Despite the Drought: The Good Stuff!

Sorry about the depressing drought business in the last post. Unfortunately, we’re full-disclosure sorts of folks, so that’s what you get. But this way, you’ll appreciate this happy post SO much more!

On to the good stuff!

On a high note, the produce we’ve been getting is still beautiful! Our neighbors who grow it have been irrigating like mad, but their efforts have paid off! The tomatoes, in particular, are just as lovely as ever and we recently canned around 50 quarts, we love them so much. Our chefs, restaurants and CSAs love them too and have been very happy with the produce this year.

They’ve been very pleased with chickens, as well. We’re proud to say that despite the drought, we’ve maintained our high quality standards.

Some new chicks in the brooder barn

And on another high note, and as promised, the front of our house and new porch are roofed! In fact, we’ve spent many nights this summer on our porch. It’s Matt’s new favorite place to take pre-naps (what he calls it when he falls asleep on the porch before he actually goes to bed for the night).  It’s a great place for breakfast and coffee too.

A porch process shot. Just before we got the roof on that side too. Please note Matt’s giant hat. He’s pretty proud of it.
(roofed porch photos to come in future posts)

Which reminds me, Matt, who until about 6 months ago was vehemently opposed to consuming coffee, has become a regular coffee drinker, and he likes it STOUT! He makes it using too much ground espresso in our French press. Then he just vibrates the rest of the day on the farm, achieving productivity miracles! It’s new his favorite thing. Almost…

I say “almost,” ‘cause Matt’s actual favorite part of the season has been his new BFF, Nelson. Nelson is a mostly-whiteish with grey speckles and splotches, supremely stout pony, and he and Matt take regular rides out to check on the chickens and “beeves” (cattle) as Matt calls them. Nelson had an eye issue when we got him, and we soon learned it showed all the signs of cancer, which was devastating news. So we took him to the vet, who agreed it looked like cancer, but upon further inspection, determined that the swelling was actually a result of an injury! We just had to apply antibiotics for a few days, and now Nelson’s good as new! The cancer-but-not incident sealed the bond between chicken farmer and steed. Now they’re inseparable, which is especially ironic, considering Matt’s lifelong indifference (bordering on antagonism) of the idea of horses and horse-peopledom (that is owning horses for largely cosmetic reasons). Though, in his defense and in his own proud words, “I’m a pony man, not a horse man!”

This is Nelson, Dear Readers.

A man and his pony…

Nelson helping Matt on his Phone

Easily my favorite photo of the season

We sought out Nelson because Matt got a hankerin’ for an equine (a mule, originally, but that’s a different story) and since we’re not horse-pros (shocker, right?). Nelson was the mellowest equine either of us has ever met, and thereby seemed unlikely to be a danger to us, which was exactly what we needed—“lobotomized pony” was our mantra. And he’s still quite mellow (seriously, this fella used to be a pony-ride pony—they type kids walk under and around and stick to with their cotton candy hands and faces at the carnival), but after we wormed him using a delicious-smelling apple paste, he got a bit more personality and spunk. So, naturally, we’ve made it a point to remind him what a “rotten pony” he is every time we see him, in an effort to keep his head from swelling.

But to put Nelson into perspective, I should tell the slightly abridged Equine Acquisition Operation story. Exactly three days before we met Nelson, Matt decided, very much out of the blue, that he needed a mule. The mule had to be “dead broke,” as Matt would say, so he wouldn’t have to worry about getting hurt or training the beast. He found a mule that sounded promising on craigslist that evening, and we went to scope him out. We got there, and on our walk toward the pen where they kept the mule (and his comrade, Goat Man, a rather powerfully-scented goat who took a liking to me), we learned that, while he was “broke-to-ride” six months ago, he was barely approachable now, even with treats. So naturally, I had internally decided (and was 100% certain Matt had done the same) that this was not the mule for us. Unfortunately, I was dead wrong about Matt’s thinking. He took one long look at the handsome mule and asked “how do we load him?!” I was shocked. We were about own an incredibly recalcitrant mule, and had no idea how to deal with said beast. And that was just the start.

As it turns out, the mule’s owners didn’t have a corral or any good way to load him into our trailer, so the operation became a full-blown rodeo, during which Matt free-style lassoed him at one point, shocking us all,  but especially himself! Also, one of the mule’s previous owners was nearly trampled in the operation. All-in-all, it was nearly a three-hour affair. This mule made us earn him.

