Changes, like the weather

People can change.  The weather in New England – if you don’t like it, wait 15 minutes and that’ll change.

 

I’ve oft heard both lines expressed dramatically in stories and dialogue. They’re easy to say, easy to dispute, easy to believe. Neither is so thought-provoking, they’re throw-aways. You can dispense both in a variety of circumstances. Not especially intriguing.

But today I recognized that in grappling with the most recent grief of losing our sweet yearling wether, “Trevor”, the kid goat, I’m really angry and, I’m changed.

It’s natural to feel anger as you step through stages of grief. I recognize that. It can be helpful in processing as long as you don’t sit with it too long.

 

I’m having so much practice at stages of grief as a farmer that I sometimes process one stage simultaneously with another. I constantly have so many different and unique losses that happen within a frame of time that overlaps that I seem not to finish grieving one loss before another occurs. I’ve not figured out how to manage grieving multiple losses more efficiently, maybe I never will.

 

For example, I might be at a final stage with Schilling’s passing, our very old Maine Coon Cat that fell off the piano with a heart attack about a month ago. Tonight I noted that the Oak tree sapling that I’d planted above his grave is re-emerging after the goats had eaten it within the 24 hours that I’d marked his final resting place. It has a whole new set of leaves where the Muppets had left just a stick. With such reassurance, I can accept that we had the best years with the Big Schill.

 

I’m at Stage 5 with Nessa now, my sweet ewe that passed in early April. Her demise and her body’s passage to the wild will haunt me, always, but I accept it.

 

Ash, the gorgeous Wensleydale ram that I got from Flying Fibers’ Farm in Lancaster, PA died suddenly after he’d only been here 3 weeks and it is wrecking me with guilt. So that’s a Stage 4. It’s not enough that we welcomed him here with so much build-up and fanfare, but I’d even held a wedding in his honor.

 

And then a few days later, Martha’s little triplet ram lamb died at less than 24 hours old, sometime in the night of his first evening here. I’d prepped a space for she and her babies and thought I’d done all the important work of welcoming them into the world. But something makes me think that I didn’t do enough. There was more I should’ve done. I have many ideas of why he didn’t thrive and I’ll always wonder how I could’ve helped. I also have many ideas of why he didn’t thrive. But the way it is with farming, with bringing animals into the world and seeing them out, you often don’t have answers. Big, hanging question marks in the air. Between Stage 4 & 5 there, now.

 

A couple of chicks died that arrived at the farm a little over a week ago. Eight turkey poults died within 24 hours of arriving. Those losses are almost always attributed to shipping stress, and the company that I order them from always makes good on it if you report to them in a timely fashion. But still, little, lifeless bodies pulled from a brooder are heartbreaking. Small ones that incubated and worked so hard to make it out of their shells, and then you teach them to drink and eat and you smile at their exquisiteness…I am never at ease when they pass. It happens so much more frequently in the world of chicks, ducklings, turkey poults, goslings – they’re fragile.

 

Life is fragile.

 

I’ve been shepherding the flocks this summer with a bit of unease. There are a few older gals in the fields and the paddocks. There are goats with sore feet because of the wet conditions we can’t seem to shake this summer. It’s been a brutal struggle to stay on top of wellness during a season that should be more forgiving.

 

I remember when I was in my 20s. I would react to the cold temps with more irritation. I am sure I complained aloud, often, when winter went on too long. I longed for spring, summer, fall, anything but wintertime.

 

Fast-forward 30+ years and I admit that I’m ready to swap my seasonal song. No, I’m not done with the gorgeous greens, the flowers and birdsong, the honeybees pollinating the blooms. I’m not nearly tired of stepping out the door in my shirtsleeves and clogs and not trudging through snow.

 

But a cool wind or a drop in the temp at night has me sighing with relief. I’m suddenly a little lighter.

 

It’s the animals.

 

I know how uncomfortable they’ve been this summer with humidity and heat. There has been so much rain that the pastures and the paddocks are muddy and steamy. Their hooves can’t dry out unless I constantly clean stalls and paddocks to prepare a clean arena for the flocks.

 

They’re eating more hay and less pasture because the pastures are too wet, or the parasite count is higher than typical because the conditions of moisture support thriving haemonchus contortus populations (commonly referred to as ‘Barber Pole Worm.)

 

I’m checking eyelids and feeling spines, watching behaviors to see who is down, who is up, who is active, who is lethargic. Whose feet are sore? Which fleeces and coats are healthy and which ones are raggedy?

