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Farm Fresh Blog
Friday, April 29 2016
I felt the stirring so many years ago when I tended goats browsing scrub brush the first time. It is an awakening inside the soul that reaches as far back as biblical times, people tending goats and sheep as they graze. It is a quiet time, filled only with the sounds of birds, crickets, the snatching of limbs, and the patient grinding of teeth. It is a time of reflection. It's a time to get right with God.
The Bible doesn't mention it, but King David would have had an easier time of things if he'd had a Border Collie when he was tending the flocks. They sure make my life easier. We have a central barnyard where the sheep and goats are loose most of the time, but we also have three leased pastures and our own larger pasture where we can graze animals. The hitch is that with the exception of the barnyard, none of these other pastures is fenced for sheep. All the pastures are wild. Think hundreds and hundreds of surrounding acres filled with heavy brush thick with predators, creepy crawlies, and the occasional steep drop-off into the creek. These acres also contain horses and cows who don't always mix well with small animals.
One cannot simply open the gate and turn sheep loose around here. They may or may not come home, and the zombies will eat anyone outside the barnyard after dark. But that's where all the grass is! Grass up to your knees! Browse so thick that only goats want to be in there! The only answer is to use the dogs. After all, that's what I pay them for. And they pay for themselves.
Mesa turned a year old this winter and she is already invaluable around the ranch. I haven't put a lot of training into her yet, I just use her around the farm, and she is ever so handy. She is quick to figure out what the goal is and make it happen. It's easy to micromanage a dog around the barnyard, but in deep brush, you just have to sit back and let them work. I can't see them most of the time. The rules of the game are simple:
Keep the sheep between the deep forest and the perimeter fence. When asked to gather them up, roll the sheep and goats into a ball, and roll your ball back to the barnyard.
This is peaceful, easy work unless the horses show up. When that happens the humans must snatch up bottle babies, who don't flock well with the herd, while the dogs gather everyone else up quickly and push them through the gate before galloping horses can trample young goats. The dogs and the herd are getting pretty good at these fire drills.
I am most impressed with Mesa. She has excellent distance. She gathers better than Lily, and drives better than Trace. Although we use all three dogs, Mesa seems to do the bulk of the work. Lily stays close to me as I sit on a bucket, and Trace sits on a 4-Wheeler with Other Half. Lily and Trace don't work much unless there is a problem. Mesa takes care of pretty much everything else.
I don't have to watch the sheep thick in the brush. I just watch Mesa. She watches the sheep. I'm fascinated by her commitment to task. She waits until a sheep strays too far,
and then she dispatches herself waaaaay around the animal,
pops up in the forest in front of them, and points them back to the flock. I don't tell her a thing. She has assigned herself this job.
This is the product of countless generations of breeding working dogs. It's not about registration papers. It's not about looks. It's about whether or not the dog can really do the job. I have great appreciation for the saying,
"The bullshit stops when the tailgate drops."
And it does. The proof is in the pudding. Does the dog really work? I watch this tiny little dog thread her way into the forest to return a sheep to the flock without any direction from me and I am thankful to the generations of ranchers who bred these dogs for a job.
I cannot do what I do without the Border Collies. Calling sheep with a bucket of grain isn't gonna cut it when they're standing in grass up to their elbows. The brush is too thick to tend them on horseback. You simply must use the Border Collies. And that is what they live for.
These photos are a perfect illustration of tending the flock. This Jacob wether has strayed past the invisible "no fly" barrier and the dogs have dispatched themselves. Mesa has popped up in the forest in front of him as Lily stalks in like a hired gun.
No rush. No barking. No teeth. Just a promise. The wether has to make a decision.
He chose wisely.
This scene plays out over and over again without drama. The dogs allow us to graze the small livestock in the wilder areas. We can utilize terrain otherwise cut off to us. It isn't field-fenced, and so you still have to sit out there with them. I sit on a bucket and admire the scenery. Other Half sits with Trace and plays on Facebook. He can do that because the dogs work for him. And THAT is why we have Border Collies.
Monday, April 25 2016
Yesterday I posted some pictures on my personal Facebook page with a footer that confused some folks who also read my website farm blog.
An old friend of mine in another state asked what was the deal between Failte Gate Farm and Red Feather Ranch. Well, that's a good question. It's been causing a problem for some time now so I guess it's a good time to straighten it out.
Before Other Half and I got married, I raised goats at Failte Gate Farm and he raised cattle at the Rocking RL Cattle Company. Then we got married. Because of different locations, different accounts, and tax issues, we kept the farm names and paperwork separate. Then we sold my farm to buy the big ranch we live on now. We named this location Red Feather Ranch. We couldn't find any other name we agreed upon and since Other Half calls Trace, "Red Feather", we named the ranch after his nasty little Border Collie.
