Monday, January 30, 2012

Farm Dogs

Blackie and Coco in the barn while I milk

When kids come out to Novellas Farm they meet all the animals except for our 2 old dogs, Blackie and Coco. They can be found tied up under the trees in the front away from everything.
These two dogs have not done anything wrong exactly, but as they say, " you can take the dog out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the dog" The thing is we got both of them from shelters in the city, and that is where they grew up, in the city.

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Blackie and Coco are really good dogs, they have never hurt a chicken, they have actually herded the cows for me when they got loose,  and they are very, very protective. Ironically, it is this last good trait that lands them in the proverbial "Dog House"

Before moving here we lived in Austin, in a hip area known as Bouldin Creek. It was cool, groovy, crowded and very active. The complete opposite of where we live now! Any way what was good dog behavior in our old place is not so good out here. For instance here we don't need a dog to scare strangers away and maybe even bite them if they don't leave fast enough. ( although sometimes....) In Austin I could let my little kids play in  the yard and know Blackie and Coco would bark like mad if any one tried to enter the yard with them, "Good Dog"

So..... when kids come out to Novellas Farm  for the day I just keep these two out of trouble by keeping them tied up.... like  criminals.

The really unfair thing is that the Dachsunds, Jasmine and Maggie,  (the true criminals) are treated like celebrities. They wriggle out the door and get hugged and loved by all the children. These are the same dogs that have routinely killed chickens for sport and look for the next opportunity at all times. They do nothing but eat, sleep, bark, kill chickens and get loved.

I  guess the balance comes when  no one is visiting and Blackie and Coco hang out following me around.
They love to be in the barn at milking (by the way, all animals love sweet feed). They accompany me on all my chores, in the garden, cleaning pens, they run ahead and circle back to me as if to say "hurry!
what takes you so long?"

It is kind of nice, I really like having dogs that run loose with me during the day and keep me company.
Blackie and Coco are the kind of dogs that belong on a farm.
Good Dogs!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012


My sweet little Mama
This weekend I attended my Mom's 82 birthday celebration.

It took my whole weekend.  I actually
tried to weasel out of it, to be honest.... I mean it was a really long drive, (my sister lives out ...well pretty far out). 

Anyway I was kind of dreading it, you know how it is, we all have soooo much going on, and it really does take a bit of planning to get away. But I did go, my other sister made it just so easy to go and she's really smooth, she knows how to lightly persuade.

So, we went in together for this party, and actually it was lovely! Very, very nice. My Mom called me later to thank me for coming! Wow... after all she has done for me, how could I have considered not going.  It shames me to think, and to admit it...

Times were different when I was growing up, that was in the 60s and 70s, my parents had 8 kids! That is almost unheard of today, (even if you are Catholic). Nowadays if you have 8 kids, you get a reality show. Back then you just got tons of laundry, lots of dirty dishes and a more dirty diapers (cloth) than I care to think about.

My parents did such a great job. I don't think they read books about parenting or really worried too much about things. I know I spent a great deal of time on my own doing dangerous things. Things we are reluctant to allow our own kids to do now because of all the "dangers". That is not to say I was always safe, but I learned how to take care of myself. I learned to not be fearful. I learned how to think and solve problems with what I had available. Certainly important skills!

I wore hand me downs, we never had chips or packaged cookies, I don't think I had a soda til I was a teen! We actually had home cooked meals! We only went to the doctor in extreme emergencies (none), pets were pretty much on their own, (sorry Buddy, you'll learn to get around being lame). It may sound neglectful, but it wasn't, it was a different time. 

Mom, thanks for all the cooking, thanks for all the rides, thanks for trying your best. You made me who I am! If it weren't for you I would have never taken the path less traveled, I would not have this Farm, I would never have  tried to do anything out of the ordinary.

I love you.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Joy of Gardening

Juliette picking Swiss chard for dinner
Tonight was one of those evenings when nothing is planned for dinner. It was just Juliette, my daughter and I here for supper and neither of us wanted anything too heavy.

At times like this we say, "Let's just get something out of the garden and have that." All that was available for us this evening was Swiss chard, a few carrots, radishes and a couple of eggs from the chickens (ok, not from the garden).

We sauteed the veggies, (in our butter) added rice and poured in eggs from the hens -- Farm Fried Rice for Two. It was just right.

Juliette and I spend a lot of time together in the garden. I am usually working, and she talks and sings to me. Sometimes she brings her books out and does her school work out there with me. She laughs a lot and she works in the garden too, a little here, a little there. For her that works, for me too. I know she is picking up the right things out there. She is watching and learning, and she just likes to be out with the plants.

It's the best way to learn, to make it a part of yourself.  And that is what kids will do if given the opportunity.

Gardening at Novellas Farm Days

Most children who come out here to Novellas Farm will basically play in the garden, and that is fine and good.  They should like to be in the garden first, and then start to look around and wonder what is happening.

