Tag Archives: work

Farming in June

It’s always a splendid idea to move residences just as farm season ramps up for the summer.  I have done it three times now.  You’d think we’d learn.  Needless to say, it’s been a busy month but we are having all sorts of fun!

This is sort of a photo-dump but here’s what has been going on at the farm in the last week:

 

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We’ve been breeding cows (artificially inseminating) up at Carol’s ranch.  She selects good bulls for sires and hires someone to come AI the cows. The Spring 2014 calf crop is percolating as we speak!

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The weather has been nice, so our broiler chicks have been heading out to pasture at precisely two weeks of age.  They still have their fluffy chick down, but they much prefer being on grass to being in the brooder.  They really forage a lot even at this age.

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We have been happy to see the variety of grass and forb, species that are coming up in the fertilized area behind our broiler pens.  Now that there’s been a bit of rain there is quite the diverse landscape. This is a picture of selfheal (prunella vulgaris) in bloom.

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We are even seeing some wild strawberries (fragaria virginiana) ! They are tinier than the tip of a finger, but they look just as delicious as their domestic counterparts.

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Emmie picked a fight with a tougher dog than herself and ended up with a few war wounds.  She was bedridden for a few days but the first sign of life was her intense desire to go with me to the farm when I’d put on my boots in the morning.  She can’t stand being left on the sidelines while I’m working.  It’s been said of Border Collies that each dog has the energy of a small nuclear reactor.  That’s very much true of this one.  I’m glad she bounced back quickly. I hadn’t realized how attached I’d become to my sidekick til I had to do chores without her.

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We’ve been making hay up at the ranch.  I have been assigned baling duty.  I straight-up love it.   It’s hot, the dust makes me itch and sneeze,  the baler is old, and the fields are rugged.  But the scenery is terrific!  We’re making hay in the foothills of the Coastal range, with covered bridges and vineyards and rivers on every side.  I’d rather be out there making hay on a sunny weekend than doing pretty much anything else in the whole wide world.

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Carol and James first cut the grass down with a swather.  The swather incorporates a conditioner (or crimper) which crunches the grass a little bit to make it dry faster.

Then they come along with a “tedder”, which has tines that fluff up the hay and accelerate the drying process.  Getting the hay to dry quickly is important in the Willamette Valley where mornings have lots of dew and it could rain at any moment.

The next step is raking the hay into windrows.  This puts the grass in nice, straight lines so that the baler can pick it up.  Raking also helps with drying, as it turns the grass and fluffs it up to get more airflow.

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We check the grass by hand and with a moisture meter and when it’s dry enough, we fire up the baler and I get to work.

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James comes along behind me with the bale wagon and scoops up the bales.  When he gets a full stack, he drives up to the barn and and deposits them for the winter.  

And with that, I’m off to go bale some more hay.  We are expecting rain in the early part of the week, so we’re getting it up as fast as possible.

 

 

 

 

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On the Move

This farm is on the move!   This Sunday, Keith and I loaded a couple of our brooders onto a flatbed trailer and hauled them up to their new resting spot at the ranch.

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These brooder houses are pretty darn awesome, if I do say so myself.  Each one cost less than $200 to build and they’ve served us through 4 different farm seasons at 3 different locations and have (mostly) held together well.

Please excuse my “migrant farmworker” husband in the straw hat.  He found the hat in an old refrigerator and spent the afternoon wearing it and dancing a jig to Irish music as he worked.  I can’t really explain any of that previous sentence in a way that makes any sense whatsoever.  Whatever makes him happy, since I took him away from his precious Mt. Bachelor to help me on the farm this weekend.

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Here we are, about to hit the highway with one load of brooders!  We’ll transport the other two next weekend if I can peel the migrant farmworker off the ski slopes again.

 

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Working Calves

I have this funny situation occur regularly:  If I come back from a long marathon training run with painful, tight calves and I Google anything to do with “calf muscles” I get lots of results on breeding beef cattle for more musculature.  And when I want to know more about how other ranches “work calves”, I get lots of links for exercise websites.  It’s like my two worlds collide via the power of Google.

All that to say, I’m sitting on the couch drinking my nasty electrolyte sports water and nursing my sore calves from a 23 mile morning run, so I thought I should use my rest time to tell you about the other calf work I’ve been doing up at the Hemphill’s ranch.

I’ll say up front that my pictures are not Pioneer Woman quality.  There’s a couple reasons for that:  (a) the purchase of an SLR camera isn’t really a financial priority in my lil’ farm budget, and (b) I’m actually working, so I don’t have a lot of time to  frame the perfect shot.  Also, who are we kidding?  My siblings got all the photo/video genius in my family.  I’m just a farmer with an iPhone.