 

I’m running around with a wheelbarrow and a muck fork to clean up to prevent flies, to try to prevent more parasite populations from taking hold. The animals don’t stay in their fences because their fences aren’t good enough to keep them contained, they yearn for tastier foraging in the hedgerows, the grassy alleys growing on the outskirts of their pastures.

 

The hay crop succession is slow-growing because the first cut took so long to bring in, extra-stemmy after growing unchecked. The wet fields had kept the farmers out with their heavy haying-equipment. I, myself, lodged our tractor good and deep in the muck on Father’s Day, trying to trim the perimeters of the fenceline.

 

So, admittedly, I’m changing my tune. I’m thinking of cooler weather, I’m thinking of some relief for my animals. I don’t think I’ve ever been as empathetic as I am feeling this summer for my woolie critters. And Vermont is a northern, temperate climate. Not anything extreme like it could be.

 

Recognizing this soft-streak of mine, in light of my animals’ wellness, I’m doubting my spine. Doubting that I’m thick-skinned enough to farm at all. My peacock, Mario, died this past spring, suddenly, after a fox attacked him on the ground. I had so much grief and, I think?,  wounded pride at losing him, losing our white peacock, that I questioned my abilities to shepherd and be a steward for the creatures in my care. Not looking for attention or reassurance, just trying to grapple with it all. I’ve still not figured out what stage I’m at with his passing.

 

I think about so many variables when I lose an animal.

 

Today, in particular, horrible circumstances surrounding the discovery of Trevor’s demise had me feeling even more terrible than typical. Maggie & Finn discovered him in the stall in the barn when they, just back from a family vacation, were scampering around to reunite with the farm friends they’d left behind and meet the newest members. And that was what they had to come upon.

I’ll always feel responsible for their horror and grief. I can’t believe I couldn’t have spared them that. And that I was hosting a farm visit during the discovery couldn’t have made it more awful. Guilt is a stage to move through, too.

Maybe Maggie & Finn will be able to find a cure for sudden onsets of anemia or more preventative farm management practices that will help curb losses. Maybe their generation will have solutions where we faltered. I’m trying to find bright sides. Healing and hoping are part of a stage.

Because we were all so devastated, that I was caught so unaware, there was no time for private processing.  What was done, was done, and there was work to do.  We had to bury him.  We had to care for the animals that were waiting on us.  I had to make a decision as to whether I would keep Trevor’s pelt or not and if so, how to go about that.  I had to figure out a way to get a hole dug to bury him.  The people that were here visiting needed to be told something.

 

I’d read about the wonderful legume, Birdsfoot Trefoil, an inoculant that when foraged by animals in the pasture can create a healthier condition for them, naturally, to avoid the debilitating effects of lungworm in particular. I’d planted it in my pastures this past spring, but it hasn’t taken hold yet. Hasn’t germinated that I can tell. Maybe next year.

I’m reading all of my listserve notifications to find out what other farmers in the region are doing about parasite control and damage to their flocks this summer.  It’s bad in the northeast this year.  The wet summer has us all scrambling to stay on top of the situation.  One minute your animals are fine, the next they’re down.  I’ve read it over and over again.

We live in a flat part of the state and some days it feels like all of the town’s rain drains down our road and across our fields and into my barnyard.  Stagnant puddles won’t dry up.  I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t have so many hooves out there that prefer dryer paths.

 

Drama is creeping in. I think it means it’s time to pause. I feel a bit bleak now, ut I know it will pass.  I know I’ve got more stages ahead of me. Always.

 

Imagine the trouble I’d get myself into if I didn’t have all this to manage? Until some other occupation in which I can juggle highs and lows and break my back at the same time crops up, perhaps it’s best I stay in farming. I’m not necessarily bad at it. And, based on the farmers I know and love, I’m in good company.

 

The nature of the job is that working with living beings means losing them, too. Lessons learned, mysteries to ponder. At least I know that.

Trevor was a lovely little kid goat for visitors to meet.

Trevor & Thecla often played in the aisle-way of the barn last summer.

Trillium was devoted but didn’t understand how to nurse Trevor until he was 8 weeks old. I had to facilitate all of his feedings until then.

Nessie and Trevor were very sweet friends from the start. Trillium was a nervous wreck as a new mom and didn’t figure out the nursing-thing til Trevor was two months old.

Little Trevor had free-rein of the barn as I cared for him as a bottle-baby, sans bottle, for his first couple of months.

