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Nacho Libre, Hero in Recovery

Nacho Libre, Hero in Recovery

Note: While some literary license has been taken, this tale is based on actual events that took place on the nights of April 20 and 21, 2014.

This is Nacho Libre, best known round here simple as The Nach.  At first glance, to the casual viewer, he is an ordinary tabby cat, but I assure you, dear reader, he is many things, but ordinary is not among them.  Indulge me a moment as his tale of valor unfolds.

Nacho was an unexpected member of our household. He came into our lives in a most unusual manner. We were on our way to a Tapas party/Bible study, and running a little late, when the pick up truck ahead of us slowed to a stop. The passenger side door opened and a striking tabby kitten was unceremoniously tossed from the vehicle. The cat instantly turned and tried to leap back inside, but his little body met a boot instead of the soft interior of truck. The door quickly closed, leaving the wee feline fellow sitting bewilderdly in the middle of our country road.

My bride and l looked at one another and agreed that A. the people in the truck were less than human and B. we couldn’t leave the poor chap to whatever fate would befall him if we failed to intervene.

The little furball turned out to be a most agreeable kitten and easily allowed Brittan to pick him up. We turned the vehicle around and headed home to introduce our new friend to the rest of the collection of dogs and cats who graciously allow us to live with them.  The name we chose was easy and quite natural since we found him on  our way to a Tapas dinner. There wasn’t even a debate. He was, and will always be, Nacho.

Nearly a year has passed since our serendipitous meeting, and Nacho has become a much loved and appreciated family member. He loves all of God’s creatures whether human, mammal or avian. He is often seen cuddled with one of our Mastiffs or grooming them as if those giant brutes were his own children.  The dogs love him, the farm animals accept him, and Gisabella the tabby cat, as queen of this castle, tolerates him as a necessary inconvenience.

It has been my considered opinion that there was not a violent bone in Nacho’s body. He is a lover, not a fighter. My opinion forever changed last night when urgency released the lion hidden beneath the lamb.

Our country neighborhood has been plagued the past few months by a pair of chicken killing cats. One is a huge yellow brute and the other is a rather ordinary looking thing, but black as death and savage as a devil.

Even we, despite the watchful eye of Romeo, our guardian donkey, lost a hen recently, when one of the two butchers slipped in and grabbed a sleeping bird while Romeo was otherwise engaged. Once the donkey became aware of the invasion, he sprang into action and chased the killer across the pasture, forcing the beast to drop the carcass before jumping over the fence and escaping. Not much gets by Romeo, so this foul creature must be something released from Abyss itself.

Two nights ago, in the hours after midnight, but long before the first rays of dawn touch the eastern sky, the silence was shattered by the cries of not one, but two cats in a struggle just outside our window. The skirmish was brief and the sound of a cat fleeing across our deck and into the night, was clearly audible.

Some ninety seconds later, Nacho scratched at the door, wanting in, as his evenings work was complete. He was none the worse for wear, though a subtle swagger was evident in his stride.

He lounged the day away, then about nine last evening he pleaded to go outside. Since we live in the country and Nacho has always been an inside/outside cat, we relented. His usual pattern is to run off towards the greenhouse in search of adventure or rodents or both. Last night, however, he went to the edge of the porch, went into a crouch and began to scan the horizon like a sentry on a wall.

At roughly 4:30 a.m. The interloper returned, undoubtedly in search of a chicken dinner. Romeo was on baby goat duty two pastures and three gates away so was in no position to lend assistance. The dogs were inside, all nestled in bed, while visions of sugar plumbs danced in their heads. The hens were roosting in the semi comatose way hens do, vulnerable to even the most inept predators. The thing that stalked them, though, was anything but inept.

As the creature skulked through the starlight, sniffing the air trying to locate the nearest potential victim, the roosting hens one hope was a once abandoned tabby with an unnatural love for dogs. Nacho Libre was on patrol.

I can almost picture the scene as my striped lover boy positioned himself in the monster’s path.

“You shall not pass!”

In an instant, in less than in instant, the two felines met tooth and claw in mid air, slashing and biting as they tumbled to the earth. The night erupted in the sounds of battle as the combatants screamed and swore, one intent on murder, the other determined to prevent it.

Two pastures and three gates away, Romeo the vigilant, gathered his charges behind him, pricked his ears and brayed a warning to the invader and encouragement to Nacho the defender. I could hear the urgency in Romeo’s voice. If he could have done so, he would have stood beside dear Nacho and ended the beast’s reign of terror once and for all.

