When Life Attacks on a Farm

The week started with a bang and hasn’t slowed down yet.  Let’s see, my first indication that life was planning to mutiny against me was when I sat sipping my coffee and getting ready to call my mom on Sunday morning. It was a peaceful morning and I had settled down next to the open window , enjoying the whiff of the fresh morning air. Then a sudden racket broke my tranquil moment.

 Apparently Crack Shot had gotten his horns stuck in the fence. He’s never done that before and he was crackshot 0116bawling like a baby. I yelled for him to hold his horses and I would be right out. With a sigh, I set down my coffee, grabbed some shoes and went out. I wandered out in my PJ’s thinking it wouldn’t take me but a minute to free his horns, however just as I was getting close I saw him give a giant heave trying to free himself, unfortunately it backfired and I saw the fence act as a slingshot, whipping his body around. When he landed with a hard thud I was horrified to see that he looked like something out of a bad horror movie. His head faced one way and his body another. Since he wasn’t related to anything in the owl family I was convinced he had broken his neck. I ran into the pasture double time and was so relieved to see him breathing. However, with the odd angle he was contorted into his breathing was labored. I tried to free his horns but he had somehow woven them into both the layer of cattle panels AND the fence. I tried to calm him down and then ran for tools. Of course the tools I needed were going to be in the shop on the other end of the property. I grabbed keys on my way past the house, jumped into the jeep and broke the land speed record getting to the shop. I rooted around until I found the giant bolt cutters and a crow bar and raced back up the house. I went into the pasture and began the task of trying to position the giant bolt cutters between the two layers of fence while Karma was playfully head butting me the whole while. I felt like I was suffering from multiple personalities as I gently coo-ed to Crack Shot trying to keep him calm and then turning slightly and yelling for Karma to ‘”knock it the heck off!” I freed him fairly quickly and he jumped up and shook as if brushing off the whole event  and he was even sweet to me for about a whole minute.  I sat back trying to get my heart back into to somewhat of a normal rhythm,  covered in sweat, my pajamas splattered in  mud and other things and thought that this was my allotment of excitement for the entire week…… I was wrong.  I was just getting started.

 The next morning as I was doing chores in my usual pre-coffee stupor I kept thinking I heard LadyButt crying. I went back and checked the chicken coop, thinking I had locked her inside, but didn’t see her. I checked the hay storage and didn’t see her….and then I looked up. From my last incident, I knew what this meant, and I was right. She had somehow gotten up on top the barn roof and was stuck. What proceeded was pretty much an exact duplicate of the blog I wrote earlier this year (see: Adventures of LadyButt  )

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LadyButt in all her fierce glory.

 At this point I should have seen the writing on the wall and known that the week was cursed. A smart move would have been to wrap everything that would hold still in bubble wrap, fortify my coffee with a healthy slug of Bailey’s Irish Cream (or a shot of whiskey)and hunker down.  But I’ve never claimed to be particularly smart. So we decided to tempt the fates and take the hay truck and  pick up a load of local grass. As we were driving around the field, tossing bales of hay up into the back of the flatbed we must have hit a high spot. I say that because as we were getting ready to leave the field Hubs looks over at me and says mildly, “the brakes are feeling a little spongy”. This is never a good thing to hear, especially not when you’re away from home and hauling. I thought I did the appropriate thing and just ignored him. I have a theory that  if you ignore things then they won’t really happen. We got out of the field and then Hubs crawled under the truck and saw the brake fluid happily running out of the back brake line. Apparently we had tore open part of the brake line when we hit the high spot. Damn, another theory blown.  I wish I could say I was surprised but really the way things were going, I kind of expected it, losing our brakes, getting hit by lightening, I mean something was going to happen.  Hubs examined the damage and pronounced it un-repairable with the tools we had with us. He used a wrench to pinch the line shut as best he could, and the guy who’s field we were in gave us a couple bottles of brake fluid. We topped off the reservoir and we headed off for home with a wish and a prayer. It was a quiet,  white knuckle drive and Hubs mostly relied on downshifting, avoiding the brakes all together,

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Unloading a truck load of hay from last fall.

when possible.  Thankfully, we were able to make it home without any other major incidents. By Wednesday and Thursday I had learned my lesson. I was in full on survival mode and just doing what was necessary. Those days eked by with no loss of life or limb.  Sheesh, some weeks are just more exciting than others. I always wonder if this is some type of cosmic payback for something I did  in my wild and crazy teen years. If so I probably have quite a few more of these weeks coming to me. But that’s ok, even with everything going sideways I’m still so blessed to get to live this amazing life.

