Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Eggs Galore...."Ooh, Aah"

There are eggs galore here in Irish Grove.

"Ooh, aah."

With some forethought and a little luck o' the Irish, we timed our replacement pullets rather well this year. Since the hens take a much-needed break from egg laying in the late fall, we have a really tough time filling our regular egg orders. Let me tell ya, it can be mighty frustrating to have a barn full of chickens and find 2 or maybe 3 eggs in the nests each day.

And I always wonder if our egg customers believe me when I explain to them that the hens just aren't laying right now. Egg production is seasonal. The hens need lots of light stimulation on their pituitary gland in order to lay regularly. The short winter days just don't provide enough light to keep them going. We keep a light on in the barn to help counter that, but like everything else, artificial just can't compete with the natural.

Can I repeat that?

Artificial can't compete with natural.

Thanks.

Anyways, spring is the season for high egg production. Which is why we color eggs for Easter and not Thanksgiving.

We mucked through a month or so of little to no eggs as best we could, and I got to wondering if maybe the pullets (young hens) were gonna hold off until spring to start laying. But then, all of a sudden, we started finding little mini eggs here and there. Yeehaw, the pullets are laying!

Now, unless you've raised laying hens sometime in your life, you probably didn't realize that you can tell the age of the chicken by the size of their egg. Yeah, nature is all neat and tidy like that.

Sometimes.

Pullet eggs are tiny. So tiny, in fact, that when I found an aqua-blue pullet egg (from an americana hen that lays greenish blue eggs), Madelina argued with me that a Robin must have layed an egg in the chicken barn. I tried to explain to her that Robins don't lay eggs in the winter, and that most of them migrate South.

She wouldn't buy my explanation for one second. Stinker.

Pullet eggs will often have a little splash of blood on them as well. Mothers, I'm sure you will readily confirm that that first one is a tough one. (Sorry, guys.)

More seasoned hens lay nice large eggs. The size of egg you ideally buy from a local farmer, or at the store. These eggs are by far the most common egg we find in the nests. And it doesn't take long for a pullet to close the gap, size-wise, with her eggs. Maybe 2 weeks, tops.

But the old hens? The ones you should cull and sell as stew birds, but can't because you believe they've earned their retirement? The ones that are losing money beak over claw? Yeah, these old ladies lay an egg maybe once a week, if you're lucky. Even during egg season. But when they do lay an egg, they are huge, honker eggs. Huge-mongous eggs. The eggs that make it hard to close the carton eggs. Jumbo eggs.

And once in awhile......and I mean these ladies must be sitting on their eggs for a month or so.....they'll lay a super DUPER doozer of an egg--a double-yolker. And we call these eggs, courtesy of my Gramma Alice, "Ooh-Aah" eggs.

Why, you may ask? Please, you've just gotta ask me why, 'cause I can't wait to tell you.

Gramma Alica calls the double-yolked eggs "Ooh-Aah" eggs because when the hen is pushing the egg out she says, "OOOooooooooh", and when the egg is finally out she says, "AAAaaaaaaah".

Ha, ha ha ha, hoo hoo, ha!

I think that's pretty funny.

Here are some photos of eggs, progressing in size from pullet eggs to an "Ooh-Aah" egg. The photos don't do this subject justice, but I haven't added photos in awhile, so here they are:

The pullet egg:



The regular egg:


The "Ooh-Aah" egg:

As you can see, I am cooking platanos con huevos fritos for breakfast. In Panamanian that means fried plaintains with fried eggs. Yu-u-mmy!

My (delicious) breakfast is providing the perfect opportunity to prove to you skeptics out there (and don't think I don't know about you) that yes indeed, some eggs have two yolks.

Watch. And. Learn.

Here I go, cracking that "Ooh-Aah" egg you saw above:

There you have it, people. A double-yolked egg. An "Ooh-Aah" egg in the flesh, or pan, as it were. Ok, so I did break one yolk when I cracked the egg shell. But you can obviously see that the two yolks came from the same egg....just look at the egg white.

You better believe that with a breakfast like this one, I'll be muttering a few oohs and aahs myself.

Let's just hope there's no accompanying egg.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mumble Grumble

Blogging hasn't been high priority lately, obviously. But this fall has kicked my butt and I hate to write negative posts. I prefer my witty, delightful posts about how picture perfect everything is, or the ones about how I solved some huge problem by the sheer force of my intelligence and charm.

Wait...?? Who's blog is this?? Sorry....I confused myself with someone else.

Reality is I'm a farmer now, and I'll be damned if farmers don't bitch and moan every once in awhile. So here it goes...

This year's corn harvest dogged me for weeks. It went anything but smoothly, and I was grumpy through the whole dang process.

The weather didn't cooperate at all, raining every other day for basically a month or so. Now I know talking about the weather isn't that exciting for most people, but weather is to a farmer what a moody boss is to the low-level worker. You gotta follow their lead, but you never know what they're gonna throw at you, and most of the time you don't like it.

This harvest season, the weather tossed us a nice mix of rain, mist, cold, some more rain and mist, and suprisingly little wind. Which means we were harvesting wet corn off of wet ground on cold, dark, and yes, wet days.

So what's the problem?

Well, wet corn means that we have to pay exhorbitant charges at the local grain elevator to dry the corn down to 15% moisture. 15% moisture is the level at which corn can be shipped and/or stored without risk of sprouting or fermenting. (Although fermented corn doesn't sound so bad...ahem.)

Thanks to the wet fall, our corn didn't dry down in the field like it could have. We were harvesting our corn at about 23% moisture. Shall we do the math?

The elevator charges $0.07/bushel to dry corn one half of one percent. (Yes, you read that right.) So that means $0.07 to dry it to 22.5%, another $0.07 to dry it to 22%, etc. etc. When you add it all up, we paid $1.12/bushel to dry the corn down to 15%.

I understand that they have to recoup their energy costs, but to the tune of $1.12/bu? Youch. When you're making $4-5.00/bu on the corn, that's 25% of your profit right there. Today's corn prices are at $2.95 or so. Take a smooth buck off of that and we're talking a 35-40% loss.

Wet land means that the oh-so-heavy equipment like the combine, grain wagons, tractors and semi trucks are driving around our farmland and compacting the crap out of our soil. Soil compaction is horrible for the health of the crops, prohibiting the flow of nutrients and water and causing all sorts of terrible problems with run-off, weeds, etc. In a no-till system like ours, soil compaction is your number one enemy. We don't have the option to moldboard plow the land to break through the hardpan, as they call it.

We had a semi truck and a tractor get stuck in the mud. That's how bad it was. And there are huge ruts everywhere, which I can't look at without getting agitated.

Wet, unpredictable weather causes one more major problem....you never know when you're going to be able to harvest. For three weeks, I could go nowhere, do nothing, see no-one. I'd have my boss at Atwood take me off the schedule because I thought we'd be working. Then it'd rain. I'd put myself back on the schedule, and Mark would show up to work the combine for a few hours.

Sometimes I'd think, "The ground's way too wet to harvest today", so I'd go to my exercise class or run to the store. Upon return, I'd find that Mark had been working for over an hour, the wagons were all full, and I still had to connect the tractor to the auger, lift the top off the bin, etc. The constant set-up, catch up, take down, set-up again was exceedingly frustrating.

Needless to say, I was swearing like a sailor by the time we got it all finished. But finish we did. Thank God for that.

