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Day to day, week to week life at Blue Rooster.
Posted 2/3/2010 9:39am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

I was reminded this week the important role personal experience plays in determining one's values and principles.   In the past I've been pretty critical of persons who are extravagant with their pets.  How can one justify spending thousands of dollars on chemo or surgery for a dog or cat when so many people do not have the health care coverage they need for even simple medical procedures?   But this week my principles were tested.
 Last week Mac leaped for a frisbee and slammed his knee into a log that had been dragged into the pasture for firewood
.  He went down in obvious pain, but in a few minutes he was up again, gingerly limping around and after a short while he seemed fully recovered.  On Tuesday however, when jumping for yet another frisbee, he twisted his leg in mid-air and came down in a heap.   We suspect he has either strained or torn his ACL and may need surgery to have it repaired.   I was surprised how quickly I felt like a protective parent of our dog -- with little hesitation we decided we would do whatever it takes make sure his leg heals completely.   I can't imagine our energetic and life-loving Mac trying to herd sheep with a limp but preventing him from doing what he loves to protect him from harm seems just as unfair.   But even while we feel committed to making sure his leg heals, we know the reality is that there are limits to what we both afford and justify for our dog.   Thankfully today he seems to be improving and several conversations with vet friends have convinced us there are options to try before an expensive surgery.   Mac's youth and general good health are in his favor.   But I had to think... what if... what if he had cancer? What if he needs a $5000 surgery to regain strength in his leg?  Mac has become part of our family.  He communicates with us.  He plays, works, and rests with us.  We really love this dog and not only that; we depend on his skills to manage the farm.   So aren't we justified to go to any extent necessary to care for a loved one?   I guess the best answer I can give is ... we'll do what we can, understanding there are always limits to what we can do, even for our human loved ones.  

Posted 11/21/2009 9:52am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

It has been an interesting and busy month since Andy and Eddy arrived.   There was the brief honeymoon where we'd walk out on pasture to them and they would play a little game of running away then slowly walking back and allowing us to put their halters on to lead them in the barn.   Then Roy began putting them in harness and hitching them to the fore cart; here is where the honeymoon ended and we began to get nervous.   Several near-disasters had Roy very concerned and he spent a couple long evenings talking on the phone with our friend and his horse-mentor, Link, figuring out what went wrong.   For about a week, we were living with a lot of uncertainty.  Was this really as good a team as we thought?  Are we ready to handle draft horses?  And the occasional, omg, what were we thinking!!  Roy had agreed to host a PASA field day at our farm on Sustainable Woodlot Management and the horses were intended to be part of that -- so he was feeling more than a little pressure.   He had already enlisted the help of our Amish neighbor for the field day and we were hoping that Link would be present as well.  When both Rudy and Link agreed to come a day early and evaluate the team, we were thrilled.  Roy and Rudy put the horses in harness and hitched them to a fore cart for Rudy to see how well or ill trained they really were.  By this time, Roy learned that he had made some mistakes with the harness and the corrections had really improved things, but he was still a little nervous.   Rudy, an experienced Amish horseman, took the reigns and started driving them around.  He took several turns around the barnyard asking Andy and Eddy to 'git up' and 'whoa' and 'back' and they performed beautifully.  After a short while Rudy stopped them and got off while Andy and Eddy stood still and waited.  He walked over to Roy with a twinkle in his eye and said, "There aint nothing wrong with that team, it's the teamster that is a little green."   
    Working with Eddy and Andy has been getting better ever since.   Spending a couple days with experienced horsemen was extremely helpful -- that followed by a successful field day, has helped Roy regain some confidence and when he hitches them and takes them out these days, that "green-ness"  is losing its youth.   This past weekend we used them to pull logs out for firewood and everything went very smoothly.   It is so nice to be in the woods with the quiet stepping of horses in their jangling harness as opposed to a loud, stinky stid steer that tears at the earth with the slightest turn.   Is it still considered work when the process is actually enjoyable?   Too bad we can't teach the team, or perhaps Mac, to scare the dust bunnies out from under our beds and dressers.

