Pardon Our Mess


junkyard1My homestead dreams included images of tidy outbuildings and manicured fields, populated by well-behaved livestock, with a snug little house heated by worm farts and sustainable wood that was harvested on-site. Nothing could be further from the truth. Homesteads and working farms are cluttered places. Turns out that I was a combination of deluded and snookered into believing the Homesteader’s Dream.

Buildings have a tendency to age and dilapidate. Everything, with the exception of the rocks in the ground, breaks in the middle of a project. And, oddly enough, livestock does not line up for slaughter.

“Everything here has been burnt or broke, at least, once before.” – Bobby Bare

There are some specific reasons my farm occasionally resembles a junkyard. Let’s play a game where you see how many apply to your homestead and whether you have some of your own that I missed. Leave your additions in the comments section.

Emergencies and forced delays

My farm may not have been hit by hurricane Irma, but she did push wind and rain up our way. Neither of which are conducive to working outdoors. All manner of weather can slow down projects, and often bring them to a dead stop. Even a simple change in the rain prediction will throw the next several days of planning into disarray and necessitate re-prioritization, based upon what would most likely be ruined, if it was rained on. That’s usually hay laying in the field.

I’m getting too old to work on non-mission critical projects in knee deep mud or freezing cold. Plus, the wife makes me come indoors when she sees lightning. So, work is often a stop-and-start affair.

Elements of nature aren’t the only reason we are surrounded by half-finished projects. Kids and livestock have a habit of coming down sick or injuring themselves at the worst possible time. Mrs. Cunha and I have been known to soldier on with broken bones and bleeding wounds, but the phrase “rub some dirt on it” doesn’t go over well with the Millennials. I don’t know what they will do, when adversity eventually comes their way.

Stocking up on supplies for future projects

Aside from cash, the go-to gift for a hard-to-shop-for man, such as myself, is fence posts. Specifically, five-foot metal T-posts. These knobby metal rods do more than hold up fence. They serve as boundary markers, tree supports, tie-down stakes, and any other purpose the imagination can conjure. When we moved from a rental into the house we now own, I pulled up every post I had sunk into the the rented land over the previous three years and had fantasies of never buying another in my lifetime.

I blew through them in a couple of weeks.

junkyard4T-posts are in such demand around the Cunha farm that we’re saving our pennies to buy a pallet of the bastards, much like we did with a purchase of 2x4s last summer. They take up a bit of space in the garage, but just having them on hand when needed cuts down on time-stealing extra trips to town.

Not only is precious covered space dedicated to keeping bulkier items dry. The shelves of my garage are packed with little whose-its, what-thems, and doohickeys, partly because I can never find a specific item when I need it. I stopped counting the number of half-used rolls of electrical tape and cans of WD-40 I have. And God help me if I don’t squirrel away a couple of wedge blocks before the first cut because the Co-Op sure as hell won’t have any when the hay tedder throws a fork.

Error, mistakes, and inexperience

Homesteading is a continual learning process. No two endeavors go exactly the same, and often, the evidence of my ignorance is on display for all to see.

This past spring, I had one of my most brilliant ideas every. It struck me walking by the outdoor display at Tractor Supply. There, before my eyes and on sale, was a ten by ten dog run that could be quickly and easily converted to a sorely needed duck pen. We dragged it home, jury rigged a center pole with an eight-foot fence post, and zip-tied a tarp on as a roof. Not being engineers, neither Mrs. Cunha nor I realize that we had just created a giant kite.

IMG_20170322_145043947_HDRIn one of life’s bittersweet moments, we happened to be outside a couple days later, when an afternoon wind picked up our newest animal abode and crashed it down into the hayfield about sixty feet from where it started the day. The ducks looked surprised at the sudden disappearance of their shelter. Just before impact, I remember thinking their reaction reminded me of a Benny Hill skit, but not as funny because there were no women in underwear. Just confused ducks.

I was left so brokenhearted, both at the waste of money and general failure, I didn’t bother retrieving the wreckage until the day before I mowed the hay. Mrs. Cunha, understanding soul that she is, did not ask once when I planned to face my failure.

Deferred maintenance makes for ugly buildings

The barn on my farm is fairly young for a wooden barn. The house is about fifty years old, according to the property records the county keeps. I haven’t found evidence of the barn’s exact age, so I’ll just peg it as the same as the house, for the sake of example.

