Saturday, September 4, 2010

what to do about finn...

I pulled into the driveway and there was Finn, coming from behind the house. He was fine but I could see the damage that had been done. The chicken feed container was knocked on its side, the remaining vegetables devoured, strawberries I planted by the door gone, and a rhubarb plant torn to shreds. How Finn knew to not eat the leaves is beyond me. The stalks were gone and the floor of the planter littered with the poisonous leaves. Had he not been such a clever goat he'd be dead.

I am starting to seriously consider rehoming Finn.

I do not take that consideration lightly. After months of waiting for his return I have been doing my very best to accommodate him safely. I have spent hundreds of dollars on fencing equipment and supplies. I have enlisted the help of experienced goat owners. I've read the books, called the vet, and what it all comes down to is this: am I best home for this goat?

If I'm 100% honest I can admit I am not. Finn is well fed, vaccinated, and kept but he lives in a small electric pen with sheep who seem to bore him. He spends his day pacing around looking for something to occupy his mind and time. Yesterday he managed to knock out all the electric fencing wire again in one section, climb out, and destroy property and eat poisonous plants. This is not good.

I know some of you are angry at this idea. We've watched Finn grow up on this blog, people asked me about him for months while he was with Abi (poor Abi, now I understand everything she emailed me about!) or Bobbie. We all adore this little guy, and want to see him thrive, but so far all that has come of this is stress and concern. I put off bringing him here because I wasn't sure my home could hold him. I wasn't prepared (or able) to afford the special accommodations he needs.

I am getting to a point where I can not leave for more than a few hours for fear he'd hurt himself or wander into the road and hurt someone else. I have no idea how I could even drive to PA to visit my family overnight, something I really want to do but can't, because someone has to be here to keep an eye on the electric fences and Finn. And christ, If I got a call that a neighbors' teenager was in the hospital because my stock was out in the road and he swerved into a tree... I can't even begin to wrap my head around that.

People have suggested I build a play structure and get another goat so he can be more content, but that seems unreasonable to me. If this was a dairy goat operation I'd be hammering away at wooden fences and caprine jungle gyms, but this is not a dairy. This is a wool and lamb farm just starting out that happens to host one goat. Acquiring another animal I do not have a use for—other than a babysitter—seems foolish (an expensive) when the profit and point of the farm is sheep. And is he even happy here? Does he want to be in a pen with three sheep? Does he miss the camaraderie of other goats?

This is what I fear. I fear the only reason I have been keeping Finn is because I said I would—not because it's what is best for the farm or the goat. I am torn on what to do and where I would even be able to rehome him. I am not proud of this but understand I am not trying to shirk responsibilities. I am trying to decide what will keep Cold Antler sane.

Your advice and suggestions are welcome. What would you do?

Friday, September 3, 2010

upset

I decided to name my second Ameraucana rooster Upset, after the not-so-famous horse. If you're furrowing your brow in confusion, here's the story of the name: There was a very famous race horse named Man o' War back in the 1920s. He was amazing. He was undefeated and unstoppable on the track. I say "was" because he wasn't entirely successful... In his illustrious career only one horse beat him in a race. That horses name was Upset. Till this day the phrase upset is used in sports and politics when an underdog takes the day.

I want this chicken to win.

Chuck Klosterman was put in the freezer because he was a man of war. He was violent as hell, loud, and angry. I'm going to hope that Upset beats him at being a good farm rooster. I'm going to hope he watches over his girls, croons like lounge singer, and leaves the memory of that mean ol' bird in the dust.

you've been warned

Thursday, September 2, 2010

flying machines

I was outside with Jazz and Annie tonight when I heard a helicopter overhead. I looked up to watch it flash red and said a quiet prayer for those people far away. A helicopter at night means one thing around here: get to the hospital quick. I felt my anxiety rise up as I counted all the other planes in the sky tonight: five total. I never realize how many people are above me... Hundreds tonight, just over Jackson.

I know there's supposed to be a thrill in flying, some sort of freedom. I don't see it that way at all. Flying is freedom to a bird, they are built to do it, meant to. But to a human being flying is a prison or a coffin. You are either trapped in a machine you depend on to not die, or the machine fails and you do. Either way you're a codependent or a victim. Neither option seems like freedom to me. Both rattle me to the core. I'm a land-rail-or-sea kind of gal. The world makes more sense down here.

