Friday’s Farm: Barn Cats

 

 

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Cloe hiding a mouse from me… “Nothing to see. Move along.”

 

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love my cats. I’ve had a pet cat or two continually since I was a baby. However, I’ve learned that keeping pet cats and keeping barn cats are two different things.

Barn cats have one job – organic pest control. These felines work hard and nap harder. But what is it really like keeping a healthy working cat? Glad you asked!

My old house cat Sophianne is a good mouser. She’s also convinced her job in life is to be my cuddle bug. While she does enjoy catching mice and playing with them, she’s not a great barn cat. She does kill and eat some, but she also brings some to the house still alive before letting them go. That’s not exactly helpful even though it’s adorable.

 

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Sophianne proving that not all cats are born to be wild

 

Cloe and Clive on the other hand, both kill and eat several rodents a day each. They are a brother and sister duo and the offspring of a long line of Mennonite barn cats. They sleep in the barn in cages. I know some people let their cats roam at night. However, we have owls and coyotes. Cats are the perfect meal on the run for those predators.

I know many people who do not feed their barn cats. I know a few who wonder why their cats are skinny and die off every winter, too. Other folks will put down a pile of food every three or four days. They wonder why they have so many mice and possums and raccoons in their barns. Well, because there’s a buffet. We feed out cats on a table on the porch in the afternoons. They have fresh water there all day. The food is taken up at night. Feeding them enough calories daily to survive doesn’t hinder their hunting. Often, if they kill and eat enough rodents they don’t eat as much food. Last night Clive caught a squirrel. He skipped dinner and was waiting to go in his cage at sunset. Feeding them keeps them in top hunting condition. Taking up the food keeps the mice from having a free meal.

 

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Clive enjoys hanging with the sheep

 

Cloe and Clive were both from an unwanted litter of kittens. To keep from contributing to the over population of none native introduced animals we spay and neuter our animals. We use a local Spay and Neuter program that assists rural areas with pet sterilization. The vets are top notched and care about their charges.

I do my own vaccines with the cats. I pick the kits up at TSC in the summer. It takes about 5 minutes to do both Cloe and Clive. Sophianne doesn’t get vaccines. She’s a wild hybrid someone tossed out and she nearly died from her first and only vaccine. She’s under vet orders to NOT be vaccinated.

Ticks are a major issue in our area. I’ve had STAR twice and we occasionally have a young animal contract Tick Paralysis (scary, scary, scary times!). I choose to use breakaway flea and tick collars. In addition to the collars I do a physical tick check every evening. They think they’re just being loved on. Even with the collars Cloe will pick up ticks when she goes into the woods. Clive and Sophianne rarely have ticks or fleas. I don’t know why, they just don’t. Fortunately, fleas are only an issue in August and early September. The collars seem to work for fleas on the cats. Having ducks and chickens also helps.

All three are wormed in the fall. If I see any signs of worms earlier I’ll worm then, too. However, tape worms in the summer and early fall are the typical parasites we deal with here in the Cove.

I’ve been blessed to not have injuries or major illnesses with my cats. I’m also blessed with an awesome team of vets who work with both large and small animals should my crew ever need professional care.

Cats are like most other working animals on the farm. If you give them a solid foundation they will happily work for an entire lifetime as your partner in pest control. And if they’re happy, you’ll even get some head bumps and purrs.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

 

 

Friday’s Farm: Making Bamboo Trellises

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

It’s no secret that Southerners love their peas, pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. It’s also no secret to anyone who gardens or farms that keeping these veggies off the ground is important to a good harvest and your back. Another local gardener whose garden I’ve had the privilege of seeing uses hog panels set on long upright poles to hold up his plants. On a good year the plants reach ten feet into the air. His method is bountiful. However, when you’re strapped for cash and growing a year’s worth of food his mighty steel frame is just out of reach.

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

One afternoon earlier this month Momma and I walked down to the creek and cut fifty canes. We could have cut one hundred and only made a small dent in our patch. Some of the canes are nearly ten feet long, and all still had last year’s leaves on them. We then hauled it up to the garden, stripped off the leaves (which the sheep loved), and I began to weave.

Making trellises is not an easy task. It’s a life-sized puzzle that will fall over on you if you’re not careful. It took about two hours to make my pea trellis. First, I made a three poled teepee for the end, lashed those together so they would stand, and then made another and set it next to the first. Once I had enough three legged sets I joined them at the top with a “cap” piece. Then I began the actual weaving. Fortunately canes are pliable when green. If you soak them for a few days they are even easier to work with. I began at the bottom and did a simple over and under. If my weaving pole wasn’t long enough to span the entire length I’d add another pole.

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One important note is to have your thick ends at both ends of the structure. In other words, you don’t want all your skinny tops on one side. That makes a weak side.

