We’ve been on our farm a year. I wanted to share some thoughts.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
We have done a tremendous amount on our farm in this first year. Too much. The farm was junked up with garbage. We ordered a 20 cubic yard dumpster and spent a week pitching refuse into it–old chairs that smelled of urine, rusted metal barrels, empty old fuel cans.
We rebuilt our big pond, and are now hoping for enough rain to fill it. We built berms (mounds of dirt to channel water) to funnel the rain runoff into the pond. We renovated our house, which had thirty years of cigarette smoke in the walls and floors. We had a wood stove put in, and I lost three years off my life worrying about it burning down the house.
Animals That Can Kill You
Our neighbor had his cows on the property (including a bull), but he was abusing our land with them, desertifying the pasture. I kindly asked him to remove them. Problem was, that meant we needed to buy seven of our own cows to keep our tax ag exemption. So I set out to find affordable cows and finally we have seven of them (and a little calf–Valentinus–born around St. Valentine’s Day).
These cows are big, have horns, and can kill or maim you, even without intending to. They toss their horned head back to swat some flies, and if you are standing their, LIGHTS OUT.
Our next-door neighbor has something of an animal menagerie, including some huge 500 lb pigs. She needed help one day and asked me to come over. I did. We walked into the barn and she slipped into one of the empty stalls, shutting the gate behind her. I was in the open middle passageway, and in come the animals: Five horses, ten donkeys, six pigs. Apparently it’s feeding time and I may be the main course for the pigs. “Uh, am I safe out here,” I ask my neighbor. “Oh sure you are,” she says, “But you may want to climb up on the gate there and hold on to the rafter.”
I do so, but the next thing you know the two enormous pigs are jumping up and putting their front hoofs on the gate where I am standing. They make a horrible screeching noise that sounds like they are being slaughtered. I later learn my wife starts to worry as she only hears the noises from the barn–am I being eaten alive?
My neighbor throws some grain to the pigs and they start hogging away. I slip out and leave.
Some months later my son and I are walking down our own driveway, when one of the huge pigs breaks through the fence and starts coming toward us. I pick Edmund up and run for the house. We get to the house before the pig gets to us. I go back out and make sure that the pig goes back to our neighbor’s.
Machines That Can Kill You
I bought a small tractor. I never learned to drive a stick shift. The tractor is a stick shift, plus about ten other knobs, gears, buttons, and levers to make all the different parts do things.
I start using the front loader (bucket) to get dirt and make a berm. Our land is sloped, and no sooner do I start toward the berm location than the tractor hits a dip and almost tips over. How unstable are these things? I wonder. I sort of get the hang of it but almost tip many times. Reaction is to lower the bucket and dump the contents immediately, which it turns out is the correct reaction if you start to tip.
We met a new friend, Evan, several months back. He is making a go at farming again, but does IT work as his day job. I get the news from our mutual friend: he bought a new tractor, pulled stumps with it, and it tipped over and crushed him. He was life-flighted to the hospital but died on the way there. So tragic. And that could be me. Out here, animals and machines can kill you. The padded walls of postage-stamp lot suburbia are gone.
I’ve learned electric fencing, rotational grazing, fodder, grasses, chainsaws, cow milking, squeeze chuting, calving, and the pace of country old-timers (slow).
I bought a great old truck on Craigslist. Nine months later the engine went belly-up. I learned about engines. We bought a reman long block engine and I had a “shade tree” mechanic replace the dead one with it for cheap.
Cows are smart, but they like routines. They are mainly dangerous only if you do not exert your dominance over them. Not an abusive dominance, a psychological one. I didn’t know what this meant when I first read about it but do now.
The best part of it all has been seeing my children get to roam far and wide and learn so much about nature and life. They’ve seen guinea fowl die, chickens die (raccoons), a cow die, a calf born, a cow milked, killdeer nests, snakes, and much more.
I’ll try to post more about our farm in Year #2. Sometimes though you just have to live your life and not blog about it.