27 June 2007

Unwanted Guest

I was up in Chicago on business all morning today, and took advantage of the trip to deliver chicken and duck eggs to a chef in Lincoln Park who really appreciates them (on the menu, "farm egg" and "poached duck egg" are the references to our produce). Battling early morning traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway (it was more of a parking lot than an "expressway") made me all the more appreciative of where we now live --- not to mention the roughly 100 yard commute from the farmhouse to my office building.

My meetings concluded at about 1pm. As I headed to the car, looking forward to returning to the country, I listened to a voice message that Mrs. Yeoman Farmer (MYF) had left. Her tone was frantic but not panicked, and she spoke quickly as she relayed the information: One of the kids had come in to the back porch and started screaming. MYF dashed to the back porch, just in time to see this "huge, five to seven foot long, really big around" snake slithering down the steps to the basement. She secured the basement door, and Artistic Girl posted a sign reading "No one allowed in basement. There is a SNAKE."

Once in the car, I called home and MYF and I discussed a plan of action. First, off, we concluded that the snake probably wasn't poisonous...but we couldn't be sure. It was probably like the big Bull Snake that I'd run over with the riding mower a few years back --- enormous, but more beneficial (as a mouse and rat eater) than dangerous to people. Still, this thing had to be gotten out of the basement ASAP. Given the horrible traffic, it'd be at least 2-3 hours before I could get home. By then, the snake could be camped out under/behind Who Knows What down in that basement. But I assured MYF that as soon as I arrived, I'd find the square headed shovel (nice flat striking surface), track down the snake, and dispatch it. And I must say that for the typical male, there is nothing quite so exciting as the idea of being able to slay a serpent to save his frightened damsel.

But if by chance that thing thing was poisonous, I didn't want it in the house another minute. The idea of a big, fat, seven foot long monster in my basement for even 2-3 hours, as I was stuck in Chicago traffic, began to worry me. I gave a quick call to my friend Mike, who is an avid outdoorsman and hunter --- and who lives less than 2 miles from us. He assured me that it was almost certainly a bull snake, and that there aren't poisonous snakes around here. We discussed snakes for a few more minutes, and then he said: "Do you want me to go over there and take it out?"

I told him that I'd be perfectly happy to do it myself when I got home, but that if he didn't mind going over and taking a look, that'd be great. Because as much as I wanted to slay that serpent, it was more important for my family that the serpent get slain (or at least out of our basement) as quickly as possible.

The phone rang about 45 minutes later. "Mission Accomplished!" Mike's familiar voice laughed. He'd found it under a pile of junk, deep in the basement, after only a few minutes of searching. He hacked it with a hoe, and then tossed it in the ditch across the street from our house. I thanked him profusely, as had MYF.

Turns out, the thing was only about 4 feet long and about an inch in diameter. But that's still much bigger than anything I want in my basement, no matter how many mice it may consume.

26 June 2007

Surprise Visitors

It's hard to overstate the fascination that small farms have for people who don't yet have one.

Yesterday afternoon, I'd been in town for about an hour and a half. I arrived back home at about 4:15, and shortly thereafter a car pulled into our driveway. I didn't recognize it, so strolled from the barn to investigate. It was a middle-aged married couple.

"Did you get our message?" the woman asked.

"I just got home," I replied.

"Oh," she continued, "We found you on the Internet and we were in Tuscola [about 45-60 minutes south of here] and we didn't know if you'd be home but we decided to take a chance and see if we could come see the farm."

We're listed in a couple of different online directories of small scale farmers, but she couldn't remember which one she'd pulled up. Turns out, they live in Florida but have recently purchased a 20 acre spread in Arkansas, to which they hope to move (and eventually retire on) in the next few years. They'd like to have "a little bit of everything," more or less like us, and wanted to see first hand how we're doing that. Like us, they don't want to make money at it. They just want control over their own food supply, and to perhaps sell some surplus to others who appreciate where that food came from. Unlike us, however, they also want to have horses --- and that's why they were in Tuscola. There is an Amish community down there, and they'd come to take lessons in driving horses (e.g. "horse and buggy"). They had some free time, and figured they'd come take a look at our farm.

