Grandmother

IMG_0349-2It’s been a tough week. My grandmother, my father’s mother, passed away. I suppose it wasn’t unexpected; she was 93 years-old. She lived a good life, and I think she was ready to move on. Still, it hurts. She meant so much to so many of us. She was mother and grandmother, aunt and sister, mentor and friend. We will miss her. My world is a little emptier without her.

My grandmother was a tiny little woman. I always said she was five feet tall and 100 pounds soaking wet. She was a quiet woman. Bashful? Maybe. Perhaps she only felt it necessary to say what needed to be said and kept quiet the rest of the time.

She had a passel of grandchildren, more boys than girls. We ran her ragged. When we had her at her wit’s end, she would utter, “Gads!” and follow it with some remark about the havoc we were wreaking.

We loved going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandma and Grandpa’s house meant cutting and pasting with mucilage glue. It meant currant jelly, spearmint leaves, pine nuts, and peanut butter and butter sandwiches.

Grandma used to comb my hair so carefully that it never hurt. When my mom combed my hair, I cried and screamed because she pulled the tangles. Grandma started at the very bottom. She combed the ends then moved up little by little. When Grandma combed my hair, it never hurt.

Grandpa died when I was 14. It was unexpected and it shook my world. I couldn’t believe that Grandpa was gone. Later, when I was in college, when I was a young mother, when my children grew into adulthood, Grandma reminded me again and again that Grandpa would be so proud of me. She always told me that she wished he was here to see the things that I had done and who I had become.

My dad taught us to love and respect Grandma. On more than one occasion, he found it necessary to tell me, “She’s your grandmother!” She was worthy of respect. I imagine she is well-respected by all who knew her. She had so many admiral qualities. She was frugal. She was extremely neat and clean. I used to tell my children that she would clean the house from top to bottom just to start over again. She was modest. She was faithful. She was smart. She was honest, hard-working, active, and just plain old good.

I love you, Grandma. I will miss you. I hope that I learn to be even half the woman that you were.

God Speed!

A New Season Arrives

A storm was forecast for the area. He had told her earlier in the day, or perhaps it had been the day before, that two ewes were close to giving birth. A storm–the change in barometric pressure–might make it inevitable.

When the snow came later in the evening, he said to her, “I’ll have to go out and check that ewe again in a couple of hours. It’ll be our luck that she decides to lamb in the snow.” She looked up from putting things away. “Is that where you were earlier? I’d wondered why you’d gone back out in the dark.” “That and to close things up. One of the roosters wouldn’t come in. I chased him around, but I couldn’t catch him.”

“Oh well,” she said with a sigh, “he’ll be coyote food. Unless I hear them. If I hear them, I’ll send the dogs out. They chased them off the other night.” She turned to the dogs, “Won’t you girls? You’ll take care of those nasty coyotes, huh?” She still longed to have a real livestock guard dog, but for now, the mutts would have to do.

She climbed into bed  and turned out her light. He would worry about the ewe all night long. Because he worried (it was his curse), she didn’t. She would sleep.

She wasn’t completely surprised to find him already gone from bed when she awoke the next morning. She went to the window and saw the freshly fallen snow. It looked to be about two inches.

She felt a twinge of guilt. She should be out there helping him. Especially, if there was a new lamb. Sheep are delicate creatures. It is easy for them to become sick and it is easy to lose lambs during lambing season. All last year, they had rushed out with every new lamb to dry it off and clean its airways, get its circulation going and dip the umbilical cord in iodine, a disinfectant. She thought it seemed a little silly. It seemed to her that a mother would do what was necessary to help her newborn survive, but they’d lost enough lambs that she didn’t argue the point.

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She sighed. “Maybe there aren’t any new lambs today,” she thought to herself. She grabbed her phone and moved out to the kitchen to fix breakfast before church. As she pulled out a pound of sausage (homegrown, premium, Berkshire sausage), she glanced at her phone. On the screen was a picture message that said, “This is the morning greeting after the snowstorm.” She felt really guilty. She should go out to help.

