Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas poem

Flocks feed by darkness with a noise of whispers,
In the dry grass of pastures,
And lull the solemn night with their weak bells.

The little towns upon the rocky hills
Look down as meek as children:
Because they have seen come this holy time.

God's glory, now, is kindled gentler than low candlelight
Under the refters of a barn:
Eternal Peace is sleeping in the hay,
And Wisdom's born in secret in a straw-roofed stable.

And O! Make holy music in the stars, you happy angels.
You shepherds, gather on the hill.
Look up, you timid flocks, where the three kings
Are coming through the wintry trees;

While we unnumbered children of the wicked centuries
Come after with our penances and prayers,
And lay them down in the sweet-smelling hay
Beside the wise men's golden jars.

Thomas Merton (1946)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Merry Christmas from the Goats!

This wonderful goat Christmas card got me smiling! Can you identify any of the breeds? The four "ladies" that first sing are LaManchas, the breed we are starting with.

Goat folks love their babies and go to great lengths for them. :-)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Well, cold for us. Down into the twenties over the next few days, with a twinkling of an idea of snow on Christmas. :-) Snow is just a twinkling of an idea here all the time, so for it to converge with Christmas... essentially impossible. Or???

I mean after all, it is impossible that we are here. Insane. Who'd have thought we seaside suburbs kids would end up tending livestock on a Texas farm?

I love it here. I really do. I have a very hard time getting my buns out the door to do morning chores (cold or not... I just am a slow mover in the morning). But once I get out I don't want to come back in. Cold or not.

Today I got quite a lot done in my three forays out into the bitterness. Wrapped outdoor pipes for the freeze, emptied hoses, moved chickens, put up heat lamps, insulated walls with hay, taped windows, cleaned up building scraps around the chicken shed, fed the cattle, tended a chicken with a cold in my tub hospital, did the usual outside chicken chores several times.

The horses are now supposed to be fed every day (we had been doing it three times a week), and are getting different rations, so I now have to corral them before feeding so they each eat the right things. I haven't actually had to do it yet; tomorrow their owners will be out and I will watch the process. I do pretty well handling the horses as long as I don't have children or dogs with me.

We are heading into the last days before Christmas. Tomorrow will be filled with baking and sheet washing as we anticipate the influx of beloved company.

I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude these days. On the verge of tears, even. I doubt I can convey what I feel... a sense of profound beauty, a tangible presence of God, a certainty that I am where I am meant to be right now. I don't know that I have ever felt this so deeply. The underpinning is the rock solid foundation that God is trustworthy. I of little faith did not ask for proof, per se, but it has been given to me over and over and over.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Dogs, dogs and more dogs... and goats!

If there were a Chickenholics Anonymous, our dog would stand up and say:

"My name is Molly, and I have a problem. I like to chase chickens and kill them. My owners abhor this. I know they do, and I hate to make them upset, but I just can't seem to help myself."

She has now killed three.

Stephen has killed two.

I have saved one.

We need the odds stacked better.

Oddly enough, it seems like we are stacking them against ourselves shortly, by accepting delivery of two more dogs who have never lived with chickens.

Elderly Fred, my parents' dog, is coming at Christmas to live out his golden years on the farm. He is a tremendously sweet, thoroughly daft, black lab and something, maybe chow. A mutt stray who showed up at their house 10 years ago and fell in love with my dog Lucy. The two of them lived together (they were miserable when apart), going back and forth between our house and my parents' until last December, when Lucy died at almost 14. Lucy is buried up in the big pines. It took Fred quite a while to get over her death. He wouldn't eat for days. He really never has gotten back to his old self, actually.

Luke will be coming after New Years. He is a beautiful Australian Shepherd whose family had to move to an apartment. He is miserable there and loves his visits here. He has a very strong natural herding instinct with the cattle, and is very responsive to commands. He has received extensive obedience training.

You may be thinking, "She says FRED is daft? They have a problem with the dog and chickens and they are getting MORE dogs?"

Well, it might not be the perfect timing, but I don't exactly control the universe. These two dogs need homes now, and we think this would be a good place for them. In addition, we ARE going to fence the dogs out of the chickens. Which really means fencing the chickens in, but we are working on ideas for doing that portably so that the chickens can continue to range in fresh grass daily.

Stephen and I are going to spend the week after Christmas fencing (hooray!), and renovating the area of the barn that will be for the goats.

Goats!! Yes, goats! The long awaited goats are hopefully coming to their new home in January. I've made arrangements to purchase two purebred LaMancha does. One cycled this month so their current owner brought them to breed at another farm with a LaMancha buck. Rosie did breed, but tragically, died suddenly the next day from unrelated problems. Her sister, Snowy, is staying there until she cycles in the hopes that she'll breed this year. If she gets pregnant, she will kid in May. So we will have milk in June!

Since Snowy will no longer have the companionship of her sister, I have decided to purchase the wether ("fixed" male) that Snowy and Rosie grew up with. Sylvester will obviously not give milk, but he will serve an important purpose... keeping Snowy happy. Goats are very social and are miserable when alone.

I actually think this is a big part of the problem for Molly. Imagine... you grow up on a farm with your best buddy. He gets you pregnant. You have a nice litter of puppies. They get big enough and one by one they get taken away from you. Then your owners move, taking your best buddy, and leave you with people you don't know and just one of your pups. Two weeks later your pup is hit by a car and dies.

I think Molly is lonely, and I think she is bored. She is still pretty young and very playful. I suspect she is herding the chickens when we are away, a natural instinct she has whenever she sees anything run. She nips at them, just as she would at a cow's leg to herd it, and actually breaks skin. Then she either eats it because it is too tasty to resist, or plays with it until it is dead. Two of the chickens she killed have been dismembered. The one I found today was whole, and had been dead for quite a while, so perhaps she did her best to restrain herself once the deed was done? I don't know. It really is an awful sight, these poor birds.

But I don't cry about it any more. My feelings like that have turned to people. I have been thinking so much about the huge number of people so much less fortunate than we are, in such dire circumstances. Well, that is food for another post, but it has been weighing heavily on my mind.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Our chicken babies aren't babies any more

The chickens are all growing, including Trill who has reintegrated with her playmates. She is afraid to come out of the chicken house/shed, due to the dog, but the other chickens seem to have accepted her. She is significantly smaller than the rest, and her hop makes her stand out, but so far it looks like she is going to be okay. Of course in the chicken world things can change very fast.

We had a crazy freeze. Dropped from the 50's or so to the teens, and back up to the low 40's in about a 15 hour period. I did my best to protect the chickens, and everyone survived. Thankfully they are all pretty big and well-feathered, and have the advantage of each other's body heat.

The most frustrating thing about the chickens these days is not the chickens, it's the horses. Since moving the trailer into the back, the horses have become much more interested in our comings and goings. It took several attempts before we found a horse-proof location for the fat-boys' feeder (under the axle of the trailer). We've kept the other chickens' food in the shed for just this reason.

Nevertheless, come sundown each day I was confronted with trying to catch 22 chickens assisted by Farmer Boy, while Molly randomly barked at 5 horses and a donkey whose noses were in my... well, they were VERY close. Add to that The Princess shouting at Molly to stop barking, and we had a recipe for disaster. A few of the horses are not very even tempered, and even the calm ones can get spooked. A horse is not light, exactly. They scare EACH OTHER when they kick, imagine how I feel with my precious children exposed!

One evening, the boy left the gate open and the horses got on the lawn. Stephen managed to lure most of them back with some horse feed, but it took so long the sun set. It wasn't until morning that he realized he hadn't closed the barn. 150 lbs of horse feed had been eaten and scattered throughout the barn.

The only thing we can absolutely count on is that one animal or another is going to be somewhere or eat something that he or she oughtn't. It's merely a matter of who and where. And when. Now is usually the most reliable choice.

So I moved the trailer back into the yard, but not really the part we use as a yard. It is within the same fenced apart area, but away from the house in some bushes... an area that may some day be a garden anyway. We no longer have to catch the birds because we can lure them with their food. With the horses around this was not an option. It is a much more civilized way to manage chickens! You'd be surprised how difficult it can be to catch a waddling obese chicken.

