Country Living Series

Friday, August 26, 2016

Farmer's instinct

Sometimes it amazes me how much instinct farmers have -- an intuition or sixth sense when something is amiss.

A few years ago I noticed a calf lying down on the farthest side of the pasture. He was just -- lying there. Nothing wrong. Yet there was something that piqued my interest, especially when he laid there a lot longer than calves are wont to do. Turns out his hoof was tangled in a wire.

Another time, my concerns about Polly's hunched posture tuned me into a close call with hypothermia.

A few days ago we moved the cattle back to the wooded side of the property. Shortly thereafter we had a windy day (wind is nothing unusual around here), and of course during wind we hear all kinds of clanks, bangs, rattles, and other normal sounds.

So what was it about one particular clank that caught my attention? Through an open window in the house, I heard a chain clank against metal from a direction it shouldn't have. I stepped outside and saw the feedlot gate...


...had swung wide open. The wind had pushed the gate back and forth just enough that the single link holding the gate closed had worked its way out.


Inside the feedlot (still littered with debris from felling trees) were several cattle lounging about.




A few minutes longer, and the temptation to explore the open gate would have propelled the whole herd into the driveway.

This was just a trivial incident, but it does drive home how important it is to pay attention when your gut tells you something is wrong.

It also makes me ask: where else do people respond to their gut as part of their job? One poster mentioned nursing (true). Another mentioned hunting (also true). Others?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Making bread (the cheater's way)

A few days ago I made a passing reference to my bread machine, prompting some questions from interested readers.

I'm no good at breadmaking. Early in our marriage, I tried and tried and tried to make bread ... and didn't have much luck. Long story short, around 1996 or so I broke down and purchased a bread machine, specifically a Regal Kitchen Pro Model no. K6743. At the time, it was one of the top-rated machines.

(I took this photo off an eBay listing, because my bread machine isn't nearly this clean and shiny.)

This marvelous invention has churned out literally thousands of loaves of bread over the last 20 years. Don's a sandwich guy, so on average I make two or three loaves a week.


For awhile, bread machines were the "thing" to have, but for some inexplicable reason many people never used them once they had them. As a result, you can often pick up pristine hardly-used machines in thrift stores, often with the instruction books intact. Gold!

I'm sure today's modern bread machines are far better than the one I currently use, but I certainly have no room to complain about my particular model; it still works flawlessly. A lot of newer machines produce more "loaf-shaped" loaves as well, but we're so used to the taller vertical bucket that we never give it much thought.

For literally the entire lives of our girls, they've eaten homemade bread. In fact, here's a true story: One time when Younger Daughter was just a baby, I got behind on making bread and we ran out, so Don purchased a couple of loaves at the grocery store. When he came home, Older Daughter (who was about three years old) watched him unpack the items. Suddenly she came flying into the bedroom where I was changing Younger Daughter's diaper. "Mommy, mommy!" she yelled with great excitement. "The bread! It’s sliced!"

The girls have dabbled in the "great unknown" of commercial white bread at various times, but they're grown to dislike the pasty consistency and bland flavor and now appreciate a good wheat bread.

Over the years, I've made different types, but our daily standby is wheat. It's not whole wheat, since the recipe calls for both unbleached white flour and oatmeal, but it's tasty and hearty and makes excellent sandwiches.

I add the following ingredients (in the following order) for one loaf of wheat bread, #2 setting on the bread machine:

10 oz. warm water
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ tablespoons sugar (or honey)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 cups white flour (don't bother with bread flour)
1½ cups whole wheat flour
2/3 cup oatmeal
1½ teaspoons yeast

One reader asked what yeast we use. I buy bulk Saf Instant yeast and store it in a quart jar in the fridge.


At first I was embarrassed to be "caught" using a bread machine, but gradually I came to realize I should be no more embarrassed than if I were "caught" using a washing machine or a similarly useful invention. The fact of the matter is, I would not make homemade bread nearly as fast as Don could eat it without the handiness and ease of this gizmo.

