This morning I did the chores. My dad’s gone working in the city overnight and my husband was leaving early with his employees. I didn’t end up going out to feed the animals until around 9:30am because I first had to feed breakfast to the kids and bring my daughter to school. It’s her second day of junior kindergarten and she waved goodbye and ran over to the little crowd of kids standing with her teacher. I drove home with my angry son. He woke up mad today and I can’t really blame him. It was still 30 degrees last night at midnight and he can’t quite talk enough yet to say what he’s trying to say and he can’t quite walk enough yet to get where he wants to go. He’s hot and grumpy and to be honest, if someone tried to put me in a five point harness right now I’d probably be a little on the gripey side too. Because of the record breaking heat this year, by the time the air conditioning started working again we had made the less than ten minute drive home. There is one rural stoplight on the way to my daughter’s school and today we made it through green both ways. That small satisfaction was enough to just make it feel like a good day. When I got home and my son busied himself with toys that he’s not used to having full access to, I asked my mom to keep an ear open to my house so that I could do the chores. I knew if he got sick of Susie’s toys he’d go to Oma’s for a snuggle and a snack. If you’re in a desperate hurry and you only have time to make sure there’s food and water available for the animals, chores can be done in 15 minutes or so. Today I spent two hours out there. When I first went out, I went to the garage to put on my barn boots. I didn’t wear my coveralls because it’s so hot, even in the morning, that the protection they provided wouldn’t have been worth the hotness of them. I walked down to the barn in my boots and I started by grabbing two five gallon pails that were sitting in the barnyard and walking into the barn to fill them up. When I brought the full pails of water outside, I used one to refill the turkeys’ water. There are 14 turkeys right now and they are being sent to the butcher next week. My dad built a wonderful contraption that is a mobile turkey housing unit. For the last couple of years he has dragged it around the property so that his turkeys had fresh grass and foliage to peck away at. When he came walking up to the little tractor to which he had attached his pen, the turkeys all started gobbling excitedly and it was nice for him to have such benevolent creatures. This year, however, shortly after we put our turkeys into this pen and started dragging them around, a sly old fox dug a hole under one side and took 11 of our birds. Now the remaining birds are in the mobile pen, only it’s not mobile. It’s on the concrete barnyard floor and we throw in straw if it’s wet plus my dad cuts wheel barrows full of comfrey and tosses it through the roof hatch so that they have greenery to peck at. They seem to love it. This morning I filled their food pail, which is in a garbage can with a lid, sitting next to the turkeys. Then I crouched down and went inside. I hobbled over to the feeder and dumped in the new food, turned around and hobbled back, not forgetting to grab the waterer hanging from a seatbelt/wire thing in between the feeder and the door. I also try to pet the turkeys and call them things like sweet girl and handsome boy. They really are nice animals to have, if you don’t count the poop and the occasional curiosity peck in the arm. One time last year, when the turkeys’ pen was being dragged around the meadow, I didn’t latch the door of the turkey pen when I went outside of it to fill the waterer up with fresh water. I got distracted by my sheep at the fence and went to give them a handful of grain and by the time I turned around 12 of the turkeys had walked outside and were enjoying freedom. They weighed between 20lbs and 35lbs each and they’re surprisingly fast and agile. By the time I had caught all 12 of them I was sweating profusely, swearing intermittently and bleeding on the spots where the biggest toms had flapped their powerful wings into my skin. I had poop all over both hands and arms from grabbing them by their legs and I was only wearing a ribbed tank (sans bra) and a pair of cotton shorts. I used my tank top to wipe the sweat and blood from my face and then drove my golf cart back to the house to clean up. As I crested the hill on the driveway, certainly looking like a crazed maniac, I realized that my husband’s clean, neatly dressed parents were standing under the tree in front of the house with his clean, neatly dressed aunt and uncle for a surprise visit. I’m just so darned good at awkward situations that I keep getting myself into them, apparently. After I finished with the turkeys this morning I moved on to the laying hens. I used water from the other 5 gallon pail to fill their waterer with new, cold water and I filled their feeder with new laying mash. Their house was also built by my dad. In fact, all four of the bird contraptions in the barnyard were built by him. He uses old gates and old fence pieces along with portions of sign board he has left over from his bucket truck business. Right now the laying hens are next to the turkeys, who are across from the ducks and the rooster, Pascal. After I gathered the eggs from the nesting portion of the pen and put a few handfuls of fresh straw in the nesters, I fed and watered Pascal. Pascal is in a solitary confinement unit that was originally built for an especially cantankerous rooter named Chuck Norris. Pascal might be as much of a jerk as Chuck Norris was but he’s smaller and cuter, and because he’s a silky chicken he has extra toes and sort of a teenagery crow. Also, he hasn’t pecked my dad’s arm yet and that was the beginning of the end for Chuck. This morning