The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

When Cows Fly

August 2nd, 2015 by Ed Bruske

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We have flying cows.

How else to explain when a cow goes to bed on one side of the fence, but greets the morning on the other?

We first noticed this phenomenon last year. That’s when I placed our Jersey heifer in an area next to the main paddock to graze, enclosed by some temporary electric fencing. The electric netting is hardly three feet tall. Still, you’d think that would be enough to keep a Jersey heifer contained. Yet, the next morning there she was, standing in the driveway on the other side of the fence. Since there was absolutely no sign of the fence being molested–no sign of being trampled or knocked over–I naturally assumed the cow must have flown over it.

These days cows are flying more than usual because our heifer–Emily–became a mom and now is nursing her calf on a regular basis. We milk Emily in the morning, which means we are sharing her with the calf, technically speaking. In any event, there is a very strong desire to be together, both on the part of the calf and on the part of Emily. For us to have any chance at all of getting some of that milk, we separate the two at night, luring Emily into the permanent paddock with a bucket of grain.

When I starting doing this, I’d leave the paddock gate open to an adjacent pasture so Emily would have more area to graze. But one night Emily must have flown over the pasture fence. Because next morning she was nowhere to be found in the area I’d last seen her. Instead, she was hundreds of yards away in the upper pasture, grazing with her calf. Needless to say, we didn’t get any milk that morning.

Okay, so we now keep Emily locked up inside the permanent paddock at night. It’s enclosed by “no climb” fencing more than four feet high. The calf, meanwhile, will mope around an area outside the paddock, sometimes calling for its mom. Or it spends the night on pasture with the sheep, taking up his breakfast call in the morning, with Emily–feeling the tug of her motherly duties–calling back.

I guess I forgot to re-connect the electric fencing following a recent thunderstorm. We disconnect whenever there’s a sign of lightning so the fence charger doesn’t get fried. Anyway, when I awoke one morning, I heard the calf as usual but he seemed much closer to the house than ever before. Sure enough, when I went to the front door to investigate, I saw what you see in the photo above: our calf on the front lawn, looking as if he’s waiting to be served breakfast.

Again, no sign of any disturbance to the fencing. So I guess we have a flying calf now as well as a flying cow. I spoke to another farmer recently and she said she’s known Jersey cows to leap over fences four feet high. I neglected to ask if she’d ever actually seen a cow do this, because we haven’t. All we know is cows get put on one side of the fence in the evening, and end up on the other side of the fence in the morning.

As far as I’m concerned, cows fly.

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World by Hand

July 19th, 2015 by Ed Bruske

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Originally I was going to title this post “Going Amish.” But then I thought it would be even more appropriate to salute our friend Jim Kunstler and his series of novels, “World Made By Hand,” describing a not-too-distant world right here in Upstate New York struggling to cope after the world runs out of fossil fuels and civilization collapses. In either direction–back tot the Amish, or forward to Kunstlerville–you end up in very much the same spot: working without power tools.

Jim’s theme has been on my mind a lot lately as we harvested our Freedom Ranger chickens–more than 50 of them–without the aid of the electric plucker we bought just two years ago. One day the motor just upped and quit on us for no apparent reason. And whereas there used to be guys on almost every corner who worked on small electric motors, finding one now seems nigh on impossible. When I called the manufacturer of the EZ Plucker, I was told these motors sometimes die after practically no use at all. It needs to be replaced.

So much for craftsmanship.

This was not long after the hard drive in my computer died, launching me on a weeks-long repair adventure. And not long after the chicken plucker pooped out, our dishwasher gave up the ghost as well. I’m guessing it’s not more than six years old, left to us by the previous owner.

As far as the chickens were concerned, there was nothing to do but pluck them by hand, something I had never attempted before. First they go into scalding water (thankfully, the electric scalder has held up–so far) at a temperature around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Hold the (dead) bird by the legs and swish it around in the hot water for about a minute. Test by pulling on a couple of feathers. Then lay the chicken out on a flat surface and go to work.

After plucking more than 70 chickens by hand over the last month, I’ve gotten pretty good. Like Edward Scissorshands, my fingers fly and so do the feathers. Takes me about 10 minutes to get to a clean bird ready to be gutted–my wife’s job. And you know what? Those birds look ever so much better–fewer bruises and tears–than the ones that used to get the electric plucker treatment. I’ve gotten to where I can tell by how much resistance I feel tugging on the feathers just how much scalding is required. Yes, I’d hold my plucking up to just about anybody’s.

Likewise, the broken dishwasher has taken us back (or is it forward?) to a time when people actually stood at the sink, washed and dried as a team. Anybody remember that? One person did the washing, handing plates to a second–even a third–team member, who toweled the dishes dry and put them away.

Well, you won’t convince my wife the dishwasher doesn’t need replacing. And that seems to be the curse of our modern, mechanized lifestyle. Sure, electric appliances can make work lots easier. But they inevitably become an incredible annoyance–when they break down, that is. And don’t they always seem to break down eventually? And at the worst possible time?

It makes me think the Amish got it right: self-contained communities working mostly by hand with lots of kids to help with the labor.

At our age, we can’t do anything about the kids part. But we can do some things by hand. And take a little pride in the results.

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