Artful Land Care

Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

When Cows Garden

In Animals, Landscape on July 5, 2015 at 8:00 am


July 5, 2015

We rotate cattle from pasture to pasture. As long as their numbers are balanced to land, rotational pasturing allows for healthier pasture, abundant grass, and more cattle per acre.

After five weeks, we began our second pass through the pastures a week ago. A week later we moved the cattle to the next pasture. With the grass and weeds eaten down, we found a zucchini squash plant blossoming in the middle of the eaten pasture. Standing by itself, green leaves, yellow flowers, and a couple zucchini, the cattle had eaten around the plant without a bite taken. Given who cows are and given the zucchini plant’s poky nature, perhaps it isn’t too surprising the cows left it alone.

My reaction to finding the zucchini in the middle of the pasture was one of surprise. When I told Belinda later she thought I was trying to get something past her. But there the plant grows, out of place, a good eighth mile from our garden.

Each summer, we cut up leftover squash and throw it out to the chickens. They do a fair job of eating all the meat, leaving only the skins on the ground. I imagine a chicken walked out into the pasture last summer and while turning over cow pies looking for bugs pooped out a seed or two. With water, a bit of soil, and natural fertilizer, the seed obviously found a home suited to its growth.

The unrelenting need to reproduce is amazing. Whether it humans, animals, or plants, life does not give up until it recreates itself.

The cattle may have left the zucchini plant alone because of the sticker-ness of the plant. It just might be though, they too are amazed to find a zucchini plant in the middle of their pasture. Or maybe they also find it a simple gift to have yellow flowers in their midst. Perhaps I give the cattle too much credit, yet I’d rather than not live with the idea the world is better off believing cattle are as wanting as ourselves to have a bit of unusual beauty in their midst.



Meating Reverence At the Intersection of Life and Death

In Animals, JustLiving Farm on April 26, 2015 at 8:00 am


April 26, 2015

Most calves arrive on the farm arrive in the fall. Many of our neighbor’s spring calves sell at that time, so fall is a good time to buy. Fall, a year later, is butchering time.

During the year I walk the pastures and slowly develop a relationship with the steers. Each walk gives me a chance to see if anyone is off their feed, has a runny eye, or a dry nose—better to find a problem at the start than after it has settled in. These walks lead to a comfortableness between us. Comfortableness matters on butcher day.

Our goal at the farm is that none of our calves’ dies of natural causes. (At least not natural from a steer’s point of view.) Growing up, I never gave much thought to steers raised on the family place, but my folks did. They did not name steers, though they didn’t stop us kids. It was their way of having some distance in the human /steer relationship. They knew the steers were not going to die of natural causes and a no-name steer is easier to kill on butcher day. Good idea, but none of that ever worked out. It seems that if you live with an animal for eighteen months, more or less, relationships develop, whether you like it or not.

Daddy never liked butcher day, mostly because of the relationship gained whether you like it or not. Daddy never killed a steer. Instead our neighbor, Mr. Riggins, dropped by early morning to handle the killing. Once done, daddy, Mr. Riggins, and us boys would skin and quarter the beef.

Today I understand Mr. Riggins and daddy’s butchering relationship was based in the human/animal relationship. Mr. Riggins didn’t have the relationship daddy had with the steers. This separation made killing much easier for Mr. Riggins than daddy. Many folk raising animals for meat need a Mr. Riggins and mine is Johan. Read the rest of this entry »

An Old Word to Honor and A Modern Word “That’s For the Birds”

In Animals, JustLiving Farm on February 8, 2015 at 8:00 am


February 8, 2015

“That’s for the birds,” has an interesting undertones these days. The avian influenza, a highly contagious and deadly virus is ramping up across the countryside. Who knew that when the flu rolled out this year, we’d be talking bird flu rather than should we have gotten our flu shot or not. For a chicken though, getting the flu and getting shot is a bit different than for us. Today, the government is dispatching birds right and left.

