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Farm Fresh Blog
Tuesday, September 30 2014
Since the Troll was just a wee pup he's been able to entertain himself. He crawls into his own little world with such wild enthusiasm that just watching him play brightens my day. Perhaps we could all learn something from this little dog. Trace makes his own fun. He doesn't require special toys. Trace creates his own toys - his own fun.
He played and he played and he played. He raced up and down the fence line with his toy - not parading it for me or Cowboy, or anyone else, just racing with a glove, or perhaps it was a rabbit, or a squirrel, or maybe it was the red bird that poops on Momma's truck mirrors. From time to time he would stop, flip it in the air, and catch it in moves that would make a Harlem Globetrotter proud.
Thursday, September 25 2014
And so it was that despite the rapid drip of blood all over my shirt and the 4wheeler, I pressed onward. Being a crime scene investigator brings a certain skill set. As I crashed through the brush, I glanced down from time to time to check the bleeding. Nope, no arterial spurting, just the steady heavy flow of dripped blood. No worries there.
"Just a flesh wound!"
(For the younger crowd, google Monty Python and watch it.)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. As all bloody adventures begin, this one began with cattle. Regarding building fences, it is said that if you can throw dishwater through it, a goat can get through it. The same can be said for keeping cattle on a large piece of property in North Texas. Since everything they need and more is provided on the 133 acres we own one would think they have no reason to wander, but cows don't reason like that. They also have two great allies in their quest for adventure: the creek and the hogs.
A lazy little creek meanders through our property like an anaconda in the Amazon. Most of the time the creek is bone dry, but when it rains, this creek can turn into a raging force of nature, capable of moving large trees which crash through fences like battering rams. Then you add the feral hogs. These hogs can grow to enormous numbers and proportions. They use the dry creekbeds as highways and consider the fences across the creek as mere speedbumps. In time these Porky Pigs create holes in a fence big enough to drive a truck through, or at least a large heifer.
As is my habit, each morning the dogs and I drive the property on the 4wheeler. And each morning I saw fresh evidence of cattle: tracks and cow patties, but no cows. Each afternoon would find the whole group of them chewing their cud under the pecan trees by the big pond in the pasture. Since the property is so wild, it is entirely plausible we could lose an entire herd of cows, or lions, tigers, and bears, in the forest and never find them, so it wasn't until we were packing to leave that we realized we had a problem.
Other Half happened to look across the fence at the neighbor's property and saw a couple of our cows staring back at him. Rut ro!
"Houston, we have a problem."
Since the property they were on was bigger than ours, and just as wild, finding everyone and getting them pushed back onto our ranch was a massive undertaking which would have been impossible without the Border Collies. Fortunately most of this group started life as show cattle and were tame, so we began shaking feed sacks and calling them like puppies. The biggest chow hounds began to emerge from the brush. Then we had to convince them to follow us down a fence line, down a deep dry creek, up a deep dry creek, and down acres and acres in the opposite direction of the metal cow feeder. It was an arduous task which required patience, a great deal of acting, an empty feed sack, and dogs.
When we discovered the cattle were out we just had Trace the Troll and Ranger the Blue Heeler in the pickup. I raced off on the 4 wheeler to open the north gate so we could call cattle to that open gate. Once they walked ALL THE WAY TO THAT GATE, they would then have to retrace their path on the opposite side of the fence (our side) to return to the exact same spot they had just left but on the other side of a field fence. Try explaining that to a cow.
I did manage to get one in that way. The other one petered out about half way through the journey and announced that,
"Fat girls can't walk that far."
I almost cried when she turned back around, but I continued on with the one greedy chow hound who was convinced the empty feed sack would produce goodies if she just walked a little farther. I got her to the feeder where she was rewarded with actual cattle cubes. Then I returned for the other one. She was well on her way back to where she started. And that's when I saw a little red streak. Other Half had deployed the Heat-Seeking Missile.
