Two Worlds One Life

This story follows a day in the life of Rachel Auestad as she chronicles the balance between caring for a farm while working a full-time job in the city. 

Rays of sunlight slowly seep through cracks in the blinds, and the echo of the roosters’ crowing pulls me from my dreams. A natural alarm. They are not bound by artificial intelligence or an imposed schedule. The minute dawn breaks, the roosters crow. All four of them.

This is the waking signal. The start of my day, whether I want to sleep in or not.

Raised in the city, I was used to rising with the chimes of the cell phone alarm, rather than the sounds of mother nature. A couple of years ago, I assessed my life and came to the conclusion that something was missing. Though I grew up in the suburbs of Bellevue, my heart belonged to the open space of the country. So, as I watched 30 approach, I made the decision to co-purchase a 5-acre farm with my friend.

So now, my day begins and ends with the farm, which typically bookends an 8-hour day at work. During the week, I rise to the jarring cell phone alarm. Typically, this is ahead of the dawning sun. Two hours pass between the time I wake and the time I walk through the doors at work. Fifteen minutes of the morning is set aside for getting myself ready. Approximately an hour is dedicated to making the trek to work. The rest is spent opening up the farm.

When you have as many “children” as I do, you follow the methods of Kaizen and develop a lean routine. Once I get myself pulled together, it is time to pull on the muck boots, drop my gear at the car, and begin my routine.

The rabbits are first. Serenity and Mercy, my two Holland lops, are always eager to greet the day. Because we live in the country where the threat of predators is high, these two ladies have a hutch with individual cubby holes that they get locked into at night for their protection. In the mornings, I slide open the doors and am greeting by bouncing balls of fur and flopping ears. The happy crunching of carrots fills the quiet morning air.

By this time, Poe, our recently adopted barn cat (she moved herself into our barn in January and has never left), has bounded atop the rabbit hutch and is monitoring my morning progress. She is my supervisor, ensuring I forget nothing – especially her breakfast.

She escorts me as we make our way back through the property. Next on the list are the poultry. Releasing the flock is like opening the flood gates. Like a crowd outside a store on Black Friday, they push and shove their way out of the coop, toppling over one another in an eagerness to be the first to get food. A traffic jam, worse than going into Seattle during rush hour traffic occurs, and the incessant honking of the ducks begins. Scratch grains, seeds, and mealworms are shoveled out of the food bin in heaps and flung carelessly in sweeping arches across the ground. The flock swarm right and left, chasing the newly dropped food, each acting as though they may never eat again. After a few moments, the honking fades and a gentle cooing and clucking sets upon the flock as they enjoy their morning meal.

Poe takes this lull in activity as her cue to escort me to the goat house. A small barn-like structure, with a split Dutch door on the front contains the plush creatures. I pull back the lock, swing the door open, and allow the goats to roam for the day. If the sky is bright and filled with the rays of the sun, the goats happily bound out the door, awaiting their release onto the rest of the property (which comes later in the day, once the poultry have finished scarfing down their morning meal). If, however, the heavens have opened and water (of any form) is flowing, the goats set their fiery gaze upon me and proceed to yell their displeasure. A little-known fact to most – goats are made of spun sugar, and like the Wicked Witch of the West, will immediately melt if they come into contact with any form of water.

Finally, are the horses and Grimm (our second barn cat). We have an open-aisle barn, where you can see to the back of the property if you look straight through. The boys live on one side, and the girls live on the other. Morning feed for Grimm is simple – a can of wet cat food to start his day before he goes off to hunt and patrol the property. The feed for the horses, on the other hand, varies depending on the weather and the time of year. During the winter months, when the days are still pitch black in the early mornings, each of the kids gets a 4-pound flake of Timothy hay in their stalls.

But when we reach Spring and Summer, and the mornings are lighter, the children are released, like school children to their recess on the playground, out to the large pastures. There they eat as a full herd, sharing (albeit not always very well) their morning piles of hay.

This is the morning routine. On days when I am not working from home (i.e. the weekends or our current situation), this is when I change out my muck boots for my dress shoes, hop in the car, and make the trek down I-5 to the office. I lean on my housemate during a normal week to check in on the animals throughout the day. With the current social distancing, this has changed. I use my small breaks and my lunch as an opportunity to get in some extra steps and walk the property.

Once the evening comes, a different routine occurs, though it looks awfully similar to the morning routine in reverse. Once I am off work, the cleaning of the barn begins. Five stalls and five turnouts require picking up of excrement, sweeping back of bedding, and overall tidying up. Water troughs are refilled, and hay nets are stuffed in anticipation of the return of the children to their rooms.

Typically, an evening game of shenanigans and running occurs prior to them coming in for the evening. The horses are well-trained to the sound of grain hitting their food pans, like a bell being rung to call for dinner. They line up at their respective gates and wait (not always patiently) to be let in. More often then not, they prance their way into their rooms and face-plant into their grain bins, the sound of happy chewing filling the barn.

The horses’ evening feed complete, Grimm receives his evening can of food, and then it is off to collect eggs. Some days, this is an easy task – everyone having laid their eggs in the coop. Other days – an Easter egg hunt. An amount of 15 minutes or more can be spent searching the goat house, the other smaller coops that have been pulled apart (as they are no longer in use), behind the bench in the barn, behind the arena, next to the rabbit hutches, by the cars, in the small trailers that attach to the ride-on lawn mower, under the deck, and around the backyard, just to find where all the eggs have been laid throughout the day.

Once the eggs are collected, the chickens and ducks are put up for the night. Typically, the chickens have all filed into the coop and roosted (a handful of them roost in the tree). The ducks, however, like to argue with you about going to bed. Like an obstinate child, they quack back as you tell them to go to bed. They pretend they cannot hear you when you insist it is time to get out of the pool. But after just a few minutes, and often times a threat of “mom” coming (that is me), they single-file waddle their way into the coop, quacking their displeasure the entire way. The door is closed, and the poultry are put away for the night.

By this point, Poe has reappeared from her hunting escapades in the drain field and assists me in putting up the goats. This task is either extremely easy or extremely exhausting, depending upon the weather. Remember, goats will melt in water, so if there is even a drizzle, they are already in their house, judging me and insisting it is my fault for not asking Thor to stop the rain. But if the sun is shining, they like to ensure I get my steps in for the day. They will run around their enclosure, yell their displeasure at the top of their lungs (a passerby might think they were being beaten or starved by the sounds they make), try to turn into solid masses, and throw an epic fit about going in. Unless you have grain or treats. Then their love and cooperation can be bought.

Once the goats are in for the night, Poe and I make our way to the rabbits. The two girls get a couple of supplement cookies as a night cap. Both have been trained to hop into their enclosed hutches when told “bedtime for bunnies”. They scamper up their ramps, then eagerly await their nighttime snack.

Poe is the last of the farm critters to get her meal. She escorts me up the front steps and waits patiently as I make the climb. Mewing her opinions, she wraps herself between my legs in an effort to spur me faster to her food. Most days, this ends in the opposite result, often with me trying not to trip over the tiny bundle of fur. With food in her dish, she gobbles it down and purrs her contentment. I turn in for the night.

This is a typical day in my life. Two different worlds – the corporate and the farm – but both equally important. Both teach me and challenge me each day. Both nurture my growth as a person. Both are necessary for my mental, emotional, and physical well-being. As much work as the farm is, as much as it is essentially a second full-time job, the intrinsic value it offers is beyond compare. And I would not trade my situation for a “simpler” one.

 

 

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ANW Team

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