Archive for the ‘fence’ Category

Setting up fence with the Nov. 10 workshop — it takes some practice to hang up a reel!  We had a wonderful day regardless of the cold, damp weather.  Passive water systems, home dairying, intensive rotational grazing, and feeding farm animals from the produce of the farm.  Thanks to all who attended, we had a great time —

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In a spirit of great daring — or foolhardiness — we gave an interview to a local newspaper.  May God have mercy on our souls.  The conviction that real food is worth taking risks for fueled our intrepidity.

Today’s farm tour was much less stressful; the proprietors of Penn Forest Cemetery are adding a farm component to their green (read: ecologically sound) cemetery, and are interested in how rotational grazing can fit into the operation.  Take a look at their web-site; here is woodland interment without toxic embalming fluids or concrete vaults.  We spent several pleasant hours walking the pastures with Pete and Nancy, showing them our natural water systems and demonstrating rotational grazing patterns for our sheep and cows.

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locust poles

Monday, May 26, 2014:
Memorial Day.
Judith, the new heifer calf, is the subject of jealousy among the three lactating cows, with SugarPlum by far the most aggressive of the mothers-elect, shoving her body between Delphi and the baby when the calf wants to nurse. We have seen the little one on all three of the cows, but she does seem to spend the most time with her real mother, which is good: only Delphi can give her colostrum, a calf’s first food, nutrition and immunities and emetic all in one.
Cutting a locust tree up on the hill we remembered all the reasons for carefully calculating where it will drop. This one was dead, the few branches at the top looking corky and rotten, and we decided – incorrectly – that they would give way when they hit the neighboring beech tree, in the branches of which the tree was embraced. Not so. An hour with a come-along left a zig-zag of deep grooves in the rich forest mould, and the seventy-foot tree still snagged in the top of its neighbor. Time was getting on for milking when with a last two or three cranks on the winch the trunk, high up where it was most narrow and decayed, sagged, groaned, and with a rush like water over a precipice, snapped and fell. The sound was, as we have heard it described somewhere, “disastrous.” We cut two eight foot posts from the widest part, for the gate to the pig pen, and one fourteen footer for the run-in shed. The rest is fence posts, and, probably, firewood.

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early november

Saturday, November 2:

   Three nights ago blew in a gusty rain, southerly, but shredding the rusty leaves from the trees and revealing the brown backs of these Appalachian foothills.  In the ditches and along the riverbanks, though, the sumac is still red, if it is the small, five-year variety, or gold, if it is the tall, twenty-year kind.  Five-year sumac has cones of dark red berries held upright over drooping compound leaves like palm fronds; twenty-year sumac trails wads of winged brown seeds like dirty cobwebs.  Both are weed trees which spring up in rocky, sour, or waste soils, and add brilliant color to our autumn show.

   We burned the late fall bonfire last night, the weather giving of its best, dry, cool, and windless.  Along the lane the torches that topped each fence post smoked and flared, and the bonfire itself sent sparks seventy feet in the air.  The summer kitchen was the center of a crowd gathered there for hot doughnuts, cider, and cocoa, and on the lawn people sat in folding chairs and on blankets and held long conversations about the dead, and the future.  Prayers were offered for both.  It is almost winter.

   Today we planted hoops over the winter beds of greens, carrots and beets; next week these will be covered with plastic sheeting to protect them from the frosts that are getting more frequent.  The pig pens had to be forked out, and the Massey-Ferguson in its big shed swept free of chaff and dead leaves and covered with tarps to keep off the snow.

   The three little children went out to shift the home paddock and were gone an hour and a half.   Bridget, the sorrel mini, was feeling the seasonal shift and broke out of the paddock where she is nominally in charge of the sheep to go charging up and down the south pasture chivvying chickens and squealing like air escaping from a balloon.  The sheep got out, too, to go surging up and down the hill, and even the two July calves got into the act, galloping to the top of the steep pasture and requiring to be brought down again when the new paddock was ready.  The animals are grazing their way up the middle section of the pasture and have grass enough for another two or three weeks; when hard frosts put the grass into dormancy we will begin feeding them hay.   The sheep are due to begin lambing in a couple of weeks, anyway; time to go into the barn, out of reach of coyotes and stray dogs.

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Saturday, September 7:


   I hate ‘em.