The smaller birds are now set up to have free access day and night to the outdoors. I love to look in the back yard as the sun rises on birds happily pecking in my grass. They are a beautiful sight. They almost all go in at night on their own. Managing them has become so easy.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Humane Slaughter and Factory Farming

We ate the chicken. It was delicious. Farmer Boy said it was the best chicken he's ever had. At which Stephen said, "So I take it you've changed your mind about becoming a vegetarian?" Apparently the sight of the chicken's death had temporarily had him considering becoming a vegetarian again (he was until he was almost four).

So, as promised, my thoughts on raising animals for slaughter...

Let me start by saying I haven't eaten lamb since I was seven. I stopped then because I couldn't bear the idea of such a sweet little creature being sacrificed for my dinner.

I became a vegetarian when I was 20 and remained one for 11 years. When I did start eating meat again it was for health reasons, and was a rather agonizing decision that involved a lot of prayer.

I have always loved animals, and I find myself talking at great length with our animals and calling them "honey" and "sweetie". Yes, even the chickens.

So killing them for dinner?

When I did start eating meat again, I made a promise to myself that I would never forget that it was a real animal that I was eating, and that I would remember to be thankful for the life of the animal. I bought whole chickens to help myself grasp this. Despite the fact that it is missing a significant number of parts that make it look like a live chicken, a whole chicken at the grocery store is a lot more obviously an animal than a styrofoam package of boneless breasts.

So number one: I do know I am eating an animal.

Number two: While it appears that animals were not eaten before Noah's time, after that they have been. I also know that my body (and mind) function so much better now that I have meat in my diet. I know that God provides for our physical needs, and I believe that animals are part of this. I suspect heaven will be like the Garden of Eden, no one eating each other. But what do I know? I am a romantic. I imagine all creatures living in harmony. Here, we simply aren't. And when all is said and done, I will choose to eat meat and be a more coherent mother to my children than abstain and be in a fog all day like I used to be.

And number three, to which I have only recently come: If you eat meat, you should not eat factory meat. From a human perspective it far less helathy for consumption (high rate of contamination, lots of medications given due to crowded unsanitary conditions causing unnatural rates of disease, etc). From a humane perspective, well it just isn't. Plain and simple, factory farming is cruel. There is a complete disregard for the welfare of the animals... the only value considered is the bottom line. If you don't believe me, google "factory farming" and prepare to be horrified. It just might turn you into a vegetarian.

You have probably seen The Meatrix. If not, take 10 minutes and learn some new things... it is well worth the time. It is pretty tame, no actual photos; it's a cartoon.

So my personal goals, as a farmer raising animals for slaughter, are:
1) to provide the healthiest and happiest life an animal could hope for, in a farm setting, which to me includes lots of sunshine, good food, safety, no junk, and us genuinely loving being with them and demonstrating that to them
2) to practice the most humane methods of slaughter we can find

Okay, so that's me. But I live on a farm, we do raise animals for our own meat. We know what they eat, where they live, if they've been sick, who's tops in the pecking order, etc. What about you? Do you eat meat? Live in the city? Want to eat humanely raised meat?

I have ideas for you! :-) For starters, you can buy from us! ;-) Well, eventually. But really, support your local farmer. This is far more important than I ever grasped, not just for farmers, but for the future of the world as we know it. Look for a farmer's market in your area, or a consumer supported agriculture (CSA) farm. If you have neither, ask at your local health food store about the farms that they buy from. Check out this website that has lots of links to help you find local food:

Sustainable Table's Shopping Guide

I challenge you: the next time you walk into a grocery store, look around and think about this: Someone, somewhere had to grow everything in front of you. Who did it, and where? Kinda freaky, eh?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The deed is done

And completely without my presence.

Stephen came in with a bird that looked like it was from the grocery store. Not that it WAS completely... he spent the next hour "eviscerating" it... gutting it, basically.

Farmer Boy said it was awful and he doesn't want to watch again.

The Princess said she would watch it again.


A friend of Stephen's showed up unexpectedly, which granted a stay of execution for the remaining three birds slated for the chopping block. So I have yet to see the deed done.

I have, however, cried a lot today. Working through this emotionally is a bit harder than intellectually, evidently. Thankfully, my family is wonderful and not expecting any more of me than I can handle.

Farmer Boy and I discussed it later. We both agreed that we are good at caring for the animals, but not so good at the killing part. After talking about how different people are made in different ways and able to do different things, he said, "I think I would be good at being a vet, but you're too tender."

I suppose the fact that I cried and cried when Trill was attacked was an indication to him. ;-) My natural ability for empathy is perhaps being pushed a little hard here in the life-and-death world of farm animals.

The dead bird is currently cooking in my oven for dinner. Maybe I am getting a harder heart.

The Moment of Truth

The moment of truth is at hand. Stephen is about to kill four of our chickens. I have spent the last week or so thinking it all through, and intellectually have come to resolution on it. Obviously emotionally I still have a steep mountain ahead of me, as I am sitting here crying.

My children on the other hand were both eager to go out and participate. Do I feel like a schmuck or what? When the Princess said she wanted to go, I wanted to make sure she understood what was happening.

"Do you know what Papa is going to do?", I asked.

"Yes, kill them, maybe with a hammer?", the Princess answered.

"Well, a knife," I said.

"And then we will eat them," Papa said.

"But not the feathers," she said.

She gets it.

Last night the boy and I had to pick out some for today. It was not hard picking the biggest and healthiest looking ones, but it was hard putting them in their separate housing for the night. I talked to one as I went, thanking it for helping sustain our lives, and wishing I had provided a better life for it here. When I told Stephen, he pointed out that our chickens *have* had a better life than most chickens, and that is true. But I want to make it better still.

My kids are definitely more cut out, naturally, for farm life than I am. I think I would be good at running some kind of small animal sanctuary. Taking care of Trill (yes, after everyone agreed our rescued bird is now my pet, I felt free to name her), I am reminded that I am good at these nurturing kinds of things. But the chaos of a farm and lots of big animals and predators and slaughtering... ugh. Once again, God is getting a chance to be glorified because the only way I am going to manage this is in His strength, not mine.

Farmer Boy told me last night:

"I think I will have to quit school soon."

"Why?" I aked.

"Because there is so much work to do on the farm."

Of course I negated that idea (quitting) post haste. But really, I don't know what I would do without him. He is a genuine help. He can control the horses better than I can, he is not afraid to catch a big rooster, he is strong and brave about slaughtering the chickens. He is seven.

I am a wuss.

I will post what I've written about the intellectual part later today... and let you know how we fared with the actual slaughter.

{{{deep breath}}}

Out I go.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Chickens, gardens and fences

The white hen that Stephen brought in on Saturday died Sunday morning. She was looking awful when I got up, and wouldn't take any water. I knew then that she would not make it. An hour or so later, as I was coming in from checking the outside chickens, I heard mad flapping... she was in the process of dying, poor thing. The final moments were mercifully short, then Stephen buried her, well away from the house and garden areas, with rocks on top to discourage any critters from digging her up. In the afternoon he burned a pile of brush and included the boxes she had been in. We used the opportunity to clear some land for the gardens.

In the late afternoon I decided some of the woody weeds looked just the right diameter for roosts, so I nailed together some makeshift roosts for the shed. It made me so happy to look in later and see hens up there!

Today I moved and cleaned out the trailer our lost hen and the other big birds have been in. They all seem so much happier to be able to be out all day. I don't blame them! Some of the roosters are getting quite the bright red combs. It makes me happy to see them pecking around in the grass. I want to make their lives with us enjoyable and fulfilling. For a chicken, that means food, clean water, a clean place to sleep, sunshine and protection from predators. As simple as that seems, it can be tough to provide all of those things. They sure poop a lot!

Amazingly enough, I can start planting in about a month, so I am feeling an increasing urgency to get the soil ready. I have picked where I will put in the cut flower garden and the vegetable garden. Now I need fencing. Our endless refrain.

I am hoping the big birds will help till up my vegetable garden, and the little birds my flower garden. I am dreaming up ways to move them slowly through the areas we need tilled. This will involve more fence. I want to do it for nothing (using what we have here), but moveable sturdy fencing is not simple. That's why it costs A LOT if you buy it.

Fencing, fencing, fencing. What would I do if I won the lottery? Pay someone to put in all the fences I want, and renovate the barns!

