Sunday, June 20, 2010

Farm Journal: Final Push Day

Today is Final Push Day. I’m helping Ron and Soo prepare further for their move from the Dancing Turtle Farm to their new farm in Bangor. Soo took today off from her law office to work on the house.

It’s quite amazing to see how much work they have accomplished on the house already, as busy as they both are. They have painted and cleared away much furniture, which allows them to show off the house very nicely. Unfortunately, they haven’t gotten much interest yet. It’s apparently hard to sell a farm. Given the economy, it’s hard to sell any property. Maybe someone from out of state will buy the farm. Michigan does have favorable climate, land, water, and good soil available for such ventures and many farms are still small at no more than 350 acres. Ron’s farm is just 14 acres. Not many states have these advantages. To help remedy this situation, I bought the Kleins a statue of St. Joseph. Myth has it that burying the statue upside down helps to sell a house. (Within the month, the Kleins got two very interested parties!)

Channon and her family came to help with Final Push Day and they brought a ton of food to boot. Channon is a personal chef and food writer for the Kalamazoo Gazette. She is also a specialist in 16th century Turkish history and food and a re-enactment player for this same period. Her husband, Dan, is a 17th century French re-enactment player. Channon is also working on an article about the halal method of slaughtering farm animals. They have two sons, Luke, 13, and Ben, 11, both are very nice boys.

My assignment was to paint the greenhouse with a more toned-down color of beige to cover up the bright green that was on it. Ben helped me with the paint roller and I did the detail and touch up work with a brush. We finished in no time.

Channon, Dan and Luke helped to clear brush and tree limbs in the woods on the farm.

Afterwards, we had a nice little feast of chargrilled sausages, pasta salad, chips, snow cones with syrup from real crushed grapes, and cookies from Victorian Bakery. Delicious!

The boys were intrigued by the water buffalo and after we ate we all went down to the barnyard to see them. Soo and I went to the goat pen to visit the goats. Soon, everyone was in the goat pen petting and talking about the goats. The goats, of course, put on a great show of warmth and hospitality. They really are wonderful animals and certainly not the evil animals the Bible makes them out to be. Of course, they can be mischievous, but they are not destructive or an animal I fear. I’ve also spent a lot of time hugging them, feeding them, walking with them, cleaning the barn for them and they seem to respond in kind. They know me and Ron says they even know my voice when I approach the pens.

After Channon and her family left, Ron and I took a pasture walk to check the fences. A storm had ripped through the area two nights before and sometimes branches fall on the fences and electric wires and they need to be cleared. The goats were glad to go on the walk and a little while later the buffs joined us. The water buffaloes walk very slowly but they eventually get to wherever they want to go. Soon they were right there with us. They are herd animals and they must see themselves as part of the herd with the goats and the llamas. I think they also don’t want to miss anything. I suspect they’re just party animals.

When the buffs reached us, they all proceeded to eat grass except for LeBon, the bull. He followed Ron and me around the whole pasture, and even away the herd. Very unusual behavior, said Ron. I kept a certain distance from LeBon and made sure Ron was between me and the bull. LeBon kept shifting his position and I kept shifting mine. When we went to the southwest pasture, a couple more buffs joined us. Meanwhile, the goats kept up with us and stopped to much on the grass. They are such mellow creatures!

One important thing happened: I stopped LeBon when he came toward me. I held up my staff (Ron bought me a light-weight plastic one while he uses the wooden staff) parallel to the ground and up in front of his face and said stop. And he stopped! This amazed me and gave me more confidence. Buffs respond to voice commands and the staff. If they disobey, Ron gives their horns a sharp rap. This doesn’t hurt him rather, it is supposed to discipline and train them. LeBon usually responds to this treatment but with me he maintained himself as a very genteel fellow.

Actually, I think LeBon is curious about me and wants to interact with me. Time and time again, when I approach the barnyard pen and he’s there, he’ll come right up to me and attempt to “communicate.” Number 58, one of the heifers, does the same thing but LeBon is more consistent. I don’t know if he takes a certain responsibility for the herd and is checking me out or welcoming me in, but he’s always there first in line. I think interacting with him outside the pens has helped me now that I’m going inside the pens and on the pasture. But I maintain a watchful eye and don’t mess with the buffaloes, especially the bull. I’ll learn more about them as I go.


As we checked on the fences, I noticed that Ron had gathered downed tree branches and placed them inside the pasture for the goats to eat. They love the leaves from trees, especially sassafras trees, and gobble them up quickly. He also cut down some broken pine branches for the goats to eat them. They sure love those pine needles and can’t seem to get enough of them! They eat the needles almost like corn on the cob by slipping them off the branch with their mouths and munching. The chomping sounds they make are a great complement to the occasional clanging sound of the bells that hang from their necks. It’s all so very pastoral and ethereal. Good thing Ron was checking the fences. I was more distracted with watching the goats, especially since I haven’t been on a pasture walk since last fall when the does were pregnant—and before the buffs arrived. I’ve been a little more restricted from the goats because I don’t want to be in the pasture when the buffs are there and they’re there most of the time.

Two of the kids lagged continuously behind: Lena and Ella. They still haven’t acquired herd instinct and this is not proper survival behavior. If they were in the wild they’d never survive this way. However, that they feel safe in the pasture is a good thing. Eventually, they caught up to us but they seemed oblivious to the herd and much more interested in their grazing.

After the pasture walk, we fed the animals from the hay wagon, which is located next to the north pen. Some of the hay had gone moldy and Ron showed me how to spot it. It is gray and with a sour odor. The rain has made haying difficult because it doesn’t have a chance to dry. Cutting it has been delayed several times for the same reason. The ultimate problem with hay is whether or not there will be enough to go around for the animals in the area.

Ron has another problem with his pasture: there isn’t enough grass for all of the animals to eat. Especially with the buffs on the property. The animals eat four percent of their weight, so with 1800-pounders in there, the grass gets taken rather quickly.

This is all part of the problem of adjusting farming methods to the area’s more plentiful exposure to rain. This is a preview of what happens when the climate changes. Farmers are going to have to adjust to more rain in June, a key time for blooming crops.

I also had another lesson in knife opening and closing and had great trouble. I know how to do it but my strength doesn’t allow me to click on the buttons. Ron said he wants to give me a farm knife and he’s checking out to see the kind that would be suitable for me. I got a D in knives today. Zut alors!

I went home after the feeding. It was about 6 p.m. Another long day, which started at 10:45 in the morning.

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