Self-Sufficiency Series

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Life without Ruby

Thank you for all your support for our difficult decision to butcher one of our herd matriarchs, Ruby. The butchering went off without a hitch last Monday.

So what is life like without Ruby? As predicted, much calmer.

And I mean, seriously calmer. The big test comes each morning and afternoon when we feed under the barn awning.

Up to this point we fed over two fences -- the barn awning, and another fence into the feed lot. The reason for this is because Ruby would literally take over either one feeding spot or the other while she ate, while much of the herd would ebb and flow to the other feeding spots in accordance to Ruby's whims. Anything to get away from those horns. With that jittery dynamic no longer a factor, everyone has been grazing more peacefully under the awning, protected from the weather as they're supposed to be.

The animals still jockey for position, of course, but that's just normal pecking-order stuff.

I've been keeping an eye on Alice, Ruby's calf. At ten months she's certainly old enough to be without her mother, but that doesn't mean she wants to, if you know what I mean. But because we always make sure butchering is done out of sight of the herd, Alice doesn't know her mother is dead, just gone. So far she's adjusting fine, with a minimum of fuss.

But I did catch her sneaking a drink from Matilda, along with Matilda's calf Amy.

God bless Matilda, whom we affectionately call our Universal Donor. At one point three calves were trying to cop a drink, which is pretty funny since she only has two working quarters. But it's nice to know there's a little comfort food for Alice if she needs it.

One of the reasons we were anxious to see what life would be like without Ruby is because we plan to build feed boxes this fall, under the awning. Feed boxes would reduce the amount of wasted hay, as well as keep it cleaner (out of mud, poop, and urine). But feed boxes assume you don't have a domineering horned animal going around goring everyone.

So for the moment life is peaceful once more. It's really amazing how one animal can affect the herd dynamics so strongly.

Our other herd matriarch, Jet, has been in the bull pen with Samson, our bull, for the winter. When she comes out, we'll see what happens as far as dominance goes. Jet is also fairly bossy and she has horns, but she's never had an ornery mean streak as Ruby had, and was never inclined to gore other animals.

If that changes... well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Life's little mysteries

On my "daily constitutional," I pass a tree by the side of the road, one of thousands. But last fall I noticed a pile of branches at the base of this tree, as if someone had trimmed and piled them there haphazardly.

Branches come down all the time in the forest, but not in such quantities -- or such order. These were piled only on one side of the tree, not scattered all around the base.

The big mystery? The branches were clearly snapped off from way up high.

They were definitely broken, not cut.

This is not a small tree. I'm guessing -- 70 feet tall?

The snapped-off branches are just on one side, from about 40 feet up. No other branches were damaged except this one spot.

It's like something very, very heavy was flung against the tree and snapped branches as it slid down. It wasn't lightning (thunderstorms are pretty rare around here) and to the best of my knowledge northern Idaho has no native roc populations (a mythical bird of prey capable of carrying off elephants).

We get fierce winds here, but this particular tree is locate in a dip where the wind isn't as bad.

So... I'm clueless. I have no idea how those branches were snapped off one particular spot on the tree and fell in a pile at the base. Just one of life's little mysteries, I guess.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Common Core in a nutshell

A reader sent this. I thought it very apt in today's educational climate.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Palm Sunday cantata

Younger Daughter was informed by her music teacher, Mr. B, that she would be participating in a Palm Sunday cantanta as part of a small orchestra accompanying a choral group. (Ahem. Her participation was not voluntary.)

This was a contemporary classical piece by a composer named Pepper Choplin. The students only had two weeks and three rehearsals to get the music down, so Mr. B requested that everyone practice for at least one hour each day. Younger Daughter found the cantana on YouTube and practiced and practiced and practiced.

Apparently so did everyone else. From the first very rough sight-reading rehearsal to the second and then third rehearsals, Mr. B was extremely pleased with everyone's progress. Yesterday was the performance.

Here's the dress rehearsal. The performance took place in a church in a nearby town.

Mr. B was conducting so fast his arm was blurry.

This was Younger Daughter's first time playing with a group of more than one or two, and she carried herself splendidly.

Mr. B is one of the most beloved music teachers in the area, the kind of person who can pull together fifty or more people of different ages and skill levels and do a lovely performance at almost the last minute.

The cantata played to a packed house. Every pew was full and some people were lined up against the back walls.

Younger Daughter did wonderfully.

Everyone did wonderfully.

Thank you Mr. B!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A difficult decision

Tomorrow is butchering day. We have a steer, Chester, who is actually only a half-steer. That's my fault -- I did a lousy job with the banding -- and as a result this randy fellow has been happily coasting around with our young heifers, who aren't old enough to breed yet. So he's going in the freezer, even though he's pretty young.

This isn't a difficult decision. Steers always have a date with the freezer. It's just a matter of when.

However something happened this week that caused Don and I to add another animal to the freezer list, and that's one of our herd matriarchs, Ruby.

We got Ruby and Jet shortly after we arrived in Idaho, when they were about nine months old. Right now these ladies are about eleven.

Both have horns, and both have very different dispositions. From the start Jet has been very sweet and mostly gentle. From the start, Ruby has been an absolute pisser. She's very much the dominant animal on our farm.

Nonetheless I milked her and Jet for several years, and she has faithfully birthed a healthy calf every time she's bred. She's an excellent mother and produces beautiful calves, which is why we've put up with her for this long.

But there's no question her dominance affects the dynamics in the feedlot. I feed over two fences (our goal is eventually to build feed boxes), and Ruby usually sweeps the other animals out of her way. Often she ends up with the whole awning almost by herself...