 

Trevor in July 2016

Maggie & Trevor

 

Trevor and his Muppet Family

Miranda and Trevor before he had his castration surgery in fall of 2016

Heading to Burlington this past spring for the Taproot Magazine booth at the Mother Earth Newsfair

Trevor with visitors at the Taproot Magazine booth

Trevor with the Taproot Magazine crew in Burlington, VT

Debbie & Dick Kirby with Trevor in Brandon, where Trevor’s grandma was originally from

 

 

 

54 responses to “Changes, like the weather

  1. my heart stopped for a moment when I first starting reading this…Trevor…and now I cry for you…I’m so sorry. It isn’t fair, and it makes no sense…none of it. I only wish for you the time you need to grieve, for these have all been great losses…ugh…I’m so sorry.

  2. Thank you for writing about your loss. Hopefully, it will help you heal. I’m adding you to my prayer list. You are good at what you do; keep going.

  3. My heart is aching for you. When I first read your morning post in FB, I had to reread it bc it said Trevor and rushed to your blog post. Simultaneously I’m thinking he was your little shadow for months since Trillium just couldn’t figure out how to be a mom. You are the mom to so many of your wonderful four legged fiber partners, and you do so with such grace and heart. It’s understandable how Trevor’s passing would hit hard after all the grief you are managing this year.
    I give you lots of credit and admire your strength and heart in which you live with your farm. It’s an living, breathing entity that you have chosen to be the guardian for all its goodness and sorrows.
    I’ll keep praying that cooler temps return to your Green mountains and pastures. It was a wonderful weather gift to receive this morning, amidst all the sorrow and chores that need to be done. Wishing you peace 💛💛💛

    • Thank you, Julie, so much for always supporting. Such a kind note and you’re so in tune. Thank you.

  4. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your beloved Trevor and hear your feelings around the loss and grief when a cherished member of the farm dies, whether very young or old. I think it’s impossible not to question whether farming and shepherding is where we’re supposed to be right now, when we’re not sure we can take another loss or day of nasty weather. Then, fall comes and things cool off and the animals relax again, maybe so we can momentarily relax too. This is our life, if we weren’t doing this what would we do? Thank you for sharing your feelings and experiences with the world. It’s good to know lady shepherds and farmers are not alone in their journey.

    • Thank you, Lydia, it is good, I think, to have community. It’s a sensitive topic, for sure, amongst farmers. But when you know you’re not alone, you can derive some strength and some encouragement and, importantly, lessons to go forward. Thank you so much.

  5. I’m so, so sorry! This leaves me in tears! But, Thank You, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing! Along with the abundant life on a farm, there is still so much loss, and it is often glossed over. I have recently lost 3 of my chickens and have a 4th one who is ill. I feel petty talking about it to others thinking that I see a look on their face that says “there is so much going on in this world and you are grieving over a stupid chicken”. But my animals are my friends and the grief that I have when they pass is tremendous. I should have seen the signs… I should have done something differently. They are MY responsibility. This time of year is always the worst. I know the cycles of life, but it’s hard. I am holding you and your family in my thoughts and grieving the loss of Trevor with you.

    • Thank you, Maria. I never feel like it’s petty. I know that feeling, though, of thinking others might. So I completely understand. Thank you SO much for your note. I’m so sorry for your loss, too.

    • I am one who understands the grief of your loss. I bought pullets 2 years ago and realized that things were off from the get go. I was able to medicate them and they grew to be a wonderful group of chickens. This Spring I noticed a change and slowly they lost weight. The disease had won and they all had to be euthanized. I was heartbroken and have spent the last six months scouring my coop to fight through grief. I believe that the people who open their hearts and souls to animals are special. We all have a bond, we care. I’m so sorry for your loss

  6. I am so sorry for all of your losses! I have so many tears is was to finish reading. Sending hugs. You are a very strong and loving woman! Your animals are blessed to have you to love and care for them!

  7. Your eloquent words tell of life, love & loss, struggles, admiration of the creatures you’ve chosen to care for & your dedication to them is beyond human.
    💔~margo

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful and moving post. Your strength is inspiring. I loved Trevor from afar – thanks to internet and your generosity in sharing your wonderful farm family with us. You have been an excellent role model to your young farm helpers and to those of us who read along. Sending love from PA.

  9. My friend sent me your site, and after reading it with tears in my eyes ,I think …I m not alone .i have sheep and angora bunnies ,I spin wool and make hats etc to sell , I live alone with my barn yard family and have grieved ,loved and carried on. My one hope is that all of this….will be worth it….all of life in one form or another..will make someone happy as in the end ..it has made me.

    • Thank you, Barbara, thank you for writing, too. What a kind note. And it seems as long as someone needs you, you are there for them.

