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Gregg got to witness the birth of Baby sheep #2 this week. She’s not the jet black beauty of Baby sheep #1. She’s a girl, so that’s why Gregg decided to name both of these little lambs. Hopefully the next lamb will be a boy (we won’t be naming him) and that he’ll be able to provide us with some yummy meant in the Fall/Winter. Its still a little disturbing to think about eating these animals that are grazing in our backyard. But, I guess that’s the point right? To know where your food comes from? Its very close to home though…literally.
P.S. Our big white dog that didn’t have heart disease passed away last week. The vets never found out what was making her sick, and she kept getting worse. So, bad news afterall.
So, originally I was planning for this post to have some good news with some bad news sandwich in the middle. But! Our bad news turned into possibly good news. I’ll start from the top (this is all animal-related btw).
Over the weekend, one of our ewes gave birth to our first baby lamb. She was very no nonsense about it (the momma, that is). We didn’t hear a peep from mom or baby when she was in labor overnight. One day she was pregnant and the next, she had a jet black lamb cuddled up beside her. We had been hoping that our sheep were pregnant. You can’t really tell just by looking at them, and we weren’t expecting any babies until spring. But, here she is! Gregg says he’ll keep her since she’s a girl. She’ll make babies not meat. She will also make some very pretty wool which I could turn into yarn. I’m not sure I’m up for the challenge of combing out bits of poop/grass/debris, etc., then spinning the wool into yarn either by hand or otherwise. We’ll see.
Now for the bad news turned good. Aspen, our Great Pyranese, was diagnosed with heart disease after an appointment with our local vet. One of her eyes started swelling, and we thought it was infected. When the swelling didn’t go away after a week or so, we took her in to get evaluated. She’s only two years old, so the prognosis of heart disease was not a good one. We took her back to the Great Pyranese Rescue, so their vet could give her the full work-up that she deserves. We were really sad about it. We only had her for 3 months, but we loved her. We got a call yesterday that she doesn’t have heart disease afterall. Our local vet had made the diagnosis after seeing large amounts of fluid on ultrasound. The other vet was saying that the fluid was coming from her gut, and that her heart is totally fine. Good news, but nothing conclusive yet.
Another bit of good news is that there’s enough daylight for our chickens to lay eggs. Gregg collected 15 over the weekend. He warned me that since we have a rooster out and about with our hens there’s a chance that when I crack an egg, an embryo will pop out. 😦 I’ve been nervous about it ever since.
It really feels like we live on a farm now.
I wonder when I’ll have to change the title of my blog: “This Circle of Quiet.” I assumed that country living/rural life was quiet, and it is compared to living in the city. But, we have 5 pets and a baby on the way. Its already not very quiet at our house, and I suppose its only going to get louder. The animals have been more of a handful lately. Pooping inside, for example. And, integrating our huge white, polar bear dog with our two medium-sized herding dogs has been an event. There’s been lots of growling and snarling. Max got body-slammed by Aspen at one point for getting in her face (I don’t know how else to explain these fights besides making them sound like 13 year old girls in the lunch room. I went to a ghetto middle school, ok?).
But, I’ve been loving them. Even when I’m cleaning up their poop (I never realized how amazing Resolve was!), I’m thankful for them. I’ve been comparing them to kids a lot. Like, “Okay, its time for everyone to go outside, so I can get some stuff done around the house,” and “I need to give ____ some attention because I haven’t in awhile.”
Aspen is starved for love and attention. She’s still a working dog. She’s protecting our sheep and our chickens. But she won’t stay in the fenced-in area where the sheep are. She also won’t leave our property (unless she sees us leave), so I think she’s still doing her job pretty well. She reminds me so much of Max. We got Max from a shelter and Aspen from a rescue group. They both have separation anxiety (or some other psychological diagnosis that our human feelings have projected on them), so they need a lot of love. Even our cats, that were found on the side of the road, are extra affectionate. I don’t think I would love them all so much if they weren’t so loveable. Roo, who was the pick of the litter, knows that she’s loved. She thinks that she’s hot stuff, and she can be sweet and affectionate at times, but she’s also a snob.
As I’m writing, Aspen literally just threw up on the couch that we are cuddling on together. Its like she knew what I was writing thinking about. Okay, apologies to all the weak-stomached out there. I’ll try to limit my bodily fluids talk in the future.
Last week, when E linked up to my post on emyselfandi, I got over 300 hits. This is about 4 times what my traffic typically is. So, for my first confession, that is the main reason why I’m linking up today. That was such an ego boost for my little blog here!
