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I’m preparing to leave the farm

Living in an isolated rural area while trying to pursue a modern occupation (as a corporate architect) is hard. So I’m going to come down from the mountain. I am going in the opposite direction of Lao Tsu but perhaps I have learned some of the same lessons including:

  • At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.
  • He who does not trust enough, will not be trusted.
  • If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
  • He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.
  • Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy.

    tomato tao

Ways that I have changed, lessons I have learned are:

  • I am both more gentle and more brutal (as opposed to the requisite mediocrity  that prevails in the modern world)
  • I can only do so much navel gazing; the heart of living is action/interaction. This is perhaps the lesson to be gleaned from the tragic tale of   Christopher McCandless the true-life protagonist of the book/movie Into the Wild
  • If I can learn how to be a small time farmer/rancher, anyone can (however, see below)
  • You can’t do it alone. Good neighbors have helped me every step of the way. With gardening and livestock management, sharing knowledge and tasks is essential
  • I am not the only one finding spirituality in these mountains, there is a major buddhist retreat/temple just up the road from me ( http://www.shambhalamountain.org/)

“The [connected] man goes through his life without any one preconceived course of action or any taboo. He merely decides for the moment what is the right thing to do.” –Li Chi

In preparation for renting the property, I have to take care of a few things including:

  • Silencing my rooster. Poor guy. I hate having to do this. They all seem to know when it’s their turn. EC, normally combative, just stood by me as I crouched down to his level. No fighting, just acceptance. It was quick. The hens will stay with the renters.
  • The horses should still be grazing on the pasture. I would to love to see them there when I return.
  • I will find homes for my goats. Since most of them are does, they should live long lives as mothers. However, Iam concerned about my castrated male, Mr. Squarehead. I did recommend him as a pet to my rancher friends but he may not be so lucky. What a great goat with a fantastic disposition. I’ll miss you Square (photo below center with Snowflake-left and Ellie May-right when kids)

Those are some adorable goats, not like this guy below:

Some additional random thoughts

  • I’ve rediscovered cumin (an underrated spice)
  • My pumpkins and potatoes are thriving. The chickens will dig up some of the potatoes if the renters are not careful though.
  • I found out the answer to a long wondered question. When is it more economical to drive with your windows down and when should you use air conditioning? Answer: Use air-conditioning at 50 miles per hour or faster. At speeds slower than 50mph you can use wind conditioning because the air drag is minimal. (source: Mythbusters show)
  • The sound of wind through Aspens sounds like running water

Thanks for reading… have a wonderful day!

One of my yearling does has given birth to a male baby goat (buckling). He’s now 2 weeks old and very energetic. He has the attention of 2 mothers because one mother lost her kid to a predator just a month ago. He’s having a great time climbing rocks, running around and jumping on the does (the instincts kick in pretty early). I still don’t have a name for him so I’m just calling him “little guy” for right now.

Eggs

The chickens are back to full egg production and they are getting most of their food by foraging. This means even yellower eggs than usual. I did a little research to find out the differences between pasture-raised eggs and commercial eggs and…

Besides flavor, pasture-raised eggs seem to be better for you. Several studies suggest that they’re higher in omega-3s and vitamins A, B12, and E and lower in fat and cholesterol. The difference, according to Jo Robinson, author of Pasture Perfect (Vashon Island Press, 2004; $15) and founder of eatwild.com, is in the chickens’ feed. “Fresh grass is a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids. Eggs from chickens raised on good pasture have an intense yellow-gold color, most pronounced in the spring and early summer, when the grass is at its peak.” The shells, though, can be any color. Whether brown, white, or blue, they simply indicate the breed of chicken, not what it ate.In the supermarket, you’ll see “cage-free”and “organic” eggs, but these labels don’t specify feed and don’t necessarily mean that the birds spend time outside. “Pasture-raised” isn’t a government-approved definition, but it’s generally accepted to mean that the chicken got most of its nutrition from foraging, with some grain to supplement. Although these eggs aren’t widely available in stores, you can often find them at farmers’ markets.

Recent photos including some from hiking  the nearby National Forest

In other news:

  • Horses are in other pastures this month
  • I have decided that olive oil is truly a wonder food. 2 tablespoons/day. Has been attributed to aid in everything from better skin to belly fat removal. Just good stuff.
  • I have found a goat proof plant – potatoes. Goats won’t touch the leaves (strawberries and broccolli however were not safe). I imagine deer will not eat these either and I know at least some varieites of potatoe even have poisonous leaves. Despite having a few potatoes dug up and eaten by chickens when first planted, they are now thriving.
  • I planted my potatoes in a traditional row arrangement. For the redneck approach see below:
  • Other recent plantings include: pumpkins, spinach and carrots.
  • “wild” rhubarb and asparagus has already sprouted in my front yard
  • Chickens will respond to water from a garden house to remove them from the garden

That’s all from here…have a fine day!

yeah, kind of like when I woke up Wednesday morning to this…(below)

and this…

Just when I was getting used to some pleasant spring weather this is what happens. Now, here Friday morning, most of it has melted away to expose some really nice green grass. The goats and horses are sure to be happy again. And me; I can get on to my gardening.

