Chicken Stampedes


IMG_0418Farms are like prisons; they both thrive on routine. Try being late for morning chores to see just how disruptive your barnyard inmates become. With luck, the worst you’ll suffer is obnoxious, sideways looks from the ingrates. If you have teenagers at home, this should be nothing new.

My friends who keep larger animals tell of property damage from 800 pounds of hooved livestock pushing down corrals or kicking apart stalls when breakfast was late. So, I guess I’m doing pretty well that I don’t, as yet, have any animals I can’t wrestle to the ground.

“I don’t care if you have the flu. I deserve to be fed right now.” #ChickenLivesMatter.

In the animals’ defense, I’m sure they all huddled together and passed hushed whispers among themselves, wondering if their human finally had a fatal heart attack.

Something tells me that has never happened. The animals expressing concern for their caretakers, I mean. An overweight, middle-aged farmer who drinks too much and eats bacon with every meal dropping dead from a coronary embolism probably occurs with some regularity. It just hasn’t been me…yet.

In a just world, I will be shot dead by the jealous husbands of the Norwegian women’s beach volleyball team, but more likely, I’ll meet my maker wearing a confused expression because I didn’t know that “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same thing.

Mrs. Cunha prohibits me from any activity that includes the words, “Y’all watch this.”

IMG_0434Until then, I’ll have to suffer the twice daily chicken stampede. Once in the morning, when I throw out scratch grain before opening the coop door, and again in the evening, when they decide to play General Custer’s Last Stand on seeing me carry out their feed bucket.

Pushing through the mob of hens isn’t so much trouble as it is annoying. It can also be dangerous. I’m relatively light on my feet for someone my size, but at six-foot-four and two hundred none-of-your-damn-business pounds, a slip, trip, stumble, or fall can have absolutely devastating consequences on a chicken because they are not terribly sturdy creatures. Ask me how I know the ease with which a chicken can meet an accidental, premature demise.

That particular situation was slightly different because it was my fault for wear flip-flops into the chicken pen, but by the same token, the owl that killed one of my hens last April has made no effort to compensate me. Like the men before me who suffered setbacks, I simply had to absorb the loss and carry on.

My daughter felt just as entitled to a replacement chicken as the animals feel entitled to be fed, teenagers to a new cellphone, or prisoners do to yard time. When it comes to entitlement, only the circumstances change. The cries of “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” are always the same.

Sometimes, it’s not about the expense, but rather the accomplishment.

IMG_0471Little in life exceeds the pride a father feels when finally winning a prize at one of those claw and crane games found in fast-casual type family restaurants, arcades, and carnival midways all over the world. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen one of these machines in a place with a dress code, and since my average reader is more likely to wear Carhartt than Channel, I’ll assume everyone knows exactly the device I’m talking about.

It might take thirty-seven dollars to win a teddy bear the game’s owner bought on clearance from Walmart for $2.99 the day after Valentine’s Day, but dammit, that’s a win in my book.

In an example of both Big Brother looking out for what it thinks are your best interests and parents all too willing to relinquish the raising of their children to the state, New Jersey state Senator Nicholas Scutari has introduced legislation to further regulate claw and crane games.

The honorable Senator Scutari, whom to no one’s surprise is a Democrat, wants to regulate claw and crane games, so they produce a higher frequency of wins for the player. God forbid adults be allowed to chose how to assess their own risks and spend their own money, according to this government lover.

In New Jersey, as in most other jurisdictions, these tempting wallet vacuums are regulated as games of chance, as opposed to games of skill. Both are gambling, when you think about it, so the distinction between the two is really only important to legislators and owners of the machines.

The bigger question is whether you want your kids to participate in gambling. If you’d be OK with Junior sitting in on your poker game, go ahead and try to snatch that knock-off iPod from the top shelf. That’s a decision you should be left to make as a parent.

I have no room to throw stones. My kids learned at a young age how to mix a proper Old Fashioned and that Daddy likes his Scotch four-by-four; four fresh ice cubes and a four-finger pour. My fingers are the guide, not theirs.

I was shocked how fast the kids learned when they figured out I was tipping for each round. There have been arguments over whose turn it was to serve.

0602161917aOne of the hopes I have for my children is they learn life lessons on the farm that can be carried into adulthood. Slapping an angry rooster silly when he comes at you with his spurs forward is an instructive moment for a ten-year-old girl in how to stand up for yourself and deal with bullies.

The rooster wasn’t too thrilled by the experience, but the lesson must not have stuck. A few weeks later, we had to make an example of him in front of the flock. The rest of the chickens have been on perfect behavior since.

