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Farm Fresh Blog
Friday, May 29 2015
Several of you have asked about Mesa, so here's the update. She is approximately 6 months old now and so we've not done a lot of livestock work with her. I keep goats and sheep in the yard and she regularly sees them, and occasionally does drive-bys on them, but I don't encourage interaction because the sheep are heavily pregnant and the goats have tiny babies. She shows a lot of interest without being a rabid, out-of-control maniac.
Rather than isolating her from the livestock like we did with Trace as a toddler, we are more casual around the small stock with Mesa, much as I did with Lily. She is learning that while just running them is unacceptable, moving them off the porch is okay. From time to time I let her gather the goats who behave much like knee-knocker sheep, assembling around me in a bewildered group. Once she gathers them, I let her orbit a few times and then call her off. We really don't do much more than that. I'm waiting for her mind to catch up to her body.
Mesa is finally in control of her body, and is now able to beat Trace in a game of fetch. This is no small feat. Even though she is physically able to control tame goats and sheep, I don't think she has enough self-control yet to do much serious work with livestock. At this age, I'm just trying to impress upon her that merely because the stock is there, it doesn't mean she needs to run off and do anything with them. She likes making the livestock move but another really important part of being a stockdog is leaving the stock alone when moving them isn't necessary.
Wednesday, May 27 2015
Things have been pretty busy lately, but I want to pause and send out a big 'Thank you' to everyone who checked on us during the recent floods in Texas. We really appreciated your prayers. Thus far both our properties are doing well. The south Texas farm is underwater but the barn and house are dry so we're okay. The animals are not in any danger of drowning. I have sheep lambing soon so we're keeping them in the barn with the goats.
The cattle at both places are doing fine.
Our biggest worry now is helping the rancher next door move his cattle to higher ground. He has cattle in an area that will be flooding soon because the river is rising as we continue to get more rain and as water comes from upstream. We need to gather 189 cows and load them into 18-Wheelers to be moved to higher ground.
Our family has the luxury of a regular paycheck outside of the ranch, but our neighbor must depend upon those cattle because they are his only paycheck. If he lost 189 cows that average $1000-$3000 each, he would lose a small fortune. Think about that as you cut into your perfectly grilled juicy steak this weekend. An awful lot of work and worry went into putting that steak on your plate, so please take a moment to say a prayer for the Texas Rancher.
Monday, May 25 2015
Read my lips: South Texas is NO LONGER in a drought.
North Texas is looking a lot better in the water department too. All our ponds are filled up again,and there is water running through the almost-always dry creek. Ahhh, the creek. It is a most interesting neighbor. This creek gives our property its wild beauty, but keeps it untamed.
There used to be a dirt road running along the west edge of our property. The county owned and maintained it at one time but finally gave up fighting that creek because it cannot be tamed.
We knew this when we bought our property. The creek criss-crosses and meanders all the way across our ranch. There is a main creek, but there are also several smaller "sub-creeks" which tie into the big one. We have at least four creek crossings on exterior fence lines. Twice the main creek crosses the exterior fence line. Well, not any more. The fence is gone now.
There used to be a fence stretched underneath those guide wires. If you look closely behind the small tree on the right side of the picture you can see the cattle panels crumpled under there. This has just become a major highway for cattle on both sides. The cows can walk under this fence without even touching their ears. Now they can leave our ranch on the south side of the property. The rancher who has cattle on the south side will soon have his cows coming over to our place.
This is the picture of a frustrated man. Do you see that mangled fence? It is supposed to stretch ACROSS the creek, but it has now been bent back against the east bank. This has also just become a major highway for cattle. Now they can leave on the north side of the property.
Because more rain is expected, there was little point in trying to fix the fences now. We might as well just gear up to retrieve cattle and fix the fences when the water goes down. We have giant boulders the size of Smart Cars in that creek. The force of the water MOVED one of those giant boulders. The debris line is pretty high, but the water didn't stay up long because the vegetation isn't dead.
See that sandy bank? There used to be a really big tree trunk lying across it. I know this because for years I used to shoot at it. (Nice safe place for target practice) The tree is now GONE! Imagine the force it took to lift a heavy tree and take it down stream. That kind of force demands respect.
At the moment the creek is back to being our deceptively tame neighbor. The rains have brought lush spring grass, wildflowers, and water for the year.
For now, all the cattle are present and accounted for, and we had two brand new calves.
That's not his momma.
Her calf is peeking out from behind her. This is the first time he's seen humans.
He has been born into a wet, wild, and dangerous world. His survival depends upon his mother's good sense and his father's protective instincts. His father is a young bull who shows a strong tendency to protect the calves. His mother, Dancing Cow, is the lead cow. She is the oldest and wisest, so this little guy stands a good chance of surviving, but not only must he contend with coyotes and cougars, he must also survive the creek.