Posted 11/11/2009 1:17pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

October 29

I hope your morning is better than mine so far.   After putting some laundry in the washer and getting the kitchen cleaned up from breakfast and lunch packing, I finally sat down to pay our credit cards bills and send emails through our website mailing list.   I like it when writing and computer work coincide with dreary days.  I knew I'd be sitting at our little, corner desk for much of the morning and just as I was getting settled in, had Pandora set to Fleet Foxes radio, a car in need of a muffler pulled into our driveway gently beeping its horn.   This car drives by our house every morning delivering the Lewistown Sentinel, but since I don't subscribe, it usually just chugs on by.   I knew immediately what this meant and begrudgingly pulled on my boots and called for Mac.  Our lambs were out and wandering all over the road.   I am not my best self in these situations.  The same lambs were out in Charles's field last night and he called me on my cell phone at dusk when I was about twenty minutes from home.    Roy had a late meeting and I had the girls so I knew it was on me and Mac and of course Charles, who always generously offers to help.   Thankfully till we got home, the lambs had apparently filled their bellies and slipped back in the fence.   They were on pretty good grass, but the alfalfa in Charles's field is especially tempting and they have grown enough wool that the fence doesn't scare them, especially when there is wet grass weakening the current.   By the time Roy got home it was well after dark and moving the lambs and steers would have to wait till this morning, however... I forgot about it till I heard that car slowing down.   Roy took today off because our vet is coming to pregnancy check our cows at the farm we rent in Blacklog Valley but he had to run to the hardware store for supplies first, so once again, getting the sheep off the road was on Mac and me.   Did I mention that I am not my best self in these situations?  I mean if I were Catholic, I would need to go to confession today, but since I was raised Mennonite I will just feel ashamed and guilty.

Mac is a great dog but I've not worked sheep with him as much as Roy has so he basically ran the lambs up and down the road while I ran back and forth trying to head off the lambs and make them go into the fresh paddock on the north side of the road.   The fact that a big diesel pick-up truck  pulled up behind the patient, chugging little car did not help.   At one point I literally grabbed hold of a lamb and tried to force it through the fence.  It wiggled free and ran desperately to catch up with the flock.   I hope I didn't verbalize everything that was going through my head, but I know enough came out of my frustrated mouth to warrent post-drama regret.  Eventually Mac and I succeeded in getting them off the road and into the two paddocks that are on either side of the road.   As the big diesel pulled away a bearded man thanked me for the entertainment.   I wasn't amused and mumbled "whatever" as I trudged off to close all the gates.   Just as his truck crested over the hill my hand went up in a very unkind gesture.  I regress to junior-high behavior when frustrated and humiliated.   Five minutes later Roy came home.  I love his timing.   After I expressed my frustration with our fencing, our dog, my skills, and his timing, we moved the rest of the lambs and the steers into the new paddock.   Another happy day on Blue Rooster Farm. 

There is happy news to share too.  Tippy, Charles and Tammy's border collie who was bred to Mac,  is round as a tub and due to have a litter of pups in a week or two.   Amazing how fast that happens and a good reminder why spaying and neutering dogs and cats in very necessary.   Also I learned this week that Long's Community Store,  our closest country grocery/hardware store that was destroyed by fire last spring, is indeed going to be rebuilt.  The Longs are hoping to break ground this week.   And  Eddy and Andy are settling in.   Roy skipped the Harvest Fest to hitch and drive his team then spent the evening on the phone with Link learning everything he did wrong.  So... we keep learning.   maturing

Posted 10/22/2009 7:44am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

I am sure you have noticed, I am sloppy when it comes to proofreading my own writing.  For the longest time I could not find the spell check in my website program and I am way too dependant on it, not to mention those nice little lines that show up on Microsoft Word to question one's grammar.   But... I finally found the spell checker.  Thank goodness.  Even though I had resolved to re-read everything with a tab open to Merriman-Webster, I rarely have patience or time to do it.  I really don't know how I graduated high school using a typewriter.  At least by the time college and grad school rolled around, my inattention to detail could be concealed with the touch of a button, or at least in part. 

