Posts Tagged ‘farmers’

Wanted: Weekend Farmer (in training)

June 15, 2009

Wanted: Weekend Farmer to take care of animals

When: Friday evening through Sunday morning

Where: West Central Illinois

What: Take care of farm animals, including 14 cats, 20 chicks, 6 chickens, and 2 cows.

Details: Animals need food and water in the morning and evening.

Chickens on the stairs

Chickens on the stairs

Chickens: The chickens really just need to be let out of their movable coop. Open the screened front flap and prop it up with the piece of wood that was screwed into the frame but came unscrewed. This helps keep the wood from coming unscrewed and helps keep the door from blowing down in the wind. The chickens will rush out and flap their wings and act silly for a few minutes. Make sure to enjoy this part as it’s quite a show. Lula Mae is always the last one out. She’s the pullet with black-tipped feathers near her shoulders (not the technical word, but you know what I’m talking about since you are a weekend farmer being trained by a farmer-in-training). The chickens will range all day long and will put themselves back in their coop. In the evening, you can check their feed and water before you lock them in. Their feed is currently in a Farm King bucket. I will try to put it in a garbage can and label it before we leave.

Chicks: The chicks are pretty easy. They just need feed and water. They have two feeders in the brooder. They think they get special treats in the purple-bottomed one. Please do not let them in on the secret. You will have to check their water. Most likely it will be spilled or totally mucked up with bedding. Either way it will need to be dumped, cleaned out quickly with the hose on the well pump near the house, then filled and placed back in the brooder. Yes it is reddish inside from the iron in the well water. Don’t bother cleaning it as they don’t seem to mind. The silly chicks will most likely knock it over or muck it up before you leave, so you might want to check it again. Their feed is in the brown garbage can closest to the workbench in the garage. I will try to label it before we leave.

Cows: The cows do not need water as they have a big tub with an auto-leveler. Just make sure to leave the handle of the well pump UP so that it will continue to fill up. Their feed is in the garbage can closest to the garage door. There are two buckets in there, to be filled up about 1/4 to 1/2 way. The buckets and the fence tester are in the garbage can with the feed. PLEASE remember to put them back in there as the garage is too messy for me to find them if you put them somewhere else. Proceed to fence while calling cows. I’ve also started to say, “Come on, girls” to get them to come to me that way. If you get here late enough, they will be waiting for you at the fence. Just ignore their puppy dog sad eyes as they are just trying to make you feel guilty for sleeping in. Also feel free to remind them that you are just a weekend farmer filling in for a farmer-in-training. I’m sure they will understand. Repeat in the evening, making sure to check the fence again. If the fence charge seems low, you will need to walk the fence and check for problems. If there are problems, you will have to call Scott the Farmer as fixing the fence is dangerous and you are not getting paid enough to bother with it.

Indoor cats: There are two indoor cats. Only one, Riley, gets soft food. He only gets a half a can, maybe less if he didn’t eat all his food from the previous serving. This is because Cleo does not like soft food, not because we are mean to her. Riley will meow and meow until you feed him. You might want to do this first unless you can ignore his meows. He also is not starving, as will be evidenced by his youthful figure. The cats might need fresh water or more water. More importantly, they need  reassurance that we did not abandon them for the cute outdoor cats and that we will be back soon to worship them.

Outdoor cats: They will act like they are starving, too. Little Gray might actually be very hungry because she is still nursing her litter. Mama Cat will act as if she is starving, too, but she isn’t. She is mean to the other cats, so when you open the soft food cans you might have to push her away from the other cats so she will not attack them. That is, unless the chickens are around, in which case she is meek and humble and lets everyone else eat first. However, then you have to keep the chickens from eating the food so the cats can eat. This is not easy as they are very persistent little buggers. It might be easier to feed the cats before you let the chickens out, but then  you might have to listen to crowing. Maybe you can block it out. Anyway, the cats get between 3 and 4 cans of soft food. It depends on how many show up for breakfast and how hungry they look and how much food the chickens swipe. Use your best judgment. They also get hard food, which is in the pantry to the left as you enter the kitchen. I usually just fill up the empty soft food cans with hard food. Their water is in a ceramic dish near the well pump. This is the water for the chickens and the cats. Just make sure it is full when you fill up the chicks water for the second time.

