At 7:30 am, I lifted the cover of the 95-degree brood house. A cheerful chorus of Cornish-Rock chicks surrounded me, and I couldn't keep from smiling down at the 59 little, yellow, fluffy creatures. These two-day-old chicks had arrived the day before, care of United Postal Service, from Murray McMurray Hatchery, the world's largest rare-breed hatchery, located in Iowa. Every two weeks we will receive shipments of 60 chicks. Anticipation of these deliveries softens the somewhat harsh fact that after 12 weeks of healthy, Island living, these cute chicks will become roasters, or speaking plainly, supper. Though unsettling at first, I understand that making links like these is essential in a time when the connection between farm and table is unclear. Raising Cornish-Rock chickens at the farm means healthy, locally raised chicken for our community, plus the experience of growing our own food. So, for the moment I decided to on the youthful, joyful peeping that filled my ears, as I checked the chicks' water and food supply.
Feeding and watering the egg-laying hens, I was accompanied by the cold and unrelenting Katama wind. As the cold air bit my nose, I wondered if "March comes in like a lion, but goes out like a lamb" is true of our farm. Somehow, I doubted it, but I hoped to be surprised by a warm, spring wind one of these days. In the chicken coop, there was a flurry of activity as the New Hampshire Reds, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Black Australorps, one Dominique, and their protector, a Black Polish Rooster, dance around my feet. These diverse breeds originated from stock in New Hampshire, New York, Australia, New England, and Eastern Europe, respectively, and we have chosen them because they thrive in this climate and are dependable egg producers. They kicked up the shavings in the coop as they hopped about, delighted at the prospect of more fresh grain, water and oyster shells. Their exuberance was contagious, and as I returned to the horse barn with nine fresh, brown eggs, I was more alert and energized.
Over lunch, Mark Defeo, Dominic Dahl-Bredine, and Dave Wessling, all FARM Institute colleagues, chuckled as they recounted the story of the runaway Murray Grey cows and the tale of the "broken friendship." The story goes as follows. A few days previous, Liz Thompson arrived at the farm to retrieve two of her lovely Murray Greys and take them back to their permanent home at the Thompson Farm in Tisbury. Now, trying to move two intelligent and emotional animals rarely goes as planned, and these two gals were not about to go quietly. Dr. Jeffrey Moussante and Susan McCarthy co-authored a book entitled "When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals" in which the authors explore countless instances in which animals display "human" emotions including love, joy, anger, fear, shame, compassion, and loneliness. Had Dr. Moussante and Ms. McCarthy been present on the day of the move, they might have considered adding a chapter about the friendships forged between two breeds of cattle over the course of a few cold, winter months on Martha's Vineyard. Apparently, a friendship had blossomed between our Belted Galloways and these Murray Greys, and perhaps it was this very bond that caused one of the Murray Greys to avoid the trailer which would most certainly take her away from her new friends. As Mark and Dominic coaxed her toward the trailer, she noticed a gap between the trailer and the barn door. She managed to squeeze through this opening and into the unfenced field beyond. Freedom lasted only a few minutes, however, as Mark and Dominic gently convinced her that it really was time to go home with Liz. Since the move, we have received word from Liz that her two gals, though reluctant to leave our place at first, are happily settling back into life at home, at peace with their familiar surroundings and old friends. It remains to be seen if they will visit us again out in Katama, but if they do, their Belted Galloway friends will surely welcome them back with a delighted "moo."
I can already see that the spring will be full of dramatic incidents, amusing moments, and exciting changes. The FARM staff continues to grow and diversify as we prepare to plant crops, shear sheep, welcome lambs and calves, goats, two sows and their piglets, and honeybees to the farm. In addition, we will move into our new classroom and offices at Katama Farm in April, as we continue to develop our garden design and renovate the barns. Lots to do, but we're up to the challenge.
Bridget Meigs lives in Tisbury. She is a farmer and teacher at The FARM Institute, which is based at the Katama Farm in Edgartown. The FARM Institute's goal is to reconnect children and the community with the culture of agriculture and to promote local and sustainable agriculture. Ms. Meigs's notes on life on The FARM will appear from time to time in The Times, or on mvtimes.com.