Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Field Day.

Posted on | July 20, 2015 | 3 Comments

For years we’ve had a “pasture” that ran under the telephone lines and beside the driveway.  It was only loosely called a pasture because it didn’t grow any grass.  Mostly it was leaf debris, weeds, scrub, and large bare patches.

But it was useful in a pinch as a breeding pen or quarantine area for new animals.  And because it had a fence around it we didn’t have to mow it or landscape the area.  The fence made it a “pasture.”  You don’t landscape a pasture, people.  That’s craziness.

Of course, every year the brush eventually grew to intolerable heights and, worse, vines started growing on the fence line.  Since the entire point of the pasture was to make it a low maintenance space, we just put the goats on it and they always munched it back into submission.  But this year, The Other Half was determined to convert the land into a real pasture.  With grass.  Grass to cut the feed bills for the sheep and the fat pony.  I was all for this development.  Until he started it in May.

“Nope, no way,”  I told him.  “You can’t grow grass in May.”

I typically handle the raking, seeding, and fertilizing of the pathetic “lawns” in the shady front and back yard.  I’ve learned the hard way that the only chance at growing grass in the south is planting in the fall and then overseeding it in March.  Even then the timing can be tricky.  If the grass isn’t fully established before the leaf drop you risk either pulling out tender starts with the rake or the new grass getting smothered by the leaf debris.  Planting winter rye after the leaves are raked and gone doesn’t resolve the issue because if there are heavy winter rains the seed will get washed off our hillside long before it sprouts.  And some springs it gets so hot and dry so fast that any grass that grows withers and dies anyway.  I’ve reseeded after rain more times than I care to remember and spent too many Aprils frantically watering new grass when heat arrives early.

But The Other Half persevered.  He leveled the hillside with the tractor and moved topsoil into place.  Which, for the record, is cheating.  Then after seeding the space, he covered it with straw to hold it in place and conserve water.  Which, for the record, is showing off.

But still I shook my head sadly.

“No way that’s gonna survive.  It’s May.  Better roll a hose along the driveway.  You’re gonna need it.”

Then we had a lovely spring of 80 degree days interspersed with gentle rain showers for several weeks.  Which was exactly what it took to grow a pasture.

Too bad the country frowns upon grass.  The country hates grass.  The country says, “This ain’t the suburbs, you yuppie.”  So after a few weeks of beautiful grass, we had this:

Which upon closer inspection,  is this:

and this:

and a whole lot of this:

So before the sheep and fat pony were put out to graze, the bucks were called into action.  The bucks are normally confined to a wooded section of land in the back corner of the property.  Boring.

I knew they’d enjoy a chance to browse down the weeds, leaving the grass intact.  The only problem was that putting the bucks in the new pasture required a quick inspection of the fence line.

“Make sure you don’t wear flip flops when you’re walking that fence line,”  instructed The Other Half before leaving for work.

Please.

As soon as I finished the morning milking, completed the barn chores, and fed the pigs, I tossed a spare water trough into the pasture and used the garden hose to let it fill.  I scanned the fence that ran along the driveway and then paused at the start of the woods where the fence ran along the property line.  I thought about going back up the driveway and into the house for my boots.  But I decided walking slowly and carefully in flip flops was just as safe as wearing boots.  Probably.  Maybe.  Eh.  What were the odds that I wouldn’t see a copperhead on this ground before he saw me?

I moved cautiously into the woods, watching my feet.  I immediately realized my first mistake as a spiderweb spread across my face, probably releasing its spider into my ear to lay eggs and cause spider babies to come out my tear ducts in a couple weeks.  I wanted to run but I couldn’t run because I had on flip flops and I couldn’t check for snakes and run at the same time.  I settled for waving my arms frantically around my face to clear the spiderweb while making scared grunting noises.    When I peeled the last strand of web off my hair, I waited to catch my breath and congratulated myself on not panicking and rushing into a snakebite.  Although, on second thought, the furious arm-waving was a bit risky, too.  There have been several large yellow jacket nests in these woods and I certainly didn’t want to risk pissing off a nest of bees by flailing around.

I slowly and carefully removed a branch from the ground to use as a web catcher and, holding it in front of my face, continued to advance to where I could see the fence in the tree line.  I kept one eye on the ground for snakes and one eye on the branch for any angry spiders.  Which didn’t leave a lot of vision left for checking the fence.  Checking the fence in the woods is more complicated than most people expect.

I arrived at a pile of leftover topsoil The Other Half had pushed into the edge of the woods that was blocking my path.  It was filled with lots of suspicious holes.

Snakes like holes in soft dirt.  Yellow jackets like holes in soft dirt.  I skirted the very edge of the pile and carefully climbed along the ridge where I could still see the fence line.  I had just survived the alarming sinking of my flip flops into the the top inch of soil when a loud buzzing began around my head.

“No!”  I yelled, waving my branch.  “No!  You can’t scare me.  I know the sound of a horsefly when I hear one.  You’re not a yellow jacket.  Beat it!”  I caught a flash of his green eyes in my peripheral vision.  “Scram!”  I yelled, taking a vigorous swing in his direction.  Which is when something bit me on the back of the knee.

A part of my brain told me that was a little too high for snake bite.  Another part of my brain mentioned the fact that since I felt the bite through the material of my old maternity leggings used for barn chores it was probably more serious than just the bite of a horsefly.  A third particularly annoying part of my brain recalled that time I pounded a T-post into an underground yellow jackets nest and I had to rip off my shirt and throw it aside as I raced up the driveway because the bees got under my clothes.  Regardless, all 3 parts were left behind to discuss it amongst themselves as I charged screaming through the woods, dropping my branch, my flip flops kicking through leaf piles, and spiderwebs building up in my contact lenses as a fourth part of my brain sighed in disappointment and said, “So much for watching for copperheads.”

