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Farm Fresh Blog
Monday, 30 May 2016
I almost shot him. The only thing that kept me from doing it was the room full of people around us. It started innocently enough a couple of weeks earlier when the pastor asked if I would bring some sheep to a reenactment of Jerusalem Marketplace this summer.
Ahhhhhh..... yeah ... sure. (Make mental note to select some candidates and tame them up.)
Behold the power of Purina NickerMakers! This little horse treat has tamed more than a few wild sheep, and didn't fail me.
Within a week I had the three Jacob Sheep tamed to the point where they have become annoying beggars.
"You got any NickerMakers???"
We had recently sheared these sheep and I've had a blast spinning their wool into yarn. They had surprisingly lovely fleeces. Hopefully by July their wool will have grown out enough to look decent again. At the moment they look kind of naked, but that's okay because they just have to be sheep in a marketplace. Nothing fancy. I'm actually kind of looking forward to it. Flash forward to the Crime Watch meeting.
The meeting went well. Other Half had just given a presentation and it was time for new announcements. A lady stood up and reminded everyone of the local Pioneer Days event that was coming up which showcases skills from the 1800s. At this point, my husband, God bless him, stood up, pointed at me, and said,
"My wife shears her own sheep and spins the wool into yarn, just like in the 1800s!"
Yes, he did. I almost shot him.
Oh. My. Gosh.
In no time I found myself volunteered to do an all day demonstration of a skill I just learned myself. Okay, yes, I can turn raw wool into yarn, but suddenly being thrust into the spotlight was unnerving.
The school teacher inside me slowly warmed to the idea when I realized that I could bring the Jacobs to give people a short course in "sheep to yarn." (Little know fact: Before I went into police work, I taught sixth grade Science for 10 years!)
No sooner had I finally welcomed the idea when my sheep were invited to do another farm event in July, so that's three events in two months. Now might be a good time to train the sheep to walk on leash. I've decided to embrace the idea of doing demonstrations. The key to our future as a society lies in the education of our children, and maybe my sheep can teach children that clothes don't just grow on hangers in The Gap, and maybe, just maybe, I can awaken a spark of interest in the heart of a child. And that spark may ignite to become something bigger. All it takes is one.
Thursday, 19 May 2016
Most farms have a few oddities, things that stand out as just not quite like everything else. Last fall Other Half added a couple of Longhorn calves just because he likes seeing them. They definitely stand out as odd in a pasture of beef cattle, but I see his point. I like watching them too. And the red one is very photogenic.
With my goatherd of Nubians, I have these little precious oddities: Natty & Liam
Natty came to us as a foundling who needed a home with other goats. She was like an unplanned pregnancy. We didn't expect her, but now we can't imagine life without this little ray of sunshine.
On the other hand, Liam is not a warm and fuzzy ray of sunshine. Liam is more like a loud blast of happy music that jars you out of your comfort zone but leaves you laughing and tapping your foot as you begin to dance to this slightly different little drummer.
Yes, he really is as soft as he looks.
From the first moment I touched Pygora fiber in a yarn store, I wanted to add a Pygora goat to my fiber flock. Liam is that goat. A Pygora goat is, in essence, a cross containing a specific percentage of both Angora and Pygmy goats. It is its own breed now.
I've had a lot of goats, but Liam is definitely marching to a different drummer. He combines the clownlike personality of a Pygmy goat with the charming annoyance of a bottle baby imprinted on humans. Natty was a bottle baby, but she wasn't imprinted on humans. Natty knows she's a goat. Liam doesn't. Liam is not a goat. Liam is a Liam. He's loud. He's demanding. He's naughty. And yet he's the most adorable little rascal to ever attempt a dictatorship.
Liam climbs on the mule, and pees in the seat.
He climbs on the welding machine.
He climbs on the tool table. If you leave the tailgate down, he will be in the bed of the pickup truck, and from there, it's just a skip and a hop to the top of the truck. Yes, I've found little hoofprints in the dust up there.
Liam gets into trouble the other goats never considered. He climbs things for the challenge of reaching new heights. He flings himself with wild abandon in his quest to reach new heights. One morning I watched him repeatedly run up the front of the mule, across the hood, and up the windshield before falling back to the ground. Over and over and over again. He was like a teenager at a skateboard park. And like the mother of a teenaged boy, I am constantly worried about him ending up in the ER. Liam gave us quite a scare one night when he appeared to have knocked himself out from leaping into the corral bars. We didn't see him do it, I just found him lying in his pen. He was groggy and very un-Liam-like. We whisked him into the house for observation while I considered whether or not I should take him to the ER. Fortunately he was just dazed and given a little time he was back to being Evel Knievel again.
Natty is his constant companion.
They fit together like Peanut Butter & Jelly. As if from the Island of Misfit Toys, these two have found each other and are best friends. Natty is no longer exhiled while the other babies snuggle in one giant Nubian pile. Now she and Liam form their own snuggle pile.
Natty is Liam's liason to the other goats. The Nubians don't really understand Liam. Natty may not understand his special brand of genius either, but she likes him and makes a point of keeping up with him.