And get a sheep to mow the lawn; a goat (or 100) to eat the browse, milk and generally make me happy; and a pig to REALLY till the ground (that's what their snouts are made for! Honest!). Oh, and a "swift and strong pony" for Farmer Boy. :-) Never heard of a swift pony? That's okay. He wants one for his super hero deeds, so I am sure that all that superness will rub off on the pony and "swift-ify" it. :-) It's tops on his wish list today.

Our little injured RI Red hen is still alive, and very alert. Last night (Sun) she flew out of the box. It was very hard for her, and painful, I think. We got her a bigger box so she has more places to hop and fall (poor baby). I caught her looking intently at me during dinner. I think she is lonely. :-( It is supposed to be nice tomorrow so we may take her outside to sit in the grass and sunshine for a while. I'll confess I am feeling anxious about her. I have become quite attached, and I fear that her future is not bright. So much of the muscle on her leg is exposed. I fear that her whole leg is going to just die off. I am definitely in danger... I am thinking of naming her. We have a rule on the farm: no naming anything you might end up eating. I do not want to eat her. I just hope she is really a she, as all evidence suggests, and that she will be a happy little egg layer.

Stephen tells me I should not keep you (and him!) in suspense about my thoughts on slaughtering. I think he pesters because the time is at hand. Alas, you will have to remain in suspense, because this is already long and it is already late. :-)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Midnight chicken drama

Oy! I had barely had enough time to post that picture when the drama started up again. I heard a chicken distress call and thought it was one of our invalids, but realized it was coming from the back yard. Turned on the light and both Molly (dog) and Snugglebug (cat) were playing with another RI Red. He was not hurt thankfully (by the call, I'm pretty sure this one is a he).

With the dog and cat distracted by the door opening, he went under the back steps, under which grows poison ivy... one of only two spots I've found on the entire 40 acres. We put the dog and cat in the laundry room and I coaxed the bird out and put him back in the shed along with about 10 others who had decided to sleep outside. As I was out there it started to rain.

In case you are wondering, chickens have a brain the size of a pea, and it works about that well. Once it is dark, you can do just about anything to them. They peeped a bit at me and stretched when I picked them up, but no alarm calls. I had to force them to move inside the shed, because they would sit down right inside the opening, and wouldn't move in. It is actually a common problem for chickens to smother because they pile up on each other in the dark.

Of course I noticed my right hand brushing poison ivy while I was actually touching it. I have bathed my hand in diluted bleach (I know, I know, but for Pete's sake, my RIGHT hand... I do not have time for poison ivy!). Now I'll probably end up being pregnant... the last time I used bleach like this was 8 years ago and shortly thereafter found out I was pregnant with Farmer Boy. I do of course understand that it was not cause and effect! :-) But being a first time pregnant person I naturally freaked out about the fact that I had soaked my poison ivy exposed legs in bleach not knowing I was pregnant.

I suppose I ought to get some sleep. Chickens and dogs don't seem to have a sense of civilized hours for drama.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

New picture

In honor of the birds who are getting so much air time, I have changed the photo. You'll note that the fat boys (and girls) are doing what they love best... eating and drinking!

Chicken hospital

Seems I've taken up chicken nursing. Just walked out to the laundry room and saw that Stephen had brought another chicken in for care. She is a hen (one of the "fat boys") who is going to need some extra garlic and cayenne. She seems to have a cold. Chickens get respiratory illnesses easily in wet conditions, and we've had lots of "wet" here. Several of the Cornish Rocks are sneezing, but she seems weak as well as snuffly.

Today we are going to try to figure out different living quarters for them as the trailer has gotten too small to comfortable hold them, poor things. Hard to believe that 100 chicks had oodles of room in there, but 24 six week old birds are cramped.

The bird caught by the dog is improving. She is still having trouble with her leg, but is alert and eating and drinking very well. She has come to really trust me and lets me stroke her. I think she will have to be in for quite a while, at least until the ripped area is scabbed over. Even then, I worry that the other birds will peck at her, so we will have to play this by ear.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Update on injured chicken

Our hurt bird made it through the night. I got her (him?) to drink a bit of water last night, which definitely increased her alertness. She wouldn't eat. I tried to clean her up with mild soap and water, but the best time for doing that had long passed. I swabbed some homeopathic calendula on the wounds, because it was what I had. I really wish I had some comfrey leaves right now to make a poultice. I will definitely be growing comfrey; it is an amazing healer.

This morning she drank a LOT of water, but still refused food. I put a touch of blackstrap molasses in the water and she guzzled more, even peeped. Then she moved around the box a little, so I offered her some food and she ate it all! Hooray!

Her side is clearly bothering her. She has a hard time putting weight on the affected leg. I suspect she will never grow feathers on her left side because I think I am looking at muscle, not skin.

Saving her to what I end, I wonder. If she is a hen, she may be able to live a relatively normal life, although she will likely be at the bottom of the pecking order, and will have reduced ability to escape predators. I don't think she'll be able to fly. If she is a he... wow, I don't know. I think it might be hard to do all the things roosters do with the kind of restrictions this bird will likely have. Time will tell.

I have learned a great deal about alternative emergency animal care in the past 15 hours. I will do some things differently next time, like cleaning up the wound immediately. I also now have a better idea of what I'd like to have on hand for emergency first aid for our animals.

I have also begun to actively process, emotionally, the raising-animals-to-eat thing. I have a lot of thoughts on this, so I will save it for another post.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Drama with chickens

Molly, our dog, is a herding dog. Australian Shepherd, maybe with some Blue Heeler (also called Australian Cattle Dogs). Very intelligent breeds, very strong herding instinct. Molly, not so much instinct, but she's getting there. She is very protective of me, in particular, and is excellent at herding everything away from me. This is not necessarily the direction I am hoping for of course.

We have begun letting the chickens out to range around. They are old enough and sturdy enough now, and hopefully big enough that the chicken hawks will ignore them (wishful thinking). Their presence in the yard has been a source of endless temptation for Molly. In addition to the now easy access to warm bodies that she can chase, there is the lure of the chicken feed, which apparently is delicious... the dog, cat, horses and donkey, as well as the chickens, find it quite delectable.

So Hank the horse dumped the feeder when it was on the ground out of the chicken house. And Molly dumped it when it was in. Stephen rigged up a tiny door, big enough for chickens to come and go, and small enough for Molly to be prevented from going in. This works for keeping Molly out, but oddly, the chickens seem less interested in coming out (at least today).

About 20 of them were out this afternoon, however. We were getting ready to go into Austin for our monthly food coop pick-up and trip to Whole Foods and Costco. We had let "the fat boys" (the Cornish-Rock broilers) out in the front, so rounded them all back up by hand as their "house" does not have a door (it's a trailer).

We checked on the other birds back in the shed, filled water and feeder, and saw there were a few birds out, so I left the door open figuring they would go in when it got dark. We loaded up our coolers to go, but as I got in the truck to drive off, Farmer Boy shouted "Mama! Molly has a black bird!"

Sure enough, across the yard was Molly with a dark bird in her mouth. I shouted her name and started running toward her and she dropped it, then dropped on her back with that guilty look on her face. The poor bird (a RI Red it turns out) looked like someone had decided to get some boneless breast without killing her. I burst out crying.

What to do? I was just going to make my first appointment if I'd left when I was getting in the truck. The bird was alive, but should it be? Should I put it out of its misery? I really had no idea what to do, but I had to do something.

After conveying my displeasure to Molly (if anyone knows how to train a farm dog... HELP!) I ran into the house, crying, found a box, filled it with pine shavings, cried some more, got some gloves, said a bad word, cried and ran back to the bird. Farmer Boy had come out of the truck and was standing over the bird keeping Molly away from her.

I put her in the box and carried it into our bathroom, putting her in our chicken hospital (our non-functioning tub). I gave her a little food and water, and hoped for the best. Yes, I did say a prayer for her. She is one of God's creatures after all.

Then I cried some more.

But there was no time for being emotional, so I cried as I ran to the back yard to figure out what on earth to do with the other chickens. We gathered up the ones we saw and put them in the shed, and just as we were about to leave discovered a big lump of them all settled down for a nap in a toasty patch of sunshine, on the other side of the fence. There were too many of them to catch, so again, praying for the best, we left.

And when we returned 6 hours later, the injured bird was still alive, and there were only 5 birds still outside. No sign of carnage, so I am assuming the others did as I'd hoped and hopped up the ramp back into the shed at dusk. We popped the remaining birds in and closed them up for the night.

