Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dec 2008 (jer)

Dec 2008 (jer)
We haven't been very good about frequently updating our progress, so we'll take a walk down memory lane and recount some recent developments, namely the introduction of our herd. That's right, we're officially ranchers...kind of. Jenna was finishing her fall semester finals on Dec 10, and wasn't starting work full time until the first week in January (I'm so jealous), so we decided it would be ideal to get some animals during this time for her to tame before she goes back to "real life." Of course this meant scrambling to finish fencing, find appropriate animals to purchase, and coordinate with sellers of said animals for delivery/pickup. Thus began our journey to ranch-hood. Follow me.


Luckily most of the outer perimeter was already fenced (if you count 30 year old barbed wire fused into trees as fenced) enough to keep any undetermined animals within our 15 acres. There were a few spots that needed to be touched up, but the main effort involved fencing off the inner perimeter. It's hard to explain, so I won't, but basically we had to lay about 800 feet of fence. This included several corner fence posts and a few gates. To Tractor Supply Company we go (that place is more fun than it should be). After asking a ton of questions and getting some really funny looks in the process, we walked out of there with a ton of equipment and materials (literally, that stuff is incredibly heavy). I had done a significant amount of research beforehand, so I (thought I) had a pretty good idea of what was needed. However, actually seeing all of the material crammed into the back of my dad's tahoe and stacked on my 16 foot flatbed trailer, I was a little (lot) daunted. What was I getting myself into? I recruited the help of my parents and their neighbor's 3 point post hole digger (thanks John), and we got started. The main reason I had not thrown up my hands and given up before I even started was because this was a great excuse to use my tractor in a way I hadn't before (this isn't saying a whole lot since I have a lifetime total of about 25 hours operating a tractor, 99% of which occurred in the previous 3 weekends driving it back and forth to the car to get a drink of water). Regardless, I was very excited to strap on this PHD and see what happened. This excitement lasted about 30 seconds until the auger stopped sinking after about 2 inches. Hmm...this post is supposed to go in the ground about 3 feet? Yea right! After about an hour of "drilling", lifting the auger out, breaking up the hard ground with a rock bar, and repeating, I had gone about 1 foot. Needless to say, at this point, my cubicle sitting body was exhausted. I know, let's try to start another hole for another pole, and maybe...just maybe, the auger will work better this time. Stupid, hopeful Jer. After about half a day, and 2 holes about 1 foot deep each, I gave up and started picking on poor defenseless trees with my chainsaw. That made me feel a little better. On the way home later that evening, I called John (the owner of the auger) to make sure I was using it correctly. I explained what I was doing and he said that was correct, but the ground must be very hard (oh yea, I forgot to mention that we haven't had any rain to speak of for about 10 months, so the ground is pretty dry and hard). However, he did give some tips about pouring water in the hole, using a rock bar for leverage, and rocking the boom back and forth. Long story short, the following weekend I was able to finish the 2 holes and complete 2 more using the techniques John suggested. Granted, I completely wore down a set of teeth on the auger and vowed, never to dig fence posts least not when we're 10 months into a drought. OK, fence posts are set, now let's fence. Putting up the fence actually went pretty smoothly, so smoothly Jenna even commented on the fact that it looked like I knew what I was doing. At least I was able to fool her. It's all about acting confident, right? To be perfectly honest, we did cut some corners and used several living trees as fence posts because I didn't want to drill any more damn holes. Other short cuts include the occasional 30 foot span between "fence posts" (we'll come back later with some least that's what I tell people). Lastly, the gates went up pretty easily as well...except for the two gates at the main entrance that are not level with each other. The ground sloped more than I realized...oops. I'll fix that later. Ok, fencing is done. Bring on the animals.


Jenna had coordinated with an Irish Dexter cattle breeder outside of College Station to deliver the 3 (2 steers and 1 heifer) on Thursday 12/11, and then we were going to go west to Llano on Saturday 12/13 to pick up the guard donkey and her baby. Well, Wednesday night Jenna got an e-mail saying the deliver could not happen on Thursday because of issues they were having on their farm (involving a newly born calf that was abandoned by the mother...very sad). So, delivery was rescheduled for Friday 12/12. Thursday, we got word that delivery wasn't going to happen on Friday either, but maybe she could make it out on Sunday. Being the instant gratification people that we are, we wanted our cattle NOW! So, on Friday morning we frantically called around to rent a livestock trailer. There were surprisingly few livestock trailer rental places in the central Texas area. Of those few we found, only one had a "backup" trailer available. I say backup because that is how the guy explained it to me. This is the old trailer that he keeps around for emergency situations. Hmm, doesn't sound promising, but we're not exactly being rational at this point, so sign me up! We hook up and head out for College Station to pick up our livestock by 1:00 in the afternoon. Another long story short, we showed up to find this beautiful 100+ acre farm/ranch with multiple paddocks, ponds, and barns. It was post card quality. Anyway, we backed up to their chute, opened the trailer doors, and the 3 little guys just ran in. This ranching thing is no problem, I'm thinking. Silly Jer. We easily could have been in and out in about 15 minutes, but of course we had to get a tour of the place and oogle their setup. Then we had to meet our babies' parents and say thank you. Then we had to say hi to their goats and a few other animals. When we got back on the road, it was clear we would be unloading our new "pets" in the dark, not the ideal situation for the first time ever doing this, but oh well. Luckily the trip back to our land and the unloading went without incident. We stood around for a few minutes making sure they found the water and the hay, and then we left to rest up for the second helping of collecting animals that was in store for the next day.


