Monday, December 11, 2017

State of the Ranch 2017

I can't believe I missed the date for this post. Actually, I can. I was so sick and run down, I didn't even know what day of the week it was. Or the significance of any day I did recognize. I guess that says quite a bit about the state of the place, doesn't it?

It's been a difficult year for all of us: the three of us, the Parson and his family next door, Curmudgeon and Bones over the hill, and all the others that are a part of our grand adventure. There are years where you are productive and accomplish so much -- this wasn't one of those. There are years when you plug along, steady and sure, no real big occurrences, no disasters -- this wasn't one of those either. Instead, this was the kind of year you wish you could go back and do over, where it seemed like nothing went right, when you seem to fight for every good day. The Parson talks about how this is part of the Biblical timeline, and it is. I talk about how this is a part of our country's decline, and it is. Dude reminds me I've had years like this before, and that's true. Everyone agrees, no matter what the reason, that it seems to have been the perfect bad storm.

You've been reading (and will read some more in the days to come) about some of the difficulties we've had here on the ranch. Equipment and vehicles constantly down for some reason, flooding that refused to go away, colder weather than even the old-timers are used to after so many warm-ish years (in comparison -- I do not admit they are warm), animals we've lost or almost lost, illnesses and injuries, contractors that don't show up for work, on and on and on.We even had to fight over increases in taxes at more than 100%! And as she sat there and fought me in the adjustment hearing, she knew she'd be sending me more notices this year; I can't even bring myself to open the documents yet, it makes me so angry.

The Parson and River Song are finally on-site next door, but we went thtough every contractor and government inspector in order to get their septic put together -- now that so many "experts" are required to certify these things, no one wants to actually do any work, thanks to our socialist county. But they're here. Now that we're heading into winter, we'll see how their systems hold up. They've done this before -- living in a semi-permanent fifth-wheel situation -- but the ranch seems to have an uncanny knack for making easy things difficult. They even picked up one of our kittens, so hopefully the three of them settle in for a warm winter life up there on the hill.

Curmudgeon and Bones are heading into their second winter experiment in their trailer. Last winter was brutal, and we got used to them visiting our "facilities" in their jammies. Many lessons were learned, more problems discovered, and several plans put into motion, so we'll hope this winter is easier. They love being out near the cows, usually on the deck away from the rattlesnakes and facing our wraparound sunsets with no other houses in sight.

We now have two and a half horses living out here. Our two quarter horses and Squirrel's two quarter horses equal one total, right? And then an old white Arabian and a Shetland pony, so 2 1/2. At one point, my older Red went down with colic, but fought through it just fine. Everyone had hoof trouble with the flooding, but we managed not to let anyone go lame. We learned to inject colloidal silver into abscesses on hooves, and to make excellent hoof boots out of disposable diapers and cheap duck tape. We learned how much hay we really need over winter, to not leave the hose to siphon the water trough back into the well, to rotate pasture usage (now that there are so many horses), and how to let herd dynamics work to our advantage. We learned that ground that looks normal can actually function like quicksand when a horse steps on it, and that horses love their owners enough to try not to land on them. Our love for our farrier and vet was confirmed.

The new addition to the farm last fall was the goat, then more goats, then the four more than were born in February and March, bringing our little herd to nine. We learned about separating mamas and babies from the rest of the herd, about separating bucks from the herd, about protecting tender ears in winter and giving more minerals in summer, about selling off the bucklings, about taming the wild ones, and about exactly how much a goat can eat that you really wanted to keep in the landscape. We spent far too much time fixing fence, rounding up the herd, letting them run free but in the way, and then trying to keep them separated. In all, the current six goats will soon dwindle to four and then the baby goat season will hit before the weather warms again.