20150531_111648_resizedThat’s why I like to keep an understudy rooster around. You never know when you’ll have to remind those dumb clucks of Rule #1: Behave or be eaten.

All the humans on the farm, even if outmatched physically, have access to tools and technology that allow us to prevail when an animal occasionally decides to challenge our authority over them. It’s by no means a fair fight, and it’s not supposed to be.

The lesson I want my children to take away from that reality is not might makes right or even the biblical mandate that humans have dominion over animals. What I want them to understand is that life isn’t always fair. I’m sure Clint the Rooster thought it mighty unfair that he was sent to Freezer Camp for doing what he saw as right by the hens.

Sometimes, you’re just not going to win. Frequently, the odds are stacked against you, and success is a matter of luck and perseverance. Knowing and recognizing those situations is part of being an adult. It also makes the infrequent wins all the sweeter, both for the game player and recipient of the prize.

Win a stuffed animal for your girlfriend at the carnival ring-toss and you’ll be her king for the rest of the day.

I have no idea that “fair” looks like when it comes to a claw and crane game. What I do know is that if nobody ever wins, people will stop playing. The trick, I would imagine, is to make play just challenging enough to keep people playing, but allow enough wins to satisfy the pleasure centers of the brain.

It’s like throwing out scratch grain for the chickens or packing a bone with peanut butter for the dog. Make the work put into the effort just enough to justify the reward without inducing abandonment of the activity.

Wherever that sweet spot lay isn’t the government’s business to determine, but in the continual campaign to placate the Whine Glass Generation, politicians seeking to curry favor with dependent constituencies and retain their power through reelection, want to make everybody feel like a winner.

IMG_0380When everybody gets a ribbon, and each grab at the teddy bear produces a gleeful, squealing child, an expectation of success is inculcated. It breeds a sense of entitlement and reduces risk taking to a monetary exchange. Ultimately, it creates risk aversion and kills the economic libido of children who are no longer learning life lessons about risk and reward.

The livestock on my farm neither understand nor possess the capacity to understand the relationship between risk and reward. All they know is they want what they want and they want it right now.

That explains chicken stampedes.

Do what you like with your brats, but mine will earn their eventual release from the Cunha Juvenile Correctional Facility with an understanding of how the world works that is better than that of livestock.

Assuming they aren’t trampled to death by a flock of hungry chickens first.

 

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What Will The Neighbors Think?


0610161336I was deliberate in choosing the undisclosed location of my heavily fortified compound. After multiple encounters in several states with the petty tyrants of Home Owners Associations, who lord power over their subjects and cultivate a snitch culture rivaled only by Soviet Russia, one of the top three criteria for the farm location was a dearth of rules.

I plan to be carried off my farm feet first and don’t fancy spending the time until then being told everything I can’t do. The fact I can shoot deer from my back porch without a hunting license and there not being a thing anybody can do or say about it is a dream come true for the sort of guy who resents authority.

The county I live in only recently instituted building codes.

The “Let me do my thing” ethos is tempered by my aversion to hurting anybody or damaging their property. Short of that, if the urge hits me to let the lawn grow, put out plastic, pink flamingos, and prowl around on all fours wearing a leopard print bikini, y’all best avert your eyes because the Honey Badger don’t care.

Likewise, my grandfather had a healthy dose of what the kids describe in texts as “IDGAF.” Despite having easy access to grocery stores, the old man grew grapes he planted long before I was born until the day he died about a decade ago. He made his last batch of wine sometime in his early nineties.

0602161437The quality of that last batch was below previous iterations. Maybe it hadn’t matured or perhaps my palate was deadened because I and a few cousins had cracked open some bottles the afternoon we buried grandpa. We figured the old man would have been pleased with his grandchildren hanging out in his one-car garage nipping at the liquid fruits of his labor; telling dirty lies and dirtier jokes.

My suspicion was his body was just no longer able to put into practice the vast amount of knowledge earned over a lifetime.

Just like my grandmother didn’t use cookbooks, much to my mom’s frustration when trying to preserve recipes, grandpa didn’t write stuff down. The man literally had a third-grade education, and learned English on construction sites in his forties, which probably explains his eloquence in cursing.

The old man should have written for HBO’s show Deadwood.

To avoid giving short shrift, Grandpa’s senior year was in the late 1920’s. No Child Left Behind wasn’t a thing back then. They knew most children were going to be left behind, so the kids were taught the important stuff; math, enough reading to get through the Bible, maybe some basic geometry, penmanship, and not mouthing off to adults prevents bloody lips. Everything else was left to the parents.