Yeah, farmers complain a lot. We do. But if your schedule and your success was dictated by and determined by something as unforgiving and unpredictable as the weather, you'd complain too.

We're a sorry lot, we farmers. You'll just have to forgive and excuse us when you can. And when you can't?

Deal with it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Busy-ness

Before I catch y'all up with what's happening around here....about stuff like the corn harvest, cattle wrestling, future plans, and just my regular ramblings about extremely interesting and pertinent farm stuff, I gotta finish working on this grant we're apply for. The deadline for applications is Monday, December 1 at 4:30 p.m.

Yeah, 4:30 is relevant. We need all the time we can get.

*huff and puff*

It's a SARE farmer/rancher grant. Two other local farmers and I are applying for money to conduct research trials using a cover crop and no-till techniques to control weeds in organic systems.

I'll fill you in on the details later, but you can check out SARE at: http://www.sare.org/

And you can read about what we want to do at: www.rodaleinstitute.org/no-till_revolution

But for now, I'm off and running.....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We're Famous!

Ok, not famous. But we did make the local newspaper.

About 2 weeks ago, I received a call from a man with a heavy accent who stated that he worked for the Freeport Journal Standard and wanted to interview me about the farm. I asked him how he heard about us, and he responded that he had found our information on the new Local Foods Directory put out by the University of Illinois Extension Office of Stephenson County.

Score! My friend Margaret Larson, Extension's Director, worked hard to get the local foods directory printed in response to an increasing desire to support local producers. The directory hasn't been out much more than a month, and I was impressed by how quickly I had been contacted by someone who had found us through it.

But then I began to wonder how this reporter dude had chosen us over the many, many other interesting and varied farms listed in the directory. So I asked him. He said he was starting a new weekly column titled On The Farm, and I was the first person he contacted. He just picked us....no special reason, really.

Well, after chatting a little on the phone and again noting his thick accent, I asked him if he minded telling me where he was from. "Well, it's funny you ask," he replied. "I'm from Ireland."

A-ha!!

"Now I know why you picked us," I laughed. "It couldn't have something to do with the fact that our farm is named Irish Grove Farms, now could it?" He chuckled and admitted that yes, that might have had a little influence.

Just goes to show that we should never underestimate the importance of a name.

We had a nice 3 hour visit where we grilled him on every detail of his life. And then at the end, we let him ask us a few questions as well.

This is what came of it: Making the Move to Organic

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monday Happened

Phew. Thank goodness it's Wednesday. 'Cause a few days ago, we had a Monday. And boy, what a Monday it was.

It's corn harvesting time, and it's been a tough season. We had an incredibly cool and wet spring, followed by a wet summer, a month-long dry spell in August, and then a return to rain, rain, rain ever since. The corn harvest started over a week ago and should take us about 4 to 5 days to complete, yet we're barely half-way there, thanks to this wet weather that won't go away.

I knew Monday was going to be hectic. I had a full schedule that started at 5:30 a.m., which included getting the kids off to school, harvesting corn all day, and work at Atwood from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. But Marcel had opened the lid on the bin for me, bless his heart, before he left for work and I was thinking I was sitting pretty.

It was cold, mind you. The temperature had dropped to the high 20's overnight, and that means the tractors must be plugged in to keep the diesel fuel warm. I was pretty confident farner Mark would start combining at about 9:30 or so, so I was planning on plugging the tractors in at 8:00, and even thought I could run to the store for some milk and bread before we got started. Just as I was brushing my teeth, at about 7:45 or so, I heard a knock at the door. Yep, it was farmer Mark, ready to get started.

"Well, yes, of course I'm ready to go," I lied, "I was just getting ready to go out and connect the tractor to the auger."

"Well, okay then, I'll get started." replied Mark. "I'll need a few more wagons out there in a minute or so."

Assuring him that yes, I'd get everything moving, I called my mom in a panic and told her I needed her to get Armando fast. Then I ran and plugged the tractors in. Maybe they'll heat up in the 10 minutes or so that it'll take me to run the wagons out to the field, I thought.

I thought wrong.

When I tried to start our John Deere, a huge, troubling puff of white smoke billowed out of the exhaust pipe as the motor slowly chugged, chugged, chugged....and nothing. Chug, chug again.....and nothing. Then I jumped over to farmer Bill's tractor that he had lent us. His tractor chugged a little more enthusiastically, but wouldn't start either.

The tractor motors wouldn't start, but unfortunately my motor was going strong, and the muttering and grumbling started tumbling out....

"I can't believe I didn't plug the @^*&#% tractors in earlier."
"I wish Mark would've called me and told me what time he was starting this morning."
"Where is my mom to get Armando?"

Well, Mom did show up pretty quickly and got Armando, and I quickly called Marcel to ask him what I could do to speed things up. At this point, farmer Mark had two of my four wagons filled and I was getting really behind.

Marcel told me to wait 10 more minutes and try again. So I did. But this time the starter motor was really sluggish, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I wore the battery out. I called Marcel back in 10 minutes, grumbled at him pretty good, and had him listen to the motor. "Yep, you're gonna have to charge the motor," he told me. Which incited some more whining, swearing, and general gnashing of teeth on my end. He walked me through the process, and after another 15 minutes and another full wagon of corn in the field, the tractor started.

Hallelujah, we're in business.

I quickly pulled the tractor out of the barn, got it in position to hook up the PTO to the auger, and quickly found out that the auger's arm that connects to the PTO was frozen. It should usually slide back and forth pretty easily to help you slip it over the PTO on the tractor, but this time wasn't moving an inch.

So now I'm really cussing like a farmer, folks. I call farmer Mark on the cell phone and, with much embarrassment, told him I couldn't get the auger hooked up. My thoughts at this point were going downhill fast, and consisted of some really mature things like, "I'm such a girl," and "God, I'm an embarrassment to myself and this whole family," and other nice things. Can you tell I was a little more than frustrated?

Mark came over, tugged and pulled, and finally pounded the ice out of the auger arm. We got the tractor hooked up, and I have to admit I was relieved to see him struggle with it and felt a little vindicated in my wimpiness. He went back out to combine some more, and I made an SOS call to farmer Bill....."if you're home, could you please come and help me for a little while?"

Just as I pulled up to the auger with my first load of corn, Bill showed up. Mark was pretty much waiting on me at this point, so Bill's help was going to be a godsend. I tugged and pulled and hung like a monkey from the wagon door that is soo hard to open, and finally started unloading the corn into the bin. And as the corn flowed out of the wagon, the relief flowed out of my body. Bill helped me get a handle on my Monday, and am I ever grateful.

I just hope we finish the corn harvest before another Monday comes around.

Oh, and Bill? Could you clear your calendar, just in case?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Can!!

It is a new day. A new country. A new world.

Oreo is on top of the world.
We did it!! We did it together.
And the whole world celebrates.

Beginning right here in Irish Grove. Hooray for President Obama!!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lining Up to Vote

Well, Election Day has finally arrived! What a relief!!

No more campaigning, no more lies, no more sleeze and smear, no more pandering, and no more 'gotcha' journalism. ('Course, in my opinion, if you get 'got' by the journalists who are clearly playing the game you signed up for, then who's fault is it?)

Election day on the farm is like election day everywhere else. It starts out pretty normal, with a morning stretch, a little breakfast, and a few laps around the barnyard. But then the last minute preparation begins. Time to get in line, go to the polls, and cast our vote.