 Confession: I wrote this post on Tuesday night but didn’t want to post until I was fairly sure I was going to survive the rest of the week.  I still have a day to go but I’m taking the gamble and posting. Wish me luck.

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Making a Homesteader

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Lately the thought of homesteading and dreams has been on my mind. I’m part of an online group of homesteaders and one of the questions I see asked most often is “how do you get the money to start a homestead?” followed closely by the second most frequent statement of “I’m giving up, because I will never have the money necessary to start a homestead”. These types of questions and the giving up of dreams has really got me stewing. So, I’m going to share my two cents and I won’t even bill you for it.

fresh-baked-breadThere seems to be some misconception that homesteading is defined as having a huge piece of land, going off grid and being totally self sufficient. Let’s just cut the crap out of that myth! Your homestead is whatever you chose to make it. I’ve seen people do remarkably self sufficient things in an apartment and those that have large pieces of land that do very little. How you chose to define your homestead lifestyle is a personal and unique choice. Plus, there is a lot that can be done before you ever get your land. From making your own clothes, buying food in raw, bulk form and preparing it, grinding your wheat for bread, making cheese and canning your fresh bought produce. Also learning to make wine, soap, candles, spin wool, make salves and even identify native plants and herbs. These skills can all be part of the learning process and will serve you well in your journey to becoming more self sufficient. Yes, we would love to start off with a few hundred acres, a solar powered well and all their outbuildings and fences ready to go. However, most of us don’t get that luxury and like almost all things in life you have to walk before you can run. We accept this constraint in other parts of our life but for some reason we refuse to accept it for the dream of homesteading. Most adults have had enough life experience to know that you have to approach any major task with a series of small steps and goals. Yet when it comes to idea of homesteading there is a misconception that you have to go big or give up, and for too many people they chose the latter. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’m going to go out on a limb and state the somewhat obvious….. if you can’t make it through this very first (and relatively easy) hurdle of how to begin homesteading maybe this isn’t the life for you. No offense is intend. Let me explain. As I said earlier, homesteading can have a lot of different definitions and if you look at a hundred homesteaders you would see a hundred different ways to do it. However, one thing ties them all together, an attitude of perseverance. Interestingly, you get a bunch of us in a room together and start talking about any farm or homestead topic and you will see arguments break out all over the place about how best to complete the project. This is a group that can’t seem to agree on much of anything.  The one thing I have seen in common in all of these people is that homesteaders don’t quit. They will face incredible challenges and keep going. To me homesteading is less about what your living accommodations look like and more about your spirit, determination, inner grit or whatever you chose to call it. 

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I get the fact it can be incredibly frustrating and emotionally challenging to want something and to feel each set back is a permanent barrier. However, if you can’t get through these road blocks how will you pick yourself back up when you go down to the chicken coop and found a weasel has wiped out most of your flock? Or when you lose your best doe during kidding complications? Or when your entire year’s garden is lost to weather and pests? Or when you are so physically ill you don’t have the energy to make it to the bathroom down the hall, but have to drag yourself outside to care for your animals? Wanting to get started on a big piece of land and jump into whatever you envision the lifestyle to be is just the beginning of many frustrating homestead tests. You see, there will always be challenges on a homestead, it is the one thing you can count on. Yes, you can cry, scream and rail against the injustice and unfairness of it all and then you have to pick yourself back up and do it again. So when I hear people say they are going to quit their homestead dream, I feel a sadness for the death of their dream but I don’t push them to continue because this lifestyle is not for everyone. You have to have the fortitude to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other despite heartbreak, illness and unimaginable trials if you want to live this lifestyle. You see, homesteaders aren’t born, they are made, painstakingly etched from buckets of their own blood, sweat and tears.