We have a bear about.  Last week a pick-up truck pulled in the driveway and a man dressed entirely in camouflage stepped out.   No, he was not seeking enlistments; he was a hunter seeking permission to hunt deer in our woods.   He stood and talked for a long while about deer trails and local hunt clubs etc. etc.  and then, with a quick glance at the girls he said, "oh and there is a b-e-a-r about."   Frances and Riley immediately turned their open-mouthed, astonished faces towards Roy and I.  (At least someone in the family can spell.)  Mr. camo-hunter had seen very recent evidence while he was scouting for deer sign and then on Tuesday, while getting firewood, Roy saw it lumbering along the power line above our woodland.  We've always known there are bear in our area but we so rarely see them.  While black bears don't really scare me, I must admit I am a little hesitant about going on my walk/runs along the power line with Mac just now.  This time of year bears are supposedly fat and happy and preparing for hibernation, but what I if happen upon one when it is PMS-ing?  Death by bear sounds awfully painful and messy.  I think I will stick to the road for the time being and leave Mac in the garage.

Posted 9/28/2009 1:36pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Autumn is certainly on its way.  It is as humid and warm as August but the goldenrods and wild asters are in bloom and the sugar maples are beginning to blush.  The crickets and other buzzing, droning insects have crept below my open window and their sounds are incessant.  I like their sounds but I can't say that it is singing or chirping like I've heard it described.  I think I may have smashed a wooly bear caterpillar on the road too.  I hate when I do that.  I return to remove squirrels that dash out and surprise me only to meet sudden death, but the catapillars... I just drive on feeling badly about my speeding colliding with their very focused and confident procession across the highway.  Autumn.  It's kind of like nature saying 'death happens -- Let's dress up and have a wine and cheese party.'  I love this season -- everything is so lovely and subdued.
Harry, our bottle lamb from the earlier this spring, has relapsed into his pre-return-to-flock behavior.  I guess he just wearied of pretending to be a normal sheep.   He has drifted away from the other lambs, grazing alone by the edge of the fence.  Mac accepts this about him.  When we ask him to move the lambs, he nods a familiar "Hey there Harry" to his oddball friend then dashes off the round up the "real" lambs.  Roy and I are trying to encourage Harry to go with the crowd and just do what the other sheep are doing, but it is not working very well.  Last Sunday we moved the lambs to a fresh paddock, all except Harry.  On Monday morning I saw him lying out on hillside paddock to the west of our house.  Mac and I went out to bring him over.  Of course Mac was useless as a herding dog on this outing.  He and Harry sniffed at each other like old buddies.  I put a leash around Harry's neck but halfway to the next paddock he lay down and wouldn't budge.  So I picked him up and carried him the rest of the way.  He is only about 30 - 35 pounds, but I smelled like a sheep for the rest of the day.  Now he is with the other lambs but not part of them. That's okay.  He is our hermit Harry living out his solitary existence within the bleating crowd.  It could be worse; he could be a wooly bear caterpillar in early Autumn.

Posted 8/20/2009 12:11pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

While health care debates storm the country, here in this corner of Shade Valley folks are following a different story; the disappearance of nine beef cattle from a farm nearly ten miles north.  It isn't as exciting as cattle rustlers or anything, the steers apparently just escaped through the single-strand of electric fence and wandered off.  Last week they were spotted by Mrs. Vawn as they fraternized with her herd of cows.  Earlier this week someone saw them wandering through the woods around Cross Keys.  The steer's owner, "Goony" Yohn just laughs as he drives from farm to farm asking if anyone has seen his steers.  "I don't know what I'll do if we spot them anyway.  Them boys are wild."  Every morning, Jimmy, our retired neighbor and his wife Susie, hop on their Gator and patrol the power lines searching for them.  "Gives them somthing to do" says Tammy K of her friends' morning mountrain rides.  We've been too busy to help in the search, but I guarentee if they are spotted nearby Roy will volunteer to put Mac to the task of rounding them up.  However according Goony, his steers are headed south and "who knows, they may make it Florida." 