You may recall that here in Irish Grove we've got some pretty civic-minded animals. They were very active in the primaries. And even though some of their candidates didn't make it through that process, they've pretty much thrown their weight behind one side or the other.

Of course, Lucero was always a McCain supporter. As he makes his way to the polls, let's see what he has to say about this historic election.


"Well, as you know, I'm a (racetrack) veteran, and we veterans stick together. The hard work and sacrifice that comes with defending the (winner's) flag bonds us in ways unimaginable to you petty civilians. Like John McCain and I say, "Farm first." Plus, Obama wants to redistribute our wealth. Ain't no cow gonna eat my hay."

Chip and Oreo, on the other hoof, support Obama. And they are getting ready to vote as we speak. I wonder what their thoughts are this morning.


"Todaaay is a day for the history books, and we are so proud to be among millions of goats voting for O-baaa-ma today. We want to improve the pastures for all faa-arm animals, not just for ourselves. And once in awhile, you know, you just go-otta eat a few bitter burdock leaves or bite into that thorny raspberry cane. It's painful, but necessary. We must keep the graaass healthy for everyone. Short term saa-acrifices for long term gains."

The other animals are getting in line to vote as well. Although your guess is as good as mine as to who they'll support.

The chickens had supported Huckabee, but he went the way of the possum. Flat as a pancake in the middle of the election super-highway. Think they'll support the Republicans anyways?

Of course, the cows wanted Hillary to win. She was going to shatter the glass barnroof that has enslaved the female bovine world and reduced them to little more than calf-makers.

They're obviously still a little peeved that she isn't the Democratic nominee.

But will they switch parties? I mean, could they find something in common with Sarah Palin, who doesn't want their daughters to know the real reason the bull is being so nice to them? Then again, there is that glass barnroof thing. Hmmn.

Unfortunately, Irish Grove isn't immune to the election-stealing tactics so common these days.

I'm ashamed to say it, but I noticed some illegal voter registration a few months ago. The goats were hosting a get-out-the-vote rally, and they added every single farm animal to the registration rolls.

Including the chicks,


and the calves.


Um, I'm sorry, but don't those voters look a little young? Quick, someone call the media!

And then there was the familiar, yet despicable voter intimidation that rears its ugly head every 4 years. Seeing as the farm animals can't read, some of us took to a more time-honored, old-fashioned way:

"You're gonna vote McCain or I'll......"

Shudder. You don't want to know the rest of that sentence. Trust me.

Oh, and I forgot one thing. Don't forget the hispanic vote this year.


That's right. Our own wonderful farmer, Marcel, is off to vote this year for the first time ever!!

Woohoo!!

Yes, good and bad, Irish Grove is like a little cross-section of America. And off we go to the polls. With pride, dignity and hope. To vote in the new leadership of our great country. May God help us all.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Choose the Light

I had a writing teacher once that said, "You can write for the dark or you can write for the light. Choose the light." She was referring to the dark side of her craft--writing--which would include things like tabloids, smut, etc. But I find her advice wise for any craft. Choose the light. Work for the good.

In farming, the "dark" represents choosing profit over environmental health. The "dark" represents the subsidies that make it all but impossible for a small farmer to compete against corporate agriculture. The "dark" represents choosing secrecy about our farming practices over providing consumers the information they need to choose whether they want to support our decisions and our farming practices by buying and eating what we produce. The "dark" is embodied by agribusiness, the FDA, and, at times, the USDA.

I am not anti-profit motive. I'm seriously not. I believe that farmers must make a profit, and a healthy one at that, in order to sustain their land and make good environmental investments and decisions. But you can't choose money above everything. We can't let money trump our responsibility to be good environmental stewards.

And in support of full disclosure, I also receive a subsidy check in the mail every October that is literally a lifesaver for our farm. (The subsidy I receive is peanuts compared to what the big players receive. Not even peanuts....perhaps just the peanut shells.) But I support eliminating subsidies to level the playing field. It might hurt us in the short run, but eventually we'd be able to compete without feeling the pressure to get big or get out.

What really gets me, though, is the FDA and big agriculture stance on labeling. Why, why, why are we so fearful of letting consumers know what's in their food, how it was produced, and where? If we farmers choose to be part of the light, to produce healthy food in healthy and humane ways, what do we have to fear?

In case you're unaware, dairy farmers who choose to not inject their cows with a genetically modified hormone--rBGH--are legally unable to label their milk rBGH-free. It is literally against the law to label their milk rBGH-free. Many, many consumers say they do not want to buy this milk and that they are willing to pay a premium for milk that is free of rBGH.

So what's the problem? There are a million-gazillion different types of everything at the grocery store from which to choose. I mean, who knew there could so many different ways to take corn syrup, add fake flavors and colors, and squish it into various shapes to make fruit snacks? There are literally 20 feet of shelf space dedicated to this crap! Could it be so difficult, then, to offer two types of milk in the dairy case? No one has gone freakin' crazy over the placement of a sugar cereal next to a sugar-free one, now have they?

Next we have genetically engineered animals. That's right. They have actually taken a goat and genetically engineered it to have spider genes so that their milk will produce silk fibers. It doesn't get much crazier than that. And I thought our goats could climb!! Holy crap, we need to build higher fences, Marcel!!

Personally, I can't wait to see the day when I find our goats swinging through the trees on silk threads hanging from their teats. But that's just me. I'm weird like that.

Did I forget that part where pigs have been genetically altered, adding mouse genes so that they can better metabolize their food? What the.....?? I mean, they're pigs! They eat, snort, root around and get fat! It can't get much simpler, folks.

Hmmn, grilled mouse-chops. I hadn't yet thought of that, but in a pinch.... "Um, honey? Looks like we'll need to upgrade our mouse traps to a size XXXXXL."

This is not the work of small farmers, folks. This is the work of scientists that work for the dark. But unfortunately those scientists wield power. And pretty soon, when the meat market collapses out of sheer disgust, we'll all pay the price.

Consumers should be allowed to choose between the dark and the light. And when farmers make the right choice, the "light" choice, we should be able to label it clearly and be compensated for it.

Amen.


Visit www.NotInMyFood.org to voice your opposition with the FDA, and for more information about genetically engineered animals.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Goin' Against the Grain

I had a nice visit with our conventional pesticide and fertilizer supplier dude earlier today. I'm sure he has a title, but I have no idea what is is. So pesticide and fertilizer dude will have to do.

It was really nice to have a long talk with a farmer who's squarely planted in the conventional world but who also doesn't freak out and have a heart-attack when I tell them we plan to go organic. We had a long chat about different planting options, about my concerns with our ragweed problem (which wasn't solved by the machete work), about his concerns with soil erosion in organic grain systems, and about the challenges of balancing our concerns for the environment with the economic health of the farm.

I must say it was pretty cool to receive advice about different things we could do to help us reach our goal faster, especially coming from a man who spends most of his Spring driving one of those tall, monstrous pesticide-sprayin' vehicles that just look evil and remind me of a giant moon rover. (Not that I've ever seen a moon rover.)

Because I gotta tell ya, I can feel myself faltering once and awhile. It simply gets harder and harder for me to maintain one foot in the organic world and another in the conventional world. Let's be honest. I have to constantly explain the rationale behind keeping part of the farm conventional when talking with my organic cohorts. And then I have to explain why I won't plant GMO crops to my conventional cohorts. Especially when I see, we all see, the major weed pressure in our non-GMO fields and a simple switch to Round-Up Ready would take care of it.