My structure got a bit wonky and wobbly. Two old metal garden steaks pounded into the ground fixed this problem. After all, no one like their peas in the mud after a wind storm. Speaking of wind storms, my little creations are still standing after two big storms.

When harvesting cane it’s important to be a good steward and only harvest a quarter to third of a stand. If the stand is small or sparse it needs to be left alone. While cane does grow quickly it’s not as abundant as it use to be. Also, be mindful if you decide to forage the local country side. If someone knocks on my door and asks to collect a natural resource I’m apt to say yes. If I find someone just out taking without asking… I’m not so free with my yes. That’s a pretty typical country attitude.

I’ve made other trellises from willow, young tree limbs, and other found material, including old fencing propped up on broken tobacco sticks. Use what you have. The point is to grow good food. Your food doesn’t care if you have the prettiest trellis in the world. It only cares to reach forth to the sky and His blessings while reaching into the Earth for her blessings.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

Friday’s Farm: My Unorthodox Garden Bed

I would say spring is in full swing, but if your weather is a crazy as ours, then bless your heart and stay strong. The cold weather has provided one thing: time to make more raised beds. Be prepared, though. I might have been an Orthodox Jewish girl at one point, but I’ve never been an Orthodox gardener!

I don’t know about most people, but I have this unyielding conviction that growing food is suppose to cut the grocery bill, not add a new bill to the yearly cost of living. In keeping with this I use whatever happens to be laying around. What I have laying around happens to be old limbs, old barn wood, spent hay bedding, and tons of manure. I mean TONS of manure, and it has to go somewhere. I also have about an inch of nasty white clay over lime bedrock in my garden. That’s not great for growing…

Interestingly, the resources available right here at home are exactly the resources I need to have a stellar garden. Funny how often that works out!

My first garden bed layer is typically yard trash like rotting limbs and leaves. I use this as the base for my bed. I cross them or just use larger limbs. I have two lines of thinking on that. One, it allows air flow so the upper layers compost, and two my beds drain better. I also will use bamboo leaves, old corn husk, old plants, or whatever is bulky.

My next layer is the fun one! It’s the BIG layer. When I lived in the city this was my kitchen scraps and grass clippings layer. With the animals it’s spent bedding and fresh manure. Don’t worry about your plants – they won’t be touching it for a while. I like a good foot to foot and a half deep bed. You will be shocked how quickly that breaks down into six to eight inches of compost. I like cattle, horse, and of course sheep manure laden bedding. Sheep offerings are actually hotter than chicken. However, I’ve not had issues with using the flock’s donations that chicken bedding causes. Get everything good and wet, keep it moist, and by the time the next season’s planting time rolls around earthworms will have made a nutritious garden bed. Don’t worry about the chunks. They’ll break down after a while.

The top layer is the key to making this whole thing work. I’ll transplant established plants directly into the middle layer. However, young transplants and direct sew seedlings do better in aged chicken compost, dried cow patties, or regular old dirt. Cow patties are my go to seed starting medium. I simply crumble some up (with gloves on!) and create whatever depth I need for my seeds on top of the BIG layer. Then I keep it well watered until the plants establish themselves.

Does it work? I think so!

 

I know what you’re thinking, “That’s so nice you have all that manure and stuff laying around”. Even when I lived in the city in a town house with a tiny patio I still used this method of growing in containers. I’d put in twigs, then leaves from the local park along with my coffee grounds and kitchen scraps, and then let them hang out for the winter. When spring time came around again I’d put a small amount of potting soil on top and plant. Same principles, just a smaller scale. The best part – a $25 a week grocery bill and all the lettuce and pesto I could eat without shelling out a bunch of money for bags of soil.

If you feel adventurous call up some local farms, verify they don’t use round up, and ask to collect some manure. Believe me – you offer to clean stalls or pick up patties from the paddocks and you’ll have a new best friend. You might even end up with some farm fresh produce and eggs for your trouble along with the muck.

To keep weeds from popping up I keep adding new rotted muck and compost as mulch or do some cultivating every few months. That equates to about four times a year on average. It depends on the bed’s age. Older beds nearing the end of their lifecycle need weeding more often. My beds typically live for two years and then it’s time to rebuild it over winter for the next spring.

Recently, I was told that this is called Hugelculture. But when reading up on the Hugel my way is much less sophisticated. I call it composting garden beds or shytenculture. But really, it’s just an old, old, old way of managing waste, growing food, and using the gifts that surround us.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

Friday’s Farm: Death on the Farm

My sweet, blind Henny passed away this past week from what I believe was congestive heart failure. She was older, and I knew the inevitable was coming. As much as we celebrate life on the homestead, death, too, is our sober companion. If you are sensitive to reading about this subject I understand if you want to skip this post and I strongly advise it. I’m going to be very frank and open about how we handle the more practical aspects of an animal’s passing. It’s not pretty, but it is the reality of life.