"You're just in time for chores," I told them, which they thought was quite exciting. They followed me all over the property, as I tended to the various animals. We fed the ducks and chickens, checked on the sheep, inspected the grape vines, gathered eggs, and so forth. They admired the chicks in the brooder, and the turkey poults in the pasture pen, and were impressed with Mrs. Yeoman Farmer's garden. They were particularly delighted by the several mother ducks quacking around with their broods of ducklings.

They stayed for about 45 minutes, and then had to head back to Tuscola. I went into the house to wash eggs, and found myself thinking about why we like farming so much: apart from the rural lifestyle and good food, it's all the people we've been able to meet and share our farm with.

I should add: If you're ever in East Central Illinois and would like a tour of our farm, we'd by all means enjoy having you visit. But please contact us more than an hour in advance. We'd hate to have you show up when we weren't home to meet you.

25 June 2007

The Chickenator

The mother hen and her chicks are now very active, and all six chicks are doing extremely well. All it takes is a few insistent clucks, and the whole clutch falls into line.

They spend their nights back under the stanchion, and their days patrolling the barn. They seem to spend most of their time in the goat stall. Henney Penney scratches up a section of soiled litter, steps back, clucks instructively as she bobs her beak toward the scratched-up section, and the six chicks swarm in to look for bugs, larvae, and seed-heads. A minute later, Henney Penney moves on to the next section of litter.

By the time these chicks grow up and move out of the barn, the goat litter will be very nicely aerated. Call it "chickenated," by the "chickenator." Then we'll shovel it out and take it to the vineyard, where it will make a wonderful organic mulch.

18 June 2007

Getting to Work

The turkeys are getting to work. Yesterday afternoon, the kids helped me move the the turkey poults (now about three weeks old) from the brooder to a pasture pen. With the kids poking at the poults from one end of the brooder, it was easy for me to grab each bird and get them all into a cardboard box for transport.

The final count, after all brooder deaths: 10 Bourbon Reds and 8 Broad Breasted Bronze poults still alive. Not great, but enough. Hopefully we won't lose too many more before Thanksgiving. I think the high brooder death rate was due to a sudden and unexpected drop in temperature, and I didn't have a large enough heat lamp in there at the time. Once I realized how cold it had gotten, and the poults were dropping like flies, I installed the bigger heat lamp and the deaths ceased.

All 18 poults, plus a couple of stray ducklings, are now ensconced in a pasture pen and are ready to get to work. The pen is 8 feet long and 6 feet wide, with solid plywood walls on two sides and chicken wire mesh on the other two sides, with barbed wire woven in to discourage predators. The top is made of scrap sheet metal. Inside, the birds have a five gallon watering can and a pan of food.

The beauty of these pastured poultry pens, inspired by Joel Salatin, is that they allow the birds to be moved to fresh forage every day. Right now, the poults are so little that we'll leave the pen in place for several days between moves. There, they'll chomp down all the weeds inside the pen. Once they've decimated that area, and the pen moves, they'll get to work clearing the next 6' x 8' space. And so on, across the property they'll go, clearing weeds and getting moved off their droppings to fresh clean forage every day. If the pen gets too crowded (and it will, when the birds are fully grown), we'll split some of them off to another pen.
The vineyard has several of these pens in it, just waiting for turkeys and chickens. Once filled with birds, we'll run those pens up and down the aisles of the vineyard. It's a wonderful system: the birds clear the weeds, eat bugs, and then provide the vineyard with fertilizer. It's "ecology" at its very finest.

17 June 2007

From Under the Stanchion

For the last few weeks, a mother hen has been sitting on a nest under the goat-milking stanchion. She is a cross-breed, and was hatched and raised by a mother hen in the same barn last year. Her mothering instincts are apparently very good, so I decided we should take advantage of them. When she went broody under the stanchion a few weeks ago, in a place where we'd been gathering the eggs daily, I figured this was the time to act. I selected eight good-looking eggs and slipped them under her. She puffed herself up, clucked contentedly, and I don't recall even seeing her leave that spot again.

Thursday evening, as I separated the goat kids from their mother for the night, I could hear a faint peeping noise coming from somewhere. Once the kids were secure, I knelt by the stanchion and listened more closely. Sure enough, the chicks were beginning to hatch.

When I came out Friday morning to milk, the peeping had grown louder. I glanced under the stanchion, and saw that a couple of chicks had already fluffed up and come out to explore a bit. They were still staying close to Henney Penney, though; she was sitting tight, and apparently still had more chicks she was working on hatching.

