by Jennifer Sartell
Photos by the author
My husband, Zach, and I recently moved from my parents’ house in the woods to a 14-acre farm. Some people move in a weekend, some over a week or so. Our move was a 2-month undertaking, where we hauled four goats, three rabbits, 40 chickens, a small barn, two chicken coops and all our stuff 40 miles west.
When we found our new farm it already had an existing barn built in 1917. It’s a big classic red barn with a black roof and an upper floor. It has almost a hundred years of aging, and while it has been fixed up here and there, it’s not what I would call “air tight.”
The Red Barn is secure enough to keep out large prey animals like coyotes or dogs, but not secure enough to keep out animals that can climb, like raccoons or stray cats. For the goats, there is a nice solid corner that we re-enforced with plywood, laid cement pads and built strong pens with heavy-gauge wire fencing and metal gates, but for the chickens, I just didn’t feel secure keeping them in there, especially at night.
At my parents’, our chickens and goats were kept in a small two-story barn. My family built the barn from scratch 15 years ago with my dad, an amazing artist and carpenter, leading the way. Zach and I were newly dating at the time and he was lovestruck into manual labor to help his sweetheart fulfill a Laura Ingalls-ish romantic escapade with chickens. Thinking back now, it’s amazing how long Zach and I have known each other, and how all of this was somehow meant to be. Some years later, Zach and I attached the coop wing off the left side.
With the move at hand, and the Red Barn being what it was, we talked it over and decided we would attempt to move the barn at my mom’s. My dad passed away in the midst of all this moving, so it even meant more to me to have it on our new land.
I put a message on Facebook that we were having an “Old-Fashioned Barn-Raising Party. Trucks and trailers welcome, you will be fed!” With little hope I clicked the “enter” button and watched as the message appeared for the social networking site to do its magic. Doubt filled my heart. Who was I fooling? Who was going to give up their entire Saturday (and maybe Sunday) to come do manual labor in exchange for a pot of Sloppy Joe’s, some lunch meat, and a few side dishes? What if it couldn’t be moved? Or what if it would take so long that we would have to give away our chickens?
Well, as it turned out, our friends and family are an incredibly generous lot, and we had so much help that we took the barn down in one day, moved it to the new land and began re-raising it that evening. Those who couldn’t help the day of brought over dog crates, rabbit cages and other portable carriers to put the chickens in while we moved their home.
People I hadn’t talked to in years came with willing hands and a smile. Each board, each trim piece was labeled and stacked onto trailers, then we hauled it all over and it was stacked again in corresponding piles.
Zach and I had prepared the site the weekend before and leveled it with Alice, our tractor. The cement forms that act as the foundation were in place and ready.
Once again, our friends and family came to help re-erect the barn. Board by board the structure took shape, and I was overwhelmed with emotion. This little white barn became more than just a chicken coop; it was a symbol of friendship and love.
First, the love of a father to a persistent teenage daughter that brought Murray McMurray catalogs to the dinner table each night.
Then there was young love, and what a teenage boy will do to impress a young girl who loves animals. Mainly, trading his summer weekends of dirt bike riding for a hammer and nails, and a box full of chicks that delicately peeped ironically in his large mechanic-like hands.
Then there was the love that grew over the years, as we were married and the little white barn was kissed with the weather of a dozen Michigan winters. It housed our goats and rabbits too, and gave us a small taste of farming life, so addicting that we haven’t looked back since.
And finally the love of friends. The old ones that are always there, no matter how long it’s been. The new ones who create fresh bonds with similar interests and things in common. Even our new neighbor who brought us a section of aluminum egg boxes, as our old system didn’t make the move.
Often I’ve wondered what people thought of Zach and me. Many times we get a few raised eyebrows, and a chuckle or two when we share the fact that we breed rare chickens.
But the support for our ventures was without compromise. It was serious and genuine, and gave me a new respect for not only the people who were helping, but for the nature of the human spirit.
With the world in its crazy state, a whirling, dizzy society of hurried strangers, it’s easy to become cynical. But it is still in us, it’s in all of us, the love for a neighbor, generosity, the gift of time and effort. It’s still out there, and it’s not all that hard to find. All it took for me to see was a few dozen chickens and a little white barn.