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Farm Fresh Blog
Monday, September 30 2013
One of the first dirty jokes I learned as a child was this:
"Wanna hear a dirty joke? ....... A white horse fell in a mud puddle!"
(Hey, that's hilarious when you're eight years old.)
Take advantage of the break in the rain and feed the livestock. Briar pokes around pasture in typical Livestock Guardian Dog fashion - ooze around the stock, don't make waves. And ooze she does,
until I call her.
Her main goal is to not ruffle feathers, well, not ruffle wool. (she doesn't care if she upsets chickens) Nevertheless, neither she nor I am prepared for one of the calves to decide that he can bully my Livestock Guardian Dog.
Now I know where the term comes from. Briar is minding her own business, caught up in the world of smells brought out by recent rains. The calf looks at her, sizing her up. Since she normally stays across the fence from the cattle, they are unfamiliar with the big white dog. She is a Livestock Guardian Dog, but both Briar and the calves know that guarding cattle is not part of her job description. The calf makes a fake rush at Briar.
She startles and runs backward, barking at the calf. I cuss the little bastard and am reminded that his mother hates dogs too. (must be genetic) Even seven hours away, his momma would be proud of him.
I let Briar in with the sheep and putz off to let Joe the Paint Horse out of the barn, and that's when I notice two little black butts sticking out of the barn. Hmmmm.... I left the barn door open and now two of the calves are inside munching hay. Unfortunately for the calves, the barn door is pretty darned close to the back yard - and the Border Collie.
One calf sees the writing on the wall and beats feet. The other calf keeps right on eating. Lily has been watching all this from the gate. She misses nothing. All Border Collies should be named "Ready" because they are always 'ready for duty."
I open the gate and Lily stalks inside. By now the calf inside the barn has realized that his partner in crime has left him and he's trying to decide if he wants to follow her or stay in the barn. Lily oozes in his direction like a shadow. He glances at her but clearly doesn't take her seriously. He is more concerned about me. I stand at a distance and let Lily handle it. She glares at him. He finally notices her. I note with smug satisfaction that this is the same calf who bullied Briar. Alrightie then!
The bull calf glares back at Lily. She smiles at him, much like a serial killer. He lowers his head to give the snotty little dog a warning. After all, he sent the Big White Dawg packing, this tiny beast is barely worth his trouble. And that's when Lily launches - straight at his face.
She grabs his nose and swings all 40 pounds of her little self into the air. She lets go at the highest point of her arc, sails through the air, and lands - in a water puddle.
She goes from Border Collie Ninja to Jackie Chan in the blink of an eye.
The calf and the dog are both in shock. I'm laughing so hard it hurts Lily's feelings. Her entire left side is covered in mud. She isn't sure what to think but decides that if I'm laughing at her, it must be bad. Fortunately I'm quick to realize this and remind her that she is the Best Border Collie In The World. She recovers her dignity and stalks toward the bull calf. He trots to join the others. She starts to gather them but I call her off and congratulate her on a job well done. She shakes off the indignity and once again dons the cloak of Ninja Border Collie. Her cloak is a little muddy, but she wears it well as she slinks back out of the pasture.
My Precious Little Ninja
Friday, September 27 2013
"The only good snake is a dead snake."
Well, considering his experience, I can understand his viewpoint.
"Snakes are misunderstood and are an important part of our ecosystem."
Yes, Miss Nadine lived in our barn for the better part of one summer and took care of our rodent problem. She gave me the creeps, but I let her stay anyway.
Then there are other kinds of snakes.
"The only good snake is a dead snake!"
Yes, I share his opinion of pit vipers. Sorry folks, I understand they are an important part of the ecosystem, but if I shoot all the rattlesnakes and copperheads, then that's just more rodents available for the rat snakes. But what about the cottonmouths?
For most people, if it's black, it's a cottonmouth, also known as water moccasin, and is shot on sight. My experience has been that most of what folks call a water moccasin is actually some kind of harmless water snake. In fact, it's so obvious that I feel sorry for the snake.
But then again, there are imposters, snakes that mimic the dangerous cottonmouth, to borrow a little 'bad-ass rep' from a real nasty character. So while I have no problems identifying a copperhead or a rattlesnake, I hesitate a bit before I pull the trigger on a black snake, which brings us to last Sunday...