I’m knitting a scarf for me. I feel a little bit guilty about it, because I’m pregnant and so many of my friends are pregnant. I should be knitting baby stuff, right? I knit during my downtime at work. My co-workers will ask me what I’m making, and I say “A scarf for me, BUT as soon as I finish it, I’m going to start knitting for Baby.” This is true, but I’m always very quick to mention what I’m going to knit next to avoid any judgmental eyes (that would probably never come).
I miss Knoxville. So does Gregg. I idealized moving away, now I idealize moving back. We like it here on the Eastern Shore (more and more-its rhyme time, apparently). We love our house and our farm, and I love my job (once I drive the hour to get there). But, we miss home and the people there.
We got a new dog. Her name is Aspen. She is enormous. More than 100 pounds of Great Pyranees? Probably so. This is a confession, because she makes 5 pets for us. But! She’s a working girl. Gregg got her to keep predators away from…
these three (hopefully) pregnant girls…
as well as these mama hens. I think she’s doing a good job because she spends all night barking.
Last confession, I don’t really like turkey that much. Happy Thanksgiving!
We’ve got sheep. Three of them. We don’t actually have them yet, but they have been purchased and wrangled from their former homestead. Currently, they are living with our friends’ sheep. We’re hoping that our sheep will mate with our friends’ ram before the weather gets too cold. Surely they can still mate in the cold, but, for some season, now’s the time for mating.
We also still have some chickens. They aren’t living with us right now either, since they would get eaten. There’s no protection in the openness of the farm. So, for protection, Gregg might actually get a Great Pyrenees. These dogs have been bred to (get this) protect sheep and chickens. As much as I don’t want another dog, I don’t want Gregg’s sheep and chickens to be another wild animals’ prey.
We do have a small autumnal (like that word?) garden with some leafy greens growing in it. Each year, I’m hoping we produce more and more food from our own (rented) land. With a bigger garden next year, we’ll have more to eat in the summer and maybe even be able to can/freeze some goodies for the fall and winter. I’ve been happy (and jealous) to see Instagram photos of friends doing the same thing with the produce from their own gardens. We’ve learning that produce grows quicker than meat is produced. Duh. It’ll be nice to produce something on our land, since we won’t be eating lamb for at least a year from now. Even the chickens won’t really be good egg-layers until next year.
Our friends with the sheep (okay, their names and Robert and Jen) got wind of a free Holstein (super good dairy cow) that a family in the area is looking to get rid of. A cow, for free. Gregg really wants fresh milk (so do I), but he doesn’t want the responsibility of milking it twice a day (I don’t either). Lazy…but understandable for two suburban kids. I’m not sure what the latest is on the cow, Gregg mentioned it to me early this week. I’m not sure if we would keep it at our place or if our friends would keep it at theirs. Don’t know. My non-reliable google search tells that such cows will produce anywhere from 5 to 20(!) gallons per day. We would need to share the wealth.
A friend asked me how Gregg’s farming was going. Slow. I guess that’s why they call the organic/local movement the Slow Food Movement. Like I mentioned, we might have lamb to eat next Fall, if everything goes as planned, which it may not. Farming is the slowest of learning processes, because sometimes you don’t know if you’ve made a mistake until months after the initial bad decision was made. But we’re still learning. Slowly.
I hope its all worth for us. For Gregg to do what he loves (and actually love it, not just the idea of it). I’m definitely guilty of liking the idea more than the reality. For us to eat what we grow and raise. For us to know exactly where our food is coming from and what went into growing it/raising it. I think that will be worth it.
I want to write about this process and talk about it, but we don’t have a lot to really show for ourselves yet. No meat. No eggs. A small amount of produce. We’re getting there though. Gregg’s getting there, I’m trying my hardest to be his cheerleader. Its just the slowest cheer I’ve ever done.
Our dogs love our new house. They love sniffing and rubbing themselves into whatever it is that they are sniffing. They love prancing around (and pooping) in the soy fields that surround our house. (I’m banking on the fact that the soybean farmer doesn’t read my blog, because I don’t think he would appreciate the prancing.)
The dogs have been banished to the kitchen full-time. We have carpet in the living room and bedroom, and they treat the carpet like the grass. Digging up carpet and rubbing fur all over it is not ideal for our rental house.
Look how happy they are, though!
Max is having his 12 week(!) check-up with the vet to see how well he’s healed. I hope it goes well–please, oh, please. I hope we spent our money well with his surgery. We just got to a point where we could not keep him down. We were supposed to give him a much more stringent recovery schedule than we did. You can’t keep a good dog down!
