Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Three Swans and a Butterfly

At the beginning of March I commented that due to the extremely "lamb"-like beginning to the month I was worried about a potential "saber tooth cat"-like month end. Well despite about a week's worth of the return of winter, spring continues its return earlier and warmer than normal. Many Canada geese have been back for a couple of weeks now, struggling in the still foot-deep snow (in many places), gathering in large numbers on the few fields that are mostly free of snow in order to scratch up a bit of left-over grain from last year`s harvest. Crows and seagulls have returned and the ravens are in aggressive mating mode. But today I saw two especially early returnees.

A familiar noise drew my gaze out over the lake where I saw, sure enough, at least 3 Trumpeter swans flying away. It was a lovely sight, the three large and long winged birds glinting in the sun and flying low over the white of the snow. Then a couple of hours later I was absolutely shocked as a black and red butterfly came fluttering from somewhere. I actually laughed out loud as most of the ground on our farm is still covered in snow, making this a rather absurd sight. Unfortunately, we are still getting temperatures well below freezing at night so I doubt this pretty thing will live longer than the day. I`m thankful that it flitted into my life during its own brief one.

Spring offers so many of these uplifting moments, the return of colors and new life, etc etc. The son is so bright and warm, the sky so blue, that it`s easy to forget that our world continues to grow more and more dark. If we are in balance, we can breathe in the fresh beauty...taking strength to face the growing dark, to prepare ourselves. Those many who seem so very far from balanced, who do not even seem to be awake, revel in these bright novelties. They are a more comfortable sand in which to bury one`s head to the harsher realities.

I am sometimes, ok often, infuriated by this fact. It is the very reason that the world grows more dark. Thankfully this fury is short-lived and then I shift back to a kind of pity. It is a real shame that these people may never truly enjoy the sheer joy of something like three swans and a butterfly on a bright early spring day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sometimes I Think I Need The Couch

The hardest part of returning to the family farm is the reason I left in the first place. My dad and I have a very hard time working together. This is hardly a rare situation but that doesn't make it any easier to struggle through. The only real difference is now that I am well into adulthood, as opposed to the hormone driven 19 year old who walked away those years ago, and now I am at least a little better at not losing my temper. And dad is much older so our confrontations are no longer physical.

I'm not really interested in getting into the psychology of the matter, and there is a lot of it, for both of least not today. In all honesty, the biggest reason I keep this blog semi-autonomous is so that I can speak as openly as I would like to, which I just don't think I could do if I knew that friends and family might wander through at any time. This is an issue upon which I have begun to write many times, but which I am still not quite ready to delve into just yet. But for the purposes of this post, suffice it to say that while I love my father...he is a very difficult man. Its not ALL his fault, I accept my share of our issues, but I feel a significant amount of the fault lies in his his mother (my grandmother) and his siblings (both older). The result is that I have a 70 year old father who can be very juvenile and defensive in his interpersonal dealings, especially in regards to his wife and children.

Now I am not new to our family, I have been handling this situation for years. It was either that or not be around at all...and that's just not in me. But now that we are working so closely together and I am trying to guide us all into moving forward (rather than the "treading water" which has been occurring for at least a decade), well it is sometimes nearly impossible to handle.

Let me give an example or two before I move into the point of the post.

First of all, dad thought that mom and I were full of shit when we started talking about trying to sell the products of the farm as "direct to market" as possible. He didn't think we would be able to find enough customers for eggs or beef. Basically, he is almost totally pessimistic about ideas from anyone but himself or his mother/siblings (whose ideas I think he also resents, I should add) or the very small number of people whose opinion he deems as worthy of concern.

This could easily turn into a psychological discussion here but I will try to avoid that digression for now.

