Monday, December 13, 2010

We all gotta go

Monday morning, December 13, 2010

It’s freezing and still outside my door this morning. All the summer grasses are now dormant, the grass above ground scorched, bleached and kindle dry. We’ve had almost no rain for three months. Yesterday I felt something in the wind that reminded me of droughts past. We’re not yet there, but it feels like that’s where we’re headed.

We’ve begun feeding hay to the cows. Standing grass serves as filler for the cows’ bellies, but has little in the way of food value. The accepted practice in these parts is to force them to eat this grass and then to supplement them with protein, usually in the form of molasses based liquids or blocks. I don’t like the idea of buying feed, so I put out hay instead, hay that has been fertilized with manure from our chicken growing operation and therefore is quite high in protein.

On another ranch we’ve turned the cattle in an oat field, once again fertilized with manure. Despite the dry weather, this field has maintained a bit of moisture as it lies alongside the San Marcos River. In wet years, the river covers much of the ground and tends to drown out crops. In dry years that same land out-produces anything we have. These cows should thrive with the green grass the oats provide. I should have planted oats here at the Belmont farm as well, but didn’t.

So far, every time I declare pecan harvest over I find more native trees with nuts. More nuts means more work for a few men that would otherwise sit at home unemployed. The native trees are so tall and big, some with trunks up to six feet in diameter, that it’s difficult to shake the pecans loose even with a tractor mounted device made for that express purpose. Most of the pecans fall when the wind blows; feral hogs, deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, raccoons, possums, crows, armadillos and a perhaps a few more creatures that don’t come to mind at the moment clean them up in short order. I figure we do well to harvest about 20% of what the trees produce. But the wildlife needs to eat also.

Most of the plants in my winter garden have been scorched by freezes but continue to grow. Small cabbage heads have begun to form; broccoli should soon follow. Winter onions and shallots are ready to eat and spring onions are well established and growing. Turnips are producing greens, but the bulbs have not yet filled out. Beets, spinach and Swiss chard are growing but not yet big enough to eat either. I have a poor stand of carrots, but should have some come spring. I’ll probably try to replant the gaps. I tried growing English peas over the winter. The plants have survived, but the freezes seem to have sucked most of the life out of them. I doubt they’ll produce anything, unless they make it to spring. Nothing would have survived without irrigation this year. Not a single plant.

Outside of where I’ve planted and watered, the ground has been cleared and plowed but there’s little moisture in the soil. I should have applied chicken litter as soon as the summer harvest was over so I could get it worked into the ground but, once again, I didn’t. I suppose I could add some now, but the ground is so dry tilling it would raise clouds of dust. The truth is that the garden doesn’t get as much attention as perhaps it should.

Our new batch of yard chickens have figured out the routine of coming and going from the roost. It’s nice to see chickens get to be chickens. For whatever reason, there’s one chicken that runs around and can’t find her way back to the coop. I catch her and put her in every night when I go out to shut in the rest of the chickens. The first couple of nights she ran from me and squawked a bit when I caught her. Now she knows the routine, stops and allows me to pick her up. Who’d have thought that individual chickens have personalities? Leah sells eggs at a pottery studio she attends. Apparently demand has now exceeded supply as there’s a waiting list to get them. Real free range eggs are quite a bit better than anything you can buy from a store.

The goats continue to be a nuisance. Every time I open a door, including the door to my pickup, they jam in looking for a stray morsel of food. All but two are females, and therefore will be spared a date with the dinner table, but there’s one young male in the bunch. I sometimes feel sorry for the little guy, knowing what is likely to be his fate.

But in the end, we all gotta go. Sooner or later, we all gotta go.

I suppose it’s more important how we live than how long we live. And I also suppose it's better that when don't know when that final day will arrive.

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