I’ve been loving Anne Lamott lately. She lives just north of San Francisco, so she’s always walking around on the hills of Marin County. That is a lovely, sacred place up there. As Wimbo says, its smells like “sun-drenched eucalyptus.” She is so irreverent (Anne, not Wimbo), talking about her hatred, literally, of the Republican party. But its her honesty that makes her so easy to relate to and such a joy to read. She talks about her love/hate relationship with her body. She writes about trying to do well but failing most of the time. She is self-deprecating in a way that makes you, as the reader, feel normal. Grace is always the theme of her books.
Usually, she’s fairly light-hearted in her story-telling, even as she shares about God and her faith. Every now and then, though, she has this heavy wisdom that smacks you in between the eyes.
Last night, I read the second to last chapter in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. In it, she shares with the reader the advice she usually reserves for graduates when she is asked to give a commencement speech. Its not your typical, Go get ’em tigers, message. Instead of run in the rat race and shoot for your dreams and try your best to succeed, she says get to know yourself. She says that, as a successful writer, she’s reached her dreams, but that hole inside of her has not been suddenly filled up now that she has arrived. So, her advice is rest and pray and enjoy life. Okay, so you have to pay your bills. And, hopefully you can do that by working at a job that you love. But, her point is that getting that dream job is not what’s going to make you happy.
Her message is very applicable to us. Gregg sold his chickens. I was disappointing and sad about it, but he felt relieved. Day after day, he was watching their numbers decline due to the foxes and hawks and whatever else. He says that he was over-eager. He was so ready to get started working with animals, but he didn’t really have a plan. Oops. To his credit, he didn’t really know what the plan needed to be. So, what now? Quit? Go home? Pack up and move back to Knoxville? We’ve thought about it, but no. We’re sticking it out here. He’s got more to learn, A LOT more to learn. And, more and more, I think that learning is the point of all this. Making money is not the point. Hopefully that will come eventually, learning how to make money from farming. But, now, and maybe for awhile. The point is how to plan and care for animals and get something in return (eggs, wool, milk, meat, whatever).
So, we are (probably) moving, but not out of town. We are going to move to a farmhouse on the Eastern Shore. Ugh. Moving again. This makes house #4(!!) for us since we’ve been married. I can’t wait to show some pictures of the house. Its got wallpaper in the hallways which I kind of love, but then the carpet is just ridiculous. It has swirlies on it. And I think there’s hardwood under it! Oh well. The reason we are strongly considering the move has nothing to do with the wallpaper or carpet. Gregg needs to live with his animals. With the chickens, he had a fifteen minute drive every morning and evening, and then he wasn’t there with them during the day to protect them and all of that. About an acre or two of land comes with the farmhouse. On the land is a fence, a barn, a shed, a grain storage bin. All the things a farmless farmer needs to become an actual farmer. And all these things are already in place, ready for Gregg.
Well, there’s raised bed gardening and square foot gardening (I think these are basically the same thing). I’m experimenting with a different kind of gardening. Potted plants on your porch gardening. My gardening partner is busier than expected (two of her kids are getting married this summer), so the garden that was going to go in her backyard is on hold. Our yard is as shady as ever, with the best sun showing up on our porch. Also, I’ve heard horror stories of deer and rabbits eating all the garden’s produce, and I’m hoping that deer won’t come up to our house to nibble our goodies. Mildred, the gardening mentor, has two fences around her garden along with rattling plastic bags to scare off the predators. So, the porch it is. As of now, I’ve got a variety of herbs (sage, cilantro, parsley, chives, lavender) and some flowers. I’m growing basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash from seed. Now, I know that its silly of me to think that squash will do well in a pot. In my defense, at the time of planting my seedlings I thought some of the seedlings might actually go into the ground as opposed to pots. I’m not sure what to do with the squash seedlings now. Yesterday I kept asking Gregg if the pots that I have are big enough and if tomatoes, cukes, and bell peppers will do well in them. Do you ever ask a question just to get an answer you are looking for? Yes, the pots are big enough. Yes, the veggies will do great in them. I think I’ll have to get some bigger pots and then keep my fingers crossed that they’ll grow well in them. When I see the teeny tiny seedlings, I forget that they are going to grow up and up and up, and I forget that there are root systems growing underneath the soil that need plenty of space to do their thing.
I was feeling down about my seedlings, since some of them were getting “leggy,” as Gregg says. But, I’m happy to say that since they’ve been nestled onto the porch and out of the sunroom they have really started to take off. I do have couple of concerns. The wind really picks up on the back of our porch, so I get worried that they’ll get too windblown. Also, I want the porch garden to look pretty, but, as of now, it doesn’t. Its a mishmash of old pots that I found in our shed squeezed onto the sunny corner of our porch. Its not Better Homes and Gardens or Southern Living. Maybe they do look pretty in their own way. I’m not sure what magazine would feature them, maybe something like Work with What You’ve Got.
