A bit of a poignant topic in today’s podcast is “Does parental grief ever end?” I have that and lots more to talk about today.
Welcome each and every one of you, new and vets. Thank you so much for tuning in for each episode. I appreciate you all so much. The homestead brings joy to daily life and I want to share some of it with you.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Every day brings some new incident for me to add to my memories of homestead life. Today, it’s the donkeys and sheep that provide the entertainment.
The sheep have always been standoffish. They will continue to graze unconcernedly until you get about 15 feet – maybe 20 – away and then they will gradually start moving away. If you walk directly toward them at that point, they will begin moving away more quickly – as in running very fast in the other direction. So this morning I went out to check on everybody and there was one ewe that was laying down and not moving away with the rest of the flock. In fact, she was laying there as if she was dead. I am looking for another set of twins soon and the coloring of this ewe said it might be her. I walked right up to her until I was about three feet away. Suddenly she raised her head, saw me, jumped to her feet and proceeded to move quickly away. On the way, she stopped to nuzzle her lambs. She was the mom of the twins we already have. It was quite funny to see her jump up so quickly. And funnier still, that I was even able to get that close to her without a bucket of treats in my hand.
The donkeys provided a different kind of entertainment.
We have four donkeys. Two are in the front field with the boys – that’s the steers, sheep rams, and goat bucks. That would be Johnny and Sweet Pea. Then there are two in the middle field with the sheep mamas, Daisy and Cocoa. These are our livestock guardian animals. Daisy and Cocoa have the greater job at this time of year. When lambs are born, there is an increase in the likelihood of predators coming to gobble them up. The donkeys make lots of noise and we have rarely had any issues over the years. Many times you can hear the coyotes in the distance, but they never really come close anymore. There was a time when we could hear them very close. But not so much anymore.
Our donkeys do a wonderful job in protecting the sheep and lambs. The first story I have today involves their care for the lambs. Each morning and each afternoon I make the trek out to field number 5 to check on the sheep and their lambs and to give Wendall his bottle. Wendall is our bottle-fed calf. He hangs out with Luna, our newest heifer. Yesterday, on the evening trip, I was in the vicinity of where the sheep were hanging out. And per my usual method, I was counting ewes and lambs, making sure everyone was accounted for and no one was missing in action. The ewes were out grazing on grass as they love to do, but the lambs were no where to be seen. Lo and behold, as I got nearer to the creek bottom, I saw the donkeys hanging out under the trees. The next thing I knew there were lambs coming out from behind them, venturing out for their evening frolic in the grass. Daisy and Cocoa had been babysitting while moms were out in the field grazing.
I counted them and came up one short. I immediately struck out for the creek intending to check on the other side. When they are this small, I keep a very close eye on them. Sometimes they get separated from mom and need me to rescue them and reunite them with the flock. This time however, my worry was unneeded. Out from behind Cocoa came the last lamb. She stopped to touch noses with Cocoa before joining her friends for a little run and jump action. All were safe and present. Check. On with feeding the calf.
I want to tell one more story about the donkeys before I move on to the quail babies. When I go out for evening chores, I bring along music. In my ears are stuffed earbuds as I listen to some of my favorite music, singing along of course. With earbuds on, I’m sure I’m singing flat most of the time. After all, I can’t hear myself. In my mind it sounds great but who knows. There is no one to give me feedback. Except I did get some feedback.
A few days ago, I was out there singing softly a sweet song and the donkeys came walking up to me. Usually I have to go to them. And sometimes they are contrary and run away. But not this time. They came walking up to me as I softly sang a song. At least I think I was singing softly. I do recall that it was a sweet song, not sure the title or subject. So they come walking up to me and begging for attention. I start petting Daisy and Cocoa comes up and puts her head on Daisy’s rump so I can pet her too. Eventually Daisy turned around and they entwined their heads while I was gently stroking them both and singing softly into their ears. I’ve done it a couple of times since then. I’m not sure what the signal is in my singing. They don’t always come up to me. I think it is related to the song. You know, whether they like it or not. When I am singing loudly, they definitely keep their distance. I do know that much. But all in all it is a very sweet time for us. I have on my list of things to do to add a curry comb to the bucket of supplies I carry around for taking care of the new lambs. I’m sure both Daisy and Cocoa will love a good combing.
The baby quail are all outside now and looking great in their new hotel suites. There are two areas and they are nearly evenly split between the cages. Each side has a main area where there is food and water. And then they have the spa area where they can take a nice dust bath in the sand. The sand box is part of the enclosed area on each end of the coop. These birds are living the life.
One thing that I am still learning is how to keep them from jumping out when I open the cage door. I try to chase them to the back of the cage, but inevitably on most days, one or more will escape when I open the door to replenish their food and water. Then I’m out there chasing down these quail chicks. So far, I have been able to recapture them and return them to their cage.