Just then, her son walked in from outdoors. He’d gone out to help his dad. “Oh good,” she smiled to herself, “she was off the hook!” She turned back to making breakfast. She loved 11 o’clock church. It meant Sunday breakfast with the family in the morning and a little afternoon nap when they returned home–especially on the snowy days when the cold keeps the animals in and behaving themselves.

“Did she only have one lamb?” she asked her son. “Yes,” he said, “a boy.” One lamb is not a good return on investment. They hoped for twins from all of the mothers. This one would have to be culled. She’d have to check the records, but if she’d only given them one lamb last year, she should have been culled then. Hopefully most of the others were carrying twins or even triplets. They need 180% return.

She finished making breakfast and served it to the men. “I love homegrown breakfast,” he said. “Everything looks better and tastes better. Look at the color of these yolks and the meat is not pasty like that tubed sausage. Plus you make the best biscuits, honey.”

She smiled. Today marked the start of their lambing season. None of them knew what the future held, but for today all was well and that made it a good day.

 

A Few Good Roosters

 

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This is our Iowa Blue Rooster. We aren’t supposed to have an Iowa Blue rooster; we ordered all hens. No hatchery, however, will guarantee 100% hens. There is about a 10% chance of having a rooster in the bunch. He is one of the 10%. We don’t mind having a rooster or two. They have several positive points. They protect the flock, fertilize the eggs, of course they’re necessary for breeding, and they are beautiful.

This guy will look like this when he is full-grown.

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We are happy to have an Iowa Blue rooster. The breed is pretty rare. I am anxious to breed him. I’d love to hatch Iowa Blues.

Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to having roosters too. They are pretty skittish, so in my mind they don’t make good “pets.” They eat feed with little or no return . They can be aggressive. Some breeds are more aggressive than others. If they are aggressive, they may attack their humans–something the Rancher will absolutely not stand for. The two biggest problems , however, are that they can terrorize the ladies and they will fight with each other. They are, after all, male and will fight to establish a hierarchy in which one of them is crowned king.

If you remember, I mentioned the roosters in one of my earlier posts. We have several–more than we can feasibly deal with. If anybody out there wants a rooster, please let us know. We need to remove some of them from the flock. As I said, they are beautiful. None of our roosters has shown any aggressive behavior so far. They breeds we have are not aggressive breeds, so we should be okay. We have:

9 Barred Rocks                                                                                       2 or more Light Brahmas

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2 or more Buff Orpingtons

Disclaimer: These are not my pictures. I borrowed examples from the Internet.

My Dad Says…

Remember that day when you went to your mother and told her that she was right? I do. It was 5-10 years ago and I told her that she had been right about everything she’d tried to teach me. All you younger people who haven’t said it yet, just wait. Your time is coming.

Well, not only was my mother right about all of her advice, so was my dad and both of my grandfathers. My grandmothers were probably right, too. They just kept their lectures to a minimum and concentrated on playing with me. In fact, it was my grandmother that told me that if I did nothing else, make my bed every day. She told me that the house would look cleaner and I would feel better. Even when I’m running extremely late, I can’t leave the house without making my bed! And, I never have to come home after a hard day’s work to find a bed unmade.

DSC_0866This post is not about the women in my life, but my father. Somewhere along the line, my father started this saying, “My dad said…” and he would finish it up with some nugget of wisdom. At some point, my daughter and I started jokingly saying, “My dad says…”–sort of turning it into a joke.

Probably twenty-five years ago, my dad made a comment that stuck with me. He said, “I’ve eaten bacon and butter for breakfast every day for the past 40 years and I still look just fine.” At the time, low-fat or no-fat was the craze. Remember Oleo, the fake fat? So, I rolled my eyes and ignored him.

I don’t know when I switched back to butter from margarine (I grew up on margarine), but it has been many, many years now. I’d venture to  guess that my kids can’t remember ever having margarine at home. I probably came back to bacon sometime around the time I joined Weight Watchers. Bacon is actually an easy point food, and a slice of bacon is not that many points.  However, I still eat many things that are low- or no-fat. I check the labels to make sure that they don’t have some filler in them to replace the fat (like guar gum or xantham gum (code word “corn”)). So, I use 2% milk.

