The dogs went bonkers around 5:30 A.M. I figure the mailbox was probably already dead by then. The dogs don't pick up on outside noises the way they used to; the delivery guy honking in the road doesn't throw them into the frenzy it once did. The mailbox? Well, it had been badly wounded last winter by the snow plow and it probably didn't take much to knock it into the ditch. We needed a new one anyway. It was empty, so I guess it died in its sleep. By 5:45 I was handing the steer over to the cop, and he was saying into the little radio pinned to his shoulder "Uh, what do I do now?" I don't know what dispatch replied; he took off with the cow in tow, but he didn't look happy.
It was early, really early, at least to me. What the hell was I doing out in the road in my shorts and flipflops before 6:00? Insane. I went back inside and went back to bed. Pat said that later a truck came and got the cow from where it was tied to a tree. He was a very friendly young thing; kept getting behind me and putting his head under my butt and lifting me into the air. I think that's what killed the mailbox; he seemed to have a severe itching problem with the nubs of his horns. He'll be hamburger by Xmas. I wish him a good life until then.
The cycle ends sooner than that for the Cornish kids. The ten that are left are going for a ride Friday morning; going to the knackers. Pat will get chickens processed with all their skin and epidermal fat intact. No way I am going to pluck a chicken just to see the skin get crisp. The reason we only have ten left is that we gave four to a family that lost a hundred young birds to an escaped dog. Not a vicious dog, an attack dog, or even a dog suspected of bad intentions; just a regular dog who liked killing chickens. Waldo understands that; for some dogs it's their god-given compulsion. This guy had gone over a six foot fence. It's tough to keep your birds safe.
We lost one Cornish kid, probably to a racoon. Whatever it was went over two fences and then tore the tailfeathers, and a little tail, off seven of the kids before it killed one. I can appreciate the fact that an animal will kill what it wants to eat and stop there. Those scabby butts sure look sore. I let the girls have what was left of the Cornish kid, and they picked him clean. Some people don't like to let their birds eat other birds. I can't see what difference it makes if there is no disease involved. Chickens are stone carnivores and love carrion. I can see a big bird going into KFC and ordering a bucket to go.
So we took the family four broilers and four of 'the girls', our laying hens. I tallied it all up and for gas and a meal we spent $30 giving away $80 worth of birds. Hey, if you got it spend it! Our gubmint says that is true patriotism. The family was really nice. Their little girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old, flitted about with a chicken under her arm talking about how "we only eat the boys." Their surviving birds followed her around like she was the mom. One of her brothers, boys about 10 or 12, said "we used to have a pig." He smiled and rubbed his stomach. Guess I make them sound like they were right out of Deliverance, banjo-picking idiots, but that's not so. Bright and well-behaved kids with a young mom who seemed right in her element with kids, chickens, goats and the vissicitudes of life swarming around her ankles.
Starting somewhere in the past......
Almost everyone I worked with at the time was black; I don't know that there is any bearing, but cultural issues lurk in the oddest places and make fools of us all. What am I talking about now?? Well, a very proper young matron was reading a women's mag article that outlined things men do that make them unsuitable partners. On the list were two behaviors which I swore were not only proper, but necessary to life: eating peanut butter out of the jar; peeing in the shower. I told the young lady I did both and so did any right-thinking person. She demurred and stepped away from me, to avoid contamination I am sure.
I had the bit in my teeth then; society's stalwarts were not going to back me down on this one. I perhaps took it a tad too far. Everyone at work was personally questioned by me: 'do you now, or have you ever, peed in the shower?' It is doubtful that my personal stock rose as a result of this survery. Some were aghast, some offended, and some readily said 'yes, what else can you do when that hot water hits you?' Even though i garnered denials it remained my certainty that sooner or later everyone pees in the shower. I had a new litmus test for honesty; I only really trusted those who had answered in the affirmative.
The point of all this twenty plus years later is that I have begun peeing in the corn. Lest you refuse to come to dinner at my house on the basis of this statement I will offer an explanation. Corn is a very heavy feeder; it needs lots and lots of fixed nitrogen. This is generally done with chemical fertilizers, which gradually destroy the soil. (Wonder if the idiot-ethanol crew ever thought about this? not to mention the tortilla shortage.) I read that urine is a great source of fixed nitrogen, ergo - "must pee in corn...." Could this become the new imperative for those who hear voices? Will this sweep the nation, a Johnny Appleseed-like groundswell of agrarian enlightenment? Nah, you're right; probably not. Imagine the home gardener's chagrin upon being arrested on a morals charge while alone in the corn patch?