One day, the cage door was left open on one of the breeder cages just below where this grow out cage is located. There are six birds in each of the breeder cages. They also have a dust bath spa in each cage. Anyway, the door was open and all six birds were out and about for a few hours. Scott caught most of them and got them replaced securely in their hotel rooms. However, one was missing. Later in the day, I went out to the milking shed to get ready to bring up the cows and there she was, the missing hen I mean. She was in the milking shed. I was able to catch her up and get her secured as well. All’s well that ends well. The hens were all hesitant to lay eggs for a few days after that little bit of drama, but they are all back up to full production now.
The cows are all doing really well. Scott is working on getting setup for our first experience with artificial insemination. Soon it will be time to start the breeding process. This year, we are using AI or artificial insemination. This gives us much greater control of the genetics and gender of our calves. We picked two bulls that have the characteristics we are looking to develop in our herd. Number one is A2A2 genetics for our herd share milk. As we expand, we need more cows that provide this type of milk. Eventually, all of our cows will have the A2A2 genetic component. (What is A2A2 Milk?) The other genotype we are seeking to develop is BB kappa casein. That is a milk protein specifically beneficial in making cheese. The Normande breed is great with this trait, but again, we want to get everyone on the same page. It will take a few years, but we will get there.
Gender is also an important factor to consider. When we have male calves, or bulls, they end up as steers and grow up to be beef cows. That takes about two years. While the extra income from selling the beef is nice, it is yet another marketing task that I need to find time for in my already busy schedule. It is far better to have female calves, or heifers. We can grow them out for beef if we desire, but they are also very valuable as replacement stock for ourselves and breeding stock for others looking to add the Normande cow to their herd. We get lots of calls for heifers. No marketing required. People find us. In the past, we have not had any to offer. And indeed, over the next few years, likely we still will not have any until we get our herd into the shape we desire. But eventually, we will have heifers for sale.
Apparently, the goats are now contained within the current paddock. It has been quite a few days and they are still where we put them. Scott worked long and hard to patch up the holes in the fence where they were sneaking through from paddocks 10 and 14 into paddock 11. Thank goodness. We shall see how long that lasts.
Does Parental Grief Ever End?
The last experience I want to share today has to do with the question, “does parental grief ever end?” This morning I was out gathering the cows. I had my earbuds in and was listening to my usual mix of music. The weather was a bit wet and it was definitely cool. I love these morning and afternoon walks out on our land. The birds are singing. Often there is a soft breeze. It was pretty breezy this morning. The geese are all over the place squawking and making their usual racket. Life is great here on the homestead. Peace abounds in every corner of my world. Love wells up within me as a take in these many wonders of God’s creation. Contentment oozes out of my pores during these times.
And thoughts gently flow through my mind. Not overpowering. Not overwhelming as before when I worked in the stressful corporate IT world. A bit of worry here and there, but nothing like the stresses you all endure and that I have endured in the past. It’s quite the contrast. Before not so much physical labor but lots of mental stress. Now lots of physical labor and much less mental stress. I like the tradeoff.
Often, I think of my life and how I got to where I am today. That inevitably brings up thoughts of my parents. Like many of you, there were ups and downs in my childhood. As a teenager I had real issues with my parents. Resentment filled me and I blamed them for my unhappiness. Then, I grew farther and farther apart from them as I built my adult life. “Cat’s in the Cradle” syndrome and “we’ll get together then”, though I talked with my mother often, especially in the later years when she was in her sixties and seventies and I was in my forties and fifties. My dad remained the same rock throughout my life. He never changed that much in my eyes. I’m sure he actually did change. We all do. The resentment faded and respect replaced it. Just as my life was filled with challenges and mistakes, so were theirs. We all do our best. Likely many of you, like me, judge our choices as not good enough and still struggle to be better – but we always do the best we can with what we have in the moment. And we inevitably make mistakes.
My parents have both been gone now for a while. It seems like there are still here and it feels like they have been gone forever and a day. My mother died over five years ago. And my father nearly 4 and a half years ago. I was with him at the end. Or I should say, he was with me. The last three months of his life he spent with me as I gently caught him as he fell; grieving still for my mother and his body giving out after six years expending every bit of energy he had to care for her as she lived out her final days.
When I think of them, the deep grieving loss wells up in me. Any of you who have lost a loved one know what I am talking about. The deep sense of love and grief at the loss of love that seems to spontaneously surge through my heart. Tears instantly fill my eyes as I think of them. I can feel it even now as I speak. And I wonder does it ever end? Will I grieve the loss for the rest of my life? I don’t mind. I am grateful for the ability to feel love for them even in their absence.
I’ll bet some of you have similar stories. I’ll bet some of you experienced your loss more than five years ago and still feel it today. What do you think? Does parental grief ever end? I do not think so. At least I hope it never does. I want their memory to live on in me forever. What about you?
I hope you enjoyed the homestead stories and come back again and again to hear more. It has taken me a while to find my stride and to land on what I have to offer. It took a while to realize that all I have is me and my experiences. Every day I strive to experience greater love and peace. I strive for God’s grace and forgiveness.
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