Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Cattle

Human culture has farming roots with old expressions that give us clues as to nature of cattle.  A boss cow, or bossy, is a pushy, overbearing type of person.  Similarly, the head female bovine in any herd physically pushes and shoulders her underlings out of her way.  She might even roll her eyes, paw the ground and bellow to express her standing in the herd.  Introducing a new cow will upset the balance of the herd and every cow has to challenge the newcomer to find their new place in the standing.  Heifer calves of bossier cows hold higher ranks.  Similarly, a schoolyard "bully" has everything in common with his bovine counterpart.  Two bulls in a confrontation can be quite violent.  Even in play with a steer, a bull is not holding much back, but seems to hone his skills for the next real match. We always avoided more than one bull at a time, but even steers can disrupt the peace in a herd when the bull is young and the steer is bold.

Cattle are fascinating creatures.  I first learned to appreciate them in college.   As a student at Colorado State University, I really got to know cattle in the animal science classroom.  My interest was further piqued by Dr. Grandin, an expert animal behaviorist.  She taught us how to understand these creatures.  Many students in the animal science program were horse crazy girls who looked at cows as 'slow, dumpy non-horses'.  The professors taught us much more about these animals.  They taught the academic reasons why cattle are so unique and how they view the world.  They are slower, but that means they must decide if they will flee, or stand and fight.  A horse will always choose to flee because they are swift enough to escape most predators.  A cow has a sense of their own size and strength and will use it if they cannot outrun their foe.  In contrast, horses travelling in a herd will give each other space and their agility allows them to change course and avoid obstacles.  Cattle in a herd use a different technique.  They go should to shoulder with the rest of the herd, to keep the predators on the outside.  They run together to keep themselves safe.  They don't allow anything to get between them and use their hooves to stomp anything that tries.  This means they must go over any obstacles in their way.  This is why cattle stampedes are so dangerous.  With no space in between them, and constant shoving all around, a single cow cannot avoid running over a person, or animal in their way.

My education was furthered while working with the university's herd.  I learned about the incredible maternal instinct of cows.  I joked about being a cow midwife because of how much experience I got during calving season.  Most calves were born in the pasture, but many needed help.  I was even with several as they mourned the loss of their calf.  They stood over the lifeless little body of their newborn until they realized the baby would not get up.  This took a day or so, typically.  We would hear their mournful cries from the bunkhouse.  Then, they would rejoin their herd.  In contrast, I watched, horrified, as an old mama cow dealt with a silent, unmoving, newborn calf.  She pushed her nose underneath the calf and flung him up in the air.  I watched her do it twice in a row and wondered if I should intervene.  Her still wet calf hit the crusty snow hard both times.  After the second hit, he bellowed for all he was worth, and she started licking him.  I noticed that the mama cow's action's had cleared her newborn's lungs.  One especially cold night, I clutched a heifer's half frozen newborn calf in the back of a pick-up truck as she tried to run us down.  We warmed up her baby in the deep sink and under lamps while she bellowed from a stall in the barn.  When the baby was warm and hungry, we gave him back to her.

I also learned as a vet tech for a large animal vet in northern Colorado.  Our clients had range cattle.  Whether they were commercial cattle, registered Angus, or crossbred Black Baldies, they all experienced life on the range without human contact except for maybe one or two bad days a year, or if something went very wrong.  So, when we showed up, they were in pain, away from their herd, stressed, and ready to fight.  I wrangled plenty of ornery cattle with snotty noses, stuck calves, or bad injuries.  I ran them into chutes, torqued heads over, and applied nose rings.  I was stepped on, pushed over, nose slimed, bellowed at, and head butted.  There was one notable exception.  One client raised Dexter Cattle.  They came when he called them into the corral.  They quieted down in the chute when he spoke to them.  They actually seemed to like their owner.  After all the range cattle I had experienced, I loved the idea of raising cattle that liked me back.  This is why, after getting my feet wet with some commercial cattle, I bought three registered Dexter heifers, back in 2005, and started my own little herd.  Over the years, I've sold some great little heifers, that were halter broken and gentle, to families as a family milk cow.  I still get occasional emails from people showing me a new calf.  It's lovely to know that people have enjoyed their little Dexters as much as I have.  I've enjoyed taming our cattle and teaching them new things.  We have a cow that is a perfect Nativity cow at our son's school every year.  She is passing the torch to a younger cow now.  We have cows we can take for walks and feed treats to.  I still want to teach a cow to be a draft animal.  That seems like the ultimate training level for a cow.

