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Wednesday, April 15 2020

Last spring I succumbed to the temptation to buy chicks at our local Tractor Supply. I bought a dozen Blue Wyandotte chicks (Blue, not Blue-Laced Red) Statistics say that half of those chicks would be girls that would grow to be productive little hens. Screw statistics. I got eight roosters and four hens. 

The roosters were bad. Soooo bad. Within a few months they ended up going to freezer camp where they make great chicken & dumplings. The four hens were soon reliably laying eggs and I forgot how much I hated raising chicks inside the house.  The blue hens joined the rest of the free-range flock which roams the barnyard all day, scratching and pecking to their hearts’ delight. All is great with that system as long as they don’t leave the barnyard or the Livestock Guardian Dogs. Do chickens understand that?  

No. 

Not at all. They leave the barnyard immediately to scratch in the forest. Last summer one of the four blue hens was stolen. We found blue feathers by the pond. I couldn’t get angry at the bobcat, fox, or coyote. The hen was waaaaaay away from the Dogs and the Barnyard. Play by the rules, Chicken. Play by the rules. 

So then there were three. 

These three hens are pretty smart. Wily smart. Have they learned anything from the fate of their sister? 

No. 

They go the exact same place. Hopefully these will at least look over their shoulders a little more often. They do appear to be smarter than the average chicken. Criminal smart, not Einstein smart. 

Every evening the chickens must be locked in their coops. Seven birds in one coop. Three in another. And three blue hens in another. The other chickens dutifully go to bed before dusk (except Berta! This little Speckled Sussex hen waits until the very last drop of daylight.) The three Blue hens are now called The Blue Wenches because they simply refuse to go to bed until dark. 

Enter Border Collies. Mesa and Wyatt have been putting those blue chickens up at night since there were twelve of them. Now that there are only three hens, it’s gotten to be a real chore. The birds have learned skills. Mad skills. They must sit up at night reading books about How to Trick a Border Collie. 

Their first trick was to split into three different directions.

Since there are only two Border Collies this insured at least one bird got away. The next trick was to run underneath the cabin. The next trick was to double back and run for the sheep pens where they can fly up onto pen gates and look down upon confused Border Collies. And if the dogs are successful in getting them cut off before they can get to the sheep pens there is one last trick - the picnic table. 

It’s right in the path to their coop. It’s their last ditch effort to avoid going to bed - hop onto the picnic table and stare down as the dogs stare up like Jedi warriors willing the birds to move.  Guess what! 

Jedi mind tricks don’t work well on chickens. But guess what else! 

Possum, the deaf Australian Shepherd has no Jedi mind tricks. In fact, she has little or no herding skills at all. But she tries. And that’s the important thing. Possum knows the drill. She knows the chickens are supposed to go into the coops at night. So she gets in the way helps every night. Most of the time everyone ignores Possum. I mean, she’s not a Border Collie. 

Hah! 

Possum has the last laugh. 

So while the Border Collies practice futile Jedi mind tricks, Possum bounces in like Thor wielding a hammer. She gives a cute little bounce and a thunder bark. This never fails to startle hens off the table where the Border Collies commence to moving them to the coop. Possum bounces around with a grin, happy that the ball is back in play and the game can resume. 

I put some thought into this yesterday. The Blue Wenches are annoying, but they are sharpening the dogs’ skills. Wyatt is learning patience and to think outside the box. Mesa is learning to give an inhibited bite to get some respect. And we are all learning that Possum doesn’t have to be a Border Collie to be some help around here. She brings other skills to the table, and Possum makes us think. She never fails to teach me life lessons.

Sometimes you can stare and study the puzzle of life like Bobby Fischer playing chess and you get nothing. Sometimes it takes a bounce and bark, a shake of the board, a flip of the table, and the game resets itself. 

Maybe that’s what this pandemic is about. Maybe it’s a shake of the board, a flip of the table, a bounce, a bark, a chance for a reset.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:12 am   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email
Friday, April 03 2020

I continue to learn life lessons from this ole girl. Lily was my first Border Collie. Had I started with Trace the Troll, I probably would never have bought another one. Instead, I began my journey with Lily, the Perfect Dog. She isn't the perfect sheepdog. Nor the perfect cow dog. But she is the perfect stockdog and the best little partner you could ever ask for in an employee and friend. Over time she's gradually given over the reins of the stock work to Mesa. Lily is happy enough to sit in the Kubota and supervise. 

And sticks.

She still loves to carry sticks and entice me into a game of fetch. 

The problem with fetch is that younger and faster dogs will always beat her to the stick so unless she's alone, I rarely toss it. No worries. She's happy enough to select and carry sticks anyway. The sad part is that the young Border Collies will do drive-bys and snatch sticks right out of Lily's mouth. Just because. It's the canine equivalent of someone stealing your parking place. But does Lily get angry? Does she shake her paw and growl ugly things at the rudeness that reigns supreme? No. 

No. Every single time Lily shakes it off with a smile and races away in search of another perfect stick. I never play fetch with the stick thief anyway, so there is no reward for them to steal Lily's stick. But I do take notice of Lily's steadfast good nature and determination to not let the ugliness in this world get her down. Like a rubber ducky, she rocks and rolls and rises to the top - with a smile on her face. 

