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Day to day, week to week life at Blue Rooster.
Posted 10/15/2012 7:07am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Thursday, Oct. 12, 2012

The wooly bear catepillars (or as Frances and Riley used to say, calapidders) are on the move. I find them in cozy curls on the basements steps and in the garage or purposefully inching across the driveway.  They move with such assurance.  How do they know what to do?  Roy recently learned from a biologist friend that rattlesnakes somehow know without ever being "trained" that when they strike a bird they must hold onto it; preventing it from flying away before it dies.  Most of their prey they just strike then release, following it till the venom takes control.  How does that information get hardwired?  One of the many benefits of farming, at least the sort of farming that doesn't require us to be in an air-conditioned tractor cab all day, is that it brings us into contact with the natural world at work along side us.  The baby snakes have all left the mulch pile for their winter dens.  That same biologist friend told Roy that baby snakes usually use scent to follow the path back to a common den.  Who knows, perhaps they'll spend the winter months hunkered down around a small hearth, spinning hunting yarns that instruct the young in the ways of their stealthy existence.

Posted 10/4/2012 7:30am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Thursday, Sept 27

I am not ready for such short evenings! I waited for Roy to come home last night before attempting to move the lambs as the paddock they are in is next to Charlie's lovely corn field. We also are short of electronet so we rely on the dogs to keep the sheep in place while we pick up one fence and move it to the boundary of the new location.  But till Roy got home and we ate a quick dinner it was dusk and raining and the paddocks we were working in are the furtherest ones from the house so the girls wanted to come along.  Playing alone in the house on a dark, rainy night feels a little spooky for our tweeners and they are helpful during these moves.  So we all pulled on rubber boots and slickers and trudged out into the damp twilight to make sure the lambs had a good night of grazing ahead.  We were back at the house by eight, rain dripping from our noses and any bit of hair that had wandered out of our hoods, and nightime had already settled in; so we too settled in, after warm showers, with  hot tea and The Office.

Posted 9/13/2012 11:40am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Thursday, Sept. 13

The use of affirmation to reinforce desired behavior works really well for both children and dogs, but still I am prone to react negatively to undesirable behavior and, as predicted, the outcomes are ... more undesirable behavior. Monday morning as the girls were packing their book bags just minutes before the bus arrived, I was telling Riley what time I would be picking her up for her eye doctor appointment when I noticed she wasn't wearing her glasses.

"Where are your glasses?" I asked.

"I dunno" she shrugged.

"Well, you're the only one who wears them." I said, my voice rising with my eye on the clock. "Think Riley.  We need those glasses for your appointment."

The next several minutes quickly deteriorated into a frantic, failed search followed by a phone call to Grammy to confirm they had indeed been left there, and a subsequent stern lecture on responsibility with a few guilt-induced reminders that now we'd have to add nearly twenty minutes to our already tight schedule to pick up the glasses before the appointment. I was frustrated, Riley was feeling bad, and Frances was silently waiting for the bus. 

Our morning exchange did not go unnoticed by other members of our farm family. When I stepped on the porch to say goodbye, no dogs were there to greet me.  I knew immediately that hearing our raised voices and sensing my frustration, they had run off to quieter territory; Pip to the Klines to visit Tippy and Mac to the Geedy house on the hill where treats and other friendly animals were there to greet him. Now I was really angry; not at Riley or the dogs, but at my inability to stay calm and avoid this.  I had just added another possibly long task to my busy morning. 

I suspect the dogs are conspiring together on behavior modification for their people.  Negative behavior brings negative results for hopefully positive ends.  When the bus pulled away, I soberly blew Riley a kiss and mouthed "I'm sorry".  She blew a kiss back at me, smiled, and waved.  Thankfully the dogs were exactly where I suspected they were.

That night I told Roy about my morning; confessing that the dogs' point was well taken; best to clear out when the air turns tense with strong emotions.  Roy had a story that echoed my own. While moving sheep fence with the girls the other night he too got frustrated with their giddy distraction that slowed down his progress and after his cross reprimand to the girls, he too found the dogs had split, compounding his evening work. 

