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Posts Tagged ‘farming mistakes and foibles’

It’s been a rough day.  It was supposed to be a run of the mill Thursday.  I had some meetings on the calendar and was scheduled to teach some sales classes at work, but nothing dramatic.

The day started quite peacefully.  Lucy the Mastiff had no accidents during the night and was well behaved all morning.  I had my coffee and quiet time, then went upstairs to get ready for work.

While I was showering, Brittan got up, put on her farm clothes and prepared to face the day.  As I got dressed, she would head downstairs and infuse her soul with caffeine.  Before she stepped into the hallway, my cell phone rang.  My phone NEVER rings.  Especially not in the mornings.

The call was from a lady from Church who was taking care of our youth pastor’s dogs; letting them out to potty.  The youth pastor lives next to our farm.  The lady, who shall remain nameless to protect her identity from being besieged by pet sitter requests said, “Sam, one of your cows is out.”

Please allow me to point out that “one of your cows is out” is not an expression I’d hoped to hear this morning.  It is not a hopeful, amusing, entertaining or casual announcement.  It’s an “Oh, Crap” moment.

Brittan was already on her way to the truck before I could thank the caller and hang up.  I finished buttoning my freshly ironed white shirt, made sure it was tucked properly into my dress trousers, slipped on my shoes, jumped in the car and chased Brittan down the road.

Please keep in mind that our farm is surrounded on three sides by a subdivision and our Church Property.  The front side is a major road with thousands of cars blasting by in the mornings.  It is rush hour and a pregnant cow is loose in the neighborhood.  As long as she stays near the fence where the other cows, including her calf, are peacefully grazing, all will be well. If she strays to the highway, bad, horrible things will happen.

I pulled up beside the wandering cow and parked the car.  The escapee is Nadia, mother to our heifer, Butter and to our bull calf, Sir Loin.  Nadia is fairly easy going, but doesn’t like us touching her.  She has jumped fences before.  Brittan had arrived far enough ahead of me that she was putting a bucket of sweet feed in front of Nadia’s face to distract the bolting bovine while we got a rope on her.

Brittan is one of the best I’ve ever seen at calming an animal and getting them to allow themselves to be roped, caged, corralled or captured.  She has amazing patience with the animals.

After she got a rope on Nadia, I took it from her, held the rope fairly close to the cow’s neck and led her away.  B walked in front with the bucket of junk food just out of Nadia’s reach.

Now we faced our first and biggest problem, how to get Nadia back into the field.  She sure as heck wasn’t going to jump back in and there are no gates on the subdivision side of the pastures.  Our only option seemed to be to walk Nadia around the corner, along the shoulder of the road against rush hour traffic, up the driveway and through a gate.  This was not going to be easy.

The journey started off easy enough.  Nadia was cooperative and the smell of sweet feed was intoxicating to her.  As soon as we rounded the corner though, the fast cars and traffic noise spooked her and she lurched.  For a moment I was able to stay in control.  I stayed on the road side and kept pushing her to the inside.

Between the shoulder of the road and the fence is a boxwood hedge and a fairly dense stand of 2 to 4 inch diameter pine trees.  Fear of the traffic scared Nadia so bad that she jumped into the boxwood hedge and dragged me through it lengthways.  It is a thick hedge and she eventually stopped to rest.  I caught my breath then she turned around to race through the trees back to where we started.  I held on for a moment, being bounced off pine trunks, but eventually had to let go.  My left shoulder and left thumb had been jammed pretty severely by collisions with evergreens and my glasses lay twisted about three feet away from where my momentum ended.

Fortunately, Nadia ran into the Youth Pastor’s back yard where Brittan was able to grab the rope and tie her to a large wood framed swing set.  About the same time, a Good Samaritan stopped to ask if we needed some help.  We gladly accepted her offer.

I get a little fuzzy after that, because the shock, trauma and oxygen deprivation had me in a state of delirium.  I remember Brittan asking me what we were going to do.  I said, “we have to cut the fence and drive her in through the hole, then put the cows in another pasture.”

By that time I realized that Nadia would not leave her calf, so the fence cutting should work.

I stayed with Nadia, while Brittan went to cut the fence.  Our anonymous helper stood by the fence to calm the other cows who were by now in quite a state.

Even with a halter and second rope, Nadia proved too strong for the both of us, but she only wanted to be near her calf, so B walked behind her down the fence line and I walked beside, but about 10 feet away in case she decided to turn towards the road again.

This time, there were no incidents. The stressed out cow walked straight through the hole in the fence and reunited with her son.  Three of the 4 cows followed Brittan to the new pasture as if nothing had ever happened.  I had to go back and encourage the fourth one to move along and join the migration.