So that's the skinny on our bread machine.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Moving cattle

Well, it's that time of year again -- when we move the cows from one side of the property to the other.

Our 20 acres is roughly divided in half, with about ten acres in subdivided pasture and the other ten acres in wooded pasture. Winters, the cows are in the woods since that's where the barn and feedlot open into. Summers, they're in the pasture or on a neighbor's leased 20 acre parcel. (We could have kept them longer on the neighboring property except some wily cows persisted in getting through/under/over/around the fence onto another property. Long story.)

Somehow, even though we hadn't called them, the beasties knew what was up and were waiting for us at the gate.


Although we took the precaution of closing the driveway gate, it wasn't necessary. They knew exactly where to go and made a beeline for the gate into the woods.


Except for some of the calves, of course. In this, their "puppy-stupid" stage, they don't know to follow everyone else. Four of them ended up clustered waaaaaay down at the bottom of the pasture by the gate into the neighboring property.


Surprisingly, when they saw me at the top gate taking pictures, they came galloping up the hill.


Once in the driveway, it took no time for them to orient themselves towards the proper gate because they could hear the other cattle.


We had to haul up and clean out the low water tank, which we then put behind the barn with a float valve to keep it full.


We're hoping the cattle have enough to eat in the woods that we can avoid feeding until late September or so. Moving cattle: yet another milestone in our homesteading year.

Different views

We moved the cattle to the wooded side of our property on Saturday (I'll post pictures shortly). Yesterday morning from the window, I saw this view:


The morning shadows were still long so the photo isn't very clear, but you can see Brit (our horse) and a number of cattle grazing. The air is a bit smokey because local farmers are burning off crop residues this time of year. In the foreground on the left is an aspen, and on the right is the young walnut tree we planted in May.

Now consider this: Yesterday morning we got a call from Older Daughter, whom many of you know is working as a nanny in New Jersey. It was her day off, so she was calling from a café in New York City, where she was enjoying a cup of tea and a bagel. The reason she called? Because the contrast between what she was seeing and what she knew we were seeing was so huge.



We asked her to take some photos. When she said the view was nothing special, we reminded her of the obvious: what was ordinary to her was unbelievably exotic to us. When she sent the pictures, she wrote, "Just down the road to the right is Penn Station, I was waiting for the hourly train back. Next time I think I'll make a trip specifically to go to the Natural History Museum."

We always told the girls the city life is fun and exciting when you're young. Both Don and I lived in cities when we were single, and later in the early days of our marriage. There's always stuff to do, see, and experience -- even if it's sitting in a café with tea and a bagel, watching the pulse of the city.

I think you'll agree the respective views we both saw yesterday are about as far away from each other as it's possible to get.

We're glad Older Daughter is experiencing a taste of urban life while she's young. And maybe there's someone in New York City who thinks a view of cows is exotic.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The latest 'required' insanity at college

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "The latest 'required' insanity at college."

I owe everyone an apology


In my post from a few days ago entitled "Forgive our Messy House," several readers quite rightfully took exception to a dig I made at the end of the post concerning homeliness (in the cozy, domestic sense of the word) of large, beautiful houses. The implication was newer, beautifully decorated houses cannot be homely.

The point I tried (but failed) to make is the difference between a HOUSE and a HOME. A house can be large or small, old or new, clean or messy. A home can be all those things as well – but includes the critical and distinguishing factors of love and a practicing of the domestic arts.

We have an enormous – over 8000 square feet – luxury house in our immediate neighborhood, and at no time has it ever been anything but a home. The former owners hosted parties, weddings, potlucks, get-togethers, and even canning classes.


The lights from all the lit bedrooms during holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.) when the house was filled to capacity with extended family looked like Brandybuck Hall from the Lord of the Rings – warm and welcoming and cozy, despite the size of the structure.

This is a classic example where a house and a home intersect.

