I would rather not relate my first two experiences loading hogs. I’ll do it but only because I love you.
There were a lot of…adjectives. Maybe some high temperatures. A fair amount of running, yelling, pushing, lifting and other unpleasantness. This was capped off when we got to town and one escaped the chute and ran around the street near the packer. That was awesome.
One of our goals is to ensure our animals have a wonderful life right up until the end. I don’t want loading into a trailer to be unpleasant for man or beast. I have found a better way.
The pigs load themselves. Rather than attempt to load the pigs the morning I drive to town, I back the trailer out there the night before. I butt the electric fence up against the sides of the trailer and put their feed inside. Curiosity and appetite lead them into the trailer and I close the door. No muss, no fuss. Up they go. I have loaded them this way twice now. Old timers think it’s a fluke…just like the electric fence I keep them in with.
Monday night the fourth and final pig showed resistance to loading into the trailer. Rather than pressure the animal to fit my schedule, I backed off. 3 of them were loaded into the front partition. The fourth was reluctant. I put some apples by the door and went to eat supper. After supper he still hadn’t loaded. I decided bring the cows up, feed the goats and close the chickens. When I got back his curiosity had won out over his caution and I closed the door while he munched away at the apples.
This represents a major epiphany and is entirely my father’s idea. Thanks Dad.
Where have you found frustration with livestock? How have you overcome it?
OK. I’m a little worried that if I reveal this I’ll see different results but I’m going to do it anyway. I read what you search my site for. Readers search for all kinds of things. Very interesting things. Like the title of this article. What is the value of my wife? Now, I think they were looking for this article but I’m going to answer the question anyway.
We could look at this several ways. Maybe the reader was evaluating his wife and sought a bit of wisdom from my not-quite-near-daily pontifications. Maybe the reader is thinking of selling her and upgrading to a newer model year. Maybe the reader wants to buy my wife (a wise investment if possible) I dont’ know. But I suspect they are searching for a post on how much I love, honor and cherish my lovely bride. How much I depend on her. How strongly I feel that I could never trade her for a newer model year because they just don’t make them like that anymore…not that I have been out shopping. Maybe I should stop here before I get into trouble.
SO. Let’s indulge the reader.
I met Julie nearly 20 years ago. She was is hot. What’s the value of beauty?
My folks moved just before my senior year. I was going in to register for school, heading up the stairs toward the office. She was coming out of the office walking down the stairs. I’ll never forget our first conversation.
Me: “Um, where is the office?”
Her: “Right over there.”
How great is that? I should have kissed her then. Instead I went in to register for classes. She met her mom at the bottom of the stairs and I learned much later the conversation included this line from her mother: “He must be a new kid. You should show him around the school. You never know, you might marry him someday.”
So there you go. I immediately started dating her best friend. Yeah.
Now I’m going to skim over youth group, high school, going to my senior prom with different people, going to her senior prom together, going to college, being married with 2 years of college left (ages 19 and 20), being newlyweds living in an apartment above her aunt (awkward), being newlyweds living in a crappy rent house, buying our first house, buying a second house (foolish), gutting and remodeling a 100 year old house we bought out of foreclosure, 3 kids are born and now we’re 7 years into marriage. OK. Catch your breath.
7 years. We’re piling up an enormous amount of debt remodeling our house with a construction loan, there is no kitchen, we’re building a too-big garage with additional debt, working long hours, being super-involved in church and community and raising kids and then one day it all came to a head. We had grown apart. We weren’t married so much as we were roommates. Pretty ugly situation. Worse than you think. We didn’t even hang out. We were just there. Sometimes. I started living another life and dreading both.
Now, I don’t want to get preachy but since I do believe in God it spills out from time to time. By God’s grace we not only patched up our relationship, we made it better than it had ever been before. We closed the door to the world, bought a Nintendo Game Cube and played Mario Kart Double Dash with the kids all summer. We talked. We went to counseling. We went to church. We read books…lots of books. But outside of work I was next to my wife every minute of the day…a habit I still continue. SO what’s the value of faithfulness? Of commitment? She said “for better or worse” and stuck with it when it was worse. Tell me what that’s worth.