I'm so scared of being up in the air. I hate flying, am terrified of unnatural heights. I'll be fine up in a tree but a roof of the same size makes me jittery. I hold the record for the fastest descent down the Statue of Liberty. I was nine and nearly had a panic attack in that stupid crown. I remember looking out over the Atlantic and knowing I wasn't supposed to be that high. I looked up at all those planes and all I could think of was how good it feels to walk out of the terminal and start making your way to the car or family waiting to take you home. Every time I get off a plane I am amazed I survived. I wanted everyone up there to walk out of their terminals to smiling, warm, faces. I want everyone to be content.

I think this is why I was so drawn to homesteading and why I am trying to become a farmer. There is such good in knowing everyone is okay. There is no deeper sense of calm here than when everyone is eating, and watered, fenced and safe. Tending to animals isn't the same as landing a 747, but the idea of getting everyone through the day alive is. A lot of times I don't. Foxes snatch, rabbits get sick, raccoons learn to scale walls and steal polts. But when everyone is okay I beam and sigh. A little faux order does wonders for me. I'll take a sheep over a flying machine any day.

The dogs looked up with me for a while and then peed. They could care less who falls out of the sky tonight.

sal says good mornin'

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

welcome fall

At dawn I was outside with the animals. I walked the perimeter of the hoof fences and was pleased to see not a single line or insulator was down. I threw the last two flakes of hay to the herd and said my good mornings. I plugged in the fence charger and watched a wire dance. It was on. So far my fences hold.

Then I walked over to feed June Carter. She came running—somewhat awkwardly—up to meet her can of turkey food. She leaped up to the top of my rubbish bin with a baby mouse in my teeth, still alive. She spit it out soon as she saw the cat food but I was thrilled. Just three months old and already on the job. It was the first mouse I saw with her but for all I know it was her third that morning. I am happy to have such a fine working cat here. I pet her spine and watch her arch under my hand. She purrs with all she's got.

I went about my morning work of hauling water to the hoofstock and feeding the chickens. The rabbits got their bottles refilled and pellets restocked. I took note that the pair of goldfish I won at the Washington County Fair were thriving in their new home: the water tank. I had read on a FFA website about how keeping hardy goldfish in your sheep's tank keeps down algae and mosquitos. They were already twice the size since I won them throwing ping pong balls under the ferris wheel. The water was cleaner than usual too. I suggest my golden filters to anyone with a small number of animals to keep watered. They do the job.

It was the first morning of my autumn. Jazz and Annie went for their morning walk stepping over the first fallen leaves, red as stop signs along the side of the road. The king maple in front of the house already is barking for the rake. September is here darling, and she paves the way to holy October. You can read back entries of previous Septembers and Octobers and notice the verve. This is my time.

woodcut by andrew waddington

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

and...

The fences stopped working again. Finn was playing with the wire between his horns this morning.

Finn 2
Jenna 1

UPDATE: Went back at lunch and Annie was coming down the road, she repaired the down fences and had them hot again. I thanked her, and then went home to let the dogs out. Finn was on the hillside in the shade with sal. Fences on.

Finn 2
Jenna 2

Monday, August 30, 2010

headlock!

fences on

Annie my a goat farming neighbor came to my rescue. Annie has a herd of goats in Cassyuna, fifteen minutes to the west of Jackson. We spoke briefly over emails—certainly we were strangers—but when the shit hit the wall with Finn I had a gut reaction to email her. The subject like read ANNIE HELP! GOAT EMERGENCY! within an hour she was on the phone.

I explained my worries and she said she'd stop by in the morning after I left for work to check things out. Then, after I came home that evening, we would attack the pasture with a proper double line of wire at head and chest height. Do this and my goat problems would be over she assured...for now.

She explained that I should ditch the nylon tape and get straight up wire and a stronger charger. That tape isn't goat proof, and in her opinion raw wire is the only way to get a goat to mind. So on my lunch break I picked up a 1/2 mile roll of wire and more t-post insulators and called my friends at Common Sense Farm to see if the offer to loan their spare fencer was still on the table? It was, and after work I stopped at their farm stand in Cambridge for watermelons and a 30-mile charger (the last one was 2 miles!!!). Now were were stocked and ready for honorable caprine combat.

Listen. I love Finn. But I understand now why people keep sheep and alpacas. I really do. It's humbling being outsmarted by something with four stomachs.

I asked her to meet me at the farm by six, but I was running late from chatter down at the farm. At ten-past the hour I pulled into the driveway and saw quite the sight. I was just as concerned as I was amused. There by the fence was Annie, a fit blonde in an orange chicken t-shirt, sitting with Finn outside the fence gate. They looked like kids on the bench at a little league game, playful. "He was just standing in the front yard when I pulled in a minute ago," Annie assure me, "He's a sweet boy." She seemed to take to him and I took that as a compliment.

