So this whole farm thing has it’s ups and downs. One difficult aspect is the fact that travelling as a family takes on a whole new level of complication due to the fact that you leave behind hungry animals, full udders, daily eggs, and emptying troughs. Enlisting help to manage this is difficult to say the least, especially the milking part. As such, we’ve decided to take two solo trips to the farm this year. The first one started Saturday. My lovely wife left me with five human kids, 6 goat kids, three does, 17 bunnies, 12 hens, one rooster, a pregnant donkey, a guardian dog, a pet dog, 25,000 bees, and a feline with cerebellar hypoplasia (brain damage). I’m not as literarily gifted (is that a word?) as my lovely bride and I’ve never posted on a blog in my life. So those of you who are regulars don’t expect the beautiful prose of my wife nor the vast spillage of knowledge. This my friends, is a tribute to what she does. And more importantly, a warning to other hubbies who would even consider the insanity of sending their better half 1000 miles away for 8 days.
Day 1: Mom leaves early in the morning, all 5 human kids are sick with some sort of coughing-sneezing-stuffy-head-Dad-can’t-rest disease that leaves a perpetual green line of fluid hanging from one or both nostrils. Trying to keep those booger ornaments at bay is like trying to chase chickens into a coop at 3 O’clock in the afternoon. Mom says I have to butcher the rooster because it’s attacking my kids. I slaughter the beast and begin the evisceration which is only a forehadowing of dinner that night. This rooster was the toughest bird I’d ever butchered. The skin was like cowhide and the internal connective tissue was akin to the gator skin bullet proof vest I wore in Kuwait years ago. I finally got him cut up and had the grand idea of having fried chicken that night. Now a word to the wise. A year-old Brahma rooster is nothing like a 6-week old Cornish Cross, but we’ll get to that later. First I read one of Momma’s cook books and the chapter on fried chicken made it sound like a walk in the park. A little oil, a little batter, a few flips in the pan and Viola, crispy fried chicken ready in minutes. Hogwash! 15 minutes into the ordeal the flour mixture was turning to drywall paste and wouldn’t stick to the chicken, although it stuck just fine to the mentally challenged cat and various parts of the kitchen. The oil went from 80 degrees to 400 degrees in about 30 seconds and smoke was now billowing upwards towards the smoke alarm (fan comes on, doors open). The book says put the chicken in at 360, cook for 5 minutes, then bring the oil down to 300 and flip every 5 minutes. Oil in a cast iron skillet, on a glass top stove, with chunks of cold meat thrown in is not a thermally stable system (excuse me, I’m an engineer). The oil temp through the whole process fluctuated like the stock market. I was shootin’ for a mean temp of 310 with a standard deviation around 30. I ended up with what actually looked like fried chicken, and a kitchen that looked like something you’d see on the reality show “Hoarders”. I set the table, blew all the kids noses, and sat down for a meal. The first bite was more like a first attempt. Back to the tough skin, tough tissue, and year-old Brahma. Yep, the texture of carbon-reinforced beef jerky. Time for bed…
Day 2: Our prize milking doe, promised to put out 8+ lbs a day gives me 0.75 lbs after 12 hours of separation from her kids. Not good, I’ve got a sick momma. Can’t go to church because I’ve quarantined the entire brood after a night of coughing, crying, menthalatum rubs, and snot patrol. Septic system is backed up. Oh yes, it is a day of rest, for God hath declared it as such. So what do I do? What any good Christian should do…Twister. Yep, that Milton Bradley game from the 70’s. After a wonderful online sermon from our old church in Vegas, I whip out the Twister and forget about the worries of the world. It’s even a little mentally challenging because my 5-year-old keeps forgetting which is her left and her right. I try to tell her from the opposite side of the mat and confuse myself. After that I make a quick lunch and put the boys down for a nap. Knowing that God allows us to get our Ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath I unbury the septic lid and take a look. Worse than I thought, I immediately institute a new potty policy. Yellow can hang around but brown must go down. I spend the afternoon devising ways to reduce water flow to the septic system and researching the internet for solutions. I also diverted the washer drain out the dryer vent hole and into the back yard to keep it from going into the overflowing septic. Great idea until the first load. You guessed it, I inadvertantly loosened the connection to the washer and the first spin cycle sent water gushing onto the floor of the laundry room and spilling into the carpeted floor of the entry way. I’m maintaining my sense of humor.