But, I’m in luck. A gardening guru is coming our way this weekend. My father-in-law Phil spends his evenings and weekends tending to his flock of plants. I’m hoping he’ll be able to give me some pointers.
I was talking to a friend about Gregg’s chickens the other day. I was telling her that its going to be difficult to go out of town this summer (or ever). We’ll have to find someone to babysit the chickens while we’re gone. Babysitting these chickens involves scheduling your day according to the sun. At (or at least near) sunrise, the chickens need to be let out of their coop, fed, and watered. At sundown, the chickens need to be fed and watered again, and they need to be rounded up back into their coop for safe-keeping during the night. (It will also involve collecting eggs in about two to three months. I can’t wait for this part!) This rounding up business is not as easy as it sounds. Gregg finally figured out that if he pours the chicken food directly into their coop, this is the best way to get them where they need to go. Herding chickens. I helped him herd once. It wasn’t pretty. Largely because we didn’t have any food to herd them with. Also, the herding beam more like me chasing, and them running in the opposite direction of where I wanted them to go. Also, Gregg and I both had ideas of how we should be herding, and I thought my idea was better than his and vice versa. You know how those conversations go. Now, when I go with him to take care of the chickens, I just sit back and knit or read. Its better this way, and he’s such a good chicken-herder now, he doesn’t need help.
So, when I told my friend about the chickens, she laughed. Not in a a cruel way at all, just in a oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-believe-you-have-so-many-chickens way. She laughed because the idea of having chickens is funny to people. Its not the norm. The fact that my husband is a chicken farmer has become normal to me. I forget that its out of the ordinary for your life and time to be affected by 200 birds.
Maybe I should put out a want-ad for this chicken-sitter.
Something more like this:
Must love eggs, birds, sunrises, sunsets. Must be able to scare off foxes, dogs, hawks, and other birds of prey. Must be immune to frustration that inevitably comes with chicken herding.
Organic, free-range, grass-fed. We are becoming more familiar with these kinds of words stamped on our food packaging. We spend $1 to $5 more when we buy these types of vegetables, meats, and eggs, but those words make us feel better about our purchases. On the other hand, spending $1 to $5 less per item, makes us feel better at the check out, when our bill is lighter and our pocketbooks are heavier. For a long time these words have been just that to me, words. For the past couple of months, I’ve learned firsthand why the extra cost is attached to those words.
My husband is producing organic eggs from free-range chickens, and this natural/organic/slow food movement is Hard. Work. Its very romantic-sounding, but there’s not much that’s romantic about the process of actually moving food from the farm to the table. What does free-range mean? Right now, for Gregg, it means building chicken coops from salvaged wood and PVC piping and watching as one of the said coops falls over due to strong gusts of wind. It means setting up an electric fence and hoping the fence protects the chickens from foxes and dogs and birds of prey. It means buying or milling feed to supplement the grass that the chickens eat. During the day, the electric fence is turned off and the chicks freely move in and out of the contained area, scattering around a half acre eating more grass. Sometimes, we recently found out, neighborhood kids chase them with nets when they are outside of the fencing.
At selling time, the eggs will not have “organic” stamped on the side of the crate (he’s actually going to use recycled crates from eggs that our neighbors and friends (we do have a few!) have been saving for us), because he hasn’t been certified by the government. But they will be organic. Also, during their lifetime, the chickens all have beaks and walk around outside and eat grass. Its these conditions that will make their eggs cost more, but their eggs will also be worth more because of the nutrient-richness (made that word up) that results from their way of life. The eggs that are not free-range in the grocery store, and even some that are marked as such, come from chickens with beakless, crowded, indoor lives. Have you seen Food, Inc. or Fresh? Or read anything by Micheal Pollan? These movies and books will change your life. At least, if you can budget for the expense.
On the Eastern Shore, there are two chicken plants. I’ve seen tractor trailers drive down the highway stamped with the company names along with a picture of a sunny farm with a porch, a barn and a shining sun. Then I drive several miles up the road and see the plant with no farm or barn or porch in sight. There is however a stench and a cloud of vultures circling the plant. The plants sell chicken for their meat and not for their eggs, but egg-laying chicken plants, according to those documentaries, look similar to these meat-producing plants.
I was in the grocery store yesterday, and I was drawn toward the sack of onions that said “farm fresh.” The sack didn’t tell me where the onions were from or how they were grown or why they were only $1.30 for 3 pounds. But that “farm fresh,” like the pretty picture of the barn on the side of the truck, drew me in. I wish instead of “farm fresh” or “free-range,” there was a picture of the farmer that raised the chickens or onions or eggs. I’d like to see if he’s inside or outside and if the man in charge is wearing a suit or Carharrt overalls.