And the point of all that was an article I read about Indian households installing methane digesters. Into this marvelous box is put all organic waste; animal, human and just plain garbage. The contraption catches and makes usable the methane that is produced by decomposition and this captured gas runs a cookstove. What a great idea! A fart stove!
Even I, who am not particularly offended by or shocked at human waste, immediately got a picture in my head: a boxy machine beside the stove with a toilet seat on top. If my brain came up with this what must the rest of America think? We are not a people who take to food that isn't wrapped in cellophane and use-by-dated. Actually using human waste would shock most of us. It's bad enough if we accidentally view some while flushing - cook with it??!!
You have caught on, haven't you? This is just part of my general ramble on stewardship. How much of what we toss out would be used in another culture? And how far are we from finding out just how much of our 'trash' is of value. I just sent over four tons of scrap metal to the dealer. This is metal I would have had to pay to have hauled 2 years ago, and now I get a hundred a ton; the guy with the big truck who picks it up gets the other hundred.
There was a scene in the recent series "John Adams" where John picked up a handful of manure and crumbled it between his fingers and had his son do the same, marveling at the wonderfulness of it. We are headed there. Keep composting America!
Got the ten Cornish kids off to the knackers. A few hours later for a price of $4.50 per bird we got back the juiciest and tenderest 4# birds. Pat cooked one up in garlic and rosemary, per Chef Ara's suggestion, and this was one good meal. This morning I took the fairly-bare carcass out and tossed it to the girls. Piranhas with feathers.
The feather feet, Light Brahmas, are living outside now; they are almost as big as the girls, but when the two flocks mix the girls absolutely terrorize the kids. Could not for the life of me figure out how to lock them up at night. Can't put them in the coop with the girls or mayhem ensues. Then I had the epihpanical flash: clean out the poop pit under the roosts, which is inside the coop but separated by hardware cloth, cover it over with plywood, put in fresh bedding and voila! secure feather-foot housing.
Has worked very well. The Brahmas free range a fenced off section of the chicken yard by day and go in at night snug as can be. There is some bad talk thru the hardware cloth, but no bloodletting. The next step will be to integrate the two flocks before winter. Don't know how that will go. Chickens may not score high on the Stanford-Binet but they know a lot about social standing and 'face'. The established heirarchy in each flock will be tattered by the move. I expect some bloody heads.
We had the Technopost crew, 2 guys with a walk-behind machine, come in and set 6 posts for the beams the greenhouse will rest upon. Had thought to dig it out by hand and level the ground and float the 6x6" beams on a bed of gravel. What a lot of work. Spent the $900 to have Technopost and buddy install posts in a few hours. The posts are steel posts with an auger on one end. The machine screws the post in plumb to a level below the frost line. On top of each post is channel to take the beam; the posts are trimmed to get a level bed. Yesterday I chain sawed out the notches in the beams and fitted it all together. The low corner on the ground is about 15" below the high; I will need many cubic yards of pea gravel inside the beams to make my floor. Should drain very nicely, though, and the slope is towards the woods.
So, sitting here rolling out inane chatter, because I am betwixt and between. The greenhouse kit is supposed to arrive between 10 and 12; it is just up 11. Instructions were provided for the unloading. The person receiving this shipment should have 8 of his best friends present, twenty-something body builders are preferred, to unload the truck. There will only be the driver. I have Chuckles Kubota saddled and ready. He is worth ten body building testoserone-laced warriors-of-freight. I only hope the driver sees it all in this light. We can do this, I chant. Having not seen how the truck is loaded leaves me wondering. I do know that the largest crate is 20' long and comes in at 400#. Pray for me St. Drayage now and in the hour of my need. More coffee! That's what I need. Let us go peer into the pot.
Nineteen minutes past noon and the 5 crates are unloaded, all 1200# on the ground. Chuckles was a trooper; having a driver who can lift 200# doesn't hinder. What a relief. We watched the instruction video in which 3 highly trained young men put this model up in six hours. If we are up by August's Ides I will be elated.
Few days later and we are ready for the gravel to fill the inside of the greenhouse frame. Has been raining constantly - maybe 4" down. Fellow came over from Vermont, Bob, to buy Philbrick the band saw. I got to spend a couple of hours sitting in the saddle on Chuckles playing nudge-nudge and watching Bob sweat. Very intsructive. Love the way younger guys put their body into it and grunt and drip. I think Philbrick has gone to a good home. Immediately spent most of the money from Philbrick on a mental error.