Mac and Pip like their world to be orderly and calm.  Sheep or cattle out of place and they are at work to right the situation, sometimes whether we want them to or not.  Human behavior is not so easily corralled, but their methods are proving effective.  We cannot ignore the fact that they have run off.  Our neighbors are gracious, but who knows when Mac will come across a dog in heat and an owner who is not pleased to see him.  And then there are the roads.   So we are learning to modify our tone, take a deep breath, consider the consequences; all those things we've known since childhood and still need to learn and re-learn.

Posted 8/30/2012 7:07am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

August 30, 2012

We've recently encountered a new style of bullfighting, we'll call it Blue Rooster Farm style and it differs considerably from the classic Iberian bullfighting. Thank God.  I don't think I could deal with the crowds, the little men in tights with big swords dancing around, or, for that matter, the "grand finale".  It's just not my scene. I like our version much better.

When our cows, calves, and bull returned from our neighbor's farm to graze on our pastures again, they came within scent-distance of our five remaining feeder steers.  I'm sure most of you know that a steer is a male bovine that has been castrated at a young age.  A steer usually does not show any of that bullish nature that comes out when a bull is around a herd of cows; a testosterone-driven possessiveness that can make a bull rather dangerous in the right conditions. Apparently one of our steers was not fully castrated because as soon as the big "papa" bull got wind that he was around, we had a Blue Rooster Farm bullfight on our hands. Wanting to prove their superior bullish-ness, the two males positioned themselves in their different paddocks so that they were as close as possible to each other, (a creek, several "hot" wires, and about 50 yards between them) and started bellowing.  Bellowing bulls, even half-bulls, are not melodic.  It is a deep, humming pant that goes on and on and on then finally whimpers out in one long final low hum. The two "bulls" go back and forth with these bellows, trying to intimidate the other into silence until one gets hungry and walks away to graze.  What Blue Rooster Farm style bullfighting lacks in artistry and drama it gains in sheer duration. This 'fighting' continued till the distance between the two affronted males was such that they could no longer smell each other's offending scent. After several days of their bellows we got use their racket and they seemed to get used to each other because the confrontations did begin to dimish. I suspect our "steer" got a good look at what he was up against and just decided it was in his best interest to spend his time putting on a few more pounds.

Last week a neighbor who uses our bull for breeding picked him up and took him to his herd of cows.  The grand finale in our version of a bullfight is little red trailer weighed down with over a half ton of bull pulled by a straining pickup truck chugging into the sunset.  Silence is golden. 

Posted 7/16/2012 1:07pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A significant portion of our weekend as given to putting up fence on new pasture for our cow/calf pairs who, for the past four months were grazing on pasture we rent from our neighbors' a half mile down the road.  In early spring we moved them across the property that divides our two farms. We staged the move along the ridge, far from the road, and used the dogs to keep the cows from wandering into Charlie's sprouting alfalfa. It was a memorable event that included a lot of loud commands drifting around the quiet valley.  "AWAY, AWAY, NO!  AWAY.... GO BY, GO BY!!! DOWN! DOWN, STAY!!! RUN JULIE!!" 


You get the idea.  Under stress of cows in the neighbor's field, we are not always the most civil people.  This time around we were adding young calves, a bull, a lovely field of waist-high corn, and some luscious pasture so our strategy needed to change.  We ask our next-door neighbor if we might graze them slowly across the lovely pasture that he generally mows rather than run them harum-scarum and he kindly agreed.  This was an all-hands-on-deck sort of project with the girls, who have just learned how to drive both the pick-up truck and 4-wheeler (only in open fields!) shuttling tools between Roy and I and stringing up wire as we pounded in fence posts.  We were forced to take a break Sunday evening thanks to a much-needed rain (or perhaps the will of God, slightly offended by our way of remembering the Sabbath this week!)  Early this morning we moved the cows, calves, and bull into their shady pasture where they will spend the week. They were so grateful for our hard work on their behalf they fell all over themselves, bowing low and extending their hooves, promising to keep their rambunctious calves in line and out of the corn. Okay, so it didn't go quite that way -- more like a wild rush, nearly running over us, kicking up manure and mud as they trotted past. They seem happy -- and that is appreciation enough for me.