Lily and I were doing our soap deliveries and were enjoying a stop at Dear Friend Mindy's farm, when we noted four of Mindy's dogs rush up and hover over something small. I was thinking "baby bird" or something else helpless in theface of a pack of curious dogs, when Mindy gasped, "SNAKE!"
Few words will galvanize country folk like that word whispered, gasped, shouted, or screamed in that particular tone. So we ushered the dogs away from the snake, and went over to investigate the intruder. He was inside her back yard, beside the chain link fence. We cautiously poked at him with a rake. He slithered into the tall grass along the fence.
Hmmmm.... we needed a closer look.
Neither of us wanted to kill an innocent snake, but on the other hand, Mindy has an adorable young son, and multiple curious dogs. Proper identification was imperative. So we poked and prodded the creature in an attempt to get him to move into an empty kitty litter plastic tub. Eventually he cooperated and we were soon rewarded with a black snake in a bucket. He looked pissed. Or scared. Or both. It's hard to tell with snakes. No eyebrows.
Here's what we had:
Mid-sized black/brown snake with triangular-shaped head
Hmmmm. . . Mindy suggested we photograph it and Facebook for advice. In a moment of insanity, I argued against that because I knew that the majority of our friends know even less about snakes than Mindy and I. But duh! I should have agreed to take a PICTURE of the damned thing. (Hindsight is 20/20.)
So we examined our snake quite closely and still couldn't decide if it was dangerous. We finally decided that since cottonmouths are aggressive and our snake wasn't, he must just be a black snake flattened out in an attempt to mimic a cottonmouth. Satisfied, we patted ourselves on the back for our Snake Social Enlightenment. We carted that sucker across the street, and dumped him out in the ditch beside a wooded area. He slithered off and we congratulated ourselves for having compassion, and for being brave enough to conquer our fear of snakes long enough to conduct a less-than-thorough investigation.
Well Friends and Neighbors, in the world of law enforcement we have a saying,
"In God we trust, all others we run NCIC."
(criminal background checks)
You see where this is headed.
What we failed to notice was that the snake bit one of Mindy's dogs. Poor Whiskey's head swelled right up. Suddenly our enlightened, green, snake-hugger behavior didn't seem as admirable. In fact, it seemed pretty damned dumb. I'm not sure what her husband said, but my husband threw the proverbial shitfit. He was less than amused when he heard Mindy and I had prodded a water moccasin into a kitty litter bucket, carried it across the street, and dumped it out.
Words like "$10,000-12,000 hospital stay" were screamed.
I had no defense. None whatsoever.
A vet was called and fortunately Whiskey survived her encounter. Mindy and I now have a new motto,
"When in doubt, shoot it out!"
Monday, September 23 2013
Yesterday I accidentally stumbled upon a bit of wisdom that everyone knows but we all tend to ignore. This world is full of people who burn the candle at both ends. None of us has time to be sick but it's a guarantee that if you juggle enough plates, they'll all come crashing down when the eventual illness creeps up. Such was my case. After two days of trying to sleep it off, I was still ready to kill my husband and everything canine that kept me from sleeping. I emerged on Sunday morning, still physically and emotionally exhuasted to find that the rescue dog had crapped all over his kennel because surprise, surprise, just like everyone else on the farm, Daddy expects Mommy to do everything and failed to calculate that dogs need to go to the bathroom. grrrrrr......
(That pushed Mommy over the edge.)
So I packed up Lily the Border Collie, and a truckload of soap, and I left. I left Other Half with EVERYTHING. I left him with a hungry barnyard of animals. I left him with a crappy kennel in the living room. I left him with 7 hungry, happy dogs that needed to be fed and exercised. I left him with a dirty house and an air conditioner that didn't want to work. I just took my dog and LEFT it all!
Lily is better at math than I am so she's my bookkeeper!
Lily, my headache, and I drove off. It was liberating. We drove straight to a convenience store for a frappuccino. (HEY! Don't judge me!") Soon caffeine was coursing through my veins and I was headed off to deliver my first soap order of the day. There is a joy to selling soap. Not only does it smells good. It brings friends together and makes new friends. And that was where I had my epiphany.
Friends are good medicine. Friends are good for whatever ails you. Ladies, whatever goes on in your life, take more time for your friends. There is something about having "girl time" that is remarkably healing. Old friends, new friends, friends you just met, they are all a salve for your soul.
Friends re-calibrate you.
