Creating your own homestead is a great way to free yourself of other people’s rules, but in one of life’s ironies, often you end up establishing your own set. The good news is they are yours. The bad news is you have to enforce them, sooner or later. Here’s my list of non-negotiable rules. You might have similar ones.
Behave or be eaten
My kids are all old enough to know this rule can’t really be applied to them, but understand the sentiment. I doubt they believed it when they were young, either. A seven-year-old girl walking around the chicken coop, pointing out pullets, and saying, “This one’s a jerk. She dies first,” tells me the lesson has been assimilated.
It’s my policy to maintain an understudy rooster in the all too likely event that Number One decides he wants to expand his dominion over more than the other chickens. The current Cock of the Walk at The Five Cent Farm is named “Turkey,” an unfortunate moniker he earned as a gangly cockerel, which was especially confusing once we added actual Meleagris gallopavo to the menagerie.
Turkey earned his promotion when I pulled into the driveway one afternoon to find Mrs. Cunha chasing Billy, the then-top-rooster, around the chicken run with a table leg, shouting, “I’m gonna kill that sonofabitch!” As it turns out, he had attacked both our daughters and Mrs. Cunha, leaving scratches from his spurs down the length of both forearms. That earned him a trip to Freezer Camp and created a job vacancy in the chicken coop.
Go be wildlife somewhere else
If you read my terrorist threat to the fox who ate my ducks, my position on wildlife predators should already be clear; there is no free lunch on the Cunha homestead. That meal will cost you dearly, if I have anything to say about it.
Any venom I harbor for particular sorts of animals stems from experience and proximity. Any wildlife that makes the life-extending decision to not damage my property are regarded with indifference. With the exception of spotting a deer during fall, while having room in the freezer, I take a live-and-live approach.
I don’t have time to go traipsing all over the farm to eradicate every critter that might possibly take what is mine. Maintain a quick trot along the fence line and keep your eyes forward. You’ll be fine. We even overlook the occasional egg lost to Black King Snakes, since they eat rattlesnakes; #BlackSnakesMatter.
If you’re not producing, you’re waiting your turn on the menu
Several of the animals on my farm labor under the delusion they are somehow special; the sheep and pigs, in particular. Neither the sheep nor the pigs have ever looked around and thought, “Hey, what happened to Joe? I haven’t seen him for a few days.”
The dirty secret is they are breeding stock. We will be eating their babies, soon enough. And if my boar Hamilton doesn’t start siring me some piglets in pretty quick order, we’re going to have ourselves a little luau and find the gilts a new boyfriend, who doesn’t have the sex drive of a panda.
I suppose this rule confounds and terrifies the chickens, since we eat what they produce and sometimes eat one of them for dinner. Along with the occasional coup d’état necessitated to enforce Rule #1, it must strike the chickens as tyranny at its most schizophrenic, but such is life when your social structure is that of an all-girls middle school.
This isn’t a safe space (it’s not a safe place, either)
Homesteading isn’t just dangerous in terms of the ultimate fate of most of the animal residents. Safety sleeves on PTO drives and roll-bars make tractors safer, but you can still be hurt with sufficient disregard for common sense. On the plus side, these safety devices will only leave you maimed, so you can live to farm thoughtlessly another day.
Mud and ice leave you on your ass wondering if you shouldn’t find a job in town. Waiting for your wife to hook up the next bale of hay, thoughts of whether it’s preferable to fall out of the barn loft or get a finger caught in the pulley flit through your mind. Animals don’t care about your feelings, your cold, or the weather. I suspect they conspire to launch coordinated attacks of mischief at the absolute worst times in order to make me look as foolish and inept as possible.
Make no mistake. Farms are harsh, unforgiving environments. It hardens a person. I realized “the birds and the bees” talk was unnecessary when my daughters began bringing me daily heat reports from the barn and cheering at successful mountings. They are well versed in anatomy, and I pity the nervous young men who come courting when my girls are older.
Well, not really. I find horrified millennials hilarious.
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