Sunday, May 6, 2018

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Two items in the category "You come a long way city girl".

  Snake season is back. I spared you the photo. They all look about the same. Long, black, sometimes black and white, four foot to six foot coiled nuisances. I know they have their positives. I am willing to sacrifice a couple of eggs if he's keeping the venomous snakes at bay. I just don't need him hanging out in the chicken coop all day eating all of my eggs. So we have an agreement; he gets an egg or two and, when I catch him, he goes out. (I realize I've gendered an animal that I don't really know the gender of. Moving along.) I have a stick I keep in the chicken coop just for snakes. It's been in the same place since last summer. It's always frustrating. I try to snag the snake with the stick in just the right spot to pick him up and toss him out, while he wiggles around trying to get away. Finally, in frustration, this time I reached out and grabbed his tail hoping to sling him out of the coop. Yes folks, I grabbed a snake. I did make note first that he was fully stretched out so his head was 4 feet away from the end I was grabbing. But still . . . .
  I once jumped, screamed and ran in the house when I found a tiny 6 inch baby snake while clearing an area to plant flowers. I made Joan go out and make sure it was gone and there was no mama or siblings before I would go back outside. I once considered moving out of our East Point house because I found a snake skin by an outside wall. I once had to be led through the snake exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium with my eyes closed because there was no other way to get to the next exhibit. But this week I grabbed a snake by the tail. Alas, I wasn't able to hold on long enough to sling it, but it did leave the nest box I'd found him in and slithered out of the chicken coop, belly full.

Part two: I have neighbors who like to shoot guns. One is usually sighting in his rifle or shooting at a target to prepare for hunting season. One is a Union City police officer (A Union City police car is frequently parked in the driveway) whom I assume is getting ready for his or her annual qualifying shoot. Based on the direction I hear it from, I assume this is the one who has at least three different calibers of weapon. I can hear the difference. One sounds like a damn cannon. This is the shooter I heard this week, the one I've heard so many times that I don't even stop what I'm doing any more. This time, my neighbor across the street, one who doesn't hunt, called to ask me if I'd heard that gunfire. His daughter wanted to go outside to play; but the gunfire made her nervous, and he suggested she stay inside. I reassured him that I knew who all gun toting neighbors are and most of them are nothing to worry about. I explained about the Union City officer that lives behind me and that I assumed this was him (or her) and that his daughter should be safe to go outside.
  I didn't tell him that the only neighbor that makes me nervous with a gun anymore is the one who lives directly behind him (In hindsight, maybe I should have). He is the only one I've known to be drunk, firing off an antique black powder gun just for fun. He's also the only one who has actually required police presence when, in our first or second year here, he threatened suicide and threatened to shoot his wife if she called the police. Our first awareness of the situation was a late night helicopter and two Fulton County police cars with blue lights flashing, sitting on the road below the hill the goats live on. I saw the blue lights as I was finishing up milking. We were planning to walk the dogs and take some eggs to a neighbor, so I walked up the road toward the police cars with my arms in the air (with a carton of eggs in one hand that looked like who knows what in the dark) to see what was going on. Both officers had their backs to me, and I think I startled them a little when I said "hello" from a distance to make myself known. One suggested that maybe we shouldn't be out walking the dogs. She would only say that a neighbor of ours was having a rough time. We found out the rest from an online news source the next day. The police had surrounded his house but he'd managed to slip away into the trees for a while before they found him. He still lives there, but I don't think his wife does. I've never really tried to get to know him.
  I will admit that New Years Eve and July 4th are kinda scary here. I usually try to stay indoors myself and worry about bullets coming back down through a roof of an animal shelter. But the rest of the year I don't worry much anymore unless a shot sounds closer than usual and comes from a different direction than I'm used to. That happened recently, and I started texting neighbors I knew had guns, hoping it was one of them, and I would get reassurance. It was none of the neighbors whose phone numbers I have, and the strongest possibility was he of the drunken firing off of a black powder gun. But it was only the one shot and nothing more. So what are you gonna do?
  I surprised myself by being the one to reassure my neighbor that this controlled gunfire was probably safe, even though some of those shots sounded like something really big. The first time I heard gunfire here, there were a lot of shots fired; some in quick succession, some more slowly. This was on a Sunday afternoon before we'd actually moved into the house, and as far as I knew at the time, there was only one other occupied house on the street. The gunfire was coming from the direction of what used to be a commercial nursery where there are some open growing areas on the back side of the property and other areas of trees convenient for hiding in, and my brain went haywire imagining things like drug deals gone bad. I called the police. When the officer showed up (quickly) she drove down the street and back (it's only about a quarter of a mile long) and reassured me that she didn't see anything. By that time the gunfire had stopped. The next time we heard lots of gunfire coming from the same direction, we were both there and agreed that it didn't sound normal (What did we know of normal out here? The only gunfire we heard in East Point usually came from Cleveland Ave and our police office neighbor and good friend would explain later what the crime in progress had been.) and called the police again. This time a different officer explained that there was a kind of unofficial shooting range in that direction and we shouldn't be concerned. They knew the folks and knew it was a safely run range. So that was the first of several directions that I learned that gunfire from there is probably okay. Now I'm kinda getting used to my neighbors' shooting habits, and I don't usually go running inside or call the police anymore. Heck I've even done some target practice here myself in the driveway, shooting at a box with a hill behind it, shortly after the second time we saw a coyote in the field next to the chicken coop.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Greenhouse update