   Okay, sometimes I hate them.  Like when they keep getting and keep getting into the garden.  Danged birds.  The half-grown Australorps – good foragers?  good marauders! – can slip through the smallest gap in the fence, and will search assiduously to find it.  They can slip through three gaps, where we have layered woven wire over broken spots, and find each break in succession, like overcurious Greek youth tiptoeing through the Labyrinth.  If only I had a Minotaur to frighten the feathers off the – blessed – birds when they did get through.

    Sunday I sat down on the dry, packed garden path – no real rain in weeks – and just howled.  Sobbed.  And threw rocks.  Because on Saturday I built three of the most beautiful, symmetrical, richly-composted, smoothly-raked, painstakingly-seeded beds of carrots, a total of nine hundred row feet of Nantes-type, and, not being unaware of the diabolical cunning of those Australorps, carefully laid short lengths of chicken wire over each bed to foil any invaders.  And on Sunday, yards and yards of those beds had been scratched out from underneath the wire and strewn hither and yon.

   No.  We did not kill all the chicken.

   My loving husband came down and patched the fence for two hours.  And when the chickens continued to get in – curse the cunning of those black chickens! – he bought me three hundred feet of woven horse fence (bust the budget – price it), and over the rest of the week the boys pulled down the old wire and put up the new, resetting loose posts, replacing broken rails, and covering all the gates.

   And the small people are threatened with dismemberment if they so much as think about entering the garden without leave.

   Next year Shawn wants me to think about Leghorns.

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Thursday, August 29:

   The young calves and the sheep are together again in a paddock at the bottom of the south hill pasture.  For two weeks we have been moving the sheep across steep hillside where ragweed, asters and lemon balm offered mixed forage for sheep, but nothing for the little steers and the heifer calf; now at last they are back with the steers.

   Some of us are particularly glad because we will no longer be moving two paddocks in the home pasture, on top of the two at the monastery:  one in the front pasture for the lactating cows, where the whole herd passed in June and the regrowth is green and lush, and one for the dry cows on the back of the monastery hill, where the grass is coarse and fibrous and there is still much cane to be trampled down.  In total, there are now three paddocks, with a total of four moves, most days, because the lactating cows get a new paddock after every milking.  This sounds like a lot of moving fence, and it is, but because the paddocks are small, the time involved is not more than we can manage right now.

   Actually, it is sometimes the part of a job which would seem to make that activity a cert for the scrap pile – like walking a quarter mile out to the dry cow paddock and back, twice a day, to watch for one of the heifers to go into heat – that ends up contributing the greatest benefits.  The top of the monastery hill gathers in breezes like a seine gathers in fish, and each one passes through our sweat-soaked hair.  Sun on our backs and the feel of the ground coming up through our boots, damp and soft or dry and sunbaked, tells us about the weather, the condition of the forage, whether the cows need to be moved to a shady spot, and the expectations for autumn regrowth.  The long swing of legs in boots is different from the shuffle of sandals across the kitchen floor, and the difference is welcome to our feet and hips as the sight of the distant horizon is welcome to our eyes.

   And the pause, hitched up on the top of a water hog, while a small stock tank fills for the spring steers, is not a taking-out from work time, but a built-in moment of alertness and meditation and relaxation.  There is a feeling of accomplishment when one tends animals which is satisfying on a level not like the satisfaction of a perfect baking of bread, or a thick layer of rich black compost spread across a garden bed, or a cheese knocked out of the hoop and set to dry on the cheese rack.  All these are good; together they are very good.  Variety:  it is a nourishing thing, like Hopkins’ pied beauty or Whitman’s praise of the labor of hands.

   The tide long ago turned on the basement shelves, and the neap tide of empty jars has become a spring tide of full ones, of salsa – over forty quarts in the last two evenings – and sauce, peaches, a bumper crop, jam of several varieties, something like twenty quarts of honey, more than dozen old laying hens, ditto broth – food for many occasions to come.  And we are just getting started; the tomatoes are only half in, and the green beans for canning won’t start for another week or so.  There is cider to be put down, as much as we can squeeze out of the small, sweet apples that grow in the south hill pasture.  There will be beets to pickle.  The onions and garlic are drying in the summer kitchen before we braid them and hang them in a cool corner of the basement.  And in the cave, the small, dry, dirt-floored cellar under the east end of the house, there will be winter squash and pumpkins on long shelves of plank and cinder block.

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Saturday, May 18:

   Some days just don’t go as planned; most days, in fact.  Sometimes the number of things undone leaves us feeling too tired to love what we are doing.

   Fortunately, that feeling passes off.

