The past week has been my spring break from graduate school. A break would imply some sort of vacation -- a break, right? The past week has hardly been a break. I've been very busy on the farm, but I am learning where my loyalties lie, and it's not in grad school.
I have been attending the adult discussion group at church for the past three weeks. We have been discussing the book, Awareness, by DeMello. The title is self explanatory. Yes, one can really write an entire book about awareness. Today we discussed a passage that claimed everything is motivated by either fear or love. When one hears something so definitive and limiting, it's tempting to instantly say, "No way!" However, I started running down all the decisions I've made, and ultimately they do boil down to fear or love. I started going through decisions made by other people, such as farmers who use implants in their cattle to make them grow faster and farmers who use genetically modified seeds. While some are probably motivated by greed (love of money), others are undoubtedly motivated by fear -- "I may not make enough money to provide for my family if I don't use these products."
It was my love of animals that led me to buy eggs fresh from a local farm when we lived in the suburbs, and it was that same love that led me to want my own flock of chickens. I came to a point in my life six years ago when I could no longer purchase eggs that came from chickens that had, in my mind, been tortured by having their beaks cut off, being stuffed into tiny cages, and being forced to lay eggs at an unnatural rate. I love looking out the window watching my chickens strut across the yard pecking at the grass, eating bugs and going wherever the mood takes them.
It was love and fear that motivated me to want to raise heritage breeds of livestock. I have always loved animals, but when, in 1998, I learned that many breeds of livestock were in danger of extinction because the factory farms only raise one breed (their modern mutants that have the best feed-to-meat conversion ratio), fear led me to want to move to the country, so I could help preserve these beautiful animals for future generations. It's an odd conundrum that the way to save a breed of livestock is to eat it, but that's the way it works. No one is going to raise hundreds of slate turkeys just because they're beautiful. They raise them because people want to buy them for Thanksgiving dinner.
I'm sure it sounds even stranger to some people that I would be willing to kill an animal that I love, but if you've ever raised turkeys or chickens, you know that a male is not happy unless he has about 20 females in his harem. Who cares if he's not happy? Well, when there are too many males, nature takes its course, which is survival of the fittest. The biggest and strongest and most aggressive (most testosterone=most likely to succeed in perpetuating the species) eliminates the competition. In other words, they kill each other. I will never forget sitting at my computer several years ago when suddenly a tom turkey covered with blood slammed into the window. I screamed. It was like a scene from Hitchcock's The Birds. I had to put him in a horse stall all by himself for the last couple weeks of his life before Thanksgiving, because the other turkeys would have killed him if I'd left him out there. At that time, we didn't have the nerve to actually butcher a bird ourselves, but that's what we'd do today because quality of life for my birds is important to me, and there is no quality when one's choices are to live in confinement or be pecked to death.
It was ultimately the chickens who taught us that the ways of nature are not kind. Initially we let chickens set and hatch eggs, which meant we'd have 50/50 males and females. Within a couple of years, we had so many roosters that all the hens had bald backs from being mated constantly, and then the roosters started killing each other. Finally we realized that we were going to wind up with only a few roosters -- either on their schedule or ours. We decided to set the schedule, and we took more than 20 roosters to the processor in Arthur. I knew I had made the right decision when all the feathers started to grow again on the hens' backs.
There is so much I love about being out here. I love what I see and hear (nature), as well as what I don't see and hear (cars and sirens). I love walking in the woods. I love working in the garden. I love watching baby goats play. I love planning the garden. I love tasting new foods, such as different heirloom tomatoes and turnips. I love seeing my turkey gobbler strut around the yard showing off his gorgeous feathers. I love it when the chickens come up to us, looking for a hand-out of fresh earth worms or grubs, when we're working in the garden. The only fear that motivates me out here is fear of death, but I try to keep it from controlling me. I use dewormers for the goats because I know that parasites can kill them. It was a fear that I acquired after a couple of goats died from parasites. It's that same fear that causes some people to deworm their goats every month. I try to stay sane about it and only use the dewormers when there is a genuine need.
Being away from school this week, I realized there is not much I love about it. I don't miss it when I'm home. I wish I didn't have to go back this week, but since I have an assistantship, I have to finish teaching my two classes this semester. I am excited about the 11 goats that are due within the next month, and I hope I don't miss many births. I am excited about all the seeds I've started (216 more) this week for the garden. Only eight weeks to go, and then I'll be home every day.