So another example is my search for a breed of pig on which to focus our pork production. This could be a much longer story but the short version is that when I informed him of my interest in Red Wattle hogs, he was against it because when we had two of them years and years ago, someone told dad that he was lucky to be rid of them when we were (0ne died of heart attack and the other was sold soon thereafter). Dad could not remember who had told him this OR what the specific reason was, but it was enough that he was adamant that Red Wattle hogs should not be considered. So I spent a few hours perusing the Web for information as to why this might be the case. Dad had said that he thought it was something to do with the pigmentation of the meat, but I could find literally nothing to suggest that there was some problem with this breed of pig. The only issue I could deduce was that they did not seem to do very well in captivity, especially in industrial conditions. So, based on the fact that we had our Red Wattles in the mid 80's when people were not concerned at all about buying locally or organically or what have you. So the industrial producers controlled the market almost totally. As such, this seemed to me to be the main reason why Red Wattle hogs went out of production, not that there was anything wrong with the meat. Quite the opposite, Red Wattle pork is quite highly rated among chefs, especially those concerned with local food and heritage breeds. But no matter how much research I did and then shared with dad...he was going with what SOME guy had told him all those years ago, the details of which he cannot even remember.

This is the kind of BS that I have been dealing with for years, only now it hits close to home because I have been putting so much energy into learning as much as I can, and sharing. But it is received with resentment and defensiveness. Not so much from my mother, but some. At least with her I can talk about it though, and hear her response. We can both eventually accept if we`ve been the "jerk". With dad that isn't possible...and I have tried and tried and tried. The best you can get from him is usually the odd admittance of being wrong about some trivial thing, in order to later claim to be able to admit when wrong.

So mostly I hope that I am able to start to show the results of my ideas soon, and perhaps avoid doing what I am so critical of in others....unreasonably hoping that the situation just irons itself out, mostly because I just don`t know what to do about it, and because I can`t just say "ok that`s it, I`m taking over". But then I get slapped with another sign of how likely it is that I will one day have to do just that.

Which brings me to the source of this whole jumbled thought process today. When I got out to the farm today, the house was awful quiet. Turns out that mom and dad were both outside, they returned just as I was going out to feed pigs. Dad was carrying a hack saw so I asked what he`d been cutting. They had been clipping chicken beaks since another hen had been cannibalized over night. I didn`t ask or say anything beyond asking how many they had done. The last time they trimmed two hen`s beaks I made it clear that I did not support that action, that I did not feel it was going to remedy the situation and that it was only tortuous punishment for following their nature. I even tried to explain how trimming their beaks this was was akin to our having a thumb, finger or even a whole hand cut off...and that it wouldn`t stop them the cannibalization. And sure enough, it didn`t. But somehow, doing 10 more of them this time is supposed to remedy the situation.

This time I didn`t say anything to either parent about it. They both know what I think and obviously that isn`t enough to sway their reasoning. They don`t see how the extension of their logic says that the only thing keeping us from individually caging each bird would seem to be the initial cost. They don`t seem to understand my reasoning that if we cannot afford to solve what is causing the aggressiveness then we should kill and eat the aggressive birds...not maim them this way in order to retain the egg revenue. I don`t think they even believe my explanation of why a chicken`s beak is akin to our thumb, fingers or entire hand due to its complex network of nerve tissue. Granted, the other two hens seem alright now and I don`t think they are aggressive anymore, but still...I struggle with it.

The same with the sick calf that died. I feel we should have tried to get it some veterinary attention but I know dad did the best that HE was able to do. But at the same time, I can`t help but wonder if it is cost that kept us from that option, or mistrust of unknown people.

And what bothers me the most is the fact that a reasonable solution is impossible. We can`t just talk it through. I`ve tried that route more than once before and I don`t think I can carry it myself. But at the same time, the only other option is to go on as we are now, which is much too similar to the path that he and his mother are on. Her mind finally slipped away to the point where she has to be in a longterm care facility and she never knew it was going on, or never accepted it. No one really tried to tell her and she was far too stubborn to accept it anyway. I don`t know how to tell dad that it is starting to happen with him too, albeit lightly, and he is far too stubborn to accept it...certainly from me.

