Goodbye, Goslings

January 16, 2017

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Yesterday I woke up to an email from a woman inquiring about my Pilgrim goslings. They have been on Craigslist for months. I answered, not thinking much of it — too many of these inquiries are from folks who say accusingly, after a lengthy correspondence, “You’re four hours from me!” as if I did not have my location posted front and center in my ad.

However, to my surprise, at 3:00 the woman and her husband arrived at the farm and bought the girls. They had driven three hours round-trip. (Since they were a half hour early, I never got a nice final family portrait: the dark photo above, of the geese resting and warming their feet in a cow stall between forays in the snow, was snapped with my cell phone as I mucked the barn.)

The woman was an experienced goose keeper and told me about her flock of Toulouse and African geese, which live on a spring-fed, never-freezing small pond in a fenced pasture. She is going to look for an unrelated Pilgrim gander. I can’t imagine a nicer home for my goslings.

It’s never easy for me to sell animals. It’s not that I think I’m perfect in the husbandry department; it’s that I know I will always try my best. When I was a child, the 1877 novel Black Beauty, the “autobiography” of a horse moving through successive owners, each worse than the last, made a huge impact on me. (As it did on the world, inspiring the animal welfare movement.)  I always worry for the future of my babies.

For example, my hay man has asked me to sell him various lambs and cattle many times. I never will. Rick is a hustler and a broker. He is a good person but to him animals are a commodity to be bought low and sold high. I understand this business-like mindset but it is not mine.

Meanwhile, it must be said that people who love geese may occupy an alternate universe entirely. When I sold the 2015 grown goslings, again a married pair came to the farm. This couple was older. Again it was the woman who was the goose expert, speaking to me knowledgeably about goose care, telling me of the goose house in the backyard. Again the husband was entirely silent. But in this case the gentleman had rather a hunted, desperate look.

When his wife went to the car to get her cash, I asked him kindly, “You’re not a goose fan?”

“I like geese all right, but not in the living room!”

“In the living room?” I was confused.

“She likes to sit on the sofa with them to watch TV!”

I could only blink, trying to imagine the scene. The woman had told me she had three ganders. With my two females, she would have a flock of five big birds. On the sofa. In the living room. Watching television.

Excreting.

Alarm bells went off in my mind, but the geese were already loaded in their car. I told myself that though the conditions might be eccentric, the girls would certainly be cherished.

Still, I was very happy yesterday to hear about the fenced pasture and the spring-fed pond.


More Second Floor

January 13, 2017

This has been a hectic week. Students have been falling like nine-pins to flu with 103° fevers, the weather has see-sawed with high winds, and as the problems have multiplied I’ve been constantly late and rushing. The barn water hydrants froze. The DVD drive on my old computer — which I need for teaching — failed. My car battery unexpectedly went dead. That day I drove my truck to work, trying to outsmart the faulty brakes’ desire to lock up on any slippery surface. Think fast!

On Wednesday at morning chores, the 50-mph wind was shrieking around the barn, scattering the hay put out for the animals into the air and tearing a flapping strip from the housewrap on the house. I thought glumly that there would be no progress that day. However by early afternoon the wind had died, and when I arrived after work I saw the men had been busy on the second floor.

I braved the ice and my serious fear of heights to climb the ladder to see.

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They had used the brief lull in the winds to lift up all the interior wall panels…

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… as well as the last pieces of the exterior walls.

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A few of the wall panels had been nailed in. I tiptoed around, greeting even the most mundane spaces with delight. Hello, linen closet!

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As I looked out the window of our future bedroom I felt tears pricking in my eyes. It’s really coming true.

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Second Floor North

January 10, 2017

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When I got down to the farm after teaching yesterday, I found the builders hard at work. I was a bit surprised, given the cold.

“I didn’t know if you’d be working today!” I called up to them.

“Why not?”

“Well, 18 or 20 below zero —”

“Ah, that’s nothing,” Mike said.

“It’s when there’s wind that it’s a problem,” explained Nick. “We can deal with cold.”

They were fitting in place the north wall of the second floor. In the photo below Mike and Nick are standing in the frame of Jon and Amanda’s bedroom window.

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There was the usual attention to precision, setting up a pry bar to push for the last 1/8″ for a perfect fit.

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The house currently looks quite peculiar . . .

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. . . and when anxiety flares, I remind myself to trust the design. However, over the years my spatial sense has been proved dead wrong so often that I check the drawings anyway.

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Oh, okay.

The weather report called for snow and 40 mph winds this afternoon. While I mucked the barn, the men used the boom truck to start lifting more wall sections to the second floor. Nothing can be lifted when the wind is blowing.

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Just as they finished, the clouds parted for a brief moment of sunshine.

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I took it for a good omen.


Yahoo for Moxie!

January 9, 2017

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Good news. The email arrived. Moxie is in calf! Way to go, Pee-Wee!

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I could have sent a blood test in for Elsa but that would have required wrestling a halter onto her and calling my friend Alison (a nurse) to draw blood. I’ll just watch Elsa’s figure.

Moxie is older and more fragile and now that I am sure she is pregnant, I know when to wean the calf, Mel Gibson.

Since I didn’t see any breeding, all I can guess is that calving will fall between mid-June and mid-July. I will be glad of the warm weather, especially as it is likely that Moxie will come down with milk fever again. (Always easier to fight a deadly metabolic imbalance when you’re not also fighting sub-zero temperatures!)


-18° This Morning

January 9, 2017

Yesterday morning it was -14° F. Tomorrow we are due to have 40 mph winds with snow.

