I must process chickens.
Chicken processing is the mind killer.
Chicken processing is the little chore that lasts all day.
I will face chicken processing.
I will stand here and do this all night if I have to.
And when it is gone I will close my eyes and go to sleep.
When the chicken is gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain. (Sorry Mr. Herbert)
The chickens will be gone and I will remain. My faith will remain. My marriage will remain. My children will remain. The dirty dishes in the sink will remain. I have to do something about the dishes.
We spent Saturday morning processing chickens. We spent Saturday afternoon processing chickens. We spent Saturday evening processing chickens. We spent Sunday afternoon processing chickens. We spent Sunday evening/night packaging up chickens. That took entirely too long. Along the way the goats got out of their fence and the cows escaped and ran up and down the road in spite of our pleadings…you know…the normal things that happen when you’re too busy to watch your livestock closely. Cows and goats have needs. They don’t have words. You have to watch them…especially when your heifer is in season. We were so busy working we forgot to watch.
That takes us to Monday. Monday. Glorious Monday. The laundry room is filled to the gills with some pretty gross laundry. No dishes were washed over the entire weekend. In fact, the whole house looks like we have four children under 12 running amok. Well, we do have four children under 12…and they did run amok. At least a little.
We do everything we can with our kids. I want my kids with me. They are an asset, not a liability. We don’t force them to do much (even to learn) but we encourage them to at least be outside while we are working. When I put up hay, they pick raspberries and mulberries nearby. When we walk 1/4 mile out to the chickens to feed, they walk 1/4 of a mile to feed (or they bicycle). When we process chicken, they are right there with us…even if around the corner in the sand box. If nothing else my kids know more about vertebrate anatomy than you do.
We were tired Monday. The kids were tired Monday. The house was a mess. Every muscle in my body was (still is) sore but the work has to be done anyway. “Honey, wake up. It’s time to make the chickens happy.”
It takes just minutes to make the laying hens happy. Dump some corn and oats out in trays, refill their feeder, check the water and open the door. Then we make the goats happy with a few flakes of hay and a bit of water. When the cows got out we corraled them in pens next to the horses at the other place (my grandpa called it the home place because he was born there. I was born there. Why don’t I call it the home place? (How many parenthetical phrases can you put in a paragraph? (You don’t have to answer that.))). Anyway, the cows had to come home. It took 45 minutes to walk the cows home along the road. It makes the cows happy if you let them grab a few bites to eat along the way. Then we made the compost pile happy by tossing in a few hundred pounds of chicken offal and loads and loads of sawdust, wood chips, mulch and straw.
In total, it normally takes about an hour to make the animals happy. How do I make my wife happy? How long does that take? 15 years and still working on that. It takes hours to hand wash seemingly every stinking dish in the house. I have to be at work at 8. Nothing to do but roll up the sleeves. Oh, and I better get some laundry started while the wife works on breakfast.
How do I make the children happy? At breakfast, while the kids are dirtying some more dishes, I pay the kids for the help they gave over the weekend. I pay them generously. I want them to know there is reward for hard work…and they all worked hard. Again, I didn’t force them to do it. They didn’t do it for the money. They don’t even know we live in a world of scarcity and working is the means to fight scarcity. They did it because they wanted to. Sound strange? Why do you think I do it? (Hint: I’m a grown-up. I don’t do many things I don’t want to do.)
Also at breakfast I gave them their choice of one item out of the prize box. The kids earn points (monopoly money) throughout the week for doing their assigned tasks. Tasks rotate. Training them to function as a part a working household is a big part of home-schooling…and is a skill public schools seem to overlook. It takes time to teach a 6-year old to fold towels. Many towels have to be secretly folded again but it lays a foundation of necessary life skill early on so we can do more focused learning later.
Everybody was tired. There was still work to do. Throughout the day we tried to encourage the kids to sit and read, to play, to nap or just to relax. Though we can’t be lazy this time of year we have to have downtime.
After work Monday we tried to relax with the kids some more. We played some video games and let the kids pick a movie. They wanted a Star Wars marathon. Sounds good to me. We grilled chicken leg quarters and wings, baked potatoes, made some green beans and added hot sauce…all washed down with lemonaide. The only complaint came from the youngest who didn’t want to eat her potatoes. I was so tired I fell asleep watching the imperial troops enter the base on Hoth. But I was sleeping while snuggling my little girl…and our dog. Important stuff.
After the kids went to bed we closed up the chicken coop, fed the goats again, gathered eggs, moved the cows one last time, closed up the greenhouse, fed the rabbits…another 30 minutes worth of work.
We were tired. We are tired. There is work that just has to be done. Dishes have to be washed. The fridge has to be cleaned out. Laundry has to be washed, hung on the line, folded and put away. Pets and livestock have to be cared for. We just have to do that stuff. But the work is not the goal. The work is not an end. I need to make time to be real with God. I need to invest in friendship with my wife. I have to make time to relax and play with the kids. Our work is not burdensome, it’s part of life. Our kids are not a problem they are a solution. They are not the target, they are the arrow. We have to teach them to enjoy work, but not to be workaholics. To respect and revere creation but not worship creation. To honor God, to make family come first and to make the chickens happy. That is the stewardship that counts. This requires balance. Yes, work has to be done but life has to be lived.
If my children run away from the land when they are grown, my operation is not sustainable. We seek to inspire, not require, them to continue our work. We have to demonstrate to them the value of work, the necessity of work and the importance of just relaxing with the family. I have to show them that I still love mommy even when we are tired and make mistakes. I have to show them that people have value outside of their capacity for work…that we value live and individuality in addition to honesty and liberty. I am working to develop my children’t core values. I am working to build a foundation of business that my children can expand. I have to make sure they have a clear understanding of what is most important before I hand them the reins. Their mommy is the most important person in my life. Everything else can go, but mommy and I are a team. The chicken processing is gone and our marriage remains.
That was hard. It will get better.
By the way, my dad is awesome. He wasn’t there the whole time but he was there when I needed him. He’s always there when I need him. Dad has a way of stopping by at just the right time, seeing what needs to be done and bringing new life to the work and entertaining the kids along the way or just to help catch the cows. Thanks dad.