  10. You know, in reading your eulogy for Trevor I got such a clear picture of how dangerous this amount of grief can be. I have been so uplifted by your words. Again and again your love and respect for all of the living things under your charge have taken my eyes off the ground where I had cast mine and lifted them to the sky in thanksgiving. Proof of God’s love rests in the everyday miracles most of us have simply forgotten to see. Consequently, we can’t show them to our children. And we walk about without hope. Tammy, the dangerous part of this overburden of grief is it sounds as though you’ve forgotten who you are. The photos I have seen, the videos that have been shared by my family with laughter and tears have whispered in my heart that this woman is a Warrior. Your animals feel safe behind your shield. You fight for them with every breath of both of you. If that were not so, the alpacas would not have shielded that little one from harm after he passed. They felt your shelter, and knew you were coming. I believe if you will lift your eyes and think back you will find a quiet miracle started by the respect and compassion of your hand and God’s grace on all of the sadnesses you have been dealt this past season. Your animals’ attachment, physical and emotional, is proof of that. “I will lift my eyes to the hills” . You and David have a lot in common. Warriors.

    • Teresa, that is such a kind note, thank you so much. Feeling a season of defeat, this summer, though in reality I’m in good company because I still stand for all work is good work. And in working with living beings, there will be death and illness and accidents. But I still have to help if and when I can. Thank you for such a generous note.

  11. All the things you are saying are what makes you an amazing shepherdess and you are very invested in your fur family. If you did not love them all you would not be concerned about their care or be devastated by their loss. I pray God’s blessings on you and yours. May you pass through each stage as quickly as possible without neglecting the healing they provide. As I have been told recently with the sudden death of our son, “I can’t promise it will get better, just that it will be different with time. It never goes away, it just gets easier to carry.” This was said to me by our beautiful daughter who lost her son, our youngest grandson just over 4 years ago, and now her brother. Take the time you need to grieve in your own way for each of them and always keep trying to help the rest. You may yet be the one to figure out something to help your herds and those of others. Thank you for all you share with us. I am sorry for all you losses, but they will help you grow stronger if you can make your way through the dark field.

    • Verlaine, you’re huge-hearted to write to me, thank you so much. Thank you for being here. Sadly, you know well about grief. I’m so sorry for your losses, too.

  12. I’m so sorry about Trevor and every animal mentioned in your heart wrenching post. Life continues to move on and yet, how do we? I follow your wonderful farm and just know that God only gives us just enough to manage. I know you have probably heard that before, but its true. The fact that you mourn is sufficient enough for him. You do a wonderful job with your farm. I wished I lived up North just so I could help you out.
    Continued prayers for healing peace my dear!

    • Oh thank you! That is a good reminder, ‘just enough to manage.’ I forget that sometimes, thank you.

  13. I see the love and compassion evident in your farming practices, they reflect your character as a farmer and you as a human being. Being so sensitive can sometimes be painful, that’s the nature of the gift. I am so very sorry for the losses you have endured. As I read your blog and watch your videos I honour the VERY hard work that farming entails, including honouring the wonderful creatures that pass while in your care. They are blessed to share your heart and enjoy your farm during their lives. I am sending you a virtual hug all the way from Canada ❤️

  14. Oh, my heart grieves for you. It is the feeling that we should be able to take such good care of them that all goes well even tho we know that is not possible– in our heads, but our hearts will always think otherwise. And all too often there is nothing we can do or no answers to what could have been done. I will never forget my vet saying “I should have been able to do something” after her beloved goat died….an echo of my own often said lament. I have nursed dogs-we adopt senior rescue collies, cats, sheep and most recently lost a llama. She was old, but bloodwork, vet examination showed nothing wrong. but, she stopped eating on a Friday and died on Sunday night. We know she died peacefully cause she was still Upright and I will always be grateful for that. I have just adopted our four foster sheep and my only hesitation was the four more goodbyes in my future. I am babbling because there really are no words that will help, so hoping that knowing others are holding u in their hearts, have grieved as u are grieving, are praying for comfort for you and mercy and wisdom as you do all in your power to be their good shepherd will make u feel surrounded by love and support—as u so faithfully surround your animals and family. You have been through so much. As my vet friend reminds me, you have to take care of your own body and soul, too….praying u have moments to nourish yourself, too

    • Thank you, Susan. Taking the time to send me a few words is such a gift, I value it highly, thank you.