This morning I saw Wyatt snatch a stick right out of Lily's mouth just as he does ten or twenty times a day. Younger, stronger, and faster, he raced off with his prize. Lily cast her eyes in my direction and smiled. No worries. She bounced off in search of another perfect stick. That got me to thinking that perhaps we could all take a lesson from Lily. In life there will always be setbacks. Life will find a way to steal your stick. It's how we respond to these setbacks that matter. 

I watched the younger dogs race off to play in the distance as Lily bounded up with a smile and another stick. This time I reached down and tossed the perfect stick for her. It was an ah-ha moment for me. Lily raced off to retrieve her stick and I thought about what I'd just learned. Don't get upset. Go with the flow. Just keep doing your best with a smile. God sees you. He will toss your stick when the time is right. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:40 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, April 01 2020

I keep hearing a term being tossed around - the "new normal."

As this pandemic sweeps across the world, very few remain untouched. Those of us who live on farms are perhaps better able to exist in a state of self-quarantine since that really doesn't change our day to day lives much. We aren't going stir crazy here because there is plenty to do and yet, we no longer feel the pressure that we need to be somewhere else. There is nowhere else to be. Somehow that makes it a little easier to do chores and tackle the list of honey-dos you've been putting off. 

Foraging expeditions for necessary items are stressful and leave that nagging fear I may bring the virus home. That means another two weeks of quarantine before we can relax. We see others not taking things seriously. Either they have no clue how easily items are contaminated or they are apathetic. I've spent enough years collecting DNA that I know how many places this virus may linger. Therefore I take no trip in public casually. We watch the news and are appalled by the number of people who selfishly continue to gather in large groups. Either they are oblivious or they do not care. It doesn't look good for us as a society. I can only imagine that the Italians see news reports of American spring breaks and simply shake their heads. 

I spend a lot more time outside now. Spring allergy season brings a whole new twist. "Is it cedar pollen or Coronavirus?" I've never been a hypochondriac but now I worry. How many people could I infect if I carried the virus? But as we look around us, we realize that we are blessed to be living away from the Metroplex and like everyone else, we're getting a taste of what's really important. I can raise anything that can walk to water but my gardening skills are less than stellar so now I'm feeling that pinch. I still plan to put in another garden this year but my backup plan is to trade eggs, meat, and cash with friends who have better gardening skills. Now more than ever we must share our skills and buy local where we can. 

My chickens are now essential personnel.  Their eggs provide for four families and so when a rat snake killed an adult hen last week, not only was I livid but it rattled me a bit. The hens are essential and cannot be easily replaced. Snake lovers, please spare me your protests that rat snakes only eat eggs and will not kill adult birds. Horse Hockey!

"There is no rat snake in Texas big enough to eat a chicken!" (Yes, I heard this one.)

I didn't say the snake ATE the hen, I said he killed her. These snakes that eat birds don't necessarily stop to consider that they cannot eat the bird they kill and so the shocked and enraged farmer is left with a dead hen that was alive ten minutes earlier before she walked into the coop where a snake was hiding. She is dead. Her head is now purple and wet. I have a friend who lost three hens in one night as the snake went from hen to sleeping hen. She found three dead hens and a rat snake the next morning. Pardon me, but now I make no apologies for killing any rat snake I find in my chicken yard. 

"But the snake has to eat!" 

So do I, darling. So do the four families that hen fed. There is nothing like a pandemic to bring out our basic instincts. I'm not gonna fight over toilet paper, but come after my chickens and I will shoot your ass. 

The Navajo-Churro sheep show that was to be held here in October was cancelled and so now the wether and rams that were to be butchered for the show dinner will end up in my freezer instead. I'm still eating on a bull we butchered years ago. The meat is good and each time I open the freezer I'm thankful for his sacrifice to feed my family. Ironically the price of beef in grocery stores continues to climb yet beef on the hoof has plummeted in value. Four main meat buyers have a monopoly and so as the American public pays more for beef cuts, the American rancher can no longer afford to sell his cattle at auction because they bring a fraction of their former value. Unless cattle prices come back up, our calves are worth more to us in local freezers. And our own. 

My new normal more closely resembles my old normal except that now it's a necessity. I'm back to tending the sheep in the pasture but now it's because I must stretch that corn as far as possible. Not only do I not have a paycheck but each trip out endangers me or others if I happen to be carrying the virus. (Until we know differently, we must all assume we are carriers.) So out to the pasture I go. I take a few dogs to manage the flock and protect the lambs from being snatched. They are large enough to keep up now but sometimes they get absorbed in grazing and don't notice when the flock moves on. If I have two or three Big White Dogs around any predator lurking will be detected before a lamb disappears. 

Like the rest of the country, we are cooking from scratch more now. I'm back to baking a lot of sourdough bread so I didn't panic when the bread was sold out at the grocery store. For the first time we are actually fishing for dinner instead of entertaining the grandchildren. It's nice to know that in less time it would take us to go to the grocery store, we had caught two fat catfish. Two catfish, two potatoes, and a few hush puppies fed two people dinner and lunch the next day. 

Last week I was astounded when I went to the grocery store and found it sold out of all pasta and dried beans. As a child we were really poor. I remember asking my mother, "Momma, are we poor?"

"No baby, we're just broke right now."

My momma knew how to cook and stretch a meal so that you enjoyed Poor Man's food. Now it's called "comfort food." It's really about making more with less. Now our family like many others, returns back to Poor Man's food, meals that fill you up for pennies. As a global society our "new normal" is slowing down, learning what's important, learning to rely on ourselves, but also to take care of each other. And maybe that's not a bad thing. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:03 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email

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