The other day, I read and followed this link from Twitter. To sum it up, if we drank milk from grass-fed dairy cows, milk would be more nutritious because grass-fed milk has higher Omega 3s (the good fat) and lower Omega 6s (the bad fat). There are several reasons to celebrate this study. It is finally scientific confirmation that an organic product is more nutritious than non-organic products. It is evidence (at least in my mind) that feeding corn to a ruminant animal has dire consequences. It also speaks rather loudly to me that perhaps we shouldn’t be processing the fat out of our milk.

This last point brings me back to my dad (and I’m sure he learned it in part from his dad). He was right. He has told me and told me to eat food in its simplest form. The less processed, the better. I will probably have to switch to whole organic milk. Hmmm. Have I told you that my dad says…

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Preparing for Cold

First off, I hate to be cold. I love the snow as long as it means that I get to stay home, bake cookies or bread, and curl up in front of the fireplace with a good book. In fact, I hate to be cold so much that I would rather be late to work than take a cold shower. This is a verified fact. You see, our water heater has been on the fritz for the last year. My son is usually up and in the shower first. Unfortunately, his shower, more often than not, seemed to trigger the reset switch, leaving my daughter with a cold shower. My daughter would take her cold shower and reset the water heater so that neither of the parents had to take a cold shower. I told her that I would call work and tell them I’d be late rather than suffer a cold shower.

I digress. The cold I am talking about does not come from a faucet, but from the Arctic north. When I went outside this morning, it was 44 degrees. I couldn’t believe it. It was a beautiful morning. While I was running errands today, the temperature topped out at 61 degrees. A beautiful morning turned into a beautiful day–the nicest we will see for a long time. Tonight, we will bottom out at freezing and our daytime temperatures for the next week will remain at or below that freezing mark. Even then, we will not return to the balmy weather we’ve been having. Old Man Winter is letting us know that he is here to stay for awhile.

As much as I hate to be cold, I am lucky enough to live in a nice house with heat and blankets and lots of amenities. Our animals are not so lucky. On the ranch, cold means preparing our livestock for the frigid temperatures. For the birds, we use a deep litter method in their houses. Basically, the floor of the house is a mixture of dirt, bedding (we use pine shavings and straw), spilled feed (chickens are messy eaters), and…poop. All of that mixed together makes for a nice compost and offers some warmth. In the spring, we will clean it all out and put it on the garden. Man, I love sustainability!

The other animals will stay warm by eating a little more–compliments of their stewards–and burrowing in some extra straw. Oh, and of course they have each other. They will definitely use each other’s body heat to keep warm.

That’s what I did this afternoon–prepped for the cold as best I could. Hopefully it is enough. We will worry until the nighttime temperature rises back out of the single digits. Thursday night will be the worst, when the low is supposed to be -7. Brrr!

Here are a couple of “before” pictures. We may have quite a bit of snow Wednesday. If that is the case, I will add some snowy pictures to the blog.

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Small Business Saturday

Today is small business Saturday! I hope you will read this entire post.

While I am sure that some big corporation came up with the idea (American Express), and in some ways it is just a marketing ploy ($$$ credit card debt $$$), somebody out there must realize that small business is a vital part of our economy. Here is a program I discovered while shopping for my sister’s wedding dress last year:

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The 3/50 Project
Save your local economy…three stores at a time.

  • Think of 3 independently owned businesses you’d miss if they were gone. Spend $50 monthly in those businesses. Save your local economy.
  • If half of the employed U.S. population spent $50 each month in independently owned businesses, their purchases would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue.
  • For every $100 spent in independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. Spend it at a national chain, only $43 stays. Spend it online and nothing comes home.

Visit the350project.net

Copyright: Cindy Baxter. 2010.

While you’re out shopping today (or any time during the next month… or any time after that) look for and shop one of our local small businesses. Here is just a sliver of some local small businesses.

It’s always dangerous to make lists like this because I am bound to leave out some great place that deserves mentioning, but I just discovered that The 350 Project has an app. Consider this post a starting point. Please shop any of the small businesses that you know about and pass the word along. Happy Shopping! Merry Christmas! And of course keep it local.