During a visit, I asked Grandpa why my grape vines were not producing after two years in the ground. Once he regaining control from laughing himself into a coughing fit, my grandfather explained I would be doing well to have fruit the third year, and the first crop wouldn’t be edible. In short, I would be lucky to have edible grapes the fifth season. Even then, they would be nothing to get excited over. Unless I were really hungry, I’d be better off feeding those grapes to the hog until the vines were a decade in the ground.

That last part might have been a slight exaggeration, but Grandpa was right often enough that even his hyperbole was worth following.

I’ve spent the last two years growing grapes in whiskey barrels to get a head start on purchasing the farm. I figure I’ll have some grapes that are worth a crap by 2020, assuming the Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t come after me first.

0619161702bWhile erecting the supports for my grape trellises, I noticed people slowing down as they drove by. Dumbass that I am, I assumed they were curious about what I was building in my front yard. I thought my neighbors were admiring how plumb the posts were compared to the mild undulations of the surrounding landscape and the architectural vision on display with the vineyard’s placement in relation to the barn, the road, and the chicken coop.

Images of friendly neighbors and passers-through stopping at my humble farm to inquire about vinaceous endeavors, while buying free-range, organic eggs and the occasional bale of hay, danced with the prideful part of my soul.

Turns out they wanted to know when we were going to hold the Klan rally.

My mother could never quite figure out whether I was a genius or just retarded, stemming from my propensity to become caught up in a project and lose all sense of time and my surroundings. “Not being able to see the forest because of the trees” was how she put it.

Either of my wives (one former and one current; contrary to popular rumor, I’m no polyamorist) can attest to the need to tear me away from a project in the garage when I become engrossed. My mule-headedness and ornery nature are two of my more endearing personality traits.

0618161747What my Rain Man-like concentration prevented me from noticing was the grape vine supports, taken as a whole, strongly resembled a small field of crosses waiting for an Imperial Wizard with a lit torch.

Luckily for me, the people in my area are real live and let live sorts of folks. However, the few that stopped by when curiosity got the best of them approached the subject with caution. I mostly played dumb, the one style of acting at which I am supremely talented.

To the ones who recognized a proper grape trellis and asked what varieties I planned to grow, I admitted their true purpose right away. The whiskey barrels with grape vines flowing over the rims were only next to the barn all of twenty feet behind me, so I felt no pangs of conscience in screwing with everyone else. Mrs. Cunha was mortified by my actions, but she has come to expect nothing less from me.

0619161812I invited several to our first annual celebration of European heritage and homesteading skills the following Saturday. Two neighbors believe I am hosting a Passion Play next Easter and am in need of volunteer Centurions. But my favorite was when I informed a particularly nervous fellow that I erect one for every man I kill.

It’s probably a good thing that I live way out in the sticks. I barely fit in out here, much less inside the city limits.

 

 

3Thank you to every one of my readers for coming back week after week. The content on this website is free to access, but does take resources to produce. Please visit my Patreon account to see what I have in the works for the homestead and consider becoming a supporter, which gets you content, behind the scenes access, and goodies not available on the main site.

The Whine Glass Generation


HW-4020-0952My youngest son, like most of his generation, has figured out the secret to outlandish fame and fabulous fortune. According to him, it’s all a matter of “going to Hollywood and making it big.” I went to Hollywood once. Admittedly, my visit was only as a day-tripping tourist to Universal Studios, so I must have missed the roving packs of talent agents who patrol the street corners and malt shops (do those things even exist, anymore?) in central Los Angeles for the next Lana Turner.

Possessing neither marketable skills nor good looks, I clearly don’t understand how this works.

“Exactly what is it that is going to make you famous?” I said, marking a 2×4 for the next cut.

“Acting,” he said, shooting me an incredulous look I saw in my peripheral vision. “Maybe with some singing and dancing mixed in.”

“You’re a real triple-threat, Gregory Hines,” I said, depressing the trigger of the circular saw and filling the room with its scream.

“Who’s Gregory Hines?” he said, after the din had dissipated.

“Never mind,” I said, shaking my head. “Well, show me what you’ve got.”

“What?”

“Sing me a song.”

“Right now?”

“Yes,” I said. I laid down the saw and cut board. “Or dance, if you prefer. You pick the song. Go.”

Anyone familiar with the entitlement of youth, millennials in particular, knows full well how this exchange ends. You’ve probably lived it.

Mind you, I’ve never seen the boy engage in any of the pursuits he aims to make a living with. Come to think of it, if his phone isn’t involved, it’s a rare day I see him engage in any activity without direction. You would think the siren call of performance arts would move the lad to engage in them occasionally without prompting. Despite all these seeming detractions from the likelihood of success, the boy continues to be obsessed with the achievement of fame.