...while the rest of the herd makes do with the feed by the other fence.

This demonstrates how much our animals are held hostage to Ruby's dominance.

Then something happened this week which made me mad enough to spit nails.

I was feeding the cattle in the morning in the feedlot. Parts are still pretty muddy from the winter snowmelt, so the cows have to pick their way to dry ground.

As usual Ruby came along and swept everyone from her path under the awning as she searched for the choicest hay. One of the cows she swept out of her path was Polly, our purebred Jersey. Polly lunged away from Ruby, tripped, and got momentarily mired in the mud and couldn't get up.

Instantly Ruby was on her, attacking Polly as she lay helpless on the ground.

I leaped into the feedlot and started whaling on Ruby with the back side of the pitchfork. Startled, Ruby broke off her attack and this gave Polly the chance to start heaving herself to her feet. But then Ruby went after Polly again, so I continued whaling on Ruby until Polly had a chance to get away.

To say I was furious is an understatement. Poor Polly has a scarred backside from putting up with Ruby's temper. The last thing she needs is to be gored by a mean cow.

So after discussing it with Don, we called the mobile butchers and asked them to add a second animal to dispatch when they come to our farm. Enough is enough.

Yet I am not at peace with this decision. Butchering Ruby will leave little Alice orphaned, always a sad situation. Alice was born in June and is now ten months old. She's plenty old enough to wean, but it will be hard on her at first.

Yet butchering the steer, Chester, will deprive his mother Raven of her calf... and I'm not having bad dreams about this decision. We need to do what's in the best interest of our farm.

I know butchering Ruby is the best thing in the long run and will make life much more peaceful for the rest of the critters, but I confess I've been having nightmares (literally) about it. I've been walking around with a knot of dread in my stomach for the last couple of days. This is one of the few butcherings I won't attend. I plan to head into town tomorrow morning and hang out someplace until the deed is done.

It's hard to say goodbye to an animal we've had for ten years, even if she's a bad-tempered twit.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Proud parents

Out of the blue I received a charming email from proud parents Billy and Marie, which I asked permission to share because it made me smile.


First, my entire family thoroughly enjoys your WND articles, we read them every week.

Several weeks ago your article pertained to Home Schooling, we currently have three active students and my oldest daughter (20) finished up her High School curriculum when she was 16.

Please allow me to brag a little, my oldest daughter finished our program at 16, scored in the top 3% of the nation on her GED test, and worked a full time job as an Administrative / HR / Accounting Associate at the trucking company I worked at for 18-months.

She excelled and voluntarily departed to pursue her passion – writing. Last fall she self-published a book “Violet Eyes” under the name of Katharine Bond on Amazon.

The book she published is the first of a three volume series and while it’s not a “Best Seller” (YET), we are very proud of her and the limited feedback we’ve received is positive.

We could not imagine sending our children to Public School, we tried a Church School for my oldest when she was in 4th grade, not what we expected and resumed our Home School efforts in 5th Grade.

My daughter has excelled, we are not academic experts but my wife is committed and consistent and we use the best technology, curriculum, and instructional material we can and my wife approaches our Home School program as if it were a job (It is : - ))

Our home life and relationship with our children is enhanced by our Home School efforts and we will not have the issue facing us down the road of “wish I’d spent more time with my kids”.

When I set down to review their grades and home work; it’s a big deal for the kids and they receive the praise, coaching, and in some rare cases discipline necessary to keep them focused and productive.

In summary, anyone who does not Home School their family is missing out on the positive impact it can have on both children and parents.

Thank you for your continued efforts in promoting this outstanding practice.

Best Regards,
Billy & Maria

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Old-fashioned solution to a modern problem

Last Christmas, Younger Daughter received a graphics tablet as a gift in order to encourage her artistic and graphic design skills. A tablet is a gizmo that allows you to draw freehand on an electronic pad (tablet), and the drawing appears on a computer screen where you can use computer-enhanced features to modify the drawing (shading, coloring, etc.).

Anyway, suffice it to say she loves her tablet and has spent countless hours working with it. Unfortunately it's led to one problem: bad posture.

Tsk. Naughty naughty.

Younger Daughter is perfectly aware that her posture needs work, but when she's caught up in the intricacies of a particularly detailed drawing, she just doesn't think about it. As a result, she's been getting a sore back.

So when she spotted (of all things) a CORSET in a thrift store a few weeks ago, she snatched it up.

This isn't a shape-enhancing corset. No, this is a medicinal corset. She knows this because she did a little research on the manufacturer.

The company is still in business, and specializes in custom-made prostheses for amputee patients. Younger Daughter learned that the company used to made medicinal corsets for -- get this -- back pain. Her particular corset was probably made in the late 30s or early 40s.

It's easy to hook on and adjust with side straps.

Front view:

Side view:

Now when she sits at her computer, her posture is vastly improved.

Who'd a thunk that such an old-fashioned archaic solution would work so well? Go figure!

Monday, April 7, 2014

More Dreamwire Designs

Our young friend GG, who started a wire jewelry business called Dreamwire Designs, has some new pieces available. Man, I can't believe what comes out of her fertile mind and through those creative fingers.

I thought this choker was particularly beautiful.

This coronet can be worn with the peak down, or up. I liked it down, myself.

Any dragonfly fans out there? This is a hair pin. Astounding.

This is a Japanese-inspired cherry-blossom choker. Betcha you didn't think this sort of thing could be created from wire!

This Greek-inspired brass choker is deceptively simple. I think it's elegant.

There are lots more beautiful pieces available at her Etsy shop. Take a peek.