Thursday, May 24, 2012

Making sure your animals are all in the right places

That seems to be the key to farming: Making sure all critters stay where they're meant to be.

This has been something of a challenge lately, as it often is in the spring of the year. Here, to prove it, is a fine photo of a human Womerlippi animal, trapped in a device meant for small chickens.

But that was the least of our problems, and easily rectified.

Once the photo was taken, that is.

The greatest problem was the ram. I'd been out early to feed, and all was well, so I went about my business, checking email and drinking coffee, prior to a planned-weeks-in-advance trip to a wind assessment site. At some point I got up to get more, and happened to look out of the back kitchen window at the ram pen, which is well-positioned so we can keep an eye on Bentley, the most dangerous of our critters..

No ram.

Not good. The gate seemed awry, to boot.

I headed out pretty fast, all thoughts of a second cup abandoned. And there was Bentley, in among the ewes and lambs, in the North Paddock, where he wasn't supposed to be.

Our ram Bentley weighs perhaps two hundred pounds and is pretty solid muscle, as well as extremely knuckle-headed. He can pretty much walk right over any normal stock fence. As a consequence we keep him in what is most easily described as a small fortress built from quarter-inch welded wire "cattle panels" five feet high, held up by very solid cedar fence posts, with two extra rings of barbed wire. In this case, the only time so far he's gotten out, he'd hammered at the weakest link, the hinges and gate-post, splintering the side of the gate where the hinges located.

The research trip was instantly postponed. Bentley was fine for now, with grass to eat and ewes to swoon over him, he'd stay in the North Paddock for the time being. But although he was obviously enjoying the new-found freedom, and the grass when normally he would eat hay, he couldn't be permitted to stay there for any length of time. As soon as he was bored, he'd walk right over the flimsy field fence and go walkabout.

I salvaged the broken gate and took it round to the door of the workshop. A quick study of my lumber stocks revealed a very solid ash-wood board, well seasoned. Thinking, "I'd like to see him try to splinter that!", I quickly built the board into the gate on the side where the hinges sat. I also reinforced the rails with plywood gussets, and generally beefed the whole thing up thoroughly.

Rehanging it was a tad tricky, given the extra twenty or so pounds of weight I'd built into it, but eventually we were able to get the gate swinging properly in place. A couple minutes extra work with hurdles to make a separating "chute," and a bucket of grain later, and we had the ram back where he should be, albeit decidedly ticked off to have his grazing and carousing curtailed.

That wasn't the end of our misplaced animal woes. We had a heck of a time getting our older ewe Jewel into the trailer for the trip to the butchers. Jewel, if readers remember, received the death sentence a few weeks ago for the crime of bullying young sheep mother Molly, but the sentence was delayed while the butchers rebuilt after a fire. All was ready, and I even managed to lure her into the barn with some grain, but some sheeply sixth sense intervened, and she easily detected me coming around the back to close the back door on her and escaped my clutches. It took a good forty minutes of assiduous work for wife and husband with temporary fence and even a dog to get her caught again. This was annoying, for sure, but I couldn't very well blame her for putting up a good fight.

 It was only the very next day when two sheep wriggled through the fence to the herb garden. And the day after that, while Aimee was training her chicks to grass, one particularly athletic young hen climbed all the way to the top of her makeshift cage.

Finally, we had two male lambs that were to be sold on for summer fattening, and that needed to be loaded for the short drive to their new home. This time things went better. I was able to catch one in the barn, and the other was caught outside with some grain.The trucking went easily, and I came back with the payment, the first farm income this year.

(There would have been some egg money, but some low-life stole it from the egg-cooler we put at the bottom of our road.)

I'd say at this point that all animals are where they're meant to be. I'm not sure for how long this situation will remain, but I am grateful for small mercies.

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