I am proud of myself for creating a budget for the greenhouse once the money got into my account. I made a list of the materials I needed and priced them out, in some cases choosing the best price and in other cases choosing a local source I felt loyalty to. I was afraid that if I just went to Home Depot and started buying, I'd be out of money before I had everything I needed. 

The plastic I ordered from Growers' Supply is here. All I need to get now are the 16 foot cattle panels and some 12 foot lumber. For that I am relying on help from a friend with a 12 foot trailer, so I'm working on his timeline for now. I'd just borrow the truck and trailer, but I have no confidence in my ability to back them up. The person helping me with the construction is on standby until I get the last of it together. (In reality, he's in charge of construction and I'll be there to do what I can to assist.) The seedlings in the basement are holding their collective breath until they can be moved out of the currently cramped quarters.

Thanks again to everyone who made this possible in so many ways. I will be getting out the promised perks soon.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

You Don't Look Like a Farmer

“You don’t look like a farmer,” the man said to me at my farmer’s market table. “Maybe you just wear the hat.” I was wearing the cowboy hat I like to wear for markets. I didn’t feel insulted. I know that people have specific ideas of what a farmer should look like. I assured him I was a bona fide, sweating-in-the-dirt farmer, and we laughed.  I thought about the other farmers I know and wonder how close they come to his idea of “farmer”.

Two friends, each young mothers who are the primary caretakers of their small farms, one with and one without the help of her husband, they are hard working farmers. The woman who has turned her urban front yard into a garden and keeps chickens in her backyard, growing enough to sell her excess at her community’s farmer’s market; she doesn’t really look like a farmer, but she is. The young mixed race gay couple, new farmers raising chickens for eggs, and vegetables and fruits in rural Georgia to sell at city markets, individually might look like farmers, but as a family they don’t fit the stereotype.  The young brothers whose “fields” are the suburban yards of their neighbors where they grow vegetables instead of lawns. The homeowners get fresh food in compensation for the use of their yards with plenty leftover to sell at markets. They look like farmers, but are farming in a very unconventional, un-stereotypical way. There’s my friend who raises chickens and bees on a ⅕ acre suburban homestead with her husband. She starts seeds in her basement and has turned their backyard into a nursery, selling the plants she started in the basement to home gardeners and other farmers. She has the heart and soul of a farmer and dreams of acreage.

I did a Google search on “farmer” and the overwhelming majority of images were white men between about 40 and 70 years old. In the first 50 images only two were female and ten were people of color. An interesting side note, one was Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, a local farming luminary, who would fit most people’s stereotype of farmer but seems to be fast becoming more of a businessman and farm facilitator, enabling his daughters, their families and other young farmer wannabes to keep the dream of regenerative farming alive.

My paternal grandfather was a farmer, and he fit the image. My grandmother would have been called a farm wife. But she was the one on the farm all day, weeding the garden, tying up tomato plants, walking the pastures to check on the cows and collecting eggs from the chickens. She was really no less a farmer just because she also did the laundry, cooked breakfast and supper and “put up” (canned) the beans and tomatoes the garden produced. But she didn’t “look like a farmer”. In my young mind at the time, my grandfather’s full time day job supplemented their farm income to raise to raise four children (and later to entertain their families at holidays and keep 12 grandchildren at overlapping times in the summer as if they were running a summer camp). The reality was that my grandfather had a full time job, originally with the TVA and later with a zinc mine company in east Tennessee, to support his family; the farm was “on the side” and without his full-time income and his and my grandmother’s hard work, there might not have been a farm by the time I came along.