We still ended up keeping things separate because by that time I already had a Goat Milk Soap business under the name "Failte Gate Farm." I had the business cards, the banner, the works. The Dairy Goat Association has the name registered for me. But now we're up here full time. We officially live at the Red Feather Ranch. All cattle and horse operations are under the Red Feather Ranch. I end up fielding a lot of questions about the two names. No one in Texas can pronounce "Failte" (fawl cha or fawl sha) or knows that it is Gaelic for "welcome." This has led me to go ahead and make the switch.
I will slowly begin the transition from Failte Gate Farm to Red Feather Ranch. I'm still not sure what I'm gonna do with the Dairy Goat Association since the Red Feather name was already taken by someone in California who is apparently no longer registering goats with that association but bought lifetime rights to the name.
I also have to figure out what I'm gonna do with Facebook since there is a Red Feather Ranch Facebook page and a Failte Gate Farm page. I manage both. At the moment, the Red Feather Ranch Facebook page is more geared to Other Half's cattle stuff. We'll have to see how I sort that out. Bear with me! It might get a little wild for a while,
but we'll get it all settled down soon.
Thursday, April 21 2016
The steady rhythmic squeak of the treadles is soothing as the soft fiber slipping through my hands twists itself into yarn at my fingertips. The wheel needs oil but I can't shake myself away long enough. This process of taking animal hair and turning it into yarn has me mesmorized. Still waddling like a baby along my journey into spinning, weaving and knitting, I discover that like tending sheep and goats, this tugs at pastoral roots deep in my soul. I am a child again, playing Jacob's Ladder with string in my hands.
As my fingers slide through the white fiber I wonder about the animal that gave this season's wool. And the farmer. A tiny piece of vegetable matter flicks past my fingertips. Did the farmer, like me, feel that twinge of annoyance each time they saw a sheep dribbling alfalfa onto her neighbor's back as she placidly chewed hay? Did they run their fingers along the backs, parting the fibers to check the wool? How did they shear their sheep? Did they do it themselves or did they hire it out. Did this wool come from a farmer with 50 sheep or a place with 500 sheep?
Wool is sunshine metabolized and I can feel the warm rays of the sun as it slides through my fingers, is pulled into the wheel and is twisted into yarn onto the bobbin. I still get a thrill. Fresh into my journey, I don't want to forget these images or have them lost, jumbled behind more mundane thoughts when the mind wanders as the fingers spin. The most important lesson I have learned thus far is that there is no right or wrong to spinning. That knowledge is tremendously freeing. There are as many different ways to spin as there are spinners, and the proof is on the bobbin. Are you producing a yarn you are happy with? If so, keep on doing what you were doing.
I am learning as I go. Once I have produced a single ply yarn, I learn that I must produce another yarn and ply them together in the opposite direction so the final product is stronger and more balanced. Alrightie then. Away we go. There is a simple joy to learning as you go. Perhaps if one knew all the work ahead, the step by steps may seem so daunting that one would be afraid to take that first step. But if like a baby, we wobble around in unbalanced wonder, we get to enjoy the process. And we get a true understanding as to why handcrafted items cost so much.
Once the yarn is plied, another trip to Youtube reveals the next step in the process. We must now wash it and hang it dry. It is shameful the amount of pride this brings to a woman of my age. It is like successful potty training. You want to show everyone but the world is not as impressed as you are. Ah well, more's the pity.
My dear friend and mentor, my Spider Woman Sheep Mother, has told me that part of your soul gets spun into the yarn. I understand this now as I begin to knit with the yarn I spun. I don't know how to knit. Seriously. Just like spinning, I'm learning as I go. I lean heavily on Youtube and tips from friends. I had absolutely no interest in knitting before I discovered the allure of wool. Knitting and crocheting were things grandmothers did. Why knit socks when I could buy them?
That was before I discovered the emotions that run through you like a warm current of sunshine as you run fingers across soft fiber. Your fingers read the wool like braille, telling you the story of the sheep, the rancher, the spinner, and finally the knitter. You feel them all, a piece of each, twisted together with sunshine and a prayer.
Unlike my attempts at knitting with commercial yarn, this yarn recognizes me. My fingers recognize the yarn. It is very forgiving of my novice attempts at knitting, and we learn together. What does it want to become? Is it a scarf? Is it a cowl? A headband? The yarn is alive, and I'm knitting a life.
I watch my sheep graze in the pasture and my fingers itch to knit their wool. My churro are coarse haired sheep and already I'm thinking of carpet boots for next winter. Do I have a clue how to make carpeted boots for myself? Nope. Not a clue. But I have sheep. I have a spining wheel. I have Youtube. And I have a dream of sunshine, grass, sheep and yarn.