Posted 7/5/2012 7:50am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

My eyes were immediately drawn high to the dusty rafters where a chorus of pigeons shifted and cooed, backlit by the sunlight streaming through the bent and broken louvers. Large columns of tightly bound hay bales rose high on either side, balancing one on top of the other.  I inhaled the sweet aroma of cut grass and alfalfa; a reminder that death sustains life through the dormant winter and I am quieted, my rush to complete chores interrupted by a moment in our barn sanctuary.  In a hot, dry year when so many farmers are struggling because of drought, a barn stacked full of hay, cut, baled and purchased from a neighbor farmer, is much to be thankful for. 


Posted 6/13/2012 7:41am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Wednesday, June 13

Mowing fence strips through tall grass the other day, I felt I might be part of Alfred Hitchcock's movie "The Birds" because of the many swallows that were darting around me.  I've noticed the same effect every time the sheep go dashing into a new paddock of tall grass; the birds accompany them, flitting about and chirping noisily. Far from being frightening however, this avian accompaniment to our farming routines convinces me that grazing sheep and beef is a form of agriculture that has many ecological benefits. Hay mowers and combines stir up insects much like sheep and beef moving into a new pasture, but they are not so nice to grass nesting birds like killdeer, meadowlarks, and Bobwhites. Birds and herbivores work well together; it is a pattern repeated in grasslands and savannahs around the world.  How often do we see pictures of giraffes with tick birds perched on their sides?  Or water buffalo carrying myna birds on their legs? Grazing animals, grassland birds, grasses, and humans have a mutually beneficial relationship that has evolved over many years; food for the birds, insect relief for the ruminants, seed propagation for the grasses, and moments to contemplate the complex beauty of the natural world for us two legged, thick-headed creatures. 

Posted 5/31/2012 7:51am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Thursday, May 31

The weeds had overshadowed the carrots when I finally found a moment to tend our vegetable garden yesterday.  The first hint of spring heightens my enthusiasm for a lovely garden, then spring arrives and the pastures are growing, the sheep need to be moved, the sows with their hungry litters fed, steers kept on the freshest of grass, lawn mowed, etc, etc. and the intended garden is quickly overrun with the unintended garden of lambs quarters, purslane and smartweed, interspersed with a few nasty burdock.  I grew up in Amish country and they set a very high standard for what a garden should look like. Neat rows of vegetables, some with tight trellises, all bordered by blooming petunias or marigolds with nary a weed in sight.  It seemed every time I passed my Amish neighbors, a young girl was in the garden with a hoe.  (Now there’s a thought!  School is out today and those iPods we allowed the girls to purchase with their Christmas and birthday money will replaced with long handled hoes and sunbonnets!)  In many ways I’ve departed from the landscape of my childhood, all tidy lawns and pruned shrubs, nature held tight in the reigns.  Our lawn is increasingly a series of mown pathways, my flowerbeds are wild looking; I don’t want to fight nature’s constant flux.  It exhausts me; it’s destined to win.  Why can’t we just get along?  But… those potatoes and sweet peas – I’m going to fight a bit for those guys. The lambs quarters is full of vitamins and minerals and purslane is tasty, so perhaps they can hang around, but the rest of that unintended garden will give my girls a summer job and the pigs in the barnyard a wonderful treat. And we will dine on sweet peas and new potatoes.