I know where I want to be. I just want to be there already.

OK, I admit...patience isn't my strongest quality. But this path in the middle is not easy. Not at all. And the worst part is that I know the longer we allow the ragweed to populate our fields, the larger the problem is going to grow. I am pretty sure that within a year or two, we'll be at the point of no return, especially in one particular 45-acre field.

I asked Mr. fertilizer dude about planting wheat. Wheat requires less nitrogen and harvests mid-summer, which would cut back the ragweed. It also bumps up your future soybean yields, something that has lagged on our farm for years. He said the ragweed could cause a big problem with our wheat crop, though. Plus, we'd have to coninue to mow the fallow field the rest of the season if we wanted to keep the ragweeds down. Can you say diesel, diesel and more diesel?

The best option we came up with is to take that field out of row crops altogether and sock it into hay ground. We could get a premium oat-hay crop in late Spring, and then two more cuttings of Alfalfa that summer. Which means we'd mow down the ragweed 3 different times. The field could be left as hay ground for two more full summers, getting mowed 4 times each summer. Then you plow in your hay field and plant corn, which would need no nitrogen since the alfalfa provided it for us. Follow that with a year of soybeans and then back into alfalfa for three more years.

And maybe, just maybe, after three more years our cattle herd might be at the size that we'd need the land for grazing. So we wouldn't even need to put it back into corn or soybeans.

Hmmn. Hmmn. Hmmn.

The only teensy-weensy miniscule problem I can find with this new little seed of a plan is this: we'd have about 95 acres of hay to cut, dry and bale next year!!!!! And you'all know that cutting, drying and baling hay without it getting rained on isn't an easy task. It isn't an easy task when your dealing with 42 acres. Add another 40-odd acres and what do you get? A stressed-out farmer, that's what you get!!

Guess I've got me some thinking to do. And guess I gotta consult with the family.

Let's see. What should I bring up first? My great idea on how to get rid of our ragweed problem? Or the fact that we might be hayin' on 95 acres next year?

If you have any advice, this is the time to cough it up. Unless you're the conventional-judgemental type or the organic-judgemental type. Then you can just keep it to your nice little self. Thanks in advance.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pink Eye

Around the time we had our chicken harvest, our baby calves came down with Pink Eye. We noticed it first in the second youngest calf...the one that was too lazy to search out his mom, if you so recall.

We check on our cattle every day, often times more than once. But, as you well know, cows run in herds. And when you see the herd mullin' around, nicely chewin' their cud and swattin' at flies with their tails, well.....well, they check out just fine.

Mother cows keepin' up their conditioning? Check.
Grass supply sufficient? Check.
Babes nursing? Check.
Water tank in workin' order? Check.
General all-around happiness? Check.

I guess what I'm saying is that we don't literally look them all in the eye, every day of the week. And especially not in each eye, as was needed in this particular case.

When I checked on little lazy calf, he looked just fine. Perfectly fine. Until he turned his head the other way, which provoked me to loudly exclaim, "WOA....What is THAT?"

*Insert violin soundtrack here*

Oh no! His eye! His poor, poor eye. It was all squinty, and runny, and sportin' a nice crop of flies, those despicable creatures. The worst part was that his eyeball was snow-white. White as could be. The kind of white that you know means one, and only one thing: Blindness.

My heart sunk. My (s)mothering instinct kicked into full gear. And my thoughts started racing: Could he have impaled himself on a piece of wire? Did he get kicked by another? Was there a possible predator attack?

But then I knew. I just knew. I knew the truth when he walked out of the shed for a moment, only to immediately turn around and high-tail it back in.

Oh no.

No.

No, no, no.

Not Pink Eye. Anything but Pink Eye.

But Pink Eye it was. I started looking, really looking this time at each and every calf. In each and every eye. And in all of the calves but one, I saw it. I saw the signs of that blasted disease, and in the blink of an eye (sorry) I knew our lives had become much more complicated.

I called the vet and arranged to pick up an antibiotic spray that would need to be sprayed in the affected eyes, once a day. The exact indications read: 2 squirts directly on the eyeball, every day until the infection clears up.

Did I mention that it could take over a month for the infection to clear up? And that we had to spray the antibiotic directly on the eyeball?!?!? It was going to be one long month. Sigh.

All but one calf had Pink Eye, so we decided to treat them all. The flies were carrying the infection from one calf to another anyway, so it was only a matter of time before the last one would contract it as well.

And hence began the rodeo at Irish Grove. 'Cause for the next week, once a day, we had to corral the little buggers into a corner pen in the bullshed, handling them one by one, until we had sprayed their infected eyes with the antibiotic.

Marcel came to the scene armed with a lasso, I came with the spray. Marcel would gently slip the lasso over the head of one calf, and then quickly pull it tight. At this point the calf would go nuts, bawlin' and kickin' and jumpin' all over the place. Marcel would hold on tight until the calf was close to a corner of the pen, at which point Marcel'd shove his butt into the corner, and I'd shove his head and neck against the wall.

We'd have about 3 seconds before the calf figured out that if he jumped forward, he could get out of this hold. Umm, 3 seconds is not a lot of time. Especially when you've gotta ply open an eyelid and spray 2 squirts of antibiotic onto their bare eyeball. I'm sure you can imagine that the calves just somehow weren't quite goin' for the whole scene.

I'd usually get one squirt in before the kickin' and jumpin' and bawlin' started up again. Oh, and did I mention that we're in a pen with all 8 calves, not just one? Yeah, so while we're trying to wrestle one calf into a corner, we're also tripping over and generally trying to avoid gettin' kicked by the other 7. But it's easier to control an animal when he's with his buddies then when he's alone, so believe it or not, this was the better option.

After a few days of corraling calves, squirting 'em in the eyes, and leaving the barn covered from head to toe in manure, we noticed the calves weren't getting any better. The spray wasn't working.

We didn't want to, but we had to call the vet and have her come out. The vet came the very next day, and we repeated the rodeo scene for the last time. But instead of spraying them in the eyes, she gave them a shot of antibiotics in the neck, and then a shot into the tear duct!

*Cringe. Wince. Shudder.*

The shot into the tear duct bathes the eye with antibiotic every time they blink, as the intra-muscular shot works its way throught the blood stream to the infection. As horrible as it was, I was relieved that it was finally going to help the poor calves.

I have to brag and say that the vet was very impressed with our setup, and especially with how smoothly it went. It's always nice to be complimented, but especially by the veterinarian!

Pink Eye is a horrible disease to suffer through, and a horrible one to treat. But I've gotta be straight with y'all: I enjoyed every last minute of it. Handling those calves was exhilarating!

A little extra swagger in my step? Check.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Rest and Relaxation

Happy Labor Day! I hope you're taking full advantage of your day off.

I see these guys sure are.

They deserve a break. I mean, it's hard work following your mother around all day, trying to sneak a drink of milk here or there.

The calves tell me that Labor Day is the perfect day for relaxing,

visiting friends,

and just hanging around.

Obviously I'm not the only one who agrees!

It must also a great day for daydreaming. Take this chicken, for example. She's wondering if maybe, just maybe, she'd make it as a flamingo.


What do ya think?

The goats also have an active imagination.


They think they'd make great mountain climbers.

As for me? Today I'm dreaming of vacations, good food, and great company in a far away land.

That's me and Madelina in Boquete, Panama. Isn't she the cutest, sweetest thing ever?