Tuesday, April 19 2016
We got a break from the rain for a few hours this week and so we snuck the babies outside to play in the Great Outdoors, otherwise known as Water World. While Water World may be an amusement park for human kids, goats don't see the joy of playing in water, so they stayed on high ground close to the barn. Nevertheless, they were thrilled with this new world beyond their pens.
We're still kidding out, but these are the little faces that are already here:
Sparrow/Jethro 2016 Doeling
Our little "Mowgli" child found living with exotic deer:
Newest addition to my fiber flock:
Watching the kids is enough to tire a good dog out.
Monday, April 11 2016
His clean dress shoes, his $60 haircut, and the platinum smile he tossed my way told me he wasn't from around here. He and his children had just stepped out of a Calvin Klein ad. They were from the Land Of The Pretty People. I smiled back at him and trudged with dusty boots to the refrigerator case for a frappuccino. On my return the family was still at the front counter trying to assemble children and purchases. There were two men and five children. The men looked enough alike to be brothers but I couldn't sort out children. It didn't matter, they were all beautiful and I admired the group as I stood behind them in line.
Money can buy nice clothing, but how do you keep children that clean? I reminded myself this was merely a snapshot in time. The father ran his fingers through the younger daughter's hair and chastised her for doing such a poor job brushing it. I heard the words, but until he'd pointed it out, I hadn't noticed the child's slightly windblown hair. She was beautiful. I compared her to her older sister, a gorgeous tanned child in a white cotton eyelet dress and nice leather cowboy boots. Her hair was straight and tamed. Nothing was out of place on this child. To my eye, the whole group of them could have been models from a catalog. Then it happened.
Cheez-Its flew all over the floor at their feet. The groan of frustration said one of the children in front had opened a bag of baked cheesy crackers and spilled them everywhere. In my world, we call this a mess. It's okay, kids make messes. We all do. Accidents happen, it's what happens after the accidents that matter. Accidents are teachable moments.
It was a moment alright. Making no effort to clean it up, the family stood on top of orange crackers and ground them into the tile of the convenience store. The mess could not be denied, and it was growing larger as each child stepped on crackers and broke them into tiny pieces under their feet. These were not little bitty kids, they were old enough to know better. I waited for the father to have the child clean it up, or clean it up himself. Surely he would not leave this kind of mess. Apparently he would. He just pretended the mess wasn't there under his feet.
Perhaps he needed some modeling. So while he continued to stand at the counter, pay for his items, and ignore his mess, I asked the clerk if she had a broom so that I might sweep up the cheesy goodness before it spread all over the store. He heard me and ignored me. She smiled and assured me that she had a broom and she'd handle it when she got a chance. This was a convenience store on a major highway on a Sunday afternoon, it may take a while before she'd get the chance to clean up Cheez-its that were now crunching their way around the store and out the door.
Gathering the rest of their purchases the Perfect Family walked away from their mess. It was a teachable moment. The Perfect Dad just taught his children a powerful lesson. You can walk away from your responsibility. Someone else is paid to clean up your mess, let them do it. I was aghast. My mother would have beat my ass.
The door swung shut behind them and the clerk and I locked eyes. I said it.
"Wow. Just. Wow."
We shared a laugh about the fact that while we just had to deal with Cheez crackers on the floor, he was stuck with the lessons he taught these children. The clerk pointed out that these kids would be responsible for taking care of their father in his older years. Not only will these lessons come back to roost for him, but they will affect all of us. This is the generation responsible for our future too. We reap what we sew.
I am profoundly grateful to my mother for the example she set when we were children. We learned how to behave in public. We learned responsibility. We learned that if you make a mess, you clean it up. It is not someone else's job to clean up after you. If you steal Bang Caps from the Piggly Wiggly, she will DRIVE your tiny butt back up to the grocery store, inform the clerk of your sin, and make you beg for forgiveness and wallow in humiliation. She will also do the same thing when your brother steals bubble gum. That kind of crazy makes an impression on a kid. I became a cop. He became a surgeon. Neither of us has been arrested since then.
So we may have been dressed in clothes from the Sears & Roebuck catalog instead of Gap Kids, but I'd venture to say that in the long run, we were much richer children.
Tuesday, April 05 2016
Life is full of little mysteries. This little goat is one of them. Her life thus far is surely the stuff of a Disney movie.
Last week I got a call from a friend asking if we could take in a little goat that had been found wandering on a 2000 acre ranch. There are no goats on this ranch. This little girl was found with a herd of axis deer. The rancher watched her for hours, waiting for a mother to appear, but no mother ever came. She bedded down with the axis deer. Eventually, he took the baby and she ended up with a relative as a bottle baby in a subdivision for two weeks. She had a loving family, but they were no set up for goats and so they reluctantly sought out a home for little Patty, so she now lives with us. Who knows how Patty ended up wandering with Axis deer. There are Angora goats on neighboring ranches but they are not close. We will probably never know exactly what Patty is, or where she came from, or what happened to her mother, but that's okay. We'll give her a loving home where her Subdivision Family can visit her.