^DE2C3DD736DB8E5A8CCCB0AABE3AF983E8F7355479CED4D49D^pimgpsh_fullsize_distrThe house was clearly kept up with more diligence than the barn. It doesn’t lean near as much as the barn, but that might be attributable to the house being single story. Impending collapse aside, the barn is still much more of an eyesore than the house. Dulled galvanized roof, faded and peeling paint, and rotted siding that make me cringe every trip out there speak to God knows how many years the previous owners didn’t nail in a replacement board or pick up a paint brush. Maybe they didn’t have the cash for materials or just never got around to it. Valid and excusable reasons or not, the chores were not accomplished. The result is a building that passes for an abandoned crack house for drug addicted livestock.

Why does your homestead look like the set of Sanford and Son?

Leave a comment below with your favorite reason. I promise not to judge.

 

3Thank you to all my readers. I appreciate every one of you. Please visit my Patreon account for members only content. Becoming a supporter gets you additional articles, behind the scenes access, and unique Thank You gifts for your support.

Don’t forget to preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapters.

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Fox in Socks


FoxRule #2 on the Cunha farm: Go be wildlife somewhere else because otherwise, I will hunt you down and kill you. I found your little den in the bushes, Mr. Fox. The trap is now set, and if need be, I will stakeout your dirt condo every night until you make the mistake of showing your furry little ass around my homestead again.

I’ve watched you trot back and forth along the fence line, through the bushes, and across the road for the better part of two years. You have been ignored the entire time because you have not taken from me. You were given benefit of the doubt when the first bird disappeared. However, I have strong evidence you have killed and eaten one (possibly, two) of my turkeys, and two of my ducks. That goofy little crested duck was the last straw. He was my favorite. I kept him around for no better reason than he entertained me.

Here are your options, Mr. Fox. One, leave immediately on your own accord and never return. Two, sign your own death warrant by entering my sight. Those are the only choices.

I am tactically patient, tenacious, and possessor of the hardest heart you have ever encountered. I will fashion you into a hat as a warning to others of your ilk that I will not tolerate killing of my livestock and theft of food from my family’s mouth.

This is your only warning and my singular promise under God, Grandpa Miguel, and all the Pygmies in Africa.

Sincerely,

Your Angel of Death Carlos

 

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 and consider becoming a supporter. Patronage will get you additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

L'homme Theroux CoverIf you’d prefer something more tangible in return for supporting my work, please preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapter.

The Roof, The Roof, The Roof is on Fire


img_20161102_144452712Fires on farms are catastrophic events. When the farm in question is your homestead, it has the potential to be catastrophic, since both work and home are in danger of being reduced to ash and charred bits of metal.

“Yah bahn’s on fiyha,” my neighbor’s New England accent emanated from the cell phone, muffled by wind and road noise on both ends of the call. I needed him to repeat what he said, while the meaning sank in.

There are some pieces of news that catch you flat-footed; a parent’s death, being laid off from a job, a positive pregnancy test, a Cunha graduating high school. The possibility was always understood, but never really expected.

Grandma fondly recalled the eighth grade as, “My senior year.”

Having grown up in California, I’m well acquainted with wildfires. However, contrary to the widespread rumor, none of them had anything to do with turkey frying mishaps.

img_20161102_144138867_hdrThe upshot of having a significant portion of your farm burnt is you get to meet all your neighbors. People I’ve only seen in passing, and several I didn’t know existed, came from all points of the compass to gawk and shake their heads. I briefly considered charging admission.

The embers smoldered for several days, giving off an ethereal show at night that is likely the closest I will ever get to seeing the Northern Lights in person.

Tallying up the damage was sobering. Half of the hay field was burned, along with burning the undergrowth and saplings in virtually all of the white oak stand at the back of the property. A bunch of fence was destroyed, both by the fire and the firefighting efforts. What really hurt was the loss of my hay barn packed with most of this year’s hay crop.

As it turns out, “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same thing. Hay is both.

img_20161102_143910623_hdrI pride myself on being a gallows humorist, but make no mistake, there is little to find funny in the ashes. The insurance adjuster must have an appreciation for dark humor, as well, since he didn’t make any notes when I mentioned the barn also contained an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Ark of the Covenant, and several lost Picasso paintings.

With a nod to the sense of humor and understanding of my insurance adjuster, here are my best attempts.