I’ve learned that the stereotype of farmer actually varies depending on your culture. My stereotypical farmer was a white man, middle-aged, in overalls and a gimme cap with a tractor or tobacco logo above the bill and pull-on, knee-high, rubber, water-proof work boots. Maybe he had a little chew of tobacco in his cheek once in awhile or smoked a pipe like my grandfather did. The man who told me I didn’t look like a farmer was an older, African-American. In my newly acquired and limited experience, I’m guessing that  his cultural stereotypical image of farmer may be closer to what I’ve always called a “cowboy”: cowboy hat, denim jeans or overalls and well-worn cowboy boots. A stereotypical rice farmer in the Philippines (a few of them showed up in my search) wears a wide-brimmed straw hat, short pants and works barefoot, knee deep in water.

The thing that these stereotypes all have in common is that they are male. Farm women in heterosexual relationships have always worked beside their men, just as hard as the men, gotten just as dirty and sweaty, but are defined by the time they take out to bear children and cook meals. According to the 2012 census of agriculture, women are a growing force in farming, making up 30% of this country’s farm operators nationally (14% of principal farm operators are women). I wonder how much of that is an increase in women working on the farm and how much is simply an increase in women who have always worked on the farm finally beginning to identify themselves as farmers?

From the 2012 census we also learn that the average age of farm operators at the time was 58 and that the numbers of farmers 55 and older had increased since 2007 while the number of farmers 45 and younger had decreased. But I think we’re seeing a change in that trend. As anecdotal observation, it seems to me that there is a rise in younger people and women becoming small farm operators, in particular in the arena of sustainable and organic agriculture. Check out your local farmer’s market and look at the people behind those tables. They aren’t there for eye candy. They are usually the farmers. If not the principal farmer, they are generally at least a farm worker.

But it takes longer for stereotypes to change than it does for reality to change. A friend, who is the principal farmer at her hog farm, told me that she makes sure her business partner on the farm, a man who “looks like a farmer” but isn’t, goes to the markets once in awhile so the customers think they are talking to the “farmer”. So what does a farmer really look like? A farmer looks like me, and maybe you.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


There is a dead hen in the basement waiting for me to do something with her. When I opened the coop this morning, she was on the floor stuck in a place she couldn't get out of, unable to walk or even stand. But somehow she had made her way across the floor about 10 feet from the spot she slept in last night. I carried her to the isolation pen we keep in the basement for sick birds. Her hind quarter was a mess so I cleaned her up with a warm, wet towel, left her water and food and finished feeding the birds, goats and dogs (cats get fed earliest). All morning as I worked through the animals I knew I was going to have to euthanize her. When and how to do that was in the back of my mind throughout morning animal care.

A few months ago she fell climbing up or down on the roosting bars. I don't know which. I found her that morning, again as I was opening the coop, hanging with her foot caught between the lowest roost and the ladder leading to them. That morning I gently untangled her and put her to the side of the coop in an area where she could rest without being in the cross path of the other chickens. I checked on her frequently until she managed to walk to the feeder. She limped and stumbled around for a couple of days, seeming determined to get on with life. I admired her guts. The foot that had been caught was swollen and eventually both feet swelled up some, but walking seemed to get a little easier for her. I checked for bumble foot, but that wasn't it. She was getting around fine, she just didn't go far from the coop. I knew she was eating and drinking, and the other chickens weren't picking at her the way birds sometimes do to a weak one. So I let her go. She was a feisty old broad. More than once I saw her peck at a younger hen getting between her and the food, and she seemed to be avoiding the roosters pretty well.

So this morning I was sad to know that she had reached the end of her happy life (I'm not telling you the full details of why I knew she would not recover. If you want to know you can ask.) It's not like it would be the first time I have killed a chicken. Usually the killing is for meat. But this old girl was one of the 5, one of the last of the 5, that we brought with us from the city to the farm, and she was clearly determined to hang in there as long as she could. But she saved me the trouble. After feeding the dogs and letting them out, I checked on her as I was taking hay to the goats. She was face down in her food, having struggled to the end. I decided I would need breakfast and coffee, lots of coffee, before disposing of her. What I'd like to do is grab a trash bag and toss her in the trash for Friday morning pick-up. But instead I will dig a hole under the long-term compost pile and bury her there. She will continue to be part of the farm.

Then I have a market to harvest for, so no time to dally. Don't be sorry for my loss. It's part of farming. She was an admirable old bird.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Co-parenting hens?

I'm fascinated by the animals' parenting habits. I've noticed the last couple of days that the little white Americauna hen comes down from the goat pen in the afternoon for a break from the eggs. She eats, drinks and dust bathes (and fends off the advances of a rooster). Today when I noticed that she was off the nest I rushed up to the goat stall (where she's been nesting under a platform) to see how many eggs she was sitting on. That's when I discovered that while she was on break, one of her sisters was on the nest.
I don't know if they are co-parenting the eggs or if the brown hen was just using the nest to lay while her sister was off of it. When the ducks hatched ducklings in a rose bush a couple of years ago, we noticed one duck missing for a day or two. I hoped she had gone broody and was sitting on eggs, but didn't know where she was. Later I realized that the two females were alternating on the eggs. The first showed back up and the other disappeared and vice versa. Near the end they both stayed with the eggs until they hatched. The only other hen hatch we've had was a New Hampshire Red who went broody in the chicken coop. She didn't have to go far to eat and drink, so there was no need for her nest to be covered while she was gone. (All speculation here.)