They are George and Gracie. (If you're under 50, Google it.) Natty is the Leonard to Liam's Sheldon. (If you're over 50, Google it.) Whatever else they are, Liam and Natty are family.
Tuesday, 17 May 2016
You know you live in a ranching community when you go to church and someone says,
"The water tanks are full, the grass is green, and the cattle are fat. Thank you, Lord."
This has been an unusually wet year. Our ponds are overflowing and the cattle are standing in grass up to their bellies. Anyone with livestock will tell you that few things make you feel more secure than the sight of a barn full of hay and pastures full of grass.
Paper money is an abstract form of wealth, and depending upon world events sometimes it's no better than Monopoly money.
This kind of wealth is also not so complicated that we forget where it really comes from. Farmers and ranchers are tied to the land, and more often than not, they are quick to give thanks to God. I once read somewhere that the more intelligent someone was, the less likely he was to believe in God. The implication of the article was that only simple people believed in a higher power. Anyone who was smart enough to question things knew better than to buy the whole God-package. I would imagine that the person who wrote the article would also argue that intelligent people were smart enough to find air-conditioned desk jobs too.
And ironically, he would probably make this argument over a steak dinner.
My experience has been that people with full bellies and full bank accounts tend to be a bit more liberal in their beliefs when hard work isn't involved. Success can foster arrogance, and it seems that the further we get away from our dependence upon the land, the more we get out of step with God. Maybe it's as simple as the office.
Perhaps if you live and work in a place like this it's easier to say, "Look what man has created. There is no God."
On the other hand, this could be your office, and each morning you could arise and say, "Look what God has created."
It really may be as simple as office space. If you are surrounded by the accomplishments of man, you have to search a little harder for God amidst the chaos, for God does not shout, He whispers. In some places, it's just easier to hear Him.
Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Retired K9 Officer Aja lost her battle with cancer today. We shall always be thankful that Aja was a part of our lives. As befitting an officer, Aja was wrapped in a flag and buried under the pecan tree in the pasture that faces the mountain. Her happy, goofy face will now brighten Heaven. Here's a salute to K9 Officer Aja.
Tuesday, 10 May 2016
We tap dance with the predators around here. Just before dusk each night the coyotes gather up and sing. Although four coyotes can sound like forty, I'm still pretty sure we have a double digit coyote pack around here. It's tempting to actively hunt them but to do so would simply open the niche for a less stable pack to move in, so we opt to manage our livestock instead.
We have Livestock Guardian Dogs for the sheep and goats, and if they are grazing in pastures away from the barnyard, we escort them with Border Collies and return them home when their bellies are full. Micromanaging the small livestock is easier than cattle. One would think the cows can take care of themselves, but baby calves are vulnerable. For this reason, we kept the first time mothers close to the house until their babies were big enough to discourage an attack. We do have tiny babies now, but their mothers are veterans who will kill a dog in an instant, so we assume coyotes would fare the same.
It's hard to keep weight on nursing mothers that are penned, so last week we turned them loose. Naturally we had a baby born in the forest, but she was born to Daisie Mae, a battle ax of a cow who thinks nothing of tossing dogs or humans. (Homegirl needs to head to the auction barn as soon as her baby is weaned.)
We still check these cows daily to make sure all the calves are still alive and take note of any cows getting ready to have babies. Trace comes with us because, like a Trunk Monkey, you never know when you'll need a Border Collie. I'm sure there are better trained and fancier working cow dogs out there, but Trace does a fine job and doesn't have the bravado that would get him killed, so he's #1 CowDog when working pairs. This is because Trace has enough sense not to take the fight to the cows.
With cow/calf pairs that attitude can get you killed. Lily has a no-nonsense approach that is best used in other situations. Trace's stare/retreat/regroup/"I'm still here" approach tends to work better with pairs. He gets the job done without upsetting cows or getting killed. Sometimes retreat is the better part of valor, or as Shakespeare's Falstaff says when he defends a seemingly cowardly act of playing dead to stay alive,
"The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have sav'd my life."
In other words, doing what you have to do to live another day is a part of valor.
Trace lives by that code. Here he is with Daisie Mae, the Battle-Axe-Bitch-Cow. Trace walks out with Other Half.
The cows notice him in the tall grass and decide he is a predator that must be stomped.
Retreat. Regroup. Reconsider.
Daisie Mae decides that it's easier to just take her calf and move. It isn't showy, but the cow moves and everyone is still alive.
Although Lily would call this cowardice, she has been kicked and run over many more times than Trace, so when you hang your hat up at the end of the day, if the job got done and nobody ended up at the vet or in the ground, I guess it's all good.
Monday, 02 May 2016
A dear friend of mine once described me as being afflicted with "catastrophic expectations," where your mind races towards the worst possible conclusion to even the slightest bump in the road. She recognized the disease because she suffers from it too. If someone is more than a few minutes late, we immediately assume they're dead in a ditch somewhere and begin making funeral plans in our heads. As you can imagine, a career as a crime scene investigator did nothing to dull my sense of catastrophic expectations, and neither does living on a farm.