Wednesday, May 20 2015
It's easy to forget that a Livestock Guardian Dog is more than just a large white lump in the barnyard by day that barks all night, and steals cat food. While Border Collies tend to steal the glory when it comes to helping out around the farm, Briar reminded me yesterday that Livestock Guardian Dogs can step up to the plate too.
It's time for the new baby goats to join the "flerd" during the day. I have sheep about to lamb and so I'm moving everyone, sheep and goats, into the yard during the day where it's easier for me and the neighbors to keep an eye on them. The adult animals know this routine. The babies? Not so much. The older babies have it down pat, but the ones born this week aren't quite ready for prime time yet. In fact, just following their momma is a bit of stretch. It's a bit like trying to herd chickens.
I had the mom by the collar and I was leading her away but the kids just sorta stood there, staring at the world, watching us walk off. Before the momma started to panic, I called to Briar. She was watching. Briar is always watching. The big white dog shuffled over and nosed the first baby. Goose! He bolted forward. Then she nosed the second baby. Goose! He got with the program too. And thus we proceeded along - me leading the doe, and Briar goosing any stragglers.
It really worked well. Briar kept her distance until a prod was needed. It didn't take the kids too long to get the idea. They spent the day keeping up with Momma and I'm sure Briar spent the day keeping an eye on them.
Friday, May 15 2015
"When the fruit is ripe, the apple will fall."
For the past three weeks I've been on Baby Watch. Yes, that's a long time. The first week was because her full sister gave birth one week early so I started watching Sparrow like a hawk just in case she chose to follow her sister. Nothing that first week. The second week she was due so I really, really watched her. And the neighbors watched her. Nothing. The last week she was wide as a 55 gallon drum, and overdue. I was calling friends in a panic. It's her first time. What if there are complications? Should I induce labor?
Dear Friend Cathy (Vet's wife): "No, don't induce. Let nature take its course."
Dear Friend Sue gave this advice: "When the fruit is ripe, the apple will fall."
Well, this morning at 5 am the first apple fell:
The second apple fell at 5:29 am:
Both bucklings. (I'm not complaining. I asked God for a healthy birthing with a healthy babies and a healthy momma. No complaints here!)
As I sat in the stall attending births, I thought about my life and how it was so different from everyone else whizzing by on the highway at this hour. Last week a well-meaning co-worker heard me complain about the impending rain and said,
"Why are you the only person in Texas that doesn't want rain?"
Hmmmmm. . . I almost shot him. He meant well. He really did. He is a highly intelligent, very well-educated, dear, sweet person who is simply out of touch with life outside suburbia, and still thinks we're in a drought. Most folks don't notice rain unless it affects their morning commute. People who live in the country understand juggling animals in the rain. When the rain did come, it was torrential rain with high flooding, the kind that drowns baby goats and lambs. Farmers have to be on top of that kind of rain.
And the rain came and went. The flooding receded, leaving lots of mud and happy frogs. We have more rain due next week. Lovely. I've got sheep bagging up. Such is the life of the farmer, but for now I have two healthy babies on the ground, Other Half is returning home from working the border, and I can happily turn the farm over to him and go to my job-with-a-steady-paycheck.
I listen as the traffic zooms on the highway and think about my last 12 hours. . .
At 7 pm I check the goat. Nothing. At 9 pm she is talking to her belly and appears to be having contractions. At 11 pm she decides it is just gas. At 1 am she is sleeping. At 3 am she is sleeping. At 4:55 am the puppy in the house announces she has to pee. I inform her that I will check the goat, then come back and get her, and she can stay outside until morning chores.
Walk to barn. Peek in barn to see a baby flop out of the doe and land on ground. Grab doe's sister who rushes in and tries to steal baby. Escort new Aunt outside of stall where she peeks over and calls out advice to her sister. Race back to house for towels and baby stuff.
Towel off little guy. Check his privates. Yep. It's a boy. Figures. He's flashy. Get him cleaned off. Momma is really attentive until she stops cleaning him to have his brother. Yup. At 5:29 she drops another boy. She leaves him there to go back to Baby #1. Baby #2 is solid brown. By the time we are done, the babies are clean and I'm covered in amniotic fluid, sand, mud, and shavings. At 6 am I call Other Half and wake him up. He is in some motel room on the Mexican border.
The phone call is a slightly more polite version of: "Wake up. Babies are here. Hurry home. I gotta go to work today. You're on deck."
I feed the goats and milk the new Aunt. Brand new Cousins peek at the new arrivals with great interest until breakfast is served, then it is every kid for himself. The doe passes the first afterbirth and I hurry to scoop it out and take it to the trash can on the street. Today is trash day. I wonder what my co-workers would think of this. While the rest of the world is emerging to join the Rat Race, I'm racing afterbirth to the trash can.
