Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bull in a Bag

Yep, that's a week-old bull calf swaddled in a gunny sack for his trip from JuJo Acres over North Mountain to Painted Hand Farm in the back of a Volkswagen.

I'm guilty of hauling sheep and goats in my Subaru, but this was a calf! Leave it to Jonas, whom I consider one of the finest stockman I have ever met, to show up with baby beef in the boot.

I don't think I had ever seen a young calf so calm and relaxed after being transported.

Tomorrow morning I'm scheduled to pick up another Holstein bull calf from a neighboring dairy. The cow had the little guy hidden in the hedgerow out in the pasture for a week and as the farmer put it, "is wild as a hare." For some reason, I don't think that one will be a good candidate for me to take Jonas's lead on calf transportation. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Farm Girl Fashionista

I'm not a trendy person. As a matter of fact, I loathe shopping. My clothes come from three places--East Meets West, the local animal shelter's thrift store and hand-me-downs from my mother. As a farmer, going on a shopping spree to outfit myself for the 'office' is just plain stupid. I do keep some key items free of manure stains and horn holes to make myself presentable on market day, but for the most part, clothing must be functional, inexpensive and ready to be destroyed at any moment.

Similarly, I take the same stance on my hair....practical. Monthly trips to the salon for a trim, color, perm, highlights, roots, whatever...has just never been on my priority list. Yes, when I had the two-toned mottled skunk look going on earlier in the spring I succumbed to Lady Clairol, but for the most part, I tame my mane with clips or single long spikes which include pencils, chopsticks and paintbrushes.

But today I couldn't locate any of those items and used the closest thing at hand--an errant tail feather from my new Barred Rock Rooster, Schtupp. Little did I realize the black and white cock was about to spur me into the world of high fashion.

It started at the bank. "Oh my gawd, that feather is soooo cool," squealed all the ladies. "Where did you get one so big?"

"One what?" I was oblivious.

"Your hair feather."

Dare I tell them that I picked it off the litter, grit and shit-covered floor of my hen house when my hair kept getting in my face, irritating me to pin it up with the first thing I spied that would work.

"It was a present from my rooster," I replied, leaving them all speechless as they well knew I farmed.A firm believer in local economies and a creature of habit, I continued with my Monday routine of the bank, post office, library, hardware store, thrift shop and boutique in downtown.

Standing in line at the post office, the lady behind me was next.

"Oh, I love your feather. It's so different from the ones all the college girls are getting melted into their hair." Did I hear her right? Melted into their hair? And then I remembered the story in the New York Times earlier in the summer about how women were buying up all the hackles used in fly-tying for hair accoutrement.In the two blocks between the post office and my car parked back at the bank, I encountered TWO places offering hair feathers--a salon and my favorite boutique, where they hung next to the cash register...an obvious impulse item display.
"That's a Guinea Hen wing feather, a Pheasant breast feather and the hackle off some rooster," I told the boutique owner as she rang up my greeting card purchase. "And just what kind of feather do you have in your hair today?"

And then the idea for another revenue stream hit me.

So not everything that comes out of my pasture will go on the plate. Some of it might even go into your hair!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bloody, Muddy & Bruised

People often forget how dangerous a job farming can be, including the farmers themselves at times. A 900-pound round bale rolls out of the bucket and over the back of a tractor crushing the hay farmer. A breeding Holstein bull grinds the dairy farmer into the ground pulverizing his body to a mass of pulp. A pig farmer is overcome by hydrogen sulfide gas while trying to fix the auger in the manure pit. These are just a few examples of accidents which have occurred in my community over the last few years and today I was reminded of just how quickly one can get hurt farming.

As I sit here writing this post, I've got ice packs on my leg and ankle, my boots and clothing lie on a heap on the front porch caked with muck and my new breeding buck is missing half of his ear. It all happened in the blink of an eye while my back was turned and before I knew it, I was caught in a fight between these two....
That's El Jefe, my Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog weighing in at 185 lbs and my new Boer buck who tipped the scales at 195 lbs last week when I brought him to the farm.

I usually let the dogs in behind the barn to eat so they don't have to continually fend off the goats from their food. Yes, goats LOVE dog food. I had fed the buck inside the barn--some nice hay, a little grain--and then went outside to feed the dogs.

As I undid the chain holding shut the solid gate between the barnyard and the paddock to walk down through the pasture checking on everyone, I heard the fight begin. Before I could turn around to issue a cease & desist order to Jefe, I was hit from behind by a rolling, snarling, barking mass of fur and horns. The buck had gone for the dog food and in retaliation, Jefe decided to teach the new goat on the block a lesson in who was boss.

He had the massive caprine by the ear at first, but the buck reared up and crashed down on the dog with all his weight. Thoroughly pissed, Jefe went for the goat's face. I screamed at the dog and he let go long enough for the buck to attempt to go through the gate in front of which I was standing. Frantically, I tried to undo the chain, but I did not want to let him loose into my herd of does knowing darn well it would mean kidding in the dead of winter, something I wanted to avoid. My mind was not focused on my personal safety, as it should have been. Jefe took another go at the goat and I was smashed into the corner of the barn and gate before I finally undid the chain and crawled through the opening into mud that was several inches deep from last night's torrential rains. Jefe jumped over me and fortunately, the buck retreated in the opposite direction allowing me to secure the gate between the two with myself safely out of the range of those big horns.

My heart raced. A wave of heat and nausea swept over me as I stood in shock. My does gathered around and my horse came close to investigate. After taking a quick inventory to make sure I wasn't badly injured, I opened a gate to fresh browse for the ladies, checked on the buck and limped back to the house in fear and shame.

I often joke that I prefer goats to cattle because they're cuter and they don't kick as hard, but the reality of the matter is that breeding animals are dangerous and unpredictable. I'm guilty of becoming complacent which can quickly lead to getting roughed up or injured as I well found out this morning.

So next time you whip up a batch of curry or put a goat burger on the grill, remember that getting your dinner from the pasture to the plate can be a dangerous prospect at times for the farmer.