This will be our 12th (I think) Spring in this house and it’s the first one where we won’t have any babies. It’s a strange thing to wrap my head around.
From the first year in this house where a puppy literally wandered out of the forest to ducklings, goslings, chicks, lambs,and kids, there have been babies of one kind or another. And this year, none (unless a hen or duck on a secret nest surprises us).
I have to say I’m mixed on the whole thing. On the one hand, the reduction in stress and worry and busy-ness is a great thing. Chores are simple and haven’t changed. No specialized foods needed. I don’t need to sleep with one ear and one eye open in case babies arrive on the same day as snow.
On the other hand, those long nights and early mornings have fond memories for me. The time we watched from our bedroom window with our then little son as one of our ewes gave birth to twins (one of whom would become a bottle baby affectionately referred to as Super Lamb). Here is a pic with her and Paks (our Pyr, also gone) found online (my photos of them are archived)
J and I watched a goodly amount of BSG while either waiting for labouring ewes or keeping ridiculously late hours because what’s the point of going to bed when you’re getting up in two hours to bottle feed anyway? of course there comes a point when you have to call it and just go to bed, with your phone tucked under your pillow so the alarm wakes you without waking everyone else.
Or last year when the boys were away from home during kidding and my poor, cold Gita had to come in the house to warm up. It was just her and I and the dog. She tipped the scales at just over a pound when she was born so, I would bring her in every two hours, after being nursed, so as not to inadvertently weaken her or interfere with the bonding process.
I think it was the goats that did me in this year. To lose two brothers, one at three months old and the other at seven months , and not know why. They were healthy enough at birth but Freyr went downhill quickly. Bern not as fast but he died late on New Year’s Day this year. Rough start to the year. With their deaths and the accompanying unanswered questions, in spite of the investigations that were done, I decided that I wouldn’t be doing any breeding this year and paired my livestock right down.
Now we have three goats, chickens, and ducks. That’s it. And while it’s meant a reduction in stress and work, it’s also reduced other things. No more waking up with all of the anticipation of a kid at Christmas, looking outside to see if babies arrived in the night, no lamb Olympics around the house, no fresh milk, no peepers hopping on your hand and pecking a bit of food out of it (ok, that still happens but the chickens are no longer small and cute when they do it). It’s a well needed break but a trade off too.
I suppose that’s smallholding in a nutshell. It’s rarely easy, it’s exhausting, and so full of emotion. But it’s real. It’s a kind of reality you cannot experience in any other way. I think that’s part of what makes the joys so full and the lows so deep. It’s a tough one to explain to people who either aren’t doing it or who don’t get it, especially when you work outside of the home in addition to keeping a smallholding. Why on earth would you want to deal with kidding or lambing and still have to be at work at 8:30 the next morning? I don’t know that there is a way to put that feeling into words. I suppose for those of us inclined to it, the nearest thing would be to call it a vocation, a calling. There are just some things that you do that aren’t about how much money you make or making your life easier, they’re just what has to be. For me, smallholding is very much like that.