We got an earlier start on Saturday since we already had the trailer. Since the cattle loading and unloading went so easily, we were going to make it back to our land and have a few hours of daylight to acquaint ourselves with our new family members, right? Silly Jenna and Jer. We got to Llano by 11:00, met Julio (the donkey salesman) and then met our donkey. While Julio had a cool looking Victorian house with a southwestern twist, the facilities for loading and unloading were non-existent. Oh well, the cattle were so easy, this shouldn't be that much worse. So, Julio started luring Chula (the momma donkey we were taking home with us) into his little holding pen. Once in, I backed the trailer up to the opening and we began discussing how we were going to get Chula loaded up. Apparently Chula was not halter broken, which apparently was going to complicate things (what's a halter?). Julio tried to get a halter on her for the first time in her life, and needless to say that didn't go very well (by the way, a halter is the equivalent of a dog body harness except it fits around the animals face). So, the next step was to lasso her and restrain her enough to get a halter on her. This worked, and only took about an hour. Now, we need to get her into the trailer. So, we connect a long lead rope to the halter and run the other end through a "U" bolt at the front of the trailer. Julio explained that I will need to pull on the lead rope while he and Jenna coax Chula forward with sticks, tow straps, and whatever else. I'm nodding my head, but this seems like a really futile approach. He seems to know what he's talking about, so let's give it a shot. So I begin a tug-of-war with an animal that weighs twice as much as me and is very determined to NOT get into that strange, dark, metal enclosure. We got her about a foot from the opening of the trailer and then she decided she wasn't going any further. At this point, both Julio and Chula are breathing heavily from exertion, Jenna is on the verge of tears, and my hands are killing me from hanging on to the rope for dear life. This was going nowhere...and slowly. Then it dawned on me...I have a come-along in the car. In a truly MacGyver fashion, I explain to Julio how we could use the come-along. He smiles and through his heavy exhalations, says we should try it. Alright Chula, you stubborn (and incredibly strong) ass, let's see you compete with the ingenuity of us homo sapiens. I hook up the come along and start clicking away. It's working! We slowly get her into the trailer until (wouldn't you know it) I run out of slack with Chula keeping one desperate leg outside of the trailer. 3 of her feet, booties, hooves (whatever) are in, but she's determined to keep that one hoof out, and I'm out of clicks. In order to reset the come-along to gain more working room, I'd have to disconnect everything. Guess what Chula would do with that slack. So pull out my ratchet tie down straps to hold the rope under tension while I reset the come-along. I realized the ridiculousness of the situation, but I couldn't help but think the aforementioned 80's TV star would have been proud of me. OK, the come-along is now reset with plenty of room and I start cranking away again. We get her final leg in and right as I'm about to start celebrating she starts frantically trying to turn around inside the narrow trailer and is twisting her neck in positions that don't look comfortable or natural. Jenna is crying, Julio is calmly screaming orders, and I'm trying to release the come-along so that Chula doesn't kill herself in the trailer (what a way to go). A few minutes later we get the door shut and the come-along loose enough for Chula to move around some. We're just two steps away from being ready to head home: load up the baby and get the halter off Chula. Obviously these need to happen in this order so Chula doesn't bolt when we open the door to load up Boo (she was born on Halloween). Ok, Boo's loaded and now somebody needs to take the halter off of Chula so we can head home. Immediately, there was complete silence as the three of us were looking at each other, desperately hoping someone else would volunteer for this job. I was about to put my thumb to my forehead and yell "not it!" when Julio started to move towards the trailer. Phew! Ok, momma and baby donkey are loaded without any restraint and we're ready to head home. Holy crap, it's 3:00. What took 15 minutes with the cattle took 4 hours with the donkeys! Which meant we'd be doing a nocturnal unloading...again. The unloading went smoothly since Chula was all too happy to be out of the trailer (again Boo seemed completely oblivious to the significant changes forced upon her). I'm physically exhausted. Jenna is emotionally exhausted. It's time to go home. It's official. We're ranchers.

***For you animal lovers out there, please understand that while we did force an animal to do something against their will, their health was not in danger at any time. I won't deny that this ordeal was incredibly traumatic for Chula (Boo could care less), I think Jenna was more traumatized than anyone. In fact halfway through she told me that we should just let her go and tried to convince me we didn't need a guard donkey. At this point, my stubbornness (the ultimate clash of stubbornness: Jer vs. a donkey) was in full force and I was going to take this animal home and it WAS going to like me. (updated 1/1/09) - You'll be happy to hear she is now eating out of our hands and will let the us scratch her neck.)

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