Trace the Troll/Norman Bates the Psycho/Red Feather the Nasty Ranch Dog had been jettisoned. He raced through the brush so far away from both of us that he was a mere red dot in the distance. He found the cow, picked her up, and headed her back toward Other Half, then turned her into the creek where the water gap in the fence was down, and his job was done. Just like that, she was back on our property. He was huffing and puffing and proud of himself. Ranger had also been deployed but he apparently had only run part of the distance before announcing,
"Little Fat Blue Dawgs don't run this far!"
And thus, he returned to the truck where he was benched for the rest of the game.
In time the rest of the adult cows threaded their way through the brush and came home. Everyone came in except for five calves.
Yep, five calves - four little calves born this summer and Little Bully, a bull calf born last winter. He was destined to be a replacement bull for his father who died last winter. We had no idea where the calves were. There were hundreds and hundreds of acres to cover, in land rich with cactus, briars, brush, heavy forest, feral hogs, copperheads, and rattlesnakes. We had nothing but a pickup truck, a 4Wheeler and three Border Collies, thus, we had everything we needed.
We went back to the ranch house and traded in the Benched Blue Heeler for Cowboy/Snidley Whiplash/Old Dog With A Bad Back. I picked up my favorite Trunk Monkey and we bounced off in search of calves while Other Half cut a hole in the water gap so we could drive the calves through it when we did find them.
So Lily and I drove and drove and drove. We followed the trail of fresh cow poop and in time found the calves bedded down in the forest not far off a gas pipeline easement. We then returned to get reinforcements. There was a wide range in ages. The youngest calf was two weeks old. Guess who his momma is? Yes, Paisley. What other crackhead would leave a two week old baby alone in a forest with coyotes and cougars?
Paisley is a dumbass. Forgive me, but she is. She is a crack momma with little or no maternal instinct and needs to be cut from the team. I don't care what she looks like. She left her infant in the care of a teenage boy.
Little Bully really stepped up to the plate. He assumed the role of babysitter for an infant and three toddlers.
Other Half scooped up the old dog and put him in safety of the pickup truck where he supervised the rest of the mission.
We soon worked out a suitable method for moving the calves. Lily and I rode on the 4Wheeler just outside their flight bubble. The bull calf kept himself between the infant and the dog. As long as they were moving in the right direction, we just rolled behind them. When they stopped, Lily hopped off the bike and stalked forward. Once inside the bubble, they would start moving and Lily would back off and hop back on the bike.
This was successful while the gas pipeline easement had heavy forest on both sides, but once it opened up to heavy brush with scattered trees, the calves decided that they were going to make a break for it.
And that's when I made the decision not to lose what we'd already gained. I had to take off on the left flank and head them off before they scattered. There was no trail, just brush. I gunned that engine through the brush, saw just a small opening, and took it.
The vines draped over the opening turned out to be briars. The tree turned out to be a thorny tree. The 4Wheeler was caught. I gunned it and pushed forward before we lost the cows. And the blood flowed.
Lots and lots of blood. I think I left part of my face hanging in those briars. But the important thing is that we caught the calves and turned them around, and as the blood flowed down my face and dripped across the front of the bike, I left a blood trail in the sand. Unfortunately the calves overshot the water gap and walked all the way down the fence line to stand across the fence from their mommas. Since the pickup couldn't go down the steep bank of the creek to help retrieve calves, it was up to Lily and I. Imagine now trying to push tired, irritated calves AWAY from the mothers and down the fence to a water gap,
and yet that little dog did it. Every time they stopped moving, she hopped off the 4Wheeler, entered the bubble, and held her ground patiently while waiting for Little Bully to decide to move forward. It was a dicey game. Push him too much and he'd bow up on the dog. Get too close to the infant calf and he'd bow up on the dog. And so acre by acre, Lily pushed the calves away from their mothers and toward the gap in the fence. Once Little Bully found that gap, he led the calves through it and back toward their mothers.