Thank you, Shari for the wonderful, but all-too-short visit. We need to do this more often. Thank you, Jamie for letting me play with your Gypsy Vanner horses! There is nothing like playing with a 'highly-expensive-I-could-never-afford-it-so-just-enjoy-it' foal to brighten your soul. And God bless you, Mindy. We don't get enough time together but it's always memorable. There is nothing quite like battling a snake and playing the "is it a cottonmouth or not" game. Kudos to you for being bad-ass enough to put the snake in a bucket. You are my hero! And Dorothy, thank you my new friend. From the moment we met, I knew I'd found another sister. And Jeannie, dear, dear Jeannie. What would I do without you?
And at the end of the day, after seven hours of girl time, bouncing from soap order to soap order, and friend to friend, I felt better. My headache was gone. I was ready to go home and tackle the happy, bouncing, needy farm, to coax the sullen air conditioner back to life, to convince the husband that he really needed to buy me fajitas and a strawberry daiquiri.
So the moral of this story is: When things really look dark, when you feel like crap, when you are convinced that if one more person or animal demands something from you, a murder will occur, that's the time to dump everything, pack up your dog, and spend the day with girlfriends. It's the best medicine in the world.
Oh, and thank you, Lily for being both my doctor and my bookkeeper!
Thursday, September 19 2013
I may whine and complain about having to hold down a full-time job as well as handle a farm, but in reality, having a full-time paycheck affords me the luxury of being sentimental. For instance, let's examine this:
What an adorable little motley crew!
Over the years I've learned that some critters are just livestock and some critters are something special.
Yeah, okay, this one is special, but I was thinking about this one:
Roanie is getting a little long in the tooth. In reality, her teeth are falling out now. I'm not sure how old she is, because she was older when I bought her. In that time she has survived a savage attack from a police dog which left her permanently lame, and a chickenshit bite from a Trolldog (Trace) which took off half her ear. And yet, Roanie maintains a sweet attitude toward life.
By now, most ranchers would have cut Roanie from the team. She was never the phenotype I wanted to breed. After her dog attack, I really didn't want to use her for training the dogs because she has a decided limp. So why did I keep Roanie?
Roanie does produce nice babies that share her interesting temperament. This is her ewe lamb, Chuck. I hadn't planned on keeping Chuck but when I noticed Roanie's teeth falling out, I decided that I needed to keep Chuck in case I lost Roanie. Why?
Who the hell knows?
Over the years I've just become attached to this little ewe with the will to live with a smile despite what life throws at her.
So while I might bitch about having to juggle everything because of that job. The paycheck allows me the luxury of keeping a critter that most ranchers would have sent to the sale barn years ago.
Their loss . . .
"Take a bow, Roanie!"
And who could forget Roanie's first meeting with Baby Briar after her dog attack: Blood Will Tell
Monday, September 16 2013
A farm can teach you a lot about physics. For instance, did you know that a 3 inch rain upstream can cause a sleeping little creek to become a raging river that drags trees over large boulders and smashes through any fence-like structure standing its way?
For instance, take these boulders:
Now let's imagine the amount of water it takes to lift an entire tree trunk through this maze of boulders . . .
. . .
. . . to smash into this fence crossing.
In this part of Texas, it is called a "water gap." I might take a moment to wonder why it is called a "water gap" when it is a gap in the FENCE across WATER, but Other Half has advised me multiple times that I cannot call it a "fence crossing" since it is a WATER GAP. Whatever....
(I might also add that when I have this conversation, I remind myself of Dr. Sheldon Cooper of "The Big Bang Theory.")
But I digress.
Back to physics: Apparently rain in parts unknown can cause tremendous chaos to fences downstream because in addition to leaves, branches, string, tires, and toys, large tree trunks also follow the maze of boulders down our stream and end up smashing through the WATER GAP, thus causing the need to repair the fence after any significant amount of rain.
Note: ANY amount of rain in North Texas is significant.
We have been cautioned by local ranchers to not put a lot of work into stout fences across this creek. Apparently fences across creeks in this area should be mere suggestions to cattle and not a 'challenge' to The Creek, because anything, and I mean ANYTHING, really stout will just be smashed to bits anyway and become debris that damages someone else's Water Gap downstream.
Ranchers up here just expect that they will have to check/repair their water gaps after every rain.