Hope you find a restful, relaxing way to spend your day.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Help Us Decide!!

I've got a fun little task for y'all to do for me.

You see, rumor has it that we here in Irish Grove just might be going organic on some of our acres next year. Grassfed beef is our main push with those acres, but we won't be able to certify our beef until the following year. So, in the meantime, we're thinking of raising some organic, pastured chickens to sell for meat.

This is where y'all come in. Organic pastured chickens will be a lot of work, for minimal return, especially the first year. Organic pastured chickens mean Marcel and I will be spending many winter hours building moveable chicken pens. Organic pastured chickens mean that yours truly will be spending about 2 hours/day, 7 days a week, for 4 long months next summer, feeding, watering, and moving those same chickens to a fresh paddock. Organic pastured chickens mean we'll be buying organic grain from someone for extremely high prices. And organic pastured chickens mean I'll be driving 4 hours south, once every 2-3 weeks, for a long, boring day waiting for the chickens to be processed at an organically certified chicken processing plant.

The extra work doesn't scare us. We're farmers; the type of people who like to work. What scares us is the prospect of extra work coupled with few customers and a failed business idea.

So, I need to know the following: Do you think organic chickens is a good idea and worth the effort? And do you or would you pay more than $3.00/lb for organic chicken?

This is not a ploy for customers, even though I'd love to sell you a chicken, but a ploy for opinions. You all are very aware of my opinions on store-bought chicken. Now I'd like to hear yours.

You can reply to this post, or vote on my cute little poll that I'll be adding in the sidebar. It's as easy as that. We'll just call today "inform a farmer" day.

Please?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mi Bountiful Gardenita

Gardenita. I like the ring that has. Even if it is Spanglish and might win me some scorn from our anti-immigrant compatriots.

I've spoken Spanish daily for the last, oh, 12 years or so, and I still find it exciting to communicar in another language. Especially for small-town-old-me. And somehow I'm still as American as I was before I spoke Spanish. Or at least I think I am. I think I'll go check, just in case. Yep....still freckled, still blancita, still blue-eyed. Our compatriots can all heave a sigh of relief on their way to their jobs at the meat-packing plant. Oh wait. Our compatriots don't like to work at meat-packing plants. Never mind.

One downfall of being bi-lingual, however, is that my command of the English language has faltered. I used to have an impressive arsenal of complicated palabras ever at the tip of my tongue. My college friends would sometimes comment on my impressive vocabulary and use of proper grammar, and I'd feel all smart and educated. (That is until I'd get to my next class, where the professors were more than happy to bring me back to reality.)

The grammar I'll attribute to my Grandma Alice....she's a stickler for proper usage of the English language. She always knows whether one should use 'lie' or 'lay', 'who' or 'whom', and 'its' or 'it's'. I find myself double-thinking through my sentences when speaking with her, lest she raise her cejas at me and say, exasperatedly, "Jackie!" (Hi Gramma!)

My nice vocabulary, however, was due to the fact that I was quite the bookworm as I grew up. I read lots and lots of books. Of all types and kinds. At all hours of the day, night, and early morning. In junior high, I was a huge fanatica of the Anne of Green Gables series, and I imagined myself to be just as heady, analytical and charming as Anne. Why, I was Jackie of Irish Grove, mind you. Except I wasn't really all that heady, analytical or charming. Ah, the beauty of an over-active imagination and plenty of tiempo to read!

My vocabulary now, however? Post-Spanish? Now I stumble on even the silliest of sentences. I often can't think of the names of simple things like 'strainer' or 'chain' in English, because colador and cadena are just easier to remember. That leads me to say really inteligente things like, "Mom, where do you keep your, um...your, eh...you know, your colador? What's that thing called that let's you squeeze the liquid out of a food?"

Knowing a second language has freed up my mind and improved my creativity, but boy, has it put a padlock on my tongue!

The worst part is that while I can still call to mind some pretty nice words, I can't remember their proper pronunciation, and they tend to come out with a Spanish accent. This gets really bad at work, where I teach biologia and nature-related topics. Oh, and even though I'm interacting with kids of all different ethnicities, I pronounce their Asian, African, and sometimes even American names with a Spanish ring. Sometimes even rolling an 'r' here or there. Then they raise their cejas at me.

Anyways, I was wanting to talk about how much comida I've gotten from my teensy-weensy gardenita, and I got side-tracked.

Gardening is fun, and it is absolutely amazing to see the cantidades of food one can get from even the smallest of gardens. When Marcel and I first moved into this house, we planted a huge, lovely garden that was about 1/3 acre. Wowsa. That was alot of work, especially since Ana was a bebe. We kept it up for two short years. With each additional child, my garden got exponentially smaller. Until we ended up with our cinco, quaint, small raised beds.

But I still get a lot of food from my gardenita, especially considering the cold, wet primavera we had. When you add in my many failed tomato plants (they had a fungus or something), an extremely late planting date (mid-June), the fact that my espinaca bolted as soon as it had about 2 leaves (too much heat), and a pretty lackadaisical attitude about watering and weeding, you'd have thought I wasn't going to get much of anything. But I've gotten loads of medium-sized onions, enough tomatoes for fresh salsa, green and wax beans (yummmmm-y!), and zucchini.

Oh, zucchini. Lovely, lovely zucchini. Bountious, copious, plentiful, fertile zucchini. It's the conejo of the vegetable world, if you know what I mean. Thankfully I love it, so no complainin' here. I've shredded and frozen bag after bag of zucchini to use for muffins and queques this winter. I've chopped and sauteed zucchini every night for weeks now.

Today I made zucchini bread, zucchini cake, and zucchini hashbrowns, even, topping them with homemade salsa. De-lish. Tomorrow I might try a zucchini pie recipe I found in one of my cookbooks.

And if my zucchini plants don't slow down soon, I just might have to start pranking the vecinos with my zucchini. You know the one, where you ring the doorbell and run, leaving a pile of.....um, zucchini.....yeah, that's it......on their front doorstep?

Between the home-grown garden veggies, eggs, chicken and beef, we've been eatin' like reyes y reinas here for weeks now and we don't even have any large grocery bills to show for it. Now if that's not un-Amercian, I can't think of what is.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chickens, and a visit from Cousin Jenny

Well, Saturday was a long one. It took us about 10 hours, but we butchered 40 chickens and filled the freezer with some homegrown, healthy food. I'd post pictures, but, yeah, well.....I imagine most of you just don't wanna know. Let's just say that by the end of the day it looked like the entire community of Irish Grove had descended upon our farm to partake in huge feather-pillow fight. And we'll just leave it at that.

Thankfully we had the help of my sister and her family (my lovely sister who brought her famous cinnamon rolls) and yes, the help of my kids. Ana and Madelina dove right in at the plucking station, along with Laura, Rob, Brady, and Jonathan. Wow! 6 pluckers! Armando even helped, doing a great job of taking the fully dressed (which is a definite oxymoron) chickens over to the cold water tank.

Madelina was the funniest, though, as she had decided to take on the role of narrator for the day. She was getting a kick out of the fact that her Aunt Laura was holding back a retch or two as she plucked her first chicken, and that her cousins were a little more than hesitant to get started. You see, according to Madelina, she had tons of experience in the ole chicken-pluckin' thang, so she pulled out the big guns and started in with her 1st-grader hipster talk. She started struttin' around saying things such as "It's not gross! I think it's really cool." and "Look at the guts, their like, so cool lookin'." (She gets her eloquence from her mother.) Finally I had to step in and let her know that she'd already over-impressed everyone and could put a lid on it.