Posted 7/15/2009 8:15am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

The weather this week is perfect for making hay.  There is not a farmer in our stretch of valley who is not cutting, raking, bailing, or putting away hay this week, except us.  We do not make our own hay although we do hope to in the future.  We suspect our neighbors think we are a little nuts for rotating our animals over pastures, which by this time are puntucated with tufts of tough and mature grass.   Knocking that grass back at the right time and bailing it up would give us both hay for the winter and allow for new growth throughout the stand.  So why not make hay?  Well here is our dilemma.  If we make hay and then are hit with a couple weeks of little rain, we might just have to turn right around and feed that hay during the summer anyway, so why not just let the cows and sheep do the harvesting.  In the shade of the mature tufts of grass, there is a lot of young new growth that in the glare of the hot sun would not grow as quickly.   Also, our haying equipment tends to break down and cause more stress than we already have -- who needs that?  We could pay someone to make hay, but why not just buy their hay and ensure that there is grass available for our animals to eat.  The sheep actually show a preference for eating off the mature seed-heads on the grasses and we've noticed since we stopped making hay, our pastures seem to come in a lot thicker in the spring.  I wonder if there is a connection -- do sheep digest those seeds or pass them?  I've not checked.   

Anyway, even though we are not making hay while the world around us is focused on it, we are quite involved with the process.  Since Roy returned from Africa to Juniata County at age 12, he has been in great demand for ranking, or stacking, hay.   It is a hot, dusty, back-breaking job, but there is also something satisfying about creating order in one's barn out of the chaos of a jumbled hay wagon and there are few aromas better than fresh cut and bailed hay.   Ranking hay with Charles, Tammy, and Stephanie, our dairy-farming neighbors, has become a summer ritual for Roy.  His strong back and banter are valued and in exchange he uses their manure spreader.  Some evenings the girls and I go along and they play in the stacked hay or with the goopy-eyed kittens that are inevidabley in the barn somewhere, and occassionally I help put the bails on the elevator too.  (But I must be honest, they never ask for my help -- it is Roy they want.  He is better at it and for so many years it was impossible for both of us to help.  I'm just waiting for the day we can send our girls down for a good workout!) The hay we buy from another neighbor is being delivered this week in big round bales.  They've become the standard for many farmers, and while they smell good too, they just aren't as satisfying to me as a bale I can acually pick up with my own two arms.  We hope that by the time the rain comes this weekend, both our barn and Charlie's will have the sweet aroma of new hay and we will be well on our way to being prepared for winter

Posted 6/29/2009 8:04am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

We are lucky to have a large Black Walnut tree shading our house on the south side.  The tree and the constant breeze that seems to blow through our valley keeps our home very comfortable in the summer.  We took out the window air conditioner when we moved in ten years ago because we hated the way it blocked our view to the west.  We've never replaced it and so far we've stayed comforatably cool with an attic and window fans running at night.  I dug a window fan out of the attic the other night to put in the girls room for the first time this summer.  When the girls were babies the rythmic humming kept them sleeping longer through the night; it drowned out the sounds of logging trucks racing by at 4:00 am or cats fighting in the back yard or occassionally yelping coyotes running on the mountain.  I was surprised then to hear footsteps in the hallway long after we tucked the girls in.  I went to the stairway to find out what the problem was.  Frances looked disheveled and grumpy; the fan was keeping her awake she told me.  "It is loud and it drowns out all the nice night sounds like the peepers and tree frogs," she reported.   It was a simple problem to solve.  She turned it off, climbed back in her bunk, and slept soundly till 7:30 am. 

Once again, the few machines we depend on are giving us headaches.  The BCS rototiller/scickle-bar mower that we use to cut back the grass under the fences has been at the repair shop for over a week.  We cut the grass under our high-tensil fences instead of herbiciding it.  This time of year the grass load is heavy and on dewy mornings, it shorts out the fences and the animals begin to push their limits.  Last Friday,before leaving for work, Roy and Mac rounded up a cow and two calves that were wandering around on the mountain and just yesterday our neighbor called to tell us our sheep were in his alphalfa.  Thanks to Mac, they were rounded up pretty easily, but had the BCS been working, the grass cut, the fences shocking, it is very likely they would not have escaped in the first place.   The repair shop called this morning to tell us it was working again and soon after Roy's dad stopped by to look at our ailing tractor.  But that is another story.

