Entries in Farm Life (117)


Saved from the Mouth of the Serpent

Typically, a little after dark or so I go out and close up our two hen houses.  The hens will all have taken themselves to bed and I simply go and close and lock the door.  One is the mobile coop that houses our largest flock out in the pastures. Since it moves around every week, it can be close or as far as 1/4 mile away and across the creek.  The other hen house is near our house and houses our 'front yard flock.' 

This 'front yard flock' hen house is the one that had all of the excitement the other night.  I had actually already closed up the hens this night but needed to go back out and do some work on the brooder which is inside the hen house.  As soon as I opened the door, I knew something was amiss.  The normally quiet hen house was aflutter with little chicks and a very annoyed mama hen.  She was pecking a large, coiled up, black snake on the head that had one of her newly hatched chicks in its mouth.  Her chick is in the snake's mouth and she is pecking it mercilessly, but ineffectively, on the head.

I grab the snake and pull the still, lifeless chick out of the snake's mouth.  As soon as I pull the chick out of the snake's mouth, the snake wiggles loose and retreats into a hollow spot under the wall.  Since it now has the advantage of being in a tight spot, it is not going to let me pull it out of its hole without a fight.  So, I go inside and get our snake tongs (thanks, Mom) and easily grab the snake and pull it out.  The snake ends up being an almost 6' long Western Black Snake. 

Generally, these are very good snakes on the farm eating primarily rats and mice, and only occasionally eggs and chicks.  So, I transport it to the other side of the property by the creek and let it go to continue its varmint hunting in a more acceptable space.  

When I got back to the brooder I had A VERY PLEASANT SURPRISE.  The lifeless chick that I had set to the side was now up and running around with its mother!  Sonata (the mother hen) has wisely chosen a different sleeping spot away from the wall that apparently allows snakes to come visiting!   BY THE WAY, the girls have named the lucky chick -- Survivor.  Sonata, Survivor and her three chick siblings happily explore and forage together.  


Spring. New. High Gear!

Spring is always a busy time on the farm. It's a time when we start new.  The green grass is like a catalyst for everything to kick into high gear.
Right now on the farm the newest additions are hundreds of baby chicks and baby turkeys (called Poults).  The brooder is FULL of little baby chicks and we already have our first batches out on pasture.  Chickens will be available for pre-order this month and available for pick up in June.

We had quite a week last week as we dealt with the aftermath of a storm.  The winds really picked up here and as a result, our egg mobile which holds more than a hundred hens was toppled in the wind.  Post-mortem examination seemed to indicate it had blown over because a 50+-year-old washer on the wagon broke under the stress.  This allowed the top to lean far enough to eventually tip the large heavy structure.

Everything is growing at a rapid pace so our note this time is short as we have to get back out to pastures and rotate pigs, cattle, and chickens to fresh pastures!


Spring is a time for lots of work, er, excitement on the farm!

Spring is an exciting time as we change from the slow, intense pace of the cold winter to the frantic and chaotic pace that often comes with spring.  It never fails.  We feel very prepared, rested and rejuvenated after Winter.  However, as soon as the grass starts turning green (and man is it turning green!) suddenly that feeling of preparedness evaporates and we immediately feel that we are suddenly behind.  That's because green grass is a very tangible signal that many things are about to get busier.

The first and very busy thing that has changed is our first batch of chicks arrived in the mail.  Each year at this time we start receiving new chicks that we will grow on pasture to butcher in early summer.  The first batch we got was our Prairie Rangers.  These are our slowest growing broilers, so they are the ones we start with.  Before they arrived, we had to get the brooder prepared after a long period of inactivity over the winter.  Equipment had to be checked, supplies cleaned and things arranged.  Once they arrive, a whole new list of chores of feeding, watering, and checking get added to our daily routines.  However, chicks are more than just work.  They are also a celebration.  Our girls love getting a few chicks and playing with them in the yard, in the sandbox sometimes even in the house.  These chicks will be out of the brooder and into the pasture in just a couple weeks - and then our next batch will arrive. The brooder will be kept busy with chicks and turkey poults for the next several months.  

The cows have also started causing us a little more work.  They LOVE the return of green grass.  They seem to get tired of the dry, crunchy hay and yearn for the lush, soft, green grass.  It seems to instill a certain amount of orneriness in them and we have spent several days lately readjusting the cattle from the pastures they think they should be in -- to the paddocks we have assigned for them.One very nice thing about spring though is the return of temps above 32 degrees. This has meant we have been able to start using the watering system again, at least for the cattle.  This means that now water is brought to them automatically and on-demand at any time instead of us having to haul water out to them in large several hundred gallons tanks.   This saves us time, is best for the cattle and is also more gentle on the land -- a win for all.  Now if we can just have guessed right and can avoid below 20 degree temps for the rest of the season.