The aviary has had quite a bit of change this year. We lost the vast majority of last year's birds to a devious coyote who escaped our notice til about February; this included the turkeys. We brought in about 25 muscovy ducks; turns out we only have two drakes, and the whole batch of them might be fairly inbred. We added a pilgrim goose and his best friend, a black cayuga drake. And then we added a pair of grey stripe geese. Quite a busy little pen out there! We opted to let the birds get broody and raise their own little ones, but we only saw maybe ten total chicks all year, and maybe only two have survived. We confirmed they were being killed by nasty duck queens, when the ducklings started dying at an even faster rate. We saved three beautiful muscovies with blue beaks, but learned they may not be able to breed. The full pond was a huge hit for the ducks, and we think we've found a way to keep it at least swimmable for most of the year. Bones has taken on the care of the birds as her special project -- such a great idea!

The indoor cats included a batch of five kittens born to one of our grey girls, and a very large older "kitten" (now an outdoor huge boy at not even a year old) who loved to play with them. The outdoor cats suffered huge losses from illness this year. I have yet to find any illness that matches the symptoms, so we'll have to visit the vet soon. Right now, we're down to three indoor cats, one indoor-outdoor "kitten," five friendly/touchable outdoor cats, and seven wild outdoor cats. I know there are some living out in the barns that have only been seen once or twice, but that's really still not enough for this whole place.

The dogs are doing well, on the other hand. The older pyr is still having joint issues, but loves this cold weather and seems to be more agile this time of year; she is going somewhat blind and deaf, just reacting to things slower. The younger maremma/anatolian has really come into her own. She is responsible, loving, and yet on guard 24/7. She protects everyone out here, not just us and the animals. We're hoping to get another younger livestock guardian dog to give her a little more help, and let the older girl rest comfortably.

Not much canning got done this year; that will be in my next post. Too many injuries and problems kept me out of the kitchen or away from the gleaning fields. Thankfully, we have plenty of most things stored up to get us through this winter too.

The majority of the projects around here -- other than the Parson's septic system and electrical hookups -- was centered on water abatement and building up the roads. We fixed the cattleguard a couple times, and put in the new culvert under the driveway. We added more gravel to bare areas  of the road and filled in potholes.

The only thing that happened in the house was the switching of the doors -- somewhat successful, but a frustrating project. There just hasn't been any time or ability to do anything more.

So, like I said, not a great year. Not even a so-so year. We're just grateful it's almost over.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Home at Last

They're here! The Parson and River Song are finally on-site!

It was a long almost-two years. There were far too many government-induced interruptions and delays. There were far too many local flakes masquerading as contractors. There was a scary winter or two where nothing productive happened. But here they were at last.

The Party Bus -- all aboard!
We have a huge group of friends between the two families, but for some reason, everyone was busy on the scheduled move-out day. It ended up being just the two of them, the two of us, and Uncle Si moving most of a lifetime of stuff from their rental thirty minutes away. It wasn't as efficient as our normal moving skills, but it happened.

And the Party Bus was a big part of that success. Parson and River Song had purchased this used community transport months earlier. The thought was that trucks and dozer buckets are great for ranch work, but sometimes things need to be transported in covered conditions, whether they be paper goods or people. He was right, and this was the perfect use for this vehicle.

I loved the thought of how that bus looked driving through town. Next time, it will be people and we'll be having a great party inside, because now our friends are here!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Country Science Fun

There are some major benefits to living in the country. Lack of oversight by nosy environmentalists being one of them.

We used to have a tree in the front yard, a giant elm named Clarence. (Search under the tag "big trees" for the post on his removal.) When he was removed, we tried to make sure his roots were gone as well, but by means that didn't involve burning them out. Because of the house and other flammable, important things nearby, you know. But it was a sciency bummer.

We're science geeks. We admit it. Munchkin grew up waiting for those moments when something broke down so we'd let her take it apart and see how it works. Dude is the mechanical/electrical/physical science kind of guy, handy when things break down, making everything last far longer than it should before tossing it to Munchkin. I, on the other hand, am more of a theoretical scientist. I love all the facts, but I'm less adept at "how stuff works" at the practical level.

That doesn't apply to fire. I love fire. Not in that creepy arsonist way. Just in the fascination/love of this amazing natural element. It provides heat. It destroys waste. It's useful in so many ways, from cooking to metalwork to combustion engines. (I think... do combustion engines really involve fire? I'll have to ask my experts....) My point is: fire is the fun side of science.