Had a pail of winter rye seed that had gotten wet and knowing that moldy rye, ergot, is poisonous I tossed it into the yard where the chickens couldn't get it; that was Friday. Didn't even consider the trash-mouth hound Waldo. Lost the use of his rear quarters Saturday night; couldn't even walk. When he gets too frisky he gets lame, so I figured he'd just been out in the yard cavorting. Sunday he was able to walk a little, though very shaky. His progress was good overnight, but this morn, Monday, Pat wanted to take him in to the vet anyway. The vet thought he looked pretty good but did a draw for a blood panel just to be sure. Called us back in a couple of hours to bring him back in. She doesn't know what is going on exactly, but his white cell count has fallen thru the basement, immunodeficient isn't in it, and enzymes that indicate organ damage are on the roof. Waldo doesn't appear to mind a bit. Frisky, hungry, alert; nobody's told him yet... So between lab work and prophylactic antibiotics we have dropped our cash in the cavernous dog-hole and will see how he does. Lab work in a month will tell more. We are hopeful. Shay mutters something about always having dreamed of being an only dog - the bitch.
Zoe has come up from the hood, Spanish Harlem, to spend three weeks in fasting and soul searching - good luck! We are rigging her hammock out in the forest in a ferny glade. If the Buddha can find her anywhere it will be there. Nice to have her around. She is presently acting as Waldo's private nurse. He is just a bit testy with her; she doesn't believe the doc ordered peepee rubs several times a day. Poor Waldo.
My editor reads the above and sighs, feeling I have taken too much upon myself. It is probable, she informs me, that Waldo licked a toad. I am sure she is thinking of those malevolent Sugar Cane Toads the Aussies saw fit to import - what a relief that most of our imports come thru WallyWorld; I don't think they do toads.
I have found vissicitudes lurking in my garden. Visscitudes seem keenly tuned toward carbon-based life forms where all is in flux, if not bloody flux. Torrential rains, several inches, have beaten a good proportion of my Indian corn from its lofty 5 and 6 foot level to earth. Nothing sadder. I have strung strings about and gotten the flagging greenery off the dirt. I doubt that it need be vertical to grow, but out of the mud will be nice. Mud! What mud it is; a garden should be so situated as to lie on well-drained soil - I think that is one of the Green Thumb's Axioms, on his list right below 'fight crime with verve' and 'foil evil-doers'. He is the suburban cousin of The Green Lantern and belongs to neighborhood-farm-watch. I don't think he is going to take care of my mud, though. The only hope is some bright patch of hot and sunny days to dry the ground. We here at the Chicken Little Micro Farm will be on the outlook for various molds and fungi attempting to take advantage of Maine's turn toward tropical.
Bill Thomas came and took Flather the Shaper. We had a jolly time of it. Pouring rain. I knew from experience that Chuckles would lift this machine, but back wheels off the ground always gives one an uneasy feeling. (I think of the feeling of being high and not being able to remember what I took.) Bill is a trooper and a gentleman. If you've a mind to view beauty incarnate Google his name with 'furniture'; he is an old world craftsman. Even if his mild manners and calm demeanor hadn't endeared him to me his Impeach Bush bumper sticker would have solidly sealed him into the lexicon of 'okay guys'. We only bent his truck up a little, and I am sure it was his second stringer anyway. I can now walk 3 or 4 feet into the barn. What an expansive feeling! And the yard is almost clear. But no one else is scheduled to arrive for treasure. Sadly there is so much machinery, fine antique iron, that no one wants or can take. I have offered it at scrap price, $200/ton, to good homes everywhere, but good homes are not as common as they used to be. Bill says he notices on OWWM that folk who crowed with elation a year ago of the machine they purchased 'for nothing' might now like to slide it off to make some room. And what about those sad hulks that live at foreclosed properties? Makes me want to go out and pet a chicken.
The 12 cubic yards of pea gravel arrived. About half of it went into the greenhouse frame; the other half spilled into the yard. I had expected this outcome. Chuckles will scoop up a good part of the remainder but a lot of shoveling and raking is to follow. There is some hope that actual greenhouse erection will begin in a couple of days.
Today Pat is 71. And she is still a girl. A good thing, too, as I am quite the frisky pup myself. Not only that but I am magnanimous to the extreme. I am taking her out for an ice cream cone and then off to see the new Batman movie. She accepts my offerings with quiet dignity and figures the rich one that got away probably wouldn't have been near as much fun as me. She is, as usual, quite right. I will unabashedly claim that I am a good husband and state without reservation that I have received my just desserts in this secular existence; I await nothing further in the way of rewards in another life. Call me sated on the matrimonial front. May Pat have many, many more to come - and me there to celebrate them.