So, Friday before last, we rounded up about 50 mama cows and their calves that were born fall of 2012.  Carol breeds a total of about 100 cows a year and times it so that half of them calve in the spring (happening right now!) and half of them have their calves in the fall.  The Fall 2012 calves are now about 4 months old and they’re not quite weaned but it’s time for them to receive their vaccinations and wormer and the bull calves will be castrated.

All the cattle are in sacrifice paddocks right now because the pastures need a rest during the winter.  This particular group of cattle hangs out at the top of a hilly pasture.  We bring them hay every day, but that morning we mixed things up a little.

IMG_3454We brought the hay truck up to their paddock and then opened the gates.  The hungry cattle eagerly swarmed around the “breakfast wagon” and then followed it as James drove towards the corrals where we planned to sort and vaccinate them.

Carol and I walked along behind the herd and she directed her Kelpie/McNab dog Lizzy to keep the cows bunched up and moving behind the truck.  The cattle were pretty excited about the green grass all around them after a winter of hay consumption and they kept getting distracted from following the pickup.

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This is ranching in Western Oregon: green grass and dense forests of Douglas Fir trees.  I find it absolutely beautiful!


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It didn’t take long to get the cattle coaxed into the corral.  We had thrown some flakes of grass hay on the ground to give them a little incentive to move into the enclosure and then we shut the gates behind them.  Carol does her best to make always make the corral and squeeze chute experience as stress-free as possible for her cows.  She says that if we can keep the cows and calves from being frightened in the large corrals and chutes, then they typically associate it with a pleasant experience and are willing to be cooperative in the future.  This is even despite the fact that each one experiences a brief “scary” moment of castration or vaccination while in the squeeze chute.   But that is over very quickly and doesn’t seem to cause the calf a great deal of anxiety.

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We spent a few minutes sorting the cows out of the pen so just the calves remained. The mothers bawled for a bit and then assumed their babies were in daycare and wandered off to enjoy the grass.  Carol had a list of bull calves that she was considering saving to sell as bulls instead of castrating. We circled the pen, looking for the numbers on her list and then analyzing each calf for conformation, vigor, size and weight gain.  She narrowed the list down to about five calves that she wanted to save. She would probably want me to point out that those two brownish calves in the above picture are not an example of the quality of her herd. They were twins and are kind of runty, pot-bellied little things.

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Here’s a better picture of the handsome Angus calves we are working with. It was hard to decide which bull calves to keep.  She had a number of very good options to pick from.

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After writing down the calves we were not going to castrate, we set up our equipment at the squeeze chute.  Well, it used to be a squeeze chute a long time ago, but the contraption seems to be about 100 years old so now it’s just a chute.   James hung the Cydectin pour-on wormer from the rail and then set the syringe gun for the correct dosage for a four-month old calf.

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I was put in charge of loading the latex bands and clips onto the EZE Castrator tool.  The bands are very thick and a little hard to stretch onto the tool, but I got the hang of it after a while.  We would send a calf into the squeeze chute and then call out his or her ear tag number to Carol.  She cross-checked the males against her list and if it wasn’t a bull we were keeping, I’d hand the castrator to James and he quickly applied the band.  It didn’t really seem to phase the calves one bit.  Then each calf got a dose of the purple Cydectin wormer applied to the top of its back.  Finally, Carol gave each calf a couple of vaccinations which protect against a number of diseases including leptospirosis, tetanus, Bovine Viral Diarrhea, respiratory diseases and clostridial diseases.

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The vaccinations are given subcutaneously in the neck area, just in front of the calf’s shoulder blade.  It’s the best spot to do it, because on the off-chance the calf develops a reaction to the vaccine it won’t affect an area that would yield a valuable cut of meat.

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Carol had the trickest job.  It is challenging to keep the needle steady and in the correct spot when the calf is jumping around in the chute.  The calf’s head is locked into the head-gate, but he can still move around enough to make the job difficult.  Carol speaks soothingly to the calf as she works, and the ordeal is over in a matter of seconds.  The calf leaps free when we open the head-gate and promptly joins his buddies in browsing oak leaves and grass sprouts.

It only took a few hours to work through all 50+ calves.  The next day, they were all happily eating hay back up in their winter paddock, looking no worse for wear.  They have another month or two with their mothers and then will be weaned and sent out to enjoy getting fat on the lush spring pastures.