So when ant nests started showing up at the front step, right where Clarence used to stand, we turned to our favorite science tool. We had burned out giant red-ant nests in the past; we couldn't have our farm animals being bit by little nasties. It worked well. And then we read about fun things like pouring molten metal into underground ant nests, which is an amazing visual of how extensive these nests can be. Someday, we'll be able to make one of those things... maybe I'll display it in the garden... but I digress yet again.

I saw two small holes in the earth. Ants were scurrying in and out of them, moving in their eggs and food supplies from whatever previous homestead they had abandoned. I couldn't have that. If they were allowed to domesticate the front yard, they'd soon be in the kitchen during canning season. Unacceptable.

So Munchkin gathered up some old gas (every farm has some) and poured a little into the holes. If the ants were there, I surmised, the roots weren't. So it was safe, right? Out came the super-long matches and fire was accomplished. I basked in the minor glow of flaming insects and waited for the fire to dissipate.

When the flames subsided, I danced past the spot to return the gas can (yes, I was that delighted). A small flame shot up next to my shoe! Really? Oh, this is too much fun! I called Munchkin and Dude back to the front door to see my new favorite pasttime. As I was jumping up and down all around the two entrance holes, a third one erupted nearby. The ant nest was already fairly expansive, I guess. So like any safe person, I continued to jump on the small patch of ground that thankfully resisted collapsing beneath me.

Cheap, sick fun. But mission accomplished. No ants in the kitchen or in the front yard. Science fun had. Safety precautions demonstrated to the teenager. All good.

We love the country!


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Springy Thingies

Washed out Tiny Town
It was a whole 'nother world. (Such a strange phrase... so non-grammatical and hillbilly-ish. But all too common... Enough musings... back to the post...)

It had been drought-ish for so long. I had never seen the ranch in wet conditions. And other places around us were different too. It was a constant discovery of new features in the landscape we had never seen before.

Flowing falls
The tiny town we had to cross on the way to the Big City was flooded every spring as the canal system was filled, but this was different. The road that crossed the usually-damp-but-passable creek bed was now a torrent of flowing water, so much so that they had to barricade the road. The crazy people, like Curmudgeon, drove through it anyway. He almost didn't make it across, to Bones' chagrin. It was out for weeks.

Further north, the valley walls showed off new waterfalls. In April, we counted at least 26 major ones in the short 31 miles to the next town. By the way, stopping to photographs these falls, when you're stuck between a giant lake and vertical rock walls, is dangerous. Just a tip for ya....

Driving these familiar desert roads, we were familiar with hollows that we assumed had water back when the great flood that carved this area happened. But we had never seen them full, or even wet, for that matter. Now they were overflowing and beginning to brim with bugs and birds and blooms.

Filled hollows
Dude as photographer
Dude began the annual flower documentation. Besides sharing some of those here on the blog, we have no idea why we keep these thousands of flower pics. Such tiny, delicate plants in such harsh conditions. Such brilliant life in the midst of what most passers-by think is just dry, brown desert death. The odd thing we discovered this year was that the flower season was compacted -- the whole season (usually March to July) compressed into a shorter span (April to June). Flowers that never touched were this year playing together in wildly-diverse fields of color. We photographed new flowers we'd never seen before, and searched in vain for some that never appeared.

It was surreal.

And as our regular lives dragged on -- a car accident, a new job, Munchkin's first year of public school and FBLA competitions, family and church and hobby activities, and just life in general -- there was this continuing sense of awe that streaked through it all. Yes, we were discontented because we couldn't get anything done that was already on the this-much-to-do list. But it was beautiful and shocking and memorable.
New flower

Springy Thingies
I hope you can listen to this little video -- it's more of an audio track. Sixty seconds of frogs and crickets and the soothing night sounds that make it so lovely out here. Springy thingies and their lovely songs of peace and hope and love...







Thursday, November 23, 2017

Ranch Rainbows

We didn't have many storms this year. Even the thunderstorms were few and somewhat lackluster (with one exception). This pic is from March. A beautiful double rainbow, mirrored in the flooding in the horse pasture. Enjoy!