Monday, March 28, 2016

Tractor Troubles

I am beginning to feel cursed, ya’ll. Like some outside evil force has focused its unholy powers on us and the planting project, determined to prevent us from finishing seeding the hillside. The last two weeks have been a series of misadventures…

It is like my life is an overly dramatized radio show: “This week, Captain America and his gal try to plant a field. Will the duo overcome the Nazi plot to burn the tractor down? Tune in to find out!”

Spoiler alert, we didn’t foil the plot. The Kubota caught fire, and CA had the most mellow delivery ever. Below is a dramatized transcript of this phone call.

“Uh, Lauren?”
“Yeah, hon?”
“Are you almost back?” (I had gone to get more fuel for the tractor.)
“No, why?”
“Oh, well, when you get back can you come straight out to the field? There was a minor tractor fire.” (Please note that he was completely calm.)
“A what?” (Imagine a note of hysteria building.)
“A tractor fire.”
“Are you f***ing serious?” (Full on hysterical uptick at the end there.)
“What? How? Are you?! Ah! I’ll be right there!”

I love that man’s delivery to bits. Only he could be calm in the face of a tractor fire. Unlike me. I am the woman who called my mother when the house caught fire when I was 14. What do you do when the house is aflame, you call your mommy. Not the fire department. That would make too much sense. She was thrilled by the way. I believe her response was something along the lines of “Why the hell did you call me and not 911?” What can I say, I don’t do so well with panic.

It turned out to be a minor tractor fire, as far as tractor fires go. It was still drivable, but it was losing coolant like crazy through one of the charred hoses. Luckily the fire didn’t make it to a fuel line, and miraculously the tractor was in the field when this happened and not oh, say, in the hay barn surrounded by a ton of flammable material.

See, only a little fire! AH!

Life lesson/ Public Service announcement: When you inherit a tractor – please make sure to examine it carefully and see if there are any dust screens that need to be cleaned regularly. Dried grass can accumulate and spontaneously combust when you treat a Kubota like the good old Ford, that has no dust screens or actually, much protective shielding at all. You can lose a hand with ol’ Blue, but by golly, she isn’t a fire hazard.

She has her own issues, beautiful old gal.

Blue is such a good tractor. 

Like this past weekend when I was trying to finish planting with her (since you know, the Kubota is now in the shop…) and hydraulic fluid started shooting out of the back like I had driven over a green Old Faithful.
Did I mention that I don’t do well with panic?

I did manage to remember to turn the tractor off rather than just stare in abject horror. So, there is that. I then did the ever popular unplug the hydraulic hose and stare at it, plug it back in and look at the leak. Unplug the hose, re-plugin the hose, unplug the hose, re-plugin the hose, unplug the hose, re-plugin the hose, unplug the hose, re-plugin the hose, and repeat until I finally called CA.
“Hey, so, if the tractor had started to geyser hydraulic fluid and I wanted to troubleshoot it without calling my dad, and unplugging it and plugging it back in again didn’t work, what could I do?”  I am admittedly horrible at mechanical things. I take full responsibility for that. I’m trying to be better, but it is not my strong suit yet.

CA, who was shopping for birthday gifts and home remodeling components at the time, was unable to diagnose the problem via the phone and my crappy pictures.

I don't know why he couldn't diagnose it.
I mean, there is even a drip forming and everything!

And yes, given my lack of mechanical aptitude it is weird that I was the one in the field with the tractor and he was out shopping; but we have a weird relationship. I grant you that. Maybe in retrospect it might have been better to conform to gender roles there.

But then how would I learn? I can tell you that after having to call my dad to help me, I now know how to diagnose a blown O-ring (dang thing had dry rotted)  and will never miss that one again.

Especially not after having to buy all the replacement hydraulic fluid. That stuff ain’t cheap. But O-rings are! And we now have a stockpile of them. Take that Murphey and your stupid law, or Hilter and your evil plot, whatever it is that is making this planting thing WAY too difficult.

Ah well, as mom said, “That’s farming.”

And as I say, “This is why I drink.”


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Happy National Agriculture Day!

Apparently this year's National Ag day theme (Yes. It has themes. Who knew, right?) is "Agriculture: Stewards of a Healthy Planet."

Fitting. That pretty much sums up why Captain America and I are raising our cows the way that we are. 

Would it be cheaper to fatten them up on grain? Yes. It takes a lot more grass to add a pound of weight than it does corn, soy, or industrial food byproduct. In fact, grass fed beef cattle frequently take longer to mature for this reason.

Would it be easier to dose with preventative medicine? Yes. Feeding them a few rounds of antibiotics to prevent infection (or just promote weight gain, because that is a common use of subtherapuetic doses of some antibiotics - usually penicillins and tetracyclines) in with their feed ration, also known as medicated grain, would be much easier than monitoring them and then separating and working the sick animals to provide them with individualized veterinary care based on what illness they have. 

