Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I see that Jeremy mentioned the sparkling new chainsaw I was gifted. Let's be honest: it's the adult version of a Fisher-Price "My First Chainsaw." It makes all the right noises, but it's basically a baby chainsaw with training wheels. Since I have no idea what I'm doing and sport fairly inadequate arm muscles, it's perfect! I'm proud to say that I took out two cedar trees (saplings) and cut an entire trunk (stick) for firewood! Because of My First Chainsaw, my land contributions will be many.
And a word on Boo. Oh holy crap - that was quite an experience. I re-read a post prior to the ordeal in which I nonchalantly stated that I would help as much "as the vet will let me." HA! HA! HA! Aaaaaaahhahaha! Boy oh boy was I being pompous. As it turns out, I have a fairly impressive gag reflex when it comes to the following: scalpels, pain, blood, scalpels, blood, but mostly - testicle removal. Sorry people, I'm just telling it like it is. Jeremy did, in fact, watch the entire ordeal the way one might watch a train wreck. It was riveting enough that he was unable to avert his eyes, however he kept one fist in his mouth the entire time, wincing throughout and periodically exclaiming, "HOLY CRAP!" and "EEEWWEeeeeeoooowwwwwW!" So - he provided some additional drama that wasn't very productive. My favorite part was when he thought the procedure was finished and said, "Ok, it's done, you can look now," at which point I tentatively peeked out from behind a tree in time to see the vet begin work on the second (because, Jeremy, there are TWO) testicle. He quickly apologized for his error and pushed me behind the tree again. That's as many details as I'll give, unless you ask for more details, and then I'm happy to provide them. I generally work through trauma best when I can talk about it. Thank you. And for the record - Boo's now a nicer guy in general. He just seems a little more calm, cool, and collected which in turn makes Chula less of a snot. When he annoys her now, she kicks him - and he doesn't kick her back! Progress.
Finally - it deserves an additional note, because it's really exciting: we did meet with a builder who was recommended by a central Texas artist, Lyn Foley, whose own barndominium was recently built by this man. And boy oh boy does he work fast. He blew onto the land like a small tornado; asking questions and setting up appointments with subcontractors for bids and generally getting our firmly-stuck ball - rolling. We have no contracts signed at this point but finally are learning some solid information about what a build entails. In fact, the electric company came out yesterday for a bid on the cost of installing the appropriate number of poles and wires to our home site. After measuring the distance the poles would span from road to house, the man politely scratched his head, chuckled, and suggested we reconsider our home site. As usual, it appears we've chosen something "unconventional" since most people would position their homestead closer to a gate, to a road, to something already hooked up to the 21st century. We, however, have chosen a spot nestled at the edge of the forest and in the far middle spot on the land. Take that convention and technology!! The irony being, of course, that the meeting with the electric company was set-up entirely with the use of my new iPhone. So we're not exactly going off the grid when we get out there, so what. Besides, I've gotten lost in the woods enough times to appreciate the value of a good GPS system on my phone.
In the end - I doubt we move the house location to accomodate the electric company, or the water company, or anyone else since the bulk of the burden and cost falls on us. And we generally like to take the more complicated route for some reason. Regardless, it was a happy holiday and hopefully the beginning of more than just a new year. A new....home? Happy holidays!
And the "fancy" cup holder with the monogrammed water bottle.
Actually that was a $3 aluminum cup and a $1 magnet dropped in the bottom to hold it to the tractor. I was getting tired of holding my beer between my legs when going for tractor rides. As for the fancy pants water bottle, while a poor substitute for a Lone Star, it fits quite nicely in my cup holder.
What I don't have a picture of is my 500,000 BTU propane torch. I requested a slightly smaller version for burning the thorns off of cactus for the cows to eat, but my overzealous father bought the biggest one he could find. It is awesome! I hooked up my BBQ grill propane tank and proceeded to melt a large stand of cactus. I'll admit, the first time I fired it up and it sounded like I was holding onto a jet engine, I got a little rattled. Once I got over the sound (and the 2 foot flame coming out of the tip) I started to see the potential. Needless to say, I don't have any pics because I had one hand on the torch and one hand on the water hose. I'll fire it up when Jenna's around to document the awesomeness one of these days.
