here we are

with a side of ducks and gratitude

Before launching in, I want to acknowledge each and everyone of you that took the time to send me a note of condolence. I cannot express what it meant for me to hear from some of you that remembered stories I shared about our daughter. From the funny notes she left us on packages of dog bones to stories of her mightiness on the ice rink or her sweet gentleness with animals. There is only one thing as wretchedly terrifying to a parent as losing a child and that comes after - it’s the agonising heartache worry that she will be forgotten. Thank you for remembering her in your ways. Thank you for telling me that she will be thought of with affection. Thank you for knowing her as the girl that, when she wanted the berries and cream, headed out into the wilds to pick the berries, and brought her cow in from the fields, to milk her for cream. Thank you, beautiful strangers, for seeing parts of her wonder. What a beautiful gift you have given us. I am going to reread all of your comments, and hopefully respond to all of them, over time, but for now I wanted to thank you. Every last word is a balm. With love, Tara.

Autumn has rolled in as autumn mostly does - sneaky at first, then with conviction. Regardless of the mild days, there is no mistaking the crisp air and that blue of the blue sky reserved for this time of year. The geese honk “au revoir” overhead (as any good, bilingual Canada goose would) and I call out “Godspeed beautiful ones, until we meet again” knowing full well that I, or they, may not be able to hold up their end of the bargain.

Things have changed around here as change they must. ‘Here' is where we all find ourselves, in this unsettling time, necessitating excavations into the depths. Personally, we are being more introspective, considering our ways of being, consuming, living, and connecting with an evermore critical eye. When we first started looking for our farm, about 15 years ago now, it was because we had a sense of needing to create independence from our eroding systems. We had been reading a thing or two then. At that time, phrases like “peak oil” were being bandied about. There were all sorts of theories on the impending collapse of civilisation then. I think we’ve settled on a handful of possibilities now.

My husband and I have always found that keeping an eye on what’s going on important to our direction in life. We have children and these are some crazy times.  That said, we’re all really just guessing on how things will go down. There’s some pretty fancy, educated guessing to draw on, but that doesn’t really change what we are doing, personally, or how we are preparing. Whatever shit hits whatever speed of whatever fan, it’s  gonna’ be a mess.

So, yes, we keep an eye on the outside, knowing full well that the systems we have been trained to rely on are gasping fish, flailing and flopping on hot concrete. People in my circle have been talking about this for decades. Whether it’s the industrial food system, the industrial sick care system, the industrial school system - there is crumbling within. Anyone paying attention could see that things they were a changin’. Others, though, were either too busy to notice, too stressed to pay attention, or just having too much fun to consider it true. Either way, here we are.

They trade the very essence of life for an illusion of safety and the impossible promise of the return to a time that is gone. Forever.

I think where we were before this time has a lot to do with what we are willing to do or accept now that we’re in it. There’s an awful lot of people that believe, truly and faithfully believe, that as long as they do what they’re told, they will be rewarded by a return to their past lives. But the past is, by definition, gone. There is no returning to anything. There is only the acceptance or the denial of that truth.

Of course, the powers-that-be are fully cognisant of the peoples desire to go back to the place where the curtain stays closed and all is presented in a familiar way. Oh, what people will accept and comply with to continue the charade! So easily manipulated are they by impossible promises and reassurances. Obey and ye shall be taken care of! Never autonomy. Never self responsibility. Never the deep connection to self and all of Mother Earth, to our divine Creator. Never knowing and seeing all of it - beautiful and ugly, hard and peaceful, life and death. They trade the very essence of life for an illusion of safety and the impossible promise of the return to a time that is gone. Forever.

And gone it is, for all of us. As sure as yesterday cannot return today, it is gone. Best to let that seep in. Grieve, if you must. Let it hurt, as truth often does. The alternative, to keep your eyes looking back, reaching and striving for something behind you only dilutes your power right now which is all you really have. So, it’s choice: a comfortable illusion or occupying your authentic life.

Most choose to keep the facade. We are a strange species, stunted by our voracious need to fill our salivating maws with pretend-life. Everything a dress rehearsal. Ease, comfort, climate control, grocery store shelves spilling over with cheap empty food. Plastic upon plastic. All of it there as stage props to keep you seated. Dulled humans at the feeding trough.