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A Day in the Life of a Farmer (Winter Edition) – Monday

7:30 : Up and out of bed.  I make a pot of coffee and Keith does a few loads of laundry.

8:30 : Keith heads to work and I work on this blog.

9:30 : The bank is now open, so I head down there and get a cashier’s check for the car purchase.  I run a few errands around town and then head home.

12:00 : My friend Jessie and her daughter E come pick me up.  They are giving me a ride to Monmouth so that I can get the car.  It’s about an hour drive to Monmouth.  E has had a lot of questions about God and Jesus lately, so Jessie asked me to try to answer some of them for her.  The questions were heavy-duty ones for a six year old.  She munched noisily on her carrot sticks in her car seat while I fumbled to answer.

  • When did Jesus’ spirit leave his body after crucifixion?
  • Why do Christians have a problem with gay people?
  • Do you like this cross I just made with my carrot sticks?
  • Why was there a stone across Jesus’ grave?  Why wasn’t it called a boulder?  That would make more sense, Rachel.
  • What does a Bible look like?  Does it have pictures?

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I think next time we will talk about theology during a hike or long walk.  Doesn’t it seem easier to think about God while you’re out in nature?  I think E and I both had trouble wrapping our minds around some of the concepts we were discussing, while being strapped into a car hurtling down the highway at 60 mph.  She apologized later for being wiggly.  I felt kind of wiggly too.  Sometimes I have as many questions about God as she does, and often they’re the same ones.

1:00 : We arrive in Monmouth and exchange payment for keys and title to a snappy ’06 Ford Freestyle. (Fitting car name for a former competitive swimmer, don’t you think?!)  I’m pretty stoked at owning a car that was made in the last six years.  Keith and I have a big aversion to debt, so we save and invest most of our income.  We’ve been driving our paid-off cars since freshman year of college in 2002 and they weren’t new then.

I’m all kinds of impressed by the little features of this new vehicle:  automatic locks and windows!  a keychain button to unlock the doors!  adjustable lumbar support! bluetooth built-in!  interior lights that actually come on when you open the door!  headlights that light up the road even on dim setting!  Doesn’t take much to impress the Pricketts.  We think we’re fancy folks now.

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E tries out all the configurations of the seats and cargo area before we leave the seller’s driveway. They all fold up and down and inside out.  It’s like a transformer – one minute you’ve got seats for 6 and then you pull Tab 1 and Tab 2, and you’ve got cargo space for miles .  E thinks it’s the best car she’s ever seen and approves greatly of my purchase.  She tries to get her mother to trade their newer model Subaru Outback for our Freestyle.  I was hopeful, but there was no deal.  Jessie is smart.

2:00 : Jessie, E and I decide to go have a celebratory late lunch.  We end up at J’s Grill in Monmouth and  we all order whopping big baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli.

3:00 : We all head back to the farm and the girls help me collect eggs, feed the chickens and the cows.  We work with Fritz to repair a fence that broke when he hit it with the tractor earlier in the day.  It’s kind of a two-person job to pull smooth wire with a fence stretcher.

I go inside and chat with Beverly for a little while.  I invite her to join us for dinner tomorrow night.  She is such a good cook and invites us to dinner so often that I like to try to return the favor once in a while.

5:00 : Jessie and I hang out in the farm driveway and talk while E scrambles around in the car trying out all the seat configurations once more.

5:30 : I head home, drop the mutt off and drive to Safeway for almond roca ingredients.  I have been making almond roca every Christmas without fail since I was in middle school.  My mom made it every year until I took over.  It’s my favorite candy in the entire world and I could eat it til my teeth fell out.  It’s best to get this stuff out of your house as quickly as possible, but I rarely abide by that wisdom.  Here’s the recipe, because I love ya so much:   ALMOND ROCA RECIPE

6:00: Home from the store.  I make myself a homemade Yumm bowl.  You’ve got to have real Yumm sauce for this, but other than that it’s so easy:  rice, black beans, salsa, cilantro, cheese and a dollop of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos.  Keith is eating dinner with his coworkers at Big River.  They are in training for developing their latest top-secret, super-dooper-cool electronic products all week, and are getting catered breakfast and lunch every day  and the occasional dinner out.

I clean the whole kitchen. I can’t cook in a cluttered space – it makes me feel crazy.  Then I pour myself a glass of wine and begin whipping up the first batch of Roca.  The whole house is soon filled with the delicious smell of warm butter and sugar.