All of this should only take about 15 minutes each time, depending on which order you do it. If you let the chickens out first, then you will have to stand guard so that the cats can eat. If you feed the cats first, you will still have to stand guard so that Mama Cat doesn’t eat all the food and then you will also have to listen to the roosters crowing to get out. Really, the cows are the easiest as long as you are mindful of the fence. It is electric and from what I hear, it does hurt. I am scared to death of the fence, so I have not gotten shocked as I am very, very careful.

No worries. My aunt and/or cousins are taking care of the cats and chickens. My aunt has way more experience with animals than I do, so she really should be training me. I have to talk to Scott the Farmer, but I am sure he will want to take care of the cows himself, assuming he has time. Boy, having animals makes vacations hard, doesn’t it?

Cow adventure (yes, again!)

April 30, 2009

Yesterday the cows were out again. They weren’t out there waiting for their treat in the morning when Tim left for work. He had to leave early, so it was up to me to feed them in the morning. I didn’t get around to it right away, but I did notice that they were not in sight. Sometimes that just means that they are up at the top of the hill where I can’t see them from the lane or the garden, so I wasn’t too concerned. Then Tim called from work to ask if I had seen the cows, which I hadn’t. He also asked when we last checked the fence. Well, to be perfectly honest, we had not tested the voltage or walked the fence in days. So, I started up the hill to check the fence and the cows. I checked the fence first and I saw the lights flash (the electricity pulses and the meter we have flashed 1-5 or 6 or 7 red lights, depending on the voltage), but only once. I finally figured out that it wasn’t flashing all the way to where I was looking because it was only flashing 2000 volts. I knew something was wrong and continued to walk up the hill where I noticed a big part of the wire was down. I got all the way to the top of the hill and the cows were not there, so I called Scott.

The one smart thing I did was to grab the following things before I went to check: cell phone, voltage checker, walking stick, and bucket of treats, along with my camera, which was not necessary or helpful, but did allow me take some cool pictures. So anyway, I called Scott and he said he would be over soon and that I should follow their tracks. That’s what I did, but I was thinking to myself that they could have been tracks from the last time they got out, or they could be deer tracks because they would look the same to me. I’m not a tracker, obviously. I followed the tracks to the east end of our property, which is where they went the two previous times. It didn’t look like the went through the fence, but I kind of lost the tracks. I went south towards the woods and found a fresh cow pie and a few more tracks, but I didn’t see them. I tried calling them, but they haven’t really started coming to me when I call them and feed them, so they didn’t come.

I was feeling quite dejected and thinking perhaps we are not ready for cows and it’s time to let Scott take them elsewhere. I was feeling quite disgusted with myself for not checking that fence and not being able to find the cows. I stayed in the woods for a while trying to find where the tracks led and calling them. I couldn’t find them, but I did manage to get a few cool pictures.

No idea what this is, but it's cool looking

No idea what this is, but it's cool looking

Fallen Tree, looks like a broken Y

Fallen Tree, looks like a broken Y

Better view of the Broken Y

Better view of the Broken Y

I finally started back toward the house when Scott called to tell me he and Aidan were heading up the hill. We met up and I told him what I had seen and where I thought they had gone. He told me to take Aidan and go back to the house, so that’s what we did. By the time I got back, the phone was ringing and Scott was heading back with the cows. They had come to his call, thankfully. It took him a little while to get them back because they are so tame (I know that sounds funny because they keep escaping, but they are tame!). I went out with him and we fixed the fence and he showed me how to take one of the fiberglass posts out of the spring that attaches it to the wire and how to put it back on. I’m not sure if I could do it again, but I might be able to figure it out. Then we moved some of the posts out a ways because the wire was all stretched out and was too low. Scott checked the fence with his digital voltage meter and it was still low, so we walked the fence. It looked fine and then he realized he had left the gate open. So he closed that and we were done.