Overall, Spring is more excitement than work and any work involved we are ready for.  Our farming is very connected to nature and the natural cycles of the seasons.  This natural cycle seems to be well suited to keep us excited, invigorated, and ready for the challenges of the farm.  


Winter Isn't So Bad! ...at least this week!

Winter has "so far" turned out to be pretty mild.  The greatest part has been the sprinkling of nice days that have consistently interrupted the cold spells that have shown up.  This has allowed us to get a lot work done on the farm beyond the daily subsistence type chores.  This weekend was filled with a couple of these bonus jobs that we might not have been able to do if we had been dealing with the extra work of extreme temperatures or snow.  

One big job that was completed was we moved a bunch of next year's layers out to the pasture flock.  These were chicks that we hatched this fall and had been living with our front yard girls until they were old enough to start working in the pastures. Combining groups of chickens always involves a 'getting to know you' phase of the two groups.  Although chickens can be somewhat resistant to making new friends -- we have found when given the right amount of space, they do just fine.  Pecking order needs to be established, but that can be done fairly quickly and then they act just like a flock that's always been together.  

Another job that got done was building a new paddock and moving our breeding pigs into that pasture.  We keep our boy and girls separate and only put our breeding stock together when we want to have piglets.  Today, we put our two sows and boar together.  This should lead to piglets in June sometime.  Pig gestation time is 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days and 3 hours.  Large Blacks typically have 8-10 piglets in a litter.  You might want to set aside sometime to come visit the farm in late June to see some cute piglets!


3 girls, 22 cattle and 40 acres...and some unexpected lessons in our day

In the barn, gathering up orders for city delivery, I hear a suspiciously close 'moo.'  Sure enough, as I emerge from the frigid freezers, I spy cattle right next to the barn in the front pasture.  NOT where they are supposed to be.  Actually, about the furtherest spot on our farm that they are supposed to be.  If you picture a box and number each corner, the corner by our barn is #1.  The cattle are supposed to be in #4 - but 1 and 4 are separated by 40 acres, a steep bluffs area and a creek - there is no direct path from 1 to 4!  Moments later, my 6yo joins me outside just to say hello and I mention the cattle are out as I finish loading the car.  On her own accord, she runs inside, gets her 10yo sister and they return minutes later all bundled up and ready to wrangle cattle together.  How great is that, they came out dressed and ready!?


We three girls actually decided to do regular chores first because we knew we had a deadline as we have scheduled city deliveries and as long as the cattle were on our property, there was no emergency.  If all the animals were tended, we could spend any extra time working with the cattle.  If the cattle were still out when we left, instead of meeting us at our daughter's music lesson that evening, Jeff would go to the farm and tend to the cattle and we could assist as soon as we got home.  


After tending our two pig pastures, front yard flock, dog, cats, layers and turkeys, we turned out attention to the cattle pasture.  We inspected the paddock they had been in and quickly determined the fence had been knocked down (probably a rowdy calf) and probably got caught on someone's foot at which point it got pulled all out of whack and everyone decided to go find greener pastures.  We restrung some of the wire (we use simple step-in posts and poly wire) to rebuild the main area, yet also left some low spots so the cattle could get back in.  Goodness knows, I didn't want to get the cattle all the way back where we needed them and have them unable to get in and decide to run off again.  


Our fencing assessment complete, we zipped around in our UTV to locate the herd.  They had wandered up to the current layer pasture (that would be corner #2 so good progress) and were not very interested in moving further.  The chickens didn't mind the visitors as their weekly rotations usually follow the cattle anyway.  My 10yo (with her 6yo sister co-pilot and moral support) drove behind the herd while I walked, clapped, waved my arms and scooted close to the cattle which activitates their desire to move away from me.  Once we got them on the move, they generally stayed together.  We were not in a rush and hoped to avoid a stampede so we took it real slow.  Things were going well.  The only thing I wanted different was a ponytail holder.  It was windy and my hair kept blowing in my face but I had just planned to load the orders, not do chores, and there was no time to tend to such a small detail.  


Mara, our livestock guardian dog helped out a few times, running up to the cattle to get them to move forward.  She's quite aware of where the animals are supposed to be even though we rotate them to new pastures as often as daily.  She also doesn't mess with them so at one point, when mama Ulani and her calf Cadmus were slow, Mara approached them and then quickly backed off as Ulani gave her a 'don't mess with my baby' look and started to wag her head in a head-butty way.  We all know the power of a mama!  At another point, Winchester, our bull, paused to rest by a tree.  Mara knew he should stay with the herd so she ran up to him to startle him into action.  He was startled, but not impressed and Mara quickly retreated.