THIS is the hard part of working towards a future for our farm. All the rest is easy in comparison.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Down Side

I was going to take Saturday off from the farm as I thought it was a light enough day that I wouldn't be missed too much. As it turned out, it was going to be better for my parents if I took Sunday off instead so I headed out for the typical routine. We got another blast of winter recently so the chores would take a bit longer than normal but I wouldn't be doing any extra tasks so it shouldn't have been a very long day anyway.

Unfortunately, that didn't turn out to be the case.

Our very small herd of cattle has become rather spread out in terms of calving schedules but this is the period when most of them are due. Our newest calf had been born the day prior and although it was quite large it seemed very strong and energetic, even running about the barn a bit just a couple hours after being born. But when I checked in on her while doing chores on Saturday, she seemed very listless. When I let her mother back in she did not even get up to feed, but just laid there. I haven't been around the cattle again for very long but I knew this was odd. So I kept an eye on her and when she still had not got up to eat after another hour and a half, and by looking at her mom's udder I did not think she had eaten that morning either, I finally decided to call Dad. Initially he was not too concerned but as I described the situation he decided I should try to milk a bit from the mother and see if I could get the calf to eat, he and mom would head right home.

I didn't have much luck but when they got home, dad and I were able to milk the cow and got some into the calf. It seemed to regain some energy but dad was still concerned, especially as it didn't get any better over night. To make a bad story a bit shorter, when I got out there Monday morning I learned that the young thing had finally died the night before.

This is the downside of raising animals. Birthing is a traumatic process and, sadly, they do not all survive. This is always a blow, both emotionally and financially. Its an extra big blow this time since she was another heifer, so vital when one is trying to rebuild a herd.

As with most things, however, its not ALL bad. Now we have a bit of extra rich, raw milk as this cow is a particularly heavy milker. Too bad we don't have any feeder piglets now!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I have never been one to name pets or farm animals, favorite or otherwise. It actually runs in the family. My sister's cat's name is Cat, if anything, for example. The only animal that always gets a name is the dog, since our dogs have always been herd dogs.

But every so often some animal comes along and, for some reason, acquires a name. This has become the case once more just recently so I figured I would introduce her.

A pretty, all-red heifer was born to our only black cow (she has a white face) about 3 months ago. As I was letting her mother out every day and putting in fresh straw and a bit of hay, we had plenty of time for her to get used to me. I usually try to take a moment when I have time with these young animals, just to make sure they are well used to my close presence and my touch. This heifer was gentle enough that I have been able to continue this practice even now that she is outside most of the time. She has become so quiet and friendly that she will stand for petting and a scratch along her head and back. Not only that but she has taken up licking anyone who gets close enough. She'll lick my pants and boots as long as I will stand there for her. She will lick the other cows and the bull, which is normal but she does it a lot!

Anyway, I have decided that this has earned her the name Licker-ish. I suspect that she will be part of our herd for several years so I am not bothered at all by giving her a name, not that I would be anyway.

So without further, say hello to Licker-ish:

She also wanted to say hello back, a little more intimately:

Here she is, showing how she earned her name:

Soon she will join her half-sisters in the heifer weaning corral and hopefully she will have some Blonde D'Aquitaine friends to play with before too long as well. More on that another time.

Peace and comfort, all.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Philippe Sauvage

"We are the Lymphocyte T4 of this planet...the Enlightened Guardians of this planet..."

This is a very interesting idea. I think I want to hear more of what this Philippe Sauvage has to say.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Accidental But Welcome Red Worm Propagation

Back in late November, I potted a few plants into buckets. My soil was barnyard dirt, containing LOTS of well broken down cow manure, and vermicompost from my first condo worm bin. I had tried to harvest as many worms as possible out of the VC before using it as potting soil but I knew that there might be the odd baby worm or worm cocoon remaining. I figured that these would just perish in the dirt since they are not the deep burrowing type of earthworm.

Well I was wrong. Very wrong.

