Monday, April 25, 2011

Egg Sunday

      It is Easter Sunday and, like the Easter Bunny, we are delivering eggs. Ours are dyed various natural shades of brown, and they are so large it is often hard to close the top on the carton. The chickens who donated them range all over our property eating bugs and grass, so the yolks are bright yellow and dense with a rich flavor that can’t be found on a store shelf.      Scott started this egg business soon after his grandma died. She loved chickens and he loved her, so it was a natural way for him to remember her. He has over 50 chickens which means we collect over 20 dozen eggs a week which are delivered to customers on Sunday afternoons. When Scott is home he drives up and down the valley making the deliveries, and his 30 minute route often takes him over two hours because everyone wants to visit with him. Sometimes he even comes home with plastic bags full of cookies or slices of cake pressed on him by his baking customers. When he’s away, Joe and I keep the business going for him. Joe does the bulk of the work, but I help out when I can and lately I’ve been riding along with him on the egg run. Today is a beautiful sunny day, with the green promises of spring in every field.
     We drive north. Our first stop is a home where the husband and wife, who have finished raising their own two children, are fostering three teenage boys. What a difference they’ve made in those boys’ lives. Three boys eat a lot of eggs so we leave them with two dozen. Then we turn south and bump down the half mile driveway to a farm house tucked off the road. There are goats and pigs stretched out in the sun next to the barn and cows grazing on dandelion-speckled fields. We rumble over one cattle guard and the farmer’s youngest son, who is fifteen, runs out to open the other gate for us. He takes the eggs to his mom who is cooking dinner and returns with change. I smell fried chicken when he opens the door.
     Five miles further south, we stop at a house where there are four children under the age of twelve. The two littlest girls run out to hug me and take the eggs before leading me to the kitchen where their mom waits with a check. Then they lead me back out to the truck and demand more hugs before we pull out. At the next white farmhouse, a half a mile further on, we leave eggs on the kitchen table. No one is home, but the door is unlocked and the table has empty cartons for us to recycle, plus money for the eggs we’re leaving. We are collecting quite a stack of used cartons on the front seat of the truck. At every house we pick up last week’s empties which we’ll refill next week.
     Finally we reach the village where we stop several more times. At one house there’s a man recovering from surgery. He is happy to have company so we chat for a while. At another, The Three Beauties have bicycled down to visit their grandmother. They laugh about burning off a big Easter lunch and then wave and hop on their bikes for the uphill ride back home.
     Our egg run is done, and we load hay and bottle feed a lamb.  Then we have a genuine Easter egg hunt, climbing around the barn to gather eggs out of the hay mow where the hens have hidden them.  After washing and sorting them, we head home.  More eggs wait for us there.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Market Day

     When Justin called at 5:30 this morning, the moon had set and the brightest object in the sky was Pluto sliding across the southern horizon. The cows bedded down in the back lot were not expecting such an early breakfast, but Joe creaked to a standing position, got dressed, pulled on his Muck boots and with flashlight in hand went to help them rise and shine. I grabbed a cattle stick and stepped out the back door just in time to see the light bobbing across the dark lot as Joe made his way out to the shed. I settled down on the back steps to watch and wait until he needed some help. The sound of the shed door sliding open woke the steers and heifers who, like Pavlov’s dogs connect that sound to food. They began to low softly and I could hear them stirring and shuffling as they unfolded their legs and rose to stroll in the general direction of the shed. I still couldn’t see them because it was dark and the majority of the cows were black.
     Joe filled his bucket and then slipped across the lot. “Whooo, sook calf, sook calf.” He called softly in the morning air and the cows answered with their own morning song. Walking back and forth across the lot, Joe called again and shook his bucket so the grain rattled. I still couldn’t see them, but I could sense the movement of calves as they lined up and followed him into the pen. Joe poured the grain in the trough and the flashlight beam played across the backs of the steers. Then, he called out to me. “Turn on the back light,” so I slipped inside and flipped the switch. There were two steers on the wrong side of the pen and in another minute, the rest of the cattle streamed out to join them. So much for fooling them into the pen with grain.
     I clicked open the gate and stepped out to help. It was hard to walk on the rough ground in the dark and I stumbled a couple of times as I crossed the wet ditch. The mud sucked at my boots and the steers, who were now backlit by the porch light watched me curiously as I squelched around behind them to try and force them into the pen. I could tell that they were anxious as they pondered this predator sneaking up on them in the dark. Several tried to break away and I waved my white stick. The uneasy calves changed their minds and backed up to huddle in the corner. In a moment we heard the rattle of an aluminum trailer bouncing down our driveway. Help had arrived.
     Justin and his friend Michael parked and jumped out to help. In another two minutes the steers were all streaming into the open gate. With a few deft touches of their cattle sticks, the guys sent the heifers back out and the steers were loaded onto the trailer. Then Justin and Michael pulled out the driveway and headed to Staunton. Joe and I headed to the house for showers and breakfast. It was time to go to work.