I guess he’s just so naturally talented that he doesn’t have to work at it…Just like the rest of his generation is continually told.

Showing me a seven-foot-tall Chinaman does not mean all Chinamen are seven-foot-tall.

Of necessity, I paint in the broad brushstrokes of averages. I know a few teenagers who are squared away, responsible, and hardworking. I’d gladly trade mine for one of those, but the few parents who have such adolescent unicorns are loath to trade them.

entitled-kid-494x328So, please don’t point to your brat as a counter to why I’m wrong. You’re probably lying or severely overestimating your precious little snowflake. On the off chance your kid is as perfect as you think, congratulations. You won the genetic equivalent of a scratch-off ticket.

Now, go be content with your life, while I bitch about my kids. Or stay and enjoy the schadenfreude. Whichever makes you happy.

“As long as your happy” is the biggest load of horseshit ever put out by parents.

I hear those words come out of the mouths of people severely disappointed by the choices their children make. That’s part of the reason kids are so fouled up. We parents did it to them in trying not to crush their delicate egos.

Here are some examples with along with what parents hear:

Child says: “I changed my major to Lesbian Dance Theory.” – Parents hear: “You’re going to be supporting me for the rest of your life.”

Child says: “We’re in love.” – Parents hear: “She’ll be a single mother on welfare in two years.”

Child says: “I don’t need to learn a trade. I’ve got talent.” – Parents hear: “I’m going to learn a trade after life kicks me in the nuts for a decade or so.”

Child says: “I’ve decided to come out.” – Parents hear: “You’ll be lucky if your adopted grandchildren even remotely resemble you.”

Child says: “I’m a feminist.” – Parents hear: “I hate my father.”

Of course, my favorite response to that last declaration is “That’s so cute. What do want to be when you grow up, sweetie pie?” It’s bait they can’t resist because feminists, whether female or male, lack even the pretense of a sense of humor.

My sense of humor might be as dark as a Milo Yiannopoulos paramour, but it exists and is anything besides fragile.

Somewhere along the line, society lost the ability to take a joke. I blame it largely on a generation of children taught in public schools staffed almost entirely by women and effeminate men. These delicate flowers entrusted with impressionable minds simply do not appreciate the comedic gold in a loud, wet fart or kicking your buddy in the nuts.

I remember hanging out with my middle school teachers behind the wood-shop building between classes showing them my newest pocket knife while they pounded down a cigarette, sipped from whiskey flasks, and told me dirty jokes. These are also the same men who would backhand a student about once a year for mouthing off too much or steeping toward them aggressively.

Eighth grade was my turn to learn the fine line that separates a vigorous debate between gentlemen, where differences are resolved, and just being a loud-mouth punk. When I told my dad what happened, he gave me a backhand in the opposite direction for being a whiny little bitch about it.

I wish John Lott would write a companion piece to More Guns, Less Crime researching the tendency I see in schools of “More Paddles, Less Problems.”

One of the rites of passage into manhood is the proverbial “mouth writing a check the body can’t cash.” That first good, hard punch in the face a young man receives, usually from an unrelated, older man, delivers more lessons in manners than an Emily Post etiquette book.

Millennials have missed out on such character forming experiences, by and large. Instead of a quick and corrective slap for giving mom a dirty look, they were asked what’s wrong. Their playgrounds, the true navel of education at any school, were made so child-safe and patrolled so heavily for any hint of exuberance that children no longer cherish recess. That is, if they get it at all.

A skinned knee is now worthy of being picked up by a parent instead of rubbing some dirt on it and getting back to class with torn britches. A schoolyard scuffle between equally matched opponents is cause for expulsion and arrest of both participants. And woe to any high school student who goes rabbit hunting before school and is found to have tossed his rifle behind the seat of his car.

When did calling your best friend “faggot” cease to be a term of endearment?

broken-glassLiberals, with zero-tolerance policies for everything that used to be called “hijinks,” have created the Whine Glass Generation; pretty to look at, of marginal practical use, and exceedingly fragile.

Words give these Social Justice Warrior pussies the vapors. I predict that in the near future fainting couches will make a comeback. No college safe space will be complete without one and the de rigueur slipcovers crocheted by fellow special snowflakes calming themselves after being confronted by an idea with which they disagree.

Hand in hand with the expectation of never confronting a divergent idea or a difficult situation is the presumption of entitlement. Perhaps it’s our fault as parents. After living through the privations of the Great Depression and the horrors of World War Two, the Greatest Generation spoiled the mettle out of the Baby Boomers, and the trend has been downhill in successive generations.