Now I am off to research healing this bird...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Storms and weeds

We have been having an ongoing battle with the weather here. We received so much rain last week that the Colorado River flooded. We are far enough away that the flooding did not affect us, but we had to miss our weekly homeschool park day as the town park was completely submerged. If we had been sitting where we parents usually do to chat, our heads would have been under water.

Around the farm the impact has been felt. I found myself out under the carport several days, building berms and digging ditches as the water rose. No water in the house, but a lot under the carport. We clearly have some landscaping to do to fix this issue. Gutters will help too.

The shed was not finished (still isn't). The tar paper tore off in places, and a lot of rain made it into the building. Amazingly, not one chicken has been lost since those first two chicks the first days. All the rain made it impossible for Stephen to finish when planned because it was either raining or everything was too wet to shingle. And just when it finally dried enough, he hurt his back.

Did I mention Snafu Farm as a name?

The wood all throughout the house swelled. Drawers stuck, doors stuck.

The cat was irritated by the rain, the dog didn't really care except when her dog house flooded and the little raised area in front of the house was soaked. We let her in, even though she doesn't really like to be in the house. The cattle didn't care either, because they had just gotten a nice big round bale of top quality hay. They just stood with their backs to the rain and ate.

At the tail end of the storms, as the cold front pushed it all out like a steam engine, we had vicious winds. Texas weather is rarely gentle. The winds brought down a good number of dead tree limbs, which turned out to be handy. With the cold weather we started using our fireplace regularly so had a great supply of firewood in the front yard. It's all gone now... we have to go back into the woods to get more.

I keep marvelling at how much abundance there is here already. We have our own cedar, which is a fabulous wood for pest repelling and an excellent choice to use instead of pressure treated lumber becuase it is slow to rot. We will use a lot of the downed cedar for fence posts since they'll be in direct contact with the ground. We'll also cut them for Christmas trees and wreaths. We have copious amounts of mesquite, good for smoking. Both mesquite and cedar are considered pest trees... weeds of sorts. Amazing what blessings weeds can bring.

When I was pregnant and almost due the second time, I kept a miserable rash at bay by daily eating dandelion leaves at lunch in my salad. They are a very effective liver detoxifier. Plantain, another common lawn weed, is a remarkable bug bite easer and has other healing properties. Jewelweed, which grows where poison ivy grows, is a natural antidote to poison ivy rashes.

As I write this, I am thinking about other storms and weeds in my life. The storms in the last weeks crashed through our lives, making us stop and settle in close to each other, they cleaned up the dead limbs and filled our ponds and soil with life giving water. The common weeds that so many consider a nuisance can bring healing and beauty (and tasty bacon!).

The emotional storms that crash through my life are inconvenient just as the weather we have had, but I do see that they clear out and make fresh, when I ride them out in my Father's hand. I pray that He will help me to see what I see as weeds, in a new light, and find their beauty and usefulness, even if it is to pluck them and use them to heal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I've opened the door a crack

Here's what I've gotten from The Big Guy so far:

LAUGH! Have a sense of humor!

BE THANKFUL. So half your coffee spills while you're driving in the rain at night. You still have half left, and didn't get in an accident! Hooray! Reread the essay you wrote last year about being thankful.

HAVE FUN. When things are at their worst, turn up the music and dance with the kids. Just be silly for no reason.

TRUST ME. Just when your business account is not going to have enough money to pay for your monthly expenses next month, I'll bring you two big orders. Just a little reminder that I have not set you adrift.

Oddly enough, I have heard all these messages before. Many times. I did mention that I have a thick skull, right? :-)

Monday, November 15, 2004


I have to keep reading 1 Corinthians 13 lately. My kids are driving me bonkers. And I'm not really taking all the farm mishaps in stride (note the comment on cursing in the previous entry). So I keep pulling out my bible to try to remember what love is.

Well, love is "patient". Among other hard to manage things... like "not easily angered".

Upon reflection I realized that I am currently living through the time in my life when I have been least patient. Yikes.

The things that try my patience appear to be endless. Bickering kids; an easily frustrated 3 year old whose first line of defense against the trials of her life is to scream at the top of her lungs; animals that are driven by their stomachs and not their sense of what might be convenient to, say, ME; poop everywhere, crumbs galore, endless mud and dirty laundry; rain that insists on falling at the wrong time; brooder lamps that break when you crack your head into them; etc, etc, etc.

Something is afoot. My feelings and behavior are not meshing with my beliefs. When this happens it usually means that God is knocking hard on the door that is my thick skull, with a message. I'll have to get back to you when I screw up the courage to open the door...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A good day on the farm

We got a lot done today. One would not think that moving cattle and chickens would make one feel like a success in life, but if you haven't done it before, you find yourself feeling rather self-satisfied.

The shed, while not quite finished, was declared to be chicken-ready after sunset the night before last. It did not yet have a door, but had plastic sheeting firmly in place. At least firm on the top and side, but open enough for us to get in and out. Us, and our dog and cat, not to mention the coyotes and bobcat that have been spotted in these parts. In addition we needed to hang the brooder lamp, and put plastic on the window opening. I needed to buy the chain for hanging the lamp, so we weren't ready to actually do the work until today.

First I had to move the cattle. The sound of the plastic shed "door" reminds them of the sound of a bag of delectable cubes being opened for their dining pleasure, and they had been rather cozy yesterday when I had gone into the shed to see how much chain I needed. Molly had been with me, and she spent the whole time I was in there barking and herding them away. They still were right outside the door when I came out. So I knew we could not be going in and out moving chickens, with cattle hovering, and little kids on the loose.

So I drove the truck - pulling the trailer filled with cubes, stuff to go the barn and the chicken feed - down to the barn courtyard. I poured a bag of cubes into the grass, and let the eager cattle through the gate. The horses were standing there wanting to get in on the action as well, so I had to close the gate before all the cattle got through, in order to keep the horses in. I drove in quickly, fed the horses, then tried to round up the other cattle. I got a cow through, but the remaining three calves just wouldn't go, so I gave up. Then, realizing it was going to be too much to try to maneuver a truck and 16' trailer backwards (my only option to get the chicken feed back to the shed), the kids and I grabbed a few of the small things we needed to do our work and walked up to the shed. The calves mostly stayed away, except the bigger one whom Molly bullied a few times.

I was in the shed trying to figure out how to attach screen to the window opening that was 1/2" wider than the screening, when I got a funny feeling. I looked out and it seemed the horses were mighty interested in our trailer. Most of it was hidden from view by the barn... aack! The chicken feed! The other bag of cubes! Sure enough, they had gotten into both. And this after I had fed them a generous portion of sweet feed!

I'm embarassed to say I think I have cursed more since moving here than during Farmer Boy's entire life (the point at which I really upped my efforts to speak like a lady).

So I ran back to the barn, shooed the horses away, moved the broken bag of cubes to the barn, and dragged the VERY heavy metal can of chick feed up to the shed, then through the gate into our back yard, where the lid can not be reached by any large mammals other than humans. I hope.

Back to work in the shed... attached the lamp, pulled in and configured the extension cord set-up, spread around the wood shavings, constructed a make-shift wooden door. I also popped the window into the frame, which was easier than stapling screening and plastic, and is a real window with a real screen. Stephen will have to eventually get it in right, but for now it works great.

At last we really were ready! The boy and I grabbed some gloves and emptied a Rubbermaid tub of outside toys, then started loading up birds. We did it by breed so we could finally get a definite count of how many we have of each. When we had put them in the brooder the first day, we'd had a really hard time keeping track of the count as we were unloading, and it is darn near impossible to count moving chickens.

In relatively little time we were done. The 25 Australorps, 26 Buff Orpingtons and 26 Rhode Island Reds are now safely in their new shed, and the Cornish Rocks have the whole brooder to themselves. It was dark when we were finishing up. Everything takes so much longer than you expect! I think it took about 4 hours to do all this.

I feel so accomplished!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Who I voted for

My post about the boy's ideas for election reform have garnered a few questions. If you really want to know who I voted for, just ask. But more importantly, here's who I WANTED to vote for:

Joe Schriner

Silly, uninformed, doesn't watch tv, busy homeschooling, moving and now farming me. I thought a write-in candidate was someone you wanted for president and could WRITE IN. What a big fat dumbhead. A write-in candidate is someone who has been approved to be a write-in candidate. Nice.