It has been a wonderful 14 years of trying hard to improve the breed.  I tried to select bulls carefully so that I would correct poor traits, such as poor udder conformation, while retaining good ones, such as temperament.  It's hard to stop something that I have put so much time and energy into, but our new farm just isn't big enough to support a bull and cows calving yearly.  The market is saturated with Dexters in my area, so it's not a bad time to pull out.  I never got tired of newborn calves. or watching the animals interact in the pasture.  I loved having a bull out with the herd in a family group.  With just a few cows now, it seems like their isn't the dynamic herd structure there used to be.  I will miss seeing little calves climbing all over the bull while he is lying quietly in the shade chewing his cud.  I will miss watching the bull generously share his grain with his offspring.  I'll miss the bull greeting the newborns as soon as they were up, as if welcoming them to the herd.  I'll miss the quiet foghorn sound a cow makes to her newborn calf.  I'll miss everything about the family life of a herd of cattle.  Now, it will just be a couple of cows and an occasional steer waiting for the freezer.  Our last little calf is Tillie.  She is a darker dun color than her mama, but not as dark as her sire, who is chocolate colored.  She will be fun to raise, especially knowing she is one of the last calves. Maybe she will be the draft cow.





Delilah

We needed a barn cat.

As soon as the local mice saw us building our new barn, they were calling friends and relatives and planning wild parties.  When the first can of grain appeared, their little mouse planning commission came up with an aggressive ten month growth plan.  So, we needed a barn cat.

We planned on visiting the local pound for a suitable candidate, but at church, we heard about another kitty in dire straits.  She was an apartment complex cat.  Someone owned her but turned her loose when they moved away.  She was the friendly kitty that greeted everyone in their carports and wandered around the complex looking for food.  However, she was plagued with health issues.  Her coat was scruffy and falling out in patches.  She was dangerously skinny.  The nasty neighbor that hates cats threatened to "stomp on her head" if he saw her again.  So, she was hidden in someone's bathroom until a home could be found.  The timing seemed perfect.  We set up an extra large dog crate in the horse barn with food, water, a bed and a litter box.  When Delilah arrived, she was in bad shape.  She was constantly licking, scratching, and sneezing.  Her skin was swollen and puffy and her feet were especially large and irritated.  She had several open wounds from scratching or chewing on her skin.  I added a box of disposable gloves to be used until the vet could see her.

The vet squeezed her in the next day.  The news was as bad as it gets for stray cats.  She not only had scabies (which is wickedly transferable to other cats) but hookworms, (which are transferable to humans).  Hookworms can live in the soil where a cat uses the bathroom.  In fact, we immediately called our friend from church to tell her to make sure the people, especially the kids, at her apartment complex know to keep their shoes on outside and why this was important.  Of course, that nasty neighbor should be encouraged to walk barefoot as much as possible!  We also found out that she was spayed and only 2 years old.

Poor Delilah was already effectively quarantined in our barn, so we could continue, but we needed to ensure we wore gloves while petting or touching her or her cage.  We used bleach to keep things clean.  (Pictures taken 8/14/18)





Her quarantine would last for 30 days and she needed several treatments to be clear of both illnesses.  Her improvement was amazing.  We didn't even know what color she was.  We thought, she was a grey calico.  Her next vet check went very well.  You could see the changes and she was much more comfortable.  Best of all, we could finally touch her without gloves.  She had shown us a sweet personality from the first day, but now we found out how cuddly she is.  (Pictures taken 8/28/18).




After a full month, several treatments, and vet checks, she was cleared to be released into the barn.  The mice had long ago given up their dreams of paradise.  The few mice left were quickly dispatched and given as tokens of appreciation (yuck). Delilah rarely leaves her barn and we have gates and fences to keep her safe.  She even has her own kitty door into the tack room where her food and water bowls are kept.  She is a lovely, long haired, black calico.  Her fur is soft, shiny, and tangle free. (Pictures taken 9/18/18).






The New Farm is Ready

July 22nd, 2018

Our new farm has been progressing rapidly over the past seven months.  We have both barns complete, squeeze chute in place, and my husband and I (and our son) built both the working pen for the cattle as well as paddocks for the horse, pony, donkey, goat, and sheep.  We have already sweated, bled, and cried on our new land (sometimes all at once when a hammer went astray).  We have bruises, bumps, scratches, bug bites, and probably a few more grey hairs after this past two years.  The animals will never know how much thought went into their comfort (and ours) while we created our own farm from scratch.  Many things might be a little funny to others, but it works for us.  Our chickens and rabbits were not forgotten in this chaos.  The chicken house, with the help of a dear friend, is complete.  John and I painted it for fun.  The same with the rabbit shed.  All that is left to do is move in.  We have had cattle at the new property for eight months, but the rest of the herd will be moved on Friday, July 27th.