  • Wasn’t there a scene in Bambi like this?
  • We won’t have to worry about deer freeloading from the field for a while.
  • I bet this is what Hell will look like.
  • Mrs. Cunha was disappointed the firefighters bore no resemblance to her calendar.
  • My daughter wanted to know why they didn’t bring a Dalmatian with them.
  • It was a barn-burner of an afternoon.
  • Feel the Bern!

If you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a fire (and I’m pretty sure there is not really a “right” end of a fire to be on), here are five things to keep in mind as you sift through the ashes.

Fire is hot

“No kidding, Fire Marshall Carlos,” you might be telling yourself. What I mean is things that get caught in a fire stay hot for a surprisingly long time. The heat was still noticeable through the soles of my boots when I walked around surveying the damage the next day, and there were still pockets of what I suspect were large roots that were still smoldering just below the surface.

Check buildings and equipment because the heat from a fire radiates a surprising distance. Turn on faucets to ensure the water flows and test underground power lines with a voltmeter. Plastic pipes, wire insulation, and even panes of glass will begin to melt and deform well before combustible items around them show evidence of heat and flame.

Gear up

The natural reaction to this type of catastrophe is to assess the damage. Mrs. Cunha and I were inspecting the losses while trees were still on fire and fence posts were still smoldering. It’s a natural reaction, and for most of us who are not part of the volunteer fire department, gives the property owner something to do besides standing around worrying. I won’t begrudge anyone taking what action they are able, just don’t get yourself in trouble. Take a battle-buddy, take some communication, and leave the damn dog at the house.

Wear your heavy boots, long pants, and gloves. If you’re a Safety Sally, I won’t fault you for taking a hardhat, eye protection, and long sleeves. Wear what you think is appropriate. Taking along a tool like a hoe or a metal rake is a good idea, since you will likely want to pick up or dig out something that I guarantee will be too hot to touch.

Inspect often

You’re first tour through the debris will be overwhelming. Not in the sense that it gives you PTSD (or it might, depending on what you’ve done in life), but fire changes the look of the landscape in such a significant way that the woods I was hunting a few days prior were near unrecognizable. The sights and smells and feel of everything will be alien. It takes a second to process what was a fourteen-foot tall barn when I walked by yesterday is now eight inches high.

The first month, I averaged walking the woods or the field every other day. After that, I poked around the trees a couple times a week for the next month. Each time, I found something new that made my heart sink; another break in the fence, another bulldozer gouge in the hillside, a marketable-size tree charred past use as lumber and now firewood, if I’m lucky. You’ll find something new each sortie for quite a while, so take all the pain now.

No touchy, touchy

Whatever you do while poking around the ruins, keep in mind that you are traipsing around in a crime scene. Well, not really, but kind of. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to do something that jams you up later. Let me explain.

Several different people were inspecting the damage in the course of this whole thing. There was a report from the fire department that included input from the forestry service, three visits by insurance adjusters, contractors for building estimates, and a survey by a certified forester. Starting the clean-up process too soon might very well have affected an accurate calculation of the loss sustained. Do yourself and your pocketbook a favor by suppressing the urge get everything back to normal until everyone who needs to take a look has done so.

Not all is lost

At some point in this process, you will have a solid grasp of the losses. We were lucky. There was no loss of life, people or animals. We lost a structure, some agricultural products, and a bit of future profit. Losing livestock would have been terrible, but losing humans would have been devastating. I have nothing to offer that will help fill the void left by loss of a loved one, but short of that, everything is replaceable. We will amend the field and crops will grow again. Burning out the undergrowth will likely help the trees in the long run.

img_20161225_170713399Heck, seven weeks after the fire, the grass had begun to poke through the charred earth enough to lure a couple of does into the open. I filled my freezer with one of them Christmas afternoon, so maybe there is something good to pluck from this entire mess.

In a spurt of optimism in my prowess as an apex predator and putting aside her pique at me for delaying Christmas dinner for butchering a deer, Mrs. Cunha purchase a stand-up freezer for all the wild game she expected to be dragged back to the house. We didn’t see another deer the rest of the season.

That’s about how life goes.

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 additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

L'homme Theroux CoverIf you’d prefer something more tangible in return for supporting my work, please preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapters.

Young Pigs in Love


img_20161220_155021037-1Generations of homesteaders and farmers have relied on hogs for food, field preparation, waste disposal, and occasionally, companionship. The little buggers have personalities better than most people you will meet. Who knew a Christmas present would turn into a love affair?