Where I live I COULD have actually written in Joe's name, because I voted by filling in an oval with a pencil. But my ballot would have been discarded. Where my parents live, there wasn't even an option to write in someone's name to be discarded, because it was all levers and buttons. There was a selection of so-called "write-in candidates".

I have no concept of how the electronic voting works. I haven't talked with anyone who has done it. You realize of course that the very technology we want to use is now dictating how our governmental process works. Scary.

Now that I understand, I am going to work to get Joe on the ballot in Texas in 2008. He's already running. I really admire this guy.

P.S. Please excuse rampant abuse of prepositions in this post. They are dangling everywhere. If only we could get our government to limit their abuses to such as this...

Monday, November 08, 2004

Happy Party

We had a great time at the party yesterday. It was, well, chaotic to say the least. Lotsa kids and chicks (the avian type) running around, lots of laughing, lots of plastic beads scattered on the floor during a craft project, not enough forks, cake iced by my sister-in-law and her mom DURING the party, beer arrived after the guests, unsupervised kids with horses (aaack... that was nipped in the bud quickly!), general mayhem and fun.

I told my brother beforehand, "It's a good thing my friends and family don't love me for my organizational skills." He replied, "Don't worry, Pat, we never have." "And you never will!" I answered. :-)

While I hope that is true - I'd rather people love me for who I am, not what I do - I would like to grow in this area. Once again my inability to be organized was highlighted in a dramatic fashion. We did still have lots of boxes against the walls (in every room), my mom was sweeping the floor a few minutes before people arrived, and I had to have a lot of help to get the food on the table... an hour later than I'd planned. I have this idea that other people would have been unpacked and more prepared, so I wonder what it is about me? Is it because I want to do all the cooking from scratch? Because I wanted to have crafts and activities? Because I rarely have a moment without kids interrupting me? Because I procrastinate? Dingdingding! Correct answer! Well, at least partly. The other stuff does play in as well.

Anyway, enough dwelling on that, gotta just get up and walk on and unpack and organize, etc, etc. Just jump in where I am. :-) Got a lot of work to do... off I go...

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Gleaning from the snafus

So remember how I wrote about worrying about people getting hurt? And that Stephen seems to be the one on the receiving end of the pain?

This afternoon I came home from the Farmer's Market and Wal-Mart (should it be legal to write those two in the same sentence? My loathing of Wal Mart shall be saved for a different post), and found the chicken brooder wide open. No husband or son in the back yard working on the shed. Bad feeling.

Open the door, shout Stephen's name, he answers, rather weakly, and I say "Are you okay?" "Mostly," is the reply.

So I walk in, find him lying on the couch, he has hurt his back, and hammered his thumb three times. He is stoic about it. He grudgingly puts a bag of frozen corn on his thumb and asks "Why are you always trying to make me feel better?"

Mostly I think he is sick and tired of all the setbacks on the shed. And he is DEFINITELY sick and tired of hardy plank. He told me that he has become convinced that after Satan's incarnation as a serpent in the Garden of Eden, he became hardy plank. Stephen even composed a song about hardy plank, and how it is the source of all his problems. He recorded it on his laptop. Maybe I'll see if we can that up on the blog. It is a thing of beauty.

This morning I'd joked that we might name the farm, or at the very least the shed, "Snafu." Snafu Farm. Snafu Shed. Snafu Chicken House. ;-)

The big snafu for me, now, is that we are expecting an ever expanding list of guests tomorrow; my house is 1/3 put away, 1/3 in boxes, and 1/3 strewn on the floor; I am baking a monstrous flower cake as requested by the princess, spaghetti sauce from scratch and the other assorted preparation one must do for such things; I'll need to to supervise the farm chores so that Stephen does not further injure his back; I've got a bunch of craft projects and activities to set up for the party, not to mention decorating; and everyone except my brother and his wife are coming for the first time to the fabled and long-awaited Brown Family Farm, so are expecting the grand tour. Deep breath

Here's the thing: I AM SO HAPPY HERE!!! :-) Really! I am not the world's most organized person, so my house is a mess, but I am a person who really likes the fact that she has to put on her boots at 9:00 at night and go out and check on the chickens. And when I do, the beauty of the stars makes me catch my breath. No eclipse, no shooting stars, no Mars glowing red. Nothing special, just the dark night and the stars, like most people over the course of time in all the world have been able to see, but most of us only get to see on a ski trip to some tall and remote mountain. We have gained so much in these years, but indeed, we have lost much too.

When I was pregnant for the first time, and we were exploring the possibility of a home birth, Stephen observed what an odd thing it is that people would choose in advance to dull the experience of perhaps one of the most pivotal moments of their life. That has stuck with me, the notion of living life as a flat line... by avoiding the lows, we somehow restrict the highs.

We are so afraid of pain, of loss, of the unknown. I am basically a fearful person. But I believe I am a recovering fearful person. Part of it is because I have had to face some fears by them coming true. I discovered that I am stronger than I thought, that God is bigger than I understood, and that the saying "If it doesn't kill you it will make you stronger" is actually true.

All this philosophizing isn't getting my house any cleaner, obviously, but it does help me focus. :-)

I've always wanted to have a home that is wide open. I love to have people over, I love to share what we have, and it seems that lots of people want to come over now that we are on the farm. This so exciting to me! My prayer is that I can grow enough to have a home and heart that are welcoming without fretting. I have learned that the little things can make a difference, but some little things are only nurturing when they have been thought out and implemented BEFORE your guests arrive!

On that note, I'd best get to work. Hi ho, hi ho.....

Friday, November 05, 2004

Growing chicks and growing in other ways

Our chicks are two weeks and two days old today. They are not cute and fluffy any more. That period goes by reaaally quickly when you're a chicken, especially if you're a Cornish-Rock cross. These guys, also referred to as broilers (guess why), grow at an astonishing rate. They are voracious eaters; in fact, we have to remove the feed from them for 12 hours at night or they could actually die. This is called "flip" and it is caused by them having heart attacks. Their legs also can not manage the rate of growth... too weak to sustain them... so they do a lot of sitting down, especially after having just eaten. It is pretty freaky, frankly. Doesn't seem right. I am inclined to not get this breed again. We have 25 of these, and had to separate them from the other birds after less than a week. They are slaughter weight at 6-8 WEEKS!! Isn't that nuts? These guys are the kind you buy at the grocery store.

We also have 25 Rhode Island Reds, 25 Black Australorps and 25 Buff Orpingtons. Together they make a pretty picture (one breed is white, one black, one buff yellow, and one reddish brown). Well, pretty except for the fact that they are gauky teenagers right now. ;-) They are too big for the Princess to hold at all now. Farmer Boy can manage, but it is a struggle.

This week we have been working on getting into our chore routine. Stephen and I are getting up at 5:00 and having time to drink coffee, talk, and read our bibles, then get working on inside chores. At 6:30, Stephen wakes the boy, he gets dressed and they go together to feed and water the chickens and freshen the litter (pine shavings). Then the boy feeds the dog and cat. We eat breakfast at 7:00 (theoretically... in practice it is later because it takes a half hour for the chores, which leaves no dressing time before!). We still need to tweak the schedule. School work starts at 8:00. As we get the rhythm of this, and get more animals, the Princess will also have her own farm chores.

Stephen has been working very hard on the chicken house/shed. It is awesome. I am going to try to throw some pictures online of the sequence. He is doing it all alone, with occasional assistance from the boy, and once or twice I hammered a nail or moved a board. Princess likes to walk around the work area talking to her 5 sisters. ;-) A three year old with a rich imagination.

I am trying to make all our bread myself. It is fun to try new recipes... tried a whole wheat Italian bread a few days ago. I need to work on my technique. I love to cook, but I am not very good at time management. To whit: we have technically lived here for two months and you would think the moving truck came a week ago. I find it very difficult to do the moving in, when the day-to-day stuff is so time consuming (homeschooling, cooking from scratch, no kid-free time). But we are getting there slowly. Sunday we have our first gathering here, in honor of the Princess' birthday. Most people coming will be here for the first time, so it would be nice to have it a little less, well, pig-sty-like. I mean, this IS a farm, but the only sty should be the one back behind the corral, not behind the front door!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Reform a la Farmer Boy

Took the boy with me when I went to vote this evening. Voted in a little community hall at long tables with pencil and paper. The way everyone used to vote I guess. Our town has a population of about 500.