Move in day for everyone else will be Saturday morning, July 28th, 2018.  The first trip will begin with cats and John's fish in the truck, the horse, pony, donkey and goat in the trailer.

The second trip will be the dog in the truck, the sheep in the trailer, and the chickens in a dog crate in the tack room.

Both trips will have the respective water troughs in the bed of the truck.

**Update**  July 28th, 2018

It went very well.  The animals all made it to the new place and settled in immediately.  The fish tank was even set up Friday so John's little Betta just slipped right in from his mason jar.  The cats were restricted to one room until we set up the beds and furniture we needed.  By Saturday night, they were out exploring and we were all ready to sleep, eat, and shower in the new place.

So, how do you move a mostly blind, old mare?  We put her in the same stall in the same relative location in the new barn.  I had her in mind when we created that stall and she did great!

We still need to add a sheep shed and a tack room, but everything else is perfect.





Friday, April 13, 2018

A Little Orphan

Sometimes, when you drop your guard and think you've got a set plan, things happen out of the blue.  New pets, for example.  Unexpected ones.  They seem to cross your path at the times you are most certain of your future plans.  Their job is to change plans and make you adjust your life.  They make you move over and make room, like that extra person squeezing in at the end of the picnic bench.  

I have never had reason to fear going to the feed store, despite the fact that desperate animals have crossed my path there before.  One was an abandoned rabbit (she was a great pet).  Another was a young rabbit destined for the dinner plate (we call him "fork to farm", vice "farm to fork").  He is a great pet, too.  But rabbits are uncommon at this feed store, so I was safe.  

What no one saw coming was a private little drama in a feral cat family.  Feral mama cat had a litter in a snug trailer full of hay.  That hay moved to another state.  When the trailer was opened, mama cat moved her family into the next, almost empty, hay trailer.  Someone noticed her moving her kittens one at a time into the other trailer.  Except one kitten fell behind the remaining bales, where she could not reach him.  The truck took the trailer with the cat and her kittens (except one) back on the road later that day, The next day or so, the trapped kitten was found behind the bales of hay.  He was all alone, hungry, and in shock.  He was too weak to cry out.  The man who loads the hay for customers happened to see him when he moved the bales.

Meanwhile, John and I were finishing up our purchase of grain when in walks this man holding the tiny kitten in his hand.  He explained what must have happened and then came that inevitable question.  I was slow on the uptake.  I have a bad cold and should have seen this question coming, but, instead, I just stared at the weak little kitten thinking something along the lines of 'someone should feed it'.  That was it.  My brain stopped processing at the point.  My filing system had already placed the kitten into the folder marked "Someone Else's Project".  

John, however, was three steps ahead.  The initial question was innocent enough, but the following statement contained the dreaded word I should have feared above all.   The word free has many different meanings to different people.  In the adult world, we are somewhat immune to the magic of this word.  It usually means there's a catch (though not often a 16 year long catch).  It means full price on the other one, or divulging personal information to various email lists.  'Free' doesn't really mean free in the adult world.  But when you are a child, free means all kinds of good things.  Lollipops, for example, are still free at some stores (and our local bank).  Kids are so attuned to that word that they could tell you exactly where all the free things are given away within a twenty mile radius of home.  So, when that well-meaning man asked, "Who wants a kitten?", I had not yet entered the danger zone.  But when he followed up with a half-smile and a shrug while saying, "It's free", I should have been terrified.  I heard an inward gasp of air from the child next to me.  All of the sudden, into his world of free lollipops, Tootsie Rolls, and Kisses, entered Kittens.  Not just any kitten either, but a really tiny kitten.  Nobody moved.  The little dull creature was in the outstretched hand pointed in our general direction.  I could feel the boy's eyes studying me for the tiniest twitch of a muscle.  Without thinking I reached out and the warm bundle was in my hands.  It needed help.  Laser beams were directed at me from the offspring.  I passed it to him, again without thinking.  His whole face lit up.  Wait a minute.  What have I done?  It was a standoff and I blinked first.  We had a new animal to care for.  

I teased the feed store folks for setting us up in my weakened state.  Of course, they were all smiles now.  Then I added a bottle and milk replacer to the order.  The boy, meanwhile was enthralled with our new charge.  Before we even left the parking lot, the kitten was named Jacob. 

