October 17, 2019
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Friends are crucial if you live at the intersection of farming and wanderlust

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
The Rusty Metal Farm chickens are not at all shy about looking for food or treats when they feel neglected.

Physically, Rusty Metal Farm sits atop Maine along the Canadian border, but in many ways it also sits smack at the intersection of home and wanderlust.

That’s because, as much as I love this farm and my critters, I also love to travel.

More to the point, I have a job and a career that allows — at times even requires — me to travel for days at a time throughout the year. And that suits me just fine. Because despite being quite the homebody when I am on the farm, I am also one who loves finding out what’s around the next corner or over the next hill.

But, as anyone who lives on a farm will tell you, there is more to it than picking a destination and planning an itinerary. Before any flight is booked or bag is packed, I must first do everything needed to make sure the Rusty Metal Farm critters are fed, watered, pampered and tended in my absence.

I am super fortunate in that over the years family and friends have stepped in to fill my barn shoes in my absence.

For some farmers, having animals is a deal breaker when it comes to travel if they can’t find someone trustworthy to fill in. It’s more than stopping in to feed the neighbor’s cat. It can be anything from collecting eggs to slopping hogs to milking cows. It’s feeding the animals at one end and then shoveling up what comes out the other end.

While nothing on Rusty Metal Farm ever required slopping or milking, there have been plenty of critters that needed food, water and poop scooping over the years. First there was the kennel of Rusty Metal Farm sled dogs — anywhere from three to 10 living out in the yard at any one time.

For years whenever I was on the road, my late husband Patrick stepped in to take care of the pack.

He did finally clue in that, not only was March my “favorite time of year” to visit my family out west, it also coincided with the start of the annual dog-yard melt off when piles of previously unseen and unscooped poo that had amassed over the winter were revealed.

After his death in 2008, I would have been pretty much homebound with the dogs and with my flock of egg-laying hens and hives of honey bees I had added on. But, like all lucky farmers, I have some really, really good friends.

Like Chad — one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, but, bless his soul, not the most outdoorsy winter fellow.

But that did not stop him from taking weeklong shifts to tend the sled dogs. Even when it meant slogging out there in feet of snow to feed them and give them water in the middle of the darkest northern Maine nights. Nor did he balk — much — the times he had to feed my bees their special syrup I had left for them during those early weeks in spring before the flowers bloomed to provide natural pollen.

Most of that was mitigated by the time he spent with then-housedog Corky, a happy, lovely mix of Shetland sheepdog and husky — a shusky. Except the time Corky decided I had been gone too long and ran away in a fit of pique. She came home, but not before Chad spent a great deal of time and angst alternating between searching for her and wondering where he could find another shusky that looked just like her.

My friends and fellow mushers Kim, Penny and Shawn made many trips over here — sometimes with little notice from me — to tend dogs and chickens. Though all three did draw the line at bees.

A couple of years ago my friend Julie was spending some time on the farm and was able to keep an eye on things when I had to make a quick trip to southern Maine to pick up some new chicks. Things went pretty well in my absence and she was relaxing as the cats lounged in the sun, Corky snoozed on the deck, and the chickens contentedly scratched and clucked free ranging around the yard for the afternoon.

Things went somewhat awry, however, when Pi, a sled dog that often spent time in the house, gave Julie the slip and, with the unerring trajectory and speed of a heat-seeking missile, bolted straight for the chickens, Julie hot on her heels. For their part, the chickens sprinted to their coop to take cover, save one Golden Comet, which Julie said froze in place before displaying an odd defensive move — she puffed up her feathers and then, POOF — all the feathers just fell off her body, Julie reported to me.

A trained anthropologist, Julie tried to determine the evolutionary advantage of instant feather shedding but was at a loss.

Most recently it’s my tenant and friend Pete who takes care of the Rusty Metal critters when I am globetrotting. The sled dogs, Corky and bees are gone and the current farm dog Chiclet travels with me, but there are still the chickens and cats that need attention.

That is, until I get my planned new hive of bees next spring.

But maybe I shouldn’t tell my friends, just yet.

 



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