He had a lot to say about the process, and here is how he wants to see it changed:

1) Voting eligibility: Must be able to read, and at least three years old
2) Voters may vote for anyone they want. No more having to get lots of signatures or pay lots of money. Write-in candidates are just that... don't have to be an "official" write-in.
3) Ballots will include information about each candidate, submitted by the candidate. A minimum of 1/4 page per candidate.

I think he has some good ideas, how 'bout you?

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Wow, October

Well, just a quick post so SOMETHING is in October. :-) The kids and I went on a long trip (almost a month). It was planned before the house came available. We went to a family reunion (Stephen was able to join us for this), visited friends and family in RI and MA, and had two long stops in PA visiting our best friends who just moved there.

It was a pretty intense trip for me. Wonderful to see so many people I love. Interestingly, while in New England, I was working through a lot of emotional issues related to the move to the farm. Perhaps the juxtaposition of my childhood environment and my current home in Texas got the emotional fires burning. I spent a lot of time thinking about my life when I was Farmer Boy's age. I wondered a lot about what his life would be like if we lived there. I wondered if we are doing the right thing.

I felt confronted with the safety issues involved with living on a farm. There just seem to be so many more opportunities for accidents! I had to slog through that one with God, again being reminded to trust Him, and take one day at a time. Undoubtedly we will all get hurt in some way or another. Must just face that and walk through it when it happens. So far, Stephen has been the most injury prone. He got whacked in the chin by a cow in July (not intentional on the cow's part I don't think, just two heads in the same place at the same time and hers was MUCH bigger). It split his chin. He also hurt his hand while we were gone.

Then there is the life-and-death stuff. Farm animals come and farm animals go, and the going part is something we have to accept. Already, Fleck, our puppy, is gone. While we were away he was hit by a car in front of our house. We live on a dirt road, but people still can drive pretty fast out there, and I guess his mom hadn't taught him about cars (maybe it was silly of me to think she would, but I did). The kids actually took it very well. Maybe because they had only had 2 weeks with him before we left. I was the one who cried.

And of course, as I was feeling emotional, why not throw in worrying about homeschooling! I cycle through that, as do most homeschooling moms I know. I actually think it is a good thing. I never want to become apathetic about my child's education, and it is good to periodically assess things to make sure we are doing the right thing. Verdict? Once again: absolutely! Funny thing is that usually in my most worried moments (several times this has happened WHEN I have been talking with other hs moms about it) Farmer Boy will come up to me and say or do something that makes it clear that I am being silly. In MA I was fretting to my cousin, and he came in and told me that he and his cousin (age 4) were playing Swiss Family Robinson, which he and Stephen are currently reading. Guess his education is going okay. ;-) At the park the other day he and his hs buddies (ages 6-8) were playing Civil War. I didn't even know about the Civil War until 4th or 5th grade. I had to laugh when they told me they were all confederates. We definitely live in TX. Today he came to me after dinner and showed me what he and Stephen had been huddled over so intensely at the table... working on absolute values and greater than/less than with fractions. He is 7. They just did it for fun. That's the thing... what he does for fun shows me he is learning and more importantly, he LIKES to learn. Math is not boring to him. He actually wiggles with excitement when he learns something new in math.

On top of that, I have decided that if anyone asks me again about socialization for homeschoolers (this is absolutely the number 1 concern people raise), I am just going to say, "See for yourself," and point to my son. Okay, I'll grant that the fact that he is homeschooled is not 100% of why he is so well liked by his peers and so able to interact well and enjoyably with people of all ages. He is a very special person (I know, every mom thinks that (and is right!) about her child, but indulge me!). He has always had a nurturing spirit and a strong sense of compassion and empathy. Of course I could get on my soapbox about the KIND of socialization he would get at school anyway, but I won't go there. ;-) Unless you want! 'Cause I have a lot of thoughts on the subject! :-D

Anyhow, summary of the MA and RI part: whirlwind visit, constant activity, lots of wonderful people who NEED TO COME AND VISIT OUR FARM IN TX!!! (hint hint), worked through some good stuff. Great 12 days.

The other part. Pennsylvania. Emotional too, very, but differently. These friends have had a vison, with us, of community living for the past 9 years or so. We actually all lived together 8 years ago (4 adults and 3 kids in a 3 br house), and wanted to buy a bunch of acres and put two housees on it. What our family is doing, we all wanted to do together (now we are 4 adults and 7 kids). But they were called elsewhere. The dad is now going to seminary. It is awesome to see God's plan unfolding, but so hard to be so far from each other, for so many reasons.

My dear wonderful friend was expecting her 5th baby, and was overdue during the first part of our visit. She actually gave birth while we were flying from PA to RI. It was SO hard to leave her while she was in labor, and I prayed about staying, but clearly got that her support during this time was meant to be her husband. And he did an amazing job! Their beautiful little girl was born after a fairly short labor, in their home.

It was wonderful to go back and meet the baby after being in RI. We had another week with them before returning home. It was a lovely visit, until day 5 of our visit, when the new baby suddenly stopped breathing, was resuscitated by her 16 year old brother (he is a life guard) and rushed to the hospital. She is still in the ICU, they do not know what is wrong. It is a nightmare for my friends. I became "house mom" to the remaining kids (my 2 plus their other 4) until we left, after which extended family cycled through helping with the big kids. It was even harder to leave this time. In fact it has been very hard to get motivated or excited about things back here because my heart is with my friends in PA. I am trying to just keep working and doing what needs to be done, and all the while I am praying, praying.

Well, so much for this being a short post. A month is hard to sum up quickly. I will have to post about the chickens later. :-)

Friday, October 22, 2004

On chickens from Stephen

The following is an e-mail by Stephen, sent out to a friend:

A few weeks ago I bought all the materials necessary to build the shed which is intended to be the chicken brooder/coop. Everything except the plans, which they didn't have, but which would be available by the weekend. Weekend comes, no plans. They'll be here Monday. Well, I'll be out of town from Monday to Thursday. I'll have to wait until Friday to pick them up, and get started the following weekend.

Next Friday arrives, and so do I. But not the plans. Sorry - we'll get them up here by tomorrow. Saturday - plans arrive. Wrong plans. Found another set of plans in San Antonio - The'll be here by 2:00. Ya, 2:00, and I'm headed back out of town on Monday. Chickens are to arrive Thursday. No way a shed's getting built in a day. So on to plan B. What? There is no plan B?

Plan B becomes to convert a trailer into a brooder. It is a 4' x 8' flatbed trailer which has 4' high walls of plywood. After a severe mental workout, I come up with a design that I think will make this thing work. So I work at it on Sunday and again Wednesday when I've returned from my trip. Almost done by dark on Wednesday.

Patti received a phone call at 7:00am Thursday saying that the chickens had arrived at the post office, and she could pick them up. She drove to the post office, and there were no chickens. No one from the post office had called to tell anyone that there were chickens. What was going on?

Well, eventually someone figured out that perhaps the chickens were sent to our previous address - College Station - which was the billing address. Call College Station post office. Sure enough, that's where they are. Patti returned home, picked up the kids, and headed to College Station.

Three hours later she showed up with 100 chicks. I've made more progress with the brooder/trailer, and there is a space for them to live now.

Patti and Farmer Boy climb into the trailer and start pulling chicks out of the box, dipping their beaks in the water, and moving on to the next. There is one dead chick in the box.

I think that the two of them stayed in the trailer for well over an hour. They had a great time. Patti worried the whole time that something was wrong - not drinking enough, not eating enough, too cold, too hot, too something. But the chicks continue to get more energetic.

Chicks, though, occasionally get poop stuck to their butts. If you don't get it off, the chicks will die from having their digestive tracts blocked up. So I peel off this stuff, but the chick starts to bleed. Long story short, that chick eventually died. Guess I should have left the poop on his butt.

Today Farmer Boy discovered that the chicks like grasshoppers. And in case it isn't clear - they don't like them as friends, they like them as lunch. He had a great time catching grasshoppers (which is a skill he perfected long ago), throwing them into the brooder, and watching the battle ensue. The chicks chase each other around, each trying to steal the delicacy away from each other.