Oh Happy Day!
Lily and I did the High-5-Snoopy- Happy-Tushy-Dance. Then and only then could we clean up a bit and examine the damage to my face. Ironically even though we were in the middle of nowhere, in bumf@!%* Egypt, Other Half somehow managed to have cell phone reception and that evil man put my bloody face on Facebook! Did he give credit for the successful mission to the hardworking Border Collies? No! He showed his buddies what his wife did to her face while working cows! Grrrr....
While fixing the fence he would periodically stop working, look at my face and proclaim how bad it looked. Hmmmm. . .
I'd rather give credit where credit is due - the dogs. Without the dogs, we'd have had to wait until that evening when the cows came to the water on our property. That meant fixing the fence in the dark and driving 7 hours home all night long so we could go to work (real paycheck jobs) the next day. Egads. Not something anyone wanted to do. Even with the Border Collies, this little adventure still took 5 extra hours.
So the moral of this story is if you have a ranch, you need a good ranch dog, or two or three.
Wednesday, September 17 2014
I was in the 7th grade. Scared. A new town. A new school. A new classroom. No friends. And then I met Emily Dickinson. And she was my friend. She understood the magic of books. The magic of words on a page. We'd just moved from a place that anyone would generously call "the sticks" into the outskirts of a college town and I was both exhilarated and terrified. My mother's first order of business had been to trot her children down to the local library and get us library cards. I shall never forget that building.
It had TWO STORIES! TWO! Imagine that! Two whole stories of books! (In hindsight I think it may have had three stories. I believe it had two levels for adult books and a bottom basement level for children's books.) Nevertheless, I shall not ever forget the wonder that rolled through me like sunshine the day I walked into that library. And the smell. Ah, the smell.
Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books. Just waiting. Waiting for me. Like the drumbeats of Jumanji the books called me. They held secrets. They held the world. And they could be had for the mere punch of a library card. The library would let me take as many as I could carry. And as a country kid, I could carry a lot!
And so here I am today, a thousand miles away from that frightened child who opened up a textbook and found a new friend. Like Bilbo Baggins' book, "There and Back Again," my travels have taken me far. I have battled dragons and trolls, and like a hobbit, I yearn to return to my simple roots. And yet through it all, I have dragged my books. I have dragged some books for over 40 years. They move with me, old friends following along like faithful dogs.
As I see today's children absorbed in their electronic worlds of computers and video games, I cannot help but wonder. Do they read? Do they experience unbridled anticipation when they open the cover of a book? Old books are old friends. It's not about the story, it's about the spell, the memory of a child running her fingers across the cover and opening up the magic - the magic of words on a page.
Tuesday, September 09 2014
I thought Faith was the cat she was asking about.
Imagine my surprise when I realized she was asking about KARMA!
Karma was my Rat Warrior. My old barn cat, Chelsea had just disappeared and we were in the middle of a rat infestation. When I say 'infestation' I'm not kidding. If you can catch sight of a rat during the daylight hours, you've got a crapload of rats. I simply refused to put out rat poison and we were catching rats daily in traps.
Then one day I saw a car speeding away from my mailbox shortly before a heavy rain. I didn't think much of it until I later heard a kitten crying. I followed the cries and suddenly a half-drowned creature dropped out of a bush and wobbled toward me. It was honestly the ugliest cat I'd ever seen, but in that moment, I knew three things:
A) Chelsea, my old barn cat, was dead.
B) That car speeding away had dumped a kitten
C) God had just sent me the perfect Rat Warrior
I named the scraggly thing Karma, because I assured her there was a special place in Hell for people who dump kittens and Karma would repay the bastard. Then I brought her inside. I had faith that she would be my Rat Warrior. After all, God had sent this little beast. No matter that she was tinier than the rats, I knew that she was destined for greatness.