Jacob is doing well.  He is about two weeks old.  His eyes recently opened and he crawls a bit, but is clumsy.  He was dull, weak, and covered with fleas.  The flea treatment was easy and after getting his belly full a few times, he is more lively.  He is very serious about feeding when he wakes up, but then it's time to play.  He rolls on his back and sort of waves his tiny paws around.  We touch his little paw pads in a sort of tickle game.  Finally, he sleeps with his head tucked in the crook of my arm.

Mike just sighed when he heard about our latest addition.  He and I were discussing how no one else at the feed store offered to take the kitten when John piped up with sincere bafflement, "Who wouldn't want a free kitten?".  Mike and I had a good laugh.




Jacob at 3 weeks



Jacob at 4 weeks.


Jacob at 6 weeks.


Jacob at almost a year.  He is so friendly and needy that he greets us at the door and insists on cuddles.  He sits on a chair at the dinner table.  He wants to be with us as much as possible.  he is also a bit overweight, like most indoor kitties.  He still likes laying on his back.  It's like he's saying, "S'up?".  


But, he also snuggles with Audrey.  






Sunday, January 28, 2018

Farm Animal Profile: Bagheera

Bagheera

The late fall weather was perfect for a walk and I had a young donkey colt to train, so we set out down the side of a relatively busy country road at about 11:00 am.  Trucks were going by, school buses were returning to the elementary school, and the colt was doing very well.  I scratched his ears and patted his neck.  Good boy.  


A strange bird called from the bushes across the street.  Donkey swiveled his giant antennae ears towards it.  Another call, but, almost a mewing, vice a chirping.  Against my better judgment, I called out the universally known, "Kitty, kitty?".  Anxious mewing emanated from the scrub brush.  "Oh no", I thought. "But, it's probably feral and will run as soon as I approach, especially with Donkey in tow", I reassured myself.  So, I waited for the traffic to clear and then walked with Donkey to the other side of the road.  "Kitty, kitty", I called again, certain that the unseen cat would scamper further from me.  Instead, a disturbingly thin, ten week old, black kitten ran to my feet, mewing pitifully.  Donkey lowered his head and it pleaded it's case to him as well.  I scooped it up in one hand and a powerful little purr motor started as the kitten continued to serenade me with needy mews.  Why would someone dump a tame kitten?  There were no houses nearby, but, perhaps they dumped it at the school across the street.  I crossed the road and headed home, leading the donkey with one hand and cradling the kitten with the other.  She was a handful of vibrating fur and bones.  I have never see an animal eat as fast or talk to it's food the way that creature did.  Once it was safely tucked away in a carrier, fed, and watered, I called the vet to schedule an immediate check. Shortly after I found the kitten, it rained. Hard. That night was cold for Northern Florida.  It would have been a bad night for a starving kitten.  


She, as it turns out, was negative for feline leukemia and did not appear to have any upper respiratory illnesses, so she was vaccinated, spayed and wormed before I picked her up from the vet's the following day.  I could easily see the outlines of her hips, vertebra, and shoulders.  To my surprise, she was about six months old, but small. 

She was groggy that first night, from her surgery, but bounced back like only kittens can.  My husband named her Bagheera.  Despite her rough start, she grew quickly and caught up to our other female kitty, who was just a few months older.  She is stunningly black; even her whisker and claws.  No white fur anywhere.  Her eyes are yellow with green around the pupils. 

Trips to the vet became the stuff of legend.  While our other two kitties were large eyed, but relatively cooperative, Bagheera was in full battle mode as soon as we walked in the door.  The sounds from her crate were frightening.  The poor vet tech would grimace when she saw us and whisk Bagheera to a back room to do the necessary routine care.  No matter where you were in the vet clinic, you could hear her yowling threats.  Every single time, the poor vet tech had a fresh scratch on her arm when she brought Bagheera back to us.  She is a strong willed kitty.

As she grew into a full grown kitty, she didn't do well with our son when he was a toddler.  She also spent more time with her ears pinned back at the other two cats.  In that same time period, we were losing a battle with the rodents in the barn.  We had a brief respite with two adopted barn cats, but they had to find indoor homes because their long, soft fur became matted very easily with the hay.  The rodents moved back in after the cats left and made us miserable.  We transitioned short haired Bagheera into a barn kitty, and she flourished.  She was always happy and purring when we did chores.  I had gotten so used to seeing her quarrelsome and angry in the house that I had forgotten how happy she could be.  