It works like this:
If you have a favorite goat, that's the one who will die. If a particularly beautiful baby goat or lamb is born, that's the one who will die. If a calf is missing, the coyotes got it. That lump in the yard is a dead chicken. The bushes the Labrador just stuck his head inside will contain a copperhead. It happens often enough that things like that are always in the back of your mind.
If you have enough animals, someone is always in crisis, on the verge of crisis, or recovering from a crisis. Sometimes just right out of the blue, tragedy hits you. If you have sheep and goats, you are always worried about worms, coccidiosis, accidents, and predators. I just got coccidiosis cleared up in a wether who wouldn't maintain weight. He's starting to bloom. Now I have to worry about occasional diarrhea in one or both of the bottle baby goats. Is it the formula? Is it the spring grass? Is it the fact that they are now eating alfalfa and pelleted food too? They aren't sick, just runny every few days, so we just keep playing with variables.
Aja, the retired patrol dog, appears to have Inflamed Bowel Syndrome, which is in essence, a wasting away disease where her bowel is rejecting food. This is apparently common in some lines of German Shepherds. It can be somewhat controlled with the use of anitibiotics and steroids, but the longterm use of drugs brings its own problems, and they don't always work. Thus we find ourselves juggling her diet. Commercial dog food just doesn't cut it now. She does best on raw food, including raw meat, cooked meat, and cooked eggs. She looks like a prisoner of war now, but she is happy and so we continue to juggle her diet to find things her stomach will tolerate. I worry about her and don't see a bright future in the horizon, but we take it day by day. If she's eating, I'm happy. If she doesn't, my mind immediately jumps to catastrophic expectations.
This week we had a new calf born to our nasty tempered escape artist cow. This old bitch will kick a dog or toss a human in an instant. I've wanted to get rid of her for the last two years. Other Half has a lot more patience because she is a valuable cow who produces nice calves. She has always produced bull calves. I finally got Other Half to agree to sell her as a pair as soon as she calved this year. Someone else can deal with a cow that tries to kill stockdogs and leads the entire herd off the property.
Naturally Nasty Cow produced a heifer calf this year. Since we probably want to keep that calf, it means we still have to keep the nasty cow until her calf is weaned. When I first saw the calf, much to her mother's distress, she had fixated on Tiny and was trying to keep up with his little band of horses instead of her mother.
I guess one red butt looks just like another one. The horses tolerated this pretty well. Eventually her mother reclaimed her. The next morning the calf was missing. A veteran of "catastrophic expectations" I immediately assumed the calf had been killed by coyotes, or bogged down in the creek during one of her mother's escape attempts, and then killed by coyotes. We did eventually find the calf, but I won't stop worrying about her until she is large enough to fend off predators on her own. This kind of calf is definitely fodder for catastrophic expectations.
The Livestock Guardian Dog puppies are ten months old now and are right at the age where they want to escape their responsibilities and run the forest chasing hogs and deer. This is a dangerous sport. The hogs have little piglets. This week The Boyz disappeared for almost two hours. I was worried sick because I had just seen a herd of pigs near the fence where the goats were grazing. I drove off in search on a 4-Wheeler and ran smack into hogs with piglets. We parted company quickly, but being a veteran of catastrophic expectations, I was then certain both boys were bleeding or dead after a hog attack. Two hours later I found the little bastards playing in a watery bog beside our pasture like drunken frat boys. The entire time I had been worried sick, they had been having a party. I was not amused.
All livestock guardian dogs roam, it's in their DNA. It's why so many end up in rescue. You have to train them through that stage. Some never get out of the stage and you just have to adapt their environment so they can't escape. When Briar was this age she was horrible about climbing fences. Since she didn't leave the property, I really didn't worry about it until the day we saw her climb the fence like a giant white ape to attack the garbage man who fended her off with a trash can. Time for hot wire. Briar eventually outgrew the stage and now she is a reliable guardian dog. And the Anatolians will be too, but they still have to be monitored through this stage. Thus it's time for tires.
We fitted them with wide Bite Dog collars and chained them to tires that they drag around the yard. It doesn't keep them from moving but it sure does elimate that digging under the fence and have frat parties in the forest. If you don't immediately see them, follow the drag trail of the tire.
Naturally this also feeds my catastrophic expectations because even though we've taken precautions, I still obsess about dogs hanging themselves, thus if the boys can't be loosely monitored, we still will lock them behind bars. It's just not worth giving myself an ulcer.
If you live on a ranch, you get used to tragedy laced amid the beauty like a rattlesnake hiding in a field of wildflowers. It's just there. You can choose to focus only on the wildflowers, you can choose to focus only on the rattlesnake, or you can wear snake boots and keep on going about your day. I wear snake boots. I don't deny the snake exists, I expect it, plan for it, and work around it. Some folks call that "catastrophic expectations." I call it planning for reality. If bad things happen, you're prepared. If they don't, you're pleasantly surprised.