As I return to the stall I see the rancher next door going to feed his horses.
I call to him, "Justin! Two bucks."
That's it. Short conversation. Nothing more needs to be said. The watch is over. We can relax. He has been on baby watch over the fence for three weeks too. We both go back to chores and that's when I have a chance to assess my wardrobe.
Uniform Of The Day: Brown yoga pants & White t-shirt smeared with mud and amniotic fluid, black rubber boots
Class. Real class. Sigh. . .
I decided that perhaps I should take a shower before I run into anyone else. Tromp into house. Take a shower. Thank you, Lord, for warm water and rosemary mint soap! Hear puppy in her crate. Oh crap! Puppy has to pee! Climb out of shower. Hastily grab up clean clothes.
Uniform Of The Day: Gray yoga pants & yellow t-shirt with mint green clima-cool running shoes
Rush puppy outside. Step about twenty feet off porch and muddy water seeps into the holes in the soles of my clima-cool shoes. WTF was I thinking!? In what universe does the birth of baby goats signify the end of a swampy yard? Trot back into house and trade mint green running shoes for black rubber boots.
Sip homemade frappuccino and watch the world wake up. The dogs do their thing as I reflect on birds, bees, butterflies, rainbows, and the fact that I still have amniotic fluid in my hair. Was distracted by puppy in crate and forgot to wash hair. Go back inside and wash hair.
Now let's try this again. The farm is awake, time to do the rest of the chores.
Check goats again. Second afterbirth has passed. Scoop that sucker up and race to trash can before garbage man comes. That should really be an Olympic sport - Running in rubber boots while carrying a sloppy afterbirth on a stall rake. Athletes must be able to open and close three gates and a large trash can without losing afterbirth. Time will start from the moment the afterbirth is scooped up until the garbage can lid flops back into place. No time is given if the afterbirth is not in the trash can before the garbage truck arrives.
I pass the test. The garbage truck comes and goes. I finish the chores. I sling a 50 lb bag of cattle feed over a fence and carry it to the feeders. A cow's tail flicks more mud on me as I slip and slide my way back from the feeder to the fence. Those words come to mind again:
"Why are you the only person in Texas who doesn't want more rain?"
Ahhh, the voice of suburbia - a land of manicured lawns, paved driveways, and sidewalks. Only here, completely out of touch with the rural life, can someone wonder why more rain isn't a good thing.
I finish my chores but now I'm disgusting again and decide I just cannot bear to wear that mud any longer, so I take another shower. It is 8 am. I've taken 3 showers already. Poor planning on my part, but I chalk it up to lack of sleep.
Uniform Of The Day: Black yoga pants, pink t-shirt, and black rubber boots - the uniform of the female farmer.
I can now stay clean for a while. It is 8:30 am. I need to leave for work in 4 hours. On the way I have to stop by the feed store for chaffhaye and beet pulp. There will be no pass-off of the baton as my husband and I cross paths on the highway. I will head to The City to my Paycheck Job, as he returns to the take the reins on the farm, but already the day can be measured a success. Two new lives have joined the world, and I beat the garbage man to the trash can.
Thursday, May 14 2015
Sometimes we get so caught up in the swirling eddies of the mainstream current we forget that we know how to swim. Each day we are so bombarded by voices which clamor for our attention that the sound becomes a background of static white noise. In addition to the television, the radio, the computer, the smart phone, the office, and the family, there is that voice in the back of your head, the whispering voice which cannot be heard over the rising din of the others.
Like a swimmer lulled by the promise of calm waters, it is easy to be swept away in the rip current. We turn on the television for a bit of background noise, just to touch base with the outside world, and before we realize it, that open door has become an invitation to chaos and negativity. Talk show hosts pontificate like experts on subjects they don't even understand, and given just a rough outline of facts, the news media fills in the rest, planting rumors like hints of things to come. Stay tuned because there is more tragedy, more gore, more tears, more in-depth coverage. Just stay tuned.
I gave this some thought today as I found myself paying bills, and becoming caught up by the mindless screeching of television hosts trying to talk over each another, making one outrageous statement after another in an attempt to appear knowledgeable about politics. The static in my head got louder and louder as I tried to swim out of the swirling current of people pretending to be important. Then I had an epiphany - just change the channel. Stop giving them any of your attention. I found some nice calming Hawaiian music to take me to my happy place. While there I gave some thought to the calm in the storm.
I live a lifestyle where I can recognize that peaceful place. I know where to find it. This fact alone makes it so much easier to realize when it's time to step away from the grasping fingers which clutch and cling for my attention.
This is why the world needs dairy goats. Everyone needs a reason to turn the television off and go outside. Put down your smart phone. You can't just throw feed at the animals and go back into the house, back to the draw of the magic box of voices. You have to sit down behind a goat, and listen to her hum as she thoughtfully eats, listen to the ping of the milk hitting the bucket. You can't rush a goat. The milk comes as it comes, and the bucket fills in its own sweet time. It is a period of forced meditation. The goat is your yogi. Teaching you to slow down. No hurry. No worry.