She homeschools our kids. I didn’t talk her into it. I didn’t force my wife to submit to my will. I never told her, “YOU WILL STAY HOME AND BE A MOM!” Not at all. Given her choice in the world and assuming that we have enough sense to live within the restrictions of our household income (regardless of how high or low), she chooses to stay home. But a big chunk of that is her willingness to stay home AND work harder than anybody I know. There is no Dr. Phil in the afternoon. She doesn’t spend hours on Facebook. The TV does not babysit the kids for her. She finds a task and applies herself to it. And, getting back on course, at the ripe old age of 22 she told me she wanted to apply herself in the home. “OK, dear”. Again, there are several things that make this possible. We live within our means. I would buy her anything. ANYTHING. I can’t buy her everything but I could buy her anything (look for a post on that another time). But she wants little. I have to beg her to buy clothes. We were moving a few years ago and one of her friends offered to pack her closet. The friend asked, “Where are your clothes?” Julie answered, “Right there.” Friend “You always look so nice! How do you do it with so few clothes?!?” She coordinates different things so she always looks different but, honestly, has very few clothes. Fewer still that she didn’t pick up at a thrift store. She hates kitchen gadgets, she makes Christmas tree ornaments, she has never paid for a manicure. She’s very, very low-maintenance. A good night date to her would be a steak and salad, a glass of wine and a movie at home without the kids. If we really went out (like out-out (like drive to the big city and go to an actual sit-down restaraunt where they bring the food to your table and stuff?)) she would go for mexican and a strawberry margarita. Easy. So what’s the value of that?
Several years and several houses ago I said to her, “Honey, I want to farm.” Now, that’s just crazy talk and you all know it. If you don’t know it, well…it is. Crazy. Farming! I’m just about as city as city can get. My parents raised us in a bedroom community but kept a garden. Dad did a lot of carpentry work in his free time so I could hit the right nails but hammering and gardening are a far cry from farming. Besides, I have allergies. What did she say? “OK.” She got books from the library. We read them together. She helped make our garden bigger. She canned and canned and canned. She conspired with me to have chickens in town even though it was illegal and we lived next to THE cop. When it was time, she packed up our suburban paradise and moved to a house where the septic tank was failing, the roof leaked and the spiders were large. She made it a home. Now we get up at 5, do a little housework, make breakfast and she sends me off to the city to sit at a desk while she milks, feeds, lays out new pasture, organizes school, reads to the kids, makes a few sales on the phone, makes applesauce, gathers, sorts, cleans and packs eggs, cooks and generally does everything all while looking great. How does that rate? What’s the value of her work ethic?
So. How does an average-looking guy of average intelligence and below-average manners keep the interest of a girl like that? I have no idea. If I’m asleep don’t wake me up. I do try hard. I am nearly domesticated. I wash a lot of dishes with a minimum of breakage. I fold laundry. I can even wash and hang it on the line. I can cook a few things (better if the grill is involved). I can reach things on high shelves, pick up heavy things, open any jar and squish spiders. I excel at generating crazy ideas and I can really crank out the work even when it’s not required. But these are all things required of any man…well any able-bodied man. I have yet to accomplish anything that any but my children would call superhuman. Everything I do is well within my ability…within the reach of an average person. The things Julie accomplishes amaze me. She does more before 8am than most marines do all day. So, what’s the value of her opting to be with me? All she had to do was to look at another guy. She looked at me. What’s the value of that?
Objectively, she earns her keep and then some. Subjectively she’s priceless.
I’ve never wondered what her value is. I’m just thankful she’s mine.
I love you Julie-Boo. I couldn’t do this without you.