A few days after Christmas, the entire tribe climbed into the War Wagon for a two-hour drive to buy a replacement rabbit for my youngest daughter. Unlike the unfortunate incident with Jennifer a couple years ago, the impetus for this trek was neither my fault nor the result of friendly fire.

Death is a frequent enough visitor to the Cunha farm that I finally broke down and put up a sign reserving him a parking space next to the barn. I figure the faster he is in and out on his business, the less time he has to notice job opportunities while skulking around.

I’m giving serious thought to diversifying into a discount pet cemetery. Nothing fancy. Just a hole and a marker for the budget conscious parents of pet-owning children.

We had acquired Winter at our local co-op. She was on consignment from someone who had a connection with the manager. I should have known better.

Most days you’d have an easier time asking permission to date one of my daughters than convincing me to hand over a proven breeder, but reproduction wasn’t a factor. This rabbit was to be a pet, something cute and fluffy that wasn’t destined for the dinner plate.

This is how a farm turns into a petting zoo; one sacred bunny at a time.

Putting aside my misgivings about the rabbit’s lineage, living conditions, and lack of liveliness, I relented to the pleas of the women in my life. The rabbit came with a cage and paraphernalia, so I’d break even, if it died prematurely.

It was dead inside a month from a nasty eye infection we couldn’t get under control. Mrs. Cunha has a pretty good track record of doctoring animals, but even the best lose one every now and then.

It’s just my luck that it was an eleven-year-old’s pet…and Christmas.

61c55ee6adc9f00717d5e37f06081d250ea6164726bb1b0e5apimgpsh_fullsize_distr-1I still don’t understand the vagaries of rabbit math any better than Chicken Math, but we ended up a hundred-some-odd miles away from the farm, at a stranger’s house, answering a Craigslist ad offering Lion Head rabbits for sale. Mrs. Cunha always finds something unsettling and mildly creepy about answering the Craigslist ad of a complete stranger. I revel in the Libertarian rush of two independent, like-minded people coming together for an exchange without Big Brother being any the wiser.

While Mrs. Cunha and the girls cradled bunnies and gossiped about people none of them mutually knew, the husband of the pair took me on a tour of the menagerie. Before me was an organized, well-maintained suburban homestead that offered neighbors and the Home Owners Association no substantive reason to be upset…but, of course, they were.

If availability of food ever becomes an issue, neighbors who complain about others keeping chickens will be last in line and charged three times the going rate for having been twats.

Milling about the yard amongst the chickens and beneath the elevated cages of quail and pheasant was a bristly black package of pork protein. Something about the way I watched the little boar must have clued the husband into my mild interest because the next thing I knew, I was handed a wiggling, grunting, four-month-old American Guinea Hog.

Mrs. Cunha appeared beside me without my knowing. We’ve been married long enough that she knows her presence is probably necessary when there is that much commotion and squealing going on. Even if her skills are not needed, Mrs. Cunha appreciates slapstick.

Just once in my life, I’d like to have the farm prepared for a new animal addition.

She was falling in love as quickly as I was. The feeling was second only to looking into the eyes of a newborn child. We were sure he would be delicious.

img_20161221_092635780_burst001-1I try not to hold it against people when they tilt their heads and shoot me a quizzical look at my choices in livestock. It’s not their fault the animals we husband are a tad unusual, but it does take me down a peg when someone says, “Never heard of it.”

American Guinea hogs are pigs and not available at any pet store I can think of. Your local Petco carries Guinea Pigs, which are actually rodents, but I’ve had to explain the difference several times already. English can be confusing, but this distinction eludes many people. Most folks hear “Guinea Pig” as soon as I say “Guinea” and assume we are some sort of quixotic rodent-wrangling ranchers.

Marketability is second to producing what meets the needs and desires of my family.

It’s always dangerous to draw conclusions about an entire breed based on one example. Any scientist, pollster, and jackass in a bar who says, “The rest of the world calls it football” will be quick to point out how small sample size skews and can often invalidate conclusions. Anecdotes are not data, but I’m optimistic, bad at math, and like to gamble. That’s why I play lotto, too.

Over the next couple of weeks interacting with Hamilton (named for the first three letters of the word, and not the crappy, Leftist play), his personality convinced Mrs. Cunha and me to modify his job description from “Dinner” to “Bacon Maker.”

That’s how we found ourselves on a two-and-a-half hour sortie the opposite direction to find Hamilton a couple of girlfriends.  Despite the reputation of my area of the country, we desired some depth to our gene pool.

