The farm is no place for the weak of heart but being weak of mind helps sometimes. No truly rational being (if there is such a thing) would submit willingly to kneeling in manure in the midnight cold with one arm up to the elbow in blood and mucous, trying to pull a lamb from a womb. All those poets who like to sing about the joyous wonders of birthing ought to try barnyard midwifery awhile. How many times I have looked up in the dark and wondered why there couldn’t be a better way. If nature or science or intelligent design is so smart, why can’t we just order calves and lambs from Sears?

But then there are times when everything works out. You get that bent leg out straight where it’s supposed to be, or have the strength to reach in there and get the lamb’s bent head back between its front legs, and then heaving with all your strength on the legs, zzzzuuuupp, out comes lamb, slick as can be, and it is alive. Then you kind of lean back in your kneeling position and think, well, maybe the poets got in right after all.

We are in the midst of another barnyard ordeal. We fatten twenty broilers every year of that new genetic wonder type, the kind that eat so fast and so much that they are ready to butcher in six weeks although by then they can barely walk. Probably a mistake raising these monstrosities, and this ordeal sort of proves it, but that six weeks fattening period works extremely well into my schedule and the meat is wonderful. Of course, when Carol makes southern fried her Mom’s Kentucky way, even old buzzard would taste pretty good.

We are in a record-breaking heat wave as I write this, and as we are learning, these broilers have very little stamina in adversity. The first one to keel over from 98 degree heat we carried out into the airy woodland shade, dunked its head in water, sprinkled water all over it in fact, did what we could to lower its temperature. (I took a thermometer into the woods and verified that the temperature there averages five degrees cooler than out in the open and if our coop were not snuggled partially under trees, we would be in a lot deeper trouble.) Seeing that it was going to die, we butchered the poor thing. Then we connived various ways to get more air into the coop. You might think that would be fairly simple, but we have no electricity to the barn (on purpose) and heat is not our only public enemy right now. Foxes have been carrying off hens regularly so I dare not open the coop doors and let everything run outdoors all the time like usual. Carol found an old screen door for the broiler side of the coop and on the other side I let the hens out in the afternoon despite fox danger. This resulted in a freer flow of air through the coop but it meant that I had to stand guard or make regular trips to the coop on fox patrol.

One more hen died, and so we started butchering the rest, a week earlier than we had planned. Better a chicken weighing a little less than optimum than no chicken at all. Butchering broilers in a heat wave is almost as nasty as pulling calves on a winter night. Only by concentrating mightily on the taste of Carol’s southern fried could I keep going.

So I am telling this to a friend and he breaks out laughing. I am a little bit indignant. I don’t see anything funny about the situation at all. He explains: “Yesterday you risked heart attack and stroke to keep those chickens alive. Today you killed them.”

I don’t want to think about it. Better to suffer barnyard ironies with a weak mind. Probably, by now, with a weak heart too. ~~