My neighbor paid me back a favor by tilling my garden bed. I’ll be throwing some potatoes in the ground soon (or else I’ll have a grass garden from all the goat and horse manure). Spinach, carrots, broccoli and finally strawberries to follow.

I’ve developed a real appreciation for hand tools while living up here. It so important to have the right tool and it is so satisfying to work with that tool. And a hand tool has a certain intimacy that a power tool just doesn’t. A good tool is like an extension of your body/mind. And don’t just take my word for it, you can take the word of obscure German phenomenological philosopher Martin Heidegger who distinguishes three modes of experiencing the world:

1) Ready-to-hand: When we are coping skillfully with the world, we experience objects around us as ready-to-hand. To use Heidegger’s example, a hammer is encountered ready-to-hand, as a piece of equipment, when it is being simply used to drive in nails. When we are smoothly driving in nails with a hammer, our focus is on the thing we are building not the size or shape or color of the hammer.

2) Unready-to-hand: Sometimes, though, our skillful coping is temporarily disturbed. When this happens, we encounter objects as unready-to-hand. When we go from smoothly hammering to having difficulty, we experience the hammer, nails and board as failing to serve their function appropriately. The hammer is too light or heavy, the nails are too soft, the board has an unfortunately placed knot. We can no longer “see through” the tool to focus on the task; instead, we must attend to the unready-to-hand object that the tool has turned into.

3) Present-at-hand: The hammer is encountered as present-at-hand when we stop hammering and consider the hammer’s shape or color or weight; when considered this way the hammer is no longer a useful tool but merely an object with various properties.

Or we can take the data that relates to the mind-computer connection explored in a recent “Wired” article (Your Computer Really Is a Part of You) that suggests that when you use a computer, the keyboard and mouse become like another appendage:

Not surprising, but using an axe or saw in a professional manner to me is much more impressive. Like these guys/gals:

In other news:

  • 2 goats very pregnant, 1 goat likely pregnant,
  • cat just had kittens. Orange and black colors
  • finally had the chance to ride one of the mustangs on the property. Great strong, surefooted beasts (they don’t even need shoes/irons) , hope to ride one again soon.
  • volunteered to paint the signs around the subdivision, currently trying to mix the perfect brown paint color match.
  • Have noticed that I don’t produce a lot of garbage now (using much of it for the fire, the garden beds, and extra food  for the animals)

That’s about all the news from my corner of Northern Colorado…Thanks for reading!

I killed Pedro…

Pedro was my high-spirited, mischievous male Spanish goat. He was 1 of 2 castrated male goats (weathers) that I had obtained for slaughter and herd chemistry(*1). While his hi-jinxes had  been frustrating for some time (eating bark off of small trees-endangering them, breaking into my garage, raiding the chicken coop for food, etc.), he always made up for it with his personality which made me keep him longer . But I had slowly been learning about the best ways to kill, dress and cook goats. Then, after one particularly frustrating day with him, I decided it was time.

I prepared a plan and a list of accessories needed. Pedro would have to be segregated first (no easy task – goats hate to be seperated one from another), then killed, then cleaned in pretty quick succession. I would need:

  • a  .22 caliber firearm. check
  • a sharp knife. check (in retrospect it would have helped to be even sharper)
  • a saw (if needed for cutting through bone). check
  • a rope for hanging the carcass. check
  • bag(s) for disposing of foul smelling entrails, parts. check

I felt bad that I had to trick him, but that’s the way I usually have to behave to get goats to do something they don’t want to do. Food, in this case alfalfa, almost always works. After tempting him away from the herd and out of the pen, I brought him to the other side of the house and out of view of the horses as well (I didn’t want to take a chance spooking them). It was heart-breaking, loading my gun as Pedro munched so happily on the big wad of alfalfa that I layed down for him. I decided to be as methodical as I could for the next few steps: I

  • Walked up to him, with his head down, still deliriously preoccupied with his treats.
  • Shot him directly though the head, right between the horns, and proceeded to cut his throat to be extra sure. It was instantaneous, no suffering
  • Removed his body to where I would be cleaning him

I then proceeded to clean the animal. This was not a pleasant process. First of all, the smell of a dead animal is bad. I had recently encountered this smell while working near a necropsy (animal autopsy) facility at a local veterinary hospital. It was all I could do back then to work in the vicinity for even a few minutes, now the odor would be with me for over an hour.  It also surprised me that the feeling of his fur disturbed me. The petting of an animal (and thus feeling it’s fur) is a friendly bonding action.  This association was a saddening reminder and I was forced to put on a pair of gloves.

After a while the process became mechanical. I was both relieved and taken aback. My focus shifted from the terrible loss I just inflicted to the painstaking preservation of the carcass. The results turned out pretty well but the process was exhausting and it was late, so there would be no cooking. I knew it was going to be a cold night, so I put the meat in a bag and left it in the garage. The entrails and other disposables I bagged as well. Predators around here have rooted out buried chicken parts before, so I know how important it is to contain the smells/remains of dead animals to keep those predators away.