Some weeks back I was watering one of the plants with a spray bottle and I noticed that as I sprayed water on the soil...the soil was moving! This kind of freaked me out until I remembered that I had used VC so perhaps these were worms wiggling under the dirt. Sure enough, moving some of the dirt around revealed a fat adult red worm, thick and juicy, obviously well nourished. Then I found another, and another and another. That day I must have dug 30 fat adult red worms from the top couple inches of soil. Since then I would say I have dug out easily another 50 adult worms. Then, for certain reasons, today was the end of the plant`s life cycle and as I was removing it from the soil and breaking up the rooting in the soil (so that it can be used again as it remains rich) I discovered another 30 or 40 adult worms AND at least 40 cocoons. There were likely still a few worms and I know I didn't get all the cocoons.

So, bearing in mind that my initial worm purchase was around 150 worms, this bucket basically returned my investment in worms, all on its own. That`s pretty cool as far as I`m concerned.

I also wanted to share a picture that I captured awhile shortly after my last worm update post:

You can see a group of worms gathered around a chunk of cow manure. The picture is from about 30 seconds to a minute after I lifted the lid. Had I had the camera ready, this picture would show the whole mass of worms that was covering this chunk of cow shite. They moved pretty fast to get away from the sudden brightness of the overhead light to which they are so sensitive. I wanted to share the picture since it shows what I had been explaining about what great bedding and food manure makes.

So I`m not totally crazy for bringing shite into the house after all.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Peak Brown

Does anyone know where to buy chicken toner? Some of our ladies seem to be running out already.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Black Spring

The title of this post might easily lead one to believe that the subject matter is going to be dark or heavy but I don't think that is the case at all. Black Spring is simply what came to mind as I was thinking about two of my favorite things...nature and the theatre. I don't think that I have ever really written anything here about my career as a theatrical technician, other than referring to it in the profile tidbit. But then something clicked in my head today, which inspires me to write about the topic now.

One of the things that, for some reason, drew me to the theatre right from the start was the feeling I got from completing the run of a show and then restoring the stage to black in preparation for the transition into a new production. It dawned on me today, very much with the feeling of a light bulb flashing on over my head, that this transitional period is rather like spring in the natural world. The stage has been cleared and cleaned and is ready for the new production to sprout forth.

In honesty, the biggest reason that they seem so similar to me is probably the fact that they inspire very similar emotions in me. Springtime always fills me with an eager calmness and inspiration; a real sense of balance. The same is true for being alone (or sometimes in a small group) in a freshly restored-to-black theatre. I doubt I can really describe the feeling...I am not much of a poet. But suffice it to say, it has been an overwhelming feeling right from the very first time I experienced it. I also came into the theatre a bit later than many do, as I didn't get involved until my 3rd year of college. Most people seem to get involved in theatre in high school or even younger so I think a slightly higher maturity level allowed for a deeper connection, or at least a deeper appreciation of the connection.

But I think, at the end of the day, this is probably in the genes of most technician-types. We all tend to take a strong feeling of ownership for our "space" (slang tech term for theatre or venue), which is probably why so many of us make good managers. I know that as much as I love almost everything about my return to the land, I do still sometimes long for the stage and the cycle of the theatre season.

Anyway, now that spring seems to be upon us here in Northern Alberta, the return of these emotions reminds me once again of a freshly black stage. I suppose Spring will always be Black to me in many ways, but that is not a bad thing at all!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

If March Comes In Like A Lamb... goes out like a lion.

So goes the old saying anyway.

After an atypically warm February, where I don't think I wore a winter coat all month, this first week in March is looking even more amazing. Environment Canada is telling me that Sunday could be +8 C...that's 46 degrees to some of you. Hopefully this will continue long enough for the frost to come out of the ground, that way we will not lose all the snow melt to run-off. But another week like this and I think that just might be the case.

But, if that old saying holds true...with March starting this pleasantly, I think we better be looking out come month end, not for a lion, but for a Sabre Tooth Tiger!