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Monday, March 28 2016

There's nothing quite like tax time to make you realize how much money you spend to keep a farm going. Sometimes you make money. Sometimes you lose money. Sometimes you have to spend money up front and don't see the payoff for a year or two, or more, or never on some things. Sometimes you can diversify and discover your time and talents are better spent in another direction. You're still ranching, but your products are different. You prune things, but the tree of the ranch keeps growing.

I was having this discussion with a friend yesterday. As at least one member of every farming family should be, she leans heavily toward the business mindset. Other Half is the business end of our ranching family. The Business End expects to see a profit. The sooner, the better. The bigger, the better. They heavily factor in not only the cost of maintaining a farm, but the effort of maintaining a farm.

It is here that I have to point out that if we factor 'time and effort' into ranching, then it's far better to live in a subdivision and work a 9 to 5er where you have nights and weekends off. You can just pop over to Kroger's for your groceries. You have 1.5 dogs. You are free as a bird to participate in the hobbies of your choice. You are free to travel anywhere at any time.  If the bottom line is about time and money, ranching is not for you, not as a lifestyle, not even as a hobby.

If you have a ranch you can't enjoy a lot of things. A ranch is like a giant child. There's pain and joy, and you get some tax deductions, but it's an awful lot of trouble. Only you can determine if it's worth it. How much of your life do you want to spend shoveling poop and looking at the genitals of farm animals?

Is the financial cost worth it?  The blood, sweat, and tears? Is your life richer for it? Or is it a burden? Do you long for the finer things in life? Manicures? Nice clothes? Parties? Do you long to travel? To see the world? To experience life beyond the pasture? If so, perhaps farming isn't in your stars.

But if you can't imagine a life that doesn't involve picking up poop, hauling hay, and checking butts every night, even if it means scraping out a living with little or no free time or money, then maybe you have found your niche. Not all riches can be measured in the checkbook. If I make just enough money to pay the bills, but live to enjoy the sight of a newborn calf staggering toward her mother in the moonlight, who says I'm not rich?

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 08:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 21 2016

My world changed when I stuck my fingers in the bag.

Addiction is a funny thing. Some addictions I can understand - horses, chocolate, coffee, and cupcakes. Some confuse me - gambling (too expensive), alcohol (I fall asleep), drugs (I'm not doing prison time for anything short of a chocolate horse drinking coffee while eating a cupcake.) But given the above lists, I still try not to judge someone else's addictions because I'm as helpless in front of a cupcake as any crackfiend behind a convenience store. I know I have certain weaknesses, so it doesn't surprise me if I cave when faced by cupcakes or another dog, but sometimes I'm genuinely tripped up when I realize I've been captured like a moth in a spider web by a new addiction.  I struggle in the snare, wondering how it happened.

Sometimes it's slow, like coffee, so gradual that you don't even realize it's happening, but other times it's like the sweet spread of a smile across a child's face when she gets her first taste of chocolate. That's what happened this week when I stuck my fingers in the bag.

So let's examine the anatomy of addiction:

Start with weedeater goats, move to producing meat goats. Move to raising dairy goats and making goat milk soap. Goats are so versatile that you decide the world would be a better place if every home had a couple of goats and a handful of chickens. Somewhere along with the idea of a Victory Garden, the government dropped the ball by not encouraging everyone to get goats and chickens.

Goats lead to sheep. Start with meat sheep, but decide that the sheep equivalent of the American Bison is the Navajo Churro sheep because it gives meat, milk, and fiber, so in addition to your dairy goats, you want to add Navajo Churro Sheep. Fall into a flock of Navajo Churros by accident. Fall in love. At first you are just happy having them but then you decide to play with the idea of spinning their wool into yarn and weaving saddle pads and cinches. You have no interest whatsoever in knitting, or crochet.

Your interest really is in the animal and getting the fiber into yarn. You like the natural colors of the sheep. Then you discover natural plant dyes. So you decide you'd like to dye some of your own wool. The slide to addiction begins.

You start to look longingly at spinning wheels. Since you don't know anyone who spins, you can't scratch that itch, but then the Fiber Fairy sends you a teacher, who brings her wheel over and gives you a lesson. She also gives you a lesson in knitting. You have no interest in knitting until the lesson. At the end of the lesson you are a child making Jacob's Ladder with a piece of twine, you cannot put it down. Not only can you not forget the knitting, you cannot forget the joy of spinning.

