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Farm Inspection

December 6, 2010

There was a knock at the door at a quarter after nine this morning, and my first thought went to some deer hunting violation. Was one of us in the wrong spot at the wrong time? Hurriedly, on the heels of that thought came the concern that the school had finally had enough of my ‘tween’s tardiness. I boldly answered the door and the police officer explained that he had come to conduct the “annual” farm inspection. “You guys have sort of slipped through the cracks for a while,” he said. A while, in this case, is eight years, but I let that distinction go.

taking names


The officer was not unfamiliar to me. In addition to being the older brother of a classmate, and the son of a much-loved local business owner, he also drove me home in his cruiser from an engine failure one late, snowy, winter night in 1996-or-so. While I suspect he may not remember that, he also came calling about six years ago to deal with a “chicken in the middle of the road” event. Had we lived a little more removed from the collegiate summer baseball league, maybe no one would have noticed old June Chickenheimer trying to decide which side of the road was more attractive. Herding her from the congested road back into our yard, in the dark, in a short-sleeved cashmere sweater and heels was sufficiently embarrassing to make me more certain to double check the coop at dark and corral the wayward wanderers. Needless to say, our farmyard residents were never intended to be kept secret.

I had heard tales of farm inspections. One horse owner described being failed for keeping bags of feed laying in her barn. I quickly found some metal garbage pails for cheap in which to keep the goat and chicken grain. Other issues involved fencing too close to a road or to an abutting property. Our local bylaws allow for a 50-foot buffer between livestock fencing and neighboring properties, so I made sure when we built housing and ran paddock fencing we didn’t crowd too close. We had no road to worry about, but we may at some point in the future.

Regs concerning farm animals vary from town to town. It’s best to look into your town’s livestock or farm animal bylaws before building anything or buying farm animals. Our “farmyard” passed without incident, and we received a copy of the DAR’s Bureau of Animal Health inspection form, now displayed on the fridge. Our inspector called our livestock “lucky animals,” and I immediately thought of the lucky wild deer who get to have a natural lifestyle, including truly free-ranging browse from a large swath of land. My next thought was the unlucky end of a free-ranging deer’s life at the jowls of a few coyotes. Yes, our animals are lucky because we provide safety from an incredibly vicious death, but the cost can’t be perfectly calculated. Safety at the expense of freedom is not a debate I’ve been able to get into with the goats or ducks or chickens.

What the inspector was looking for was a tally of farm animals and a cursory examination of those animals’ health and housing, including “situation”, cleanliness, lighting, ventilation and water supply. Counting the free range poultry was impossible, but we provided a number, and everything else was kosher. It will be interesting to see if the inspection becomes an annual event, now that a baseline has been established. Of course, a fair amount of our livestock  does not reside on site “annually”. Pigs are here for six to eight months, the meat chickens only reside here for ten weeks and goat kids come and go on an irregular schedule.

Ultimately, our level of care for the livestock doesn’t change. Water, even before grain and hay, is the most important constant, and it will be interesting to see how we service the ever-increasing number of year-round residents with that necessity as the temperature plummets and all the hoses freeze this winter. Lugging five-gallon buckets of water to the goats and chickens in ten- to twenty-degree weather isn’t a deal breaker, but the duck pool will be harder to figure out. They may have to deal with drinking water only, which will still mean another daily trip to a more remote location with a sloshing bucket of water in conditions that find most people pre-warming cars and avoiding the outdoors. Managing livestock in inclement weather requires dedication, determination and a touch of toughness, as well as fingerless wool gloves and other homespun layers of protection. At present, I’m happy to be milking the shoulder season to the max, while readying myself for what the coming months will bring.  An inspection measures low on my list of every-day concerns, but it does feel good to know we’ve met the criteria to continue raising furred and feathered food-sources.


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