Pascal just flapped a wee bit when I leaned in to pour his food in the dish. I’m pretty sure he gave me the finger with one of his extra toes but I couldn’t really tell. I’d like to put him in a cozy place with a couple of the laying hens to see if we could get some chicks but I haven’t prepared the space yet. That’s one of the things on my to do list, I guess. I decided to feed the ducks last because we have two week old ducklings and I wanted to do a bit of snuggling at the end of chores so I went into the barn to take care of the livestock. Two pigs, two cows, an alpaca and a donkey is the extent of my herd. The pigs are in their own pen in the barn and they are very tidy boys. They poop in the same spot every day so that their straw bedding stays nice and clean. Their names are Bob Barker and Alex Trebek. Dad had to hammer a new stick across the top of their pen because one day Bob Barker somehow jumped out. I have a feeling Trebek helped him but I can’t be sure. They weigh about 80lbs each and they scream like they’re being abducted if you have to hold them still for a needle or pull them to make them move anywhere other than the place they’re standing that moment. At least they’re small enough that they aren’t frightening for me. Cows are a little bit scary because even if they’re friendly, they weigh 600lbs more than I do and their foreheads feel like a cinder block with cute, auburn curls. Last year one of the cows inadvertently head butted me in the chest while I was crouching and it almost knocked the wind out of me. He didn’t even do it aggressively but it scared me enough to always keep a fork with me when I bring the food to feeder. I decided to take care of the cows, donkey and alpaca before the pigs this morning. They all live together in the pasture right now and they are friendly with each other and with us. I first checked their water and it needed to be filled so I took the end of the hose that was close to the gate outside and kinked it with baler twine before I went to the tap at the other end of the barn and attached the hose to the tap and turned it on. I then put some grain in a steel pail for them and left it at the gate. Sometimes there is a bale of hay sitting at the gate to feed them with but today there wasn’t so I pushed a wheel barrow that was in the barnyard to the old, little barn for a bale of hay. I normally just carry the bale but I didn’t have my coveralls on and I didn’t want to get all scratched and dirty. I hesitantly pulled down a bale and quickly tossed it in the barrow because Dad told me that he found a wasp/bee/hornet nest when he was in there a while back and I didn’t want to find it too. He told me it was gone but I don’t trust those little guys. Jerk bees. On my way back to the barn I glanced at the ducks, Peppa and her 14 ducklings. Peppa is a Muscovy duck and this morning she looked like she could use a coffee. The door to the duck house has a latch but it’s a little looser than we’d like and there’s a crack at the bottom where a tiny duck could get out or a tiny jerk (like a mink) could get in. So, we set a piece of vinyl sign board about 2 feet by 6 inches and leaned it against the bottom of the door. Then we set a small wooden feeder against the vinyl and a rock against that. I moved all three things and unlatched the door. Peppa came right over and started exhaling dramatically whilst pecking her bill at the greenery outside the pen. Muscovy ducks are known as the quackless duck because while other duck breeds’ females quack loudly for many reasons, the female Muscovy just sort of hisses. The male, in our case, George, hisses more loudly and shows a lot of emotion by wagging his tail and shaking his head. The first time I let him in to see the babies he did lots of aggressive tail wagging and all of the babies stayed in the insulated, covered part of the house except for one little rebel who ran out to his dad and copied him at the feeder and drinker. It was just so lovely. Anyway, after a few seconds of peering around, Peppa started leaving the house and her ducklings tried to follow. I closed the door gently, with all of the ducklings safely inside and Peppa turned around, made sure the kids were safe and then she walked into the barnyard to check things out. I found a short pail and while I filled it with fresh water for her she flew up to the top of Pascal’s cage and then flapped off to the pond. I set the pail down for her and I brought the bale to the gate inside the barn and I cut the twine with the utility knife that we leave there. By this time the animals were all very excited about their breakfast and Jenny the donkey was hee hawing while the cows crowded the entrance to the pasture. I pulled the hose from the twine and pushed it into the water tub enough that the pressure of the water wouldn’t make the hose fly out of the tub. Then I climbed the gate, grabbed the pail of grain and crossed the concrete pad out into the pasture, where the hay feeder is sitting. The animals all danced around me until I poured half of the grain on one side and then the other half on the other side of the feeder. Then all four of them found a spot and started munching on their appetizer. Sometimes George the duck joins them and it makes a really cute picture. Once the animals were busy I went to the gate, grabbed a pitch fork and started carrying hay to feeder as well. It had rained last night and the concrete pad was a bit slippery so I scraped off the pad with a snow shovel we keep in the barn for that exact purpose and then put down a bit of dry straw so that they wouldn’t slip. Once I had finished this the tub was almost full of water so I climbed back over the fence and crossed the barn to shut it off. Next I filled the pigs’ pail with pig pellets and I took the hose back off the tap so that I could put water on