I had never eaten a chestnut. Until today, I wasn’t entirely sure what a chestnut was. I even ordered 25 trees from a supplier in Florida that will arrive spring of 2013. No idea. Just doing what I thought sounded like a good idea. Get some trees in the ground. Grow lumber for future generations. Harvest nuts. Go.
We were picking up apples at Eileen’s house on Sunday and I noticed what I assumed were buckeyes. I asked the kids to leave them lay because I don’t want buckeye trees on the farm. They are toxic to cows and horses, useless for lumber and are not welcome here. Anyway, I did little more than glance at them and focused, instead, on apples.
But they weren’t buckeyes. They were chestnuts. I think they are Chinese chestnuts. I realized my mistake today and drove back to pick them up after work. In the cold. In the wind. Thankfully, not in the rain. A cold front came through and dropped the temperature about 20 degrees in 10 minutes. I didn’t have a jacket with me. Remember to wear gloves next time you pick up chestnuts, OK?
We roasted a handful in the oven and, true to the description, they are like eating a slightly sweet, nutty potato. Maybe I’m missing something. Where is the wonder and majesty? Maybe in the 68 years since Mel Torme wrote The Christmas Song chestnuts have changed. Maybe we have more sweets in our diet now. I dunno. Though I plan to roast some at Christmas, the jury is still out on the whole chestnut experiment. However, we’re going to plant some, we have trees coming in the mail and we’ll figure something out.
Now, I want to say a word about Eileen. When I was younger (maybe just young) I hauled manure from Barney’s for Eileen’s asparagus (Barney deserves a blog of his own), I rebuilt her wooden swing that her cousin had made for her but the tornado threw into the ditch (Babe deserves a blog post) and I helped her pick veggies, cleaned up her fallen limbs and ate lots of her cookies. She gave me a couple of her deceased husband’s ties. Years later I did some really stupid stuff and hit a particularly low point in life. Eileen made it a point to tell me in front of a large group that, to her, I was still as good as gold. Eileen means a lot to me.
I think it’s great that, though Eileen is now in a nursing home, I am still welcome at her house. It may not always be that way but, though she has no idea I was there to get apples and chestnuts, I know that I have her blessing even if it comes by proxy through her son. Thanks Larry.
Not the Halloween type of zombies or the ones that dance with you while you and your teen-aged girlfriend try to walk home from seeing a movie.
Real, honest to goodness Zombie Apocalypse type of zombies. Over the years we have read a number of survival books from true accounts of people stuck on boats or on mountains to fictional accounts of little boys crashed in the Canadian wilderness to full on TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It). The main character of a book I’m reading is a big fan of guns and beans (who isn’t?), owns a cabin as a BOL (Bug-Out Location) and has plans to use an abandoned lot nearby for a garden if he has to bug-out.
It’s that last point that bothers me. It’s as if to say, all you have to do is turn some soil over, tip the seed envelope toward the ground and “Voila!” – food. Haven’t these people seen Second Hand Lions?! You know, where they planted a garden out of various seed packets and it all grew up to be corn.
Gardens take time. Gardening is a skill. Canning is darned near an art. Heck, all of it is an art, one that has to be developed over time in your own climate with seeds that are well-suited to grow where you live…viable seeds that haven’t been sitting in a can on a shelf in a storage unit for 10 years.
So our hero in the current book spends his Sunday afternoons shooting with the guys, practicing tactics for urban warfare. He has to know how to use his weapon so he is ready if he needs it. It’s preparedness. He fills a cabin with beans, rice and pancake mix (yes, pancake mix) because he wants to eat beans and rice and pancakes. He buys a couple of seed packets at the big box store just in case. Just in case?
I don’t even know what to say.
Well, I guess I’ll have to figure it out because I can’t drop off the blog post here.