Once the cattle were in the other field we were able to do a damage assessment.  Apart from some cow pats and spilled feed in the Youth Pastor’s yard, the only other property damage was the cut fence, but that is fairly easily repaired.  No, most of the wreckage appears to be to my carcass.  I am fairly bruised from head to toe.  My clothes were ruined, but that’s no big deal.  I will heal, but not for a few days.

I forgot to mention that somewhere along the way, as B was climbing over the fence, one of her feet got stuck for a second and she went head first over the fence. She, being younger and more nimble than her man, went straight into her best Jackie Chan impersonation and executed a perfect tuck and roll.  She’s going to be sore, but nothing broken or strained.  Whew.

As a sequel, after Brittan got home, she went out to work the bee hives to prepare them for removing honey.  She got stung twice; once on the nose and once on the temple.  I convinced her to take some Benadryl.  She sent me an email saying she took two and was totally drunk.  She said she would take a nap and see me tomorrow.

So, how was YOUR day?

 

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Adult Coppernose Bluegill

All I wanted to do was add some bluegill and catfish to my aquaponics plan so that we would have some cold water hardy fish for extending the vegetable growing season.  Since both species tolerate cold water exceptionally well while Tilapia require specific temperature ranges to thrive (survive) it seemed like a good idea to buy some.

One week ago today, despite being quite ill (unabashed self pity), B and I went to the feed store to pick up some hay and get some fish.  A pond stocking company would be there for one hour selling a selection of fish.  Unfortunately, there was a 100 fish minimum.  I only wanted 30.  I should have walked away when I heard that.  I’m not very good at walking away, though, when I’m on a mission.  Besides, my head was not clear from being sick.

At any rate, I proudly put 70 Coppernose Bluegill and 30 Channel Catfish in the back of the truck. They were in oxygen infused bags of water, of course.

Things went downhill from there.

First, we had to stop at the farm to do evening chores.  Those take an hour or so when B and I are both there.  That would be no problem for the

Pan Sized Channel Cat

fish.  And, it wouldn’t have been, but we got guests.  Some neighbors stopped by to chat.  We have lots of visitors. We love the fact that so many people enjoy dropping by to shoot the breeze and hang out with the animals.  That extra hour was not good for my fishies.  It certainly was no good for the water quality.

I had prepared an aquarium to hold them for a day or two while we fixed up a big aquaponics tank.  I did the usual acclimatize the fish slowly routine, then put them into the tank.  They seemed to adapt nicely, if a little crowded.  Mission accomplished.  NOT!

The next morning, there were dead fish everywhere and the water was almost black.  Obviously the filtration wasn’t large enough and/or there was just an overload of ammonia and nitrites from the little bit of bag water that made it into the aquarium.

I removed the dead fish and treated the water, but had to get to work.  Brittan emailed me with the news that more fish were dying.  To assist me in overcoming my panic, she set up our 300 gallon stock tank.  That would do the trick.  Later that evening I transferred the survivors to their new, larger digs.  I was confident of the larger tank’s ability to remain stable.  My confidence was misplaced.  By morning the water looked like the aquarium water and there were more dead fish.

Over a three  day time frame about 80 of the fish died. I was in a panic and the garage was stinking to high heaven.  Finally, in desperation, I took a 20 gallon aquarium, and set it up with two filters, one for a 50 gallon tank and one for a 30 gallon tank.

After cycling the system, I caught the surviving fish, put them in an isolation bucket for an hour or so to kind of wash them off and acclimatize them again, then put them into the new, smaller aquarium.  Today is the third day since doing so and the fish are ok.  I added a pre filter last night. The pre filter is just a home depot bucket with some filter material and a drain.  A pump sucks up water from the bottom of the tank and shoots it into the bucket.  The filter material catches the solids and the water drains back out into the aquarium.  I am hoping this system will work until I can get a larger system set up this weekend.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine running disaster recover for pond fish. Tilapia are easier.  Such is the life of a wannabe homesteader living la vida loca in the Edible Suburb.

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Farming has dark days.  We’ve discussed that before.  Some are worse than others.  Yesterday was one of those.

When we got to the farm last evening, Brittan noticed right away that some of the rabbit rangers were moved.  One of them had been shifted about 15 feet.  As we approached, we noticed that ranger was also empty.  B did a quick inventory and found another rabbit missing as well (though the reason for that one remains a mystery).

Fortunately, we spotted them quickly among the rubble and scrap piles of the landscape company with whom we share a driveway.  One bunny was caught quickly.  The other eluded us for at least half an hour, before B managed to get a grip on her.  Meanwhile, I was extricating myself from a pile of pvc and plastic flexible tubing into which I had stumbled while making a grab at the rabbit.

Brittan had not even deposited the bunny safely in its home when our farm helper, Ray, announced that we had dead turkeys.  Our friendly neighborhood predator (the puncture wounds suggest a canid) had returned,  tore open the back of the turkey tractor and annihilated 11 turkeys.  A couple were partially eaten in a way the made it look like more that one animal was involved.  It was awful, simply awful.