The peeping continued the whole time I was out there, and made a wonderful background music as goat milk squirted into the metal pan.

As a mother hen gathers her brood... kept going through my mind, and I tried to remember the rest of that passage. Eventually, it came to me: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not?

Squirt, squirt, squirt. Peep, peep, peep. Squirt, quirt squirt...

Of late, I'd been rather anxious about a few different things---and I'd been allowing that anxiety to drive me to distraction. Now, as the milk squirted and the chicks peeped, I realized that Matthew 23:37 was about more than just Jerusalem. It was an admonition to me. An admonition to let myself be gathered in. An admonition to let God shelter me. An admonition to let go of the anxiety and trust that things would be taken care of. Yes, I still need to use all the human means available to me. But I must do more to remember the supernatural means, and to trust in them.

Squirt, squirt, squirt. Peep, peep, peep. Squirt, quirt squirt...

15 June 2007

Turnaround on Abortion

A colleague and I recently put together an analysis of abortion attitude data, a version of which was published today on MercatorNet. The piece quantifies the degree to which the climate surrounding this issue has shifted over the last 15 or so years.

We combined over 30,000 survey interviews from Missouri, spanning 1992-2006, and looked at changes in pro-life/pro-choice self-identification (national Gallup Poll numbers are similar). We find there have been dramatic shifts in the pro-life direction: in 1992, the electorate was 30% pro-life and 43% pro-choice. The two labels reached a rough parity in 1997, and the pro-life label has since grown to a 41% to 30% advantage. In other words, the turnaround has been nearly complete.

Some of the demographic subgroup changes are especially interesting. For example, young women had been the most strongly pro-choice group in 1992; now they are the most strongly pro-life. Other dramatic shifts have occurred among voters who rarely or never attend church services, and those with post-graduate degrees; they had been very pro-choice in 1992, but have abandoned that label in droves.

The most likely cause of the attitude changes, we speculate, is the silencing of confrontational clinic protests---coupled with the ascendancy of partial-birth abortion as the new frame for the issue. The public has clearly changed its mind as to who the "abortion extremists" are.

There have also been implications for the party coalitions. The Democratic coalition is now much more divided on this issue than the Republican coalition is, which may explain why Democrats in most states no longer make such a big deal of their pro-choice stance. The pro-life label no longer carries the stigma it once did, and pro-life candidates should not shrink from identifying themselves as such.

A slightly different version of the article, which includes graphical displays of the trend and subgroup data, is available for download from my consulting website. These graphs didn't really fit MercatorNet's format or style, but please do download this document and take a look at them: they show at a glance just how dramatic the over-time changes have been. They also give much more detail about how the data break out; the MercatorNet version had to truncate some of those details for journalistic purposes.

14 June 2007


Most commercial pork is raised in industrial-style buildings, using one breed of pig. That's why hogs are treated as a commodity; every one is pretty much identical to every other one, and therefore interchangable. As Corby Kummer described in an excellent 2004 article for the Atlantic Monthly, the pork industry has spent decades developing a breed that is very low in fat --- but is also very low in flavor. That, by the way, is why these pigs must be raised indoors. They simply don't have enough fat to stay warm outside.

Small-scale sustainable farmers, however, can raise any breed they choose. Some of our neighbors do raise these "homestead hogs," and they're absolutely delicious. My wife, unfortunately, isn't a big pork eater, so we've never tried raising hogs --- and neither have we bought much pork from our neighbors. But don't dare get between me and the fried, breaded pork chop that Matthew, our homeschooled neighbor, gave me in exchange for putting a bullet in the pig's head for him on butchering day.

Anyway, there is hope that "traditional" pork (with all the fat) might be making a larger comeback. A recent story in the New York Times profiles a few different NYC restaurants that are serving "whole hogs", in the middle of a table, and letting everyone in the dinner party simply dig in.

They’re porky times, fatty times, which is to say very good times indeed. Any new logo for the city could justifiably place the Big Apple in the mouth of a spit-roasted pig, and if the health commissioner were really on his toes, he’d draw up a sizable list of restaurants required to hand out pills of Lipitor instead of after-dinner mints.

The list would encompass more than steakhouses, which have multiplied exponentially over the last five years, because what’s lumbered into particular favor with culinary tastemakers and the food-savvy set isn’t just beef and isn’t just any old piece of meat.