That’s where we are. Well, that’s how I see where we are. But there is no doom and gloom in my world. Ok, maybe sometimes, for a bit. I let myself have a good cry, many good cries, and then I dust myself off, find a good tree to wrap myself around for a bit, and reconnect to the truth of all creation. Man’s systems of commerce and consumption may be crumbling, but there is truth and belonging in the natural world, with our God, however it may be that you come to call and know our Creator.

The real world, the world of damp earth and winds that skim across your naked skin, is a world that offers us communion with wonder in exchange for the shedding of our contrivances. Tiptoe in with humility and awe for even being considered worthy to witness and participate. Or march in with determination and gusto. Either way. Open your vulnerable heart and be rewarded with truth. Truth without compromise to your sensibilities. Nothing diluted for the sake of convention. Nothing managed or buffered to adjust to your comfort level. And that’s how you will know it’s true at all.

So, back to the farm and where this evolving story of our time continues to shape our approach to what we’re doing. To start with, we are reviewing the different things we have going on around here and cutting out what doesn’t work with surgical precision. There is no time for fluff and no money for bloat. But how we do that may be different than the approach others take. I’ll give you an example. Let’s look at ducks. Oh, I love me my ducks. They are so darn gorgeous! We started with a mix of heritage ducks that have since done their own thing mating and mixing. Now we have a beautiful, productive assortment of egg laying ducks that have robust health and delicious, nutrient dense, high fat carcasses when it’s time for them to meet their maker. 

The goal has always been to have animals, whatever the type, that can produce on their own. We do not want to be reliant on hatcheries or other farms. Still, sometimes we are.  Sometimes, something comes up and we have to bring someone, or someones, in. Such is the name of the game with living creatures. Animals die. Animals aren’t what you were hoping for. Other animals think your animals are tasty.

So, here we are with the ducks, too many ducks at present. At $36/bushel for organic feed for said ducks, going through a bag every four days is not sustainable. So then what? Switch to conventional feed? No, not an option. Switch to “non-GMO” feed? Still not an option, as it’s still loaded with glyphosate and a myriad of other concerns. Grow our own feed? Not possible on our land. So what are our options?

Well, we have a few. The first, of course is what happens every fall, we harvest a bunch of ducks so as we head into winter, we are not solely feeding grain as their grass and insects disappear. Next, we add hay to their feed - the dry grass version of their summer feed component. And hay is much less expensive than grain. Next, we add other additions to the feed including whey, clabbered milk, and ground meat scraps.

With our chickens, we are able to feed organic grain mixed with ground up meat scrap from when we butcher our cattle/rabbits/pigs in the fall. We never feed the same species of animal to that animal and never supplement meat to a herbivore (that should be obvious). That meat/fat trim is put through the grinder and added as a nutrient dense, high protein and fat component of the feed for those maniacal fowl. We also cut out (and up) all of the tripe, including the semi-digested grasses, in the cows digestive system, and freeze that for winter feeding to the aforementioned pigs and birds. Yes, it’s probably one of the most stinky and messy jobs I do around here and I can smell the tripe burned into my nasal cavity for days after, but it’s such a source of nutrient gold in the winter and my husband finds it in his heart to continue to love me even though I smell like a cow’s innards so it’s all good.

In addition to the supplemental guts is the buttermilk from summer butter making. And with that goes the skimmed milk from when I make that butter. That can all be frozen and used to soak the organic grains before feeding. I have found that this regimen keeps the birds looking nice, even in the darkest and coldest of winters. Their combs and wattles are blood red and perky. Their legs are darkly coloured in whatever colour they happen to be. And their feathers are shiny and voluminous. It also keeps them laying pretty well considering the shortness of the days (note: we never put in lights or heat with our birds - they rest their bodies when nature tells them to).

