Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Scenes from a Salvaged House

 It's been awhile since we tooted our own horn about finishing(ish) the house we designed, struggled to build (please see every post from years 2008-2011), and have only slightly regretted due to nasty nasty building issues (please see every post from Sept 2011 - January 2012).  Or then again, just don't see any old posts that document the stress and strife that led us to where we are today which is, well, home.  Who needs all that drama?  And home it is indeed despite the cracking porches, unfinished electrical, hodge-podge paint jobs, and questionable overhangs.  The industrial/rustic style we achieved was pure accident but pretty easy to accomplish since each aspect of the finish-out came from deconstructed homes and Habitat for Humanity.  Not for everyone, but she suits us fine.


Oops.  How'd that farm picture sneak in there?


Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The coyotes have officially begun what must be a seasonal ritual.  Their pups are growing up now and learning to hunt.  There are litters to feed and litters that have to learn how to feed themselves.  This means that chickens and other animals not under lock and key are fair game and, frankly, free lunch for any coyote brave enough to swoop in for a meal in the bright daylight.

Yesterday one of my hens was taken not 200 yards from where I stood.  She was there, then she just – wasn’t - and the squawk she made in the moment of her snatching was horrible.  I knew what happened before even processing the event.  In the place where she’d been, I actually found Lord Grantham’s feathers, but just a few, proof enough that a coyote had taken him, too.  Finding just a few feathers and no body is a good sign that a coyote was the culprit versus a coon or possum which will generally just take the head (!).  Our neighbor confirmed that, last week, a few days since the last LG sighting, he’d caught a coyote in the middle of the day with his hen its mouth.  It dropped the hen and ran when he chased it.  But LG and my hen?  Not so lucky.

Last night we stood in the kitchen next to windows that open into the forest.  Coyote pups started yipping so loud and close it sounded as if they were in the nearby creek bed although the hills are deceiving with their echoes.  I’m sure they were further away.  Regardless, I got little sleep last night and assume there won’t be much tonight either after hearing the chorus of yips and howls from the property next door.  Thankfully, I’m hearing a lot of gunshots, too.  At least someone’s on patrol.  This weekend I plan on some target practice.  Jer won’t be here all the time, and I need to feel confident with the gun if I’m going to protect this place and these animals.  Maybe it’s just the spring or the fact that they’ve grabbed some easy meals from this property already, but the neighborhood coyote have gotten too balls-y to be left alone.  If my dogs can’t keep them away, yet, then the gun will have to. 

The New Demographic: Rural Chic

 For the past several months, I’ve had the luxury of almost completely uninterrupted work from home (except for the 2 days of the week I’m required to be in an office.  *Eye roll*).  This means that, aside from the occasional deadline, my days usually consist of an early-ish wake up for farm chores such as feeding goats, dogs, chickens, and watering gardens, then a long breakfast.  (Stop feeling sorry for me already, would you?! ) Due to the lack of actual human interaction, save for the occasional, virtual meeting, I’m generally shod in your standard farm attire which consists of yoga pants with holes the size of quarters scattered across inappropriate areas, well-stained t-shirts and crocs – the essentials.

Today was an obnoxious reminder that there’s still a whole, conventional world toiling away past the edge of my dusty driveway.  This morning, instead of donning my beloved holey pants, stained shirt, and plastic shoes – I had to reach for a pair of heels and suit.  My hand shook as I pulled the heels from their perch in my closet.  I was barely able to button my jacket.  More than ever before, pulling on this type of uniform feels artificial; I’m an imposter.  I hung my shoulders and drove downtown for a conference at which compelling data were presented, then picked apart, then overanalyzed, then debated by a group of assorted PhDs.  The room buzzed with lobbyists and politicians and folks passionately concerned about these issues.  But me?  I flipped through photos of the farm on my iPhone, checked the watch, tapped my heeled foot against the crisp linen hanging from the table.  The best part of the day was, hands down, the free lunch.  These kinds of events always mean you’re going to bump into old colleagues or classmates – the perfect networking opportunity!! (*Another eye roll*).  In the recent past, I’ve donned the enthusiastic grin and slugged through enough witty banter to earn some sort of award.  But today?  My heart wasn’t in it.  Someone I’ve worked with in the past and have known professionally for years asked “What’re you up to now?” of course referring to my job.  So I blurted out what feels most natural which was, “I’m farming.”  She giggled, playfully punched my shoulder and said, “You’re so funny!  No. Really.  What?”  