   The plan for today began – after chores – with some of us going up to the monastery to plant that extra hundred pounds of potatoes, and other of us taking receipt of three tons of fifty-sevens limestone and spreading it where the pad for the sawmill will be poured.  Thus far so good; these things we did indeed accomplish.  The area where the extra potatoes were to be planted was sprouting weeds and had to be tilled over before a second pass to plow the long furrows in which we plant potatoes; tilled, then a taut line run for each of the furrows and the plow run down the line.  This is to turn up a ridge on either side of the furrow, so that the potatoes may be dropped, sprout-side up, in the bottom, and the ridges raked down to cover.   The extra tilling set us back only a little bit of time, and with four people, two large and two small, we had the potatoes sown and covered in less than an hour’s time.

   Where time was lost was in the simple process of moving two of the weaned steers into the paddock with the milk cows.  What were we thinking? as we often ask one small girl in our family.  The dairy cows are paddocked behind a single strand of polywire, a purely psychological barrier.  One must always train an animal to electric fence before trusting him to stay behind it.  We forgot about this simple fact.  When we topped the hill pushing one small brown, one small brown-and-white, steer in front of us, and reluctance was in every step as they covered this new territory, something congealed.  For the eight cows and three steers in the monastery paddock that something was a sudden and intense interest in these two little bovines.  Motherly interest, perhaps; or the hope that the new arrivals brought with them some stories the older animals hadn’t heard before, or new smells delightful to the nostril.  They congregated at the fence nearest us, heads and ears inclined our way, snorting noses and flicking tails their only concession to immediate necessity as the flies were already bothersome.

   The little bulls we were encouraging with shoves and twists of the tail, on the other hand, were struck with a paralysis of shyness.  Encouragement was no longer sufficient; to urge them down the slope it was necessary that we propel them by main force.  The very last thing these little boys, like other little boys we have known, come to make the comparison, wanted from this assortment of mostly female adolescents and grown-ups, was their attention.  They were like the little boy who has been volunteered by his over-zealous mother to carry up the ring, peeking into the church at the critical moment and feeling his nerve turn blue around the edges.  It was time for the recital and our budding baby bulls wanted the back door.  We commiserated their feelings but wanted to go home to lunch and we shoved them in without ceremony.

   They walked right back out, ducking their heads and letting the harmless, because disconnected, electrical wire slide down their backs.  Pursuit and capture; more urging, more shoves and tail-twists.  The cows, fascinated, surged up to the fence at the most proximate point with questioning ejaculations.  This time we had a hand on the power connection, and as the two calves stepped into the paddock we threw it on, earning a howl, and then a growl, from a man standing too close to the fence line; then a mild expletive as the calves walked under the line again, skipping a little as it snapped on their spines but distinctly clear in their minds on the best way out of that paddock.

    The cows surged some more.

   This sequence repeated itself in varying forms, with an array of observations made by various interested parties whenever the calves took their leave of the cow’s paddock, sometimes sliding under, sometimes, when we had added a second strand of wire, snagging a hind hoof and pulling some fence down with them.  We added a third strand, which always makes moving electric fence awkward, as the strands are never equally tight, some sagging, some causing the fiberglass posts to sag by the sheer force of their pull.  Still the babies, anxious to escape interested snufflings of their older sisters and cousins, slid through, or under, the fence.

   An hour goes by.

   The calves are out for the seventh time, and now one or two of the heifers are following them.

   Expletive of the parlor variety (we try to keep it clean).

   The sun is hot and high, and the children who asked for a drink almost an hour ago are making plaintive noises as they bound through waist-high grass in pursuit of cows, small and medium, and one sorrel mini – Bridget has always to get in on the getting out — so, three hours early and in violation of the laws and processes of intensive grazing we turn the big cows into a new paddock adjacent to the old one, rearrange some line so the water tank is accessible to both areas, and embark on a final pursuit of straying livestock.  Two galloping heifers are driven, heels high as their heads, into the lane of the new paddock.  The sorrel mini is collared by a small girl, upon which the pony pretends she never meant to go anywhere and allows herself to be corralled as well.  The fence is closed upon them and then, and only then, may we put the two little boys in the old, now three-strand paddock.

   As fast as possible we connect the fence to its power source, and relish the backward leap of a calf whose nose makes contact.  The fight is over; with the ladies safely fenced away from them, the little boys are content.   Their noses drop to graze.

   The monastery bells ring the Angelus.

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