 

Meet Our Young Ladies (Plus an Egg Update)

These are our Lakenvelders (Lock-en-vel-der).

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They are a heritage breed and lay white eggs. Because they are a heritage breed, they were very hard to come by. Although they are beautiful (I seem to have a thing for white and black birds), they are not my favorites. I have had two breeds of white egg layers–Leghorns and Lakenvelders. Both seem to be very high-strung and skittish. They fly all over the place and make quite a ruckus when we feed them. I am sure they will never let us catch them (the Leghorns are the same).

I much prefer my brown egg layers. However, we purposely bought these girls for their white eggs. We wanted to have white eggs available for Easter. Now, I just have to hope and pray that they will mature in time to lay for Easter. We have found that without soy in their diets, all of our animals grow slower than expected. The very good news is that we are getting eggs again! Yay! As soon as we are up to a dozen a day, we will resume delivery.

The Farmer’s Wife…or Trying to Keep It Together at the Ranch

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From the beginning, my husband wanted to be a farmer. From the beginning I said “no.” He wouldn’t let it go, and I finally gave in and here we are fifteen years later.

Some years ago, there was a show on PBS or some such station called The Farmer’s Wife. It was like a reality show, a documentary, that chronicled the life of a farmer and his wife. My husband found something idyllic and romantic in the show and always wanted me to watch it. I refused. I never saw anything idyllic about it. I thought it was sad. Their life was hard, they were poor, and they weren’t making it. As it turns out, they eventually divorced. I think she moved to town. I’m not really sure. I still think it was a sad story.

Well, we’ve been married a long time. We’ve weathered the storm and made it through the roughest parts of our lives. Today, our marriage is better than ever and we love our life. However, our life often falls short of being idyllic. We have been out working in every type of weather imaginable. We have nursed sick animals only to watch them die. We have “bought high” and “sold low.” We worry when it doesn’t rain and we worry when it does.

Through it all, we have funded everything ourselves. We didn’t come into any great inheritance or win the lottery and we are not subsidized by the government. We have gained what we have through our blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. We both work “off farm” to pay our bills and to sometimes fund the operation. My husband works extra all summer long so we can try to have a little emergency funds during the winter. As a result, we sometimes do without. We definitely “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Sometimes we have to do without things that would really help the operation. We could use some better equipment, better fencing, and better supplies. For the most part, however, we manage to get by. Sometimes my husband gets discouraged. Sometimes I get discouraged.

This week has been my week to be discouraged. We had a good rainstorm come through earlier in the week. It was enough to make water run swiftly down the hill in front of the house. We ran out to check on the young birds. One of the yards was flooded, so I hurriedly dug a trench in the pouring rain and hail, so the water could run off. In the other house, the birds were soaking wet. The house was built as a summer-house. It wasn’t built to withstand a harsh storm. We were caught unprepared.

As I picked up my soaking wet birds and carried them into the barn to dry off, I thought, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t handle anymore tragedies.” I was drenched. My babies were drenched (they are about 3 months old). And they were shivering. Watching a little, wet bird shiver is a sad, sad sight. I just couldn’t take it. I felt drained–washed up (excuse the pun), and I cried.

As if the storm weren’t bad enough, we have a predator. We knew we were losing some birds. It is to be expected with a pasture poultry operation. In the past, we have had trouble with snakes, owls, hawks, raccoons, and even some evidence of coyotes. This year, we have had very little evidence of trouble. We’ve seen the hawks and owls and heard the coyotes. We haven’t, however, seen much evidence of predation. We knew that we’d lost a bird or two. We found some feathers and other evidence, but not much. Then, all of a sudden, we started losing a bird or two a day. We would come outside and there, right out in the open, would be a pile of feathers. I finally found my nerve and took a count of my hens. We’ve lost a significant number of birds. After the count, we tracked our predator. We found where he is coming in and leaving the property. Hopefully, we can either fence him out, or catch him in the act. Until then, we will keep vigilant watch.

Although good news seems to be absent this week, I am feeling less discouraged than I was at the beginning of the week. I have a very wonderful husband that loves me and lifts my spirits as best he can. I have remarkable children that help out in so, so many ways (and my son always makes me laugh). And I know we will keep trudging through just as we have done for the past 15 years.