01TriggerwarningAs teenagers, my brother Jake and I mowed lawns, hauled trash, and dug out tree stumps to earn money to buy a tiny, second-hand, black-and-white television to place in the room we shared and watch the half dozen channels available. My children are on the verge of calling Child Protective Services because I have only provided a hundred-odd channels, internet, and several video game consoles (they are all “Nintendo” to me) in the family room on a television bigger than any wall of my first apartment.

This has to be the result of continually being told how wonderful they are. They really are like lead crystal stemware; only taken out of the china cabinet for special occasions. Used sparingly. Handled gingerly. Washed by hand. Never seeing the inside of a dishwasher.

And subject to shattering from sound alone.

Life far more resembles a dishwasher than it does a china cabinet. Unable to change the fundamental nature of the world around them, Liberals have taken over education to change the nature of the world’s inhabitants. It’s the most brilliant long-con ever devised.

My grandparents’ generation did nothing less than save the world and then set about rebuilding it. That inheritance has largely been squandered, and were we are on the downhill slide.

How many more generations before we are all Hummel miniatures in someone else’s display case?

 

3Thank you to every one of my readers for coming back week after week. The content on this website is free to access, but does take resources to produce. Please visit my Patreon account to see what I have in the works for the homestead and consider becoming a supporter, which gets you content, behind the scenes access, and goodies not available on the main site.

Rest When You’re Dead


0619161702bMy neighbor says he’s worked harder in retirement than at any time in his life. I have no reason to disagree, if this summer is any indication. The past two months have been filled with backbreaking labor that is quite possibly the hardest I’ve worked in my life, as well. And we are not anywhere near finished, as I seem to be very poor at estimating time requirements to build our dreams. I am likely the world’s worst construction foreman.

The barn is not as squared away as I would like, the orchard will have to wait until spring for planting, and the house still looks like a construction zone. However, hay has been put up, the chickens and rabbits are reasonably well housed, the vineyard installed, and all the rough carpentry in the house is complete.

Considering much of the house was stripped to the studs to fulfill Mrs. Cunha’s desire to make the house “hers,” despite her name being on the deed right next to mine, the two solid months of sunrise-to-sunset projects worked in between farm chores was really a labor of love.

It’s amazing the amount of energy you can muster when it’s your project, your farm, and your neck on the block. The kids would be happy to live in a dank cave, if they never again had to break a sweat.

Thank God for YouTube and helpful electrician types who are generous with their knowledge because I had to re-learn some of the trickier aspects of electricity I had forgotten in two decades.

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Note to self: Hot and common really should be capped off separately.

Actually, I learned that lesson all on my own, and frightened Mrs. Cunha quite badly in the process. Being the religious sort, it seems she associates sparks and the smell of burning insulation with demonic forces. It was a big enough flash to make anyone believe in the devil.

Somewhere between “Hey, I have an idea” and “Maybe we should just set the place on fire and sell the scavenged scrap metal,” I decided to give Mrs. Cunha a thrill by incorporating a curved wall on the walk-in closet we were framing in one of the rooms.

Yeah, it's a round wall. Don't try this at home, kids.
Yeah, it’s a round wall. Don’t try this at home, kids.

I had seen it done before and the math didn’t seem too difficult. What I didn’t count on was the men I watched create this magnificent arced wall were far more skilled carpenters than I. That plus I’m terrible at math. Well, it’s not so much that I’m bad at math. My house is bad at math.

The first rule of construction is there is no such thing as a plumb wall or a square room.

Don’t believe for a second that a measurement at one end bears any relationship to the middle or bottom. And on the rare, lucky occasion everything measures out perfectly, it will invariably look catawampus compared to everything around it. Luckily, there aren’t many construction problems that can’t be fixed with a hammer.

Speaking of beating lumber into submission, the barn is constructed of white oak, which I prefer to call by its Indian name, “Can’t drive a God-Damn Nail into It.”

The Amish who milled this lumber must have reinforced it with steel because I cannot think of any other reason a sixteen-penny nail won’t make it through two of the boards. The barn is pretty old, so maybe I need those old-fashioned rectangular nails instead of the modern, round ones.

Anyone with insight into this problem is welcome to enlighten me in the comments because I’ve run out of men in my family who can.

0602161706The upshot is my kids have been provided material for several anecdotes to pass on to their children about Grandpa Carlos bending and cursing nails, Amish, and oak trees. The only thing that has kept me from hurling my hammer into the hay field is the knowledge that I would only have to find the son-of-a-bitch when I calmed down, lest it break a mower blade.

