Bloodshed on the farm last night: we lost about half our flock of hens. The culprit was a opossum… He climbed up the ramp to our mobile coop and dragged them out, one by one, for slaughtering. My “goodman on the good homestead” husband heard the 4 AM ruckus, went out to investigate, and duly took care of the offender. Sad statistics though in the wake of the assult– six of the thirteen hens had been carried off and executed, possom-style. I (blissfully) slept through the whole thing, learning about it only at the (far more godly hour) of 6:45, when I rolled out of bed and came hunting for my coffee.
An intrusion like this makes me feel indignant. A little outraged, even a little violated. Like: how dare you climb up that ramp into our serene, sweet coop, you lousy opossum?! (My husband thinks the absence of our dear dog around the yard probably encouraged his exploits.) And of course, beyond the death of our sweet hens, there’s also the reality of diminished output. Our egg production took a huge hit last night. And yeah, we can get more chicks – and we will – but it takes six months before they start laying. But the truth is that this is the way of things in farm-life though, a drama that comes with the territory.
See, we live a kind of Little House on the Prairie life, here on our twenty Virginia acres. That’s probably pretty evident to anyone who knows us personally or sees our set-up, but somehow it only became fully evident to me when I actually read through the whole series aloud to my littles last year. At that point I realized: the land, the seasons, the home projects, the farm characters– it’s us. And the animals too. Our animals are a part of us, like the Ingalls’ were to them, in their lives and in their deaths. This is true both when the deaths are untimely, like our hens’ last night, or whether they’re planned – when we’re eating them with hearts grateful for the good, wholesome meat they provide (like the chops that will come this fall from our recently-added sheep).
It’s a beauty – and kind of a novelty – to live this way. A strange backwards novelty, since this was the way that most people lived, on their own land or by extension, through their neighbors’ land, until pretty recently. I certainly didn’t know this lifestyle when I was growing up – since I lived in the city as an elementary-school girl and then in the suburbs from fifth grade on. I didn’t feel the warm eggs fresh in the laying boxes. I never thought about where the fences would go. New to me are an ongoing backdrop of clucking and braying… and the occasional peacock squeal (our neighbors have one and he shows up, hilariously, and hangs out outside my backdoor looking like this):
But I sure wouldn’t trade it – not for myself or my kids.
My “goodman on the good homestead” husband handles – as anyone who knows us will attest – the animals. The getting, the feeding, the moving, the fences. I’ve become more interested in – and more capable of – helping him out with them, but he’s certainly the “Pa Ingalls” in our outfit. The “Ma Ingalls” part that falls to me, since we live 35 minutes away from the nearest big town, is the goods acquisition. It’s been quite a learning journey.
Homeward diligence didn’t come naturally to me, and for a long time I pretty much ignored the whole scene; I just kind of did the minimum passable. I’m not a neat nick and don’t like cooking, so embracing the “Ma”role didn’t jive with how I wanted to spend my time, or how I saw myself. But around the time baby #3 came around, it dawned on me that really, as a mostly stay-at-home mom, this is my gig. The overall health and wellbeing of my family kind of depend on it. I mean, of course they’re all going to eat one way or another, but were they going to actually enjoy dinner, or just endure it? And was it going to be pleasant for any of them – much less for me – to spend time hanging out in our house? So I took it all on and haven’t looked back.
So. Now I drive to town from our farm once a month now to do A Big Shop. This is new for me, since the further I’ve ever lived from shopping centers was about 10 minutes. When I go in, I think of Ma, going down to the general store to buy her sugar and other items she couldn’t get on her farm. Once we get past the infrequency of shopping ventures and the distance travelled, though, Ma’s road and mine pretty much part. America today’s time and America in the Ingall’s time are just worlds apart. (Clearly I’m not the real-deal modern Ma, just more Ma-ish than many – and more than I used to be.) After all, I get just eggs and some of our meat from our land; the other 95% I get in town. Her proportions were basically reversed.
Be that as it may, as a person new to the Once-a-Month-Shop, here’s what I like about shopping once a month:
- It saves tons of time in the long run. It takes me about five hours total, give or take, to drive to town, shop my three stores, drive home, and unload everything. That’s a big chunk of time and means I have to allocate basically a half of a Saturday (or an evening, 4:30 – 10). But the rest of the month, I’m basically free and clear.
- I get to spend way, way less time and energy thinking about food and shopping than I used to. Like point 1, but factoring in mental energy. I think about food and supplies and buying groceries 2 days out of 31. The other 29, my brain space – and my driving-around-town-time-are completely freed up from the whole topic. Total win for me.
- It saves a good bit of money. We’re pretty frugal folk, and we’re the budget-keeping type, so this one’s a clincher. I estimate that the Ma Ingalls style shopping I currently do saves me between $100 and $200/month, compared to the way I used to shop.
I’ve followed money-saving-shopper blogs in some seasons, and I’ve given couponing a good run in the past (largely unsuccessfully). But we eat mostly whole foods and therefore buy few things pre-made and pre-packaged. And about half of our meats and produce I now buy organic. So what works best for me to keep the budget is: to shop infrequently (well-covered point in this post); check and compare prices, and plan my shopping well. When I go to town on my once-montly runs I hit Wegman’s (organic stuff and random miscellaneous); Aldi (all my basics and staples, at prices almost laughably lower than anyplace else); and Costco. I also order about bi-monthly from a whole-foods co-op that drops off in my town, and I hit the fame’s market weekly in season. We all love the farmer’s market though, so those runs count towards fun family/community time rather than toward shopping time. Farmers’ markets todays are Ingalls-ish in the best, most delightful and holistic sense.
So, circling back to you, dear hens. Thanks for your presence, lo these many months. Thanks for your delicious eggs. Thanks for the role you play on the farm. And most of all, thanks for opening our eyes to the beauty and drama of the natural world as we unpack it, day by day, here on the farm. We are profoundly grateful.