When this trial is over, I know it won’t be long until another trial comes along. For several years, I refused to have much to do with the ranch. I didn’t get involved with the day-to-day operations or the animals. Maybe it was better that way–it sure hurt less. Right now, I feel like Adam when he was cast out of the Garden of Eden, doomed to toil by the sweat of my brow, doomed to fight the thorn and the thistle to make my bread. Nonetheless, I find joy in every day. Whether it is watching my pigs bound over to the fence in the hopes of a scratch on the ear, or watching the goose take a bath when his pool if filled with fresh water, or even just having a good egg day or listening to little wet birds, now dry, chirp happily, I find something to believe in.

Life is hard. This work is hard. Still, I’m so glad that I live in my life and that I have the opportunity to work hard. I am thankful for the opportunity to practice sustainable agriculture, conservancy, and the humane treatment of livestock animals. I’m grateful that my children have grown up in this life and that they have a strong work ethic and a love of the land. I’m grateful that my grandchildren will also grow up experiencing this life. As hard as this life is, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

 

A Perspective on the Black Forest Fire

May2013 374I am posting this at the request of my mother. I was speaking with her on the phone this morning, and of course the Black Forest Fire (and our possible danger) came up. I talked to her about my feelings for those affected by the fire, and she thought I should share my own, perhaps very different, perspective with others.

Let me just say how absolutely heartsick we are for all of those that lost homes, animals, livelihoods, keepsakes, and so much more in the fire. I have thought a great deal about the tragedy that so many have been facing. Our heart goes out to the friends and family of the couple that lost their lives in the fire. This fire has been truly devastating and tragic. Our thoughts and prayers are with all involved including the firefighters, emergency and support personnel and volunteers.

This fire is the closest we have ever been to a fire evacuation. The Hayman Fire, back in 2003, seemed much worse to me because we had ash on our cars, we had to keep the windows and doors shut, and we had the remarkable but scary blood-red sun. However, the Hayman Fire was not threatening our home or livelihood per se. This fire has been much scarier.

On Wednesday evening, my husband came home and informed me that we were only 7 miles from the pre-evacuation zone for Douglas County and that he would be returning to work that night due to the fire danger. We needed to really think about evacuation, make a plan, and make a record of our belongings, buildings, animals, and equipment. It was in thinking about what we would take and what we wouldn’t and in prioritizing our lists that the gravity of the fire really hit home. I had to think about how we were going to transport some 500 animals, family, necessities, treasured belongings, and keepsakes safely off property and think about where we would go. These thoughts led me to think about the devastation of fire. What does it mean to have a forest fire rage into your life…

So my mom called me this morning and asked if I thought we would be evacuated. I told her I no longer felt like we were in danger of being evacuated. (Disclaimer: I will try to recount the thoughts I had with her while I was on the phone. Please know that my recounting to her is largely anecdotal. None of my “facts” are verified. I am just telling the story from my perspective.) My mother told me that my brother had a friend who lost his home in the fire. I told her that yes, I remembered him saying so and that we knew two other acquaintances that had lost homes.

Then, she told me that they had found two horses (she actually said two bodies, but I heard horses). I told her that I had heard that there were horses both lost and found that people were trying to reconnect with owners. This is how I recall my part of the story:

Yes, people have lost horses and found horses. Some people have posted pictures on Facebook–looking for their horses or looking for owners. This fire hit so quickly, it was absolutely devastating. It’s as if those first 92 homes went up in an instant. Many people had very little chance to collect much of anything or to do more than just let their animals go. The fire was heading south/ southeast that first day and burned a lot of homes. As the fire moved on, some people thought that their houses had been spared, but the next day the wind shifted and the fire double-backed picking off the houses that it had missed the first time around. One lady returned to her house that second day and no sooner did she get there then her neighbor called to say his barn was on fire. She had to just turn around and leave again. Another lady is living in her car at the local Wal-Mart with her 17 chickens and 3 turkeys.