You now decide you must have a spinning wheel. You then drive two hours to the Yarn Store to play with spinning wheels and order one of Your Very Own. You walk into the shop and are immediately hit by more colors and textures than an outdoor flower market. You become drunk on the colors. The shopkeeper is keen and takes advantage of your dizzy state.

"Here, put your hand in here," she says as she offers a clear plastic bag filled with gray fluff.

You have no real expectations since you have house dogs and it looks like the stuff you sweep out from under the couch, but to be polite, you stick your fingers in the bag.

And that's when the addiction takes hold.

The fuzzy bundle is pygora, a breed of goat that is a cross between an Angora and a Pygmy. It is the softest, most magical fiber. You want to stuff the whole bag under your shirt and run with it. You are Gollum with The Ring. This fiber is The Missing Link, it completes the circuit for your addiction. No, you don't want to breed Pygora goats. You just want to touch fiber. You want to spin the fiber. You want to, God help you, knit the fiber.

At this point I'm sure my mother who raised a child with little or no Home Economics interests or skills is falling out of her chair with laughter, but she hides it well and does what she always does, she encourages my interest. My new spinning wheel will arrive next week, and I'm trying to resist the urge to buy a Pygora wether to add to my herd of goats. I trying to resist the thoughts that urge me to blend Angora fiber with Navajo churro fiber on my spinning wheel just to see. . .

And so that is the Anatomy of Addiction, the route of meat goat rancher to fiber farmer. Can I make money at it? Or course not. If it had been about money I would never have stuck my fingers in the bag.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 04:37 pm   |  Permalink   |  13 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 14 2016

Spring has arrived. I looked out the kitchen window yesterday and saw this.

The lambs zoomed back and forth, up and down the hill, around the bottle tree and the picnic tables, and from time to time they stopped to check in with the dog.

Why? I have no idea, but that was part of their game. On his end, the dog watched them with mild amusement. He was more interested in the vulture circling overhead. So caught up in the antics of the lambs, I wouldn't even have noticed the bird if not for the dog.

The sun was beginning to climb down out of the sky but the lambs weren't ready to come into the barn yet. The fun had just started. With three Livestock Guardian Dogs on duty, I left the lambs to their play just a little longer. The dogs gave me that luxury.

According to the calendar, I have three goats due to give birth in the next three weeks. Spring is definitely here. That means I can no longer leave the puppies in the stalls at night with the goats. Normally Briar has the run of the barnyard and the boys are locked inside the goat pens, but since they aren't quite ready "birthin' babies" it's time for them to go out on patrol. The rookies are off field training and headed to night shift.

I worried about them. There are a lot of 'things' around here at night. They could tangle with copperheads, rattlesnakes, oppossums, raccoons, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, or heaven forbid, the cougar. They could get off the property and run into feral hogs.

I don't think they slept at all last night. With my window open, I heard their bells jangling off in the distance as they barked and galloped into the night. I didn't get much sleep either. I checked them often. Each time I crept out with my gun and flashlight, they trotted up to me like giant warhorses, puffed with pride. The one person who did sleep last night was Briar. She reminded me of an old seasoned night shift officer who finally had a new crop of rookies on the street. She just curled up in the sand and let them run the 'calls for service.'

Outside my bedroom window the glow of the moon made a grin. The grinning moon smiled down on my rookies as they ran calls for service all night long.

On most mornings I rise to do the changing of the guard and let the Night Shift Border Collies inside, lock Briar up, and let the Day Shift dogs out to play. I brought the Rookies inside for a bit, took off their bells, and let them settle down in the house while I played on the computer. They looked pretty much the same to me, a little tired but otherwise they were the fine. Still, there was something I couldn't quite put my finger on.

And then they spied the cats on the window sill and erupted into barking so savage that it scared me and the cats. They were still hyperalert from their shift. Ahhhh... been there, done that myself. I showed them the cats and reminded them that these cats were the same cats they see every day, both inside and outside. They seemed a bit embarrassed. No worries. Been there myself too.

I turned them back outside and expected they would trot off with Mesa to play, but this morning they were different. There was no play, no symphony of bells as the three friends ran and wrestled with the rising sun. Instead with a self-important, businesslike trot, they patrolled the fence again. Mesa was puzzled. She went a ways with them, but then came back to the house. Cops are no fun.

