News from the Farm | February 14, 2022

Oakley, Becca, Roxy, and Waylon, photobombed by a sheep

Hey there Beetniks,

It’s been quite a while since I wrote to you last.

This time, I’m in my home, my husband is playing an original song on the piano in the backdrop, and I’ve just gotten off the phone with my mother-in-law, boss, best friend, and lambing partner, Dru Rivers, who was updating me on what I should expect to encounter when I head up to the lambing barn in a couple hours. It’s 8:30pm now, and when I go after 10pm, she’s let me know I will find two mothers who have recently given birth; one to three huge lambs down by the hay feeder, and the other to two up in the northeast corner of the fence. As long as both have birthed their placentas, I will be moving both sets of ewes and lambs into pens in the barn to rest for the night in coziness and safety, and to bond to each other as only mothers and babies can. In a couple days, I will shear the backsides of each ewe so flies are not attracted to such wet wool, and we will return the new families to the green pasture we’ve been blessed with this lambing season.

The early rains of the 2021-2022 rainy season turned everything in our valley from brown and gold into sheets of emerald as far as the eye can see. Not sure I’ve ever seen this shade of green in my ten+ years at the farm. I was literally counting our stored hay bales back in October, worried we wouldn’t have enough to make it through another drought year. We were discussing how to thin our herds if things were to continue down such dusty roads. Then like some magic trick, we had rain… glorious rain. My first son’s middle name. The relief that comes with such downpours is indescribable. As if actual weight is removed from our shoulders and wildfire smoke damage scrubbed off of our lungs. Maybe we’ll make it this year, maybe it won’t be a stretch. And then it kept raining, and raining and raining!

Then it stopped. 2022 arrived, and we haven’t seen a drop of rain since.

Every inch of precipitation we did get has created the lush pastures and cover crops we have now, and I (along with the sheep) am thankful for it. And in so many ways, I am thankful for the warm sunny days we’ve had every day since the first lamb dropped, as it makes for a very comfortable lambing season for all parties involved. But if you look to the future, as we farmers must, this lack of rain during our “rainy season” is deeply concerning. What a tease those early storms were, making us sigh relief when intense disappointment was nigh.

These times are so tricky. I pray for rain eternally, while at the same time praise the sun each day these lambs are born on nests of warm green grass. Intervention is seldom necessary in 80-degree weather. Always in childbirth (to a healthy mother), less is more, so the warm dry climate has been a gift.

If only I could control if and when it rained. If I could flip on the rain switch come March 1st when lambing season is over, I would, though I know this would be a big ask of Mother Earth. The poor gal has been walked, driven, mined, eaten, and drilled all over… the life sucked right out of her. Anyone who has children might know a tiny bit about this story, but only a minuscule percentage of a fraction of what She has endured – due in most part to the negligence and apathy of too many of our species. It turns out that life has it’s own design. It is short and fleeting and our dinosaur moment could be looming, if we continue on the track we’ve laid out for ourselves.

This February is a Catch-22 for me. Our sheep are happy and fat with full bellies of babies and green grass. The lambs are consistently the biggest, strongest, healthiest lambs we’ve seen in the last 10 years. Their mother’s udders, the fullest with the most nutrient-dense milk. I don’t have to rush to the lambing site in the wee hours, worried I might not make it in time to whisk some fresh lambs into the barn – out of the old cold and wet north wind that often blows through the valley this time of year – before they freeze to death.

I’m not sure exactly how to feel about it. I’ve gotten more sleep than in Februarys past, but I’m nervous for what the future – near and far – holds for us and all farmers of the world. It certainly makes me question the purpose of my own motherhood… how much I’ve to teach my little ones about the ways of Mother Earth and what she needs from us in order for her to keep going so that we may keep going. How to balance building a fulfilling livelihood with overcoming expectations society has created. It’s awfully hard.

Most days I wish I was just one of our ewes – giving old-fashioned birth to a few beautiful wriggling lambs, up and searching for my teats within minutes of me licking them off. No cares or worries aside from survival. Just us, cooing to one another all night. That ancient chorus.

But, then I wouldn’t have these soul-wrenching piano notes finding their way through my ears and into my heart. I wouldn’t know how lucky I was just to be here, no matter how wrecked and backwards things can be. I wouldn’t be able to tell you my side of the story.

So, I am grateful. For the early rain, for the grass it conjured from our gorgeous soil, for the food we gracefully and thoughtfully grow year in and year out, for the constants that remain amongst increasing unpredictability. I am most grateful for my sweet husband and our children we are raising akin to Mother Earth, as wild as they want to be; and for all creatures big, small, and otherwise, making their own special music for us all to hear.

Becca Muller