[Cue Bon Scott] – I ain’t spending my life here.  Gonna make a jailbreak.  Oh, how I wish that I could fly.  All in the name of liberty!

So there I was…fast asleep (had been for at least two solid hours) when the phone rings.  Dad says, “Your cows are out.  Come help me put them in.”

It’s 1:00 in the morning.  I’m asleep and my parents have been out partying with friends.  What kind of geek am I to be in bed when my parents are out?  And why are my parents driving home from a social event at 1:00 in the morning?  I don’t know but thank God my parents are driving home from a social event at 1:00 in the morning.

I step outside and see dad walking behind the girls around the curve in front of my house.  Of course the cows don’t want to be caught.  They are fat as ticks with all the stuff they have eaten along the road but still ornery.  They know they have pulled something off and are not anxious to be caught.  Such children!

Dad walks to their right as we go down the road, I follow behind.  Mom follows with the car in case another car comes around the curve.  They have already opted not to go to my house so now we’re headed to the yellow house where the high-security corral will contain them.

We almost get to the driveway and they decide they’re going to run.  I don’t care if we run, walk or jog.  Just don’t miss the driveway for the yellow house!  Dad races alongside of them to turn them in.  In the dim light the cows see the chance to take a left and, miracle of miracles, they do.  Now they’re in the alfalfa field.

I would like to pause for a moment to say that my father isn’t new anymore.  Along with knee surgery and various other problems he lost a toenail recently and it’s causing him to favor his leg.

OK.  Now the cows are in the alfalfa field.  The good news is they are already fat as ticks and they’re only stopping for a quick bite here and there but they are no less spirited.  Mom and dad go ahead in the car to the barn lot to open up the corral.  The wife (who just caught up to us) and I are following the cows on foot to the barn.  This can’t be more than 1/4 of a mile.  The girls know what’s going to happen.  They lived at the barn all winter.  Every day we would walk to and from the pond in the center of the alfalfa field.  At this point it’s routine.

Then the routine breaks.  They don’t want to go to jail.  We get as far as the barn lot and both dash to hide in the giant hackberry that recently fell.


That led to a couple of rounds at the circus maximus around the barn lot before finally getting them corralled in their jail cell.

Now, I have to admit, I’m not at my best when woken from a sound sleep.  I’m not at my best when woken from a sound sleep and asked to run a marathon in the dark.  I’m not my best when woken from a sound sleep and asked to run a marathon in the dark chasing my cows and all their various liabilities.  I was ready to sell.  2 springing jersey heifers, best first offer.  By morning I was feeling more reasonable.  Because of the drought we’re out of feed.  We have been moving the cows around the yard and into shade every day trying to keep them away from flies and manure but moving them around doesn’t magically make more feed appear.  We’re down to a little bit of dried johnsongrass and baked red clover along with some dormant fescue and maybe a bit of lambsquarter here and there.  Not much to write home about.  I can’t blame the cows for being tired of eating grass hay we baled out of the ditch with a flake or two of alfalfa.  But if they want to protest their treatment they should do it when it’s daylight.  Is that too much to ask?

Nope.  No cows for sale.  I do need summer to cool off so I can build some fence.  Then I can at least contain those girls in a hot perimeter fence and keep them off of the road.

Had another rodeo on Sunday when we tried to move the pigs to a new pasture but that’s another story.

No Doubt, it’s a Drought

Farmers are never satisfied with the weather.  Environmentalists are never satisfied with the weather.  In both cases, it seems it’s the worst it has ever been and there is no hope of recovery.  I’m an alternative environmentalist and an alternative farmer.  I need medication.  Global climate change advocates tell me it’s too hot/cold/wet/dry because of decades of human activity.  Astrophysicists present that temperatures follow solar flare cycles (and that a huge solar flare could wipe out the power grid).  The alternative farmer in me knows I can do little to affect the sun but I can take action to positively (or negatively) impact the hydrological cycle.  I can sequester more carbon.  I can cycle nutrients more quickly.  I can grow more food with less irrigation.  I can landscape in such a way to not only hold more of the rain that falls on my farm but to encourage more rain in my region.  “If everyone of us would sweep their own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.”  These notions appeal to my inner alternative environmentalist but where the rubber hits the road, I need rain now.  Now.

Today we’re in a drought and it’s getting pretty gritty.

I helplessly watch the rainclouds float on past to the North and South.  They kind of spit at me for a few minutes here and there but no rain.  No real rain for weeks.  We’re short by 18 inches this year…a big deal to a midwesterner.  We had solid rain at the beginning of May, an hour of hail mid-May and a half-inch of rain a few weeks ago.  The pond is down a foot already.

The grass under the maple trees has given up…the maples have sucked the ground dry.  It seems that nothing can stop the poison ivy though.

What can I do about it now?  Not much.  Drought is a fact of life.  It happens.  It always happens.  As I read Walt Davis he jokes that the Texas rainfall average may be 20″ but that’s because they get 60″ one year and none for the next two years.  I have to learn to manage for drought.

I have grass.  It’s not pretty, it’s not a lot but it’s there.  Where the goats, chickens and pigs have been there’s a tall, diverse stand of grass…even if dry.  I’m surprised how little moisture there is under the tall grass but at least there’s something standing to catch the dew…when there is dew.  I need to fence out the neighbor’s cows so I can monopolize the growth.  I need to maintain and encourage that stand.  Where the grass is short I need to allow rest.  Where there is bare dirt I could put down any number of things but I have been leaning toward using litter out of the layer house or sawdust as a mulch.

Going forward I need to catch my greywater (not to mention the infrequent rain) in a series of swales down the hill from my house.  I don’t really know how to establish the swales at a minimum of expense but I’m considering using a 2-bottom plow just to get something out there.  I need to grow more trees.  The lack of shade out there is a killer.  Beyond shade, I need protection from wind to help limit evaporation.  Also, I need more things for my goats to eat.  I may buy a box of hybrid poplars and interplant with fruit and nut trees on the swales.  But the real focus needs to be on building additional ponds.  I don’t even know how to estimate what a pond will cost but I know what it’s worth to the land.  That’s going to have to become a large part of our future farm budgeting.  We need to catch and hold the water as high as possible and work to slow it down as it runs downhill.

Each of these things will work to dampen (lol) the effects of drought in the future.  What can I do now?  Right now!

There are good chances for rain this weekend.  All I can do today is pray.  Just pray.  Rain breeds rain.  If we get a little moisture this weekend, maybe we’ll get more next weekend.  Maybe, by the time hurricane season gets started in the gulf, we’ll have so much rain I’ll write a blog post complaining about being waterlogged.  Oh, to dream!  In the meantime I’ll keep my animals watered and shaded and my kids cool inside.  I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about the solar flares.