No one who hasn't worked cows in a head catch without a squeeze chute can truly appreciate just how much anger a 1,500 lb animal can manifest. Watch your arms folks. They can snap them easily while you're giving injections. Sometimes I think rodeo cowboys have nothing on farmer's reflexes.

Would it be better to do that? For us personally the answer is no. There is a place in the world for that model - I'm not throwing any shade on the family farms that have to do things that way to stay afloat here. But for Captain America and I the choice is simple. Before he and I even met I started asking myself the tough questions.

How do I do my part to help prevent super bugs, or keep bee colonies alive? How do I reduce my carbon footprint? Is row cropping really the only profitable way to farm the land I have? Could there be another way to be able to afford my property taxes? Is all that round up runoff really safe? How would I have to care for an animal to not feel guilty about eating it if I were to be haunted by its ghost? How do I take the best care of the land that I have? 

For me, and for us, the decision to create 200 acres of rolling pastures out of some pretty severely ditched up farm fields in order to support a thriving herd of grassfed cows was the perfect solution. 

By planting a mixture of endophyte free fescue, orchard grass, and red clover all over the hillsides not only will the cows have good forage; but we will stop sending so much topsoil down to Louisiana every time it rains. Plus, we won't have to worry about spraying it with pesticides and herbicides that could wind up in the waterways along with the soil.

Unless we get a creeping buttercup infestation. Then they shall be purified with fire, 2,4-D, the wrath of God, whatever it takes to get rid of those toxic little suckers. Damn buttercups... not even goats can eat creeping buttercups. Ugh.

Anyway, the clover will also feed bees, which will help out the local colonies and maybe even pave the way for a hive or two of our own one day.

Isolating our herd on our acreage and using rotational grazing not only is better for the grass it helps to reduce exposure to some pathogens and will help keep the cows healthier, so even if we do get a bug coming through it should be easier to monitor and treat. 

Basically what all of those decisions boil down to is CA and I doing our part to live this year's Ag Day theme: "Agriculture: Stewards of a Healthy Planet." every day. I encourage you to go out and think about how you could improve your stewardship. 

After all, just a pot full of flowers could help a bee or butterfly, and just buying from a local producer could help a small farmer pay their property taxes and keep working to be a better steward himself or herself. 

Healthy planets are better with healthy grass, which grows some pretty healthy cows!
Make sure to follow farmingfoible on Instagram to see more of our daily adventures.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The seedy underbelly of inheritance.

There is something that I have been thinking about blogging about for a long time now; and I have been hesitant because, well, frankly I’m ashamed and I feel almost that I shouldn’t because it could be considered ungrateful or speaking ill of the dead. However, I was talking to a good friend of mine a few weeks ago about this subject and her comments and commiseration really helped me, and I’m hoping that maybe if anyone else is going through this it will help them too.

My grandfather passed away a few years ago. I have been extraordinarily fortunate in that I have inherited his farm. Purchasing land is very expensive and is the greatest barrier to entry for people my age to get into farming; so my grandpa’s generous legacy has given me, and CA, one hell of a leg up in being able to make our own custom fed cattle farm a reality. I am frequently overwhelmed with gratitude as I’m trying to lay out fences, or while CA and I are seeding out future pastures and hay fields like we did last weekend, but I am also frequently overwhelmed because like many people of his generation I think my grandpa’s thrift bordered on hoarding.

That is gonna be some gorgeous grass! Happy cows!

No, I shouldn’t mince words, keeping what I believe to be every newspaper printed since the 1990’s doesn’t boarder on hoarding – it is hoarding.

So, bonfire you guys?

I am pretty much the only one who can sift through it all and sort the trash from the treasure. Well, I suppose my parents could too; but it isn’t their burden to bear so much as it is mine. So I have been spending a lot of my free time sorting through things and playing a very fun game I like to call: “WTF, Grandpa?!?” The game consists of me finding either a giant quantity of something or something random placed in a location where you would never think to find it; such as finding two large black garbage bags worth of those free return address labels, or the box of quilts stored in a leaky and pretty much open greenhouse so that they have turned to sludge and muttering “WTF, Grandpa?” to myself as I shovel loads of junk and what were potentially precious heirlooms into garbage bags because there is no saving them anymore.

I think that sorting personal possessions is the seedy underbelly of inheritance. You can truly take nothing for granted. I’ve learned so much of my family history in just a few months since I have started this undertaking. That one pen in the box of non-working pens? That is the last remaining giveaway from your great-grandpa’s company. Don’t throw it away! That tiny piece of rusted wire that looks like junk? That is the Lone Ranger’s lasso and goes to your dad’s childhood toy. Better sift through that pile of wet and molding newspaper because in it is what was once a box of family photos. You can’t save many, but you can cry because, of course, they are the one damned box of photos where someone had actually labelled them. Unlike ALL the other photos you have found… Thank you great aunt Della. Those 14 photos I was able to save are precious.

