So, You Wanna Farm, Eh?

by admin on October 27, 2008

The Continuing Adventures in the Life of Rural Yupnecks
First published in 1998

Mention that you live on a farm in the country and the effect upon cityliving folk is an instant longing to come visit you that they too may taste of the bucolic, peaceful country life they think you live. Little do they know……

1998 started off with a “baa” when Jeanne and kids decided a market lamb for Nathaniel was a “must-have” thing for his 4-H project and left a sheep farm with a 3 month old Dorsett lamb in their possession. Considering that we do not own a trailer of any type, the animal was stuffed into a dog crate in the back of the van for the ride home and proceeded to poop the entire way home stinking up the van to limits even a skunk couldn’t tolerate. Cityfolk Misconception No. 1 : “Lamb” is not synonymous with tiny, cute little ball of snowy white wool but rather a 50 pound wad of ugly wool that is stupider than a slug.

Upon our arrival home with “Lamb”, the immediate need was to get him up to the pen at the barn posthaste. Sheep do not lead like horses do though and “Lamb” promptly dropped like a ton of sheep bricks to the driveway and did a spectacular imitation of a dead opossum. Abby and Nathaniel resolved the problem by each picking up an end of the lamb to carry with poor Abby losing the toss and having to carry the poopy end.

Training for the 4-H show began in earnest yet Nathaniel could not teach “Lamb” to lead. Enter our livestock ag and 4-H agents who quickly showed Nathaniel where a sheep’s “Go button” was located……on the lamb’s butt. Abby was once again relegated to be near the nether regions of a domesticated animal to push the “go button” should “Lamb” not obey Nathaniel’s command to lead. Despite her initial embarrassment, Abby became quite good at goosing the lamb and “Lamb” became quite good at leading.

The 4-H show was in late April and it took 3 adults, 1 teen and 3 children to get a single, 81 pound lamb ready to show. “Readiness” meant shearing every fiber of wool off of him, bathing him and then stuffing his naked lamb body into a specially sewn sheep garment with legs and hood. Our borrowed sheep suit happened to be bright green and black striped which added further indignities to the already denuded, humiliated creature by making him look like a circus freak. However, he was a clean, denuded circus freak.

The show day dawned bright and early as we loaded up “Lamb” and 2 pygmy goats into dog crates in the back of the van. It had been decided much earlier that Abby and Emma would break into 4-H livestock showing with tiny pygmy goats as opposed to the huge meat goats all the other kids were sure to bring. Once in the show ring, most people resisted the urge to laugh at the little goat hors d’ouevres and Abby went on to win 3rd place in showmanship, 3rd place in her record book and a fourth place for the goat. Emma got blue ribbons all around for her efforts.

Nathaniel did far better than expected for his first 4-H livestock project and won second place in his class, 3rd place for showmanship and 1st place for his record book which earned him an additional $50 savings bond. But the point of a market lamb is that it is raised and sold for – what else – the market and as the day wore on, the time we all had been dreading soon approached when Nathaniel had to surrender “Lamb” to the meat packer. This proved to be difficult for mother and son since both of them stood by the packer pen and cried. Jeanne for Nathaniel who cried for “Lamb”. Nathaniel’s tears were short-lived however when the following day he began calculating how much money he had made from the sale of “Lamb” and concluded that he loved that $225 a bit more than the lamb. “Lamb” probably cared not a whit since even in the packer pens, he was clearly having a lot more fun with the other sheep than he ever had with us.

With money in hand, Nathaniel set out to buy a breeding ewe of his own and thus we came into possession of three tiny orphan lambs who needed to be bottle-fed. This turned out was a big mistake as the year unrolled but we, like dumb country transplants, couldn’t resist the thought of tiny, woolly lambs. Within 6 weeks, the eldest lamb died on one of the hottest mornings of the early summer and there stood three children looking expectantly to Jeanne, super farmer Mommy extraordinaire, to do something with the dead body despite the fact that Jeanne had a 9 am appointment she could not break. So rather than leaving the newly dead creature to turn into a flyblown mess by mid afternoon, Jeanne did the only thing a true convert to rurality could do….she got two trash bags, stuffed the now 40 pound lamb into it, twist tied it up and deposited the entire thing in her chest freezer right along side the hamburger until something more permanent could be done. Hamburger Helper will never be the same again.

The following day, Jeanne heaved the frozen stiff lamb out of her freezer and put it in the back of the van while muttering that she would definitely have the presence of mind to fold the legs a bit more compactly next time. She and all three kids drove to the state’s research lab so that the Lambsicle could be dissected, not knowing that this would be the first of several such runs we would make that year. Lambsicle turned out to be a celebrity among the state vets who called over the adjoining NC State vet school students to see one of the worst cases of abdominal parasitism in what seemed like NC State history. Rural Fact of Life No. 2: Just when you think you got your act together and know what you are doing…… don’t believe it.