On the house front, we met up with a potential contractor on Sunday. We spent about 3 hours discussing our plans. Rudy (the contractor) met us at the land and we gave him the "grand tour". At which point we jumped into what we want, don't want, etc. After about 1.5 hrs, we moved our discussion to Cafe 290 for some coffee and queso. We both really liked him and how engaged he seemed to be. This impression was strengthened when he called Jenna on Monday 3 different times to discuss various topics regarding the house. He definitely got the ball rolling, so we're meeting with his "dirt guy" on Wednesday to look at the house placement and get an estimate of what the site prep will cost. It's refreshing to work with someone who seems interested and engaged instead of being brushed aside. Overall, it's been a pretty productive week, house-wise.
In summary, it's been a good couple of weeks. Now we have the new year coming up and all that entails...hanging out with old friends, and looking forward to new promises and adventures. Bring it on 2010!
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Friday night, Jenna doesn't sleep because of the anxiety of her baby Boo going under the knife. I simply try to not to think about the life altering event that will transpire. Saturday morning we wake up bright and early to head to the land to sequester and pay our respects to the unsuspecting patient. When we arrive, Jenna lures big bad Boo (soon to be referred to as little sissy Boo) into the round pen until Dr. Crow arrives. Since that took a whole 5 minutes to accomplish, we had 2 hours to kill until the "appointment." So, Jenna brushed our boy to keep him (and herself) calm. The team showed up and grabbed their gear to begin. Jenna and I are nervously laughing and chatting with these strangers, and then they get down to business. Dr. Crow explains that she will give Boo a sedative that will make him woozy. Then she will give him another drug that won't quite knock him out, but will make him want to lay down, at which point she begins cutting. During the administration of the first drug, I have to look away because I don't do needles. According to Dr. Crow donkeys have this ability to "hide" their veins in their neck muscles as a protective mechanism against predators like coyotes. It's a little known fact that I thought was interesting. One bent syringe later, and Boo was wobbling around like Joe after a tubing trip down the Comal river. At this point, she injected the 2nd drug (again, I had to look away). This is when things got really entertaining. I wanted to take pics and/or video but each time I reached for the camera, Jenna shot me a look that suggested I take this seriously, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Anyway, Boo is definitely feeling no pain now. There is no way in hell he would have pass a field sobriety test as he was trying to walk but was weaving this way and that. Now Dr. Crow and hubby start to try to push him over together so she can begin her work. It turns out Boo is a fighter and was not going down. It was pretty fun to watch. Boo positioned his 4 legs in about the most perfect angles to provide maximum stability even while he wasn't able to control his drooping head. Dr. Crow even commented on how he was putting up such a fight. She gave him another small dosage, but he still refused to be pushed over. To demonstrate how little control of his extremities he actually had, she stuck her finger in his mouth and flopped his tongue out of the side of his mouth and it just stayed there. She commented that if he doesn't retract his tongue, then he is really out of it. I'll never forget this image of a stubborn (they have this reputation for a reason) Boo stabilized against two adults trying to push him over (Jenna and I are just watching...and I'm trying my best not to laugh) while his head is lolling around and his tongue is sticking out of his mouth. Finally, they get him on his side and he isn't moving at all. This is when I begin editing the events, but let's just say there was some cutting, some pulling, and some blood. 20 minutes later, Dr. Crow is cleaning up and trying to coax a very hung over Boo back onto his feet. We paid Dr. Crow and then spent the next couple of hours watching Boo get more and more steady on his feet. We left him in the round pen that night with his mom, Chula. This morning when we went back out, he seemed as good as one could hope keeping in mind what he just went through. He was walking around, but not as energetic as before. I'm guessing the excruciating pain he was feeling in his crotchal region might have something to do with that, but I'm just speculating. Jenna will continue to check on him every day this week after work, but it looks like things went pretty smoothly. So, we finally took care of one big item on our list of things to do. 1 down, 673 more to go.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Never, ever, never do what I am doing in the photo above unless you have more experience with these creatures. Luckily Jeremy stayed at a safe distance to get a photo in the event that Chula were to punch me in the face with her hoof.
After the harrowing experience of loading the donkeys and bringing them home, I once again demonstrated my amateur status as a livestock handler. See for yourself:
This was exactly one year and one day ago. It's taken that long, but I've made some progress. I've figured a few (just a few) things out about this large animal business. I have almost totally given up on Chula being a pet. Being a donkey is enough. Boo, however, is a completely different story.
This is how Boo started out. Obnoxiously cute.