  15. We will all mourn with you at sweet Trevor’s passing. Praying your heart will lighten in the days ahead. For those of us who are following your journey, we see that you meet each challenge, albeit good or heart wrenching, with courage and hope; you have a gift and are making a difference in the lives of each animal with a name and a place on your farm. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Oh, honey. I grieve alongside of you in spirit, i and so many other friends near and far. i’ve written you this before, what i’m about to say again, but i’ll say it here in fresh and earnest delivery: you are one of the strongest and most capable women i know. Your world is one of beauty and organized function, a combination that i seem to fail at continually. i create beauty, and write of it, i snap photos in attempts to share how i feel and what i see. but you, mom to beautiful grown human children of your own, continue in a massive way to mother countless many sweet little two and four legged lives. You are authentic at what you do, at this life you have carved out for you and your lovely family; the farm is a TRUE farm, not some trendy venture, with back breaking chores that carry you from before dawn to twilight, and on through a lot of nights when aiding in the birthing of an ever-expanding menagerie of animals that provide – with so much of your guidance and help – a continuing and expanding income. You take beautiful loving care of each life there at A Wing and a Prayer, and you also tend to death with equal love, compassion, beauty, and deep wrenching grief. I’ve heard all of this in your voice on videos here and Instagram; i’ve seen you darting from one errand or necessity or project to the next, always with that genuine, radiant smile on your face. You spin and dye beautiful fibers from the children that provide to you in return. You gather eggs and fruits for pastries, bake pies and scones to perfection, and grow flowers that match the radiance in your smile. it is impossible to do all of this, on top of spending quality time with family, without suffering the knee buckling lows that inevitably come with such a growing and expanding farm. i think that in time, when you are miraculously able to carve out a little free time for yourself, you will be able to look back over a cup of tea and reflect on the upstart young whipper snapper farmer, green and wide eyed in those beginning months and years, so that you can objectively see what tremendous strides you’ve made in all areas of running such a healthy – yes, truly – and successful farm.
    i remain in awe of your ability to juggle as many tasks and projects and businesses as you do. my heart breaks for you having to suffer such devastating losses, sometimes one on top of another and another; and i also know, without a single doubt, that you will work through each grief and prevail.
    Always remember to treat yourself with as much unconditional love and encouragement and guidance as you do without fail for each member of your barnyard family, and force yourself when possible to take little breaks just for you, you, YOU – beautiful creature that you are, excellent caregiver extraordinaire! we love you, we do. xo

  17. He was beautiful. I loved the way you shared him with your followers. He was very special. And he was loved.
    I am so sorry for your loss.

  18. Oh sweet Tammy…I am so sorry for all your losses. Hoping sharing these cleansing words you have written will help with the healing process. I know all here agree that you cannot be everywhere all the time and that you are the finest shepherdess I have ever known. Many hugs and kisses to you and your family!

    “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary
    than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached.
    Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way.
    We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.” -Irving Townsend

  19. For those of us who cannot possibly comprehend all you do every day and all the lives that depend on you, thank you for this insight. I have tremendous respect for how hard you work and how big your heart is. Please don’t doubt yourself. You are more than enough.

  20. My heart hurts for you. My life is a bit different than yours (just two pups and me here), but much of what you wrote about has also been on my mind lately and I appreciate you sharing your story. Sending love and light your way.
    – Michelle

  21. Oh Tammy, what grief and what gift. Reading your eloquent post—so thoughtfully written and attentive to yourself and your flocks—helped me, also. This summer has been so hard on Vermont, though I have only been farming here for two summers and didn’t have much to compare to. Mark and I have been dealing with the same things you mentioned: wet pastures, flooded barnyards, rampant hoof rot, unexpected parasites and, as a result, death. The prideful part of me, as a farmer, wants to swallow it and call it Part Of The Job.
    But as you’ve humbly written, we ought to do our animals and ourselves the honor of mourning and recognizing what it is we’re in this for. The way you described your processing and grieving is something I aspire to do. Thank you. You are such an inspiration to Mark and I. So often we talk about “what we think Tammy would do.” Just know that we are cheering you on + gleefully anticipating the cooler months ahead.
    Ever onward!
    Sam + Mark (+ the baby!)

    • ever onward, one sore hoof in front of other – hey, this week is dryer! Thank you and think of you and Mark (+ the baby!) often, Sam. XO, T

  22. It is with a heavy heart that I read this. I’m so glad your support system is so large. As with all losses, these are heavy to bear. You open the doors to your world there and we become followers of all of these beautiful creatures. Your pain is our pain. Peace be with you!

    • Thank you, Kimberley, for your sweet words and your kindness in reaching out to Maria. I appreciate it all.

Penny for your thoughts?