An Unmet Need – Longevity and Domesticated Farm Animals

We’ve discovered that there is little-to-no information to be had on longevity for farm animals. Most of the material out there is about culling the herd and “humane” killing and processing. We have an elderly ewe (eight years old) that will need special care although finding resources on how to provide this is nearly impossible. While there is a whole industry around keeping horses, house dogs, and cats healthy, the farmers that raise livestock generally view them as resources with a cash value and treat them as such. This is understandable from their perspective although we have a different purpose in mind for our farm.

On this blog we will try to post our learnings as we work to find a balance with nature and be good custodians to the animals that we have invited to live here without anthropomorphizing or excessive sentimentality.

The Little Chicken

This is the little chicken. He was born on June 1st. As soon as he hatched from his egg his mother attacked and tried to kill him by pecking his eyes out. She had done this to two previous chicks as well, my sister discovering their tiny corpses when she opened up the chicken coop in the morning. This was very hard for her, of course. But this little chicken survived and he was peeping so loudly and so strongly in spite of his terrible injuries that it seemed like he was determined to live. My sister took him into the workshop and put him in the heated box that we used for chicks in the past. She even went out and bought another chick, a gentler breed, to keep him company and hopefully teach him how to eat and drink. Xingyu spent time with the little chicken and took pictures of him and fed him rice water and played with him in the grass. He even put soft things into his home, having noticed that the little chicken would snuggle up with them.

I hope that the little chicken felt loved in those moments.

On Wednesday the little chicken got weaker, and on Thursday he died. I don’t know if this is because he could not figure out how to eat or if he had something internally wrong with him that the mother knew and we didn’t. We’ll never know.

The little chicken has haunted me from the beginning, even before he was laid to rest. He has become a zen koan, breaking my mind. The little chicken is an adorable baby chick and yet he is also the victim of attempted murder by his own mother in his first gasping moments of life, bearing those horrible scars. Such horror and beauty in one, tiny package. Such promise and love and tragedy. This happens every day, at every scale, to every type of living creature in the world and some day the entire earth will spiral into the sun and destroy all of the little chickens and everything else. And so is this good? Or bad? It cannot be rationalized. It is the indisputable way that it is and it doesn’t care what you think about it. Life is so much suffering and so much joy and ultimately what does any of that even mean? Does it matter that we provided some comfort to the little chicken on his very short journey? What is the part that we play in this life? Are we to be stewards of some sort or are we victims? Victims that try to fit everything into our world view?

kannagara-no-michi

New Sign

I kept very busy over the holiday break at the farm (more on that later). One of the things that I did was to put up a new sign. I had it made from cast aluminum and it is powder coated so it should last for pretty close to forever. Longer than me, anyhow.

The sign pays tribute to the previous owner of the farm, Gary Larson. He did such impressive work around the property and you could tell he was always looking for little ways to improve it. We felt it was appropriate to make sure that his legacy lived on at this place and so his name is on there. I did make one stupid mistake though; he actually established the place in 1990, not 1997, although I unfortunately did not notice this error (my fault) until after the sign had been cast. It’s nearly impossible to fix at this point and I suppose it another forty years those few seven years won’t matter too much anyhow. Originally Gary called the place “Daybreak Ranch.” He told me that at the time him and his wife were both working and had to get up early to take care of the horses, at the crack of dawn. In addition, the main home faces east and so “Daybreak”, with its double meaning, became the name. The “ranch” part is presumably because of the horses. Since we don’t have horses and I don’t plan to get any, we decided to change that part to “farm” instead. So “Daybreak Farm” is the name; it has a bit of heritage to it and it’s also our own.

The sign itself is really heavy. Even though it’s aluminum, it’s a lot of it. It weighs just over 100 pounds. It has eight studs in the back of it that I connected into 2x6s which are in turn lag-bolted into the upright beams; one is a burly old 6×6 and the other is two 2x4s joined in an L shape. I suspect I may end up strengthening those 2x4s by adding a 4×4 behind them at some point although they’re working fine for now. All of the wood is covered in an oil-based sealer / stain which should help it survive in our soggy weather. Above it I mounted two solar powered lights for nighttime illumination.

Here is what the new sign looks like, mounted in place:

I had to cut down a nasty looking holly bush that was in my way when I was hanging it. It’s a little hard to get a sense of scale from this picture; the sign is about six feet wide and a little over two feet tall if I recall correctly.

Below is the original sign that we replaced. I think I’ll put this one up in the barn. You can see the big gnarly holly bush in this photo.

Progress on the terracing

This may come as a surprise; it turns out that it is shockingly hard work to build a 130′ long, 3′ high dry stack rock wall. Digging the trench for the footer alone was a massive task; it had to be around 2.5′ wide and 2′ deep and we dug it all by hand. Then 6″ of 3/4 clean gravel was added to the bottom (I used the tractor for most of this!) for drainage. We still haven’t finished setting the first course of rock. We have about 40 tons of one-man granite rocks piled in the front yard waiting to go into place although my attention has been taken lately with some interior remodeling and leak-fixing so this project has been sitting idle. Here are a few pictures of the beginnings:

Remaking the Garden – Terracing

After spending some time tearing down the small, older garden (while preserving the old grape vine) I became frustrated with how hilly (not to mention rocky!) our yard is and so I decided to terrace it.

The thinking is to build a natural stone retaining wall and then fill in the low spots with dirt brought in from outside. The first step is to stake out the terraced area and then run level twine between the stakes to get a sense of how high the retaining walls would need to be and how much dirt to bring in. Here’s the surveying work in progress:

It seems that we’ll need about 1,000 yards of soil to level this up. And lots and lots of rocks!

Making Hay Part 2

The plan has been to turn this part of the pasture into a hay field so we can harvest and store it and our sheep will have healthy food to eat next winter.

The first step is to set up the tractor with the plow:

And then, start plowing:

This can actually be a little bit of a nerve-wracking process, especially on very hilly and uneven ground like our pasture. The reason is that after making the first furrow it’s necessary to put the two tractor tires on the right side into that furrow to do the second one and then keep repeating this process. This means the tractor can be titling to one side in a fairly dramatic fashion at times. The last thing I want to do is roll the tractor.

So after a couple of hours I had this done.

And then a bit later, all done:

Next step is that my sister will be planting the hay seeds. Apparently it’s some kind of mix from a local seed company… I’ll update with more information about that later.