The screams were now primal as the battle moved from the deck to the ground.  I leaped to my feet to grab a flashlight and a rifle, but, as quickly as it had begun, the battle was over and silence reigned. I opened the back door and stepped outside, fearing the very worst, but what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an exhausted, but victorious tabby cat now ready for a long winters nap.

Nacho entered the house, had a quick bite of food and a drink of water and went to his bed for a well earned sleep.

I was at the feed store this morning when Nacho limped out of bed, in obvious pain. Brittan called the vet, thinking the cat’s leg was broken. She had Nacho in her arms and was headed to the car when I arrived back.  Because it was raining, I merely tossed the feedbags in the barn and off we went to have our brave soldier looked at.

Resting comfortably

Resting comfortably

The veterinarian quickly assessed the damage and determined that while the leg was not broken, Nacho was covered in bites and scratch marks, some of them serious and gruesome.  Our knight in stripey armor had protected the flock, defended the manor from the devil cat and driven the beast away, but had paid a price to do so. He is on antibiotics and anti inflammatories. He has slept pretty much all day and will be forced to stay in for a few days. We feel so bad for our hero. He won’t be able to take his turn on patrol for a while, but I have a feeling Devil Cat won’t be visiting East of Eden Farms, for a long, long, long time, if ever again. He met is own nightmare, and his fear has a name, NACHO LIBRE!

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’ve only been farming for 2 years.  Even if you count the two years of gardening alone as farming, the total is still only 4. That’s not a long time at all, but I’ve learned a great deal in that time.  Here are some highlights:

  1.  If your wife is the better mechanic, just go with it.

I am not, and have never been, handy.  My wife, on the other hand, is.  I believe in the Yellow Pages. Brittan believes in doing as much as she can by herself.  That’s true of carpentry and engine mechanics.  She likes stuff like that. I don’t get it.  I have rudimentary skills, in that I can do some rough carpentry, plumbing and electric when forced to.  I have done roofing, drywall, laid blocks, taken apart starter motors and a few other things as well over the decades, but I loathe it and am poor at it. One should only depend on my handiwork in dire emergencies.

Brittan, on the other hand, is good at these things and enjoys doing them enough to want to improve and broaden her skill set. Silly girl. But she has saved us a ton of money on things like chicken coops, feed troughs, raised beds and even minor truck repair.  Her latest wild idea is to replace the brakes (lines, discs and calipers) on the truck, by herself.  Her logic is sound. Doing it by herself will save us hundreds of dollars. And since the truck is a 97, what have we got to lose?

I have neither the desire nor the attention span to do things like that myself.  And yet, for the longest time, my ego didn’t want Brittan to do them, either.  Eventually, I got over it.  Saving money and having a happy wife are much more important than admitting to my macho friends, “My wife does that stuff around here.”  Oh, did I mention that she’s pretty darned good at it?

  1.  Pot Belly Pigs are liars and deceivers.

I love pigs. I love the pork they produce.  What I never liked was seeing a field or pen destroyed by the rooting and burrowing that pigs are famous for.  I figured the answer was Pot Belly Pigs.  They are cute, tasty, smart and too small to do much damage.  Besides, anything that can be leash and house trained can’t be too destructive, right?

We got our pigs back in the summer. They were just little weanlings and too cute to describe.  We kept them in an old chicken tractor for a couple weeks to make sure they were acclimatized to us and our other livestock.  We fed them some garden scraps and lots of whey and excess goat’s milk.

When we turned them loose, they went right to grazing and browsing, eating weeds and grasses that even the goats had ignored. It was perfect. Between the chickens and the pigs, we have not thrown a single table scrap in the garbage can for months now.

This idyllic scene lasted all summer.  A handful of goats, some chickens and 5 little pigs sharing a pasture in perfect harmony.  Brittan even trained one of the pigs to let her squirt goat’s milk straight into his mouth from about 3 feet.  It was a great party trick.

Then winter came.  The grass died. The milking stopped. The rains fell. The pigs got bored. Now, their pasture is dotted with pot belly pot holes. They have turned that idyllic space into the Iraqi frontier.  The little monsters deceived me. They spent an entire summer like some sleeper cell, lulling me into a false sense of security, then out of nowhere, BAM, shock and awe.

Sure, they’re still cute.  They love to get their ears scratched and bury themselves in the straw in the barn to nap, then pop out of their camouflage to squeal with delight when they’ve scared the wee, wee, wee all the way home out of me.  But I am no longer deceived.  They are terrorists.  Adorable, heartwarming, loveable terrorists.  It will not be forgotten at bacon makin time.

  1. Farming for food involves a lot of death.

Whether it’s eliminating rodents from the garden, processing animals, finding the remains of predation or dispatching the sick and injured, I’ve seen a lifetime’s worth of death and gore in the last couple years.

