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Archive for May, 2012

It’s not long before a “back-to-the-lander” neophyte farmer discovers the real meaning of farming — waste removal — as in the shoveling, hauling and otherwise cleaning of one’s barn, coop and/or self of sh*t!

It all started with a squish under the foot one evening — that soon revealed a very fragrant and acrid odor that could be only one thing — dog sh*t. Apparently the farmer’s wife had been training Gertie, her puppy, that it is perfectly fine to do her business at the foot of the stone steps that lead to the upper pasture. Scatological Ruminant #1 – Do not train your dog to sh*t where thee tread!

Next was the realization about the little lady leghorns. We had them in a kiddie pool until they outgrew it. Every day, we would change the newspaper. When they were tiny, they left cute little poops — imagine little fluffy yellow balls emitting tiny little pellets — essentially the chick feed they were eating just passing through. Of course, as they migrated to the coop, things got a little more complicated. We spread straw on the floor and let them loose. As the birds grew rapidly, so did their excretions. Thank God, we eventually let them out all day! I can’t imagine a coop of cooped up poop! So, I had to empty the growing pen, where our little pullets grew from chicks to maturity. It was a dusty affair – straw and pungent poo. But, I managed to get it all into one wheel barrow. Scatological Ruminant #2 – When someone says “chicken sh*t!” in anger, and they are not a farmer, they have no idea what they are really saying or complaining about. If they are a farmer, then you know they are referring to a real mess!

The previous owner of our farm stopped by one day to ask permission to remove some of the goat and sheep sh*t in the barn. “Good for the garden,” he said — and proceeded to shovel as much as he could into the back of his pickup.

“Take as much you like!” said I.

I imagined a conversation between Cheech and Chong — the former farmer was an old hippie-type.

“Yeah, it’s good sh*t, man — really good sh*t” said imaginary Chong farmer.

“What do you call this ch*t, man?” said imaginary Cheech farmer.

“It’s goat sh*t, man,” said Chong farmer, “like Nubian or something like that!”

“Hehehe!”, giggled Cheech farmer, “Let’s do some Nubian Doobian!”

Scatological Ruminant #3 – This ain’t the kind of sh*t you can smoke, unfortunately!

Back to reality — he was taking a portion of what was in one stall. There was an entire other stall where our critters were currently living — full of the stuff!

So, this Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, like a good farmer and his wife would, Tammi and I headed to that stall full of straw and goat and sheep sh*t and began to break away at it and shovel it. We had set our sights on clearing the whole thing this morning, but soon realized we could barely get in the door — after three loads.

“Oh my God!” said Tammi, “I hope the whole thing isn’t this deep!”

I felt like an archaeologist digging up a  Mayan Temple in the Yucatan — removing layer upon layer until we hit stone — or concrete.

“It’s six inches thick here!” said I “It’s going to talk all summer!”

It was getting hot, so we resolved to return a couple times a week to chip away at it.

Scatological Ruminant #4:  Don’t let your sh*t pile up too much — gotta stay on top of all of this sh*t — gotta keep up with the sh*t….God this sounds like work!

Just one more humorous item. While Tammi was scraping with the blade, she accidentally sprayed my face with a splattering of poo and straw…

“Gives a whole new meaning to sh*t-faced…” she said.

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Tammi and I were shopping for antiques recently at Bedford Street Antiques in Carlisle.  If you’ve never been there, we highly recommend it === a nice little surprise on a back street in town. The place is full of interesting items at great prices. We happened upon four old painted benches priced very reasonably. We bought them — two went into our master bedroom to line the back wall. The others were stacked in the bathroom to provide some interesting shelving for towels and such. Besides a few other collectibles and knick knacks, I picked up an original copy of the Country Gentleman magazine dated May 16, 1914 – exactly 98 years old!  Tammi pointed to it and I was instantly drawn to the painting of a mother leghorn on the cover tending to her dozen or so peeps.

The other day, I picked up the old magazine and flipped through it, admiring the ancient advertisements — for the Columbia Grafonola record player or Cleveland Grindstones – or Panama hats for $1 – just write to Geo. T. Bungay, 28 So. William St. New York. (I am sure he’ll be happy to part with his hats for a buck each!)  On page 15 was an article entitled “Shall I Begin Farming at Forty-Five?” Obviously, I could not have picked up a better issue!  Here was a “clerk” who lived in the city, contemplating moving to the country to take up farming at age 45. Two writers at the magazine responded to his query.

Here were the gentleman’s concerns:

He has been a clerk in the city and ‘worked indoors his entire life. ‘ He thought working outdoors would be healthier for him and provide a better setting to raise his boys, without the many ‘temptations’ of the city. He asks if the experts felt he could make a decent living to support his family. Interestingly, he never mentions his wife’s feelings about the matter!

Responder #1 – You Can!

Referring to the clerk as a ‘back-to-the-lander’, he encouraged him to do so, suggesting he study up on the scientific methods of farming now prevalent. ‘It is also a fact, however, that a surprising proportion of the pronounced successes in American agriculture are town-reared men…” (I am beginning to be encouraged, here!)  “They have not had the disadvantages of being full of the notions of father and grandfather.”