Day 3: Time for work. Babysitter shows up at 0730, I’m out the door. One of D’s goat mentors tells me she found some great hay up north that might entice my sick doe to eat and maybe bring back her milk flow. I leave work early, borrow a truck, drive up north and pick up two 900 lb square bales of hay. Now I’m not a farmer. The biggest bales I’d come across in my few years of farm life were 125 lb bales in California. I knew I was in trouble when the guy dropped the first bale in the back of this Ford F-250 King Cab Diesel and the thing squatted like a Budda. The second bale made it look like I should get chrome spinners, put a neon light on the bottom, and cruise the strip with the stereo blastin’. I immediately wondered how in the world my 145 lb runner’s build was going to get the equivalent of half a Clydesdale out of the truckbed and onto a pallet. Dressed in a pretty flight suit and bearing officer rank (city boy) I’m sure Tye (the 7-foot tall, overall-wearing forklift operator) probably wondered the same thing. I actually saw him chuckle as I drove off. Although I’m not a farmer, I am an engineer. I fully understand the principles of static stability, Dynamics, and mechanical advantage. I laid out a 10-foot pallet next to a tree and between two others. I figured once the top bale fell, it might have a tendency to roll off the pallet, thus the tree would stop it. The other two trees were used to anchor my cargo straps that wrapped around the side of the bale. I cinched them down enough to tilt the ensemble, but not topple it. I then checked the spacing, estimated the point of landing, and positioned the pallet just right. Standing to the side, I called “Clear” and pulled on the strap. 900 lbs of tightely wound alfafa tumbled off the side of the truck and hit dead-center on the pallet. Who’s laughing now Tye? Photo Op…..
Day 4: Dog vomit! Four piles, all on the brand new carpet, none of it on the vast expanse of hardwood floors upstairs. With catlike agility I spring into action, get out the steam cleaner and in an hour there’s not a trace. Only the lingering odor of something not quite right. Having desensitized myself to the odor, I head outside to tackle the septic system. My research tells me that the garbage disposal coupled with 5 young kids, coupled with undiverted grey water (washer, showers, dishwasher, etc.) all add to the overloading of my 20-year-old leach field. I decide to open all three access holes to the septic tank for an amatuer inspection before calling the $100 per hour sanitation engineer who will tell me the same thing. Sure enough, floating sludge all the way to the third chamber and a water level over the spillway to the outlet. In layman’s terms that means start using the outhouse. I lay down a few more rules: baths will wait ’til Mom comes home, peeing outside is perfectly acceptable, no more garbage disposal, and the dishwasher will only run if the dog can’t lick the plates clean enough. I pull the sludge from chamber three with a dog pooper scooper, pull some roots from chamber two, and within a day I’m back down below the spillway. Now I’ve got to drop the kids off at a friends house and take A to his PT appointment. Little did I know that I’d walk out of that appointment with a three-year-old in two leg casts up to his knees. How in the world do you dress a kid with two leg casts? R didn’t nap at the babysitters house so she cries the whole way home. Little “A” wants to take his “boots” off but I explain that they’re on for the next 10 weeks, he then tries to stand up and falls out of the van. “M” and “S” help “A” to the door and “N” needs a tissue. I pull the crew inside, cook dinner, burn the garlic toast, set off the smoke alarm and pray that bedtime will soon come. After a night-time stroll to the compost pile to relieve myself, I hit the bed.
Day 5: Babysitter comes again so I can squeeze in another half day at work. She says, “I just saw a fox running across the road with something in his mouth. He dropped it when he saw me”. Panic! I run outside, across the pasture and into the road only to find a dead Brahma hen with teeth marks all over. There ain’t no way that fox is coming back later to get his bounty. I throw an apron over my pretty green flight suit and butcher that chicken in the driveway. I pull out the last egg she will ever give us and show the kids all the other eggs ready for a shell. We feed the organ meat and undeveloped eggs to the dog and I quarter the meat. It’s in the freezer and that fox is still hungry. I head off to work. My son calls at 10 O’clock and says the goat mentor looked at my sick goat. She’s going down hill fast and there’s not much I can do. “S” also reports that the rabbit dug his way out of the pen and is now locked in the garage. I leave work early again and try to save the ship before it sinks. I remove the rabbit from the garage, fill his hole, and lay wire fencing on the ground to deter digging (notice I say deter). I call another goat mentor and a vet for advice but it doesn’t look good for momma goat. I’m now down to one-gallon left of frozen milk before I need to find another source to supplement her kids with. Haven’t solved that one yet but I’ve got another two days. I’ve also got 30 projects to grade, an exam to write, meals to cook, and 5 sick kids to heal. Lastly, I caught a goat taking a bite of rubbard on the way back to the pen. Luckily she spit it out but another goat grabbed it. I hope it’s not enough to be dangerous but my first priority tomorrow is to fence in that rubbarb. Dirty diaper, cat just puked a hairball on my lap. 3 more days and my wife will return to save me….more later.