What’s a girl to do in such a situation?  So I did what any other red-blooded, baby-goat owning, bored to tears human would: cut out early, threw off the heels, and headed east.  I accidentally stained my light suit with dirt while opening the gate coming home.  Stepped in a fresh cow patty on the way back into the car.  Grinned silly about the chicken poo I inadvertently smeared on the jacket after tossing out feed on my way towards the house.  

Saturday afternoon, Jer drove the tractor to the front gate approximately four times throughout the day to see if an important delivery had arrived; the new espresso machine to replace the old one on the fritz.  Tonight I helped him deposit the mineral block at the water tank by driving the tractor to the front pasture – one hand on the wheel, the other grasped firmly around my glass of cabernet.  We make a fine pair the two of us; espresso and wine drinking farmers, caught somewhere between convention and old-fashioned grit.  There’s probably some middle ground here, but I haven’t found it.  It’s a strange pull to be between things in this way, but there are bills to pay and mouths to feed.  After sending my mom a picture, she coined the term that –for now- accurately defines us. 
“Oh la la!” She said, “Overall wearing, espresso drinking farmer!  Very rural chic.”  As usual Mom, I guess you’re right. 


Friday, April 20, 2012

A Case for the Country

Over the past few years I've often found myself explaining - nay - justifying our decision to pack things up and move to the country.  People's eyes go all wide and dreamy, their shock and wonder take over as they ask, But why?  But how?  For what?  In the beginning, I had all sorts of fancy explanations up my sleeve, always ready with a less than genuine response.  I don't remember what I said but it was probably something about wanting space, a desire to homestead, the need for "peace and quiet" (Fellow country dwellers, let us all pause and laugh for a moment at the idea of peace and quiet).

In the early days we felt like pioneers on those drives from Austin to the land, the car loaded down with coolers and snacks, the dogs' slobbering faces hanging out of windows with the joy of knowing exactly where they were headed.  It was exotic and made me feel salt-of-the-earth-y.  Now I realize it's not exotic so much as basic.  It's the way people started out living.

So far, country living has been mostly about choices.  I chose to take on the task of bottle feeding baby goats before we fully moved out of one house or completed another.  I decided it was the best time to raise 24 baby chickens alongside my adult laying flock.  I decided this summer there would be tomatoes, and basil, and fruit despite the additional work that would inevitably require.  In the time since we've moved here, we've both lost weight, slept better, stopped watching television (we have none), talk longer, and work harder.  A farm is a living, breathing part of your life, if you choose it.  It needs food, water, health care, patience, and understanding.  In the quiet of the morning, there's a sense of this place as a being - it's not individual pieces of a property - it's a whole creature waking.

Now, when people ask Why? I don't feel the need to justify.  I just blink back at them and wonder Why are you in the city?  What is that life?  I don't have any fancy answers up my sleeve.  And it's impossible to articulate the life you have chosen.  What I know for sure is that, aside from the baby animals, there's nothing cute, quaint, or precious about this.  It's work so hard sometimes places inside of you want to curl into a ball and sleep for a day.  It's constant worry and doubt and concern.  But with all of this comes days so full and expanded that I wonder what there was before this, and I sure as hell would never go back.  I know this life isn't suited to everyone.  Country-living means care-taking and stewardship and the type of hand gripping, sweat-inducing, muscle-pulling manual labor that reminds you - bodies are machines meant to move.  Give me that pain and worry any day over a life indoors.  I'll choose it every time.

RIP - Lord Grantham

Grantham has been missing since Monday morning which, out here, can mean only two things: death or thievery.  Considering that Grantham was a rare, blue giant of a bird, it wouldn't surprise me to learn he may have been snatched.  (Neighbors claim they've lost many of their birds to a chicken thief, hard to believe but...?) It's much more likely he suffered the same fate as many others before him - dragged away by a rogue coyote or coon.  I can't verify any of this, mostly because I'm certain he was taken while spending time with his second family.  I haven't gone snooping around (yet) for forensic evidence and probably won't since, in the end, he was a rooster.  It's easy come, easy go in these parts, but I'd be climbing fences and knocking down doors if this were one of my beloved goats or donkeys.  But still.  Lord Grantham was a leader among roosters.  I'll miss seeing his blue feathers parading through the woods - miss hearing his creaky voice harassing the hens.  RIP, sir.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Staking Claims

Ever noticed how permanent a garden feels?  There's some promises made to yourself and to the dirt and to the little seeds or sproutlings that you're tending.  You'll keep coming back to this spot and add water and pick away the weeds.  You'll do that over and over again until something edible grows in the place where you stuck a seed down in the dirt with your finger or where you stuck a root ball down in the ground.  Either way, gardening feels territorial.  This is your dirt and your spot.