Having followed the advice of every sheep book on the market to the letter, Jeanne was informed that they were all wrong and that we needed to medicate the remaining lambs ASAP with parasite killer. The kitchen and part of the mudroom became a veritable pharmacy of tonics, drugs, paste wormers, needles, syringes, vitamins, herbal remedies, rubber gloves, sheep halters, powders, sprays, dips and every other sheep torture devices known to man. The lovely realities of rural life hit us when the lambs produced the first tangible results of strong paste wormers and Jeanne swore she would never eat fettacine noodles ever again. Tim, being a full time government worker, got to miss all the excitement. God bless his Dilbert heart.

To break up the monotony of sheep, Abby decided to participate in a 4-H poultry project and in early May, we went and picked up 26 little chicks of allegedly mixed sexes from the extension office. We were prepared this time having brooded chicks last year so there were few surprises. That is, until a chick here and a chick there started turning up dead in the brooder with missing limbs. The culprit was traced to our cat Blackley who, true to his feline hardwired genetics, engaged in specism of the worst sort by reaching into the brooder and grabbing off whatever he could keep a hold of. Obviously Blackley had not heard of PETA or the ethical treatment of other animals. His raids on the brooder culminated one Sunday morning when he had been able to pull an entire chick out of the brooder by digging underneath it and Abby caught him with screaming victim still in the maw. Blackley, however, was not about to surrender his prize and it was left to Tim to persuade the cat via bodily shaking into letting go of the now dead chick. Tenacity, thy name is Blackley and the cat only held on tighter not only with his teeth but now with both paws firmly gripping the chick like some feline version of Henry the 8th with a drum stick in each hand in mid air. Blackley muttered kitty growls and dark kitty obscenities through a mouthful of poultry but eventually dropped his chick dinner only to desperately make grabs for it with his paws. He was further persuaded over the months to not harass the chicks via a wiffle ball bat applied to his little furry rear end. Despite Blackley’s politically incorrect specism on the chicken race, Abby was able to show three of her best hens at the fall poultry show and win second place for her record book.

Whilst the kids and Jeanne were getting further immersed into farm life and all it’s sensory nuances, Tim was progressing along with the myriad of projects old farms like ours require. One such simple project involved the removal of the old clothes line poles and making new ones. Ours must have been designed and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers during World War 1 to survive any air raid bombing and removal was not such a simple exercise. Tim certainly underestimated the amount of concrete anchoring the skeletal remains in place and provided us with much needed amusement when he tried to pull the concrete bases out, fell flat backwards into the deep mud, and created the most stunning mud angel ever seen by human eyes in his artistic attempts to stand up.

Just as the summer was progressing so nice and boringly along, Jeanne chanced to hear something outside the bathroom window at 6:00 am one morning and arising from the throne she turned to part the curtains to stare into the face of one delighted and liberated pony. The events of that day unfolded to include chasing three equines all over the front yard, discovery of an equine raid on the feed bins, two serious equine stomach aches and a $220 emergency vet visit.

This wasn’t the only instance of equine prison escapes. One early summer morning Jeanne was relaxing in the recliner when Nathaniel came sauntering in from the outside with seemingly not a care in the world.

“Where are Abby and Emma, Nathaniel?,” Jeanne asked, being only mildly interested in the whereabouts of the female farm laborers intrusted to her on that pretty morning.

“Oh, they are in the Alligood’s pasture,” the only son so nonchalantly replied.

“What are they doing over there?”, said Jeanne with a note of increasing alarm in her voice.

“Chasing the horses,” Nathaniel stated matter-of-factly.


Jeanne raced outside having grabbed a lead rope and yelling to Nathaniel to get her a bucket of grain. By the time she crossed the road, the horses came leaping enmass through the neighbor’s hedge bordering his pasture and ran across the road 100 feet away. Jeanne yelled “Whoa” to which her favorite, Scarlett, stopped dead in her tracks. Unfortunately, that obedience was displayed right smack in the middle of the road and instantaneous visions of horseburger, glue factories, insurance liabilities and trying to figure out a new FORD acronym danced before Jeanne’s eyes.

“NO, NO, You dumb animal! NOT IN THE MIDDLE OF ROAD! GIDDYUP!” , Jeanne yelled as she engaged in the ultimate oxymoron of trying to get a runaway, 1000 lb. animal to run away from her some more.

Our escapades with sheep were hardly over and it became quite apparent that we needed to castrate our one ram lamb. The problem was that “little” lamb was now weighing in at 90 pounds and the thought of doing the job myself just wasn’t appealing. Enter our friendly vet who was thrilled at earning $65 for what amounted to a 3 minute emasculation. Jeanne and all three kids helped the vet lift the sedated lamb on top of our hay feeder, “whack, whack” and the deed was done. Pigs love Rocky Mountain Oysters , by the way. “Fault” blissfully slept throughout the entire emasculation of his sheeply ramhood and was snoring a few zzs to prove it. Nathaniel became concerned and asked the vet what was wrong only to be assured that “Fault” the lamb was sleeping and dreaming of pretty little ewes.