I feel so terrible for the people who lost homes and the people who had to get their horses out. And I especially feel bad for the people with livestock. It is so difficult to move animals, especially in an emotional emergency situation. I was telling my daughter that it was one thing to try to round up horses or sheep or even llamas or alpacas, but can you imagine trying to gather your poultry?

As I said, thinking about evacuating really made me think about the real impact of fire. If evacuated, we would have to move a number of larger livestock, and we are only one household. But, not only do we (as a community) have to think about where the horses, pigs, and sheep, and deer and antelope will go, there are also thousands (millions?) of displaced little animals, as well. At our house we have beautiful blue birds, meadowlarks, blue jays, owls, hawks, chickadees, finches, and sparrows. Those are just a few of the birds here. Where would they go? Would they have the sense to get out? Can they outrun/ outfly the fire? If the fire hit quickly enough, the heat would get the birds long before the flame would. And then, there are chickens…

Here is my thought on it. Let’s assume that horses, sheep and larger wildlife will have the sense to run away from the fire. Let’s also assume that wild birds–being migratory–would also fly away. Probably even Guineas and turkeys might take flight, but I don’t think a chicken would.

Here’s the thing: chickens are domestic animals. They have been bred to live around humans and rely on humans for food and shelter. While they aren’t as stupid as people think they are, they aren’t the smartest animal in the barnyard. Also, chickens don’t fly. They might fly 15 feet or so, but they cannot sustain flight. And while a chicken can run, they can’t run that fast. They aren’t built for running. Then there’s that bit about being domestic.

Let me tell you about my chickens. When I come outdoors, my chickens come running to me. Granted, they are hoping that I’ve brought them some tasty greens from the house, but they still run to me. And they talk to us. They do this purring kind of murmuring almost in chorus. It’s a very neat sound and they obviously like people.

Chickens are very inquisitive and social. If we are out fixing fence, moving things, building, or anything else, we are sure to have chickens around us checking out what we are doing. Today, when I was out cleaning up pine needles and leaves (ever so important now!), I had five or six hens all around me–helping me. They think that you’ve made that pile of leaves just for them, so as soon as you step away from it, they climb on it, scatter (scratch) it with their feet, and start looking for tasty tidbits.

Not only do they seem to enjoy the company of humans, they also enjoy each other and the other animals. Our hens roam everywhere and especially enjoy being in the sheep corral and in with the pigs. They are almost always together and usually hang around in groups of 4 or 5.  Yes, it is for safety, but particular birds flock together just like humans do at school or work. At the end of the day, when the sun goes down, the chickens all go into their house together and find a perch or a corner in which to sleep. They do this as a group, both the going to bed and the settling down to sleep. Chickens even announce to the other birds that 1) they’ve laid an egg or 2) they were lucky enough to get a treat (at which point all the other chickens try to take said treat). Remember, they aren’t so smart.

So, back to the fire. I think that if a chicken was faced with a forest fire, she would have very little chance of survival. She would probably run for cover to her safe zone (chicken house) with all of her sisters. They would sit there, hoping, believing that the humans were going to protect them. Now I might be wrong, perhaps they would take flight, but chickens can’t really fly and they aren’t built for running. The same is true for any number of domestic poultry (and other small livestock). Turkey toms can’t fly because they can’t lift their body weight. Some breeds of ducks and geese don’t or won’t fly. So, when I think about the fires, while my heart is breaking for the people, horses, and large animals, my heart is also breaking for the small livestock that may not have much of a chance.

Again, our heart goes out to all of those affected by the wildfire. It isn’t just this immediate devastation that our friends, neighbors, and loved ones face. After the fire, there is rebuilding to be done, fields and pasture that to be replanted, animals to be fed and cared for, lives to be pasted back together. I am overwhelmed and cannot adequately express my thoughts, love, and prayers to all affected. May God bless them.

One final note: I do not want anybody to feel like I am making a big deal of our situation or crying “woe is me.” While we were very near the evacuation zone for Douglas County, the fire was never nearer than 12 to 16 miles away. That’s not a lot, but at the same time it is a lot. I do not profess to have even an inkling of how those in Black Forest feel. I am simply sharing my thoughts after being closer than I’ve ever been before to this sort of crisis.