Bird flu fear is so great, China, the European Union, and many more countries have banned US poultry and eggs. Other nations, like Canada, have placed trade restrictions on exports from Washington and Oregon. These actions have folk wondering the economic impact of the flu. Fear has also led chicken folk, industrial, and small farm alike, to take precautions like requiring farm visitors to walk through bleach tubs before entering the farm. This is what the government, the agricultural industry, and media has termed as best biosecurity practices.

The bird flu is clearing muddy agricultural industry waters and three problematic areas come into focus: dispatching birds, economic impact, and biosecurity. While not spending much time on the first two, I will say, using the word dispatching other than “kill” is a tell of an industry who fears public knowledge that animals are killed at unimaginable numbers today, healthy or not. When it comes to an economic impact because of export restrictions, one has to wonder why chickens, chicken meat, and eggs are exported in the first place? Chickens and eggs are so easy to raise, very few communities need US farm poultry and eggs. What has my goat though is the idea of biosecurity. Read the rest of this entry »

Beefing Up Justice

In Animals, Peace & Justice on November 2, 2014 at 6:00 am


November 02, 2014

Two questions often asked: “Do you have cows? And, do you raise your beef from babies?” My answer: “No, I don’t have cows. And, no I don’t raise our steers from babies.” Inevitably the next question is, “Why?”

Good question. “Why,” teases out a little more information that often gets to the core of what the original question hoped for. The “why” answer is, Belinda and I buy, raise, and sell our calves because of our sense of justice.

Our neighbors work cow-calf ranches/farms. A cow-calf ranch is one that has a number of cows which are kept year-round. These cows are breed to a bull(s) who, often, is also kept year-round. Calves are born in the spring (some ranches also have calves in the fall). They are raised on mamma’s milk throughout the spring and summer. Come late summer calves begin eating range or pasture grass alongside mamma. Early fall sees the calves weaned from their mothers. Then in late fall the calves are taken to the auction house and sold. That is where we come in.

Each fall we visit our neighbors looking for calves to bring to the farm. Our favorite way of having calves come to the farm is to say to our neighbor, “We’ll take the two black claves and the baldy. Whatever price you get at the sale yard, we’ll give you the same.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sacred Cows

In Animals, Peace & Justice on March 31, 2014 at 8:56 am


March 31, 2014

As March closes out, I am thinking about the days leading into March. We’d had a fair amount of snow. It was nothing like the snow of our neighbors across the American landscape, but for the farm, plenty enough.

Low temperatures and snow come hand in hand and like the snow, it has been plenty cold enough. Cold weather though calls for more feed, which of course, means more work. More work, however, isn’t all that bad. Each winter we fence the hay fields, turn the cattle out, and let them forage open range. The hay fields provide plenty of feed all winter long. So, when the bottom drops out of the thermometer, and we begin feeding hay cut from last summer’s hay fields, life is just fine. And after all, we figure a little extra food enhances the physical and spiritual wellbeing of cattle.

Though we’re a long way from the ideal, society is slowly beginning to grasp the physical wellbeing of their food animal matters. However, when it comes to thinking about a food animal’s spiritual wellbeing, society remains out on the back forty. Our current blindness around animal spirituality has not always been the case. Christians at one time, e.g., Thomas Aquinas and Francis Assisi, believed the Creator imbued plants and animals with soul. That is crazy talk though today. Sure, we might allow for an animal soul possibility when we have Annabelle the cat or Hank the dog put-to-sleep—due to our deep sense of loss, but the idea of our food having soul? Well, you’re hard pressed to find that on anyone’s Top Ten List.

There are a number of reasons why animals have lost their soul. The industrialization of society, the exile of rural people to urban centers, and the mechanization of food have all led to separating people from their food animals. And unlike plants where most anyone can have a little garden, it’s a bit difficult to raise a meat cow in the suburban back yard. Yet, there are two big reasons for animal soullessness: enhanced business profits and low consumer meat cost. The latter is the ring-in-the-human community nose. Attaining absurdly low meat prices at the local market has become so important; folk would rather not question the possibility of their pound of burger or bag of chicken breasts ever having a soul if it means paying a single dime more. Read the rest of this entry »

Feeling Life

In Animals, JustLiving Farm, YCM on June 28, 2013 at 8:26 am


June 28, 2013

Last spring a kid was born on the Farm.  Well, a lot of kids were born.  But one in particular, the third of three, smaller than the other two came mid-morning, mid-week.  We had seen similar babies in the past, a runt, sorta thrifty, and a great desire to live.  But desire doesn’t get you far when mom has two teats and your siblings are larger than you.  The result, as the result always is, the runt struggles to get a good meal.  This means the runt seldom gets a good meal and is always the first to begin eating grass.  This wouldn’t be bad, except their stomachs are not quite ready for it, so even though they begin grazing, it doesn’t do much for them and they remain runty.