Instead of trips to the vet, our mobile, large animal vet took over caring for the pets, as well as the farm animals.  When it comes time to vaccinate Bagheera, we treat it like a military operation, complete with pants, gloves, and long sleeves to protect our skin.  Perhaps kevlar would work better.  For about a day after either shots or monthly flea/tick treatment, Bagheera glares at me with ears pinned and darts for cover.  The following day, she is sweet and mild again. 

When we built our tack room, we put in a cat door, so Bagheera could come and go freely for safety or warmth.  She is queen of the barn and all she surveys.

The best Bagheera story is about her and Nancy the goat.  Nancy was living in the first barn stall, which has a paddock behind the tack room.  Bagheera's cat door exits into this paddock.  The first time the two of them met was quite entertaining.  Bagheera emerged from the cat door with all the grace and dignity of her species.  Goats, by nature, are the disruptors of the world.  The embodiment of chaos itself.  Such grace and dignity could not pass within the boundaries of chaos without a collision.  Nancy, in all of her tactless exuberance, bounded up to the shiny, black thing in her paddock.  Bagheera froze momentarily and then took on the stance of a Halloween kitty.  Nancy was completely undaunted.  The little, noisy, black thing was making neat noises.  What would happen it it were head butted?  Nancy reared up and bounced around Bagheera, threatening her with a head butt.  Bagheera lashed out with deadly claws, but the goat was too quick.  Nancy was thrilled with the spitting and hissing and tried again.  Swipe, dodge, rear up, bounce, swipe, hiss.  It was a dance between joy and pain.  At one point, Nancy was a little too slow and contact was made between a single claw and Nancy's poor nose.  Nancy stopped for a moment to contemplate this, and Bagheera ran for the nearest hole in the fence.  Nancy spotted her movement and gave chase.  Bagheera stopped to face her and they continued their dance, with a more wary Nancy.  Eventually, Bagheera made her way out and Nancy stopped to watch her, disappointed that her playmate was gone.  Nancy's scratch was tiny, but she had learned to be careful.  They still have a little confrontation now and again, but Nancy is more respectful and Begheera doesn't hiss at her as often. 

The move to the new farm should be smooth for Bagheera, if we transition her carefully.  Just like we did when we first brought her home, and again, when we introduced her to barn cat life, we will use an extra large dog crate as a temporary home in the new barn (which will begin to take shape today).  We will feed and care for her in the crate for one week before turning her loose on the new farm.  The gates and perimeter fence should keep dogs and larger wild animals out.  She will move a week before we will, so she is free to roam when we get there.

Bagheer as a young kitty, with Audrey. 



Bagheera now.



**Update**

Bagheera was diagnosed with aggressive osteosarcoma in her shoulder.  This is a very rare cancer that cats can get.  We did move her, but she didn't live very long.  She never showed any illness or discomfort.  Just around the time I thought about catching her and taking her to the vet to put her down to keep her from suffering, she passed away.  She was a great mouser and a great barn kitty.  






Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Moving to a New Farm

I have moved many times as an adult.  That first move included a truck and horse trailer with all of my stuff (plus the horse).  I proudly drove that contraption over two mountain ranges on my way to college.

Joining the military was the simplest move.  You just showed up with the items they told you to bring.  They were happy enough to provide all your clothes.  In fact, moving was so simple in the military that they sent movers to pack out your stuff and shipped it to your next duty station.  

My husband and I got married when we were in the military and the military packers did our last move here to Florida when we got out.  Of course, we were responsible for moving the farm animals and equipment.  We had to move from Virginia all the way down to northern Florida.  We had two horses, one donkey, and three pregnant Dexter cows.  We also had a tractor (a wedding gift from my dad), corral panels, tack, grooming items, vet items, and feed.  My new husband owned a smaller truck and a car, while I had a big truck and a three horse trailer.  We also had a two dogs and cat.  The first trip was easy.  We hauled the two horses and the donkey in the trailer and my husband hauled the tractor with his truck.  A friend in Virginia took care of the dogs and cat for us.  We spent the first night on an air mattress in the new house and then drove the truck and trailer back to Virginia the next day, leaving the horses and donkey in the care of a Florida friend.  The next day, I drove the truck and trailer to pick up the cows and my husband had his car with the cat.  The two dogs joined me in the truck and my husband kept the heated seat on for the kitty.  She purred all the way down the road.  The moving van showed up a day or two later and we were done.  