Death never gets easier. Nor should it, I guess.  I did not anticipate, though, just how emotionally, mentally and spiritually exhausting it would be.

Brittan and I are omnivores. With a couple of notable exceptions, our customers are omnivores.  Fortunately, even the vegetarians among the East of Eden family of producers and consumers are appreciative of what we do here.

We started farming to produce our own food naturally, sustainably and ethically.  We knew there was death involved.  Brittan and I hunt and fish. We are not new to animal death, but shooting a turkey at the edge of field from a safe distance is a whole lot different than the up close and personal methods employed in pasture based poultry. I assure you that when you’ve spent 13 or 26 weeks with chickens and turkeys respectively, or 9 to 18 months with a feeder cow, the emotions change.

Over that time, we watch them grow from tiny, helpless little things, to maturity. I the case of poultry they are usually just a day or two old when they arrive. Rabbits and other livestock are often born here. In many cases we were there to watch and even assist in the birth.  We have fed them, cuddled them and nurtured them every day. We have talked and sung to them, and they to us.  They have made us laugh and they have made us angry. They have brought us something that too many people never experience; joy.

Processing days are hard. Anyone who does this will tell you the same.  It is emotionally easier to pick up a plastic wrapped package at the supermarket. That’s just meat.  To look a creature in the eyes and take its life, is an act of intention and is not done lightly.

It’s just as easy to ignore the fact that the steak, pork or chicken picked up already neatly presented at the supermarket very likely lived its life without a moment’s pleasure.  In the case of poultry, the birds may have never seen daylight until they were loaded on a truck and taken to be processed. Most pigs have never had a chance to tear up a pasture or bury themselves in the straw. The cows that produced the hamburger lived the last months of their lives in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, without the feel of grass beneath their fee or the sheer ecstasy of lying down at the edge of a hay stack for a nap in the afternoon sun.  That is why we do what we do. Our animals have a good life. They live as God intended, eating the food God created them to enjoy.  Their end comes at my hand and I know their lives are taken with respect for all they have given me.  When we sit down and the dinner table to enjoy a meal of vegetables and meat that we have raised, processed, preserved and prepared ourselves, we are aware of the connection we have to the soil and the life. We are more aware than at any other times in our lives that life is not cheap, but it IS precious.

While processing animals is stressful, having to put animals down is more so.  On multiple occasions, we’ve had birds or bunnies, which due to accidents or illness had to be put down.  For a while last summer, it was every day. We had a serious predator problem and we would come to the pastures to find killing fields. The carnage was awful.  Each time, I felt more helpless and angry than the time before.  Dozens of headless, partially eaten chickens and turkeys littered our pastures. Coyotes, hawks, owls and neighborhood cats and dogs were wreaking havoc.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there were ‘survivors’. Some animals escaped, but with mortal injuries.  For weeks on end, I had to dispatch one or more birds a day. I remember telling Brittan that I was totally exhausted from the task.  My soul hurt.

With the help of better fencing, donkeys and mules, my own .45 caliber pistol and the marksmanship of a good neighbor, predation has dropped to a manageable level, if such a thing exists, and I don’t know how I will cope if I ever have to go through a spell like that again.

To be continued…

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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 seems like the good stuff always happens in a camera free zone.   Last night was one of those Kodak moments, but no kodak was available.

We had finished the chores and were packing up water buckets, brushes, and such to head back to the truck, when some motion in one of the pastures caught my eye.  It was a neighborhood black cat who had invited himself onto the property. We’ve seen him before and I have a strong suspicion he has helped himself to more than one chicken in the last year.  Lately, he’s been eyeing the rabbits in the rabbit rangers. I don’t trust him at all.

Brittan and I were in another pasture and unable to attend to the interloper, but it turns out we were not needed.  Diane, our mixed breed miniature cow also spotted the intruder and sprang into action.  She turned towards the cat and stealthily walked about 10 steps in that direction then stopped and stared.  The cat stared back.  Diane lowered her head, pointed her horns and charged like a Spanish bull.  The terrified feline made a beeline (couldn’t resist the rhyme) for the fence and nearly got hit by a car AND a truck as it dashed across the road to the woods beyond.  Diane shook her head and jumped around like a rodeo bull before returning to her normal grazing posture.

I would have expected that behavior from the donkeys or mules.  I might have even hoped for some protectiveness from Chuck the bull, or Butter, the Dexter, but Diane is our most skittish and shy animal (with the possible exception of Amram the Katahdin Ram), but when the chips were down and her pasture was invaded, Diane stepped up.  Looks like there’s a new sheriff in town!

 

 

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