I have taken loads upon loads out of the greenhouse and house. Looking at it you would never guess that I have touched it.

On a good note, I shall never need to buy planters again.

I haven’t even started in on the sheds yet. Oh, the sheds. Oi.

In his later years my grandpa didn’t devote much time to upkeep on the buildings that my great-grandpa built out of already salvaged materials (that giant stringer with the sweet curves came out of a bridge that was being replaced) in the 1980’s. Many of them are hazardous, and if they aren’t they’re just plain leaky. It sucks, but one of my sheds does have a sun roof now, so, that’s a fun design feature? Just kidding. You can’t really walk on the floor in that one anymore. It is pretty shady. And by pretty shady I mean abandon hope all ye who enter here...

The light streaming from above makes it look so heavenly.
"Ahhhh, ahh, ahhh." <-angelic noise

As you can guess there will be a lot of repair by replacement going on in the next few years. Which, frankly, is overwhelming AF; despite how excited I am about fence lines and my sunroof shed becoming a loafing shed for the cows with a permanent working pen next to it so I won’t be slipping and sliding around when sorting calves or worrying that they will get smart and dive under the panels and wiggle to freedom. It does give CA and I a fantastic opportunity to build something the way we truly need it and in a way that it can last the next 30, 50, or 100 years.

After all I don’t leave my grandkids playing an exciting round of, “WTF, Grandma?”

Just kidding. I should totally start stocking up on return address labels now. ;)

The cows are sorted!

According to my FaceBook newsfeed, yesterday was International Women’s Day.

I never really considered myself a feminist, but I am coming to realize that that is because I grew up in a small bubble where I never had any reason to. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by strong female figures, especially my mother who never let “That’s a man’s job!” be a thing. There was never  “men’s work” or “women’s work” there was always just work. When we would square bale she was always out stacking the bales as my dad threw them. She was the one who would correct dystocias if a horse or cow had one. Heck, she’s the one who would run the 2,500 lb bull into the head catch to doctor him when he got a wire cut around his nethers that swelled him up as big as a softball so he couldn’t retract it, and the vet said we might as well put him down. Soaking it in Epsom salt and covering it in cut heal twice a day made him so hateful towards her that he tried to kill her every time he saw her, but she did fixed him. She also helped load that big ole boy in the trailer when we had to ship him. Ungrateful sucker. She is the one who runs the family business (as president) and self-taught herself everything from veterinary medicine to accounting whilst keeping the house clean and the grass cut, and clearing a fence row or two with her chainsaw.

In short, I’ve been incredibly lucky to rarely see the discrimination against girls that I read about online. I never watched Disney movies and thought that I need a prince to come rescue me, or thought that all I was meant to be was a Barbie doll. I always knew that I could be an engineer, or a farmer, or a whatever the hell I wanted to be if I wanted to and worked at it. I’m beginning to see how incredibly lucky I was with that.

Case in point, CA and I helped a friend of his work cows the other week, and even though I was probably the one there with the most experience moving cows I got the “girl job” of record keeping. And I resented the hell out of it. Well, I should have known better than to open my big mouth because as we were working cows last night I got the “girl job” again. As in, I was the only one in the pen herding the little buggers. What can I say? My family doesn’t discriminate. Mom, Dad, and CA all stood outside the pen (read as: not A$$ deep in mud) and encouraged the calves towards the trailer while I waded around in the muck and hit them in the butt with a stick. It was glorious. Until one of them went cray-cray and I fell down and almost got trampled to death. Damn heifer. At that point CA jumped over the fence to help corral the crazy one to get her gone. I am super grateful for the help.

I think that’s one reason that farming appeals to me, at the end of the day I think mom and dad were right – there isn’t "my work", "your work", "his work", "her work"; there is just a job to be done, and you work together to get it that way. It is a great equalizer.

So, happy belated Women’s Day, and I hope you don't have as much rain and mud as we do right now!

Hey guys, the cows are sorted!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Chickens, well, they're kinda gross.

I feel like I just blogged about this...

Fun fact, when allowed to eat whatever they want chickens eat grass, bugs, dig through manure, and sometimes even eggs if you forget to collect them for a few days.

Also, I did watch in horror as the survivors of our butchering day fought over the hearts of their fallen brethren. You know, to absorb their power. 

Free range chickens are kinda gross. Delicious, healthy, and nutritious; but still kinda gross, and DEFINITELY not vegetarian.