We have spent the last twelve years improving this farm.  When we first bought it, we had a metal equipment barn and barbed wire fencing.  The cows went out on the pasture, but the horses stayed in the corral panels until we changed the fencing in the main pasture to 'no climb' horse safe fencing.  Then, we added a horse barn that winter.  We built corrals and various pens as the years went on.  We changed more and more fencing to horse safe options and added a bullpen as well as an adjacent hot wire pasture.  The garden areas improved and grew.  We even tried a small orchard with bees.  Right now, our bees are gone.  The county sprayed aggressively after Hurricane Irma and killed our bees.  

In September 2016, we purchased land for a new farm in a slightly larger town nearby.  The soil is much better and we will be closer to work and school.  We had to clear several acres of harvest pines first.  We left behind the hardwood trees.  The area was pasture before the pines were planted, so we were actually turning it back into pasture.  Once the clearing was finished, the old oaks and maples had more room.  Over the past year, the hardwoods have spread out to enjoy more sun. 

February 2017:  The next step was to fence the property.  We had already put a temporary barbed wire fence around a section of the creek that ran along one side of the property because people on four wheelers had made a trail that ran through it.  Even when it was cleared, they still came back with their beer cans and bottles.  The creek was spread out into a large mud puddle.  The minnows and frogs died and the little creek stopped flowing properly.  My husband and I spent a weekend with shovels restoring the creek to it's bed and placing a single strand of barbed wire around the section to protect it from trespassers on four wheelers.  The wetlands laws in Florida are very strict.  Only hand tools can be used in sensitive areas.  I also removed bamboo and other non-native plants from the creek area.  It will be a continuous project to maintain it because bamboo is very popular in yards, but extremely invasive.  Our new fence kept out the trespassers and allowed us to prepare the property for our animals.  We hoped that the creek would recover over the summer.  The next step was a proper perimeter fence.  The new fence is horse safe with a board on top to discourage livestock from bending it down.


We have one, very odd looking tree.  It's a Chinese tallow (Popcorn Tree, Florida Aspen) that grew in the middle of the pines.  Normally, these trees are short and gnarled, but this one stretched, just as much as it could.  It is the tall, crooked tree just to the left of center.  We asked our extension agent about it.  He suggested removing it because it's an invasive tree that sends out many shoots.  The other alternative is to manage the ground around it by keeping the pasture mowed.  We will see how hard it is to manage and act accordingly.  It sure is a tough tree.  The sap is an eye irritant so we'll need to be careful if we cut it down.



March 2017:  After clearing, the earth was raw.  It was vulnerable to every weed seed around.  We couldn't plant pasture grass until April or May.  Since, just like our current farm, we don't use herbicides or pesticides, I had to manage the weeds by hand through early spring.  We had a friend till it again, just before planting.  There was almost seven acres to plant with bahia seeds.  Since our budget is limited, I did it all by hand.  I also had a little help from our son's pony, Maggie.  I saddled her and hung grocery bags from either side of her saddle horn.  Then, I led her through the pasture, flinging seeds as we walked.  She was perplexed, however, as to why I kept throwing all that nice smelling 'grain' on the ground instead of letting her have some.  Since we only live 30 minutes from the new farm, the trailer ride for Maggie was easy.


It was fun to get a little help from the pony, but I did most of it using plain cotton bags and my own power, which was easier than hauling the pony every day.  I got pretty good at flinging the seed evenly from each hand.  


By May, the planting was finished and we prayed for rain.  It came in nicely and the seeds grew well.  We did our first mowing in July.  A picture after mowing.


By summer, our little creek recovered very nicely.  The minnows were plentiful and choruses of frogs could be heard day and night.  We left the area around the creek, as well as another section of natural woods, to stay wild.  The livestock is fenced out of the creek area to protect it.  It is a very peaceful place.  

Meanwhile, we worked with the bank on getting a construction loan to build a house.  We had a design and a builder already.  Then, on September 10th/11th, 2017, Hurricane Irma hit us hard here in Florida.  Our new farm was within half of a mile from a major creek system.  The water flooded many of our new neighbors, but we were very fortunate.  Only one small corner of our land was wet and it was many feet below the house site.  We visited a day after the storm surge.   A neighbor's boat was tied to our back fence on the low side of our property.  They needed their boat to evacuate from their flooded house!   Many of these neighbors were not even in flood zones.  Irma was a wicked 100 year storm.  Our son's drawing says it all.



In October 2017, we started building our new farmhouse.  We should be able to move in later this spring.  Our old farm will go up for sale in early spring.  In the meantime, we moved three cattle to the new property to enjoy some of that grass (and add a little fertilizer).  The first three are one cow, who should not calve until late summer, a steer, and a young bull.  Seeing them eat the grass is a reward for a lot of hard work over the past year.  