“…the city man who really studies his job and applies initiative and common business sense is in the position of real advantage…”  (Yeah!)

The writer then went on to ask the man what his wife was thinking – most city women don’t fancy being a farmer’s wife…. (no problem here — it was her idea!)

“…twenty years of close observation and a rather wide knowledge of the United States causes me unhesitatingly to say that the farm is today the place where a man of brains has the least competition…”  (Ha!  I suspected as much – figured that out at the livestock auction!  We’re on a roll!)

The author even goes on to suggest buying his farm in Central Pennsylvania — done!   He encourages him to start now with a garden and to raise chickens!

“…you almost MUST raise chickens…start with twenty-five hens…”  (WTF? That’s what we did!)

Responder #2 – I Did!

“…I say emphatically that the man of forty-five, with $3000 to $5000 in money, with a brain that will work, with a well-made plan and a firm purpose, certainly ought to succeed on the land. Even if he meets with no more than a part of the success he hopes for, in dollar profits, he will be able to realize something infinitely better — a share, right here on earth, in the peace that passeth understanding.”

Clearly, there is no better peace than looking out over one’s parcel just as the sun is coming up – and seeing the chickens beginning their day, enthusiastically pecking in the grass, and the goats and sheep heading up the hill to the high grass, and the barn swallows flitting about, and our puppie Gertie taking a squat — oops — sorry to ruin that scene for ya…

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First it was Brandon, Tammi’s 9-year-old son, who ran to the bathroom in the middle of the night to lose his dinner into the watery bowl.  Hoping this an isolated incident, Tammi and I planned our wedding anniversary at the Hotel Hershey — dinner with her cousin Zach and his friend — and then the new Johnny Depp movie.  It was a wonderful meal, but Tammi was unable to partake, the next victim of the stomach plague.  We never got to the theater, as I drove Tammi home, curled up on the front seat in agony. When you realize you are the only one in the house who wasn’t sick yet, you know your time is coming — like a dead man walking!  And, sure enough, I received my due on Mother’s Day evening – a nasty bug that lasted  two days.

We had planned to be out quite late on our anniversary night, and were willing to take a chance on the chickens.  To date, we have had to coax a few of them back into the coop at the end of the day.  When we arrived home that evening, well after dark, as soon as Tammi was comfortably inside, I checked on the little lady leghorns and was pleasantly surprised to find all 25 back in the coop — all by themselves.  I realized, had I just been a little more patient the last couple weeks, the birds may have done this sooner — on their own. I filled their feed and water and closed up for the night.

The next day, we were scheduled to photograph a wedding (we are the owners of West Shore Gallery, a local photography studio).  Realizing later how I felt the day after the bug hit, I do not know how Tammi managed to pull this off. It makes me think she has a much stronger constitution than I!  The young couple never knew anything different as we carried out our duties at what was a wonderful affair. We came home that evening to find the birds back in the coop again – all by themselves. All seemed well in the world.  I was beginning to think I was going to dodge this bullet.

The morning of the wedding, a hired hand stopped by to till our garden.  The job turned out to be quite a bit more than he expected — the plot was bigger than I had remembered — and it was covered in grass.  I paid the gentleman twice as much, and he went at it.  When I checked in the morning, he had done a fantastic job.

So, it was Mother’s Day. Tammi and I headed off to Tractor Supply to pick up some gloves and seeds for the garden. Along the way, I called my mother and wished her a happy Mother’s Day.  After returning, we took Gertie along to Lowe’s to buy some live plants – tomatoes, peppers and strawberries.  We then began planting the live plants.  About half way through, I could no longer help – feeling very washed out and queasy.  I went in to take a shower and lay down.  Within a couple hours, I was the bug’s final victim.

I was in and out of consciousness into the morning — visiting the bathroom a number of times.  At some point, late in the morning, I heard the dog yelp in pain and Tammi cry out for me.  Barely able to sit up, I wondered if it was a dream. Tammi called again, and this time I could make out what she was saying — “Baron! The ram is out!”

I pulled on a shirt and hobbled downstairs — pulled on some boots and headed out with my shepherd’s crook. Gertie was laying by the backdoor, completely uninterested in following me. I looked up from our puppie to see my bride chasing our ram in the yard.  I started to make an end-around to help her out.  Just then “Rambo” jumped back over the fence, into the corral.

Apparently Gertie had been teasing the ram and had run from it.  The ram chased her to the gate.  As Gertie has grown, she has been less and less able to slip under the gate.  This time she got stuck, and the ram pounded her – and the gate – with his horns, sending her sprawling and the gate bursting open.

The rest of the day, Gertie and I laid around in the house while Tammi cared for the both of us.

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It has been hard to schedule time with my daughters:  Taylor 13 and Abbey (recently) 10.  Since I left their mother, this was my fourth move in four years!  Hopefully this will be the last for a long while. My work schedule makes it difficult to keep a routine, and as they get older, they are busier and less interested in their father and more interested in their friends.

