August First Already?

August 1, 2015

Oh my goodness, it’s August. The goldenrod and Joe Pye weed are blooming. Sunrise is later and the birds are quieter. Most of the swallows have already left. Tick. Tick. My summer work time is running out.

I woke up a little before 4 this morning, thinking of my lists. DH has been in Colorado for the past week and Lucy is away at a friend’s house, so I sat up, snapped on the lights, and pulled out my yellow pad.

I won’t know until August 24 if our school housing is going to change. The move would be only a half-mile down the road, but after sixteen years in this apartment there would be plenty to sort and pack and load into a truck. (The books alone will be a haul — almost every wall in the apartment has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.) Faculty meetings for the new school year start a week later, one month from today, September 1. DH will be on the other side of the world that week, traveling for work in China. Thank goodness for Kyle.

Allen once told me he was going to paint the words, “Quit your worryin’!” in big letters on the side of my barn. I do know my mental fretting is a waste of time and energy. All I have to do is put one foot after another and push through the lists, methodically crossing things off every day. Discipline will get me there.

In the meantime on the farm I have plenty to keep me occupied. One of my steers-that-are-really-bulls has turned ugly in the past week. Conway Twitty is testing every limit. The moment I fill the water trough, he battles with it until he turns it over. Seventy gallons — 560 pounds — roughly his own weight. When I turn the cattle out at night, Conway does not move away from my urging but instead turns, lowers his head to bring me into focus, and paws the ground. When he’s truly aggravated he kneels and rubs his head in the dirt. (Bulls kill by crushing.) He could not signal any more clearly his growing impulse to attack.

These “Doublemint twins” are only ten months old. They are teenagers; they are small. Here they are yesterday morning chewing their cuds in the cool dark of their stall, with the geese visiting in search of any dropped breakfast grain.

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How could you be afraid of one? I always say: imagine being attacked by a 500-pound dog.

I know when I drove into the farm this week and found Kyle’s driver standing at the aluminum pipe pasture gate talking kindly to Conway pacing on the other side, I went cold with fright.

These boys are not due to go to slaughter until October, but I’m calling today to make an appointment as soon as possible. Luke Bryan has not been any problem yet but at this pressured time I can’t make the four-hour round-trip twice.

Besides, with Jersey bulls and aggression, it is always a case of not yet.

 


Working Hard

July 31, 2015

It’s been hot and sultry, 90°, humid, and buggy. Kyle and I have been working hard. Inch by inch, we are making progress. We have laid out all the posts in the back field and Kyle is beginning to pound them in.

I have a comical farmer’s tan — brown arms, brown neck and throat, brown cheeks, pale forehead under my baseball cap and dead white everywhere else, peppered by bug bites. And let us not forget the assorted scrapes and bruises. Very appetizing.

Yesterday it stormed and I took the day off. Kyle did not come. Apart from two hours of barn chores, milking, and moving sheep, plus carpooling, I stayed home to clean house and do paperwork. Not my favorite activities but necessary, and now a load off my mind.

Kyle is back today and I’m hoping we can pull ahead a little more. With any luck tomorrow, due to be another rainy day, I will have time to post a good update.


Perseverance

July 29, 2015

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My Americauna hen hatched out six chicks last week. I am so happy for her. She is an illustration of the virtue of perseverance.

This year I was so busy I adopted a policy of laissez-faire with all my poultry. My goose and two hens became broody, and I did not manage their efforts. After all, this was a natural process, surely? But the results were dismal.

My goose Kay laid almost two dozen eggs, laying and laying until she was barely able to cover the pile. Though goslings developed, they all died before hatching — my guess is due to uneven warmth.

My two hens did something similar. They each staked out a nest box and sat on a pile of eggs. However, the strain of brooding mania endemic to a sitting hen made each one watch her neighbor with a jealous eye. The moment one would leave the nest for a quick sip of water or peck of food, the other would nip over and sit on the opposite nest. This do-si-do occurred regularly. I thought it was harmless, except on those occasions I would find both hens crammed into one nest box, one sitting on the other’s long-suffering head. In the box next door, eggs were cooling. Again, developing chicks died.

The first hen successfully hatched a single egg. You’ve heard the expression, “as fussy as a hen with one chick”? She was.

I let the Americauna sit a few more days, and then, when I was sure the eggs under her were dead and rotten, I swept them all out. I gave her back a dozen fresh eggs, numbered in pencil. The new eggs were not hers, of course, as hens stop laying when they are brooding. Moreover I had no idea if the eggs were fertilized. Still, I had to let her try.

After six weeks of perseverance, she is the proud and happy mama of six.


Ironman Sunday

July 27, 2015

Yesterday was the Lake Placid Ironman. The closing of the roads for the race is always something to be planned around, as once I go down to the farm I am normally there for the day. I’ve grown to appreciate the discipline every summer. You WILL work on this project for eight to ten hours. No decisions, no distractions.