“Oh, good. I thought he was having trouble breathing and needed Sheep-P-R,” deadpanned Nathaniel with total innocence.

Shortly after this adventure in sheep Bobbitization, Fault the sheep eunuch suddenly turned up dead. One little trip to the grocery store and Jeanne returns to find “Fault” lying in the driveway looking all the world like a gigantic beach ball. This, of course, necessitated another trip to the state diagnostic lab and all three children were terribly eager to go along. Tim had securely tied the sheep into the back of the pick-up truck in such a way that all four legs were pointing straight up in the air and every stop I made, the legs “waved” .

After a few miles, it became abundantly clear why the children had been so excited about going on such a disgusting and mundane chore when they could have stayed home with Daddy and had some real fun like chopping wood. At every stoplight in town, the kids would be intently peering into the rear view mirrors on the side of the truck and then trying to suppress their giggles. They were discretely watching the reactions of anyone who pulled up behind or next to us and they weren’t disappointed with the shielded eyes, wrinkled noses and gawks our “waving” lamb got. The second half of their fun was feigning a stoic appearance as if it were the most normal thing in the world for us to be driving around town with a dead sheep carcass in the back of our truck waving a forlorn hoof to all who passed by.

The end of summer heralded the long awaited arrival of the PIGS. Tim built them a special pen and despite their bad reputation for stinkiness, the pigs proved to be the most fun farm animal we’ve ever had. Suitably dubbed “Hamlet” and “Piggy Sue”, the two weaners soon became a farm fixture since feeding them was in itself entertainment far superior to any Arnold Swartzenegger movie. When someone says, “eat like a pig”, they have no idea just exactly what that means. Screams of glee at the mere hint of getting fed would turn into screams of rage as each pig fiercely jockeyed for position at the trough. Their passion for food is unparalleled in the animal kingdom with the exception of human male bachelors and Jeanne managed to get “Hamlet” to sit up and beg like a dog just by waving stale pecan rolls in his face.

Late fall was when Hamlet and Piggy Sue met their destiny as sausage but before that blessed event was to occur, we had to get them into a trailer. Well, we just didn’t get our thinking caps on just right to properly plan out how we were going to get those 100-lb piggies into the trailer and what resulted could have been broadcast as an episode of “Crocodile Hunter”. It was Tim, Abby and Nathaniel pitted against Hamlet and Piggy Sue and it was not clear from the beginning who would prevail. Tim made a flying leap on top of Piggy Sue which was followed by Nathaniel piling on top of Tim and then Abby on top of Nathaniel. With much slipping, sliding and falling into the poopy mud, Piggy Sue was hauled up into the trailer by brut force.

Hamlet was next and he was the bigger of the two pigs. He had seen what happened to Piggy Sue and he was a mad pig. With similar caveman pigwrestling expertise, Tim manhandled Hamlet halfway into the trailer only to slip and fall backwards on the fresh pile of doodoo Piggy Sue had just contributed to the decor of the trailer. This left Tim in the awkward position of being on his back holding the back legs of a now irate pig and having no leverage to get Hamlet up in the trailer the rest of the way. So with frantic yells, Tim begged Jeanne to pick up Hamlet’s front end and push him in the trailer. This proved to be a true test of marital devotion since this required Jeanne to put her hands in the vicinity of gnashing male pig teeth and Hamlet was doing his best to spew hateful piggy invectives at each breath. Envisioning pulling back a stump should she comply, Jeanne hesitated before finally grabbing Hamlet’s foreleg and picking him up. Next year we are building a ramp up into that trailer.

After the piggies, it came time to cull the chicken flock of the roosters and older hens. With the help of a friend, we cut off heads, hung them to bleed out, skinned and then gutted them. We did ten in 2 hours. Our method of killing was an ax to the neck and this ended up being a great amusement to everyone in attendance. The phrase , “run around like a chicken with its head cut off” takes on new meaning when you actually see it although our chickens did full backwards flips in the air as well. *Sigh* The things we have to do to get a chicken dinner…..

As our year on the farm comes to close, we ruminated on the past events and daily chores. Nathaniel and Abby ended the year having shoveled 9 tons of horse manure, fed 4 tons of hay, and collected 3000 eggs. Emma fed 800 pounds of dog food and Tim fenced in 2 acres of pasture. Tim continued the annual ritual of inaugurating our newest Ford pick-up truck by killing our third deer in 2 years with it back in March. Ahh , such sweet wonders of farm life! Come, share it with us!

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