I have to say that Scott is possibly the most patient person I have ever met. Not once has he yelled at us or told us we are idiots, even though we have given him cause to do so. We had not checked the fence visually or with the voltage checker in several days. We had gotten lazy. Now, I can’t say for sure that something was wrong with the fence and we didn’t catch it, but I’m guessing that is what happened. It’s also possible that the cows got spooked by something in the night or early morning hours and trampled the fence getting out. We can’t know for sure, but we do know we need to check the fence more regularly. The cows do come to Tim when he calls them, but I need to work on that and do it more consistently. I need to work on my call, which apparently is not loud enough. I need to really work on getting them to come to me when I call them so that if and when they get out again, I can get them without calling Scott.

Eventually we will have more cattle and better fencing and then Scott will be doing all the work and just paying us some rent for the land. That is the plan for the future. For now, though, these two cows are ours and we need to take care of them ourselves. Someday we will probably have a dairy cow, but we have a bit to learn before then, including how to make our own butter, yogurt, and cheese. For now, we need to focus on taking care of these two cows and keeping them in their pasture.

Here are some pictures of the two cows. The muddy head look is the new fashion for cows, by the way.

Sweetie Cow and Bullseye

Sweetie Cow and Bullseye

Sweetie Cow

Sweetie Cow

Bullseye

Bullseye

Doing our part to help out the wild cow population

April 20, 2009

Well, it’s dark out and our cows are still out adventuring. Scott couldn’t stop the truck from picking up his wheat, which is just fine. I would have felt really bad if he had missed out on that opportunity to sell his organic wheat. I think he’s been waiting a while to sell it, so it’s good he got to do that.

I’m sure the cows are just out in the neighbor’s woods. They went far enough that they weren’t spooked and then stopped and probably grazed out there most of the day. The woods are big, so Scott will look for them tomorrow and Tim will go help him. I’m sure we’ll get them back somehow. Scott is great with them and herds them almost silently, from what Tim told me.

I’m really quite mad at the cows and upset at the same time. I feel bad for them because it was quite an ordeal for them to be taken from the herd of 15 or so that they were used to. Then they get here and are totally afraid of these little kids. It seemed silly that they could be scared of someone so small, but after you see a cow go under an electric fence and one jump over because they are scared of a 5 year old, it’s not silly any more. I don’t know why they are so scared of kids, but they are. I knew they were and I shouldn’t have taken Aidan up with me. They aren’t used to me yet, though they seem OK with me. Just OK, though, not happy or relaxed, just wary. They are obviously not comfortable enough with me to be OK with Aidan and me.

Scott has said a couple of times that this is a bit unusual and that he learns something all the time. I suppose I have learned some things, too. First, chickens are way easier than cows. Second, cows are not stupid. They may be pretty simple animals, but they aren’t stupid. They know how to get out of that electric fence and they know how to get through the rusty barbed-wire fence, too. They did it once and then they remembered. Third, size is unimportant. Just because the cows are big does not mean that they are not scared of animals smaller than them. And despite their size, they are quite nimble. One of those cows jumped over a fence! I don’t even think she was scared, I think she was just following the one who was scared. Fourth, I know nothing about cows so I need to relax and be patient and learn. I need to watch Scott and let him teach us instead of thinking I can try something. I should also have listened to my own instincts. I KNEW those cows were not OK with Aidan and I still took him up the hill with me.

Anyway, here is a picture of the one that didn’t bolt on Saturday. Aidan and I got pretty close to her, close enough that Aidan took some of these pictures. She was fine, so I am sure it is the other one who is scared of him for some reason. The funny thing is that the one who is so scared is the one that the Cow People called Sweetie Pie. Scott got a good laugh about that name since she ran off Saturday. She also kicked the crap out of the Cow People’s Son when he tried to get her out of the truck and inside the fence.