So please accept my apologies to those who make their large, newer houses into homes – places of domestic joy for friends and family. The wording in my post was clumsy and accusatory, and it was not my intent to be insulting to those who work hard to make a home out of a house – no matter what size or age it is.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Treetop daredevil

We had some big dead trees that needed to come down


Don is pretty handy at taking down dead trees, even large ones, but these were worrisome because they loomed right over our barn. Monsters this size would absolutely crush it if they came down wrong. Felling them would require a delicate touch.

So after inquiring around who might be qualified to tackle these giants, we got hold of a highly recommended tree faller who went by the interesting nickname of "Screech." Everyone we talked to said, "Screech. Get hold of Screech, he's the best man for the job." So we did.

He was whip-thin and cheerful.


Screech wasn't just going to chop down the trees. He was going to top them, to make sure nothing fell on the barn roof. This meant climbing waaaaay up. He started by attiring himself in climbing gear...


...which included these vicious-looking blades strapped to his boots, for giving him leverage on the tree trunk.


Screech told us he and his brother used to have a tree service in California, taking down palm trees, and said palms are surprisingly nasty to climb, hence the blades.

Then, without further ado (and without, I might add, a hardhat or head protection of any kind), he climbed up the tallest tree.


It was amazing (and a little bit terrifying) to watch this treetop daredevil in action. With utter confidence, he climbed and climbed, taking down limbs as he went.



His chainsaw was surprisingly small -- Don said it had a 16-inch bar -- and since some of the trees were close together, he would frequently lean over and trim off branches from other trees one-handedly.


Then, leaning over from the tallest tree, he topped the adjacent tree.




Then he squared up the tree he was in, which was indisputably the tallest of the bunch.


And up he went.




In short order, he cut off the tree's top 40 or 50 feet.



As the top came crashing to the ground 200 feet below, Screech let out loud, well, screech of exhilaration along the lines of "Yeeee-haaaaaaaa!" "He certainly enjoys his work," I said to Don, and we grinned. It was clear Screech was having a blast.

I'd never seen such daredevil confidence with a chainsaw. He was fast, clean, and sharp.


When not in use, the saw dangled from a rope.


When the first part of the aerial acrobatics was complete, Screech descended to the ground. Leaning a ladder against another tree (already limbed and topped), he tied a rope and had Don hold it well out of range of the tree's height. The tree needed juuuuust a bit of persuasion to fall in the correct direction (away from the barn), and Don provided that tiny bit of leverage while Screech cut and hammered in wedges.


Down it came, exactly where planned.


A couple other trees also needed guidance, since they were leaning dangerously into the barn, but this time they needed more than a helping hand; they needed a helping tractor. Screech climbed up, limbing as he went, then tied a rope around 30 feet up...


...tied at the other end to the tractor. Don's job was to keep the tree taunt and steady while Screech hammered in the wedges, then to back up slowly as the tree started to topple to encourage it to fall where it needed to fall.



The tree fell exactly on target.


This brought down about half the trees.


Screech paused for lunch and to sharpen his sawblade, then spent a little time cleaning up.



I went for a walk in the afternoon, and on the way home I spotted Screech way up another tree. You can see the barn corner below him.


He limbed the branches as he climbed up.



Once he got the tree top off, he lopped off sections on his way down.


The very last tree he took down was the very first one he climbed up: the tallest. He had already topped it, but now he needed to take down the trunk.


To do this, he shinnied up the trunk, ripping off the dry bark as he did (so his boot spikes could grip the wood better).


When he got to the top, he started lopping off sections, working his way down.




At the end of the day, we asked him to keep the trio of trunks closest to the barn awning high. We may use these to support an additional awning some time in the future.


To watch a master virtuoso of the chain saw was unbelievable. Not a single limb hit the roof of the barn. No wonder Screech has the excellent reputation he has!

The view behind the barn is now quite different.


Now came the task of cleaning up.


Don spent several days at this: yarding the trunks and logs into one location, piling the branches and other burnables into an enormous pile for burning later in the season.




He then built a proper fence across the feedlot (before this we had a temporary fence made of cattle panels), with a slidable gate.


Now we can move the cattle off the eaten-down pasture side of the property back into the woods, another seasonal milestone.