While we were picking up carcasses, our landlord arrived and said, “Chuck (our bull) is dragging rabbit rangers all over the pasture.”

Brittan left Ray and me to clean up the carnage while she went to attend to the bull and his furniture rearranging.

It took us about a half hour to get everything cleaned up and to move the turkeys into the pasture with the cows.  By that time, Brittan had strung some portable electric fencing around the rabbits.  I got a solar charger and a ground  rod and went to work.  Since I had no testing equipment, the only way I knew to test whether or not it had a charge on it was to inflict pain on myself.  Let’s just say that despite being idle since February or March, it was still quite potent.  My teeth are still vibrating.

We got the fence electrified and watched while Chuck, Diane and to a lesser degree, Butter, taught themselves to avoid it.

It was very dark by the time the milking was done, the pigs were put away, eggs were collected and everyone bedded down.  Our nerves were shot and the drive home was gloomy.

Every farmer has these kinds of days.  It goes with the territory.  They cannot be avoided.  Life happens.  Strangely, though, even in the struggles and the storms, I feel a deep satisfaction in what we’re doing.  I get discouraged, but a greater joy never let’s it turn to despair.  Tomorrow is a new day.  As we motored home, Brittan said, “It doesn’t ever make you want to say ‘to heck with farming’, does it?”

“No.  Never.”

“That’s why you’re the Wingnut.”

Inside joke.  We grinned.  I hit the gas.

 

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It’s still August.  It’s still hotter than the Devil’s natural habitat and we are way short on rain in Georgia right now, but it’s still called a Fall garden.  I didn’t name it, don’t shoot the messenger.  Harvest, presumably there will be one, will be in the Fall (presumably there will be one of those, too).

Planting is well under way and some kale, corn, beans and squash have sprouted.  I’m very excited about that.  I’m a bit disappointed in the percentage of germination so far, but maybe it’s still early.  I’ll give it another week before I get too whiny.

This week will see beets, turnips, cucumbers and collards go into the earth.  I have been trying to get some onion sets, but no luck.  Finally, someone at Pike Nursery told me that it will be another couple weeks to a month before they even arrive.  I guess I just need to chill.  Chill.  Right.  It’s 96% humidity right now and over 75 degrees.  I know, I was out working in it at 5:30.  Fortunately, there wasn’t much to do this a.m except sweat.

In the, “Oh, crap, it’s a disaster” department; Saturday afternoon, the dogs managed to get into the garden.  That never ends well.  They found my seed boxes full of sprouted cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage and shredded them.  It was not a fair fight.  It was a massacre.  I was not, and am not…happy.  Brittan says, “They’re just dogs.”  I’m wondering if they taste like chicken.  Oh, well, the damage is done.  Tonight I must replant and see what happens.  This time I will surround the seed trays with land mines and razor wire.  Watch, though, it won’t stop the dogs, but I’ll lose a limb.

 

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One of the challenges of bi vocational farming is balance.  Both jobs require a great deal of time input, but for the life of me, I can’t squeeze more than 24 hours out of a day.  And, unfortunately, at my age, sleep is a necessity.  When I was 24, burning both ends of the candle was easy, even normal.  These dotage years, though, require rest and recuperation.

My outside job takes about 12 hours a day, counting travel time.  Do the math.  With the days growing shorter now that we are past the solstice, I am finding myself in a race with daylight.  This morning, I finally lost and had to don a headlamp to go work in the garden.  Headlamps will not get me more hours in my day, but they do give me more hours to work.

The last couple days, I’ve been prepping the fall garden beds and transplanting some tomatoes.  I’m not confident in growing tomatoes from cuttings.  Last year was the first time I tried it.  Only about half the plants lived, and though they grew well, we got a blight before getting any fruit developed.  Also, I planted them a bit late.

I have three beds weeded and clear.  The next step is to get some compost and fertilizer (non chemical, of course) in them, then they will be ready to plant.  I’m thinking beets and potatoes.  I will plant the squash and cucumbers in containers.  Radishes, lettuce, cabbage, etc. will come later, probably September.

The garden looks terrible.  I fell behind with weeding and now I’m facing a monster as I do my fall prep.  Too bad.  So sad.  It’s pay me now or pay me later.  I’m paying.

I love gardening.  I’m not very good at it, but fortunately, the ground continues to produce despite my ineptitude.

The heat and humidity drain me, but at the end of the day, I feel a sense of accomplishment.  I feel almost heroic when I carry in a load of harvested goodness that my hands have grown.  I feel a sense of satisfaction when I see the raised beds clean and prepped.  I just can’t tell if I’m getting ahead or falling behind.  What I know for sure is….I’m tired.  Getting old S.T.I.N.K.S.