After a few minutes the white hen heads back up the hill. Finding her sister still on the nest, she loiters around the goat pen for a while and then runs back down the hill. I was ready to give up. I thought maybe she didn't want to go to the nest while I was watching. When she went back up to the goat pen, I stayed away but close enough to watch. She scratched around the stall for a few minutes until her sister came off the nest. Then they both ran back down the hill leaving the nest empty. I'm not even speculating about that. I put out more food and took my chance to see how many eggs they have. There are 4 Americauna eggs (light blue) and the three brown ones I added yesterday. I think one of the brown eggs is a Salmon Faverolle (lighter brown and smaller). My goal here is to produce an olive egger hen. I've read that mixing a brown egg layer breed with blue egg breed can produce an olive egg laying hen. One rooster is Americauna and the other is New Hampshire Red/Faverolle mix so my chances are good unless they are all boys (unlikely). Then we have meat. Hard to lose.
After she had enough to eat, the white hen went back up to the nest and settled back on it. I'm pretty sure she spent the night in the goat stall on the nest Wednesday night. I know she did last night, so 19 (or so) days to go. Fingers crossed.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Little Duck

The little duck stands in the middle of the yard, looking around, and wondering how he got here. Something in his head is telling him he should be flying somewhere as the days get shorter and the weather turns colder, but he isn’t sure where. The only flying he’s done is a few feet, or sometimes yards, at a time. All he knows is what’s here. He grew up here, made friends here, and stays here all year. His instincts tell him there is a large body of water he should be floating on with a flock of birds who look just like him. But he’s never seen this body of water and doesn’t remember any other ducks who look just like him. There is water here, small pools, but enough to float on once in awhile, enough to splash in cleaning himself off, plenty to drink.

There are two girl ducks who live here, following him around, bobbing their heads flirtatiously. They don’t look exactly like him, but close enough. He looks out for them when they eat or find a hiding place to lay an egg. There are two bullies here, guineas, who are noisy and chase them away from food sometimes. But they've learned to avoid the bullies when they can, and food is everywhere. The chickens mostly ignore him and his girlfriends, and there is lots of space to wander around all day eating and chatting with the girls. Sometimes they even wander up to the goat pen where there is more water, more mud to dig into and more bugs to eat. The goats ignore them, too.

At night they sleep on the floor of the big coop where the chickens all sleep high up on roosts. They are closed in and safe in a dry corner together. In the morning they run out, anxious to trek around and find more food. Really, why does he need to fly anywhere when all he needs is here?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Car lights in the rain

From the top of my hill in the goat pen I can hear the cars and see the headlights through the trees on highway 92. It's only a two lane road but it's a major thoroughfare between Douglasville and Fairburn and on to Fayetteville, and it's always busy. On a night like tonight, in misty rain and cold, I remember traveling in the back seat of my father's Ford station wagon on roads like this to his parents' farm in east Tennessee. My eyes always glued to window watching the lights of houses shining through the trees, I speculated about what went on behind those windows. Was there a family? Were there children? What were they like?

In my childhood Christmas time was like this, cold and rainy, and travel happened at night. If I was lucky there would be reindeer lights on a rooftop or Santa outlined in lights on a lawn, sometimes a bright tree through a window. It was a ride of great anticipation. My brother and sister might be sleeping on the seat beside me, but I couldn't sleep.

No matter what time we got there, my grandparents would be awake and ready with hugs to greet us. There would be strings of lights around the living room windows and steaming hot chocolate on the stove. The next day we would walk out to the fields and find the perfect tree to cut and bring back to the house for decorating, maybe my grandfather would shoot mistletoe out of a tree with his shotgun. Presents would magically appear under the tree over the next few days. I spent days running through fields of cows and crossing barbed wire fences onto neighboring farms, knowing that if they saw me they'd know who I was and to whom I belonged, or climbing the split log walls of the old barn and playing in tall stacks of hay bales. In the evening I loved sitting on the basement steps to watch my grandfather shovel coal into the big pot bellied heater burning warmth through the house while my grandmother worked her magic at the stove with meat and vegetables that often originated on that farm.

Funny how car lights on a rainy road can sometimes bring back the best memories of your life.