It’s a piece of meat that’s extra-messy, like one of the fat-ringed slabs of lamb at Trestle on Tenth, which opened last year. Sometimes it’s a mammoth cut, sometimes just gooey nuggets of animal parts less conventionally appreciated or lyrically named than the tenderloin.


Now ...“lardo is sought after, and it no longer raises people’s hackles,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “People finally realize that fat is truly delicious, particularly pork fat.”

The story doesn't discuss which breeds of pig are being raised for these restaurants, or how they're being raised, but I'd bet that these are not traditional factory-farmed hogs. And if these restaurants are currently settling for factory-farmed breeds of pork and lamb, just wait until they try a heritage breed that has been raised with a more natural, healthy layer of fat.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. And wondering if I have one of Matthew's pork chops left in my freezer.

13 June 2007

Busting Out All Over

Ducklings are hatching out fast and furious. For starters, the Magpie family continues to do well. The ducklings are thriving with their mother, and are noticeably larger. In addition, two other Magpie ducklings suddenly appeared one morning --- but they were wandering all over the barnyard without any mother duck to guide them. We assume they wandered off a nest that the mother duck was clinging to, attempting to hatch additional eggs. Anyway, they tried falling in with the other mother Magpie, but couldn't keep up with her in the high weeds. I rescued them, and they're now thriving in the brooder with the chicks.

One of the Khaki Campbells has hatched three ducklings, and so far has been taking good care of them. However, Khakis are one of those notorious "production" breeds that has basically had the mothering instinct bred out of them. We'll watch her closely in the upcoming days, but we may need to put her ducklings into the brooder.

Meanwhile, the Khaki in the hollow tree is in the process of hatching her clutch of eggs. Notice that my presence has made her nervous, and she has puffed up the feathers on her back as a warning (much like a cat does when threatened). Two ducklings are entirely out and getting around nicely, and at least one more egg is half-hatched (I tried to zoom in, but the half-hatched egg isn't really visible in this shot). We'll check back with her in the morning.

UPDATE: Thursday morning, she had six ducklings and had led them the entire length of the vineyard to the "watering hole." About an hour later, she had successfully led the entire brood all the way back to the nest in the tree. Looks like we may have among the rarest birds of all: a Khaki that's a good mother. We'll keep checking.

12 June 2007

Catholic Restorationists

I've been invited to join a group blog dedicated to restoring traditional Catholic culture, and will be making occasional contributions. They have an excellent set of authors, and I'm honored to have been asked to join them.

My first post, up today, discusses some of our children's favorite read aloud books.

11 June 2007

The Chicks Have Landed

The chicks are here! We got a call from the post office at about 7am this morning, and my daughter and I were soon cruising into town to pick up the box of little peepers. She excitedly held the box on her lap all the way home, asking such insightful questions as "Why does it say 'live chicks' on the box, Daddy?"

"That's a good question," I replied. "They certainly wouldn't ship a box of dead chicks, would they?"

"So why does it say live? Why not just say 'chicks'?"

I thought for a moment. "Maybe to remind the post office people how important it is to take good care of them, because they are living things and not just some box of stuff?

"Well...," she said, gazing through the air holes in the box, as the chicks continued peeping back at her. "Of course people would want to take care of little chicks that are cute like these."

Indeed. Anyway, we are now the proud owners of 25 Barred Rock pullet chicks (to replace our aging laying flock), 12 mixed gender broiler chicks (wonderful eating in 6-8 weeks), 2 male Silver Leghorn chicks (to replace an absolutely beautiful rooster that was hit by a car a couple of years ago; we got two in case one dies), and the one exotic "mystery" chick that McMurray Hatchery always includes with orders of chicks.

Meanwhile, several deaths later, the turkey poults are doing well. The "dead wood" seems to have been shaken loose, because none have died for a few days now. Hopefully we'll have clear sailing with them from here.

07 June 2007

Putting Goats to Work

The New York Times has a wonderful story about farmers with goats being hired to clear out-of-control kudzu vines in Tennessee.

Chattanooga’s goats have become unofficial city mascots since the Public Works Department decided last year to let them roam a city-owned section of the ridge to nibble the kudzu, the fast-growing vine that throttles the Southern landscape.

The Missionary Ridge goats and the project’s tragicomic turns have created headlines, inspired a folk ballad and invoked more than their share of goat-themed chuckles.