Roca, pre-chocolate stage

Roca, pre-chocolate stage

8:00 : Keith gets home and admires the new car in our driveway.  He has brought all the frozen lamb over from our chest freezer at the farm and we go through it, picking out cuts of lamb to thaw for this week’s meals. Somehow I am missing all the roasts…they must have fallen out of the bag into the freezer depths.  So I pick out a beef roast to thaw for our dinner guests tomorrow night instead.  Not quite as exotic but still delicious on a winter night.

I finish up making the almond roca and leave it to cool on the countertop.  It probably won’t be ready to eat til tomorrow.  Agh, the agony of waiting!

11:00 : Bed, Fred.

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Deluge 2012

This is so 2 weeks ago, but I’m still having the occasional nightmares about my house being full of water.  Clearly I have PTSD due to the Great Mary’s River Flood of 2012.   Clearly the only therapy is to deposit a bunch of pictures and video on my blog to make myself feel better.

Here goes.

photo courtesy of Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times

The Mary’s River went over its banks on January 18 and began a small diversion through our field that morning.   La-de-da, thought I, and I carried on with my usual Wednesday delivery route to Eugene and Corvallis stores.   Around 2 pm, I began receiving frantic messages from friends saying, “The river is continuing to rise and your chickens are in danger!”   I stopped lolly-gagging around, and went home to discover that the water was so high I couldn’t reach the farm from my house.   A soberness had settled over the neighborhood.  This was big and it was starting to get scary.  I walked around the block the long way only to find a line of pickup trucks and horse trailers pulling up in front of the horse-boarding facility near us.  Folks were evacuating horses through chest-deep water and trying to load the poor, frightened beasts into trailers.  The stress was almost palpable. I watched the scene while I repeatedly dialed my friend Lisa to bring a tractor from the farm and ferry me across the road.  Finally, she picked up and I waited for what seemed an interminable length of time as she carefully drove the tractor through water that was steadily rising on Chapel Drive.

At some point, I called Keith and told him that he’d better come home from work soon, or he wouldn’t be able to navigate the roads.  He left Marvell immediately and we both set to work loading hens into the Eggmobiles.  We had to head for higher ground and to do that, we had to hitch the hen house to the tractor and drive it through rushing water that was over 3 feet deep and rising quickly.   It was dark and cold by the time we carefully towed the last Eggmobile across the water.  The amount of dry land was decreasing before our very eyes and I really didn’t know if our chickens would be safe overnight.

We took the tractor home that night, as 13th Street was now a torrent of river water.  Around 11 pm, we went back to the farm to check on the chickens and could see that the water was now beginning to cover all remaining dry ground.  We put in another hour of work bringing poultry crates for the birds to perch on.  Surely the flooding would stop by morning, right?  Surely this effort would be enough.

By the time morning arrived, we had water lapping up our driveway on 13th Street.  Up and down the street we could see our neighbors standing stunned in their yards.  No one would be going to work that day.  As we fired up the bright orange Kubota, people called out their best wishes and let us know they could come help us at the farm if need be.  I wanted to savor that moment – the disruption of our daily lives meant neighbors noticed one anothers’ faces, not just their make of car or how late they’d left their Christmas lights up.

I usually feel so self-sufficient.  I don’t like asking for help, but when we saw the situation at the farm, I knew we had to waste no time in calling our neighbors.  Our chickens were literally inches away from complete deluge and the water was still rising!  Thank God for Kubota tractors and helping hands.  We had moved 500 hens from the hoophouse to the old stationary hen house in record time, though we had to wade through knee deep water to do it.   Finally we could breathe a sigh of relief – the chickens were crowded but alive.  Water was entering the hen house, but there were roosts that would afford the birds some safety.

Our attention turned on the dairy cows and the 2 week old baby calf, which were standing in 6 inches of water in the barn by that time. With help from some friends, we created a diversion for the water so it reduce the flow to about an inch in the loafing shed.  It was better than nothing and the cows seemed content enough.

We had sandbags brought in via tractor and pickup and began defending Beverly’s antique shop.  Water had already started lapping at the walls and was beginning its steady march across the floors.  Lisa’s quick thinking got most of the valuable antiques up off the floor and onto card tables before any damage was done.

It goes without saying that this day was exceedingly exhausting, mentally and physically.   Not only did we work frantically from dawn til nightfall, but we had so much on our minds.  While the farm was flooding, our home just up the street was also getting inundated.   Fortunately, it was built on a flood plain foundation, so no water entered the house, but we definitely had a river running through the crawlspace!