As it stands now, there is still a ton of work to accomplish. At least, we got the Japanese beetles under control. The house is a wreck, the farm is still very much in the start-up phase, and I’m not sure where I’m going to store all the hay from the next couple of cuts.

I’ve never been more exhausted and I’ve never been happier. It will probably get worse when I retire.

 

3Thank you to every one of my readers for coming back week after week. The content on this website is free to access, but does take resources to produce. Please visit my Patreon account to see what I have in the works for the homestead and consider becoming a supporter, which gets you content, behind the scenes access, and goodies not available on the main site.

Lincoln County Warriors


Southern graduations are big events, more festive than funerals and with fewer drunks than weddings. My eighth-grader and several of her friends reached a significant milestone this week; high heels. They also graduated to high school, but they seemed more excited about dressing up.

Fast maturing girls, who the rest of the year are barely taller than an Emperor penguin, towered and tottered to the podium on DSW stilts. Grandparents beamed, mothers wiped tears from their eyes, and fathers contemplated the merits various shot sizes and patterns.

Protecting daughters, livestock, and hunting dogs are all given the highest of legal presumptions for righteousness around these parts.

Some with an old school bent performed complex mental computations for the amount of gunpowder necessary to propel a images (49)payload of rock-salt. The boys, none of whom were overly impressed by either the pageantry or the promotion, tucked in their shirttails and donned their going-to-church Cabela’s caps for their first formal function.

Despite the “too cool for school” shuffle across the basketball court parquet, each of them understood half the audience was taking bets on who would stumble. That’s probably why they strode so deliberately. Where I live, it’s an even money bet any of these kids will be a graduate again, so nobody wants to be remembered as the dumbass who face planted in the gym as the final act of grades K through eight.

I understand being proud of your child who graduates the eighth grade, especially on the first attempt, but I would have preferred to have held applause until all the diplomas had been distributed. Row by row the students stood in unison and queued up for their name to be called in alphabetical order.

Once they called my kid, I was out of reasons to be there. And by the time they got to “P,” I had completely lost interest.

My hands tingled by the end of the second row and were completely numb by the fifth. With the loss of feeling, all I could do to show support for the last couple dozen kids was slap my flippers together like a circus seal.

As the Zimmerman twins collected their sheepskins, all I could think was, “Thank the sweet baby Jesus laying swaddled in a feed trough that this torture is over.” The hard wooden bench of the hide-a-bleacher pulled away from the gymnasium wall for the occasion had numbed my ass as thoroughly as the continual clapping hand numbed my hands. I hadn’t ridden that much pine since I played basketball in middle school.

images (50)I was beginning to get the feeling back in my legs when the first of five Homeroom teachers took the podium with a thick stack of award folders, which the crowd quickly learned contained certificates suitable for framing.

Now might be an appropriate time for some mathematical computations. The gym had seven rows of fifteen graduates fidgeting on folding metal chairs. By my math, that’s 105 teenagers who managed to not touch their cell phones for an hour and a half. I suspected they might have been confiscated, but I clearly saw several outlines in pants pockets. What surprised me even more was approximately fifty teenage boys went an hour and a half without noticeably scratching their nuts.

What I’d like to know is when did it become possible to make the Honor Roll with B grades?

This “A/B Honor Roll” phenomenon confuses me. It really seems like standards are slipping with awards like “Highest Score in Week Twelve of Fourth Period Spelling Re-Test” are passed out. It felt like an attempt to give every graduate an award. I figured the diploma was the award, but since everyone was getting one, it wasn’t sufficiently unique. The plan might have worked out had it not been for a half dozen overachievers who hogged up multiple awards. One of those high-aiming turds cost my little girl “Best Essay Comparing and Contrasting the Series Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices.”

images (51)Don’t get too high-and-mighty, Olivia Wilson. Big boobs and Daddy’s money will only get you so far in life. I’m sure you will have a successful career at Little Rosie’s Mexican Taqueria after your second or third unplanned, teenage pregnancy.

There were also awards for a bunch of things I had never heard of, which I suspect are pushed by the federal government in exchange for money from Uncle Sugar.

The one award I recognized, perfect attendance, was ironically enough awarded to a kid who wasn’t able to make the ceremony.

As part of the graduation weekend festivities, we all piled into the War Wagon and headed to Fayetteville for some antiquing. The Fayetteville town square is home of the Lincoln County Courthouse, Probation Office, and by my count, six thousand or so antique shops, each housing booths for several dozen junk vendors…uh, I mean purveyors of finely crafted masterpieces.

I blame those Frank and Mike guys from The History Channel for convincing everyone with a pickup truck and access to their Grandmother’s attic that they are high-end antique dealers. For the most part, I came away believing “antique” is a fancy word for “garage sale.”