Why is it every animal I want can only be found somewhere between Timbuktu and frickin’ Narnia?

img_20161221_092100811Muddy and mildly bruised from the extended fumble recovery drill of chasing down two gilts my wife and daughters selected from the dozen or so available, I sat in the front seat watching the landscape roll by and daydreaming of the little black, wiggling piglets in my future. The new additions to the farm grunted back and forth between themselves, nestled in a bed of hay in a wire dog carrier in the far rear of the passenger compartment.

“I’m hungry,” came a call from the middle row of seats.

“Holy crap. The pigs can talk,” I said, turning my head toward my wife. Mrs. Cunha shot me the stink eye. It dawned on me that I was playing with fire.

The reason there aren’t very many comediennes is because, as a general rule, the female of our species largely lacks a sense of humor.

Hamilton’s new girlfriends, already christened Petunia and Baby Girl by my daughters, must have smelled the delicious aroma of fast food as we pulled into the drive-thru. I could hear my porky piglet producers rouse themselves inside their pen. Their chattering increased the closer we crept to the order board.

I was busy with the continual internal debate of whether my fat ass would survive skipping Going Big or Super Sizing or whatever this place called their sneaky attempt to pry an additional dollar from my clenched fist in exchange for ten cents more worth of compressed potato flakes and sugar water when the squawk-box fired auditory shrapnel through the driver’s window.

Despite having visited a drive-thru literally thousands of times in my life, the voice burst is always jarring. Maybe it’s the screechy tone. Maybe it’s the sudden blast of noise from a direction devoid of human beings. Maybe I’m just wound too tight.

Apparently, Baby Girl and Petunia are both wound a little too tightly, too.

The phrase “Squeal like a pig” has basis in reality, let me tell you.

My spastic lurch wasn’t finished before both those pigs were on their feet, banging the sides of the carrier as they ran in circles, grunting, snorting, and oinking. My daughters covered their ears with their hands against the piercing racket, as I shouted our order back at the disembodied voice.

Order placed and pulling forward to the first window please, I hoped the hay the gilts were kicking out of the cage wasn’t contaminated by anything foul-smelling enough to remind everyone of this adventure the next time we climbed in.

As the car drew up to the window, I glanced over at Mrs. Cunha, who had a look on her face that was a cross between horror and mortification. I turned my head the opposite direction, not know what I would encounter, but half expecting to find a circumstance that would require zombie apocalypse skills.

Freddy Mercury sang that fat bottomed girls make the rockin’ world go ’round.

Now, I’m between 6’4″ and 6’6″ depending on the angle of the video surveillance camera and clock-in at three hundred-none-of-your-damn-business pounds, so I realize my commenting on a woman’s size is akin to Stalin chastising Hitler on his human rights record.

Having said that, I’m going to throw a couple of stones from my glass house.

img_20161230_123607555The young woman collecting money at the window within earshot of the pair of squealing, oinking gilts in the back of my car wasn’t ugly at all. For a hefty girl, she was reasonably attractive and probably has no problem finding a ride home long before last call. She was far from a Tess Holliday, but a carb holiday wouldn’t have killed her.

Women, especially the younger ones, are self-conscious, so she probably knows this about herself.

The look of hatred coming from the chubby cashier confirmed my suspicion that she had heard my little piggies squealing all the way home. I was afraid to hand over my debit card for fear of how many customers behind me I was going to “accidentally” be buying lunch for. At minimum, each burger would be spat on before wrapping.

As I handed over my card, I saw her eyes dart behind me, looking into the back of the car. Her eyes sparkled as they widened, and her mouth untwisted from its scowl into a smile.

“What kinda pigs y’all got there?” the young lady said.

“American Guinea Hogs,” I said, my chest puffing up just a bit.

“Never heard of them,” she said.

 

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 additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

L'homme Theroux CoverIf you’d prefer something more tangible in return for supporting my work, please preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapters.

Hello, World!


44a6a4ead1c67a92cfbfae8cfa23d1ebb529f0239b02f885b3pimgpsh_fullsize_distrLife on the farm entails a lot of death, but for once, new life visited the Cunha homestead this week. Even if my family were to go the vegetarian route and only keep animals for what they produce, they will eventually die. I’m still young enough that I will outlive all the animals I own, and as their steward, one of my responsibilities is to minimize suffering at the end of life.

Having said that, we are ruthless in application of Rule #3: Those that don’t produce have no place. My farm is neither a petting zoo nor an animal retirement community. References to livestock riding the bullet train to freezer camp are gallows humor because I don’t take pleasure in killing. It’s necessary to eating animal flesh, controlling costs, and ending suffering.