Anyways, the extra help made the job much lighter for Marcel and I, both physically and spiritually. And then, of course you can't forget our other helper, my cousin Jenny, who gave us more moral support than actual physical help. Jenny did a good job of holding down a lawn chair, if ya know what I mean. For some reason or another she just didn't feel like plucking feathers. I can't imagine why!

That's okay. Jenny might not be the 'dive-right-in-and-get-dirty' type o' gal, but she is one of our biggest supporters. She loves to come out and socialize, which can be a good thing when you're filled with chicken guts. Someone has to help keep our minds off the yucky task at hand!


Jenny also likes to drive the PUG when she's here. It can be a little nerve-racking, though, 'cause, shhhhhh! don't tell anyone, but.......she's a crazy driver!

Here she is taking a whirlwind tour of our yard. (Marcel is a brave man!)



Here she is, almost taking out the garage:



Here's Marcel, waving frantically for the kids to run for their lives.


Whew! That was a close one! The garage was saved, the kids were safe, and Jenny had a blast.

I'm sure Jenny is still wondering how she got roped in to coming out to the farm for the pluckin' party. In fact, that's probably what most of our helpers are thinking right now. Hopefully the fresh, wholesome chickens in their freezers made it worth it.

Wait! Jenny didn't get a chicken! Don't worry, Jen. We've got one with your name on it. As creepy as that sounds.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pluckin' Party

Rumor has it there'll be a pluckin' party around these parts.

Our 50 meat chickens are market size, and so, they've reached the end of their journey.

Butchering is never easy. We don't name our food animals, nor do we cuddle them or play with them. But we do have a relationship with them. We care for them, making sure they are happy, well-fed, comfortable and free to roam around the way nature intended. They have a good life, as far as domesticated farm animals go. Yet it's always difficult to bring that life to an end.

I want it that way......to be difficult, I mean. The day that butchering becomes easy, the day I don't feel conflicted about killing an animal, that's the day I should get out of the livestock business.

But until then, we'll continue to raise food, knowing that we've done our best, the animals were humanely treated, we're putting only the healthiest kind of meat onto our plates and into our bodies, and we're supporting the family farm in the process.

So, if you've never seen a chicken be processed before and want to educate yourself on how a fully feathered bird turns into that boneless chicken breast on your plate, come on over.

Tomorrow's the day (Saturday). Bright and early. Rumor has it fresh chicken will be on the grill by noon.

Oh, and wear old clothes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Felling the Giant, one machete-swing at a time

That's right, I said machete. Machete. A third-world tool that no self-respecting, American-born, tractor-drivin', weed-busting conventional farmer would ever, ever touch.


I guess that's why I'm not your usual self-respecting-American-born-tractor-drivin'-weed-bustin'-conventional farmer.


Cause a machete is what's been occupying my right hand for a few days straight now, and I gotta tell you......ouch, ouch and ouch. My forearm is extremely sore, and my middle finger (yes, the naughty one) is barely working this morning. My hands are blistered and my waist hurts so bad from the rythmic 'bend-swing-fell' movement of the machete that I'm walking around, preggo-style, with my arms propping up my lower back. And no, I'm not nine-months pregnant! 'Cause if I were, I wouldn't be so %#$&* sore from using a machete.


But machete I did, and machete I will do again. Because we've got this little problem going on around here. OK, it's a big problem. In fact, a giant problem. A giant ragweed problem.


Gaint Ragweeds are the enemy of all conventional farmers. They are this huge-mongous weed that grows about 11' tall (seriously), their roots send out many stalks that happen to be as thick as small tree-saplings, and then. Then! Then they do something that is quite amazing, and extremely frustrating, especially if you're 1) a farmer, or 2) a person who suffers from hayfever.

They put up this glorious (in their mind, at least) flower head, with copious amounts of pollen waiting for the most minute gust of wind to carry them straight to your nose and mine. (Cue sneezing and wheezing.)


And when the pollen does its job of mixing with its friends (yes, it's called cross-pollinating....I'm not really as dumb as I make myself out to be), the flower-heads will turn into seed-heads and drops thousands upon thousands of tiny Giant Ragweed seeds into my corn or bean-field. Which will promptly turn into thousands of huge-mongous Giant Ragweed plants next year. Noooooooo!!


Giant Ragweed are all too common in these parts. Especially on farms like ours where we don't plant Round-up Ready anything. Round-up Ready corn and soybeans are also known as GMO crops--Genetically Modified Organisms. The scientists take genes from unrelated plants and splice them into the DNA of the corn or soybeans. This change allows farmers like me to herbicide-spray the crap out of our corn or soybeans without killing them. Except farmers like me don't plant GMO crops. Did I already say that?


But before you think we're all virtuous or something, we do spray herbicides on our fields. They're called pre-emergence herbicides, and they're sprayed on the land before we plant the crops. They kill all those sneaky little weed seedlings that sprout the moment the weather warms. And they give our crops a 'head-start', a chance to get established before the weeds come back and give 'em a run for their money. Or our money. Whatever.


Gosh, this is getting long.


So, we spray in the spring, and then try not to spray again if possible. If it's really bad, we can re-spray, but these herbicides WILL shock the living daylights out of the corn or soy, and we don't like to do that.


Re-enter the machete. Here I am, getting ready to go to work:

(OK, not really. I'm just being goofy.)


Marcel and I spent 5 hours slaying the giant over by my sisters house last week, and 4 hours at the back of the main farm two days ago. Yesterday I spent 2 hours, all by my lonesone, machete-ing in the same bean field as the day before. Another 2 hours will finish that field up rather nicely, upon which we'll move over to a major infestion left by Laura's. That one will take a good 5 hours or so. And I'm hoping that'll be it for this year!


I'm also hoping that by the time we're all said and done, my fingers, forearms and waist muscles will still be functioning and that we'll have prevented 459.768 billion ragweed seeds from forming. Or something like that.


And that, my friends, will make it all worth it.


So look out, Giants. There's a Machete-Wielding Gringa in these parts. She'll getcha sooner or later. If she can move, that is.

Groan.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Have You Herd?

Sorry, that title is terrible. I couldn't help myself. But......

Y'all have just GOT to take a gander at the newest members of Irish Grove.

Here's our first little guy, born the second week of June. He was startlingly silver. But now he's white, and goofy-lookin', and definitely thinkin' he's a big deal.



Here's #2, pitch-black at birth. Altho he'll end up a nice dark brown. If you look hard, you can see the brown peeking through on his neck.


Next up? Numbers 3, 4 and 5. Two of which are females. Heifers, as we call 'em.



The white-faced one is our spunkiest calf. She tends to run circles around the other calves, kickin' up her hind legs and just generally havin' a good time. She's been named Delilah by the kids. We only name the girls, because, well, umm.....just because. (We shouldn't talk about the facts of cow life when they're just babies.)

Delilah was our first girl. We're partial to her because she's so darned cute with those black circles around her eyes. And because she's spunky.



Here's #6, the dark one with his mother. Another boy, and a sweet little guy at that. He only weighed about 60 lbs at birth.



Number 7 is another story. He's this big bumblin' bull-calf that has a very annoying tendency to walk off and hide in the tall grass. He's like a great big oaf that doesn't have any survival instinct what-so-ever.