But then he grew and, as you know, turned into a minor jerk.incessant curiosity (read: pushiness)...
we decided enough is enough. The vet has been contacted, the date and time are set, and on Saturday Boo goes from a Jack to a John, or something like that.
I hope he'll forgive me. The vet will knock him out completely at the land, partially to lessen the trauma but also obviously to make the whole process easier for all parties (Few livestock enjoy the luxury of a general anesthetic for castration. Eeesh.)
And so, on the eve of my birthday, I reflect on whether this past year, these encounters with the animals, and aging in general, has made me a better person....
I don't really think so. But it has taught me a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff.
Thanks to you, Boo, I know more about donkeys. I know more about cows now, too. And coyote "scat," as it's called. And the habits of scorpions. The varieties of fireflies. The unbelievable value of a good bale of hay. The overlooked importance of neighbors. Not that it's exactly on the scale of restoring world peace or resolving social stratification, but I've learned a lot. (Jeremy has too but I'm paying tribute to myself here. And to the baby donkey.)
We've come a long way this year and Saturday will be another adventure. I intend to be as involved as the vet will let me. I expect there will be tears (from Jeremy. He can't stand needles), and disgust, and awe. I didn't realize what we were getting into when we pulled the little trailer onto the land and released the animals one year ago. I still don't. Here's to growing older, realizing what you signed up for, and doing it anyways.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
This means that I'm back to considering some pretty ludicrous options for permanent living arrangements. The imagination is capable of twisting just about anything into an attractive opportunity. I explain these "opportunities" to friends and colleagues who generally smile politely, or cock their heads sideways and squint their eyes - really trying to imagine what I could possibly be thinking. (EX: Telling someone you want to cut a huge old house into four pieces, haul it across the county and patch it back together - but then also conduct an extensive re-model to said house doesn't sound too cost-effective - because it's not). Thank you all for patiently listening, by the way. Just bear with me a little longer.
It's not so simple, you know? This isn't just a question of building or buying a residence on a lot in a neighborhood. The purchase of this land demands that some expansive life questions be answered more prematurely than expected. Do we want to take on a traditional mortgage since it's not just a house we need to pay for - but the land - not to mention the development of many goals we've set in place for the land. Not to mention a kid or two, you never know. And when is the right time to make the move? The wrong time? NOT TO MENTION: there are approximately 150 options - none of which we've completely ruled out.
(Jenna beats head against wall)
We never really discussed all this stuff before getting into the whole rural property business. We were too enamored with the view to consider such things.
And its promixity to the city.
The ridiculous farm creatures.
And the quiet, the space.
In the end, we got the most important decision right. We got the land. This isn't a pressing situation by any means but probably one that's worth some creative thinking. Turns out I'm pretty good at that, and Jeremy's gotten pretty good at being one of my politely smiling audience members.
Ever sit around and wonder where you'll be, this time next year? That's me but maybe 10 times. Each day. I'll probably still be sitting here at my computer browsing Craigslist for a mean deal on a dilapidated farmhouse. No house but still the land. That could be enough.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Seamus appears to be afraid of the water after his historic belly flop when the pond first filled up (I still can't believe he did that). He went close enough to drink out of it, but never placed a single hoof in the water. I had the camera ready in case he felt the need to repeat his imitation of the amazing diving cow. Around noon, we had made good progress, so we made some sandwiches and headed to the park on the Colorado river that is very close to the land for a picnic.
All was calm and tranquil until a coyote sprinted across in front of us. This thing was literally about 20 feet in front of us. A couple of questions sprang to mind as I froze watching this wild animal run across my field of vision. 1) Why was this nocturnal animal running around during the day? 2) What the hell was chasing this thing that caused it to run around during the day? I found myself glancing up the trail waiting to see something monstrous that scared this animal enough to run about during the day and in front of some humans. Nothing else came charging out of the brush, so the picnic ended without much drama.
Later, Jenna headed back to her parent's house to begin preparing for the Thanksgiving feast tomorrow. While prep'ing for my nighttime campfire, I looked up at the neighboring hill to see a colorful sunset. This is about as much of a "color changing fall" as we see here in Texas. While not as dramatic as our northeaster neighbors, it still is quite pretty.
I rounded out the day by visiting where I had started. There's something inexplicably calming about drinking a beer around a small body of water. I hung out there until it got too cold to handle. At which point, I went and lit my pre-built campfire and watched the moon and stars surface. It was a great end to a wonderful day.