 

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Lambi was just a month old when this was taken. We celebrate life daily, but we are still mindful how fleeting it can be.

 

Burial

Those of you who live in the country know that there are cemeteries tucked here and there down almost every road or behind most every old farmhouse. In fact, there’s one on our property so old that all the headstones have worn down to nothing and we aren’t sure exactly where it is. For small animals like cats, hens, geese, most dogs, and even smaller sheep burial is an option. We keep a small critter grave yard fenced off from the rest of the farm. Our gentle Dagny is buried at the center.

If your ground is like ours it’s full of rocks and clay. Frankly, I can’t dig more than three or four feet down. We also sit down in a valley and our water table is usually closer to the surface than two feet. Shallow graves are pretty much the norm. I usually wrap the body at time of death in a plain muslin cloth before riggamortus sets in to hold a sleeping pose. In short, I use this process as a method of compacting the body’s shape to better fit into the grave. I then wrap the entire bundle in an outer cloth, tuck in herbs, tie with string, and then place it in the grave. The outer cloths and herbs help to cut down on the smells that attract scavengers. To help further the grave being left alone I place large rocks over the grave for several months.

I dislike using plastic bags to wrap. It slows the decomposition process and puts toxins into the ground. We also make sure that any burial is down stream of our water source and out of grazing and growing areas. If an animal dies during the winter when the ground is frozen we store the bundled body in our freezer. It’s macabre, but effective.

I know some people with the right land type that use a back hoe to bury large animals such as horses and cattle. Unfortunately we don’t have that option. But, I think it’s preferable personally.

Cremation

When Lambi died I chose to have her cremated. It was a tough decision. I really wanted her buried next to Dagny. However, Lambi was over two hundred pounds. Not only could I not dig a grave, I had no way to move her body. Two vet techs came out from our vet’s office and retrieved her body. They were as caring and kind as if they were removing a human body. It cost almost $300 total. Lambi now resides in a box next to the front door. However, she was my first lamb and slept next to me. It was the best option available at the time.

Death Pits and Scavengers

This is my least favorite method of dealing with death on the farm, but it is effective. Those who have room can have a pit dug in an unused corner of the farm. When an animal passes you simply remove the body to the pit and allow nature to take its course. At the old farm we had a another tenant’s ewe die. So, Kate and I dragged her nearly a mile to the pit in the dark. When a cow died after an animal attack up in the wood line it was left. There simply was no way to move it. Sometimes the most dignified thing to do is simply to leave an animal’s remains alone. When this is a pet it’s difficult.

Preemptive Slaughter

Some people find this controversial. However, there is some practicality to this method of dealing with impending death on the farm. My cow Bossy has many years left in her. Daisy our matriarch ewe has less than five. I check their teeth yearly. When they can no longer eat hay over the winter they will face a long suffering death from starvation. Let me be clear: starvation in an animal is painful. They bleed internally. It can take weeks. It’s cruel. So, instead of allowing them to suffer I personally will attend to their slaughter to ensure it’s quick and as painless as possible. It’s one of the few situations when we kill and eat our animals. However, it is the kindest option. It’s not pleasant, nor easy, nor done lightly. I will process out my old friends and use every part of their bodies to feed and cloth our household. I guess it’s the Blackfoot and Apache in me that comes out in those instances, or maybe the practical Welsh. I simply find it more honoring than leaving them to starve and become food for the vultures and coyotes.

 

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Even when she has me running through the woods I want her to live forever. She’s the sweetest onery old boss cow ever.

 

In Closing

I know this topic has been anything but pleasant. But I hope you found it informative, especially if you’re new to homesteading and farming. We do our best to treat our animals with respect and dignity during life. We also do our best to extend that respect and dignity into death. As caretakers of the land and her inhabitants we have the incredible privilege of witnessing the grandeur of life and lesson of the ending. Each one of us will in turn face our own ending and return to the earth to nourish her and become nourishment. Nourish life, and celebrate the lesson our companion offers.

Until Next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

Friday’s Farmlife: Garden Planning

Most people think winter is not the time for gardening. But in reality, winter is when the gardening cycle begins. Even though I’m not out working much this time of year, there’s still work to be done.

I’ve decided to branch out and cover more aspects of farm life and homesteading than just the sheep. There’s SO MUCH to share that goes on around here! There are so many skills that people have lost, and that I’m learning. Things that need to be shared. Without further adue, let’s get into it.

 

GARDEN PLANNING

Most people think winter is not the time for gardening. But in reality, winter is when the gardening cycle begins. Even though I’m not out working much this time of year, there’s still work to be done.