One of the shops was a standout with a couple of furniture pieces I gave serious consideration to purchasing, if I wasn’t anticipating one last move in the next year or so. My wife bought a bone china tea service that while pretty is more or less lost on me.

images (52)For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I nearly bought a scythe. I have two electric and one gas string trimmer in my garage which probably do a much better job, but the scythe seems like something I should have for no better reason than the macabre imagery. It would be a hell of a conversation piece over my fireplace.

Instead of the scythe, I bought a draw knife that I want to experiment with.

At seven bucks, I won’t feel bad if I ruin it. I don’t believe in owning things I can’t or won’t use.

I use my Grandfather’s handsaw. I use my other Grandfather’s felling ax. My wife and I use my Grandmother’s silver tea service. My favorite hunting rifles are literally over a century old, and if I do my part, will shoot circles around the kids toting the latest Plastic Fantastic.

Disappointment weighed more and more on my shoulders as I shuffled from store to store asking in vain for Meerschaum pipes. I’ve smoked a pipe since my mid-twenties and have what I would call a functional supply of briar pipes. Believe it or not, you have to let wooden pipes dry out because they absorb condensation from the combustion of the tobacco. You can actually hear the pipes gurgle from the accumulation of moisture.

573453257_tpMeerschaum pipes aren’t prefect. They gurgle, too. The joy of a Meerschaum is that it is smoking a work of art. Each of the stone pipes is hand carved  by an artisan, and if you seek out the old ones like I do, you can get the additional enjoyment of making people nervous because the carved images are often risqué, politically incorrect, or both.

A ribbon of smoke curling from the top of an African Hottentot’s head is one of life’s litmus tests to screen out Liberals.

There was no joy to be had in Fayetteville. Of the handful of shops with pipes, every single one was what pipe aficionados divisively call “drug store pipes.” Literally, the types mass produced on automated lathes. They are the Yugo of the pipe world.

Luckily, I was able to indulge another of my offensive vices; Confederophilia. The Fayetteville Courthouse boasts a memorial to the three thousand sons of Tennessee from Lincoln County who fought in the War of Northern Aggression. There was no mention of how many didn’t come marching home to suffer the subjugation of Reconstruction.

Let’s not forget to remember these men this Memorial Day.

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Tractors…For Rabbits


photo12Wire cages are the standard way to house rabbits, but a rabbit tractor is a simple homestead DIY project within the skills of most people. We typically use rabbit tractors both as grow-out pens and for when the kits begin to crowd their mom’s cage.

A secondary purpose, during spring and summer when the grass is lush, is as a mobile enclosure. Rather than break out the lawnmower, I let my little bundles of fur take on some of the yard maintenance responsibilities. The lushness of what’s growing, the size of the tractor, how many rabbits , and their ages will dictate how often the tractor needs to be moved. We average moving it every other day.

It was glorious. All last summer, the rabbits kept the backyard nibbled down sufficiently that only a few strips and patches in the corners had to be mowed.

An added benefit was reducing feed costs. Every dandelion, blade of grass, and bit of clover the rabbits munch from the turf is that much less feed I have to provide. It’s not much when they are young, but as butchering time nears, it gets to be quite a bit less alfalfa pellets and hay that I have to buy.

photo13I’m still not entirely sure about putting them on forage alone because I want to make sure their diet is nutritionally complete, so we give them a reduced daily ration of the all-purpose rabbit feed and some Timothy hay. We estimate the amounts, so there is just a touch of each left over each day. That rule of thumb may not be terribly scientific or as economically efficient as it could be, but we figure they are getting the nutrition they need that way.

Based on the way the rabbits go after the fresh forage growing from the ground, I suspect they wouldn’t put up much of a fuss, if we withdrew the hay and pellets entirely.

Where we do have a real concern is plants that may make the rabbits ill. While rabbit breeders may not have bred every bit of self-preservation instinct out the meat bricks we enjoy so much, a part of me suspects domestic rabbits don’t have enough sense not to eat something that will kill them.

Having said that, I have yet to see any of my rabbits eat something that kills them or makes them ill. I figure give it some time. I’ll kill one of them by accident sooner or later.

What concerned us more at the start was the possibility of pesticide or fertilizer residue that might present a problem. Perhaps, we were being overly cautious, but we waited an entire rainy season before letting the rabbits forage on the ground. Even then, as heartless as it sounds, we picked one to be the Crash Test Dummy for a week or ten days before letting the rest join in.