 

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Dead chickens, loose dogs, fence climbing goats and a kick in the head from a sheep.  Those events pretty much summarize our day.

First, our livestock guardian dogs, who did so well with the chickens yesterday, apparently thought they were intruders this morning when they wandered out of their night coops.  The dogs in one pen killed 5 and the other two killed two laying hens.  That is not a good start.  We realized that the dogs could not be left with the chickens so we did some quick pasture switches.  Unfortunately, two of the dogs did not like their new digs and kept digging out.  For them, it was a game.  They would get out and find me to show me just how clever they are.  At that point they would go racing around trying to play with the baby goats and sheep, but the ruminants were terrified.  I bent over to comfort one of the goats when a frightened ewe tried to jump over me.  She almost made it.  In a steeplechase event, it would have been a fault for knocking off a marker.  In this case, it was a real kick in the head.  She got me in the back of the head with two feet.  I saw stars for a moment.  It didn’t draw blood and I did not lose consciousness.  Well, no more than usual, anyway.

Eventually, I decided to move all four dogs in with the cows for a few days until they settle down.  The cows and the ram will show them the ropes and teach them some manners.

Just before leaving for home tonight, Brittan noticed that Meshak, our Nigerian Dwarf billy goat had found a way into the pasture with the milking goats.  He thinks they are in season.  Somehow, he pulled the chicken wire off the gate and climbed in.  So, I got the flashlight and zip ties and Brittan patched the fence.

Then, as we pulled in the driveway at the house, Brittan says, “Why is the ADT security sign in our gate?  How would I know?  It seems that while we were out, a wind storm blew through the burb and blew open the gate to our back yard.  Four eager herding dogs, Guinness, Lady, Karma and Iris made a run for it.  A good samaritan neighbor saved the day by putting them back in and blocking the gate.

Now it is 10 p.m. We are sweaty, tired, sore and just a little cranky.  Just when we thought we were getting the hang of this farming thing, BAM, we get a huge reality check.  No worries, tomorrow is a new day with a whole new set of learning opportunities…or disasters.  It all depends on your point of view.  In my opinion, never mind.   I need a shower.  And maybe a shrink.

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While much of America has spent the Spring of 2011 wrestling with tornadoes, here in the burb our natural disaster is predation.  The predator storm is still churning and touched down again over the weekend, with devastating results.

B and I went to Florida for for a few days to attend a memorial service for B’s recently deceased Grandma.  We were fortunate to have some volunteers to house and farm sit for us.  Our poor sitters are probably traumatized for life.

We should have known that tragedy loomed when just before we left, Brittan discovered another litter of dead baby bunnies and I stumbled on a pile of chicken feathers.  While the two incidents were unrelated, they  were certainly ominous.

We returned yesterday to find the broiler field, turned again into a killing field.  There were feathers and chicken parts everywhere and the remaining chickens were in uncontrolled shock.  We wanted to round them up and move them, but they would have none of it. The birds usually come running to us and follow the feed bucket wherever it leads.  Not this time.   B and I spent 3 hours catching chickens.  Finally, at about 9:30 last night, we got the last one.  Today, we will figure a way to get them into another, safer, pasture.

During the chase, I managed to trip over a stump and tumble headlong into a nice patch of blackberry brambles and chicken poo.  I sprained my left ankle, right knee and pinky finger in the process.  I got a nice scrape on my left elbow to compliment the bruising.  I’m pretty hobbled this morning. Getting old, sucks.  More on that another day.

One spooky incident stands out and has etched itself forever as a symbol of our Predator Spring.  At about 9 p.m. we were down to 4 renegade broilers still on the run.  Three were barred rocks, one was a Rhode Island Red.  They wanted to settle down in the falling darkness, but also didn’t want to be caught and have to join their comrades in the confines of the chicken tractor.  Three of them yielded to their sleepiness.  One ventured up the hill to the little stand of woods and brambles that separates our place from our neighbors.

As the little Rock disappeared into the underbrush, I begged him not to go.  I couldn’t chase him in there with darkness falling.  I’d never find him.  I assured him that only bad could come of his decision.

In less than three minutes, he screamed.  There was a moment of thrashing, then total silence.  Another dinner for our hidden menace.  The protagonist was probably an owl, though possibly a snake.  Whatever it was, it hunted in total silence.  The only sound at all came from the little, prodigal rooster.

As mentioned before, in March we began with 150 day old chicks.  Today we have 50.  We also lost 18 broilers along the way.  A handful of rabbits, too, found their way into the belly of the beast.  This spring has been like a bad horror movie.

B and I are radically changing some of our methods and we are putting a great deal of hope in the Livestock Guardian Dogs that will arrive in a couple weeks.  In the meantime, “Our Edible Suburb”, has taken on a whole new meaning.

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