And speaking of that - chicks can move! I thought that they were going to be fairly helpless little things. Not! These guys are strong, fast, and know what they want. They'll fall asleep in the middle of the floor, and others will run right over the top of them. That awakens the sleeper, who usually jumps up and scampers off as if he had been right in the middle of some important business all along.

And that's where we are now. Roughly 100 chickens - we didn't get an exact count when we took them out - mostly alive and healthy, living in a trailer. Now is the big adventure. Build the shed, move them there, and watch them grow.

Meanwhile, I'm about to try to sell some of my cattle. I've got three yearling bulls who are ready to go. I've also got a sick-ish bull (his crank is a bit messed up, if you need to know), and I've got a cow who does not seem to be producing any babies and has an injured foot or leg. So the five of them are going to go. Four will go to the Auction block, and one to the butcher's block.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Oh my oh my oh my

Well, we're here. Been offline for a while... no computer, then no time. :-)

So we didn't exactly EASE into farm life. My first full day here:

1) I discovered the house was full of fleas thanks to the kitten
2) the cows got onto the lawn
3) one of the horses trapped me in the barn

That was nothing compared to day 2, the drama of which was centered around the cows being back on the lawn. On day 1, I had come home to them on the lawn (gate was closed thank goodness) and they actually followed me up the road (on the other side of the fence) into the upper pastures, hoping for a snack. They recognize our truck, as it has been the bearer of all things delicious since we got them in January, so they get quite excited when they see or hear it. They stayed up there since it was dusk and it is a long walk at a cow's pace to get back to the lawn.

Anyway, come morning they meandered back down to the lawn (now we're on day 2). So we were in Farmer Boy's room working on school work, when I noticed something big and brown out the window. They saw me too and greeted me ("Mooooooooo" which means "You sneak, where are our cubes? We ran all the way up that hill and you disappeared. We are not amused.") Note that I had no cubes (range cattle supplemental feed), which is why I didn't give them any.

This lack of cubes proved to be my undoing as the day wore on. The girls were well aware I was there, and the leader (whom we've cleverly taken to calling Scarface, due to, well, the scar on her face) watched me through the windows constantly. I had to go out and get them to stop eating the pool tubing, stop drinking the pool water, stop eating the flowers, stop eating the fishing poles.

You are now wondering why I didn't just go out, herd the cattle through the gate to the pastures, and fix the fence. Here is the tip of the iceberg of reasons:

1) there are 15 head of cattle
2) I have no experience with cattle
3) they are big
4) I had nothing to feed them
5) I was scared

:-) You get the picture.

Now it is late afternoon. The cattle are still mowing the lawn. I have no feed. I have no fencing materials. I am expecting a washer, dryer and fridge to be delivered at 8:00am the next day. I need to get these animals OUT OF MY YARD.

At one point they were mostly in the back yard, so we got into the truck to go get those cubes, but alas, dilemma... have to open the gate. The cattle follow the truck. I wasn't about to have my 7 year old stand at the gate to open and close it against 15 cattle. The gate is not electric, so I was going to have to open the gate, get in the truck, drive out, get out of the truck, and close the gate. It also swings much wider than the truck, so the cattle could come out next to the truck if they wanted. As soon as I started the truck they came running. They were right behind me so I was STUCK in the yard. I realized I was just going to have to give up and try something else, when Scarface herself stood in front of the truck and would not move. I drove toward her, nothing. Honked, nothing. So I ended up backing up, parking, going back in the house, and freaking out a little. ;-)

I thought and thought about who could help me and thought of Ruth Noel, whom I had just met at a homeschooling group. Ruth and her husband Denny run Tesoro Tierra Farms and raise organic poultry, cattle and pigs. Ruth was very sweet and gave me a few ideas, most of which I could not implement because I am, um, clueless, basically. Mostly she offered moral support. Which I needed. Probably the most valuable four words she said in that conversation were "You are not alone." Mind you, Ruth lives 45 minutes from me, so she wasn't saying "I will be right over" she was saying "You are in the country now. Your neighbors WILL help you, even if you have never met them." She's right of course. It is remarkable... all those cliches are true. People ARE nicer here.

I digress.

After hanging up with Ruth I heard a suspicious noise, looked out the window and realized that the bull across the street (the little dirt road "street") had caught a whiff of our cow who was in heat, and he and our bull were talking rather loudly about just whose cow she was. Our bull started to paw at the ground under our puny barbed wire fence, and this, this was the moment at which I lost it. Yes, I went striaght to the bathroom and bawled my eyes out. I did mention to God in this moment that this was not really looking like it was going to work out for me, I just might have to live in the 'burbs after all, and was He really sure that I could handle this whole farm thing?

Then I took a deep breath, said to the kids, "Let's pray", sat down in our big empty living room and prayed. He knew our situation. He knows what I can handle. So I asked Him to just help us figure out what to do next.

A few minutes later, I looked out a front window, and where there had been 15 cattle, all clustered around the bull who was digging up the ground at the base of our fence, there were none. Looked all around, and found them all, every single one, in our back yard. Our back yard is not big, AND it has a swimming pool in it. I said to the kids, "This is our chance, don't make a sound." I grabbed my purse, carried The Princess and her shoes, and got the kids in the truck. Not a cow in sight. I ran to the gate, propped it open with a garbage can just enough for us to squeeze through, jumped in the truck and sped out. As I ran back to the gate to close it I saw a cow rounding the corner of the house. Miracle! We were out and they weren't!!

Now to the next scary question... would the feed store still be open? It was after 7:00 and I was 15 minutes away. Thankfully they were open until 8:00! But they were out of cubes! Aaargh! I was able to find something comparable, chose some fencing, then back we went.

The trick of getting the cattle to follow the truck up the road to the upper pasture worked again, and this time I had food for them. We headed home for a very late and very exhausted dinner.

That night I explained to the boy that I was going to have to get the fence fixed very early, before the cattle made their way back down again (and before the delivery guys showed up). I told him I'd take a walkie talkie and leave the other on the bed next to him. I didn't have an alarm clock (we still had almost none of our stuff in the house... that would come several days later when we rented a moving truck), so I just prayed that God would wake me up early. And He did.

At sunrise, I got up, got dressed, grabbed wire clippers, pliers, the walkie talkie, a bb gun (we have coyote and bobcat, and I just felt more confident having it) and a cattle whip (for making noise, again a confidence booster), and headed out. I got the roll of fencing from the truck and began to search for the break. Didn't take long to find it. The fencing around here is all so old, it needs to be completely redone, not just repaired. In this case, a tree had grown up, weakening the wires' attachment to a post, and either the tree or a cow, interested in the grass on the other side of the fence, had popped the wires. I ended up having to go back to the house and get a saw, and took off about a third of the branches in order to get the new fencing I had bought to attach. It took about an hour and a half to find it, fix it, and feed the horses. Near the end of that time, I got a call on the walkie talkie from my children, who had awakened, dressed and gotten themselves cereal. I was SO proud of them!!!

And I can't tell you the feeling of joy that shot through me when I heard mooing an hour or so later while the delivery guys were here. I looked up, expecting the onslaught again, to find the cattle instead quite contained behind my makeshift patch. I couldn't believe it! I had solved the problem! I, with no clue about fences, had actually fixed a fence that was now keeping many tons of cattle out of my yard! It was not a permanent fix, but it did what I needed it to do (and has continued to do so for 2 weeks!).

Over the past 2 weeks, my confidence has been growing. I have an insane amount to learn. Before me lie challenges I can't even imagine yet. But the events of my first week - while challenging, exhausting, and downright scary at times (did I mention I also saw and killed my first brown recluse spider (the deadliest spider in the US)?) - have shown me that I am capable and resourceful, that I can be brave when I have to and creative when I can't, and reminded me that I am not here by mistake. There is a design, there is a plan, and my job is to walk on, and to trust.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, September 06, 2004

Earth's Glory

Today we leave my parents' house. It is bittersweet for all of us. I will be offline for several days until we get things straightened out at our new place.

As I go to pack and sweat and create a new haven of blessing and peace, I'll leave you with these beautiful words that capture, ever so fleetingly, the emotion I feel as I walk upon the land we have been given....