The funny thing is, just because you have a crisis going on the animals don’t stop laying eggs or producing milk or needing to be fed.  I have this surreal memory of wading into the flooded barn and opening the door to the milk parlor to see Lisa up to her knees in brown water, busily milking the cows.  Our eyes met and we shared a moment of silent disbelief at the strangeness of the  scene, then I closed the door and went back to work.

We had to take the tractor out to the Eggmobiles to do chores.  It’s a little hard to deliver feed and carry full egg baskets in 1+ feet of water.  (Plus, you wouldn’t believe the strength of the current.   I almost got knocked over a few times!)

We decided to stay at the farm that night.  Since our house wasn’t in serious danger, we weren’t exactly evacuating, but it felt like it.  Everything important went in one Nike duffel bag and Keith, Emmie and I left our home in the cab of a tractor.  We didn’t know if we’d be able to make it back up the road if the water got any deeper, so it was necessary to be closer to the animals.

Shortly, night fell and there was no more to be done except wait it out.  My nerves felt like they were on fire, like all the adrenaline from the last 24 hours was still pumping through my body.  We were all worn out, but we couldn’t sit still.  Besides, we were crazy hungry from all that hard work, so we got to work making a huge dinner with our very own grass-fed beef (yes, Keith packed frozen packages of beef in our duffel bag!) and locally grown butternut squash. Lisa brought up a very-much-deserved bottle of wine from Fritz & Beverly’s wine cellar and we dined like Kings and Queens.  That right there is what I love about this farm life I’ve chosen.  We work so very hard but at the end of even the hardest days, we sit down to the very best meals and we are often surrounded by friends.   I really can’t think of anything more satisfying!

Did I mention that Fritz and Beverly (who own the farm) were on vacation in Arizona during all of this?   They were frustratingly unperturbed by our anxious calls about their home and property flooding.  I can’t much blame them…they were soaking up the Arizona sunshine and I probably wouldn’t have cared about a little Oregon rain either.  I guess they knew their place was in capable hands and didn’t begrudge us a couple bottles of wine around their fireplace that night.

I feel a kinship with Noah (of the Ark experience) now, for when I looked out the upstairs window the next morning, there were spots of green where before only water had stood.  I sent out my dog (lacking a dove) to scout around and behold, she returned with her beloved flat basketball! At that point, we knew: it was safe to let the poor, crowded hens out of their house to roam around on dry land.

It wasn’t long before the water had gone down enough for us to begin the clean-up process.  Our perimeter fence along Chapel Drive is almost entirely destroyed, due to the odd assortment of trashcans and wood pallets that were driven through it.  All the outbuildings had thick sediment all over and we had a lot of pressure-washing to do.  But all of that doesn’t really matter too much.  The big things were okay:  houses, animals and us.

I want to sincerely thank everyone who came down to the farm and stacked sandbags, brought food/drinking water, moved chickens, and wielded a pitchfork or pressure-washer gun. The outcome of this story might not have been so good without the support from our many generous friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

More videos can be found on my YouTube channel:  http://www.youtube.com/user/latiguera884/videos

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Mowing the Lawn

My favorite chore is mowing the lawn.  Imagine my delight at having to mow the field…with a 1950’s Massey Ferguson tractor!

View in 720p for the most clarity.

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Three Thousand Feet of Pipe

A recent project of ours has been laying pipe on our leased acreage.  I couldn’t get livestock out on pasture until I had a way to supply them with water, so I waltzed on down to the local irrigation store.  I think it’s safe to say that not very many people in my small town buy 1.5″ polypipe by the length of 3,000 feet, because they kind of looked at me funny.  Then they sent a semi truck to the farm with ten huge rolls of pipe.

That’s about the time I started sweating.

Because: oh my gosh – I have 3,000 feet of plastic pipe sitting outside of the barn.

And: I have a bill for $2,100 in my hand.

And: holy crap – I guess I’m really farming now.

It turns out that laying pipe is not very difficult.  It’s a full day of work to unroll that much pipe across two fifty acre fields, but there’s no better way to get an early Spring farmer’s tan.

(Next purchase: a marvelous new fashion trend called “tanktops”)

If we were ever debating the merits of buying the four-wheeler, that concern was laid to rest on this day.  Keith discovered (with much glee) that he could stack rolls of pipe three high on the ATV and tool around like he was driving a clown car.  It definitely saved time.  It also definitely looked ridiculous.

Trial run with two rolls of pipe:

Final run with three rolls of pipe.

I’m glad to say that I was proven wrong, and it was not in fact, a disaster.

We now have excellent water pressure filling stock tanks of the distant end of our field.  All in a day’s work!

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