Fiasco: A Farming Failure

First off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY JIM!

So, the story.

Out of the batch of chicks I hatched last year, I had kept 2 crazy little roosters that were out of my dearly departed Silkie hen, Gretel, and my lovely Easter Egger rooster, Percy. I kept them mostly because no one was interested in a Silkie cross: you either want Silkies because they are cute or good incubators, or you want other chickens because they aren’t tiny. These were beautiful roosters, but they weren’t fluffy like Silkies and they were about the size of my regular sized hens… not a good trait in a flock rooster.

And I couldn’t bring myself to kill and eat them because they have… black skin. Apparently they are highly popular in Asian cuisine, but it was a bit off-putting to my Western sensibilities. It just did not look appetizing.

Anyway, a year went by and they began to be more and more of a problem. They were extremely aggressive with the other roosters and terrorized the hens. These little squirts were major punks. Saturday afternoon when I went to refill waterers, I found my sweet Gulliver, once at the top of the pecking order, with a huge gash along the side of his head and a torn (and very bloody) wattle. I brought him home, doctored him up, and put in him the back part of the coop so he could get some peace and quiet.

I was furious. I have no proof that the little punks did it, but the roosters got along fairly well before those two went crazy, so I blame them. I mean, they were virtually pointless, yet attractive, roosters that I had kept around for ridiculous reasons. THEY HAD TO GO. So, Sunday night I let Gulliver out of the back section and shoved the Silkie crosses back there. They were going to meet the ax (metaphorically, as I don’t use an axe to dispatch birds) the next day.

Monday morning rolls around and I do my morning chores, get everyone fed, and go to collect the soon-to-be-coq-au-vin roosters for their appointment. I open the coop door and see a very unhappy sight: both roosters are laying in awkward positions on the coop floor. My gut sinks because I’m almost positive they are dead dead dead. I start to tear up. Which is one of those unusual things that happens to me as a farmer: there I am crying over two roosters who I was on my way to kill. I walk over to the door that separates the sections of the coop and bend down to confirm my horrible suspicion.

And that’s when a whole horde of wasps slams into the side of my face. The impact and initial stings sends me reeling backwards and I manage to fling my glasses off my face in panic. Once I make it out of the coop (which was miraculous since it’s a 1.5 foot step down and I DIDN’T fall), I have to strip my shirt off because the wasps have made it down the neck and are attacking me from the inside.

So, now I’m SERIOUSLY crying, in pain and surprise and anger. My glasses are god knows where and I’m topless in the middle of a cow field at 9 o’clock in the morning. I stumble to the car and quickly head for my parents’ house a 1/2 mile away (still without glasses, a very dangerous proposition as I am severely nearsighted). I run into my mom’s kitchen a blubbering, splotchy, quickly swelling mess (still topless- thank god I put a bra on that morning or my brother would probably be traumatized). I tell her what happened and she shoves me in a cold shower and goes to get Benadryl.

There I am, crying in the shower, naked, while my mom spoon feeds me medicine. Which is kind of ridiculous, but thank god for her and the fact that we’re comfortable with each other, because I was just totally unable to take care of myself in that moment. These are the times when you really appreciate living next to your mother. She didn’t even point out how silly it was that I was crying over dead roosters that I was planning to kill anyway.

Once I’ve calmed down and we’re sure I’m not about to go into anaphylactic shock, Mom slavers me in watery cornstarch to draw out the pain and swelling. A grand total of 8 stings: one scarily close to my eye, one on my temple, one on my earlobe, three on my neck, one on my shoulder, and one heading uncomfortably close to my armpit.

My dad is dispatched to find my glasses and close the fences that I left open in my haste.  When he comes back he confirms that the roosters are in fact dead. They killed each other. Roosters are instinctively aggressive towards other roosters, but roosters that live together generally don’t become THAT dangerous to one another. They will fight for dominance and fight over hens, but it’s not usually a fight to the death for roosters that have been raised together. I knew they were aggressive, hence the death sentence, but they never really fought each other. I was shocked and horrified. I felt really bad. It made me a bit sick to my stomach to think about. It’s just so gruesome.

Dad also informed me that the wasps probably came from a nest that had been built up on the divider door. There are always little nests in the coop but I’ve never had a problem. The divider door is usually open so I guess I never noticed this bunch. Why they didn’t bother me when I was opening and closing the door the two previous days is a mystery. Maybe the battle royale had put them on edge.

We went down that night to deal with the bug problem. Olive oil and water in a spray bottle was our only weapon (I made Dad go in first). No chemicals because I don’t like them and I certainly didn’t want the chickens getting into them. The olive oil (or veggie oil or liquid soap) coats the wasps’ bodies and wings so they can’t fly or breathe well. The ones that don’t suffocate pretty quickly you just squash when they fall to the floor. The chickens had lots of olive oil dressed protein to choose from the next morning!

Grudgingly, I deposited the dead roosters in the woodlot for the coyotes to clean up. By that time I was mostly past the sadness and on to irritation. Those damn little roosters were so spiteful that they robbed me of a lovely coq au vin, even after all the money I spent feeding them for over a year. And I really hate feeding the coyotes.