I can and preserve much of our winter food in a typical year. I start my plan by figuring out what I have cheap and easy access to, what is more expensive, and what I actually have room to grow. I also look at what can be preserved that’s expensive in winter. Lately that seems like everything.

My current garden is on top of solid bedrock and gravel. This means everything goes in beds, and I make my dirt yearly via compost. This is labor intensive, and really curtails my planting. Space is at a premium. This means harder to find, higher priced food gets top billing. But, I also know what we eat most.

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Like most Southern families we love our garden fresh, homegrown, never even seen a hothouse tomatoes. I know we need ten tomato plants, plus about another ten bushels from the local Mennonite community for our household. This is a year’s supply of fresh tomatoes, soup, chili, and sauces. One plant will be a high yield cherry tomato, five are heirlooms, and four are determinate that get replaced mid summer. I’m a fan of black tomatoes, too, but enjoy yellow or orange salsa. Tomatoes are also a big chunk of our weekly food budget as well as a big space taker in the garden. Based on this information, I can easily pick out what varieties to start in March or purchase in May. This year I’m going with Black Cherry, Purple Cherokee, German Queen, and Old Mennonite along with Better Bush as my determinate type.

We also love onions and garlic around here. I have elephant garlic and a landrance type garlic Uncle Enis gave me my first year here. Since alums enjoy repeat growing in the same bed, it’s easy to plan for those plants. The same is true of my asparagus patch. It’s pretty much not going anywhere until I begin divisions year after next. All I do is trim the old foliage and put on thin layer of compost down in the spring.

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Potatoes are another staple for us. I have good success growing them in wire towers. Since the sheep don’t like them, I can actually just plant them along the fence row and save valuable bed space. I usually end up with ten to fifteen pounds per tower. It’s definitely the easiest and least labor intensive way I’ve ever grown potatoes. I always grow Pontiac Reds. They melt like butter in my mouth. We have potatoes right up until December. This year I’ll be planting ten towers.

From there I look at what else we actually eat. Peas, zucchini, beets, radishes, purple cauliflower, greens, lettuce, kale, cabbage, Broccoli, winter squash, corn, green beans, spinach, rocket, cucumbers, herbs, and shelly beans made the list.

Our corn will go our front, and so will the squash and beans. I’m planning on trying three sisters this year. The rest go in back far away from the animals and right out the back door.

Cabbage, beets, and green beans are easy to come by, as are strawberries, plums, blackberries, apples, and melons. In fact, I usually snag free culls from behind the produce washing and packing houses. Since I can find these for free or cheap, I pass on growing them. I also know I grow some things other people don’t. Last year I traded for three gallons of mulberries. Yum.

I draw out my garden space into different sections, and then draw out each section with its beds. My beds are thirty inches by about twelve feet. From there I put in high priority  food – peas, zucchini, greens, lettuce, kale, and herbs. If there’s any room left over I might try a new plant. This year, it’s cockscomb on the outside of the garden.

As my early spring crops die off I’ll replace them with broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, and shelly beans.  This way I can have fresh food from March until December. That’s ten months. Whatever we do not eat in a few days gets canned each harvest. There’s nothing better in the dead of winter to pop open a can of tomatoe soup base, toss in some beans and potatoes, herbs, spices, and have a hot bowl of chili grown on your own land. This means we eat what’s in season typically.

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Why

Like many working class families we are always looking for ways to reduce our grocery bill. If we grew nothing but lettuce and spinach in pots we’d save over sixty dollars a month for two people. The same goes with our tomatoes. At a dollar a can, and ten cans a week, growing tomatoes saves us $520 a year, and that doesn’t include fresh tomatoes. Just those two items is an entire month’s income not going out yearly. Add in the six or seven dozen cantaloupes, the gallons of fresh berries, a few hundred pounds of potatoes, another hundred pounds of onions, and you are up to THOUSANDS OF dollars in food. Yes, it costs money to get started, but once you have heirloom seeds, and learn to save them, most of the cost is done. Gardening can be pretty much free.

Another reason is that it’s fun, and healthy. It feels good to get out there and do something in nature. It’s physical without being strenuous.

We can sell some of our extra food or trade it for other items we don’t have.

I enjoy it. The garden, the thrill of pulling beautiful food out of the canner, and eating my handiwork all year. It just tastes better. When you eat fresh homegrown food you are eating the height of nutrition.

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Closing Tips

Garden planning really isn’t too hard. It just takes some time, some thinking, and a bit of mindfulness. It’s really just menu planning, but way ahead! If you want to plan a garden, now is the time to contact your local ag extension office and find out what time to plant in your area.

No matter if you’re doing rows, containers, or doing beds, start simple and don’t go overboard.

Don’t be afraid to put in long term plants and plant around them.

The twenty five cent packets of seeds grow just as well as the $2 packets of seeds.

Buy heirlooms and collect your seeds each year.

Have fun.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

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