Happy Turkey Day!
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I also justified this day of hooky by joining Jer at the land in order to help begin the next phase of our land plan. Yes we do have a plan; however, the number of phases in our Great Land Plan are as yet undetermined and would probably be pretty depressing if counted. For now, let’s just call this phase 3 because that sounds promising and not at all overwhelming.
Phase 3 requires us to create a pasture for the animals that is large enough for them to comfortably roam when building commences. Understandably, confinement to a singular pasture will probably piss them off since these 15 acres have been their territory for almost a year (A YEAR!?!? Holy cow). In order to ease their shock we hope to choose a spot of land that is at once easily fenced and provides enough room or ample grazing, cool shade, and the opportunity to remain incognito when needed. See, as it turns out, our animals like to disappear as often as possible, remain hidden, and basically left alone. Of course this doesn’t apply when it’s obvious that we’ll feed them treats other than hay, but generally, they don’t come running to greet us (Except for the donkeys, but they don’t count since they’re greedy jerks).
We’ve known since the beginning that the cows aren’t excited to see us yet for some reason I keep hoping that, at the sound of my car horn, they’ll one day burst from the forest and trot to the gate, tails wagging. This is the welcome I’ve grown to expect from my dogs, and I see no reason to lower my expectations for the cows. But then, they’re cows; not too bright and not too impressed with people. Hmph. Today we wandered the property enjoying the sunny weather, admiring the green grass growing everywhere, the cool breeze, the frogs jumping around the pond – but mostly we searched for the cows. It wasn’t until we crept into the dense forest we've avoided during snake season when Jer shouted, “I see legs!” that the cows hiding spot was discovered. Our presence was met with shock and some annoyance.
It was clear they’d spent some time staking out the joint and claiming it as their own, judging by the abundant, aging cow patties piled throughout the small clearing.
I felt a little bad actually – like the parent who finds her kid’s camouflaged fort in the backyard and then asks, in an effort to bond with the kid, if she can play there too. The fort stops being cool. Weak analogy, but you get my point. I’ve watched the animals trail out of the woods for months but never ventured to find the place they were leaving. Now the secret spot’s been busted and I imagine tomorrow they’ll seek out a new hiding place where their over-attentive owner can’t reach them.
We ended our lazy day with a trip into a nearby town that I’m determined to adopt once we move to the land. Our location puts us smack dab between Austin and Bastrop, and I tend toward the quirky quaintness of that town. A venture into either place takes us down a winding two lane highway that slices through hay fields now punctuated with freshly cut bales (Hay grows again in central Texas!!). It’s a lovely sight in both directions but proves more pastoral when headed to Bastrop where horse and cattle ranches sprawl through oak groves. We caught the last watery rays of sunlight this evening and the pastures were cast in a rosy hue so that every last corn husk seemed pink-tipped, the brown cows appeared fiery red, and the wheat fields swayed salmon instead of tan. Beautiful.
I think I even saw him start to drool. Not sure what that meant. After letting that burn down, I went in for dinner and hit the sack pretty early. Today I got a later start. A cold front came in last night and brought some rain, so it's pretty sloppy right now but the sun is coming out. Jenna should be heading out later today, and will be staying tonight. This is going to be a good week.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Case in point: the donkeys are useless. My amateur research one year ago led me to believe that every farm absolutely must house a guard donkey. Regardless of the the size of livestock, the donkey is necessary. At that time, I failed to realize I only pursued this argument in order to, you know, own some donkeys. What I really wanted was a horse and this clearly was as close as I could get to the real thing. The reality, however, is that although miniature, our livestock are still cows. Cows with horns. Cows that have already demonstrated their ability to locate, intimidate, and chase coyote (while the donkeys blatently ignored the predator). Adding insult to injury, our sweet baby "girl" donkey was actually a boy. He'll be gelded in a few weeks which involves the following:
- A lot of money
- Tears (mine)
- A lot of money
I love the donkeys. I do. But the expenses that accompany land, tractor, and animals accrue rather quickly and one is forced to take stock of the value of what one supports. Basically - the donkeys aren't worth a flip and a part of me regrets that we bought them. Moving on.