Slow down and listen to the whisper. Listen. God doesn't shout. He whispers.
Monday, May 11 2015
On occasion the stage tilts and as actors in this great play of life, we reach and flail in a desperate attempt to grab hold of something stable to catch ourselves as we slide into the abyss. On some days we are chess pieces on a board shaken by an angry child. Some would argue the child is merely a misunderstood, downtrodden victim of society. The media would have the world believe that we have brought this temper tantrum upon ourselves, that the child is merely acting out in defense, that we are the cause in this shift.
We watch helplessly in anger and disbelief as one by one our brothers are tossed into the air and smashed against the wall. The media provides round the clock coverage, fueling the tantrum of violence. We watch the stories ourselves and shake our heads in wonder as more fuel of lies and half-truths are tossed on the flame, and sheep dance with wolves around the fire. When did the sheepdog become the enemy?
The sheep mock and jeer at the very men and women who have sworn to run through the flames to protect them. Wolves peek from underneath sheep's clothing as they whisper and shout that all sheepdogs are really wolves with badges. We sheepdogs find ourselves running a game of defense before we can even ferret out the wolves in our own ranks. And even as we hunt, our brothers are smashed in pieces on the floor by wolves, their deaths cheered by sheep.
The sheep may stare in brief horror but their attention is soon diverted by the wolf's whispers. We sheepdogs quietly bury our dead, put on a badge the next night, and go out again to protect the sheep. Our world has recently become one big Mardi Gras parade of drunken sheep and wolves dancing behind masks as the confused sheepdog tries to sift through the shouting and chaos to find the truth.
This wildly spinning drunken parade weighs heavily on those of us who wear the badge and carry the responsibility. I know these sheepdogs. I am one, so is the single mother with the new baby who lives in a state of exhaustion to provide for her child, so is the young man whose wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer, so is the student who goes to college during the day and fights crime at night, so is the old man who has lost years of baseball games as his children grew up while he was out protecting your children.
The wolves paint us all as nameless, faceless soldiers hiding behind raid gear, bent on world, and sheep, domination when the truth is that we just want to get up in the morning, enjoy our lives, provide for our families, and protect yours. I ponder all this as I milk a goat in the early mist. Yes, we all do have lives outside of world domination; I am also a farmer. The chaos on CNN and FOX News is slowly dulled by the pinging of milk hitting the side of a bucket. I have a brief respite from the media storm raging outside as the goat patiently chews her grain.
Time slows as the bucket fills and the milking becomes silent meditation. I am lulled away from the chaos of an artificial world of concrete and hatred to a simpler place where sheepdogs are black and white collies and wolves don't wear sheep's clothing.
Tuesday, May 05 2015
Sheep who come to the human and stay close to the human (i.e. knocking your knees) are safe from the black & white devil. (Border Collie) and don't end up running as much as sheep who attempt to hook it for the back pasture. Running only works when used against the cripple dog with the bad back who cannot outrun fast sheep. If used against the Red Troll Dog, it is futile, and there can be, and usually is, a running penalty. (This is why the Red Dog is not often used on sheep. Human gets VERY angry when the Troll dishes out a running penalty.)
Because the paddock the sheep were in was small and Lily was handy to clean up the mess, I let Mesa in there to see what she'd do with sheep. At first she bowled right through them like she was trying to pick up a spare. Sheep went everywhere.
But the day was hot, and no one was really into all that, so in very short time the sheep and the pup got into the groove in a loose accumulation around me.
We peeled Mesa off on a good note and she'll be put up for another month. She is pretty interested but I want to dog-break the sheep some more and move them into a round pen before she tries her hand again when she's older. She isn't ready for formal training yet and I don't want to put a bunch of pressure on her since she is still a baby with lots of growing up to do.
I just want to get her used to the idea of dogs helping with chores. As she gets older, and gains more control over her body and her impulses, she'll get more freedom to accompany me while I do chores. I didn't do this with Trace. We kept him locked away from the stock because he was so bad about sneaking out to work them on his own. Lily was always by my side and it shows in her approach to working stock. She immediately tries to figure out what the job is and what she can do to help. Trace was a lot slower about doing this. Mesa doesn't show as much eye and serious obsession as Trace did at this age though. She is still very much a bumbly puppy chasing bugs in the yard, and there is nothing wrong with that because she IS still a puppy.
Working stock is hard work and it can be very serious life and death work, so I'm in no rush to hurry her into it. Sheep and goats can be fun and games, but cattle are the Big League and since we have all three species here, Mesa needs complete control over both her body and her impulses before she jumps into the deep end of the pool.