Posted 5/21/2009 3:29pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

This morning Roy got to play with a cool new farmer-toy that UPS delivered the other day.  One of the difficulties of raising animals on pasture is that when they need medical attention, it’s very difficult to get them rounded up without causing more harm.   We rarely have to give antibiotics, but occasionally we do and it is always very frustrating and time consuming to work the entire herd back to the barn to attend to one animal.  Roy has often talked about getting some capture equipment to give medication on pasture.  This is essentially a gun that projects a syringe into the muscle of animal from a short distance, like they did on Wild Kingdom with tigers and wolves they wanted to move to another location.  For a boy raised in a pacifist home, Roy admits to a persistent fascination with guns.  So this spring when one of our little heifer calves began showing signs of pneumonia after being left out on pasture, Roy decided he had a legitimate reason to purchase a short-range projector pistol.  After all, it would be awful to loose a heifer calf when we are trying to build the herd and then we’d have the dilemma of whether or not we keep her mom for a whole year without a calf on her. 

After the girls went to bed last night, Roy set two or three boxes on the table and began putting together his new toy, I mean tool.   Just before dark he sent Mac to the laundry and stepped outside to take a few practice shots.  Minutes later he came in grinning, “This is really cool” he said with the gun raised to his shoulder like 007. 

Early this morning he took the pistol down to the pasture and successfully got a dose of antibiotics into the month-old calf.  I know Roy is hoping she recovers quickly, but… if he has to give her another dose, it wouldn’t be so bad.

Posted 4/30/2009 11:56am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

About two miles north of our village of Cross Keys is the village of Peru Mills.  It is even less inhabited than our little nearby village, but it appears to have the history of a genteel little mill village.  There are two grand houses that are well kept by the descendents of a family that at one time held title to most of the land in Lack Township.  The family has since moved to Carlisle but they hire locals to maintain the property and occasionally weekend in the large brick house.   Besides the two homes and outbuildings, there is a beautiful stone mill that is leased to a hunting club and across the road from the mill is the ramshackle home of the happy horseman.   We gave him this title several years back when suddenly a horse was tied to the front porch of the house and with the horse came the regular appearance of the bearded, thin man who lived in the house.   Every time we drove past his home, he was out brushing or tending to his horse, with a smile not unlike that of a kid with a pony or a bike or a Wii.  As we zoomed back and forth to work or play in Mifflintown or elsewhere, we waved to this man who clearly had little of what most Americans strive for but seemed so delighted with his present situation, we couldn’t help but be delighted right along with him.  On the back roads of Lack Township you will find many horses living in small, muddy paddocks with a shed and I won’t lie to you, it seems many of these horse are in very unfortunate circumstances.   But what has made the happy horseman different in our minds was that his horse was clearly and literally front and center in his life.  The house he lives in may one day fall down but it won’t matter because he’ll be outside with his horse tied to the porch post, a little fire in pit and probably a pot of beans cooking over it, a beer in one hand and curry comb in the other, just taking care of his good fortune.

Finally last summer we learned his name.  It’s Barry.  Cross Keys has a community picnic at the township building, the same one where we go to vote.  We’ve been to the picnic a few times over the years and now that the girls are getting to know the neighbor kids at school, they like to go to play with their friends so last summer we went for the evening.  A Bluegrass Gospel band played while neighbors ate hot dogs, chicken noodle soup, and homemade ice cream and swarms of kids raced around in a typical unfocused kid-play…that is until Barry showed up with his horses, he now has two.  Everybody appeared to know him and the village kids were especially glad to see him.  Within minutes and without parents signing permission slips or insurance clearances there was a line formed for pony rides with Barry.  While our girls took their turns Roy walked along and chatted with Barry.  Barry has since purchased an old Amish buggy but unlike the Amish who clop along at rhythmic pace, Barry’s not in a hurry.  He hitches his horse to the buggy and they lope up the road to Cross Keys or back Pumping Station Road to the homes of his friends and neighbors.  I don’t know if Barry is as content as he appears.  I have to remind myself that in reality I know very little about him.  However I do know how his presence in our community affects me.  It makes me want to slow down and be more content, thumb my nose at those impulses to have more, own more, be more articulate and influential.  Barry doesn’t try to be any of those things. He just tends to his horse, next to his ramshackle house, challenging the rushed, over-consumptive world-as-we-know-it with his Amish buggy and easy grin.