On the way home, we officially deemed him “Nelson” (wait, there’s an explanation!), having decided we would (if we came to own him) the previous evening. We had high hopes that, with a little TLC, Nelson, the mule, would return to is 6-months-ago ridable status over the coming months. But, despite our best intentions and efforts, our interactions with him didn’t improve. In fact, the next morning, we spent nearly two hours just trying to get a halter on him, which was utterly unsuccessful and far too dangerous (for a couppla horse dopes, like us) to pursue beyond that point. And that’s why we REnamed him “Richard.” (If you wish to understand our reasoning, simply drop your mind in the gutter—there you’ll find the rude, nickname-for-Richard pun, which will shed light on our new name choice. Though, out of respect, we’ve been calling him by his full name.)

I’d post a photo of Richard, but I have only one, and it’s awful, so I’ll spare you.

Richard was, indeed, a beautiful mule, but, as I’m sure you can tell, he was not the equine for us, which is why we got the Real Nelson (Matt’s favorite pony) three days later, and why he’s our only equine now. That’s right, we found a new home for Richard as well as one for our first three steeds, the donkeys!  It was sad to see them go, but their new owners said we’re welcome to visit them.

The donkeys watching Nelson when we first got him. Dennis, Shirley, Laverne.

Also on the list of good news is that Matt and his dad, Mike, and brother, Pat, extracted honey last week. And while the yield was MUCH less than they’d anticipated before the drought, it’s delicious, just like last year, and is now available for purchase, from either our farm or Mike and Pat.

But enough about steeds! In other news, Matt’s preparing another freezer to hold our planned winter stash of chickens and turkeys, and has changed his storage method in order to make more efficient use of the space within the freezers.

The cattle are a mixed bag. Some look great and are putting on weight well, and others seem to be a little stunted by the drought. Thankfully, we should have enough pasture and hay to maintain them over the winter, which is our new plan, since they won’t be a big as we’d hoped they would in November (when we had originally planned to sell them).

The cattle getting a drink

And to top all this good stuff off, the biggest event of our summer was—drumroll, please—our trip to the zoo (and St. Louis Science Center!) with our favorite horse-and-buggy Mennonite family! It was so cool in so many ways, that it’s hard to know where to start with the story! First, Matt was super excited to be driving a 16-passenger black van the family had rented. Next, since this was to be this family-o-twelve’s main family vacation, we picked them up and got on the road REAL early for a Saturday—4:30am (which was imperative in order to get to the zoo when it opens!). Matt and Mark talked about farming and machinery the whole drive to St. Louis and Esther and I covered all sorts of topics, but we always enjoy their company. They’re some of our favorite people.

We had a good time at the zoo—we rode the carousel, made it to the children’s zoo early when it was free, and got “attacked” by a giant gorilla through the glass and saw nearly everything. Then we headed to the Science center, which was a ball, and was a HUGE hit with the kids (and Mark!). At one point the oldest boy in the family said something like. “we should’ve come here first!” As though there wouldn’t be enough time to explore it all, having spent so much time at the zoo. But we explored it quite thoroughly, the crowd favorites being the mind puzzles on the second floor, a few of the presentations we saw, and some of the architectural displays. Finally, we ended the day with a fun and delicious barbecue at Matt’s folks’ house, before driving and chatting the three hours back home, dropping the family off after midnight, and loading up on produce—Esther sent us home with all sorts of peaches and melons and stuff!

Otherwise, it’s lots of the same daily and weekly grind. Deliveries have been going quicker since Matt’s been more consistently printing off invoices ahead of time (filling them out at each drop-off was surprisingly time-sucky). We keep improving our methods for loading the chickens the evening before they’re processed, too. It used to be something we absolutely dreaded, but now Sunday nights, while not something we look forward to necessarily, aren’t so awful at all—just a reality.

Certainly the drought has posed a number of challenges, as mentioned in our last post, but we’re making do. I’ve been especially stoked about using our new soaker hoses around the foundation gardens. It’s made a huge difference in the flora—the forsythia is GOBS happier—but is also supposed to help stabilize foundations in super drought conditions! We’re also excited about the prospect of the rain that’s supposed to come along with the tropical storms we keep hearing about. In fact, as a pal suggested, I’ve been doing my hurricane dance here in California, MO, so look out world.

Anyway, it feels great to finally post something again. Knowing us (me) it could be months before we post again, but I’m gonna try to post smaller stuff (these posts have been epic!) more frequently to keep it feelin’ fresh around here. You, dear reader, have to hold us (me) to it!

Here’s to hoping our next post will be about nearly having to build an ark! Too bad we’re without our donkey collection, eh?

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