But all of those extra bits work really well with our turkeys and chickens, not as much with the geese and the ducks. They’re a little more grain dependant. So why not forego the ducks altogether? Well, first it’s the nutrition content of those eggs. Lordy, what a bevy of bountiful nutrients that chicken eggs just pale in comparison to. Also, that aforementioned fat and flavour. You just can’t get that mineral and vitamin content out of any other bird. Ducks and geese are slower growing which means strong, dense, mineralised bones and concentrated nutrition for your broth, deep flavour for your roasting pan, loads of that high nutrient fat, loaded with the precious vitamin K2, to be rendered for your cooking delights. And in the spring/summer/fall, the ducks are wonderful foragers and eat very little. But we live in long winters, so that doesn’t solve the issue.

I must also add that those lovely pond swimmers (and yes, I am adamant that waterfowl need water) are such a joy to hang out with. Sometimes, I just sit by the pond and delight in them, laughing at their ridiculous antics, rolling my eyes at the drama queens we call “geese”. There is no measuring of that using dollar bills.

So, there’s all the stuff we employ in the winter feeding of birds around here. If only the ducks and geese were as voracious with the ‘extras’ as chickens and turkeys are. No, they’re a little pickier, a little different. When the bugs are hibernating, the farmer must get more resourceful. So there’s that hay I mentioned. What that ground up gut stuff is to the land birds, the dried grasses are to the waterfowl. That works, as does hiding stuff like you do with a toddler sometimes. If I put buttermilk out there, forget it. If I soak some organic grain in the buttermilk, we got action.

But even with all that, it is not a duck petting zoo we have here and the numbers simply mean that we must cull all of our animals aggressively to achieve our goals of: producing all of our own food, maintaining robustly healthy, disease-free animals that reproduce offspring that they care for on their own, raising animals that we enjoy working with and that contribute to our farm as a whole, dynamic system, and doing it all without relying on outside dollars to make it all happen.

When looking at how one thing begets another on a small farm/homestead, we must look at the whole. It may make sense to keep one animal for feed, but everything has a trade-off. For us, given this time when my husband will likely be losing his job, we are transitioning to another phase in our lives, again. We must now be smarter and more ruthless with inputs. Of course, even with reducing the costs of producing all of our own food, there are still costs. We still have to pay property tax and insurance and for vehicles and for gas to move those vehicles and all of the other things we cannot make on our own or can’t make on our own right now. Everything is an ever-changing evolution and a sharpening of our skills and decision making. Now, more than ever.

Of course, I’m just using the ducks as an example. This is happening all over the farm, all over our lives. Do we need two vehicles? No, selling one. Do we need another freezer when we have five? No, we are pressure canning an entire steer to add to the two beef we need heading into winter. Do we need extra fencing? Yes, but that type of fencing can be different and the posts harvested by us this winter. Those types of things.

We either live with our time traded for the currency of production for others or our time is invested in the currency of production for ourselves. This time on planet earth is forcing us to further ourselves down the path of full responsibility for our food and our health, all curtains lifted. We can put our energy into resistance or we can use it as momentum to move forward, courageously and honestly, into the great unknown, knowing that it was always unknown all along. There are no guarantees and safety is not our God. Safety is a malicious muthafukah that peddles lies at the cost of your fully realised, vibrant life.

And that’s where we are. It’s no different from where we were before. It’s the same world, only now it’s more saturated, more painful and raw without illusion. Now, because of the firestorm of lies, we can better see truth. And like a lost soul, wandering aimlessly under the scorching desert sun, the nearby mirage is tempting, and that icy cold cup of water within our reach is really just a cup of rocket fuel. The real tall, cold glass is a bit further ahead, it takes more effort, but if you squint your eyes, you can see it and what you see is that it’s not just a glass, but a deep, abundant well with a hand pump. It’s further afield and it demands our steadfast efforts, but it is the only thing that truly quenches.

Instead of holding onto what never really was, we can train our sites on the smallest of moments right here, right now. Gratitude seems trite in a cynical world, but cynicism, too, is a falsity. Gratitude, for our time, for our breath, for the glowing yellow sun that crowns our heads with her warmth. Gratitude for the real world that lives as antidote to despondency. Gratitude for our authentic lives that hold our place with patience and perseverance, even though most will never arrive. But gratitude is fleeting and easily battered. Protect it. Feed it. Nurture it. 

There you have it: ducks, death, despondency, and deliverance. Endless love in a simple quack. Are you there for it?

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