Now, look. I’m very much in favor of arming your family with an array of handguns and ARs customized to fit each member of the family from ages 3 to 60 (younger than three can pass the ammo!). You wouldn’t say, “Well, yeah, I now own a Glock so I’m ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.” You learn how to use it! I’m very much in favor of beans, rice and pancake mix but you can’t just stop there and call it macaroni! You have to learn how to cook it. If gardening is part of your survival prep, plan for it. Learn how to do it! I mean, the author is very pointed about the fact that our ‘hero’ is rather useless around the house and doesn’t know anything about gardening. He just buys guns and beans and pancake mix. Months worth of beans and pancake mix. (And he expects his wife to be pleasantly surprised that we’re having beans for dinner. For the next 9 months. (Oh, and we might have to shoot the neighbors to keep them from eating our beans!))
Do you know how to garden? Most folks grow a good crop of weeds every year. Not necessarily bad if you know which weeds are best to eat but not ideal if you’re trying to grow onions.
Soil. It takes roughly 7 years to get decent soil in your garden plot. You need manure, animal or human. It takes 3-5 years for a grafted fruit tree to grow. It takes 10-15 years for a fruit tree to bear if grown from seed (and if it’s an apple you might be unpleasantly surprised). Did you plan that timeline into your SHTF scenario? No? Well, good thing you’ve got a Glock. Maybe you can help someone with a garden defend it from marauding vegetarian Zombies.
My friend Linda Brady Traynham died not quite a year ago. She and I discussed this topic at length over the phone one evening. She had written about it in 2009 but she makes the point better than I can as she reviews the book Patriot. Here are the highlights:
I had been using the term”survivalist” as convenient shorthand, but Mr. Rawles showed me the error of my ways: we want to be prepared to thrive, not just to survive. We’re capitalists … and we want a better ROI than just living through the breakdown of commerce and law and order.
“I may have to live through wars in ‘injun territory,’ but I refuse to do so without ample supplies of whipping cream, fresh porto bello mushrooms, and a lifetime supply of OPI nail polish.” Two years into the bad times our heroes have fended off assorted attackers and formed a Dudly Do Right squad to patrol a big chunk of territory assisting those they think worthy of it. Their standard breakfast is dried wheat softened with heated water. Lunch is a big pot of steaming rice. Period. Dinner is the elk or venison du jour when hunting is good and more rice. Dehydrated peanut butter or jerky if it weren’t. Yeech. The calorie count is a bit higher, but other than that we’re talking Gulag food. On special occasions they have a tasty MRE.
…Call me effete, but I’d have turned some of the ingredients into elk-fried rice and told those men that they had enough trenches, go hunting and don’t come back without something that can be milked, and I don’t care if it is domestic or a mountain goat. One of you other idlers go find a bee hive.
Three years into their communal survival experiment they still haven’t planted a garden! They keep wonderful around the clock lookouts, of course. They make terrific IED. Nothing was more important than a garden, and couldn’t someone not on duty have built a still? They couldn’t even have made soap out of ashes for lack of sufficient spare fats.
Nail polish. LOL. She hit the nail on the head. In your Red Dawn fantasy scenario you should plan to dig more than the graves of your fallen enemies. You should plan to garden. You should find a source of milk and convenient protein. If you can keep a couple of chickens at your house now you should. You can pack them with you to your Bug-Out location if needed. Same for rabbits. It’s more than just bullets, beans and exploding zombie heads. Learn to do this stuff now and plan to be comfortable. What if you get there and the zombies don’t find you? You just going to watch each other field strip your guns for years? You need something to do! Garden. Keep chickens. Grow something. As Linda points out, it may even enable you to make a valuable contribution to your gun-toting community.
Heinlein said, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Learning to do anything is simply a matter of putting in the time. If you want to learn about gardening, the time to start is now. I can teach you to hit a target at 15-20 yards with a 9mm handgun with an hour of instruction. You’ll need the rest of your life to learn to garden well. Start now. I still have a long way to go myself.