So, when I picked them up this day, I had no idea what to do.  The weather was not cooperating — it was dripping a bit.  I certainly didn’t want to take them shopping or to the arcade.  I had just taken Abbey on a birthday shopping trip a few days prior and did not want to spend any money.

“What do you want to do?” I asked my lovely little ladies as they rode along in the F150.

“I don’t know,” said Taylor.

“Nothing,” said Abbey, staring out the window.

“Ok then,” I said, fully expecting this to develop into a disaster. “Let’s just go to the farm.”

Upon arriving, I told them we would first put the chickens away.  The girls had only been to the farm a couple of times and had not seen the chickens outside — or the sheep. I grabbed the two shepherds crooks and we set about to coax the chickens into the coop.  The little leghorns had been out most of the day and were a bit scattered in the yard.  The girls enjoyed finding them in the brush and undergrowth and herding them to the doorway. Abbey counted them twice and declared that all 25 were safely in the coop.  Our chore was done.

Fully expecting the kids would want to head inside to watch TV or play video games until their mother arrived, I began heading for the house.

“Wait,” said Taylor, “can I feed the goats?”

“Sure,” I said, somewhat surprised. “Do you know where the treats are?”

Taylor nodded affirmatively and headed to the corral in front of the barn where the goats were hanging out.

“Daddy, show me the sheep!” said Abbey, pulling me along.

The two of us headed up the hill to look at the flock in the upper pasture.  Abbey was even brave enough to head into the grass for a closer look.  (It should be noted the ram is not as aggressive as some breeds — he actually runs from humans.)

What transpired was a good hour of talking about the animals, observing them and spending time out in the fresh air.

“We need to name all of the animals!” declared Abbey as we went inside.

The three of us filled the rest of the time coming up with names for the 6 barn cats, 5 sheep and 25 chickens.

Not once did I hear the words ‘I’m bored’…

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This past week, things were going very well. While I was in Canton, MA on business, our wood stove was delivered.  Tammi actually started a fire in it the first night and found it to be rather comforting.

On Friday, the 4th, we let our little hens outside the coop for about an hour before dusk. The plan was to do this each day — increasing the amount of time incrementally.  We had no idea if all of the birds would just run away and scatter – or if they would stick together.  Fortunately, it was the latter.  It was very entertaining to see our little leghorns scratching in the dirt and eating bugs.  After a little while, we gently chased them back into the coop and sealed them up.  Only one of them decided to go in a different direction and had to be redirected.  I wondered if this wasn’t the same one who screwed up last week during the transfer…

Meanwhile, the grass in the pasture was nearly knee-high.  The two goats certainly weren’t capable of keeping it down.  So, I told Tammi I wanted sheep for my birthday — the sheep I had paid for nearly two months prior that had yet to arrive!  Tammi was working with Molly to have the sheep delivered, but Molly could not find a trailer anywhere.  Fortunately, Gary was able to come to the rescue.  He and I visited Tractor Supply on Friday and I purchased a tarp and a bunch of bungee cords for him. I was expecting Gary to improve his trailer with them and meet us at Molly’s around 2 PM.

On my birthday, Saturday, Tammi, Brandon & I drove to Tractor Supply in the F150 and picked up two shepherds crooks – more for show than anything.  We then headed to Mollys.  Gary and Kim showed up a few minutes later with Gary’s old dump truck rigged with a Jed Clampett-like enclosure in the back.  Gary backed his truck up close to the barn. Molly was very nervous about all of the openings, so Gary set about to seal them all up, including nailing an additional board across the back.

Then came time to transfer the sheep.  The two ladies managed a piece of plywood that would act as a door on the back of the dump truck.  Brandon stood watch with his junior shepherds crook while Gary managed the gate to the holding pen in the barn – ready to jump in and help, if necessary.  Molly and I went into the pen to catch the sheep.  The plan was for Molly to grab them first, since she knew which 5 of the 20 were to be ours.  As soon as she had a hold, I would grab the sheep too, Gary would open the pen, and we would carry it out and onto to the truck — the ladies sliding the plywood and allowing the beast into the makeshift “trailer.”

We started with the two ewes – and all went rather easily.  Next, we grabbed the two lambs — also rather easy.  Lastly, we grabbed the ram.  Molly had one of his horns and was being led around the pen by him, unable to gain control.  I quickly grabbed the other horn and managed to steer him towards the door of the pen.  The young ram writhed and struggled to break free, but Molly and I held our grip.  As we passed through the pen door and went outside, Gary closed the door and followed us.  As we reached the truck, we had difficulty raising the big boy up.  Gary then took his hind legs and gave him a boost.  Quickly, the plywood was slid open and shut — all 5 were inside.  Gary then closed the gate in the back of truck, and we were ready to go.

The rest of the trip was very peaceful as we led Gary and Kim to our farm, following 174 from 233 all the way through Boiling Springs.  At the farm, Gary backed into the pasture.  We opened the back and nothing happened!  Everyone encouraged the sheep to leave, but they would not!  Then, all of a sudden, the ram decided to jump and make a run for it.  Within seconds, his little flock followed.  Within a few minutes, they were already eating the high grass.  What a sight!

Happy Birthday!

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