On Missionary Ridge, which bisects Chattanooga and where homes command stunning views of the valley below, the battle with kudzu is constant. Of particular worry for the city were vines that draped over the mouth of the McCallie Tunnel, which cuts through the ridge.

Enter the goats. Mr. Jeansonne, after reading an article on the subject, persuaded city officials to hire a local farmer to graze his herd over the tunnel. When the farmer released the herd last fall, the experiment took some unexpected turns. Pranksters put up “goats working” signs. City officials took them down, with some stern words.

Guard donkeys accompanying the herd earned more guffaws and proved ineffective when dogs attacked, killing two goats and mauling a third. This year, llamas replaced the donkeys.
There have been the logistical problems of goat-proof fences, gawkers and the live electric wire. Mr. Jeansonne himself roped an escapee and hauled it back to the pen.

But the headaches have been worth it, he said. Walking a fence line, he held one hand high to show the height of the kudzu before the herd was released. The vines are gone now from the tunnel and the hillside above, some areas newly planted with grass.

“It was kudzu up to an elephant’s eye,” Mr. Jeansonne said.


The city plans to use goats to clear the tunnel’s east entrance, and recently, officials sponsored a four-day academy for farmers, hoping to stimulate a micro-industry of kudzu-fighting herds-for-hire.

Attention enterprising yeoman farmers! This could be a great business opportunity.

As for us, we've had mixed results with getting goats to clear big swaths of brush. They certainly do eat it --- but they also eat all the things you don't want them to eat. That means goats can't simply be turned loose on a cultivated property. The portable electric fencing would probably help; that's not something we've investigated. (We don't have any kind of electric fencing on the property, for fear that our small children would get tangled in it.)

05 June 2007

Farewell, FDR!

I recently posted about our rural electric co-op, and how they are getting ready to replace some of the power lines and transformers in our area. They're now almost finished, and I'm surprised they've been able to do it without shutting our power off for more than a couple of hours at a time.

The chief manager with the project told us that the infrastructure they're replacing dates to the 1940s! He's fairly confident that it went up as part of a New Deal era rural electrification, and that our section of the county did not have electricity before that.

We've been quite fortunate that the last few winters have been so mild. With lines and poles this old, one more bad ice storm could've taken down quite a bit of our local grid. (Global warming alarmists, take note! There are benefits to rising temperatures!) Anyway, nice that we'll have one less thing to worry about this winter.

Note the well-established grape vines at the bottom of the picture. This is the first vineyard we planted, the first spring we were here (2002). This is not the one the lambs recently decimated.

04 June 2007

Rural multitasking

The primary enclosure for our sheep is a 2-3 acre pasture at the northern end of the property. At the southern end (separated from the pasture by a few outbuildings and other areas) is a sizable grassy meadow, in which we have planted dozens of fruit trees. Those trees are not yet mature, and are still fairly short (i.e. with lots of branches right at sheep level). We've protected them as well as possible using chicken wire enclosures, but it's far from perfect. In other words, as wonderful as that area is for grazing, we can't turn the sheep loose in there without supervision. Perhaps in a few years the trees will be tall enough, but not now.

I don't mind supervising them; I've set up a plastic chair, and enjoy having a cup of coffee in the morning as I watch them graze. If they get too close to a tree, I walk over and shoo them away. But the kids and I have discovered something even more fun for the late afternoons: they help drive the sheep down from the pasture, and then we all put on baseball mitts and toss a tennis ball around as we supervise the flock. If the sheep get too close to a tree, one of us is usually close enough to drive them away. And then it's back to playing catch.

Until it's time to drive them back north, of course. I clap my hands three times and shout "Let's GO!" The sheep have learned that this is the signal, and they usually begin stampeding back across the property. The kids have great fun chasing the stragglers, and Scooter loves getting out in front of the flock and leading the way.

This is my idea of multitasking.

More on the Magpies

The mother Magpie duck took her brood out for a stroll Sunday morning. The first two hatchlings were keeping up with her fine, but the third kept falling behind. After watching him get disoriented and lost a few times, I took him and put him in the brooder with the turkey poults. At first, they pecked at him and I was a bit concerned. But once he'd dried off, they seemed to welcome him in as one of the gang. We'll keep him there until he's mature enough to turn loose.

Meanwhile, Mama Magpie was joined by a Magpie drake (he's the one with the curly tail feathers), and the two of them have been caring for the ducklings together. He never leaves her side, and chases other birds away when they come too close. It's very sweet.