Another interesting tidbit: I also just heard from another rancher that the law on the books in Texas states that fences are to keep livestock OUT of your property, not IN your property. Not sure about the truth in this but worth checking it, not because I plan on letting my cattle free-graze on the neighbor's land, but I just happened to be fascinated by that kind of trivia.
Anyway, take a peek at these boulders. To get to this gap in the fence, one of our cows must climb down a heavily wooded, very steep 30' bank, or follow the creek A LONG WAY threading through boulders as big or bigger than they are.
Will a cow try this adventure?
Probably. They're cows. They're not gifted with a great deal of common sense.
And so, like every other rancher in the county, we set about repairing fence crossings/WATER GAPS!
Saturday, September 14 2013
After arriving at the ranch and getting the cattle settled, we got about three hours of sleep ourselves before we had to attend to the real business of buying new axles and having someone weld them on. At both places the staff peeked under the trailer and said, (and I quote)
"Hit a pothole, huh."
I now have a better respect for potholes.
Anyway, the rest of the day was fuzzy. We went to bed early and went into a coma. I awoke from my coma to a most unusual sound. It sounded like a bull bellowing. We don't hear this sound often with our bull, Bully (yeah, we're real imaginative in the name department. I wanted to call him Angus McBull but was voted down.) Bully is a very easy-going bull. He moves slowly and isn't a big thinker. We think he was probably dropped on his head as a baby, or perhaps deprived of oxygen too long in the womb. But he is a gentle soul and is easy to handle, so even though he's old and isn't much to look at, we like him a lot.
So I climbed out of bed to see what the problem outside was and saw this.
My first thought was "Wow, Bully sure plumped up quickly." (not enough sleep on my part)
Then he started moving and I realized, "Holy crap! That's not Bully and he's got our cows! He's taking our cows away!"
So I hauled on some blue jeans and went outside. By then he had the cattle by the front gate and was walking back and forth at the gate, bellowing at the top of his lungs. He was definitely NOT Bully. I started to walk down there to check him out and then common sense tapped me on the shoulder.
"Do you really think it's wise to go walking up to an already excited bull that you don't know, in an area where you have nowhere to run, at a time when your husband is asleep so no one will hear you but the copperheads. And as your crumpled body is bleeding on the ground, the rattlesnakes will laugh at you."
My voice of common sense can be quite cruel, but reasonable, so I opted to hop in the mule and drive down there instead. Up close it was clear he was not Bully. He was pacing and hollering at a stray heifer on the outside of our fence.
She was lost and looking for a herd. She was young and scared so while he bellowed on one side of the fence, the young heifer bawled on the other side of the fence. The new guy was a beautiful bull but my first concern was Bully's health. Had he hurt Bully when he took our cows?
So I raced off to the pecan meadow in search of Bully.
I found him pretty quickly. He was standing in the field by himself, looking a bit confused.
"Everyone left me," Bully said.
"Yeah, Buddy, don't worry. We'll get them back."
So I went back to the cabin to wake up Other Half. Even on a good day, getting him out of bed is a task, and I knew he was still tired from the trip up, but if you tell a cow man that a strange bull is trying to steal his cows, that will galvanize a man out of bed. Like a rocket.
He drove down there and admired the bull. Nice bull. The picture of youth and vitality. (Looked like trouble to me.) We just assumed that the bull belonged to a neighbor who had been leasing our property for his cattle. We figured that he hadn't been able to get the bull out before we came. No worries. As long as Bully was safe, we didn't mind how long he stayed. We opened the gate to allow the little lost roping heifer to get in with our cows and everyone was happy.
The Big Bad Oil Company had taken down a forty foot section of our fence on either side of the driveway in order to put in a pipeline under our driveway. Since they were still working on it, they had temporarily replaced the good fencing with a flimsy wire "gap" that supposedly served as a fence but not to a bull like this:
Believe it or not, there is a flimsy wire fence beside this bull. Not much of a barrier.
And since we had no desire to see him take down the wire gap and take our girls to parts unknown, we drove the cattle back down to the pecan meadow.
I was worried the bull would hurt Bully. Other Half and I watched closely from the safety of the mule, but then really, what were we gonna do if two Volkswagons get into a fight?
Fortunately, our bull is gentle and realized the new bull was much bigger and younger. The new bull barely glanced at ours. Everyone resumed grazing and all was well.
We spent the next three days trying to figure out who he belonged to. The first guy pointed us toward another neighbor, who claimed the roping heifer, but said the bull wasn't his. What the heck?!!! How could he NOT belong to either of these guys? We are in the middle of NOWHERE! (B - F - E!)
