Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Water Day

It started with our plan of clearing a nice spot by the pond. While we were down there toiling away, the 3 cows showed up and started to entertain us with energetic and acrobatic feats. They were head butting and hopping (yes, hopping) around. They were so energetic that both Jenna and I climbed onto the tractor to make sure we didn't get in the way of their frolicking. That's a lot of energy needed to move those bodies around like that. I was quite impressed. Once they calmed down, Rooney and Matilda mosied into the water to take a drink, a piss (yes, Matilda pee'd while standing in the pond), and a rest.

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

Lady Week, also

In honor of the holiday, I took the day off work. When I learned the office would be shut down the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I decided I’d do them one better and take off on Tuesday. I try to keep things festive around here by really immersing myself in the holiday spirit which generally includes less time in the office.

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.

Some quick research led us to The Roadhouse, a ramshackle restaurant at the edge of the lost pine forest where Texas Monthly awarded it as building one of the 50 best burgers in Texas. Jeremy agreed that their jalapeno cream cheese burger deserved the high accolades and cleaned his plate. We drove through the small town square with its proud old limestone and brick structures built sometime in the 19th century and watched the lights twinkle on the Colorado river as we crossed it on the town’s small iron bridge. It’s not our town – yet. But it was fun to imagine this as just another Tuesday night in the country.
Few things complete a beautiful day at the land better than a hot mug of weak Swiss Miss and an hour around the campfire – both of which I’ve already enjoyed. It’s appropriate so near Thanksgiving – this glorious weather, a day away from the office and traffic, a few minutes alone in the forest finding the first cherry red oak leaf of the season fallen to the ground. Here’s to the holiday, gratitude, and to second cups of Swiss Miss.

Man Week - Part II

Off to an early, wet start. The ground was still pretty soft from the rain on Saturday, so we had to park the RV on the gravel easement (that's right, I have the RV again). As for the early part, yesterday I woke up at about 5:30am and was not able to go back to sleep. So, I went ahead and got up and made a nice breakfast. I was on the tractor by 7:00am watching the sun rise. This isn't something I'd want to do frequently, but it was nice getting started that early. Needless to say, I had gotten a decent amount done by noon. It was around lunch that Dewayne called. Previously, he had asked if I would bring my tractor over and dig out his fire pit with my backhoe. So, I headed over there. That was my first tractor ride on a real road. I'm not going to lie, I felt pretty cool cruising down the road at max speed (about 10mph), flashers on, and wind whipping through my hair (if I had any). The ground is so soft, the digging took no time at all. After that I headed back to the land and continued clearing. Around sunset, I started a little fire around one of the mesquite stumps. Our pyromaniac of a cow quickly showed up and proceeded to stare for an unnervingly long time.

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

Hindsight's 20/, you know the saying

I've been experiencing more frequent realizations or epiphanies about the land and how it will be best utilized. It hits me in waves. I research something that leads me to something else that inevitably causes me to slap my forehead and shake my head feeling, yet again, that the cows and the donkeys were a colossal mistake.

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
  • Blood
  • 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.

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.

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.

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

Don't look up

Tonight actually dropped below 50 degrees, so that meant one thing: fire. As I was walking back towards the house with a handful of logs, I had this sudden sense of foreboding, but it wasn't clear why at first. Then a second later, I looked up and realized I was standing right below 3 of my very healthy chickens. Their demonstrations of health are distributed all over my yard. Anyway, these 3 chickens have always roosted up in the tree limbs, ever since they had enough feathers to fly up to the first limb. Their nightly ritual is a 30 minute routine starting with "flying" onto the fence or the lowest limb and slowly hopping their way up to their "spot". They've slept in that same spot for a little over a year. The heavier girls have to make due with sleeping on top of the coop. And only one lady has realized the nest boxes are quite cozy on cooler nights.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bambi lost her slipper!

Or some other more creative, more appropriate metaphor for "Bambi got a flat." I had just finished my arrival routine (consisting of unlocking, warming up and rolling out Bambi, attaching the front bucket, unloading and refueling the chainsaw, and spraying my ankles with OFF) and was heading to my most recent clearing site. I was backing up to the one of the trees I had previously felled so I could continue the pulling out of these dominated cedars. As I hop off of Bambi, I glance at the front tire and I see a "stick" poking out at an ominous angle. I've gotten in the habit of quickly checking the tires any time I walk by because it's not uncommon to find a wicked mesquite thorn starting to burrow. Normally, these are shallow wounds that don't break all the way through, so I can pull them out to prevent any further burrowing without any damage. Well, this latest "stick" was what looked like a 2 inch nail, but turned out to be a 3 inch nail. Ouch. I reached for it hoping it really was only 2 inches long, but as I grab and wiggle it I hear air rushing out. Crap! The tractor is running, so I quickly lower the bucket so the front tires barely come off the ground, and then shut the tractor off. The last thing I want is to have the tire go flat and come off the wheel with the weight of the tractor. I go ahead and rip out the nail and curse as I see the additional inch of metal slide out. Needless to say, this tire was not going to stay inflated for long. So, I went to get the remaining quart of Slime, my $7 air compressor from Harbor Freight, and my portable power source. 30 minutes and several curse words later, the tire is inflated and holding air. I've used the Slime several times for mesquite thorn punctures, but this was the biggest puncture yet. So far, I've been pretty impressed with the stuff.

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.

More Rain!

It rained...again. I had forgotten what it is like to have rain every few days. The drought is still too fresh for me to complain about these frequent rain events, but I am having to adjust to the wetness. However, it is still novel enough to make me want to stop and watch the rain when it does start.

While the animals don't seem to mind...
Bambi likes her shed.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I really did tame the baby donkey, if there was ever any doubt.

A Girl and her Heifer

This sounds a little like the type of short, coming of age story one might find in a dusty old FFA pamphlet, handed out at an after school meeting in order to promote the character building benefits of becoming a future farmer of America. Which reminds me - I was one of those people in high school that made fun of kids who spent their weekends at ag fairs and their afternoons in the barn, grooming show goats. Truth is, I was jealous of them then and I'm jealous of them now. The value of FFA is highly underrated by psuedo-cool kids in high school - so listen up all you teens - eat right, get exercise, and attend those ag classes. You might kick yourself later for missing out on farming and hoof trimming classes. Really.

Moving on.

I do so love my heifer, Matilda.
I just don't know what to do with her. The land is actually taking some shape and reality has set in that eventually, these animals must serve some purpose in order to earn their keep and help us establish an agricultaral tax exemption. Meaning: this cow has to have a kid sooner or later, otherwise, all of the hay buying, fence mending, and manure scooping will have been for naught - and that would really piss me off. Although, at the end of the day, I just love the stupid cows and their equine counterparts....
whether or not they prove to add some tangible value.

Some exciting developments include the complete and total filling of our pond-lake.
It received our dog's seal of approval.

And do you see those wee sprouts on the ground? A bit greenish and floppy? It's grass, we have grass!! (Jer planted rye seed everywhere last week and it grew. Grass for the animals to eat falls into the "Big Deal" category of accomplishments).

More trees burned...
(curious cow)

animals tamed...
More of the same but never boring. I know there was a time before the cows and donkeys, the acres of dirt and jumping cactus, but I don't remember it. And I don't miss it.