And she was. She became the best rat killer we ever had. Karma was proof that God will provide if you just have faith. I knew without a doubt that despite her size, she was the answer to our rat problem. After all, God had sent me a warrior. She lived up to her name. She was a rodent killing machine.
Karma preferred to live outside and did so for most of her years. One cold night she came to the window to announce that she wanted inside. I obliged and let her spend the night in the spare bedroom. I awoke the next morning to find her dead on the floor.
Karma was buried beside an apple tree.
She will always remain a part of that farm.
In hindsight, no, she wasn't buried under the apple tree. She was buried under the Pecan tree.
Read: Vaya Con Dios
Sunday, September 07 2014
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
There is wisdom in these words. I have just taken a bittersweet journey down Memory Lane and find myself in wistful regret. As a birthday gift, a company gave me a free Shutterfly photobook. I could have chosen any number of themes for my photobook, but I picked "Failte Gate Farm."
Although I sold my little farm to buy the ranch in North Texas, I still miss its tattered charm and wanted a way to remember it in its glory.
Walkway from house to barn covered in climbing roses and grapevines
In their effort to turn the property into yet another cookie cutter subdivision house, the new owners tore down, cut down, and burned down the very things that gave the farm its character, so that today it is a mere shell of its former self. I have shed many tears over roses, grapevines, and trees cut down for any number of obscure reasons such as 'the trunk wasn't straight enough.'
So when faced with the offer of making a free Shutterfly photobook, I immediately began searching my files for pictures of the old farm as I wanted to remember it. Soon it became apparent that the farm wasn't simply the land itself, but the faces on the land. It is said that "home is not a place, it's a time." Perhaps this is true, but a farm home is also the animals during that time. Little faces, big faces. Many faces make a farm.
Some faces had been forgotten, but others hit me with a pang of regret. These faces shouldn't have been sold. And perhaps there's a lesson there too. If you think for a minute that you might regret the sale, don't do it. There are goats and sheep that I wish I'd never sold. The money just wasn't worth the regret later.
This age of digital cameras has been a blessing, for as memories blur, they are recovered in full color. The camera doesn't lie and thus it captured both the glories of the farm, and the stark realities. Just as it recorded the brilliant colors of the flowers, and the pairing of aged wood fences with lush green plantings, it also revealed that the wood fences were in disrepair, and that the property flooded more than my glossed-over memory recalled.
I lovingly hunted through hundreds and hundreds of photographs in my search for the twenty which would represent the farm as I wanted to remember it. Some were romantic favorites,
but others made the cut even though they were poor quality because I wanted to remember some little face in the picture.
Dora The Explorer
Karma The Rat Warrior
Zena The Perfect
After I selected my photos, I was then given the option of different lay-outs, text, covers, etc. Since I love quotes, I began to pair favorite quotes with my pictures. Ironically the quotes helped center me and put things in perspective.
“Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.”
Friday, September 05 2014
Several years ago I began to cut down on my sheep flock. We had combined our ranching operations in order to sell one farm so we could buy the ranch in North Texas and this didn't leave us with a lot of space for sheep. I needed to cut down my numbers, but didn't want to lose those genetics. Nevertheless, I still ended up selling some of my best girls and my favorite ram. I kept a few old ewes that I was fond of, and some lambs that had genes I wanted to keep, but for the most part I was no longer breeding sheep.
No popcorn. No little white babies bouncing around the pasture. I won't lie. I missed it.
And I started getting worried. My old ewes are getting older and I really don't want to lose those genes. It's funny how selective breeding works. On paper, you still breed the best to the best and hope for the best, but over the years, my idea of what "the best" is, has changed.
I have Dorper sheep. These sheep naturally shed their hairy wool so they don't need to be sheared. They are grazers, and yet they are also selective browsers, like goats, thus they thrive on weeds and scrub. They're hardy in the heat, and pretty parasite resistent, thus I haven't had to worm in years. I don't worm by the calendar. I worm if I see a problem. If I find that I regularly have parasite problems in an animal when the rest of the flock is doing fine, it's time to cut that animal from the breeding program. This has resulted in a relatively parasite-resistent flock.