Posted 5/24/2012 11:00am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

We were delighted for find our fourth litter of piglets born last evening when we returned home from the girls' spring school program. Seven little piglets were contentedly drinking at Hattie's side.  It was Frances who first noticed a small piglet wiggling in the corner of the pen. I went to investigate and found it was alive but with a strange deformity on its head that it would certainly end its nascent life.  Suddenly the joy of new life was overshadowed by the grave reality of iminent death to an innocent life. "But it didn't deserve to be born that way!" Frances expressed between sobs. That discussion we had at bedtime about the Biblical story of Job and its potential meaning was quietly gasping before us. All the unfairness of the world and life was suddenly weighing down on heart's of my ten-year-olds and I felt my responses to be so inadaquate.  These are questions and realities it takes a long time to come to terms with, if one ever truly does. We put the piglet in warm box and waited for Roy to return from moving cows to make sure it would  not suffer long. It is good to share the farm with young people for whom so many experiences, happy and sad, are raw; it softens the soul-calluses we've allowed to safeguard our own spirits.  

Posted 5/8/2012 8:53am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

May 3

So my goal of blogging once a week has gone out the window where the sun is warm and the breeze is cool and the little valley between Shade Mountain and Herring Bone Ridge is every shade of green one can imagine. It is the great greenness that makes spring on our grass farm so busy. The many mouths that harvest our grass are kept very busy and happy in May while our legs and arms get an equally good workout carrying fences and dragging water hose to keep up with the rapid fecundity. 

The lambs, calves, and piglets make the rush of spring work more enjoyable even though I rarely get close enough to give them the squeeze I’d like too. The job of raising the young is left entirely to moms on our farm. Our job is to keep them on good, fresh grass, securely fenced in and predators fenced out. Or in the case of the pigs, provide a secure nesting place with a heat lamp for the sow and her litter and otherwise, try not to intervene. It is not a rule; it's a philosophy. A philosophy with soft, flexible edges that bends to the will of a child or adult who sees that nature does not always play fair.

Bottle feeding and raising a sick, neglected, or injured animal is a serious commitment and often times it doesn't work out as well as one would hope. Take Ebony for example.  Having a teeny piglet trotting after you while you work is like having a comedian at your back all day. They are such amusing little creatures. But Ebony grew up to be aggressive and mean to anyone but me.  She'd leap up out of her pen at visiting students and guests.  She bit my mother-in-law on the leg and gave her a big purple bruise that lasted a week! I've read that bottle-feeding pigs does not mean that they will become aggressive; it is likely just a function of their person(pig)ality. 

Just the other day I had a conversation about bottle pigs with our livestock hauler John and his partner Moe. John has a lot of experience with hogs and we've relied on him and Charlie for advice regarding the pigs.  Riley and I stopped in at his farm during feeding time while Frances was at piano lessons at his neighbor Henrietta's. While we were talking about beef and pigs and the ultimate fate of Ebony, he and Moe started telling stories of all the pigs and lambs they've bottle fed and raised over the years. They had some wonderful bottle-fed pets and others who became aggressive like Ebony. There were so many stories we couldn't keep them all straight. It was like having a conversation with the grandparents of a dozen or more children. 

"...and then one of those lambs went and left the pigeon out of the cage, do you remember?"  

"...and every day we'd drop Tutti (a piglet) off at your mom's place while we went to work and she would feed it and take care of it...."

I had to interrupt at one point in the story-telling to ask about the pigeon. 

"Wait a minute... how did you get a pigeon?" I asked.

John, this rugged farmer who hauls our animals to the butcher, is full of surprises. When his now-grown son was little, John found a fledgling pigeon on the floor of his barn. It had fallen from the nest and was nearly dead. John thought his son might like to help raise it so he tucked it in his shirt, took it home, and nursed it back to health with an eye dropper and a heat pad. 

"So how long did the pigeon live?" I asked.

"Too damn long!" John said quickly with hearty laugh. 

It turns out the pigeon lived nearly fifteen years in a cage in his house!

Soon the conversation turned back to pigs and the sows he had that were about to farrow.

"What about her?" I asked pointing to a very, very large sow in the next pen. 

"No... she's just waiting to die. She's too old and.. well I guess we'll just let her finish her life here."

"That's really kind of you. So how long does a sow live if you just keep her?"  I asked curiously.

"Too damn long!" he laughed again and we all joined him. The large sow, whose name I can’t remember, rolled her narrow eyes our way and grunted.