Goats have very liberal interpretations of captivity. My four-foot field fence was a joke to him. At some point while I was at work he got bored and pulled it down enough to climb over. Probably walked around, took a tour. You know, the usual house warming. We put him back inside the gate and got to work.

It took us two hours but together we electrified that pasture. Finn and Sal were our shadows, following both of us around like our jeans were stuffed with hay. It was nice. It was also somewhat of a work bee. We spent the whole time talking about our lives, our animals, our farms and other farmers. I learned tonight if you want to make new friends in the country, get a goat. The sayings are true. Single moms may be strong, but it takes a village to raise a kid.

Her husband Joe and her are old hands at this stuff but she seemed willing and able to help me out. I thanked her over and over but it didn't seem like enough. Giving up a sweltering afternoon to electrocute a goat isn't many people's idea of a good time. God bless Annie.

We ran the fence both Finn and Sal took a shock on the nose. JUICE! I gave her a high five. Before she headed home I handed her some honey. I told her I would be coming by with pie later this week and arguments would not be tolerated. Thanks to her help I learned how to set up, ground, and work my fence. Finn is safe inside and away from the road and predators will have to really second guess hopping inside too. Tonight I go to bed with a little extra spark. Not from the new fences, but a new friend.

Not bad for a Monday night among hayfields.

staredown: jazz, annie, and june carter.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

help!

Help! The electric fencing charge is so weak..it barely sparks my bare palm. Yet the grounding wire is wicked charged...I know because I brushed it by accident with my hand. I am using a 2 mile electric charger on a 1/6th of an acre pen...I went out in a panic and bought a grounding rod three feet long and nailed it into the ground to replace the 1 foot copper rod that came with the kit. I don't know why it's barely working but Finn is ignoring it. I have to go to work tomorrow and am terrified he'll get out, break down the fence so the sheep get out too while I am half an hour away... If he got into the road and got hit or caused an accident (people fly down this road) I am just so stressed out.

I have been running around all over Washington and Bennington county buying sledgehammers, grounding rods, electrical supplies and the works yet it is barely buzzing. Does anyone know what I can do to up the charge? help!

If I can't contain Finn safely I don't know how I can keep him. I have spent the day either in a panic, in tears of frustration, or driving all over trying to contain him.

juiced

Well folks, less then 24 hours after his return home to Cold Antler, Finn has broken out of the fence. He found a weak spot by a tree, placed his hooves on the Red Brand woven wire, and ripped it down. Pulled the nails right out of the bark. I caught him in the act on the return from a jog. Just as I was coming into the driveway huffing and puffing—he was half out of the fence eating some sapling all to hell. So I grabbed a hammer and nails, fixed the downed fence, and hoped it would hold while I ran to Bennington to buy electric supplies. I set up a top line of eletric tape around the whole first pasture pen. So far, no more escapes....

finn's return

The side door to the mini van opened and I caught my breath. Standing in the back, taking up all the space there was to take, stood a grown man. The little toddler I had bottle fed on the cabin porch was no more. Before me was a sturdy caprine who's shoulders came up to my hips with long, curved, horns. He had the exact same eyes though, yellow and childish. He started to nicker and I smiled when the sound was exactly the sound I left this past winter. How could such an animal still sound like a little kid?

It was so good to see him. I had tried to ignore missing him. If I didn't think about Finn I could focus on other things. Part of me worried I'd never have the fences he needed (part of me still worries about that) or he'd me miserable as the lone caprine laughing in a pile of wool. But he seemed good, healthy, and strong as an ox. All I could do now is pray the fences would hold and no horns pierced anything but tree trunks.

I lead him into the sheep pasture and unsnapped his collar to see what would happen next. Sal, Maude, and Joseph watched from their corners of the hillside. None of them looked thrilled. I knew Sal would trot down here and challenge the goat but wasn't sure what would happen next. Would Finn leap through the sheep field fence? Would he fight back? Did he know what those horns (the size of my forearm) could do to a pissy sheep? I watched from the other side of the gate.

Sal and Maude did chase him around a bit. Sal knocked him over twice. Joseph watched. He had no interest in smacking a goat around, and I laughed when I realized he was watching a black sheep for the first time.

After those initial introductions all went well. Finn walked up the hill to the shed and the others returned to their grazing. The goat curled up under the shade of the apple tree and looked around the new farm. I watched him swat flies with his ears and nod his head up and down. I know he was just avoiding the bugs, but I like to pretend it was approval.

Thank you Abi and Bobbie, for watching my boy. I hope to return the favor some day.