To say that I garden or categorize myself as a gardener is an exaggeration.  I don't do much beyond the general digging and planting.  Remembering to water on a regular basis is a real breakthrough, when I manage it, and weed pulling?  I do that in earnest for approximately one week after everything is planted.  Once the weeds start to flourish, one of two things happen.  I either water less to stop the weeds or stop pulling the weeds and let Darwinism take over.  The plants and the weeds have to battle it out.  May the best man win.

Although my gardens are never beautiful and rarely bountiful, I plant them in a manner similar to dogs peeing on stuff.  For me, gardening is mostly about staking a claim with the benefit of some produce (only if it rains).  That little spot of dirt there?  Mine.

So it's a real statement to say that I have managed to water and fertilize the herb and veggie garden along with the newly acquired fruit trees.  This time, it seems, I'm serious.  It's more about production than territory, and I'm anxious to see if this level of care will yield some real results.  Saturday we're mulching the garden with hay from the goat pen which means I've demonstrated forethought and consideration where the garden is concerned.  This is the real deal, folks.

What's changed this time, aside from the view?  There's a special satisfaction in staking a claim in the precise spot you imagined breaking ground for three years.  And the glass of wine that accompanies me into the garden at dusk helps, too.

Friday, April 13, 2012

When One's Not Enough

As if it's not heartwarming enough to find one large snake coiled amongst the rafters of the newly established hen house, then imagine my delight and joy to find a second snake snugly placed in an old bird's nest just beneath the large snake!  Lucky, lucky farm girl that I am, this joy was soon surpassed when I later found that the smaller, bird-nesting snake had slithered down the wall and into one of the nest boxes where it began to devour the eggs that my hens laid - obviously just for him.

Unfortunately, the senior snake was immobilized by the golf ball it had swallowed earlier in the week, something we always place into at least one nest box as a decoy egg.  It helps remind the girls that eggs go in the baskets - a trick that works and proves that, no, chickens aren't too bright.  Unfortunately snakes, or this one in particular, aren't too bright either as it ate four eggs plus one golf ball over the course of an afternoon.  Since that time it's been unable to move from its spot, bulging awkwardly from the indigestible golf ball.

Regardless of the pure elation the sight of two large snakes elicits, we decided we can't happily co-exist (we, the snakes, and the hens) since I'm pretty sure the eggs are supposed to be for us - not the neighborhood wildlife.  Jeremy dispatched them quickly, but I still feel a twinge of guilt since they belong to the family of "good" snakes that eat bad stuff too (along with our eggs).  Below is photo evidence of the golf ball debacle which surely would have caused a long and painful death, anyway.  Go ahead and stop scrolling if the sight of snakes (especially those that have perished) causes a gag reflex, shivers, or other unsavory reactions.

Endearingly titled: "Caught in the Act - you egg-eating a$$hole."


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pink Moon

Friday night the moon was gauzy and pink.  Although I didn't play it, listening to Nick Drake's song would have been completely justifiable.  In the city, I would have missed this.  Or I would have seen it with less awe.  God bless the Texas sky (and, of course, Texas). 

In the Rafters

Since the beginning, we debated the relative value of the crooked purple shed that came along with the property and was described in the real estate listing as "structure."  Depends on how you define the word, I think.  I referred to its "relative" value because, out here, everything already built and passably usable has much, much more value than it would in, say, your backyard in the suburbs.  In those places aesthetics matter.  Out here?  Not so much.

That being said, as we began acquiring livestock three years ago, it was obvious we needed a place to store assorted livestock accroutements, feeds, medical supplies.  The debatable purple shed suddenly shone as a beacon of usable storage and, while always frightening to walk within, stopped seeming quite so scary.  Above all else, the shed passed the "if it ain't broke" test with flying colors.  So it stayed. 

