This year has been a hard one at Sweetgum Acres. We’ve had many blessings, but we’ve had so many tears and heartbreak as well. I was told the first three years of homesteading will make you, or break you. The first two years went by pretty smoothly, but this third year has certainly been trying. The past couple of weeks has been especially hard and I found myself wanting to give up.
When we bought the farm, we were filled with nothing but excitement and high hopes. I had a bountiful garden and I couldn’t keep up with the harvest. We got chickens that summer and I waited impatiently for my farm fresh eggs. Chickens are adorable little creatures and I spent hours watching them and getting to know all their little personalities (oh yes, chickens have personality). But then I experienced my first farm tragedy. I knew within minutes when one of my little chicks didn’t emerge from the coop one morning. I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find him. I was guilt stricken, but I had to leave for work. I stressed all day and I rushed home as quickly as I could that evening to continue my search. I was certain I would find him alive and well hiding somewhere. But I didn’t. I found his body in the coop, upside down, behind a water jug I put in because it heated up during the day, and the chicks huddled next to it at night for warmth. They’d been doing it for weeks and everything was ok. Until it wasn’t. I pulled the jug out immediately and told the remaining chicks they were just going to have to cuddle. (It was summer, they were fully feathered, and I knew they would be ok.) I was devastated about that death and the guilt of being responsible just ate at me. Rhett was the first in my little chicken graveyard. That incident shook me but didn’t deter me.
The following Spring, I got right to work in the garden again. But with the addition of goat kids I was easily distracted. I still had a pretty bountiful garden, and I still thought farm life was the greatest way to live. But tragedy struck in the chicken yard again. Every day after work I would take my chickens a cup of meal worms. Everyone would run to the gate to great me, including the month-old chicks two of the mamas had hatched. They looked like little minions surrounding me just watching for their treats. All it took was for one bigger hen to trample over one of my babies, causing injury, for me to stop that tradition. For a week I had the baby in the house trying to nurse her back to health. Beautiful fall weather moved in and even though David is allergic to everything, he humored me and left the windows up one night. When I woke the following morning and felt the chilly air, a sinking feeling struck. I suddenly realized I hadn’t turned the heat on the little chick. With dread, I crawled out of bed and made my way to the living room. Sure enough, she was there, lying in her cage, cold. But she was breathing. I tried warming her in my hands and then with a warm water bottle. I was desperate to save that little life. And in my hands, she died. Once again, I felt responsible. I was so heartbroken.
And now, here we are in our third year. When I opened my two hives in early Spring, I discovered both had died. I felt sick, but wanted to try one more time.
In late spring, we said goodbye to both cats and I felt bad about not have more time to love on them before the end.
I didn’t bother with a big garden this year as I knew I was far too busy to keep up with it, so I planted a small one, but it still managed to get away from me. I was overwhelmed with being gone 12 hours a day for work and milking goats twice a day, tending the bees, caring for the chickens, along with trying to process all the milk I am still getting. I’m struggling to keep soaps and lotions made (and advertising to increase my sales), update the blog regularly, and basically everything around me is suffering because I just don’t have time.
Initially, I was going to quit my career next spring, but things started getting desperate. I’ve now lost my 3rd bee hive (thankfully it swarmed instead of dying) and suffered my first goat loss. I can’t say that I didn’t see tragedy coming. I’ve struggled with a flooding goathouse (hopefully the newly installed trenches has put a stop to that), as well as just a general lack of time to keep it clean and maintained. I’ve scrambled to be everywhere at once for those few hours I’m home. Honestly, it was only a matter of time before something happened. And it did. The fact that it turned out to be poisoning from a toxic plant growing in their paddock is little comfort, as had we known what it was, we would have pulled it immediately. But in the same timespan as I was dealing with Crescent’s mysterious illness, Midnight, was overtaken by barber pole worms and had to have an emergency blood transfusion.
The sadness and guilt are still eating at me. Every time I felt I’ve run out of tears, my body manages to find just a little more fluid to create more.
We bought this farm to make amazing things happen; to grow and produce our own food, and to be self-sustaining - not to fail. But this year, has seen one failure after another. With one last ditch effort to save the farm, I gave up my career to fight. Monday was my last day working long hours and not being able to take off when the farm needs me. I’m now working for much less pay, but I’m closer to home. I’ve already been working hard to catch up on things around the farm and I believe I still have time to get a small fall garden in. I’m looking forward to taking time to smell the roses and getting my animals healthy again.
In memory of the little lives we've lost over the past three years.