This is perfectly normal for the High Peaks in January — in fact, when the weather strays too far from its appointed rounds, I worry. However, that does not mean I enjoy the cold, the wind, the dark, the frozen pipes, the ice, the bad roads. This year I have the added anxiety of trying to have a house built in this weather.

To cheer myself up yesterday, I counted how long it would be until the Great Melt in mid-April. Gee, only a little more than three months! That will pass quickly!

Then I remembered that my long, luxurious summer vacation from school is also three months. Maybe it won’t be as quick as I hope.


Moxie, Elsa, Pee-Wee, and Mel

January 8, 2017

Or: A Cattle Update

My cow Moxie did not get bred back after calving in the summer of 2015. I had a bull, Leo, at the time, but Leo was small and was kept from her by two much larger steers (both drunk with power). I didn’t realize Moxie hadn’t been bred until long after Leo and the steers went to slaughter — and also after her 2015 bull calf and foster calf had been castrated. Thus, there was no calf born on Fairhope Farm in 2016, and no way to ensure one for 2017, either. The dairy where I had always bought bull calves had gone out of business. I figured I was stuck.

I mentioned this one day last August while throwing hay bales with Rick, my hay man.

“I can bring you a bull,” Rick said. “I got a yearling. No problem.”

I was immediately nervous. Bulls are dangerous. Jersey bulls are particularly dangerous. I raise my Jersey bulls from day-olds; by the time they are big, they know me and my routines — and I know them. The thought of bringing a strange, full-grown Jersey bull to the farm was frightening. However, I could see no other way to get Moxie bred, so I agreed. Nervously.

There were delays. The yearling was sold. No, the buyer backed out. Rick would bring him this day. No, it would be that day.

I fretted — I knew I would be out of town the weekend of October 15 for Jon and Amanda’s wedding. Damon, who is not experienced with cattle, would be caring for my animals. For safety’s sake, the bull had to be off the farm by then. A cow’s heat cycle is roughly 21 days. It would be best if the bull were on the farm at least six weeks, so there were two potential opportunities for breeding.

Rick finally pulled in to the farm with a trailer the afternoon of September 5. I stepped up on the bumper to peek in at the scary bull.

Big dark eyes looked up at me out of a worried baby face. The bull was small and scrawny, so thin he looked like a hound dog. When I turned him out with my girls, even Elsa (who is a petite heifer; below right) was larger.

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Neither Elsa nor Moxie was impressed with their new suitor. I began calling him “Pee-Wee.”

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Pee-Wee had unfortunate conformation. Despite his boniness (I could count all of his short ribs), he had the usual bull neck — but zero hind end. No muscles at all.

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He had been locked in a stall indoors most of his life. I told myself all he needed was groceries and exercise.

However, for now even Elsa felt free to push him around impatiently. Pee-Wee was so anxious and deferential I worried if he would ever get up the gumption to do more than stand apologetically with his hat in his hands.

In the meantime I was thinking about future breeding. I needed a calf now, to keep Moxie milked out and breed her in the fall of 2017. After a lot of advertising on Craigslist, I finally found a Jersey bull calf ninety minutes away. It was another sad reflection on farming today. The calf was three weeks old. He had been earmarked as a future herd bull — but after looking at their milk check, the dairy had decided to fold instead. They were happy to sell him to me for $75.

I drove upstate one afternoon after work to get him. I named the calf Mel Gibson, and prayed he would have a nicer temperament than his namesake.

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Being older than the usual newborns, Mel caught the hang of nursing very quickly and soon was thriving.

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Fall moved in. The view at the lake house was spectacular.

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However my big focus (apart from planning for the upcoming wedding) was to get everything at the farm mowed one last time before winter.

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The cattle were eating hay. It was gratifying to see Pee-Wee becoming rounder, sleek, and snorty. He was not yet threatening, but I now could sense that I had a bull in the barn.

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Rick returned to pick him up October 11, just before the wedding. Pee-Wee had been on the farm five weeks; I was sure they had been the best five weeks of his life. Rick said he was going directly to the sale barn.

It is always hard for me that I can’t control the world.

Fast forward to January. In the months since Pee-Wee’s departure, one or the other of the cows has come into heat several times. I’m not sure which girl didn’t settle. Maybe both. Elsa has been the one flinging herself around in a frenzy, but hysteria when pheromones are in the air is normal heifer behavior. Moxie is more sedate at nearly eight years old.

Last week I sent off a milk sample from Moxie to the lab in Oregon. They received it Friday.

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I should know tomorrow night if she is bred. Fingers crossed.


Creeping Upward

January 7, 2017

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Yesterday was clear and cold. The high was due to be 14° F, so I did not know if the men would be working. However, when I arrived at the farm after work for evening chores I found the beginnings of our second story. The rear half of the exterior walls are up!

The building currently looks rather like a fortress, as when they wrapped it in Tyvek they did not cut out the window and door openings in the first floor and basement. The housewrap will block the weather until the windows and doors actually arrive and can be installed.

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These openings on the second-floor south wall are our bathroom window, the children’s bathroom window, and Lucy’s bedroom double window. Lucy lived in a very dark bedroom for her first eighteen years and our stay in this lake house (where she has a wide south window) has given her an appreciation of light. A sunny bedroom was her only request when I was planning the house.

Here is 2/3 of the west wall with our bedroom windows, which face the mountains.

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Mike built a temporary door and he and Nick added insulation to the basement to hold in the warmth of a torpedo heater. After months of eating in their trucks, Mike said, “We need a lunch room!”

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The basement is now also a tool storage and work space. The tent canopy they had been using was not only too cold for winter but in one of our windstorms was crushed into a tangle of bent metal pipes — now forlornly sticking out of a snowbank.