Life on the Farm

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A Christmas pony for Ann has maybe launched a new source of income for us! We live at the edge of a tiny town of 200 people, three churches and one grocery-feed store. While making a deal for the pony with the owners of the store I noticed two new, bare sideboards along the bed of their pickup truck. I asked if I could try painting the boards and found the store owners more than agreeable.

I had to prime and put two coats of enamel on the 8′ X 12″ boards and that was a lot of work but the lettering didn’t take long and (if I do say so) came out very professional looking. I added a couple of really nice horse heads and . . . the signs are a success! I am suddenly–and accidently–the Rayville Sign Painter. The store owners have two more signs for me to do now and they want me to try painting the truck doors when I get the proper supplies. A businessman in the next town wants two billboard-sized signs lettered and Keith will help me with big jobs like that. Yes, two truck boards for one pony is pretty cheap sign painting but I like working for barter. I’ll do it whenever I can and I’m going to try for pony feed next.

Our apple trees arrived the first week in November and we immediately planted all 15. I wonder if we’ll be around to eat the fruit in eight or ten years? Three days after we planted the trees, the goats got out and, yep, had a lunch of apple tree bark. The goats nibbled on five and all still have a few shreds of the vital outer bark layer connecting the top to the roots. We won’t know how seriously the trees are damaged until spring but we’re not taking any chances on a repeat performance of this “orchard party”: Isadore, our goat leader, is now wearing a Y-shaped hickory branch tied around her neck. It’s too big to allow any fence sneakin’ but doesn’t otherwise impair her mobility. What we really need, of course, is four-foot woven wire fencing around our goat pasture, but we can’t afford it right now.

We bought a semi-fresh little goat with Nubian characteristics (drooping ears and arched nose) for $10. I say semi-fresh (fresh means giving milk now) because she was–and is–producing just one pint of milk a day. I thought I could increase that so I milked her morning and night and even bought and fed her some sure-fire, whizbang, high protein, milk producin’ feed . . . but after two weeks of this program I was still netting one pint of milk a day. Now that the weather is colder and I’ve given up the night milking (the ending of daylight saving time made the evenings suddenly dark), I continue getting my daily pint . . . but in one milking instead of two.

Some folks wonder why I bother to milk for that solitary pint (our other goats are dry). I do it because the morning milking gives me a reason to get out early and start my chores at a regular time every day . . . and I really don’t want to miss a single morning out there. I don’t want to miss the frost on the weed tops, the wintry colors rich in the early sun, the shadows lengthened to the west . . . and there’s the warmth of the udder, the froth of the milk, the sounds of the goats chewing and the rumblings from their myriad, mysterious stomachs. Well, what I really want to say is that it’s worth the pint of milk.

We’ve had two of our dry goats bred and they’ll freshen in February and March. The other two will be bred to freshen in the fall and this should supply us with year-round milk. We’ll see. An experienced farming lady suggested we try churning whole goat’s milk (since very little cream rises on it) and I tried. From one of my pints of milk I got delicious snow-white butter . . . one tablespoon!

When mechanical corn pickers go through a field they sometimes leave as much as 50% of the corn on the ground. Most farmers turn cattle into the fields after the picker but, occasionally, so much corn is left that the cattle will eat too much and get sick. So, with permission, you can go into many farm fields and pick up all the corn you want just for the labor. Around here it’s called scrappin’. We scrapped one cold afternoon and harvested about six bushels. We want to go again if it warms up enough for the kids to be out that long.

We bought our Thanksgiving turkey in the feathers this year and killed and dressed him in the old time way. He was very heavy (30 lbs. plus) and hard to hold but easy to pluck. This fresh turkey was the best we’ve ever had.

Since our experience with the turkey we’ve prepared about 15 chickens for the freezer and we’ve just about figured out plucking. The water has to be hot, but not so hot that it softens the skin and makes it tear when you pull out the feathers. It helps if you dip the chickens into cold water immediately after you scald them.

We’ve just read the Nearings’ LIVING THE GOOD LIFE and we learned a lot–mainly about the importance of some order and organization–from that book. I hope the Ray County Library has some of the books listed in its five page bibliography. Right now we’re waiting semi-patiently for DOMEBOOK ONE to arrive and we’re anticipating the construction of a dome with high fervor!

I wonder if other “artist-turned-homesteader” types find that their creative impulses are now turned to food and shelter for family and livestock . . . that paintings are somehow not very practical or real in this basic way of living. They make good patches for chicken houses, though. I suppose we’ll come back around to painting eventually but, right now, living is so rich and full with discovering the beauty of the life our parents and grandparents traded in on success. I wonder what our children will do?

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