So, how do you move a farm?  It takes a lot of planning.  We are planning each pen and shelter carefully so the animals will adjust well.  The cattle at the new farm are doing well, but it is hard on them to be separated from the rest of the herd.  The remaining four Dexters cattle are heavy with calves and will have to stay on the old farm, where we can help them with calving, if needed.  All of the rest of the animals will move in late spring, when we move into the new house.  We have several things to build between now and then.  First, we are hiring someone to build a cow barn and a horse barn (which may just be a roofs because of expense).  The sheep barn we can build ourselves.  The chicken coop will be tricky because we know raccoons live in the creek.  We are researching raccoon proofing the new coop and yard.  Electric seems to be the way to go.  We will also be building a small rabbit shed for our two pet rabbits.  

One last little bit of good news.  Our new neighbors are recovering from the hurricane.  Some are still staying elsewhere, while others are back in their homes.  Many are doing their own repairs.  One family lives in a tiny house while waiting for their new one to be built.  We all met for coffee a few weeks ago and we heard some harrowing tales.  These are good, strong, people and we hope they continue to rebuild and recover.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

We made it!

We had some damage, but it could have been a lot worse.  We are in the lucky 50% in our county that have power back already (came on late yesterday), so here I am, typing away before I forget the little nuances of our experience.

Feeding the animals Sunday night was a chore.  It was hard to walk through the wind and soaking rain of Irma's outer bands.  I carried a bale of hay to the cattle, but they were already in a storm circle.  The bigger cattle laid down on high ground with the smaller ones inside.  They were probably not going to eat the hay, but it was there.  Happily, Libby was making full use of her stall.  I think she is a clever horse and she proved it true once again.  I am sorry I ever doubted her.  The wind noise was much better than the driving rain.  The pony, goat, and baby donkey look bright and calm from their stall and the sheep were snuggled in a corner.  Everyone had plenty of hay and clean bedding, because I had a chance to clean their stalls earlier on Sunday.  Everyone received pets and treats.  Two chickens escaped under the gate.  I found one (Thunder) back in the old coop yard and the other running around the farm.  I found the spot where they wiggled under the gate and blocked it.  One more chicken was in the barn, annoying Bagheera, the barn kitty.  I caught Red and returned her to the coop.  At the last minute, I moved the extra large dog crate to the other side of the barn.  It seemed to be a better spot.  The fifteen, half-grown chicks inside protested the move, but I got them settled with fresh bedding, and more feed and water.  The wind and rain fought me all the way to the back door.  I stripped my wet clothes and threw them in the washer.  We still had power.  I hoped we would keep it long enough for the dryer.  We ate dinner using paper plates and plastic utensils, then cleaned and cleared and organized everything.  I had just pulled out the dry clothes when we lost power.  We had been keeping track of what was on throughout the night in anticipation of lost power.  It paid off as we easily transitioned to lanterns and candles.  The hurricane was steadily getting worse by bedtime.  We camped out in one bedroom; my husband and I, our son, three cats and two dogs.  There was no sleep for the grown ups.

The wind was the worst I have ever heard.  I was in Virginia during Hurricane Isabel and the eye went right over my little farm.  The noise during this hurricane was different.  It rose with the same voracious fury, but with a much greater staying power.  During a hurricane, the highest winds have a distinct roar that rises and rises until you think it couldn't possibly rise anymore, then, it begins to abate until the next heavy wind rises.  They are not unlike heavy seas which roll and pass.  However, this hurricane was different.  It's size must have been what made it different.  It rose and rose for much longer and held on much longer, as if the wave would never end.  When it finally fell, it was almost as if whatever was resisting it was exhausted by the fall itself.  At one point, something large fell and leaves from our magnolia tree pressed against the window.  We were not even halfway into the heaviest winds.  We couldn't tell what came down or whether or not it was a tree on the house (our biggest fear).  We found the lantern and evacuated into the living room.  We set up on the floor and couch, with the dogs and cats curled up around us.  I read to our son about the Ingalls on the prairie (we are going through the series) to ease him back to sleep.  Ironically enough, it was the chapter about building a roof on the log cabin.  As I read, I wondered how much of our own roof we would need to build.  He fell asleep after two chapters, but there was no sleep for me.  The wind and rain continued it's assault through the night and early morning.  The hardest hours were those when the worst of the hurricane had passed, but it was too dark to see the damage outside.

We buzzed around inside until I could dare a step out to check on the animals.  It was light enough, but the weather was still violent.  I avoided being close to trees and stayed alert.  The horse barn was fine.  Bewildered, but safe, the animals all talked to me about breakfast.  I checked them over for injuries and fed them all.  They were fine.