Anyway, Other Half just happpened to notice that there was a phone number on his ear tag. Not sure how we missed that earlier. So he called the number. The lady explained that her bull had a habit of wandering (a LONG WAY FROM HOME!) and that her son would be picking him up and taking him straight to the sale barn.
Other Half mulled on that. I could see the wheels in his head turning. He was thinking he might buy this bull as a replacement for our old bull. This is what he didn't see.
Every morning when I woke up, I drove around the ranch on the mule. Every morning that damned bull was somewhere else. He was a travelling man, always on the move. After the first day, our girls quit following him. He was a tall, dark stranger, but Bully stayed in the same 20 acre meadow with plenty of grass and a pond. Really, why wander over 133 acres with this new idiot? Our girls are kinda lazy too, so they turned their affections back to Bully.
Several times Other Half mentioned buying that bull. Each time I pointed out that if someone wants to take a bull that nice to the sale barn, he IS A PROBLEM! On Monday morning the boy showed up with horses and within thirty minutes Rover was headed toward the sale barn. I drove back to the meadow to find Bully grazing peacefully. He had cactus thorns in his face, and his testicles (OUCH!) and he's a bit old and moth-eaten, and not the brightest crayon in the box, but Bully is a sweet bull. He stays home, causes no problems, and consistently sires beautiful babies that gain weight quickly. So who needs a fancy new bull?
I saw that wistful look in Other Half's eye as Trouble drove away and hastened to point out that no matter how nice this bull looked, he had broken out of THREE other pastures to go walk-about. He had left his herd THREE times in search of something he couldn't find. There was one niggling thought that bothered me though. Our idiot cow Paisley, Queen of Trouble herself, was in season. I really, really, REALLY hope this bull didn't breed Paisley. That's a match made in Salebarn Heaven. Just sayin'.
Tuesday, September 10 2013
We're back from the ranch! This trip was particularly exciting since we moved cattle across Texas. It was a major event that I'll share when I have more time, but Jesus loves us, that's all I know! Otherwise, we'd have a lot of dead people and dead cows scattered all over the freeway. Anyway, I'll save that for later. For now, I just want to say this:
No matter how how bad things seem, when examined quite closely, one can see how little blessings line up. It's all a matter of your perspective.
Wednesday, September 04 2013
Ask most people who've been through an event which destroys their home, and you'll hear how the real tragedy is the loss of family photos. If the house is scattered rubble, but a photo album survives, they consider themselves blessed. That said, let me show you this:
LOOK! It's me!
Well, it's me 50 years ago. When I was a toddler, our home caught fire. My mother only had enough time to grab her baby and run. My baby pictures were lost in the fire. But here in this age of digital technology and social media, strange things happen.
It goes like this:
(1) Under duress, my mother joins Facebook.
(2) She reconnects with relatives she hasn't seen in YEARS!
(3) My 50th birthday rolls around.
(4) A dear relative just so happens to have . . .
DRUM ROLL please . . .
It's ME! It's ME! It's Ernest T!
(Okay, you youngsters won't have a clue who Ernest T is, but then, that's what Google is for.)
Yes, Great Aunt Opal just so happened to have not one, but THREE pictures of little ole me!
Check this out!
What's with this hat?!!
I look like the AFLAC duck. My mother refuses to take any responsibility for this fashion disaster. She threw my grandmother under the bus on this one. Isn't that what family photos are all about. Embarrassing pictures that make you smile. Snapshots of little strangers who look strangely familiar.
Thank you so much Aunt Opal for keeping these old photographs for 50 years!
Sunday, September 01 2013
The world of photography is a slippery slope into addiction. My mom just gave me this lovely orchid for my birthday, and my first thought was "OH MY GOSH! I can take the greatest pictures of SOAP with that orchid!"
Yes, not only is photography addictive, but making soap is addictive too. It's hard to say what is my favorite part of goat milk soap - the peaceful time of milking the goat, cutting soap into bars, or letting my creative photography gnome take over and shooting still-life pictures of soap.
I tell myself that I take the photographs to "one day" put them on a website to sell the soap. Whatever.... I take the pictures because I like doing it.
(Hey! Don't judge me! It keeps me off the streets!)
This is the closest I can get to enjoying
"Calgon, take me away!" moments.