However this year Lucy rose early and biked the seven miles into town at 6 AM to cheer at the race with friends. Because she grew up attending our summer camp, she had never seen the heart of the race up close. She would not be able to bike back due to the road closures, but I told her I would pick her up before noon and we’d take the long detour through the mountains to get her home in time for her job. I figured it might burn an hour, but I wanted her to have this happy day.

“You’re a great mom!” exclaimed the state trooper at the first traffic stop who listened to my explanation and allowed me to pull over and wait for Lucy to arrive. I was gratified but startled. I understood better after inching through mile-long traffic snarls at each place the race crossed an intersection. It took over two hours to make our way home.

However Lucy had a fabulous time. Our little town center was transformed into a Mardi Gras. With the roads closed, everyone was in the streets, laughing and cheering and buying food from stalls. She and her friends wore glitter and temporary race tattoos, made posters to wave, rang cow bells, screamed to encourage the passing athletes, and ate pounds of sugary treats.

The only downside was having to leave. Next year she will know to arrange to have the day off.

*    *    *

When I was not driving, Stash and I were at the farm. After mucking the barn and bringing the cattle in, we began our chores by weeding the lilacs, pulling the raspberries, blackberries, and quack grass that are choking out the baby bushes. Here is Stash looking noble (actually watching the chickens down in the barnyard).

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Ripping up the dirt had some appeal and he offered his services.

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When I declined firmly, he sighed with resignation.

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Soon the biting midges drove us indoors and we spent our remaining hours cleaning and sorting in the farm garage. The truck has a load ready to go to the dump this morning. We head out soon to bring in the cows, go to the dump, and buy tractor fuel before Kyle arrives at 9 AM.

These baby steps of measurable progress are so heartening.


Oh, Dear

July 26, 2015

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Day before yesterday, my steer Conway Twitty began moaning loudly. I had just brought the cattle in for breakfast and normally the cattle all snooze contentedly in the dark of the barn after polishing off their grain. Instead, Conway was pacing and moaning. What in the world?

I have been aware for a while now that I have three “steers” that are not really steers. By the time I got around to castrating Skippy, the fourth and youngest, I had realized that in the winter cold and the fright of being handled, the boys’ testicles were retracting and I had missed one testicle each time. With Skippy, I reached up and made sure to pull both down. Skippy is a steer. The other three, Conway, Luke Bryan, and Olaf, are one-testicled bulls. Again. It took me a year and five calves to figure out exactly what was going on. I can be very slow.

By the time I turned the cattle out that evening, both Conway and Luke were pacing and restless. They followed Moxie step by step in the pasture. Last night, they both were mounting Moxie and in the excitement she mounted them in return.

I thought Moxie had been bred in May when she first came back into heat. She did not come into heat in June. My bull went to slaughter at the end of that month. It seems clear, however, that if Moxie was bred, she’s slipped her calf and is now open. I no longer have a bull capable of breeding her. It appears Moxie will not have a calf next spring.

I will send in milk samples for both Moxie and Dorrie to check for pregnancy, but a bull’s nose is usually reliable.

I have been planning to try to sell Dorrie next month, along with my ram and many of the lambs. My intention has been to downsize severely. However I didn’t plan on no calves or milk at all next year. Sigh.

*    *    *

My camera is now foggy in addition to moldy. All my photos seem to be taken underwater, with black blotches. We shall persevere.

*    *   *

On a happier note, new fence posts were delivered on Thursday and yesterday morning Kyle and I laid out posts every 23-25 feet around the entire perimeter of the back field. Next week we’ll pound them in.

In the afternoon Damon arrived and started mowing down the weeds left after the cattle had grazed it. He’ll finish mowing the last quarter on Monday. It’s so exciting to see progress. Someday these acres will grow grass.

Damon and I were both a little teary, thinking of his father.

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Stash’s First Haircut

July 25, 2015

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Stash got his first big-boy haircut on Wednesday. His long curls were starting to mat; they picked up hayseeds and even less desirable detritus at barn chores. Most of all I worried about taking a baby in a heavy black wool coat outside in the summer heat.

I have always planned for him to be trimmed short — to look like a dog, not topiary, like so many poodles — so I took a print-out of a photo with me to the groomer. She peered at it closely; the quality of the print was poor. “Short all over? Poodle head or round head?”

I had no idea what these terms meant. “What is a round head?”

“Like a Bichon.”

I struggled to think what a Bichon Frise looked like — and, in particular, its head. No idea. I obviously wasn’t going to ask what “poodle head” meant. I said helplessly, “I just want him to look like a normal dog with short hair.”

“Oh, can’t we keep his ears long? He’s just a puppy.”

I felt as if I had been contemplating a poodle crime. I agreed to the ears.

When I picked up Stash two hours later, I was appalled. My cute puppy had been transformed into a rat wearing a frazzled wig.

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[I apologize for the terrible photos; my camera is dying: no flash, iffy focus, mold in the lens … a $35 replacement is on its way from Ebay.]

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I kept wondering what it was that he reminded me of. I finally realized… a top-hat chicken!

My heart has recovered from the shock. I am going to trim the long scraggly ears. I will find a better photo to use as a guide before his next grooming.

In the meantime, Stash is happy not to be too hot.

