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.
about Silas. “Ah, kids’ll be who they are, not a thing you can do about it,” Skin observed. “Take our Liam. That’s our nephew on Lish’s side. Born delayed, just like your Silas. Doctors said he’d never walk. But now he runs just like the rest of ’em. Doesn’t talk like they do, but that’s just him. ‘That’s our Liam,’ we say, an’ we love ’im.” Silas and Miranda crouched near the guts pile, poking at sludgy things with sticks. Our two cats paced back and forth on the thick wooden fence, hoping for
a cheese.” This was getting more urgent now that Pearl was about to give birth. Soon we’d be flooded with gallons of raw goat milk, and I wanted to start practicing cheese making. I’d coaxed Hamish into giving me some fresh cow’s milk—the kind without any dirt or snails in it—and I was thinking I’d start with a Camembert. Cheese making is easy—or that’s what I thought before I tried it. You just warm up a pot of milk and mix in germs to make it curdle. Then you squirt in a clear serum known as
shot me a reproachful look. “How can you laugh?” he asked. “It’s chicken matricide and sexual assault!” “It’s just . . .” I took my napkin and dabbed my eyes, helpless with giggles. “It’s so fucking hard to be a parent. And no matter how bad it gets, it’s always so much worse for the animals.” “I don’t know,” Nick objected. “Our animals have it pretty good. You should see how they keep pigs in Malaysia.” “Oh, I’m sure you’re right,” I said. “But we’re so stressed out about Silas’s seizures,
That evening, we sat out on our wraparound deck. We were sipping a strawberry-rhubarb wine, a special blend I’d concocted that looked like a sunset and tasted like pie. “I didn’t think it would be so important,” I said to Peter, “having a house of our own, in Purua. It feels like we’re finally home.” “Yeah.” Peter reached for my hand. “Now we just have to get on top of that garden.” It seems odd, looking back, that after a year in the country, I hadn’t really done any gardening. Now we didn’t
respect. The placenta draped gracefully from her hindquarters, a translucent pink train enclosing a network of blue veins. There was a dark red, ropy thing inside, heavy with blood and the color of liver. It was this that Pearl tucked into first, craning her neck to nibble and swallow, a bloody moustache staining the white fur around her mouth. Then one of her new babies bleated, and she whipped her head around in midmunch, flinging the placenta across the grass like a parade banner. She licked