The Doldrums of Summer

July 25, 2016

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Image Removed

Your dear farmer looking for the end of his tether

There is a moment that comes every year, usually about this time, when the heat and humidity kills all ambition on the farm. We stage a coward’s retreat to the inside, where the air conditioning wages war with the mighty forces beyond the walls.

The humid furnace outside is best experienced with quick forays and small bursts of committed energy. Our own response to the heat is mirrored by that of the pets and livestock. The cattle emerge from the woods just long enough to traverse the pasture for a much-needed drink in the pond. There, the catfish have given up emerging from the cool bottom muck until the seasons change.

Upon hearing the door to the house open, Becky, our farmdog, leaves the cool concrete in the workshop to stare out the door and assess. Do they need me? She clearly would rather stay put. But should I be an Englishman who ventures out into the midday sun, she will gladly be my mad dog and join in the folly.

The hogs, even the ones in the woods, spend their days lying on the cooler dirt under trees or in the wallows. Mud coated, they seldom arise even when we come bearing buckets of feed. A snort of acknowledgment, a shrug of massive shoulders, and they burrow deeper into the mud with a reasonable confidence that the feed will still be there when the sun goes down.

Confined at night, the sheep have little choice but to graze during daylight hours. But gone are their enthusiastic bursts from the barn in the mornings. Instead, they cluster in cliques at the door as I open gates to fresh grass. “After you, no, after you” they bleat before grudgingly crossing the corral to the pasture. Once there they feed in brief gorgings before falling back in a controlled withdrawal to the shaded sanctuary of the barn. Their pantings, like so many muffled drums: humph, humph, humph, humph, are steady and insistent and do not subside until long into the evening.

Heat-sapped hens, with parted beaks, panting, stand in the shade of the maple. They mirror most closely how we feel, their wings held out from their sides, much like we would flap a sweaty garment to stay cool. The rooster, his heart not really in his job, makes a few obligatory attempts at coupling. No doubt firing more blanks than bullets in the heat, he finds few partners willing to submit to his brief embrace.

Meanwhile, in a clever adaptation to this misery, the red fox in the nearby woods has taken the opportunity to pluck an unsuspecting young chicken from the pasture in broad daylight. Armed with the instinctual knowledge that all domestic life is locked in a listless stupor, the fox takes advantage of the situation and provides a nice meal for its kits. A minute later, my obligatory dash from the house with shotgun in hand ends with a random desultory blast into the undergrowth, the fox no doubt long gone.

Like the catfish retreating to the muck, I return to my cool study, where, with all ambition withered, I check the calendar, willing it to be any month later than July. I close the shades and lay my head on the desk, and resolve to hibernate until fall.

Brian Miller

Brian Miller lives in rural east Tennessee with his partner, Cindy. Since 1999 they have owned and operated Winged Elm Farm: a 70-acre working farm of pastures, orchards and mixed hardwoods. They direct market pork, lamb, mutton and beef to customers in Knoxville and Chattanooga. A native of Louisiana, Brian’s guiding influence in life is to know that everything begins with a roux. Brian blogs at The... Read more.

Tags: farm chores, small-scale farmiing