Turkey Time!

The baby turkeys (they’re called “poults” rather than “chicks”) arrived on Friday morning. As usual, we got a call from the post office at 7am alerting us that the box was waiting. Fortunately, the brooder was all set to go. I plugged in the heat lamp, then jumped in the car and ran into Loda to get the poults.

This year, we bought 15 Bourbon Reds and 10 Broad Breasted Bronze (BBB) turkeys. The Bourbon Reds are a heritage breed; they’re excellent foragers, can fly, and therefore develop a wonderful flavor and texture to their meat. These heritage birds are in high demand, and even though they’re smaller than the average supermarket turkey (12-15 pounds dressed) we completely sell out every year. The BBBs, by contrast, resemble the turkeys you usually see at the supermarket. Ours are still different, however. The supermarket birds are raised in enormous confinement buildings, and all have white feathers. Ours are raised on pasture, where they get a great variety of fresh greens in their diet --- and lots of fresh air. Not to mention bugs, and anything else they can forage. The result is an unforgettable Thanksgiving experience. As one customer remarked, “I never feel sleepy after eating one of your turkeys. Or sick the next morning.”

Anyway, turkeys tend to spend the first several weeks just thinking up ways to die. This year, surprisingly, we went all weekend without losing one. Then, predictably, I came out to find two dead and another close to death. (We always order several more than we think we’ll want to butcher.)

Here is a wider shot of our brooder:

It’s a two-level structure, which we custom-built a few years ago. We can raise up to 100 birds at a time on each level, but we haven’t been than ambitious (or crazy) for awhile. The top level is empty now, but we’ll be using it in another week or two when the baby chicks arrive. Notice the automatic, gravity-fed watering system I set up. Just out of the picture, up in the rafters of the garage, is a 40 gallon tank of water. The blue hose brings water down to the red plastic water dishes; there is a float valve inside each dish that controls the flow of water. If we had a water faucet in this building, we could’ve hooked the system up to that (with a pressure-reducing valve). I decided it was a lot easier to set it up this way, and fill that 40 gallon tank with a long hose from the house whenever necessary. Sure beats digging a trench from the house and laying pipe.

In Two Shakes of a Lamb’s Tail…

…over 100 young grape vines are decimated.

Up in the northwest corner of our property, I’ve planted what’s called the “new vineyard.” Last year, I put in about 100 young vines---which the Japanese Beetles managed to severely injure, but not kill. This spring, I planted 55 more vines; this time, I decided to try Concords. Their leaves are supposedly more resistant to Japanese Beetles, and I’m so frustrated at this point that I’m willing to try anything.

But no leaves are resistant to hungry Icelandic lambs. I’d isolated these young vines behind two sets of gates, but early Sunday morning the lambs managed to smash through one set and squeeze through the other set. By the time I came out for chores, hordes of them were working their way through my grape plantings. I chased them out, strengthened the barricades, and then began taking stock of the damage.

It was extensive, and demoralizing, but could’ve been worse. All 150 or so vines are in protective blue grow tubes that fasten to the bottom trellis line and act like a miniature greenhouse. Not all vines had cleared the top of their tube. But among those which had, nearly every one was chomped off (or at least stripped of its leaves). Naturally, the lambs left all of the delicious clover and other weeds untouched. They went straight for the most valuable cultivars.

Yes, the vines will recover, in no small part because the tubes protected them from more extensive damage. But the question is: how strong will they be when the Japanese Beetles arrive later this month? They’d really been flourishing, which had stoked my optimism about surviving the upcoming onslaught. Now…well, we’ll just have to see.

That lamb is sure going to be delicious. Just wish I had some homemade wine to enjoy it with.

02 June 2007

Pick Up Sticks

Today was lawn-mowing day, and the kids helped me prepare by gathering up all the dead branches that had fallen from the Green Ash trees in the front yard.

As we were piling them up near the woodpile, to use for kindling next winter, Scooter was tagging along with us. With yesterday's near-tragedy clearly still on their minds, one of the kids suddenly said something really poignant:

"I'm glad we're not collecting these sticks so we can burn Scooter."

Yes, I told them, I had just been thinking the same thing.