The perk to being the guinea pig was that he got to the grass first and had the entire enclosure to himself. Not a bad trade-off when you consider their purpose and ultimate fate.

photo8The rabbit tractor I put together isn’t anything revolutionary. A tractor isn’t just for rabbits. The same principle of a mobile confinement device works equally well for chickens or other small livestock.

It’s two square frames separated by upright supports and a cover. The whole project is far from rocket surgery, and I would feel like a turd explaining how to screw boards together. Rather than give a how-to on basic carpentry, I’m going to give some tips and lessons learned.

Size

The first rabbit tractor we constructed was 4×8 feet. We did that not realizing just how heavy it would be when finished. It can by moved by one person, but it’s a whole lot easier with a friend.

Another downside to the eight foot length is the long sides make placement a little more difficult. The earth underneath the bottom rail should be as level as possible. Otherwise, you wind up plugging the chinks with bricks, logs, rocks, scrap lumber…you get the idea.

The lid is also a little cumbersome to raise and lower. It really benefited from a lid stop. A piece of 1/4″ cable run through eye-bolts and secured to itself with crush locks keep the lid falling all the way open and tearing the hinges off. I couldn’t figure out a simple enough hinge arrangement to let the lid open more than ninety degrees.

Were I to build it again, I would have also hinged the other side of the lid because sometimes rabbits don’t feel like being caught and retreat under the side that does not open. You really lose the advantages of being human when down on all fours chasing a rabbit through what is essentially a two-foot-tall tunnel.

It’s enough to induce Vietnam flashbacks.

photo9On the up-side, you can divide it in half pretty easily and segregate your rabbits by sex or whatever criteria you like. That’s the only real advantage to the eight foot length. We scaled back on subsequent versions to 4×4 feet, and every problem associated with the eight foot length disappeared. I think I found the size I want to stick with.

Height

Separate the top and bottom frame by slightly more than two feet. We thought ahead and went with twenty-six inches. That way, a two-foot wide roll of chicken wire had an inch of leeway at the top and bottom. It gave us room to work pulling the wire tight as we unrolled it and didn’t leave any hanging over the edges to snag.

Top material

Use whatever you like for a top. We discovered a product called Tuftex panels. They are a corrugated poly-carbonate sheeting material that blocks UV rays. Think of corrugated tin on the roof of a barn or shed, but nowhere near as hot. We went with opaque, and it keeps everything beneath quite cool. I guess those UV rays are the ones that make the sunshine hot.

The Tuftex is a little pricey, but easy to work with and has held up well. I also used it for the top and sides of the rabbit condo. It will likely outlast the wooden frame and be re-purposed onto another rabbit tractor.

Lumber

I went with untreated lumber, suspecting the rabbits might chew it. Whatever turns treated lumber green probably isn’t good for them. I haven’t seen them chew very much in the year we have been using the tractors, so I don’t see the trouble I would have to go to in order to prevent a few chew marks as worth the effort. These rabbit tractors were intended to be quick and dirty projects without the expectation of them lasting forever. I have been thrilled to get this long out of them and expect another couple of years use, at least.

photoTo make the corners more stiff, I wanted something a little less flexible than a 2×4. Not having any 4x4s on hand and possessed of no desire to make a special trip to the Home Depot, I improvised and used what my wife affectionately calls a Portuguese 4×4. Just remember that a 2×4 is not two inches by four inches. Two put together are only 3 1/2 inches, so select your screws accordingly.

ToolsIMG_0482

Unless you’ve got the hands of a gorilla, any money you spend on a powered stapler will be money well spent. After stapling twenty-four feet of chicken wire for the first rabbit tractor with the old style, ka-thunk version we’ve had for years, my wife was more than willing to spend $30 on an electric stapler. Save yourself the nerve damage in your hand and just get one.

Fasteners

I don’t screw around with nails much anymore. Screws are my fasteners of choice. Just be sure to drill a pilot hole, so you don’t crack the end of the board. Especially, when you have to inevitably screw into the end grain of one them. Take this advice, if nothing else, to avoid a lot of wasted wood, aggravation, and embarrassment from shoddy joinery.

Allow me to pass on another tip I learned years ago that will result in the tightest joints you have ever seen. Measure the shank length of the screw and make sure it passes all the way through the first board. If the threads ride on both pieces of wood, they advance at the same rate and leave gaps in the joint. Alternately, drill a clearance hole. It will allow the screw to spin free in one board, while the threads bite into the other.

A picture explains this better than words.

clearance hole cheat

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s about all I know on what to avoid doing when you build your own tractor. Oh, and have a good helper. They are invaluable when you need a third hand. So, get out there on a sunny day and build one. Your rabbits will be happier, and so will you from the reduced feed bill.

 

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