The good part of the day is that I met some other neighbors and they all seemed understanding and said they would watch out for our cows. They didn’t seem surprised or annoyed at all. I even met an Amish neighbor that lives right by the neighbor behind us (the one who came over to complain) and she was very understanding and mentioned that sometimes their horses get out onto his land and he’s not very happy about that. So, maybe he’s just a big grump. He did help the other day, so I should be grateful for that.

I’ll be happier when the cows are back and I can look back and laugh about this experience, that’s for sure!

Farm plans

April 1, 2009

For those of you who don’t know, we have 75 acres. Only 16-18 of it was in crops last year. The rest of the land is woods, a creek, and some other clearings, plus the house and lane. Our land is hilly and the crop areas are not completely flat. There are four separate areas that are tillable and all of it is Highly Erodible Land (or HEL for short, because someone had a sense of humor). We knew that if we rented the acreage to a farmer, we wanted it to be organic.  There are many reasons for this: we have a well, the crops are close to the house and we have kids and don’t want to move to the country only to die of cancer later in life because of pesticide exposure, and, well, it just makes sense to do things organically. It’s best for the soil, the environment, the plants, and the people or animals who eat the plants.

I started looking for an organic farmer soon after we moved here in October. While there are plenty of people who do some organic farming in the form of community sustained agriculture (CSA) or personal vegetable gardens, finding an organic farmer who rents land was not easy. There are not a lot of farmers who grow organic corn and beans, which is primarily what is grown in Illinois. I mentioned to our neighbor that we were interested in renting it to someone who would do things organically, and that I had looked on-line to find someone and had had no luck. He mentioned he had a friend who does all organic growing. I did not realize at the time that his friend was exactly what we needed!

Enter Scott the Farmer, who is apparently the only organic grain farmer in the county. He’s the one who called me a hippy girl when I told him (confessed) I didn’t eat meat. He said that growing soybeans is bad for the environment (except the way he grows them, of course) and that tofu tastes really good fried in bacon grease. Then he laughed. He loves to tease me about being a vegetarian. He also called rendered pig lard “Illinois olive oil.” I thought that was pretty funny. He’s a great guy and we’ve been working with him for a month or so now, trying to figure out what we are going to do.

I think we first met with him sometime in January or February. Then I was supposed to make a phone call (something I really don’t like doing) and set up an appointment with someone from the Farm Services Agency (FSA). Well, I dropped the ball on that and it took me a month or so to finally call him back and set something up. That second time I talked to him, he told me that it is not in his interest to grow grains on our land. Organic corn and beans is not a big money maker in this area. Also, our land is not all that close to where he lives and planting and harvesting four different areas would just be a pain in the butt. He didn’t say it quite like that, but that’s what he meant. So his idea was to turn it into pasture for cattle, and possibly sheep and goats in the future.

So he has come out a few times and walked the property with Tim, trying to figure out what can be turned into pasture. Because the land is highly erodible, we have to be careful. What I’ve learned from him is that, having cattle will improve the soil and prevent erosion in most areas. However, some areas would be made worse by cattle tromping around. The soil fertility will be better after growing clover, alfalfa, and/or oats, and after having cows poop all over the place. In a few years we might do some grains, but he was thinking at least three years of pasture. He doesn’t want to harvest the clover/alfalfa/oats because harvesting doesn’t make much money and is harder on the soil.

Today (Wednesday) Scott the Farmer, Tim, and Greg from the FSA office walked the property. We (or Scott) can get money from the government to build fencing, water pipes, and dry dams. In order to do that, we have to have some animals already being pastured. So Scott is going to get some fencing and some temporary fence posts and is looking for a couple of calves to buy. Once we get that set up, we can apply and get some money to do more fencing and to get water to the pastured areas. So that is the plan for the farm. Soon we should have some calves in a small area. The rest will take a while, of course. I will keep everyone posted as we find out more. And, of course, when we have some calves, I will post pictures!