Latest Arrivals

Remember those duck nests I posted about recently? Those ducklings are beginning to hatch. We really like these heritage breeds, like the Magpie here, that will sit on a nest and mother their own young. Her nest wasn't one of the outdoor ones I showed in the other post; she's been safely nestled in the corner of an outbuilding near the house. She has three hatchlings so far; two are poking out of her feathers, and the other is drying out underneath her. They should be off the nest and walking around the barnyard soon. Stay tuned.


When people dream about having their own farmstead, that farmstead inevitably includes a rooster. We have several, and we can't imagine not having them. Roosters are beautiful, and their interactions with each other (establishing a pecking order) are fascinating to watch. They give leadership to the flock, and keep the eggs fertile.

Like us before we moved here, people probably have a romantic image in their head of the rooster crowing to greet the sunrise. And, yes, roosters do crow to greet the sunrise. But you know what? Roosters also crow at any other time, day or night, that they jolly well please. That includes 11am, when I'm on an important conference call with a client. Or 8pm. Or 9:30am. They crow for any reason, or for no reason.

Now, picture this: the weather is hot and humid. You're sleeping with the windows open in your 120 year old farmhouse, enjoying the light breeze. It is pitch dark, hours away from sunrise. And then, at precisely 3:23am, a rooster in the nearest outbuilding begins crowing. Really loudly. Then, from another outbuilding, another rooster crows a response. Not to be outdone, the rooster in the barn with the goats lets loose. And the original rooster simply cannot let that go unanswered. And so on. And so on. Until you drag yourself out of bed, shut the windows, and wonder if you'll be getting any more sleep before it's time to get up and milk the goats.

World's Luckiest Puppy

We had a brush with disaster yesterday evening. All three kids and I were playing baseball in the front yard around 5pm, and Scooter was flopped down enjoying the shade. Suddenly, coming up our road, we heard a loud roar. We turned and took a closer look, and it was our neighbor's tractor. It's one of those mammoth John Deere machines with tires taller than the average American male, and a complete size that's larger than some starter houses. He was pulling a big mechanical cultivator, which I guessed was to weed one of his corn fields.

Scooter jumped up, and my daughter immediately realized he was going to try to chase the tractor. She grabbed him by the collar, but he was much too excited about that tractor. Scooter pulled free, scrambled across the front yard, and headed straight for the front of the tractor like a heat-seeking missile. We all were screaming at him to stop, but the roar of the tractor was much too loud. I could see our neighbor trying to slow down, but it was too late. I realized Scooter wasn't going to be able to get out of the way, and watched in horror as he rolled under the front bumper.

Around and around he rolled and dragged as the tractor passed over him, bouncing off the various pieces of implements. "No! No!" I shouted, not believing we were watching yet another of our animals die on the road.

Eventually, Scooter rolled free and jumped up. About a quart of white fluid poured out of his mouth, and I immediately remembered the internal injuries that killed Tessa just minutes after she'd jumped up and I'd thought she was going to be alright.

Scooter went running back into our yard; again my daughter tried to catch him, but again he proved too strong. My neighbor eventually got the tractor stopped, and climbed out to apologize, but I ran and assured him that it wasn't his fault. We chatted for a moment, and then I dashed off to find Scooter.

In all the confusion, no one had noticed where he went. I'd hoped my daughter could help point us in the right direction, but she had gone in the house and was in a state of complete emotional meltdown. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer went in to console Artistic Girl, and the boys and I set out to find Scooter. We eventually found him sitting behind my office building, panting and looking cowed, but otherwise unhurt. Still, I remembered Tessa's deceptively good condition, and didn't allow myself to believe we were out of the woods.

I scooped him up in my arms, and he didn't seem to be in pain. One of the boys ran to tell my wife we'd found him; I asked her to call the vet for me, and then the boys and I jumped in the van and went barreling toward Paxton with Scooter.

We got there just after the usual 5:30pm closing time, but thanks to my wife's call they were waiting for us. They checked him out, confirmed he had no injuries, and gave him an injection of anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic. "He'll be sore tomorrow," the vet told us, "but he should be okay."

Grateful, the boys and I packed up Scooter and headed for home. We stopped by the church in Paxton to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and say "thanks" for helping Scooter survive. It's nothing short of miraculous that he missed the wheels of that tractor and the cultivator. And as he followed me around this morning as I tended animals, and as he helped me herd the sheep, I took every opportunity I had to pet him and tell him how glad I was he was still with us.