Friday, August 26, 2011

A Life Lesson from the Cow

This morning, the chickens were fine but the cow was causing a ruckus.  Our cow is a five month old steer.  He probably weighs about 600lbs and continues to grow daily.  That's a good thing.  It's what we want for this cow but it also means that he's got more weight to throw around. 

I try my very best not to come in direct conflict with the cow.  I prefer to feed and water him after he's been set out to pasture.  On the rare occasion that I do have to handle him directly, I enlist help.  When I feed and water him, I work hard at establishing rapport.  I scratch his head, neck and ears.  I talk to him.  I make sure he has what he needs.  Our relationship is one of cooperative coworkers.  The effort has paid off and the cow loves me.  Sometimes a little too much.

My husband takes a different tactic with the cow.  He uses muscle to bend the cow to his wishes.  On occasion he uses a hammer.  His relationship with the cow is more of a master/servant situation.  I believe the cow knows this.  My husband thinks I'm crazy.

When I went out to the barn this morning my husband was cursing the cow. The cow had bolted and wouldn't allow my husband anywhere near him.  My husband blamed the cursed cow.  I blamed the hammer and the fact that no one appreciates being approached by an angry, cursing man.  Especially not prior to 6:00a.m.

I arrived on the scene after my husband had spent much effort and about twenty minutes trying to catch and contain the cow.  The cow was munching serenely in an upper part of the field.  My husband was trying in vain to grab the cow's halter.  As my husband would draw close the cow would trot out of reach and begin eating again.  My husband had tried talking to the cow, admittedly the conversation wasn't particularly pleasant.  He'd also tried sneaking up on the cow with no better results. 

In my prior dealings with the cow, I learned that I am not comfortable just grabbing the cows halter nor do I have the weight or strength necessary to manage the cow up that close.  I need a longer handle.  A dog leash works well in a pinch. 

I went to the barn, collected the leash and walked up into the field.  As I approached the cow, I talked to him as I always do.  I belief in rapport served me well in this situation.  The cow let me walk up to him, he offered his head to be scratched and I was able to attach the leash to his halter.  My husband took the lead with some choice words for the cow and led him to his pasture for the day.

Now, it may have been just coincidence but I think this is another example of catching more flies with sugar than with vinegar.  I wonder if the originator of that phrase had a cow.

A Life Lesson from the Chickens

Life on a farm is never dull.  It has a routine and rhythm.  There are certain things that must be done in a certain way at a certain time.  Then there are those things that could never be anticipated.

Yesterday, we had flash flooding in our area.  After dropping my oldest daughter off at school in the midst of a torrential downpour, I made the perilous journey home.  What had been heavy rain quickly turned farm land and drainage ditches into lakes and raging streams.  Much of the road had water flowing quickly over or down it.  Thankfully, our house was out of the flooding area.  I thought the weather was a minor inconvenience until I went to check the chickens.

We currently have 100 cockerels in a chicken tractor.  We are experimenting to see if we can cover our livestock costs by selling chicken.  We have the chickens in a pen that is moved daily to allow them time on pasture while, hopefully, cutting our feed costs.  The system seems to be working.

Upon arriving home yesterday morning, I planned to do a quick survey of the property just to make sure all was well.  The cow was in the barn because it didn't seem like a good idea to turn him out in the midst of a thunderstorm.  The hen house chickens were fine.  The chicken tractor chickens were sitting in three inches of water.  Not good.

Chickens, while not particularly attractive, do have a kind of dignity.  This dignity was wholly absent from my soaked and forlorn chickens.  They were wet and very, very unhappy.  Normally, it takes my husband and myself or my three oldest children and myself to move the tractor.  During the flooding, the three youngest and myself  were left to save the chickens. 

The rain was still coming down when I rousted the children from their dry beds and ordered them out into the field.  None of them are too fond of weather, nor are they overly attached to the chickens.  Yet, all three came without complaining.  It may be that they really weren't awake yet or it may be that after seven months they were coming to understand that some jobs have to be done whether we like it or not.  After several pep talks and lots of heaving and adjusting, we managed to move the chickens to drier ground.  It was hard but we did it.  My older daughter commented that the skills necessary for chicken rescue were something she never would have learned in public school.  I'm fairly certain that, standing there in the rain, my son and youngest daughter would have gladly traded the lesson for a warm, dry classroom.  The sense of accomplishment followed them into their day anyway.  It was something they were able to brag about and recount at dinner time.  Hopefully, knowing that they have the skill and strength to save chickens will stick with them for a life time.  The lesson that just hard things are possible is a good one to learn.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Our First Shindig

This past weekend we hosted a cookout on the farm.  The guests were friends, neighbors and many co-workers.  There were probably around 100 people in all.  I was amazed and pleased to see so many were willing to drive out to our place.  The shindig gave me a clearer vision for my dream of entertaining on the farm.

We rented tables and chairs from the local rental center, porta-potties and a bouncy for the kids.  We bought soda, water, juice pouches and beer.  We grilled hot dogs and hamburgers.  We poured out bags and bags of chips and carrots.  We sliced watermelon, tomatoes and onions.  We ate all of it and more than 12 dozen cookies.  We played horse shoes, boche, corn hole and hill billy golf.  We talked and laughed and relaxed under the big shade tree. 

In my dreams we do this every week.  We serve great food that is grown on our land to people that want to visit the country and spend time relaxing under the shade tree.  Each project we undertake and each thing we learn leads us closer to this dream.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Things the Farm Has Brought

Of course, moving to the farm has brought the obvious.  More outdoor space.  Thirty-seven acres.  A different house.  Longer driving distances.  New stores, streets, church, neighbors, life. 

The farm has also brought new opportunities.  Over the last six months there have been abundant opportunities to learn and opportunities to try new things.  Beside all those things there are small changes that the farm has brought.

I'm stronger.  A few months ago lifting five gallons of water and carrying it across the yard wouldn't have been possible.  Now, I do it daily.  I can also lift 50 lb bags of feed by myself.  I can't do much with them but I can lift them and move them.

I'm more determined.  I follow through on things in a way that just a few short months ago would have seemed demented.  Now it's just part of the daily routine.  If the cow gets out, it must be caught and put away.  There's no other option and the level of determination that it requires is something I never knew I had.  Just because something is hard doesn't mean I don't do it. It just means that it takes more time and effort. 

I have longer vision.  As a business owner, I know about setting goals and planning.  Up to this time my goals have been more immediate and achieving them required skills I already possess.  Now my goals are long term, years and years long.  We are planning for a future on this ground.  The skills that I will need to achieve these goals are skills that I don't have yet.  The learning curve is steep.  It's a good thing I have lots and lots of time.