top of their food in order to make it slop. Pigs like it sloppy. When I brought the pail into the pig room I noticed that it smelled extra bovinish and decided I’d go ask my mom if she’d mind watching the baby a bit longer this morning so that I could fork out the pen. Dad forks the poop straw out of their pen and leaves it in the next pen and when it gets nasty I wheel barrow it to the manure pile. I feel like I was the one that really pushed for pigs (mostly because I want to turn our compost into bacon) so I should shoulder as much of the pig responsibility as I can. I wanted to offer my mom something in return when I ran back to the house to tell her about Peppa and to ask her if she’d watch my boy. I looked around the barn and found a pitchfork that she’d been saying would be perfect to dig up the potatoes. I grabbed it and ran back over the lawn, across the little wooden bridge, past the back deck of our farmhouse to the back kitchen door of their addition. “Mom – would you mind watching him for a bit longer? I’d like to fork out the pig pen. I brought the pitchfork you wanted so that you’ll say yes.” My mom looked up from her phone and said something like, “And why, exactly, does this have to happen right now?” To which I replied something like, “Because it needs to be done and I’m already gross and if you just watch the baby I’ll dig your potatoes.” Then I told her all about how Peppa had flown off to the pond as soon as I let her out and that it was nice for me and for Peppa to be able to leave our children to get work done. She rolled her eyes and went back to her phone while my son opened her dutch Tupperware drawer and started digging. I lumbered back to the barn and was overjoyed to see a soaking wet Peppa preening her wings in the sun with George standing next to her looking as happy as a clam. They walked past the ducklings together and pecked at the ground and splashed in the water I had put down. I opened the door to the duck house and asked her if she wanted back in but I’m pretty sure if she could talk she would have said something like, “Are you kidding me?” I closed the door back up and found the other pitchfork before I went back to the pig pen. I had grabbed my phone and headphones at the house and I turned on the Stephen King audio book that I listen to while I do things like hanging up laundry and taking down laundry and folding laundry and putting away laundry and picking beans and forking the pig pen, apparently. I ended up filling four wheel barrows right teetering full and I had to be careful not to pull my headphones off by the cord while I was jabbing at the manure and straw and pushing the loads out of the big barn, past the little barn, and up the hill to the manure pile. I even used the scrapey snow shovel to clean the pen right up when I was finished. Afterward I cleaned up the pigs’ water pail and filled it with fresh water. Then I reattached the hose to the tap and sprayed out the wheel barrow outside. Then I went to the duck house and refilled their water, their food and I put some dry straw in the damp spots for the wee babies. I also spent a bit of time trying to take a picture of how cute Peppa was but, sadly, a photographer I am not. Peppa still didn’t want to go back in when I was all done so I left her in the sun with her sweetie. I could see from the barnyard that my boy had made his way out of Oma’s house and was playing in the sandbox, in the back yard that sits between our back kitchen doors. I went to the garage again to change out of my boots and back into my sandals. When I came around the side of the house Mom was sitting in a lawn chair on her deck and she smiled and told me that the baby had just done a poop. He was only wearing a diaper so I pulled it back to assess the situation. It was a doozy. I was also rather disgusting after having spent so much time at the barn. I put my finger in the air like I had just solved the problem. “Hold on!” I said to my mom and I ran up to my back deck, took off my shoes and slipped in the house to grab two towels, a diaper and a sun dress. I plucked my almost two year old from the sand box and took off his diaper, folding the sticky poop in and wiping almost all of the poop off of him with the clean part of the diaper. I rolled it up and fastened it with the Velcro before tossing it on the lawn next to the sandbox to for sure clean up later. Then I took my dirty, snuggly baby and went to my mom’s bathroom to have a shower with him and wash off all of the poop.
So that’s it. That’s what it’s like for me to do chores. The details change from day to day; more poop some days, less poop other days. Some days it’s easier to find joy in things like duck emotions than others. Some days it’s easier to speak tender words to all the creatures, from alpaca to human baby. Most days it’s easiest to find humour in all the situations that happen on our little farm. Recently Dad and I were discussing the best time to pick up a Jack for Jenny and researching donkey gestation and the like. I was reading out loud from my phone and read the words before I knew what I was saying. “One of the ways of being able to tell if your jenny is in heat is by looking for clitoral winking.” I said the final two words of the sentence and immediately grimaced in the horror of terrible awkward comedy. My dad and I stared at each other silently for a second and then I quietly said, “I’m sorry it’s called that.” And then we both chuckled and found something else to do. There are so many wonderful, hilarious things that happen all the time (like the time Susie asked me what I am going to be when I grow all the way up) and it’s so fun to be able share them. Here’s to finding the time to do the things that give us joy and finding the joy in the rest of the time that we have – no matter how much poop is involved. xo