For a time this year, as the pandemic stretched into late summer and on, I didn’t write. When asked about it, I paused, and admitted: I had nothing I could put into written words.
The goal of my columns is to provide commentary. On things I see going on in the world, in agriculture and at large, and on things going on close to home. At one point though, as news ticked by faster than journalists could record it and as I grappled with changes and fluctuations on the farm, I just stood there, letting it swirl around me. It’s the most I could do. Then, one day, I started writing again. It’s not that something massive changed. My mind hadn’t stopped. It was still whirling and is, even now. It’s that I felt like I could take a breath long enough to put something down into written form.
I don’t mind admitting this. I suspect for many of us, acknowledged or otherwise, there were some things in our lives spinning faster than we could keep up.
“We’re trying to think of something nice to say about 2020,” Dave Barry, longtime satirist, wrote in his take on the year in review for The Washington Post. “Okay, here goes: Nobody got killed by the murder hornets. As far as we know.” This year has been an amalgam of insanity, opportunity, chaos and calm. I had to chuckle when I read Barry’s words. Gallows humor has certainly been in fine form this year.
What’s gone on at the farm is a microcosm of that. I spent most of the year working from the second floor of my farmhouse, the ebb and flow of farm life continuing, even as we worked to put out the paper in a strange new world. (Despite being thrown an incredible curve ball, both personally and professionally, I am proud of how my newsroom team and everyone at Farm and Dairy adapted and continued to push forward with providing timely and important information.)
As the March lockdown began, I said goodbye to Houdini, our veteran livestock guardian dog. As spring turned to fall, I welcomed a new livestock guardian to the farm, Archer. As the pandemic loomed throughout the summer, and into the fall, I trekked the farm with Archer and the other dogs, taught him manners and raised him up to know what was important on the farm. As summer turned into fall, he grew into a loyal, responsible guardian. He’s still maturing, but has become a worthy follow-up to Houdini.
When the pandemic first hit, we made some decisions — offloaded market lambs early to keep feed costs down and planned for more summer rotational grazing for some groups of growing lambs.
We saw an increase in direct sales. The lockdown barely registered as we lambed out about 200 ewes in the spring. Between direct sales, breeding stock sales and shipments for a couple of ethnic holidays that were still celebrated this year, we did all right. In the past couple of months, we had opportunities to expand our farm recognition through lamb sales and promotions. In the midst of the maelstrom, we took a breath and jumped in.
In one particularly amusing turn of events, we stocked our lamb cuts in a store. We hadn’t even gotten home yet, when we got a bemused phone call from the manager: someone had walked in right after we’d left and bought most of our product. We howled with laughter and returned the next day to restock.
But at the same time, farm life, which so often can turn on a dime, continued. Another one of my guardian dogs, Jael, developed a mysterious, lingering respiratory illness and never recovered. Just weeks after she helped take down a coyote that had been stalking the flock, we had to say goodbye.
The two dogs that remain — Maya, along with Archer — have been working hard and valiantly. I’ve snowshoed along the perimeter fence lines after fresh snowfalls, and I’ve seen the tracks. The coyotes continue to keep the pressure on. I’m working on adding guardian dog reinforcements in the coming months, but for now, I back them up as best I can.
And as another year begins, we’ll be welcoming another addition: a new border collie, named Puck. He is a half brother to Pili, our current border collie, has impeccable lines and “old school, good bones,” like a good Scottish hill dog. Despite my fatigue at the upheaval of recent months, I’m looking forward to meeting this new member of our farm team.
That’s 2020 in a nutshell. Wonderful highs and unspeakable lows and often not even a breath in between. Here’s to the fortitude to press onward.
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