heavy cooler of eggs and carry it to the car. All those eggs inside it I collected, cleaned, candled, packed and labeled, and they came from OUR ducks! I never want to lose that feeling of wonder and pride of being a farmer.
The water is finally boiling and I pour it over the french roast grounds in the mason jar next to the burner. That’s cowgirl coffee, and the smell that rises as the grounds are submerged is almost as good as drinking it. Almost- now I have to wait another few minutes to let them brew before pouring through a strainer into my mug. There are sprinkly sounds coming from the kitchen window, a rain shower has arrived, so I grab my rain jacket before heading out to do chores.
I walk down the rain-slick clay footpath to the hoophouse, where 500 ducklings are peeping with anticipation and thirst. The heat lamp is on in one corner in the younger ducklings’ brooder and I flip the switch off for the day, doing a quick scan across the sea of babies for any casualties. We’ve made it past the most tender age, and not a single one perished in the past 2 weeks- YES! Their little black eyes watch me as I pour water into their big rubber water pan, and the ducklings leap into the bowl in a frenzy. I walk around to the other side which holds ducklings who are just one week older and nearly double in size, what a difference a week makes in a ducklings growth. The girls are all watered and fed, I also bring them some grass to nibble on as well, as we want them to be well accustomed to greens and seeking them out when they grow up to be pastured egg layers.
I go head back to the house to see Andrew off and pour my first mug of coffee. Then it’s over to the gravity box parked in our “driveway” to fill 4 buckets with the adult duck feed. Each bucket weighs about 40 lbs, so I assess my strength and will, versus multiple trips over to the duck barn. In my head I measure the pain of carrying 2 buckets full twice with the efficiency of just 2 trips, versus 4. I muscle through, but my arms ache as I do. As I enter the side door to the duck barn, I am greeted by my laughing ladies, the hungry ducks. They swirl away from me like a very loud school of fish, then race forward to the feeder, after I fill it and retreat. On the other side of the barn, the more mature lady ducks know the routine- we’ve been together for going on 4 years. They come to eat as I pour the feed into their hopper, they are not nearly as skittish. There are quite a few eggs rolling around in the area around their water tub, so i decide to go get the egg buckets and collect them before filling the water tubs- the scramble of hundreds of webbed feet over the eggs might crack some of them. Egg collecting is my favorite part of the day’s chores. It’s the motion that reflects all my dreams and aspirations, a fulfillment of risk, hardwork and lots and lots of tending to these darling ducks.
As I head back to the duck barn with the egg buckets, I stop and think maybe I should just go feed the pigs quick. They are learning about electric fence and have had a rough couple days, and doesn’t food always make you feel better? Heading towards their paddock, I hear them in their shelter grunting and groaning at each other as they try to attain that most perfect sleeping spot, but they hear my footsteps as I approach and all come racing out, like clowns from a circus car. I open the nearest 55 gallon barrel full of soaked organic buckwheat and oats and scoop the headily fragrant slop out. The pigs squeal with excitement and jostle for the best position at the feeders as I pour out the sourdoughy smelling fermented grains.
Now it’s time to get eggs, and in about a half hour I have collected most of the eggs and filled all the water basins. I have to get the first eggs cleaned as soon as possible so the shells don’t stain.The ducks are happy having breakfast, drinking and bathing before they go out to pasture. We converted a tiny little closet of a room in our house into our state licensed egg room, it’s outfitted with plumbing and a big stainless steel 3 compartment sink. I lower the buckets into two of the sinks and run warm water over the eggs to loosen any debris. The egg collecting buckets have drainage at the bottoms, so the eggs don’t sit in the rinse water at all. I inspect and clean each and every one carefully and any rejects go to the pigs.
300 eggs later, it’s 8am and time to give the calves their bottles. I start by mixing their milk formula powder with hot water, then fill the 3 bottles and head down to the calf pen. Our 3 gorgeous boys are toddling about, peering through the fence for the first sight of me and their breakfast. As I get nearer, they dance in place restlessly, picking up hoof after hoof as they weave back and forth, unsteady as 2 week olds. I line up the bottles along the fence opening so they are propped in place as long as I hold them tightly against the fence. The calves suckle on the fluorescent orange nipples hard, a foamy lather forming around their lips and dripping down onto the soil, which our pup Belle happily laps up quickly. The bottles are emptied rather quickly, and then I remember I have to go milk my goat May. This is a new routine since her daughter went to her new home last week, and I’m now the only one to collect her bounteous milk. May calls to me when she sees I’m heading her way. I slide into her hut, carefully holding the gate behind me as she always tries to push past me and out. Once she knows there’s no chance of that, she sticks her head in her grain bucket and assumes the position: all four feet squarely set and spread apart with her full and engorged udder lowered. I place a little bucket below her and squat next to her and start capturing the milk in her 2 teats with my fingers- if I think about it too much, she’ll get impatient and dancey. Whizz whizz, whizz whizz- the abundant milk streams out in a lovely rhythm, rapidly filling the bucket half way full. I put the bucket up on a table, out of reach of the dogs, which I’ll fill up at the evening milking and then give to the pigs. What an amazing and bountiful goat- she gets a bit of grain and then I tether her out to be our brush hog where she fills up with browse and grass all day long.
I let the ducks out, smiling with pleasure to watch them racing down the path to their new paddock. I collect the late eggs and bring them into the house for cleaning.