I've never before seen a calf like this. He will literally sleep in the tall grass all day, all night, and all day next as well. We have to go looking for him in the morning and literally roll him over a few times before he finally finds the gumption to stand up and try to find his mother. The big lazy bum!


Hopefully he livens up a little as he gets older. Here he is after being pushed, prodded and generally rolled around by his human keepers. His mother isn't too happy with us, seeing as we're botherin' her baby. We decided to keep our distance:

Last but not least is this little cutie. Gosh, is he a doll. White as can be, with a black nose a black eyelashes.



Eight healthy calves, born in the height of summer. Who could ask for more?

Marcel is pretty happy with the new crop of calves. Can you tell?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cemeteries, Gravestones and Procrastination

I've always loved roaming around old cemeteries. They're so peaceful and serene, quietly shaded, and curiously inviting; the type of place that makes me want to sit for awhile, a place to perhaps read an old classic novel while leaning back against an old, sturdy headstone. I've never done that, read a novel in a cemetery. But I'd like to.


Irish Grove's cemetery is especially beautiful. And yes, I'm partial. But what can be more beautiful, peaceful and inviting than a rural church surrounded by the crumbling gravestones of its founders and the newer, shiny gravestones of its more recent members?


So you'd think a few simple requests to find the grave sites of my reader's ancestors would be pretty easy for me to honor, right? Well, unfortunately not.


You see, Irish Grove's lovely cemetery was a place I loved to roam up until that fateful day that one of my own was buried there. And now that Dad's there, the cemetery has become a place to avoid. It's the one place where I can't gloss over the pain of loss, where I can't deny reality, the one place where I'm forced to grieve.


But I go. I do. I force myself to take deep breaths and think positive thoughts, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. I send my kids to jump on their Grandpa's stone, to "wrestle him" like they used to, which makes me smile and laugh one of those forced laughs....you know the kind. And I think to myself, "If I keep coming here, it'll get easier." It will, right?


But today, as I drove to the cemetery to finally take some photos of someone else's relatives and someone else's history, ancestry, and quite possibly grief, my stomach started to tighten up. I mean, how could I justify going to the cemetery and not go visit Dad's grave? What kind of daughter am I, anyways?


But then......well, I saw something. Something, I am ashamed to say, that prompted a sigh of relief to escape through my lips. A lawnmower. I was saved by a lawnmower!! There was a young man mowing the cemetery lawn and I couldn't have been happier to see him. I mean, I can't go visit my Dad's gravesite and cry in front of a teenage boy, now can I? The poor boy is just trying to make a little money. Probably saving up for college. And he was so content, sitting there listening to his iPod and driving around headstone after headstone. Some old lady crying would make him really uncomfortable, and you must agree that that wouldn't have been very nice of me.


So, Fox's and Cuff's......please thank the local teenage lawnmowing boy for your photos. Without him, who knows how much longer it could've taken for you to get these.


And please accept my apologies for the delays, especially you, Rex. You've waited far too long for this:



PATRICK CUFF


DIED
Oct. 21, 1817


Aged 52 years




Here's the headstone, up close:






Here is the view behind the stone:






Here's the stone as it's found in relation to the church. It's the small headstone on the right side of the picture:



For the Fox family:

THOMAS FOX

1815 - 1891

SARAH FOX

1813 - 1891

and THOMAS

son of J.B. & C. Fox

Erected solely by J. B. Fox

I must admit that my family and I had to chuckle at that last sentence on the stone. We meant no disrespect, but there must be a good story there somewhere!

Here's a close-up of the gravestone:


And here is where the headstone is found in relation to the church:

Irish Grove really is beautiful. Maybe I will take that book on over.....

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why So Quiet?

Life's been crazy lately, leaving no time to update y'all on the "goings ons" around here. And unfortunately today's no different. My two girls are each at separate day camps in two very distant ends of our nearby city, I've got to rake 9 acres of hay and try to get it baled before it rains, again, and then both girls have separate softball games in two different towns tonight. Can you hear me scream, "Calgone take me away!"

So I'm writing here, quickly, to give you a few small hints at what has been happening in our life.

First, I directed a week-long leadership and environmental awareness camp for teenagers which was extremely stressful, but super fun. The camp was held at Atwood Environmental Center, a really great place where I happen to work part-time....part-time, at least, until Eco-Factor started. Then I worked way, way too much. Especially when you throw in the farm (in springtime) and my kids....in my world, that's plainly a recipe for disaster.
But I love being surrounded by a bunch of really interesting, motivated teenagers....they can be so intense! And intense is a good way to describe the week, as I barely pulled the camp off. Whew. It was one of those times where I felt I couldn't sit down for even a few minutes for fear of forgetting to do something important. Like feed the campers. Or remember my teaching points for each session. Or re-filling my cup of coffee for the 20th time that day. Which is also maybe why the week was so intense?

When it was over, my legs cramped up so badly I could hardly walk. Probably because I have this way of not eating when I'm nervous or stressed out. And then I spent a whole day on the couch unable to function in any way whatsoever. But I'm better now. And everyone liked the camp. So it was worth it. (I think.) Did I mention I was interviewed and that the interview is posted on a new healthy living website? Go check it out here:


Second, we've had lots of visitors to the farm, including my cousin Jenny and my Liberian "sister" Eva and her daughter, Marthaline. I hope to have a post up about that in a few days.
Third, we've acquired another tractor, making us an all-powerful, oh-so-important two-tractor farm. And anyone who knows anything about farming knows that's not really a big deal. But for us here in Irish Grove it's a pretty big deal.

And finally, something wonderful has begun to happen. Something magical. Something absolutely fun, amazing, and awe-inspiring. Or maybe I should say "Aww-inspiring".......



We've Got Babies!! Three of them, to be exact. And I'll get pictures up as soon as possible. Which means as soon as I have more than 20 minutes to breath. Ahhhhhhhhhh!!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Luck O' The Irish (or not)

I live in Irish Grove, I sport an Irish last (maiden) name, and I come from some pretty sturdy Irish stock.

So when during the past two farming years, my first two years as a farmer no less, I've been the happy beneficiary of some pretty good 'Luck o' the Irish', I just figured that the luck comes with the heritage. It makes sense. Somehow, I'm just destined to be lucky.

For the past two years, the weather's held out even when it's been too dry just south of here or too wet just north of here. The crop yields have been decent and grain prices have been strong. We've started a fine herd of Murray Greys and all of our cows were somehow impregnated by a very young, inexperienced bull. (May that be a lesson to you parents of teenagers!) We've cleaned up the farmstead, organized things a little, and done pretty well for ourselves, under the circumstances.

We've made mistakes, sure, and I'm very realistic about how many more of those are on the horizon. And in no uncertain terms do I deny the fact that there is absolutely no substitute for experience in the farming world. But the mistakes we've made so far haven't held any real, tangible consequences. Everything, thankfully, has turned out okay in the end.

And so that 'I'm Just Lucky' attitude wormed its sneaky little way into my psyche, set up shop and hung curtains. At first it was a welcome guest. It gave me the reassurance I desperately needed that I wasn't going to screw up this whole farming experience and ruin our beloved family farm. But lately, I'm Just Lucky has overstayed his welcome. He's eatin' potato chips on the couch, if you know what I mean, and he's started leaving his dirty socks under the dining room table.