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A Nice Jump Forward

July 21, 2015

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This spring, Damon found some “scrub” topsoil — full of rocks and roots — at a job site in town and I rode with him as he picked up four truckloads for me. My land has many holes and bumps, plus very thin, sour soil, so I’m always on the lookout for both fill to smooth it out and topsoil to help something grow. The soil Damon found was free for the taking; I only had to pay him to haul it in his dump truck.

Damon emptied three truckloads in the back field alongside his father’s “draw,” a natural gully that Allen crammed with stumps and rocks in the spring of 2010 and we’ve been trying to bury slowly over the years. The fourth load he dumped near the pond, to be used wherever I might need it. And there the piles have sat since early May.

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More than a month ago, Damon brought his small excavator to the farm for a day’s work. He was going to load and truck the giant, 20-ton manure pile from the barnyard to the back field (where it will rot slowly and can be spread later in the fall or next summer). He would spread the topsoil over the draw. And he would dig holes for a pair of 6×6 gate posts we’d planned to install in the barn paddock one day last November — a plan put on hold when instead he was hospitalized that day for a diabetic infection in his foot.

Unfortunately, the lovely rains that eased our spring drought and kept the grass green also kept the back field too soft for the heavy truck. Every time the ground began to dry out, it rained again. The truck and excavator sat idle.

Finally Damon decided he had to chance moving the manure pile between storms. He needed to take his equipment home for other jobs. The truck did get stuck once, but he was able to pull it out with my tractor.

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While he was trucking, at my request he carried the extra load of topsoil to the barnyard to fill deep potholes among rocks in front of the driftway. The area is lumpy with boulders and thus requires tricky weedwhacking every year. It occurred to me this summer that I might try planting some rugosa roses in the new soil in hopes of creating a hedge and making the area maintenance-free.

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More days went by. Then yesterday Damon arrived early to finish the last of the work. Over the weeks we had made so many plans that had to be changed at the last minute due to rain that I was almost shocked to see him.

First he spread the topsoil over the gully. A few more loads will see that project completed and the area will be mowable with the tractor. Maybe next summer.

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Next he dug holes for the gate posts. I was grateful to have Kyle on hand to help. After years of lifting posts to set them in deep holes, just looking at heavy ten-foot treated 6x6s I can feel the sharp bite of the weight in my shoulder. Kyle hoisted the posts without a wince, and having two people on the ground pulling the measuring tape and watching the level meant that the posts were installed perfectly plumb and square.

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Finally, Damon dug my future garden behind the future house, running beneath Allen’s boulder wall.

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I have planned this garden since I bought the forested property in 2005 and had it logged and stumped. The specifics became clearer in April of 2009, when Allen terraced the land behind the future house and built the retaining wall along a curving line I drew in the dirt with a stick. As Allen excavated giant boulder after giant boulder, I told him about the garden I would have there someday. “Rock garden,” he said, but his eyes twinkled.

This spring I had stretched a hose on the thin grass and painted a line on the ground to mark the garden border, curving from two feet wide at the low end of the wall to ten feet wide at the high end. The border would be about two hundred feet long.

I had some cash in hand from selling a side of beef; I ordered a tandem load of clean topsoil (after terracing, the back yard is mostly lunar subsoil). I figured I would use a pick-axe to break up and remove the thin weedy surface. Then I would build a retaining wall out of what Allen and I called “trash rocks” — stones about 18″ across — and heap the topsoil six inches deep inside. This had worked nicely for a small perennial garden in front of the garage apartment.

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In my mind I could hear Allen laughing at the thought of me searching diligently for 150 trash rocks. In 2009 he buried thousands of them to create the driveway peninsula, which as a result is solid rock, five feet down.

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Still, I thought I could find enough stones in odd corners of the property over the course of the summer, in between the hours I spent swinging the pick-axe.

But the garden project, too, was put on hold. Not only was I, as usual, frantically trying to keep up with the spring rush of farm chores, but the trucking company suffered reverse after reverse.  A truck broke down. A driver had a heart attack. A second truck broke down. And it rained. The topsoil was not delivered.

Meanwhile Damon’s excavator sat at the farm in the rain. One day I looked at it thoughtfully. I’ll bet that bucket could skim off the surface of the garden border in under an hour! I asked Damon if he would mind adding the job to the list; he shrugged. Fine.

During the long wait, my original line had disappeared with mowing. Yesterday as the excavator climbed the slope, I ran ahead and re-marked it with red spray paint. For about $40 the entire border was carved. It was very exciting.

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And also a bit unnerving, to have created another giant mess — in under an hour. [Double-click on any photo to enlarge.]

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“Boy, this will be a lot of work!” I exclaimed, scrambling over the piles of dirt and stones, keeping my voice cheerful.

Damon’s mouth twisted sardonically but he merely nodded. He doesn’t approve of my gardening and landscaping efforts. “You ain’t got time to be fuckin’ with flowers,” he has told me more than once.

This may be true — especially with a possible move on my horizon — but it’s all a part of the dream. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to make a big jump forward.


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