Last night the boys grew up. They have graduated from the police academy, passed their field training program, and hit the streets.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 09:42 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Friday, March 11 2016

I'm on several Livestock Guardian Dog lists and a question I see regularly is this:

"Will a LGD protect my chickens from hawks?"

Yes! Yes! Yes!  When Briar was just a year old, my mother witnessed her saving chickens from two separate hawk attacks. How many others did she save when no one was looking?

Livestock Guardian Dogs are just that, guard dogs. Briar was not imprinted on chickens, she was there to protect the sheep, but a dog knows what does and does not belong in the barnyard. Hawks don't belong. Once a Livestock Guardian Dog knows what 'normal' is, then he can defend against the abnormal, and they do look high and low when they patrol.

I shot these pictures yesterday as The Boyz were on duty. Note how they put themselves above the flock to supervise.

I would not even have noticed the vultures if not for the dogs.  Several were perched in a tree at the end of the driveway. One circled above.

  Judge checks out the ones in the tree while Jury watches the one in the air.

No one is lambing or kidding now, so I'm not too worried about the vultures at the moments. We haven't had a problem with our birds, but in other parts of Texas and across the country, black vultures are becoming notorious for killing calves, lambs, and kids during birth. They descend upon the birthing mother and kill the baby immediately or peck its eyes out. Ranchers have found calves with no eyes staggering around the pasture. A friend of ours  in central Texas lost a calf to vultures last year, so like Jury, we keep a wary eye on them.

But on this day the bird was just cruising the friendly skies. Without the dogs I would worry about the lambs. They're still little and while some of them are small enough to be taken by a predatory bird, they are more likely to be pinched by an opportunistic coyote or bobcat. For that reason, I always turn the boys out to patrol prior to releasing the lambs.

After all, a free meal isn't really free around here.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:44 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, March 08 2016

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 02:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, March 06 2016

We turned the newest babies out with the flock.

This was the first time the Anatolian puppies have had a chance to interact with them without a fence as a barrier because bouncing erratic lambs mixed with giant puppies can be a recipe for disaster. There was a lot of sniffing at first.

The dogs were quite curious and from time to time the bouncing lambs tickled them so much they wanted to playbow and boogey with them. This led to me screaming,

"STOP THAT! They are NOT TOYS!!!"

The lambs were not only curious about the dogs, but the whole world was new to them. They got so absorbed in investigating things that they'd lose track of their mothers. This led to much freaking out, and screaming, and racing around like Chicken Little in search of the mothers who had already tired of answering them 50 times already.

A few times the babies rushed up to one of the Anatolians for comfort, well, because they are large and white, and look kinda like a sheep, (as opposed to a tractor).

This confused but delighted the pups and it wasn't long before Judge had adopted a little tyke that I have temporarily named Loud Mouth because he spent most of yesterday lost and thus screaming for his mother.

Judge appointed himself as Bodyguard to Loud Mouth.

He slowly escorted Loud Mouth around until they located his mother. Then Loud Mouth dropped him like a hot potato and raced off to join his mom without a backwards glance or a thank you.

Both boys did really well but Judge showed me another angle that I like to see. Dillon came out for a potty break, discovered the lambs and couldn't resist bowling through the flock like a bull in a china shop. No aggression, just too much curiosity going too fast.

Then Judge surprised me by politely by angling in and squeezing Dillon away from the lambs. He bumped his shoulder and gave him a firm,

"Stop that! They're NOT TOYS!"

Dillon just puttered off to pee on trees, pick up a stick, and go about his D-Dog Day. No harm, no foul.

Judge stayed with the lambs and then did an inventory.

I was really, really pleased with the way these 8 month old pups behaved. Briar gave them little or no guidance. She casually sniffed the lambs herself, but otherwise just sat back and watched the boys amble around with them.

Loud Mouth got her attention a few times because he's, uhhmm - a loud mouth! He called every predator in three counties. Fortunately out of three Livestock Guardian Dogs, someone would assume the role of bodyguard to walk with him until he found his mother.  Once again I'll say this, if you have a farm and don't have a Livestock Guardian Dog, what are you waiting for?

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:53 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email

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