The shed is functionally designed with a tack room on the right side and a long narrow stall on the left   In the middle of this is a covered enclosure with troughs (old urinals - truth) that opens out to the round pen.  Opposite the round pen is a wide overhang that runs the length of the shed.  If the thing didn't leak and sway so hard in a strong wind, I'd call it a fairly nice excuse for a barn.  As is, she's questionable.  Regardless, we were in dire need of a larger coop and, lacking resources and time, decided to add a few nestboxes and a door to the long narrow stall and, voila - coop!  This being the first evening spent in the new coop, we had to physically pluck our hens from the marching line they'd formed towards their old coop (now occupied by 23 teenage chicks) and deposit them into the coop this evening.  As I started the delighful task of tucking angry hens (and one over-confident rooster) under my arms, Jeremy called out in an ominous way, "Jeennnaaa???  Um.  There's a uh, a really big, wow, here, just come here and see this," - all said in a wavering voice.  This being dusk in mid-spring, in the country - I braced myself.  I walked around to the front of the new coop, and Jeremy pointed up into the rafters above the nestboxes.  "See the big snake up there?  It was slithering up the 2x4's just now, and it's looking at us."  Self-bracing complete, I managed to let out a long breath, determine it wasn't a rattlesnake and set about the endearing task of shoving the hens/rooster into the side door of the coop, just three feet from the snake, now stretched languidly in the upper corner, his head protruding from beneath the eave.  Staring at me.  Literally staring at my every move.  His tongue flicking in and out to sense exactly where I was. 

It's not often one has the pleasure of a snake stare-down while concentrating on other tasks.  Not often one has to add to their list of possible disgusting and shocking daily encounters: snake falling from rafters.  But then, I signed up for this.  And it's worth it!  Or that is what I will repeat to myself for the duration of this evening whilst sucking thumb and rocking back and forth.

My Polygamist Rooster

I haven't talked much about the rooster we welcomed to the farm just one week after bringing the city girls over.  That probably has more to do with goat-planning and subsequent goat-euphoria than lack of interest in the rooster.  Because I really do love my roo.  He's big and blue and and hop/walks around behind the hens in a lopsided way that comes off more as gangly desperation than the regal guardian I was going for.   He's named Lord Grantham after everyone's favorite BBC show (or, just mine?) - Downton Abbey, not just because he's a British breed (orpington) but because Lord Grantham has the same last name as Jeremy.  That's pretty cute, right?

Things were going relatively well with our boy LG until about one week ago when he first discovered both his voice and his, er, special purpose here on earth which is, apparently, to make many, many, many other chickens.  At first his crowing was charming, pastoral, and exactly what I wanted to hear wafting through the windows at sunrise.  But quickly it became clear his crowing had nothing to do with the sun.  LG crows while he's walking, getting a drink of water, pecking at grass, and crossing the driveway.  He crows while running, while standing still, and most notably, LG crows when he's stuck behind the neighbor's fence.  He gets stuck behind the fence because, while he's found a way through, he is apparently incapable of remembering how to get back.  And he goes through the fence in order to spend each day from approximately noon until 6pm with his second family.

Lord Grantham discovered that just behind the fence lives a bevvy of hens with whom he shares his afternoons.  I shouldn't be so outraged.  Roosters and hens live an inherently polygamist existence with the roo looking after his group of sister wives/hens.  But something about this new arrangement is fishy.  Not only did I hand-pick and purchase the guy, but I feed and water him and give him a nice warm place to sleep (yep, he sleeps with family #1).  All this plus the daily fence rescue when he's finished with his dilly-dallies next door.  I'm more upset than the sister wives/hens.  In fact, I have a feeling my ladies are happy to see him slip through the fence at noon.  Happy for the break from his awkward loping, not-quite-perfected-croaky-crow, and constant, athletic advances.  Eventually, I'll stop feeling jilted by the rooster and stop screaming "LG, you're a cheating jerk!' everytime I see his blue plumage through the fence, hopping alongside the neighbor's hens.  Eventually.  But until LG figures out how to get back through the fence, and as long as I have to save him, I feel completely justified in my disgust with his second family.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Return of the Whippoorwill

It's 65 degrees with a full moon risen so high it glows through the highest windows.  I feel a cold coming on and don't even mind the sore throat and congestion, long as I can sit on a porch by the forest where the first whippoorwill songs are coming from their nests of dirt and leaves along the creek, at the roots of trees, bedded down throughout the tangled messes.  They sound like summer come blowing through the woods where we watched trees shrink back and bend near the brink during the drought.  Now they're unfurled and green, green so bright you can feel the chlorophyll pulsing.