I grew up with Charlotte’s Web.  A great story, but a story of ideal.  Wilbur is a newborn runt piglet, saved from death by Fern.  Wilbur ends up growing grows up to be a great hog.  However, the story is fantasy and reality seldom has a good ending.  Runts most never have a good life.  They are always fighting for the next meal and even with the best of care, die deaths that are seldom good deaths.  The reason why the farmer was going to put Wilbur down was because he knew there are times death is more humane than life.  The reason he was talked out of it was not because of Fern, but because he hoped for good life every bit as much as Fern and, like most farmers, would a whole lot rather take a chance at life than have to kill life.

Such was life last spring with the runt kid.  Unlike Wilber though, the runt has struggled ever since.  Mom took good care of him, but that did not make life easy.  However, he has made it four months and today he is the size of all the other kids after about three weeks.  Chances of survival?  Well, pretty minimal.

Until today.

One of the best parts of having a farm where folks visit, where conversation is about justice, food, theology, and life, is folk get to know the soil, the plants, the animals, the wind, and a runt.  Our hope every year is someone will come along and experience the truth of life, the truth of being a neighbor—even to a runt, and should we have a runt, take a chance on giving a kid a home that would not happen on the farm.

Well today is that day.  Youth from two sister congregations, Riverside UCC and Bethel UCC, have been with us this week.  Residing across the Colombia River from one another, Riverside in Hood River and Bethel in White Salmon, they have spent a week conversing about cultural justice, anti-racism, and economic justice.  In our time together dealing with these issues there is always the question of where soil, plants, and animals fit.  I am not all that sure to their reasoning, other than I think it is out of a sense of justice, but they took the time to find a home for our runt!

I feel a bit like Fern today, but a lot more like the one who was going to have to put Wilbur down.  Life is certainly given, but when life is allowed to live well, well, that is a time of rejoicing.  I feel a bit like that!

A Bath For The Trip!

A Bath For The Trip!

© David B. Bell 2013

Long Day’s Birthing Into Night

In Animals, JustLiving Farm on March 22, 2013 at 9:17 am


March 22, 2013

2013 Kids: Day 3
Part 2

Belinda and Kate headed off to the My Future: extended learning program.  I later learned youth spent the better part of the day exploring new duct tape ideas, while also taking some time to prepare and eat a meal during their once a week time of exploring new food opportunities.  Like many rural ministries, I imagine, life is seldom compartmentalized into work or play or this job and that, but rather ministry is a fluid mix of what is and what is about to be.

As they headed down the drive another doe dropped two more kids.  She is an older doe so care for her kids, on my part, was minimal.  Soon afterward another doe gave birth, then another.  All the while, one doe who has been through this many times kept walking around with a slight discharge…hoping, I think, that soon she would give birth as well.  In the meantime another doe gave birth.  7pm rolled around it looked like all the remaining does without kids, except for the doe with the slight discharge, were not going to give birth today.

This last one though was at her wits end.  This seems to happen every year with her.  Her teats are as tight as they can be from milk, her utter is so big she has to walk bow-legged, and the hair on her utter has been rubbed off from her legs rubbing past.  You know she has had it and wants the pregnancy to just be done because as a standoffish doe who never lets you touch her, she now allows you to scratch her back and rub her shoulders.  Yet, as the saying goes, a watched pot will not boil, so I gather up old used slimy towels and head back to the house to get some admin work done that has been left behind during this day of birthing.

Belinda returned from My Future a while later.  We got supper together and ate.  Then Belinda headed out to the barn around 8:00pm while I cleaned dishes.  The phone rang a little after 8:30.  Belinda said it might be best to come out to the barn.