22. Growing your own food is a bigger challenge than you ever thought possible.
23. A green garden can be spotted from miles away, thus endangering your food source and your family.
So. If you believe there is any possibility of a zombie apocalypse, post-nuclear apocalypse, trucker strike, currency disruption, ice storm, 7 fat and 7 lean years or long-term unemployment (nothing stretches unemployment like not buying food!) and, as Linda points out, thriving sounds better than just surviving, maybe you should take a first step. Besides, who needs that much lawn?
We were invited to pick apples at a friend’s house. Well, we were invited to pick up apples at a friends house. Their trees had a bumper crop of silver dollar sized apples this year and during a recent wind storm many of them fell to the ground. He invited us out to clean them up because he was overwhelmed by the crop.
We had two hours between morning chores and lunch for three adults and six children (sister and nephews were visiting) to pick up the apples. It was just enough time to clean up under one tree.
That one tree gave us five large tubs of apples and six feed sacks full of spoiled apples for the pigs and still left several bushels hanging from the tree.
Lunch was at my mother’s followed by a birthday party for our oldest son at our house. Then we began cooking the first batch of applesauce. Not time to loaf. We work in this army. We’ll be cooking apples for days.
We will begin processing chickens as soon as we’re finished milking in the morning on 10/20. If you are interested in seeing how we do this, show up any time after 9. If you are coming to pick up fresh chicken, whole or cut up, show up any time after 11. If you don’t come on butcher day the birds will be frozen.
The weather promises to be cold and breezy so we’ll work pretty fast to get done quickly.
Wish us luck. These are the last birds of the season. If you miss out, we have a few in inventory. Otherwise we’ll see you in April or May.
Finally, if you want to come out but don’t know where the farm is, shoot an email to email@example.com and I’ll help you find your way.
Play. When was the last time you played? Really played?
I have strawberry plants. I have a 300 gallon tank of water and a bunch of catfish. I don’t know what I don’t know but I’m doing it anyway. And having fun. It’s fun. But is it play?
I don’t know. I’m fully engaged. I’m in the moment. I’m taking risks and am more concerned with the action than with the outcome. But I’m also learning. Experiencing.
But is it play?
What do the kids think? Well. We dug a big hole in the greenhouse for a 300 gallon tank. The kids helped. For a while. Then they headed off to the swings. What happened? Did they simply have enough? Can an 8 year old boy get enough of digging a hole? Maybe he can if the hole is regulated (so deep, so wide, so long and in the greenhouse).
Can this become play? Can I play with my kids and still get my chores finished?
Those animals have to eat. They need clean sheets. Somebody has to cook and cooking/eating requires clean dishes…that somebody has to wash. Where is the fun in that?
I think it’s all fun. Sometimes there are aches and pains, sore muscles after a hard day’s work or an impressive feat of strength or endurance (lol). Sometimes there are bad smells. Sometimes your sock gets wet or something splatters on you. Well. Maybe it’s cause I’m still a boy. It’s fun. I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t fun.
But fun is subjective. Fun is up to you. I asked Dr. Singh (my botany/microbiology professor in college) how he adjusted to an arranged marriage. He told me something I have always carried with me. “Chris, you have to decide, DECIDE to love that person every morning. Even outside of an arranged marriage that’s true.” Please allow me to twist that back to the topic. Each day I have to decide to embrace the work before me. In fact, I usually plan out my day well in advance and finalize plans in the minutes between waking up and getting up by listing the major goals.
Yesterday I moved some catfish to the pond (aquaponics hasn’t cycled yet), fed, watered and moved the broilers, fed the pigs then worked for my employer till noon. At lunch I hauled a load of manure after cleaning out the stalls. After work in the afternoon I went to pick up feed at the mill with my dad then came home to build fence for the cows. The kids had been gone all day and were tired as the sun was setting and really didn’t want to help dad build fence. I’m happy to slog through it but it’s my dream, not theirs. Not yet anyway.
What am I teaching my children? How can I encourage them to embrace my dreams? to find the fun in the tasks I set before them? How can I lead them to my vision without convincing them I am insane?