Almost two weeks ago now, I'm Just Lucky finally overstepped his bounds and convinced me to mow the first crop of hay when we had a 4 day window of dry weather. I'm Just Lucky whispered to me that, "Sure, it looks like the storms could push in sooner that expected, but you're lucky, remember? Don't forget who you are, my dearest. You're Irish. You're lucky!"

So what do you think Miss Under-experienced, Relying On My Luck Farmer did?

I went and cut the hay!!!

Long story short......10 days later, the hay is still on the ground, has been rained on ump-teen times, and will soon be a nice black, slimy mess. The alfalfa continues to grow, of course, and is now growing through the windrows in the places where it's not getting snuffed out due to lack of air and sunlight. The ground is saturated from the gazillion inches of rain we've gotten in the past 10 days, and I wouldn't dare put the heavy tractor in there, even if we do get a few dry days. I've got to go call the farmer that was going to buy all of this hay and let her out of her contract. And next winter, we're going to have one heck of a time trying to force the cattle to eat this degraded yuckiness. That is IF we are ever able to get this darned hay dried and baled in the first place.

Luck o' the Irish? I don't think so.

Now please excuse me. I'm got some spring cleanin' to do.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Herstory: My Path to Farming, Part I

Nature. Country. Connections. Roots. Family.

These are words that make my heart swell. These words are likely the reason why I'm so darned happy living in a place I never, ever thought I'd come back to.

Sure, Irish Grove was a nice place and all. But as I was growing up, I found it too small town, too Midwestern, and just too 'ho-hum' for a girl like me. I was going to change the world, you know....and the world I was to be a'changin wasn't Irish Grove, for Lord's sake. I was going to change the world out there, whether that meant out West, Alaska, or some third-world country. I had big dreams. Bigger dreams than could fit in Irish Grove.

As a highschooler, I was one of those rare kids that actually knew what she wanted to do. I loved animals, I loved the rural countryside, I loved wilderness, nature, wide open spaces and the way my heart would soar when in the presence of a beautiful rural landscape. So I knew I wanted to go to college to become a Wildlife Biologist, and that as a wildlife biologist I was going to change the world. What an idea! As a wildlife biologist, I could spend every waking moment outside in a natural setting and get paid for it! Who cares if it doesn't pay well, or if there are no National Parks close to home? Close to home wasn't where it was at, anyways. I was going global, remember? Yeah, I was focused, determined, young. I went to UW-Madison, and I became a Wildlife Biologist. No second thoughts. Full steam ahead.

Next I joined the Peace Corps to gain experience in wildlife biology and because I wanted to help the poor in a developing nation. (OK, and maybe for the adventure of it.) But mostly I joined the Peace Corps because I had always dreamed of going to Africa to work on the great savannas, and the Peace Corps was the fastest, most effective way to get there. Africa was where its at for a wildlife biologist like myself. Africa was the the big kahuna. The be all, end all. Africa was my destiny, and I was going for it. I filled out my application, requested Africa as my first choice for location, and didn't bother filling in my second and third choices. In my mind, there was no other choice.

But you know, those darned Peace Corps people had different ideas, and they valued my Spanish experience--which was nothing to write home about, let me tell you--over my wildlife biology degree. How dare they? How dare they derail my dreams, my life's pursuits, my ambition to be a Wildlife Biologist and to take the continent of Africa by storm?

They plainly didn't care. They thought it was much more important for me to be able to communicate with my host country's people....p'shaw. And they thought it was better to send someone with an agricultural background (a very questionable agricultural background) to agricultural lands instead of vast savannas and grand deserts. The nerve!

But the biggest kicker was that they weren't even sending me to work in wildlife biology! I was going to Panama--hardly the exciting, exotic African nation I had hoped for--and I was going to work in Environmental Education.

"Umm, excuse me but I couldn't hear you very well. Did you say Panama? Panama, like in Noriega? And, umm, please forgive me once again, but did I hear the word Education? Education meaning like a teacher, with a classroom, stuck in a building, with a bunch of kids? Ah, yes, of course.... Environmental Education volunteer in Panama. Wonderful, yes that's perfect. Now will you please excuse me while I go cry myself a river?"

My disappointment only added to the building anxiety (aka FEAR) I was experiencing as my departure grew closer. I literally felt like I was jumping off a cliff into the unknown. Where I would land, or how I would land, or if I would land, even, was a mystery. At this point I wasn't only leaving behind everything and everyone I knew and loved, I was going to a place I didn't really want to go to, and I was going to work in a position I most positively did not want to work in. Where were my open spaces? My wilderness? How could I realize my dream of being a wildlife biologist as an environmental education volunteer in Panama?

Yes, Panama is exactly where things started getting off track.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

Ahh, I just love our tractor. Isn't she lovely? She has the nicest shade of blue, which is my most favorite-est color, and she also has a low, powerful roar when she drives which is music to my country-girl ears.




Most of us in Irish Grove are rookie tractor drivers. I, for one, am extremely slow and cautious when behind the wheel. Even after two years of farming, I always go through my mental checklist before driving: put on seatbelt, engage the clutch, double check the gears, change gears if necessary, lift bucket (while refreshing my memory as to which direction on the handle will swivle the bucket up or down), put the tractor in gear, adjust RPM's, etc. etc. etc.

I'm such a tractor nerd, in fact, that I make sure to turn the radio volume down, so I can listen closely to the hum of the engine. (I'm learning to embrace my nerdiness.)

Marcel, on the other hand, is an expert tractor driver. (I know, I know....what's new?) When Marcel's driving the tractor, we all feel comfortable, secure, and confident that the job's gonna get done, effertlessly executed and in style, I might add. In fact, with Marcel behind the wheel I don't even feel the need to run, duck for cover, whisk my kids to the safety of our porch, or call Olivia away from the scene. Marcel's got it under control.

Which makes me wonder what was in that coffee I drank at lunch yesterday.

Mom wanted to use the pick-up truck, which was parked behind the tractor in the machine shed. So, not only did I encourage (she might say force) Mom to drive the tractor for the first time ever......


but I let my youngest child sit in on the ride!!


What was I thinking????

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Springtime Fun

You just can't beat springtime on the farm.

After an especially long winter this year, the pretty spring flowers breathe life back into our souls and the fresh, breezy days bring out the best in everyone.

My favorite spring flowers are the bleeding hearts. They make me daydream about little flower fairies hosting little flower-fairy parties in my garden, decorating the branches of their favorite plants with sweet heart-shaped jewels and lanterns.


I also love the bright, cheery tulips that bob back and forth in the spring breezes.


Springtime brings the baby chicks, who are always there for you when you need a little cheering up.


And the warmer weather finally allows you to take on a few projects to spruce up the place a bit.

Here's Marcel, giving the house a much-needed face lift. (Which for some reason makes my thoughts immediately jump to that avocado/cucumber facemask I saw in Walgreens last week.)


But the best thing about spring is that the kids can finally get outside and entertain themselves with the simplest of pleasures.

Like Armando with the water hose. Now that's bliss for ya, pure and simple.


Madelina has waited for this moment for 6 months, 2 days, 24 minutes and 11 seconds.


Ana has mastered the art of paper-airplane throwing. Just look at that form.


Paper airplanes are the preferred toys in Irish Grove at the moment. The kids played with them for over 3 hours yesterday, and got cousin Jonathan into the act this morning for another couple of hours.


Jonathan's got a nice, gentle toss that really makes 'em soar.


I just might start a petition to close all of the toy stores over the summer. When you've got fresh air, open spaces, and a happy spring-time heart....who needs 'em?