Winter’s hatchet weather

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We’ve had a unusual late fall here in the Pacific NorthWET. We’ve got snow! I’m guessing that someone has been praying just a bit too hard for a white Christmas and overshot their target date. Don’t blame me because 1) my prayers don’t usually have such an immediate and  direct response like this and 2) I hate driving in the slushy, white stuff. We’re not even two weeks into the month of December and we’ve had snow twice already.

The first snow was beautiful…..until it turned to ice. Oddly enough most of the west side of the state didn’t seem to have much snow accumulation or the resulting ice and people thought I was exaggerating until I showed them pictures from our area. While the snow fell for a few hours that day the bone chilling cold lasted for days (*disclaimer: We (meaning, “I”), are total weather wimps out this way and “bone chilling cold” is usually anything in the mid to low 20’s. Yes, I am fully aware this is almost bikini weather for some of our more frozen states……but not for this gal!)

tank-in-snow-120916-editAnyway, I digress, so while I appreciated the beauty of the white stuff, I have to admit I was slightly less than thrilled when it started snowing again late last night. Seriously?! We live in the land of rain and gray skies, this snow stuff doesn’t happen very often and rarely in the fall. More often than not our cold spells result in what I call broomstick weather. I call it that because I can take a broom out to do chores and brush off any frost and then flip over the broom and use the handle to bust up any ice in the water troughs. The last few days we have slipped into hatchet weather. Yup, you guessed it, the ice is so thick in the waterers that it laughs in the face, er….. handle of the broom. No, hardcore weather calls for hardcore tools….time to break out the hatchet! That’s right folks, it’s hatchet weather at the farm. As brutal as that sounds it really just means that I use the hatchet to break up the ice, but it sounds way cooler if I don’t explain it.

Snowy days on the farm can be difficult. It means that chores take a bit longer  to ensure everyone has enough food, that ice is broken up from the troughs and having to run out and check on the animals more frequently. However, it also means roaring fires, baked goods and comfort foods, soap making and maybe even trying my hand at knitting. Stay warm my friends.

Painting a barn

We put new siding up on the barn this year, which means I needed to find some motivation to paint it. This took some serious inspiration searching on my part because I truly hate to paint. There is a very good reason I’m not a professional painter, other than the fact I absolutely suck at it….no wait, maybe that is the reason. DSCN3397.JPG

My dad was a professional painter for about a minute. He used to always tell me painting is 90% prep work. But of course I have zero patience for prep work and prefer to jump right into projects. Painting the barn  was no exception. I taped off the bare minimum and didn’t bother cleaning my work area first……a choice that would come back to haunt me.

I had barely touched the roller to the siding when a gust of wind blew up out of nowhere and pulled half of the tape off the wall. Dang it!! Well, that’s what happens when you put tape down a dirty surface, it doesn’t stick. I pushed it back down and started again only to have another gust come up and this time take all the tape off one wall. Of course when the tape came off the wall it fell into the paint tray and then blew around making an abstract paint design that would have made Picasso proud.

“Really??? Not funny. Not **** funny at all!” (***I might have ‘seasoned’ my statement with a few choice words that are not for the timid)hay

 

Great, I was screaming at the wind. If my new neighbors, who just moved in, had any doubts about how thin my grasp on sanity was (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t they?) I think I confirmed their suspicion in spades. In addition, I cringed as I realized that I had just screamed obscenities that would make most people blush. Did I mention the new neighbors have young children and are Christian? Don’t get me wrong, I’m Christian too, but they strike me as good Christians and I fall more into the ‘struggling Christian’ category. Great, now I was going to Hell for charring their young children’s ears. Could the day get any better?

I don’t know why I even ask these questions? It’s like a challenge to Mother Nature. About this time a huge gust of wind came up and blew the  loose hay and dirt that I had neglected to clean up into the paint tray, on to the wet siding and into the paint can. I stood there just stunned and could practically hear Dad cackling with laughter. His words rang in my ears, “painting is 90% prep work honey.”