I like a certain phenotype in a sheep, and began selecting for that years ago, but this creature was the exception. This is Ma.
She was in that first group of sheep I ever bought. In the beginning I favored the other ewes with a more traditional Dorper look, but over time, this calm and steady old girl outshined them all. Her first lamb for me was such a fireplug that I named him "Hulk." After I saw Hulk, Ma had my attention. Over the years this old girl has consistently produced really nice lambs. She is also good leader. Not given to silly hysterics, this ewe makes handling the others so much easier. Over time, younger, prettier ewes were sold, but Ma has stayed.
She wasn't the type I wanted to breed either but through a turn of events, she ended up with me, and I'm forever glad of it. Shortly after I bought Roanie, Husband's patrol dog got into the isolation pen with the new arrivals. A malinois can do a lot of damage to livestock, and she did. Ultimately one ewe died and Roanie was so seriously injured that for weeks we considered putting her down. But she hung on.
This little ewe has the heart of a fighter. She now has a permanent limp, but not only did she live, she thrived. Roanie has produced some really nice babies for us. And although her phenotype wasn't really what I wanted to reproduce, her will to survive was exactly what I wanted in my flock. Her last baby was a single ewe lamb that really didn't impress me much at birth, but I kept her simply because she was a ewe lamb from Roanie. And wow, I'm glad I did.
That's Chuck's fat a@@ beside Roanie.
Chuck grew up to become a really nice ewe. (As a very fat lamb, she once got stuck between the tire and wheel well of a truck. She was "stuck like chuck." This forced us to use a high lift jack to raise the truck and free her. Since then, her name has been "Chuck." If I'd known at the time that I was keeping her, perhaps I'd have put more thought into her name, but since sheep don't tend to come when they're called anyway, I give them names that help me remember them.
(Such was the case with Flower Pot, the lamb who got a plastic hanging basket pot stuck on her head and ran around the yard hysterical while the rest of the flock ran from her in terror.)
A few months ago, I started noticing how absolutely fat my sheep were getting. I'm talking 'hippo hiney fat." Since the only grain they get is a tiny smidgeon to reward/bribe them for coming into the back yard, their bulging waistlines just reminded me how little it takes to allow a Dorper sheep to thrive. And this got me to thinking about genes. And about what kind of sheep I wanted when we moved the entire flock to north Texas. And about losing genes. Roanie is getting old. She doesn't have a lot of teeth. She has a growth on her chest. But typical Roanie, she's plugging on along, happy for every day on this side of the grass. So I got to thinking about breeding sheep again.
Since moving some of the cattle to North Texas, we have more room here now to get the base flock I want again. So I called a friend just to see if she had any ram lambs left. It was late in the season, and she normally bands everyone, but what the heck, what's meant to be is meant to be. So I gave her a call.
Wonder of wonders there was one little guy that she hadn't banded because she was considering him as a ram prospect for herself.
She also gave me the option to lease his father. Other Half wanted to do that so we didn't have to deal with a ram later. I initially agreed to lease, but the more I worried about the responsibility of someone else's livestock, the more I leaned toward just buying the ram lamb outright. I looked him over. I liked his structure. I liked his parents. And since I didn't have to have babies right away, his age wasn't a big drawback. There was something about the way this little guy stood which hinted that he was going to grow up to be a nice ram.
So into the truck he went. He's adjusting pretty well. The girls are still mean to him. He's taken a few hard knocks, but they're grudgingly allowing him to graze with them now.
At the moment I'm still coming up with a name. His sire is named Dodge.
I started calling him Dodgie but he needs his own name soon before that one sticks. If he isn't careful, I just may call him Orville because when I watch him in the pasture, he reminds me of the lambs that will someday be popping up in my pasture again like popcorn.