Even the times I’ve screwed up dispatching an animal were far less gruesome and prolonged than the average take-down of prey by a predator in nature.

Mrs. Cunha and I have been kicking around the idea of purchasing an incubator for about a year, and spent most of the summer on the verge of taking the plunge. The option of producing a batch of chicks whenever it was convenient for us was attractive, as was having control over the pace and timing of reproduction. Depending on how fancy we wanted to get, the cost wasn’t terrible, but the prospect of adding one more chore to the list kept us holding out for a hen to go broody.

539a00524f9ee110005cf75710f4a781f896eb630a60411a0cpimgpsh_fullsize_distrTime always seems to be the resource of which we have the least. The chickens look to have a lot of time on their hands. Their job is pretty low stress and low skilled. Maybe that’s why they don’t qualify for minimum wage.

I don’t know how industrious your chickens are, but mine make Department of Motor Vehicle employees look like tornadoes of ambition. The dumb clucks in my flock don’t even have hobbies. They just sort of mill about like teenagers at a school dance; moody, self-absorbed, and convinced nobody likes them.

Well, they’re right. The teenagers, I mean. They might be more likable, if they crapped out eggs, but then they’d want a trophy for it.

Fully understanding that a broody hen stops laying, the trade off a dozen or so eggs during a gestation cycle of approximately twenty-one days sounded like a fair trade, both in terms of unrealized ova and, especially, unexpended effort on our part.

Any time the animals do their thing without human intervention is a bonus in my book, since it’s less work for us.

My first rooster, John Wayne, was a cock apostle. Prior to him, I wasn’t keen on having one around, but lack of a cock-of-the-walk caused my chicken coop to have the same dynamics as a women’s prison. There was incessant gossipy chatter, squabbling as cliques emerged and dissolved, and a big bull-dyke hen named Henrietta strutting around with a chain hanging off her wallet pressuring the other hens into lesbian relations.

I’m not kidding. I saw her mounting the other hens. She is also suspected of radicalizing the flock into mounting the Chicken Uprising of 2015.

1389d74399e7d94e12031c4ee0ee0b75ad0ca2dce77429e3bepimgpsh_fullsize_distrAll that silliness ended when John Wayne stepped out of the carrier he was delivered in. By sundown the same day, peace and order were established in the flock. When I went to close up the coop that night, I found tranquility, instead of the usual bedlam.

John Wayne sat in the middle of a perch, Henrietta nuzzled up submissively at his side, surrounded by all the other girls for warmth and protection. The only head that raised when I walked in for the nightly headcount was his, and I swear he winked at me.

I’ve been a fan of roosters ever since. Feel free to insert your dirty joke here. I know how chicken people are.

I go so far as to always have an understudy rooster, since you never know when a coup in the coop might become necessary.

The loss of John Wayne was a blow to the flock, but we were in luck, as his previous owner, a classmate of my oldest daughter, had an incubator full of eggs fertilized by his brother. It wasn’t exactly genetic cloning, but it was the best shot we had at a replacement that might be close. Of course, there were no guarantees, but considering the emphasis on bloodline that each animal breed association has, we figured our odds were decent.

This young lady, who is the most responsible and reliable teenage I’ve ever met, was beside herself when she lost the entire batch by forgetting to plug the incubator back in after some maintenance. Another blow came when informed that John Wayne’s brother was, also, no longer among the clucking and the last in his line.

16be5ebcb8e5d6364be5ea3a8d05aca64a18ab9a05e6accd4cpimgpsh_fullsize_distrMy current rooster lacks a name. He’s a big, gangly thing, and, for quite some time, I suspected he might have been a turkey. He’s nowhere near as handsome as either of the predecessors, but hasn’t displayed any of the behavior that earned Clint his coup d’état. This goofy looking rooster has done something neither of the other two managed to pull off.

We have new chickens on the farm.

This isn’t the first bringing forth of life on the Cunha homestead, but it’s the first of the feathered variety. I’m excited. My assumption is all five will reach maturity. At which point, we will have to determine how many of each sex we have and begin the decision making process of who stays, who goes, and who gets replaced.

It’s a never-ending cycle of deciding how to maximize available resources to reach goals, and a big part of the homesteading mindset.

But for the moment, I’m basking in the joy of new life and little, feathered puffballs.

 

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 additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

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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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