As I came around the corner I could see Belinda and the doe were having problems.  Two feet were out and no head.  A normal presentation has two front legs stretched out with a head nestled between them coming out the vulva.  Such a presentation allows the body to come to a point of sorts, which allows for an easy birth.  Tonight, the hooves and legs are in the correct position, but the head is turned back—not good.  The presentation told the story of why the birth had taken all day, and this far into it meant there was little chance for a live birth.  It also meant the does chances were dropping as well.

It is probably luck, but for twelve years of birthing we’ve never had such a presentation—that we know of (there has been a lot of births we’ve never seen).  If mom was at her wits end hours ago, she was done now.  Belinda took her head.  I ran a finger between the baby and the vulva until I could feel where the neck was bent back.  Everything was far too tight to push the baby back in and turn the head around.  I hooked my finger in the notch created by the head being turned back and grabbed the front feet.  Then I placed one foot on each side of her rump, just above the hock, then pushed with my legs and pulled with my arms.  Belinda pulled.  Nothing happened.  We all pulled again.  Then again.  With the head turned back over the shoulders there is simply lot of area to move through such a small opening.  About the time we began to wonder if the baby would ever come out, there was movement.  Then a little more.  Finally, the head was through and the baby was out.  And dammit, yes, the baby is dead.

Before we had a chance to place the baby on the straw another bag began to come out.  With bag in tack, two hooves came out, then two legs, but no head.  You have got to be kidding!  Another abnormal presentation and a breach this time—everything is coming out backwards!  This time though, the kid came fast and was on the straw before the amniotic sack broke.  Coughing and shaking its head, we wiped birth gunk out of its mouth and placed him by mommas head.  She began to lick and clean him up.

Normally, when a doe is done birthing, she looks a little hollow in the hindquarters.  That was not the case.  We watched as she cleaned up the kid and figured we would hang out for another twenty minutes and see if another kid might come along.  Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, she pushed again.

An intact bag came out, but only with a head, no feet.  It seems like all twelve years of few birthing problems are going to be made up right now, with one mamma—third baby and a third abnormal presentation!  This time the legs are pulled back in line with the body, so like the first, there is no point to the presentation, the area around the shoulders is larger than the vulva and an easy birth is out of the question.  She pushed and the neck came out, but as soon as she stopped, it all went back inside.  Another push and the same result.  The doe is shot by now and energy non-existent.  So when she pushed the third time, Belinda took her head, I grabbed the kids head and neck (the amniotic sack didn’t break) and we all pushed and pulled.  Slow even movement and in a moment the baby was on the straw.  Belinda wiped the nose and mouth and placed the baby by mommas head.

Thirty minutes later we took one last look as we turned to leave the barn.  Mommas everywhere with babies lying up beside them.  Most are sleeping.  A few are chewing their cud watching us.  Lights out.  11pm.

© David B. Bell 2013

Beginning Life at the Woodstove

In Animals, JustLiving Farm on March 13, 2013 at 7:10 am


March 12, 2013

2013 Kids: Day 3
Part 1

It’s 5:30am the day after daylight savings time has begun.  Seems like it should be spring, but really, it is late winter and the morning temperature is proof.  Belinda is ahead of me heading out to the barn.  The night was too short, but there are kids being born and our curiosity has gotten the better of us—More times than not, the does and babies do just fine without us intruding.

We divide the barn into two sections this time of year.  One side is where we place the does who are going to birth any moment and everyone else spends the night on the other side.  Entering the barn we see none of the does who we thought were on the verge of kidding kidded.  But on the other side, well, sure enough one of the first-time does who we did not expect to birth had two kids on the ground.

First timers have a habit of having one kid, cleaning it up, and then before she knows it she is birthing all over again.  So, she gets up walks around, lies down and has another kid—a good fifteen feet from the first one.  She gets to work cleaning the second baby, but by the time she is done cleaning-up the second kid, she’s forgotten about the first.  That is the case this morning.  The first kid laid flat to the ground, cold through and through.