I had planned (yes, promised) to post this last night, but, in usual fashion, my internet was down when I got home last night. One of the downfalls of living in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, it’s back today! [Addendum: In the middle of typing up this post, the internet went out again because of a big thunderstorm and won’t be coming back until Monday at the earliest. I seriously can’t catch a break. Posting from my sister’s house.]

The Great Fence-capade

My father is gone for the month to our other farm on the opposite side of the state. My brother and I are picking up the slack while he’s away. First order of business was to find and “repair” the hole in the fence that the cows were getting out of. Easier said than done: there is about 2 miles of fence to check. So, out we go, brother and I, to check the fence and mark that item off our list.

RIGHT. Two days in and we’re in a bigger mess than we started with. Well, that’s not really true. It would be more fair to say that we just didn’t know the size of the mess to begin with.

Technically, my father runs the farm, but it’s never that simple. My grandfather (who is a practicing lawyer at nearly 80) is a bit of a busybody and likes to think he’s still in charge of everything. My uncle has been in politics for 10 years, but likes to be a weekend farmer. Myy brother is a jack-of-most-trades farm hand and I run my own little poultry business. It’s a bit crazy.

You’d think that will all these people “working” on the farm, things would get done in a timely manner and everything would be in tip-top shape. You’d be sadly mistaken. That saying “too many cooks in the kitchen” always springs to mind when I think about our situation. And it’s really true: it seems to take a committee to get a fence fixed.

That stupid fence has been patched together so much that it’s laughable. Too many MEN thinking “I’ll just fix this section right here with this bit of wire I have handy and then I’ll come back and fix it correctly later.” But later never comes.

There was one stretch of fence about 50 yards long that had at least 6 crimps in it (a crimp sleeve is used to connect 2 pieces of fence wire). And each of those crimps is a potential weak spot. Now, you can’t really build a seriously long fence without using crimps, but they should be used judiciously so that your fence stays nice and strong. When you use them to patch the fence over and over and over, you end up with a fence that snaps whenever an unruly cow decides to run into it, which is exactly what’s been happening here.

There was gate where someone had obviously cut the wire a bit too short. Instead of fixing it correctly, they had used two fence handles, connected together, to bridge the gap. Which was really not sufficient. There was one place where a tree had grown into the fence, basically grounding out the electric current.

When I see a problem I want to fix it correctly and attractively and right then. And the guys roll their eyes at me and groan and wander off to tinker with something else. But then they are back patching that same stupid fence a month later. If, instead, they would just fix the problem correctly instead of making it “good enough for now” then it’s taken care of and you don’t have to think about it again for a good long while.

So, what are we doing for the next few days? We’re fixing the fences correctly. And what does that entail? Just cutting down a few trees that are threatening to fall, restranding an entire section, putting in about 15 new posts, checking every fence insulator, fixing two gates that are broken, adding fence strainers to tighten existing wire, and buying a new fence energizer because the old one WASN’T EVEN WORKING.

I started thinking that all those problems were really generational, that my brother was a bit more like me in just wanting to fix what needs fixing. But, alas, he’s got a lot of man ideas too. He got all stroppy with me this afternoon because I asked him to cut down a thick sapling that had grown up through a gate. He argued with me for at least 15 minutes, saying that gate was never opened so we shouldn’t bother. He’s mostly right, the gate never does get opened, but that’s no reason to let a tree grow through it when you can cut it down in one minute with the chainsaw. Especially when you are standing right there with the chainsaw…

At the end of the work day today, we had a completely ridiculous argument about our fencing equipment, which was all in the bed of his truck. It went something like this:

Brother: Help me clean all this stuff out of my truck.

Me: But we’re going to need it all tomorrow morning.

Brother: But I don’t want my truck to be messy. I’m taking my fiance out tonight.

Me: Fine, whatever. [Helps him drag everything into the garage. He goes in to get a drink. I find a handy 5-gallon bucket and neatly arrange all our fencing odds and ends so they aren’t just strewn about the truck tomorrow. I go to put it in the bed of his truck.]

Brother: [coming out of the house] What are you doing with that bucket?

Me: I arranged all our fencing stuff so we can just grab this bucket and have everything at our fingertips! It’s great. And now it won’t make your truck look messy. [huge grin, thinking I’m a genius.]

Brother: Brilliant. So now I’ve got to keep a bucket of junk in the truck.

Me: But it’s so handy…

Brother: Just leave it in the garage.

So off I go, muttering something like “Thanks Sis! That’s a great idea. It will make life so much easier. We’ll be fencing at great speeds because of your wonderful ingenuity.” And then I found out he was the one with the brilliant idea to hook the two fence handles together!

I don’t mean to make all the men in my family sound like lazy idiots. I know that they have a lot of things to do other than worry about one fence being perfect. They do lots and lots of things I can’t do, like fix the tractor. And I appreciate a fixed tractor, I really do. But there are things that I think I might be much better suited to than they are and fence management might just be one of those things.