Why did we buy cows? We hope to establish an agricultural exemption for the land - a feat which takes at least 5 years to accomplish meaning that we can't even apply for the exemption with less than 5 years demonstration of some sort of agricultural pursuit. Living in the suburbs limits our options greatly. Our 15 acres requires either a minimum of 3 cows or 24 goat/sheep to even be considered for this exemption. Considering that goats/sheep, if left unattended, are coyote snacks, the decision was easy. Finding miniature cows made the decision lots easier (you know, because they were so damn cute). And the donkeys got thrown into the mix I believe because my land research happened during grad school finals and everything got jumbled together in the confusion. The donkeys are meant to guard goats, really, not cows. But it's not my fault. I was writing school papers and memos while also measuring fencing and learning to trim hooves. At that point I probably believed that goat milk weight is measured by the Laffer curve and that Dexter cattle were brought to America in order to resolve domestic policy disputes. It was a mixed up time.
The result is that we have two steers (castrated and useless for breeding), two donkeys (belligerent and useless in general) and then we have Matilda who represents our only true hope of establishing that exemption. The steers might serve a purpose if sold for meat, however, they have names and are my pets. Meat is therefore absolutely out of the question. Matilda can be bred eventually but that makes little sense until we live on the land (birthing complications, watching a baby calf, etc etc). I have no comment about the donkeys, for obvious reasons.
I loved Ashes and Dusty (Jesse and I each named one. Obviously, we make an impressive creative team). They were docile but full of personality and intelligence. They were a manageable size, even for an 8 year old. And most importantly - they produce a fairly hot commodity if handled with care, patience, and knowledge. Yes, that's right. I'm talking about goat cheese. I am a woman obsessed. Jeremy and I are now members of a variety of regular and dairy goat associations (this means only that we receive newsletters asking us to vote in the upcoming association officer elections - and all positions are uncontested, but it makes me feel closer to the goal by being a voting member. Makes sense, right? Don't judge). I just finished Brad Kessler's Goat Song which caused me to run out and buy a log of chevre and look for jobs in Vermont (read it!). I then read another goat book, and I have 4 more on reserve at the library. I'm signed up for an intensive cheesemaking course at a local goat farm in the spring. And if you have a goat, I want to talk to you.
And this leads me to the point I easily could have made in sentence #1. I want goats. I've always wanted goats, and I've always known it. Growing up, we had two lovely Nubians (the large goats with Roman noses and long floppy ears) in the backyard. They were given to my sister for her 12th birthday. That's right - my sister who never cared much for animals and wrinkled her nose at the birthday goats (Whereas I figured the highlight of my life was happening at that moment. I mean I had goats in my backyard!!) - since what she really wanted were high tops and a skateboard. Turns out my mother had dreams of making her own goat cheese but felt that the purchase of goats could only be justified by gifting them to her daughter. It didn't go over too great, and I'm pretty sure Jesse got a "do-over" 12th birthday.
Sure, sure - we can still do cheese with Matilda and add a few heifers to the mix down the road. But cows are still cows. They're too powerful for easy handling. And frankly, they're not goats. I'll have to scratch my head over this problem of turning these five livestock into something profitable that makes sense, but I have a feeling they'll end up as the minority in a pasture crowded with goats. Angora goats, Nubian goats, La Manchas, Nigerian Pygmies - the list goes on. But the goats must wait, and in the meantime, the cows and donkeys, the belligerent biting, the obnoxious handlicking...
the animals we have - will do.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The rest of the day went without any more drama, and I was able to get some more of our "pasture" cleared out. Jenna stopped for a little while and brought the dogs for a swim. They had a good time, as expected. It never ceases to amaze me how fearless and carefree they can be. When I see the pond, I see a potential water snake haven and a bacteria breeding ground. Winston, on the other hand, immediately jumps in, swims to the deepest part among the floating branches, and starts biting the floating sticks. I envy the lack of concern and worry.
Lastly, Dewayne made an impromptu visit. It had been a while since we'd chatted, so it was good to see him. He hadn't come by in a while, so his comment of "wow, you guys have made a lot of progress" was gratifying. Even if he was just being polite, I appreciate that kind of support. Since we make such small changes each time we go out, the progress feels amazingly slow. But after he left, I did stop and take stock. We have done some damage, so that felt good. Thanks Dewayne.
While the animals don't seem to mind...
Bambi likes her shed.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
More trees burned...
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Happy birthday to - aaaaaaaaaargh (expletive, expletive, expletive)*^&%$!!!!!!
Well wishes were cut short when my thumb got in the way of the delicious birthday apple. Regardless, here's to you Boo.