Figuring the first kid is dead, we got mom and the second kid into a pen where we warmed him up and got him on mom’s teat.  Then we went back to the first.  Picking it up, the kid folded over Belinda’s hand like a cloth napkin.  She took it to the other side of the barn to leave it for burial later.  As she laid it down she checked it one more time and said, “David, I think it’s still breathing.”  It was, and its eye’s still had the clarity of life.

We milked the doe and took the baby up to the house.  There Belinda placed her in a sink full of warm water.  After she has warmed, Belinda took her out of the sink, wiped her down and placed her in front of the woodstove.  Then with a small rubber tube in hand, Belinda threaded it down the kid’s throat to it stomach.  After filling a syringe with milk, she attached it to the tube and fed the baby—this went on a couple of times throughout the morning.

About that time Kate arrived and for the remainder of the morning Kate and Belinda worked on a grant in front of the stove while feeding and massaging the baby to get its muscles moving.

By noon, a grant for the My Future extended learning program was finished and the baby was back with mom.  The day had just begun.

© David B. Bell 2013

May Mother

In Animals, JustLiving Farm on May 9, 2012 at 7:54 am

May 9, 2012

Each October we turn the buck in with the does, which then gives us kids in March.  But, every once in a while, a doe doesn’t take the first time around, or the second.  Yesterday, two full months after all the other does kidded, the last one had her baby.  After two months of watching all the others with kids and being treated as something a little other, it is evident that she thinks different about herself now, as do the other does.

© David B. Bell 2012

Chirping Toward Voice

In Animals, JustLiving Farm, Reflections on April 3, 2012 at 11:21 am

April 3, 2012
JustLiving Farm

Morning feeding sometimes lends itself to a moment of consideration.  A few days ago we picked up a few chicks whose lot in life is to become this year’s egg-laying hens.  These chicks may not be the image that comes to mind when hearing the word chick.  This time of year, in our area, the image that does come to mind is all around us.  It is nearly impossible to walk into a feed store, a lumberyard, or even a clothing store and not see chicks about the size of tennis balls chirping next to a feeder under a heat lamp.  Something about Easter brings out the sellers and buyers of chicks.  However, our chicks are not the size of tennis balls.

Our chicks are two months old and at two months, they have lost their fluff and gained their feathers.  They are beginning to look like chickens, but have yet to acquire a chicken voice.  At two months, chicks continue to chirp as they did when they were tennis ball size, but there is something more to it.  The chirp has something of a hoarseness to it, kind of like the in between, breaking, voice I remember all too well from my teenage days.  Soon, though, their true chicken voices will kick in and the days of chick will be long-gone.

Finding voice is different for chicks and chickens than it is for teenagers and adults.  Speaking—having the ability to speak or chirp, is natural in most of our lives.  But finding voice, finding those thoughts which are uniquely your own, is something different, something that takes a bit of time and a lot of reflection.  Such voice might be verbal, but it might also be that which is written or formed by clay or painted on canvas or pencil on paper, or by way of camera.  Such voice is not chirping nor childish, but mature with a dash of thoughtfulness—however; such voice may rise up out of a child and be lost to an adult.

Voice does not silence the voice of another, but gives another something to ponder and consider.  Voice encourages voice.

I’m not sure why the chirping of two-month-old chicks has me thinking of voice today.  I imagine it has something to do with the darkness of Holy Week.  A time that calls for attention, consideration, and awareness of the deep and abiding hurt that has far too much presence in our communities.  Perhaps it is the riding of a colt and Travon Martin and Mathew Shepard; perhaps it is the selling of doves and John T. Williams; perhaps it is a few days before Passover, some nard and Rosa Parks, Dorothy Day, and Fannie Lou Hamer; perhaps it is Judas and I; perhaps it is a meal in a guest room and Oakland and Oikos University; perhaps it is the casting of lots, sour wine, a torn curtain and us.

Voice does not just happen.  Like so much of life, chirping comes first, then listening, then consideration, and then with the help of friends, neighbors, and elders…voice becomes.  Perhaps, today, I just begin chirping and live with the hope of voice and resurrection.

© David B. Bell 2012