The hard part over,  it was now time to cook a goat. I’ve got this backyard firepit so I decided to use it. I threw the whole goat on the fire, caveman style, but after a while I started to carve it up for better cooking and sauce-application (*2). There was a lot of meat so I ended up with practically a whole goat in my fridge. Things I learned from the process:

  • Don’t kill a good-sized animal (at least a goat) for slaughter in the  evening. The stomach(s) are pretty bloated with the days food.
  • Goat meat is best closer to the well-done side (similar to cooking pork perhaps)
  • Goat meat is really good! It’s lean and not too gamey.
  • There is a lot more meat on a goat than I would have thought. I’ll be eating/giving away meat for awhile.
  • Don’t get too close to animals that you intend on eating.

(*1) I don’t think a group of animals should be entirely female or male.  In the wild they are not. Males and females play roles that go beyond procreation in a herd environment. Female goats are usually the ones that lead the herd to food. Male goats tend to be more on the lookout for danger for example; same with roosters.

(*2) Sauce was a cubbard-clearing concoction of butter, aging olive oil, spaghetti sauce, cumin, black-pepper, and vinegar (a true native Carolinian always uses vinegar in BBQ sauce). It worked/tasted pretty good.

In other news:

  • Downed my last diseased tree, getting the hang of it – landed where I wanted it to.
  • Rhubarb is coming back up. I’ll try to do something with it this year
  • Got a new wall oven – off of Craigslist – and it’s actually pretty nice.

Thank you for reading…have a fine day.

Cutting down trees

I’ve finally gotten around to taking down some of the dead and dying trees on the property. It’s been quite a learning experience, and not as straightforward as I would have imagined. The first one that I decided to fell was the largest one, but the one with the least obstructions.

Tree 1:

This was a big tree. Honestly too big for my 16″ chainsaw . With the tree’s diameter of about maybe 26″ all I could do was sort of hack little wedges out of it.  I took turns using the axe as well, attempting to create more of a substantial notch in the direction I wanted it to fall. Even with this effort, the tree did manage to look like it had been attacked by beavers. Nonetheless, after several days of hacking away, it finally fell over in a windstorm. I found it laying perfectly against the rocks with very minimal damage to some aspen saplings.

Trees 2 & 3

Although they were smaller trees, they required more precision to bring down. They stood between two sets of power lines. They leaned away from one line but leaned directly towards the other. My concern was if they were far enough from those lines. Since climbing to the top of  the tree with a tape measure was not an option, I decided to let the sun help me out. If I knew the sun angle at a particular time of day, and I could measure the shadow of tree, then with trigonometry I could find the height of the tree (as below)

Wanting to make the math as easy as possible,  I figured I would just find the time of day where the length of the shadow would equal the height of the tree, or when the sun angle is at 45 degrees. And of course, this can be found on the internet. These charts are from the us navy.

http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/AltAz.php

As it turns out for my geographic location this time of year, the sun elevation angle (also called altitude angle)is 45 degrees at 11:50am and 2:20 pm (after adding for Daylights Saving Time). Luckily the shadows fell on open ground.( If needed, the link above also provides Azimuth angles which determines where the shadow will lie relative to due north). So after walking the shadow of the tree for 22 steps, I walked the distance directly to the nearest point under the power line which was 23 steps. The tree  should fall clear, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I used a come-along to help me pull the tree just a little bit away from directly towards the power line. I was doing this work on a Sunday afternoon and the tree was close to my neighbors house so I decided to forgo the loud chainsaw and chop away with the axe.  After alternating between axe and pulling the come-along for quite some time, the tree gave way and actually fell where I wanted it to – Success! Of course, after measuring the downed tree I realized I had plenty of room between the power lines – still not something I wanted to take chances with.

The third tree, beside the 2nd tree and about the same size, was downed in a similar manner (but with more chainsaw help). I still preferred to make the final blows with the axe because I want to be able to hear the cracking that preceeds the fall.

Tree 4. It’s big and it’s still out there. I’ve started chopping

While I have enjoyed the experience, I have no desire to be a lumberjack.  For those inclined, that’s OK; Please, consult the following video via the picture below:

In other news:

  • The horses are back in pasture this month, a total of 4 (3 spanish mustangs and a furry old Icelandic stallion).
  • The chickens have mysteriously stopped egg production! If they are laying outside, they sure have found a good hiding place.
  • The goats are getting more independent and not hanging around the house so much.
  • Finally admitting to myself that I am a glove collector. Always looking for that perfect pair for carpentry, driving, masonry, gardening, snow activities, etc.
  • Just put the finishing touches on the newly secured hay storage area for the horses. Replaced old wire fencing with a wood slat fence with gate.
  • Looking forward to 4 straight 50+ degree days! (according to local forecast)

That’s about all the news from my corner of Northern Colorado…Thanks for reading!