At our house Patty lives in a dog crate in the stall with Archer and his mother.
Archer is a Lacey/Arrow cross:
Soon Archer and Patty will have more new friends because at 6:30 am more babies were born.
These kids are a Feather/Jethro cross.
Large, lanky buckling
Doeling with a Peacock Feather marking on her side
In a few weeks babies will be ping-ponging all over the pasture, and the little foundling will be as happy as a mountain goat, bouncing along with them. This little kid surely has a backstory that is the makings of a Disney movie, but we'll never know what it is.
Monday, April 04 2016
Kidding season started with a bang. Actually it was a scream. We live in the barn and so it's easy enough for me to check on the goats. I just walk across the breezeway and peek into their stalls. I knew some of my girls were due, but the one due first was showing absolutely no signs that birthing was eminent. I had turn the dogs out into the dark in the wee hours of the morning, peeked at the goats in their little goat huddle, and noted nothing unusual. So I went inside to fix myself some coffee. I was doing dishes when I heard the scream.
Goats can be real drama queens but this was not a 'she stepped on my ear' scream. This sound raced across the hallway and traveled into the kitchen like a bolt of lightning. I ran outside and peeped into the stall again. Everything looked normal in the dim glow of the night light. The goats were still lying in a huddle like a pile of puppies. Then I saw a little head poking out of Lacey's butt. Holy crap on a cracker!
I ran inside to find the head of a cold, unresponsive kid sticking out of a first time mother who had shown no signs of going into labor hours earlier. I roared into the house like a tornado and screamed at Other Half who was snoring into his pillow. Like a fireman, a rancher must be able to shoot from zero to Code 1 as soon as he steps out of bed. Okay, he wasn't as fast as a fireman but he was fast.
So I then ran back outside and began throwing the other goats out of the stall. Normally I would have had a birthing mother in the stall with just one companion, but then again, she didn't look like she was going into labor the night before, so the joke was on me. As it was, I found myself trying to shove sleepy, confused goats into the barn aisle while a panicked first time mother screamed with each contraction. Holding the little baby's head up, I tried to steady the mother and assess the situation. It was bad. It was really bad. Clearly they had been at this a while. I just didn't notice earlier because she was pressed into the goat huddle.
The baby was presented head first. In goats and sheep, and cows, and horses, and other long-legged critters, the front feet should be born first. Ideally the baby is presented like a diver leaping out of the birth canal. Legs complicate things. This baby had been presented head first. Normally we would poke the head back inside, and reached around in there until we found front legs. In his case, the head had been out so long that it was swollen and was NOT going to fit back inside. The baby looked dead. Then I felt a tiny reflexive swallow as his throat lay across my palm. He was alive but if mother and baby were to survive they'd need more help than we could provide.
I thought about this as I made a pass through the house for towels. When life suckerpunches you, hit your knees. Prayer doesn't take long and a 911 call to God can get help on the way while you're trying to figure out what to do. We'd already seen this kind of scene play out at the vet twice and it was ugly both times. In one case the baby died, in the other case, the baby and the mother died. We had nothing to lose by trying because if we didn't try, they'd both end up dead anyway.
So we did. There was a lot of grunting and screaming from all three of us, but eventually, a slimy baby buckling emerged. But would he live? He laid there on the towel, giving no signs of life. Other Half started cleaning him up, rubbing hard on him, and blowing in his lungs. He objected to the assault. Good. It was a start. We pulled him over to his mother's face and she begin licking him. Even if he died, after a birthing like that, she deserved to see her baby. Her attentions stimulated him and encouraged us.
Other Half set up a heat lamp while I cleaned the stall and Lacey groomed her new bundle of joy. His head was really swollen but his eyes were opening. Things were looking better.
Because he was too weak to attempt to nurse on his own, we milked her and presented him with a bottle. Warm mother's milk is like chicken noodle soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. It just cures everything. With milk in his belly and a heat lamp over his back, he was feeling a little better after his rocky birth. There was definitely turbulence in that landing, but hey! We're on the ground now!
It was time to breathe. It was time for a shower. Other Half may not have any social skills, but boy is he handy during an emergency. Girls, think about that when you are selecting a spouse. Can he drive a real truck? Can he back a cattle trailer? Can he shoot a snake? And can he deliver a baby goat, or lamb, or calf without fainting?
An hour and a half later the baby was nursing on his own shaky legs.
By the next day the swelling was down and he was bouncing around the stall. Because his father is Arrow, we named him Archer. He is a little miracle, and a reminder to me that even in the midst of an emergency, take a moment to give God a 911 call. Miracles happen every day. It's up to us ask for one, and to recognize it when you get it.