I might have made it out of the woods and into safety.  Maybe.  Probably.  But I was stopped cold at the Rock Wall O’ Hidden Danger.  There have been many occasions when The Other Half had a tractor to work on some heavy chores and offered to dig out a section of large old boulders nestled in the woods.  But I’ve always told him to leave them alone.  Because they’re “pretty” and “natural” and “they add winter interest when the leaves are down.”

I’ve regretted it every time I have to scout the fence line and climb over a bunch of slippery-slided rocks with their bases hidden in leaves and fallen tree limbs.  Regardless, no matter how much of my frontal lobe I left on that dirt pile, my reptilian brain slammed on the brakes at the sight of that death trap.

I stood there, trying to listen for buzzing over my pounding heart rate while the rest of my brain caught up and analyzed the situation.  Yep, the buzzing was gone.  The webs draped over my face and in my hair did not appear to contain any murderous spiders.  My feet were, miraculously, unharmed.  BUT.  Whatever bit me was still lodged against the back of my knee.  And it was inside my clothing.  While I was still flooded with enough adrenaline to manage it, I slapped my hand against the intruder, pinning it to my leg in an attempt to squash it before it struck again.

It didn’t squash but it didn’t bite me again either.  Through the fabric of my old maternity leggings I could feel a hard shield-shaped shell.  I pinched it between my fingers to keep it off my skin and kill it, but it still wouldn’t squash.

“A beetle!”  determined my brain.  “There’s a freakin’ beetle in my pants!”

And my brain went into Google Panic.  Which is like Google except there are no reassuring answers, just scary questions.  Like:

And:

And:

And:

With no other options, I kept the beetle pinned with one hand while I used the other hand to slide my leggings up to my knee.  I slowly and carefully lifted the cotton fabric over my pinched fingers, then dropped the beetle to the ground and quickly took a few steps away.  It fell to the ground and didn’t move.  I leaned over and peered closer.

It was tiny chunk of dog biscuit.

There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for that.

See, every morning when I do the barn chores, I bring the Great Pyrs, Bella and Bruno, a dog biscuit from the box in the kitchen pantry.  I don’t give them the biscuit until after they’ve eaten their dog food.  I just put the biscuits in my pants pocket for later and usually, while I’m milking, Bella and Bruno finish eating and line up at the milk gate for their treat.  Then I hand them each a biscuit and thank them for taking care of the critters overnight.  When I wear my old maternity leggings (which don’t have pockets) I just stick the biscuits under the elastic waist band.  A biscuit crumb must have been left under the waistband after I passed out dog biscuits that morning.  The vigorous branch-waving at the horsefly must have dislodged it, causing it to fall down to the back of my knee, where it got stuck again.  And in my hyper-excitable fence-checking state it felt like it “bit” me.

As to why I’m still wearing old maternity leggings when my youngest child is ten years old, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for that, too.

Um……, actually, no.  Nope. Got nothing.  Eh.

Relieved it was just a piece of biscuit, I climbed over the rocks and completed my fence inspection.  Turned out there was just one spot where I had to dislodge a tree branch and use some baling twine to tie the field fencing back to the T-post.  And bringing the bucks over wasn’t too difficult.  Since Oliver was the first one, he had to be dragged over.  Goats are herd animals and even a nice fresh pasture isn’t appealing if you’re the only goat in it.  But T.S. and Merlin trotted easily beside me when I went back to the barn to get them.  They could hear Oliver bellowing and were greatly concerned.  Or else they were pissed because he got a new pasture and they didn’t and that situation needed to be remedied immediately.  Hard to tell with bucks.  Either way, moving the bucks to the field was done in a few minutes and the bucks got to work quickly.

T.S. went straight to the offensive honeysuckle on the fence.

Merlin started on the wild muscadine.

And Oliver munched on lespedeza.

I leaned on the fence and watched the bucks enjoy the new space for a long time.

They were having a field day.

And even though it feels good to check off the many important aspects of animal care on a farm—-feed and vitamins, shelter, vaccinations, hoof trims, etc—-it feels really, really good to provide something new and exciting for the critters that spend most of their time in the same humdrum location.  Listening to them munching peacefully and watching them explore the pasture was good for the heart.  And getting the pasture cleared of weeds while giving the bucks a good time was an awesome farm two-fer.

While I was standing there I noticed that behind me the pigs had found even another use for the weeds we threw in their pen a few days ago.  Once all the yummy parts were chewed off they had pushed the remains into a nice pile for lounging.

Which turned my gardening grand slam into a successful 5 star event.  Really, who knew what kind of unlimited goodness would come of putting the bucks in the pasture?  All the spiderwebs knocked down by their meandering.  That pile of dirt butted down.  The rock wall cleared of brush.  What a wonderful thought.  Almost as good as the thought of maternity leggings with pockets. Imagine that.


Comments

3 Responses to “Field Day.”

  1. Ellen
    July 21st, 2015 @ 7:54 am

    Great post. I laughed out loud at your dog biscuit bite. Thanks for adding a bright spot to my morning.

  2. Ellen
    July 21st, 2015 @ 7:55 am

    And I’m glad the bite wasn’t more serious : )

  3. Lisa Dumain
    July 22nd, 2015 @ 8:12 am

    I laughed out loud too!! I recognize the scary grunting noises :) But please don’t go out there in flip flops.

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