“Yes, Dad I KNOW!!!!!”

Great, now I was yelling at my dead father. I’m just thankful at this point that neighbors didn’t call the authorities out to check on me.  My horse trainer has been telling me I talk too much while training my horse and I tell her I don’t. After yelling at the wind, my deceased father and the barn, I’m inclined to think she may be on to something.

Anyway, all this to say if you happen to stop by and notice the freshly painted barn and see the hay painted into the siding…..it’s a new form of barn decor. Totally intentional and trust me, it’ll be all the rage soon.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

This heartbreaking, wild and take your breath away miraculous lifestyle

I cradled the baby bird in the palm of my hand, watching it struggle to take each breath.  It was so young that is didn’t even have fuzz over its entire body, just little tuffs of down in patches here and there.  It had all happened so suddenly. I came home and entered through the garage door. As I stepped onto the stoop getting ready to enter the house I heard a thump. I looked up to the swallow’s nest that they had built just above our doorway and saw nothing unusual. Then I looked down. I saw a tiny little blob wiggling on the ground. The little guy was so tiny he didn’t have his eyes open and couldn’t even stand up.  He was literally a wiggling blob. My breath caught in my throat. I looked up again, that was a long drop to the ground. Did it really fall all that way? Now that I thought back, I think something brushed my shoulder before I heard the noise, maybe I inadvertently broke its fall. Or maybe my mind was just trying desperately to make sense of this situation.

baby bird.JPGBut now came the dilemma. What do I do? Do I let nature take its course? Or do I intervene and try to help? If I intervene what should I do, try to place it back in the nest or try to raise it myself?  I think the best case scenario would be to put him back in his nest but there was no way I could get up there myself.  The swallows had built their nest in the highest peak of our garage and it had a veritable maze of support beams, and trusses surrounding it.  As for nature, well, I understand that these things happen but I also couldn’t let my dogs act as nature’s enforcers in the matter. I closed up the garage and scooped the little guy up into a carton and called Hubs. He informed me he would pull out the big extension ladder when he got home and see if he could get it back in the nest. Whew, at least we now had a game plan. Hopefully the little guy could hang on till Hubs got home.

This is the part of farming that I struggled with regularly. I understand on a cerebral level that things happen. There are two sides to every situation, life and death, yin and yang, light and darkness. However, that knowledge does nothing to comfort my  tender heart when these all too frequent situations arise.  I’ve met many people over the course of the years that say they would love to live on a farm, but they acknowledge that they could never face the harshness of daily farm life. I have no response to these people because in truth, farm life is harsh and unforgiving. You can find yourself begging, bartering and/or praying when you watch a new born baby goat struggle to survive. You can become bitter or depressed when you sit holding that same baby goat, or cow, or pig as you  then slowly watch them give up the fight.  Farming is hard, not just the amount of work or the long hours, it is emotionally taxing. There is no arguing that fact.  However, as I mentioned before, there is another side to this tale. Just as there is darkness there is light. Farming also allows me to witness the beautiful birth of baby goats. I get to see them stumble to take their first steps to find mom so they can nurse. I get to see their playful antics as they bound across the pasture as if attached to springs. I am privileged to have a parade of wildlife that wanders through our property, everything from deer, coyote, rabbits and even an occasional bear.  I get to see the first bit of green as the garden springs to life and taste the sweetest and freshest vegetables available when it’s time to harvest. These are gifts.

One of the most important things I have learned from living on a farm is that to survive the hard stuff you have to cherish the gifts.  In farm life, no in ANY life, you will have two sides and you must  appreciate both to live life to the fullest. To focus on the hard stuff would break me. I would easily become depressed, bitter and overwhelmed by the sheer sadness.  On the other hand to focus only on the blessings would make light of the struggles and feel disrespectful to the animals in our care that didn’t make it. So, for me farming, and life, is about finding balance. Learning to weep during the difficult times and then pick myself back up and appreciate the beauty of this heartbreaking, wild and take your breath away miraculous lifestyle we chose.  It’s not easy, but for us it’s the only choice.