My whole life living in small town Texas, and I only now know the countryside.  Forever, I'd heard the word whippoorwill and never considered how strongly I'd correlate that word and their song to a season.  To me it sounds as old as this place, and slow as molasses down the side of a jar.  They've been here long before I stumbled on this place, and I wonder if all this was just waiting here quietly in this pocket of the county.  To be picked up, dusted off, trimmed back, and straightened up.  Every year for years and years and since the beginning I know the whippoorwills hunkered down in the dirt each spring and sang each night and sang each morning to lull something to sleep, to wake them up in the morning.  I know it's been decades at least, maybe longer, since they had someone to sing to.  I'm glad it's me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pillow Talk

No, not that kind - I'm being quite literal actually.  The past week has made me more tired than any other period of my life, save for grad school finals, during which time my exhaustion was due more to anxiety over the need to study than actual study.  The past seven nights I've heard myself thanking my bed and pillow for their existence in my life each time I lay down to sleep.  You think I'm kidding?  I have actually, unconsciously murmured, "I love you pillow" and "You are the most amazing bed in the history of beds."  It actually is the simple things that matter most - like a comfortable bed.  Give me nothing else at the end of a long day (aside from wine), and I'll be perfectly content.  And lately, there have been many long days.

Today, Jeremy was home sick from work and had the pleasure of watching me move between chicken brooder, goat yard, grocery store, garden, kitchen, and couch time with the computer for the day job.  This evening after dinner he mentioned that I seemed "busy" today; an interesting observation since we're 10 days deep into goat farming, and he just noticed that it's kept me busy.  To be fair, he hasn't noticed because he's been quite busy himself with the driveway, finishing electrical repair, his day job, etc, etc, etc.  And today, despite a nasty head cold, he did me the morbid favor of "culling" a chick which was unexpectedly gifted by a neighbor and came down with a terrible case of Marek's disease.  Thanks for the gift!  This means that, in the midst of goat heaven, I was suddenly nursing a much-younger-than-my-own chick inside while managing a brood outside, along with the goats, the livestock, the older flock, etc.  I cried a good cry after understanding that she would not recover, could infect the entire flock, and must be put down.  Jeremy culled her when I was at the store today, and  we have not spoken of the incident since, both understanding it is an awful reality of livestock ownership.  As a side note, if you've ever considered giving an animal as a gift then - oh how sweet of you! - but please - reconsider.

I have stopped and started writing a few posts here over the course of the week, wanting to describe exactly how the transformation from pre-goat to post-goat occurred and exactly what the transformation has meant. But I can't.  That is to say, I cannot accurately explain what it has meant or how it all took place.  There has been a flurry of activity that happened too quickly to capture here.  There were the drives to and from the dairy, to and from the buckling's farm, to and from the puppies' farms.  All of these locations were spread across four counties.  Four farms.  There was the trip to the vet for disbuddings, a procedure I thought to be quite routine until the vet came out to discuss the potential "pitfalls" of disbudding (neurological damage and, well, death) at which time my heart came to a complete STOP, and I nearly burst into tears over the potential loss of goats I had met only three days before.  If it's not already obvious, I am in love with these animals.  They are inquisitive, hilarious, and affectionate.  They are, and this is quite a revelation here - better than dogs.  Let that one sink in for a minute.

Better than dogs.

Goats are rather neat and tidy (if they're not suffering from milk replacement scours - ew), incredibly easy to tame - and they create amazing milk that can be turned into cheese.  Cheese!  When was the last time Fido did this for you?  Rather than expound upon the virtues of our caprine friends, I will instead finally introduce the new herd.  Without further ado: Pearl Snaps (grey goat), Jolene (black goat), Willy Boots (sable goat with ears that stick straight back), and Boss (spotted buck).  Willy Boots will be castrated to be a buddy for Boss when he is separated from the does.  The pups are Bruce (large white guy) and Betty, named after The Hulk characters.  When the name The Hulk was vetoed by myself, our good friend Joe offered Bruce and Betty as a compromise, and I gladly agreed before Jeremy could move onto something much more frightening like Iron Man or Wolverine.  What follows is an obnoxious amount of photos (Appropriate, since today I created an obnoxious amount of text).  Eventually there will be more discussion about the land and the beginnings of homesteading, but while I'm bottle feeding four goats and training two great pyrenees puppies, it'll be all goat/puppy, all the time.  No hard feelings if you never return. I understand.