My husband got on the roof, as soon as the winds allowed, and found the branches that had fallen.  No tree fell on the house, but we had big branches down all over.  Several big cedar branches were laying on the power lines attached to the house, which made a hazard in case the power came back on.  He threw those off, as well as the magnolia branch that had worried us in the darkness.  His chainsaw buzzed as I assessed the animals.

The hay barn was not fine.  About 40% of the roof had been peeled back from the top of the barn as if with a giant can opener.  The chickens were a little damp, but their part of the roof was intact.  The chicks in the dog crate would have drowned in the original spot, but I had moved their crate at the last moment and that saved them.  They were also under a little intact roof.  Bagheera meowed at me continuously to tell me about all she had been through, but she was safe and dry on top of the small stack of 19 bales of hay under the shelf.  One chicken was missing.  I searched by the old coop and horse barn and found her tracks leading underneath the tack room.  The clever little hen had found a dry spot.  She fluttered across the yard when I called and I finally caught her and returned her home.  I blocked the hole under the gate more securely.





The cattle were hungry and safe by the back gate waiting for me.  I petted heads and scratched favorite spots to calm them as they settled in to breakfast.  All were fine.

The chicken coop roof was ripped up as well.  Moving the chickens had been the right thing to do.

I returned to the house to get breakfast for us.  In addition to camp food, I had baked bread, hard boiled some eggs, and made cookies on Saturday, so we had plenty to last us without power.  After breakfast, the wind was still whipping around, so John and I checked the front pasture fence.  It was fine, so we let the horses out for some freedom.  Little Rosie bucked and snorted her way around her elders, as carefree as our son.  For Rosie and our son, John, it was more adventure than hardship.  For me, there was a little of that sense, but not for my poor husband.  The weight of his worries and the annoyance at sub-par coffee made this not in the least bit fun.

After breakfast, the cleanup began.  Our farm looked like this under every tree:


There was a county wide curfew in effect through Monday night.  We heard through friends that Black Creek in Middleburg had risen to a new record height.  Already, we knew people who had water all the way up to their roof.  Another family we knew was rescued by the Coast Guard.  They lived a half mile from a very narrow section of Black Creek (only canoe wide)!  Our new land was very close to them but further from Black Creek.  We worried about my husband's family, who were near water.  We also worried about our parish family and our son's Catholic school.  

Tuesday morning was bright and sunny.  Not too warm and not yet chilly.  A beautiful day to dry out and enjoy the sunshine.  I fed the animals and dragged the dog crate full of young chickens out into the fenced garden.  I set them up and turned them loose.  The green weeds and plentiful bugs excited the chicks as they preened and ran around in the sun.  The horse, pony, and donkey were still in the pasture enjoying the sunshine and grass, as were the cattle.  The sheep and goat lounged in sunny spots in their paddocks.  The rabbit cages came back out into the barn aisle to enjoy fresh breezes.  The sun soothed us all.  

We drove into town on Tuesday, mostly because my husband had to find a route to work.  We also had to check on the house of an evacuated family member and see if our new property flooded.   Our nearest town, Keystone Heights, had some power late Tuesday, but no fuel.  Middleburg, however, was still partially under water.  Many roads by the creek were flooded.  The main bridge through town was fine, but traffic was diverted around a long stretch that was under water.   The detours were long and winding because Black Creek effectively divides the town in half.  Unfortunately, everything we need to get to is on the far half.  We went home disappointed Tuesday morning,  We were an island of dry in a sea of flooded roads.  By afternoon, however, we heard more roads had opened due to the receding water.   Another venture into town was successful Tuesday afternoon.  We had to be careful with gas because we didn't know how long the power would be out.  We wound around through back roads to another highway and finally reached my husband's office.  We also found a gas station with fuel and checked our new property.  There is a little creek along one side of our new land that we fenced out to leave wild.  There was only one tree down on the fence and the water didn't reach our pastures.  We could see the traces of where our tame little creek (which is not named yet) turned into a raging river and poured over the bridge past our property.  A few boats tied to trees marked how high the water was at it's peak.  Our neighbors down the road had suffered much greater losses than we did.  

We made it through and our damage is really more annoyance than the devastation experienced by some of our neighbors.  Prayers for us all to make it through, not as individuals, but as a community.  There will be plenty of work to do, beyond our own farm, in the coming months.  

After the hurricane pictures.  The sheep, (Dulcie and Marmalade), Libby, Rosie, and Maggie.  





The cows and Bagheera the barn kitty: