Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer
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“One month into our stay, we’d managed to dispatch most of our charges. We executed the chickens. One of the cats disappeared, clearly disgusted with our urban ways. And Lucky [the cow] was escaping almost daily. It seemed we didn’t have much of a talent for farming. And we still had eleven months to go.”
Antonia Murphy, you might say, is an unlikely farmer. Born and bred in San Francisco, she spent much of her life as a liberal urban cliché, and her interactions with the animal kingdom rarely extended past dinner.
But then she became a mother. And when her eldest son was born with a rare, mysterious genetic condition, she and her husband, Peter, decided it was time to slow down and find a supportive community. So the Murphys moved to Purua, New Zealand—a rural area where most residents maintained private farms, complete with chickens, goats, and (this being New Zealand) sheep. The result was a comic disaster, and when one day their son had a medical crisis, it was also a little bit terrifying.
Dirty Chick chronicles Antonia’s first year of life as an artisan farmer. Having bought into the myth that farming is a peaceful, fulfilling endeavor that allows one to commune with nature and live the way humans were meant to live, Antonia soon realized that the reality is far dirtier and way more disgusting than she ever imagined. Among the things she learned the hard way: Cows are prone to a number of serious bowel ailments, goat mating involves an astounding amount of urine, and roosters are complete and unredeemable assholes.
But for all its traumas, Antonia quickly embraced farm life, getting drunk on homemade wine (it doesn’t cause hangovers!), making cheese (except for the cat hair, it’s a tremendously satisfying hobby), and raising a baby lamb (which was addictively cute until it grew into a sheep). Along the way, she met locals as colorful as the New Zealand countryside, including a seasoned farmer who took a dim view of Antonia’s novice attempts, a Maori man so handy he could survive a zombie apocalypse, and a woman proficient in sculpting alpaca heads made from their own wool.'
Part family drama, part cultural study, and part cautionary tale, Dirty Chick will leave you laughing, cringing, and rooting for an unconventional heroine.
fingers. “Why did I marry an English major?” Autumn laughed. “Don’t ask me! I married a French chef, and he’s retired. We’re always broke, but we do eat well. D’you want some pineapple upside-down cake?” “Yes, please!” came a voice from beneath the table. After stress-eating cake at Autumn’s, I went home to Peter and suggested that possibly twenty-thousand-dollar alpacas were not the greatest business idea ever. “You’re always crushing my dreams,” he grumbled. “Dream crusher.” “Tell you
has a snail floating in it.” “Give it here.” Hamish took the bucket and flicked the snail out with a grubby thumb. He handed it back. “See? No snail.” When Peter reported this exchange, I considered that Hamish and I would never see eye to eye on the nuances of a gourmet calf diet, so eventually I stopped asking for free milk. Instead, I went back to my calf book. “Bad news,” I announced one night over dinner. “What, Mama? What happened?” Miranda asked through a mouthful of pasta. “Did more
nice big soupspoon full of goat berries!” “Okay.” I nodded grimly. “You got it.” It wasn’t hard to collect the poop, since Pearl was basically a grass-to-poop conversion machine, but it was tough making time in my schedule to get to the veterinary office. This meant that for the next several days, I had a mustard jar full of goat turds in the bottom of my handbag. The poop in my purse didn’t really bother me as much as the logistics of the thing. As a busy mother of two small children, I often
swaying painfully between her legs. “She looks so uncomfortable,” I told Peter. “It’s got to be soon.” “Did you get all the stuff for the birth?” he asked. “Of course,” I assured him. “We have everything.” This was a blatant lie. The truth was that the only obstetrical tools I had on hand were a half-used jar of Vaseline and a bottle of iodine. The Vaseline was for greasing my hands if I had to, and I still wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the shot glass of iodine. I’d looked at some
went into a seizure.” She smiled faintly. “Of course Patrice knew what was happening, because he’d seen it before with Silas. “Skin fell right over. Patrice turned him on his side, but he was gone. They gave him CPR. Patrice gave him CPR for half an hour or something. Then Lish took over. They tried to bring him back for more than an hour. He was gone. It was just a massive stroke.” “And the girls were there?” “Yeah. They haven’t talked about it much, but I think they saw everything.” The