"This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise
somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a
shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal
sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gleaming,
on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn,
as the round earth rolls." -- John Muir, 1913

Sunday, September 05, 2004

A Good Measure

We took our first load to the house today. It was so sweet to walk around, knowing it was ours, to go out and see the animals, to watch the sun set behind the barn, to see the tiny frogs leaping in the pond... to know that this tender gift of a dream come true has been handed to us. I feel so honored, so trusted, to have been given this responsibility. I pray fervently that He will continue to conform us each to His will, and that we will take each baby step holding His hand. What a privilege!!

"A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap." Luke 6:38

Amen to that! What abundance!

Saturday, September 04, 2004

saying goodbye

We spent quite a bit of time this week saying goodbye to friends we have made in CS over the past year. We had several play dates, and every one of the moms gave us pictures of her children to take with us! It was so sweet. We will have to get pictures of our children made so that the kids can send them off to their buddies

On Wednesday we went to the Star of the Republic Museum and learned about the 10 years in the 1800's when Texas was a republic. Its own country! Grasping this concept makes it easier to understand why Texans are so fierce in their love for their state. Texas is not an easy place to live, climate-wise. It astounds me not only how hard people had to work, but the conditions under which they lived. These folks made a life for themselves against the odds, and it is no wonder they were willing to fight for it. The museum staff taught the children about what life was like for kids their age in the 1830's in Texas. They all agreed that they have it easy now!

Farmer Boy loved it. In the afternoon we went down the road to Barrington Farm, which is a living history farm. It was named after Barrington, MA which was Dr. Anson Jones' hometown. Dr. Jones lived on the farm and was the third and last president of the Republic of TX. The boy got to pick cotton and has announced he is going to grow cotton as his cash crop. :-) He'll start with the seeds from the bolls he picked. He also loved trying the old fashioned toys, especially trying to keep a hoop rolling with a stick.

This weekend we have begun the process of actually moving our things. Wahooooooo!!!!

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

We're Going to Fit Right In

What a great day today! Among other things we went to a party with the independent homeschool group in our new area. In three hours we:

1) made new friends
2) got a recommendation for a local doctor who might be open to more alternative methods
3) met other people who love goats and chickens
4) found out where we could turn Aggressive Hamburger (our oldest bullock, aptly named by the boy) into, well, hamburger
5) were invited to join a food coop saving us the time and expense of driving into Austin for bulk and alternative foods

Then we ran around town doing all those little things you have to do when you move... setting up the electric, water, etc. We do NOT live in the city. There is a different look to people. Country. It's the only word I can think of. I love it!

Later we stopped by the house to feed the cattle. What a beautiful place we have. I still can't believe it is ours to love and nurture. I'm only a little afraid of the cattle now. :-) I still have a healthy respect for them, but I feel more confident. The dogs are beginning to respond to my voice, happily. They are very protective of the house and land. Yay! They are used to herding the cattle off that part of the land, so it made feeding the cattle a bit confusing. We're going to have to get some more fencing up, and train the dogs to STOP herding a little better.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Let the busy-ness begin...

Wow, the past 4 days have been like a whirlwind.

The closing on Friday went well. It took 2 hours and 15 minutes because there were a looooooot of words to read. The kids did very well. The Princess did end up having rather a nice time at the end poking pen holes in the wood table while writing, and spilling water on herself and the floor. But the lady closing the deal has 9 grandkids, didn't bat an eyelid, and when she heard that we home school said "That explains why they are so well behaved." By then the sellers were loooong gone. Before they left we flew paper airplanes around the room that Farmer Boy had made. The closer wasn't there for that little gleeful moment. It is so cool having such a happy real estate deal.

Mom and Dad prepared a celebratory meal, prominently featuring steak and champagne. We all behaved rather silly.

Saturday was wonderful. We looked at and ultimately bought a washer, a dryer and a fridge. We went to our first goat auction (I just about died from the sheer joy of being there; I think I was born to raise goats). And we spent some time at the house and on the land, just being happy and loving it. It started to rain but we just kept walking around, looking. Even The Princess didn't complain, and she is not usually one to accept such indignities.

Stephen pointed out that we sure look at things differently now when we drive through the countryside. Now we are looking at what types of fencing people use, what their barns are like, where their stock tanks are, who has hay for sale, etc. I look for goats.

Sunday we spent quite a bit of time with our new home schooling friends, visiting the church they started and having lunch with them. Then home to pack, pack and pack some more. Night time was more cleaning and packing and now website work.

One thing I am counting on God to be working on with me is discipline. SELF-DISCIPLINE. I have a really hard time being diligent and setting a pace for myself with my business. There are a lot of things I don't especially like to do (clerical things... like accounting, filing), so I put them off until they become big ugly monsters blowing a juicy raspberry at me. I am trying to make some major website changes, by tomorrow, and I am getting a lot of spit in my face over that one. Once again, it ain't gonna happen.

On the farm, I am going to have to be willing to break the jobs into tasks, and tackle them one at a time, regularly. This is not natural for me. I am the type of person who wants to do a marathon stretch on a project, then collapses in sheer exhaustion and can't bear to even think about it for weeks. That strategy is just not going to fly. The chickens will want to eat. Every day.

Today was school and more packing, more cleaning, and a spate of errands. Interspersed with reading about sustainable agriculture, finalizing our baby chick order and reading _Day-Range Poultry_. :-D

We're going to be farmers. Honest.

Friday, August 27, 2004

It's Done!

Well, we did it. Signed a LOT of papers, followed the American way, got a loan for a house. Our bank now owns the house, and we now owe the bank. :-) Okay, reality... stupid way to arrange it so people have shelter. We hate the system, are now back in the system, and are determined to get out of it again as fast as possible.

Enough of that reality, here's the other reality: we get to live on our farm!!!! We are so excited!

We are also exhausted, so must go to bed and will post more details on the joys of becoming indentured servants to Wells Fargo tomorrow. :-)

Thursday, August 26, 2004

One More Day!!!!

So, 24 hours from now we will own the whole shebang. House, barn, shop, various decrepid other outbuildings, swimming pool (whacky, eh?), 2 ponds and 40 acres. Well, okay, okay, the bank will own it, but we WILL truly own this thing some day. For now we get to pay the taxes ourselves, with no assistance whatsoever! ;-)

We shall see how the signing goes... last year Stephen was out of town on business for BOTH the closing on the sale of our house, and the closing on the purchase of the 30 acres we already own. The children were, well, children. The Princess (our toddler daughter) screamed the whole time through the sale, except when she was nursing. At the purchase she and Farmer Boy (her big brother) argued most of the time. Didn't know an 18 month old could argue? Precocious child. I relied on the kindness and honesty of our realtor, Jim Morgan, who talked me through all the paperwork, and even brought toys for the kids the second time.

This time Stephen will be there, and the folks from whom we are buying the house know us, know the kids, and actually like children! :-) What a bonus!

On a totally different note... did you know that it is almost impossible to be a small organic farmer and actually make any money? UGH! I can not believe how regulated everything is, and how many things require a license. From what I can tell, just to sell cut non-organic flowers at a Farmers Market I need a special license. I have a lot of learning ahead, and I can see that a chunk of it is going to be legal and political.

Enough about the dark side... did I mention we are buying a farm? :-D YIPPEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Writing it Down

Stephen and I have been talking about journaling our odyssey from New England small town kids to Texas farmers for over a year now. I always find it hard to start writing because I don't know where to start... I want to start at the beginning, but where exactly IS that?

So today I am starting right where we are... two days away from closing the deal on buying a house, barns and 10 acres adjacent to the 30 acres that we bought in July 2003. We are beside ourselves with excitement! So much has happened in the past 15 months that has fallen through that it has been hard to allow ourselves the emotional freedom of really believing this is happening. We keep calling the bank and title company to double check and triple check that there isn't something else they need from us.

We have nevertheless been madly researching chickens and goats (again!) because we want so much to GET GOING once we move!! Yesterday Farmer Boy (my nickname for our son) and I spent an hour or so creating a "chicken chart" in which we recorded some of our research. We are wanting to start with a breed that is pretty gentle, and is good for both meat and eggs. We are leaning toward Buff Orpingtons right now. The chicks are also crazily cute... little puffs of yellow.

This farm is a dream come true for us. We have so many hopes and plans for it. Mostly we want to live a real life. We expect to work hard. We expect to make mistakes. And we expect we will be surprised by many things.

I know we will be blessed!!