We slowly walked the cattle across the back edge of our 40 acres and then they turned, corner #3.  Over the years, I have learned the cattle always know their way home and will usually take the exact same path in reverse.  So, instead of trying to move the cattle a certain way, I just try to keep them moving and together.  They choose the path.  I was surprised they didn't go down through the woods or the shortcut hill, but instead went all the way to the last pasture area and finally turned towards 'home,' corner #4.  We remain calm and call out encouragment as they move along.  "Good girls, keep moving!"  "That's the way, stay together."  The cattle don't need or appreciate rowdy yelling or chasing.


At the bottom of corner #3 is our current boy pig paddock and I sure hoped that wasn't the route.  I didn't want cattle and pigs on the loose!  The cattle gathered near the pig pasture and had two main options.  One, walk along the pasture road which is long and windy, but would lead them back to the proper pasture.  Two, cross the creek and go directly into the proper pasture.  Apparently, there was a third option to go into the pig pasture and as some cattle got close to doing so, the girls and I hurriedly waved our arms and told them to turn back.  Thankfully, they did!  In a few minutes, the cattle started to cross the creek and we zipped down the pasture road to meet them on the other side.  However, they did not emerge on the other side.  We had some former pig paddock fencing set up and they wouldn't cross it (yes, I do find that ironic).  Several went back into the pasture and we three girls went down to the main creek crossing and called the cattle to follow us.  They didn't so we instead crossed the creek on foot and traipsed into the pastures again to encourage forward motion.  


My 6yo stayed by a bramble to call the cattle in the right direction.  My 10yo and I worked as a team to flank the herd like cattle dogs and get them to keep moving.  Ulani finally took charge and headed towards the creek.  Walking right next to the pig pasture (please don't knock any poles down!), the cattle slowly moved in the right direction.  Everyone followed Ulani across the creek and we cheered the forward progress!  No time for celebrations though, the cattle can definitely outrun us and we wanted to keep them moving in the right direction. 


Recrossing the creek and discovering a hole in my boot (brrr!), I asked my 10yo to drive the UTV behind the cattle.  Her sister joined her and I walked alongside the herd to discourage any side adventures.  As we approached the proper pasture, I ran ahead and pulled open the end fencing.  My daughters continued following the cattle and after a brief minute of the cattle not being quite sure how to get where they were supposed to go, they entered the proper paddock.  I called for my 6yo to take the fence end and follow behind Lass, the last cow.  My daughter waited patiently for the cow to meander by and then ran like the wind to pull the fence closed behind the herd.  I asked our 10yo to drive ahead and restring the low wiring we had left as an entry point.  In the UTV, she was kinda stuck in some muck, but she knew what to do!  She went into reverse to gain solid footing and then gunned it through the muck.  I later told her about the 10 foot fountain spray of mud she shot up!  While she did that, I ran up and restrung and tightened the current fence paddock.  


All of a sudden, we were done.  The cattle were right back where we wanted them.  We had all played huge parts in making it happen.  The cattle were contentedly getting a drink and laying down or eating hay.  We had the biggest smiles on our faces!  I gathered the girls in a little huddle.  We crossed our arms and held hands, giving a 1-2-3- cheer for GIRL POWER!  They giggled and we instantly reminisced about the experience.  Laughing at Mara charging our bull - from the safety of the other side of the fence.  Shaking our heads at the 'roadblock' of the old pig fencing.  Smiling at the accomplishment of successfully wrangling the cattle such a long distance.


As we returned home to finally get ready for our city deliveries, I reflected on a blog post I had read that morning.  It was a lovely homeschool weekly schedule featuring lots of focused study time, planned lessons, and scheduled group activities.  I chuckled thinking of the discrepancy of that schedule and our day!  I shook my head thinking our homeschool would never be quite like that.  


Yet the lessons my daughters learned today surpass anything I could have planned.  They learned about problem solving and working together.  They practiced communication skills.  They experienced treating others kindly even under stress and the thrill of accomplishment.  They demonstrated helpfulness, initiative and critical thinking.  They believed in their own power to make a difference.  I love that these lessons are a natural part of our lives.  They are lessons I hope stick with them through the years!  Thankfully, the cattle don't usually go adventuring and we do have quite a few idyllic days in which homeschool, life and farm happily co-exist.  But even when things don't go as planned, a lot of important learning is being done.


So, when you see us in the city for deliveries, if our hair is a bit wind-blown, our jeans have a mud spot or we have dirt under our nails, please know that we are real farmers working together as a family to make a difference, one cattle wrangling at a time.  And often, that difference isn't necessarily evidenced as a great meal of pastured meat on your plate, but in empowering a young girl to be anything or do anything she desires.  And that is an amazing lesson of which we can all be proud to play a part.

Synergistic Acres - 21733 Iliff Rd, Parker, KS 66072 - 913-735-4769
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