Just as Dr. Singh told me I had to decide to love my wife every morning, I have to make positive decisions about my kids too. They are kids after all. It can’t all be about work, no matter how fun the work is. They need time to play. They need opportunities to explore. They need time to fail. And I need to be right there. We make tipis, we make cardboard haunted houses, we make paper halloween masks. We listen to silly songs, read Hank the Cowdog books. We go swimming when it’s cold, all of us standing at the edge of the pond shivering and daring each other to go first. Take a moment in your work day to just do something fun, even if there are no kids in your life. Skip instead of walk somewhere. Yes, you’ll look silly. Maybe you’ll make somebody laugh. Laugh too.
Those things have to be in my planner. There is so much work on the farm (the no fun, workey kind of work) that I have to be purposeful about planning activities that include the kids. I don’t want to farm alone. This has to be a multi-generational deal and I have to be training my replacements.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses. I’m really not very good at this parenting thing, though I excel at work. I mean, I’m a machine. I can work and just keep working. But I get a little jittery sitting still for too long having tea or playing legos. It’s also difficult for me to manage my reactions when a little helper tangles up a spool of electric fence as darkness swallows us in the pasture. I have to remember that failure is part of learning. They make mistakes, we take a moment to talk about it and I tread carefully so I don’t crush them. I make mistakes and I hope they will continue to decide to love me anyway.
Am I having fun farming? Yes. Am I having fun parenting? I have decided the answer is yes. And I have to positively decide to play through my day. My kids won’t stick with it otherwise. What’s the fun of doing this without my kids?
It’s March. Well, it’s not but it feels like March…but different. The weather is right. We got an inch of rain last night. The wind is blowing endlessly and I’m in the garden. March. But instead of planting potatoes, I’m harvesting the remaining tomatoes and peppers. I’m cutting up the plants to allow them to compost in a windrow in the garden under (you guessed it!) horse manure. I’ll haul the horse manure once the row is out.
We’re getting an incredible harvest of green tomatoes but the summer garden is at an end.
The fall garden is getting a good head of steam. Carrots are doing well.
Spinach is finally starting to come out. I have the hardest time with spinach. No idea why.
Radishes are coming out.
Lots of things happening in the garden. Out of the garden too. Our last chicken butcher date is this weekend. I think we’re all ready for it. Place your order soon.
My third child is a bit outgoing. He didn’t really talk until he was 5. Now it’s the opposite…lol. He tells everyone he meets that he has worms.
That’s a bit awkward.
I made stacking boxes to keep worms in similar to my stacking supers on my beehives. Here’s how. Start with a 1×12. You will need to cut two lengths off of the board: 24 inches and 16.5 inches. Really, you should cut one 24.5″ and the other 17″, then trim them down and square them up.
Then rip the two boards to 5.5″ wide. Now you have two pairs of boards.
Screw the longer boards to the shorter boards. The result will be a box measuring 24×18. That’s big enough to hold some compost and generate a little heat but small enough that you can pick it up and carry it around.
Then tack on some 1/4″ hardware cloth. This lets the worms through but keeps the compost from falling out when you carry it.
Here are three boxes. I have a plywood board at the bottom and a burlap sack over the top. The burlap shades it and holds in moisture. Just use what you have laying around.
Pull back the bedding, add in some kitchen scraps…whatever.
We use rabbit manure. You don’t need to compost this, they are like slow-release fertilizer pellets but the worms seem to like it and it’s what I have.
To keep the worms from being burned I drilled a couple of holes in the bottom of a bucket, filled the bucket with rabbit manure then poured a bucket of water into it. That should start the heating process pretty quickly. Once it cools I add it to a new tray or fill in spaces in older trays.
The worms crawl up the stack, eating as they go, leaving their castings behind. We try to fill a box each month and harvest a box each month but it varies…like all biological things.
We ordered our worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. 5000 of them. They seem to do what they are supposed to do.