Edited to add: Hubs managed to climb up and put the baby bird back in the nest and this morning momma bird was back and caring for it. ❤ Happy endings.

Noxious and Poisonous Weeds

It’s that time of year again, the time when I need to get out to the do some pasture management.  I try to go walk the pastures at the beginning of spring and again partway through summer to pull any noxious or poisonous weeds. Ok so technically spring started months ago, but as usual I’m playing catch up.

This year my biggest foe is the foxglove. It’s popping up everywhere! We have the tansy pretty much under control but the foxglove decided I needed another challenge in my life. Both of these plants are considered toxic, but to be honest I’ve seen the goats nibble on them and they’re still kicking. Now before I start getting hate mail, let me say I do my best to pull the poisonous plants but am I going to get all of them? No. Not even close. I can however pull them before the foxglove seeds and make sure that it’s not the most prevalent thing growing in my pasture. My goats mostly avoid the toxic plants but I see no reason to make it easy for them. If the goats really want to eat it they’re going to have to hunt for it.

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Years ago I took a master goat class and I remember some guy saying he didn’t worry about poisonous plants because goats could tell what was poisonous and what wasn’t. I listened to this in disbelief as he slurped down his diet soda and munched on his Cheetos. Dude, we’re supposed to be the enlightened species and most people don’t eat avoid stuff that’s bad for us but you expect the goats to do better?

Finally, after working in the pasture for a few hours, I went back out to battle the blackberries. I get lots of people messaging me saying to let the goats eat the blackberries and I wish I could. Our little farm backs up to 3500+ acres of forest and until I get the perimeter fence up, letting the goats loose to chow down on blackberries is just not a good idea if I want to get them back in the pasture at any point in the near future. So, until the fencing is done I will continue to battle blackberries by hand and occasionally pull out a goat or two to help. Karma is a favorite for this because she’s convinced she’s really a dog and follows me around the farm as if she had an invisible leash connecting us. Which occasionally makes the other ‘real dogs’ a bit jealous. But that’s a tail (pun intended) for another day.

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Murphy must have felt that Karma was getting a bit too much of my attention.

Motherhood and Goats

Viney headshotWe’re under attack from the blackberry bushes. No, that’s not a metaphor, nor am I being overly dramatic. They are truly trying to take over. They’re encroaching into the yard, across the driveway and slowly but surely gaining ground toward the house. I dream about them at night. More like nightmares really. That one day we’ll wake up and find that they’ve completely encompass the house and we’ll become prisoners in a blackberry vine cell. It’s not pretty.

Yesterday while I was out watering and weeding the kitchen herb bed and flowers I decided to pull out a goat or two to help with the blackberry problem. After all I have goats, they view blackberry leaves as a form of goatie crack cocaine. I figured it’s a treat for them and saves me some work. Win-win!

I pulled out a couple girls and Murphy laid down close by to keep an eye on them (I’m not sure if he’s guarding them or keeping them under surveillance because he views them as suspicious) and I went back to weeding . It was during this perfect moment with the sun shining brightly, a slight breeze that floated over the skin and the buzz of fat, lazy bumble bees that I had a deep bonding moment with my goat, Viney.

She had wandered behind the shed, out of view from the rest of the goats in the pasture. Personally, I think she was hiding from her kids. They were yelling to her and she was quietly ignoring them as she munched away contently on her blackberry bushes. Watching this I immediately flashed back in my memory to a time when my kids were small and I would steal downstairs while they were playing and sneak a bite or two of the hidden “good” chocolate. I think I had the same content look on my face as Viney did munching on those blackberry leaves. As I was thinking about this Viney glanced over at me and our eyes met. Just then I connected with her on a level I never thought possible. We were both moms who hid from our kids while we raided the secret stash. It was a profoundly bonding moment…..and then she went after my roses and I had to chase her away from the flower beds pretty much killing the moment.  But for that brief moment we connected as only mothers can. Sharing the struggle of deep love for our children…..and the desire not to share our snacks. Motherhood really is a sisterhood that stretches across all boundaries.