That is the way I teach gardening. I start doing things, and the kids come over and participate or not, but usually they do, at least for some time. After a few times they begin to consider trying it themselves. If they are put to "work," it becomes nothing more than a chore.

Whenever any of my kids can't find me during the day they know to come out to the garden. That is where I wander when I have a few spare moments. I do a bit here and a bit there. It is a part of my life.  It is not a chore. I don't consider it something I have to do, it is just something I do, like walking or breathing.

That's how I hope Juliette will garden. That is how I hope all the kids who learn to garden here get, I hope they feel the joy of the garden, and want to learn how to grow plants and discover the pride of producing something as important as food.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Weaning a Calf

Sunny, our little heifer calf
Sunny, our little calf has recently begun weaning. She will be the second calf I have had to wean here at Novellas Farm. 

On large farms, (commercial dairies) cows are kept on a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth, milking and back to pregnancy and milking. You will notice there is no nursing mentioned. The calf is normally taken from the cow immediately, and bottle fed or sold off the farm.
The only reason to breed the cow is to  keep her milking, not to be a mother.

The first calf  born here at Novellas Farm, was Clovis, Novellas little bull calf. I got down to the pen right after he was born and what I saw made it clear, a calf and cow have the same sort of bond as any mother and child. Novella lowed in almost a whisper, licked him dry and nudged him to nurse.

Each day they grew closer and closer. I let Clovis nurse on Novella for the whole 7 months he was here, (yes, he is gone, living with his own Jersey wife named Hazel, because no matter how soft a heart I may have, a bull can not stay with his mother and sister! that is just WRONG)

A calf will run to its mother,  circle around her, rub his head on the soft skin hanging from her neck, and dash behind her to start nursing, afterwards he will follow her around and she will lick him clean. A happy calf will run and buck, rushing at things and play. That is what I like to have, happy animals. I have been lectured about letting the calves nurse too long, that I am giving the calf the milk that should be for me,  and that I should bottle feed the calves!
Mattie and Sunny
After a calf is born here at Novellas Farm, the two stay together constantly for 3 months, I let the calf have most of the milk during this time. At 3 months the calf is put into a separate pen, right next to his mother at night. I milk the cow in the morning, and the two are together all day. Following this schedule I can still get around a gallon of milk a day (more than enough for my family).

Sunny is now 5 months and actually getting a little fat, so.....

Back to the weaning, we are taking it slow, some days Sunny just can't bear it, she moos and moos, and watches mom til I just decide, "OK, let them be together a bit." Every day I will do this a little longer, then one day she will stop, and they will  be together, Sunny a big girl and her mom Mattie.

I know that part of my actions come from my own experience, (yes, when I nursed my babies). Sounds silly, yet who knows? Why would these mothers and babies feel differently? My time breast feeding was so special emotionally, and physically. I am going to be honest, I love my cows and want them to have their time with their babies too!

This freedom, to treat my animals the way I think an animal should be treated, to be able to provide  my family nourishment in a way I feel comfortable about. This is one of the reasons I love running my own
Clovis, Novellas bull calf
small farm, it feels good. It is good.

OK, gotta go milk!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Erdkinder" - Earth School

Last Spring I offered a 10 week session for kids aged from 8 to 12, we had 10 kids in all, 3 girls and 7 boys. Each day the children would help with the animals, work in the garden, do Art, build in Wood working. Then, at the end of the day, they would write about what the day was like for them.

In between all this they found time to build 2 forts (because girls like to have their own), fashion wooden weapons and other toys, play football, tag, and cool down in the hose on some hot afternoons.

I thought we were just having a good time. I thought this was just an opportunity for kids who live in town in get out of the city and run around and be loud or quiet, whatever they felt like doing. I thought I would just offer a time and place for kids to not have to behave, so to speak.

Little did I know I was putting into practice a concept of Montessori Education known as Erdkinder, which translates into “Earth School”. In case you are not familiar, Maria Montessori was the first physician in Italy, she was an Anthropologist and a keen observer of people. She is the originator of the Montessori method of education. Maria Montessori believed that between the ages of 12 to 14 children should be learning, not being taught.

Kids of this age should be growing food, cooking that food, building things… stuff like …. we are doing.

After learning about Erdkinder I started thinking about the kids who attended last Spring, some of them were younger, but there was one boy around 12.

The first day he stayed in the wood shop and built a bird house by him self,… during lunch. He was enthusiastic about the garden, tasting, asking about what this is, what that is. One day I saw him hauling cedar posts around to help the girls with their fort.

In short I saw the concept of Erdkinder actually working. His story is private, but his Mom said he loved coming out here, did he get in trouble some times?.. Yes. Was he always good? No. Would I have him back? In a heart beat.

Seeing kids really taking it all in, really benefiting from the freedom we have to offer here at Novellas, that is what motivates me.

When I see a kid here, a kid who earlier was ill at ease, felt confined in their own self, and that kid starts to run around and laugh and just explore …..

Well, I feel like the world is a better place.

Chickens for Eating?

Every so often we order “meat chickens” here on the farm. Now, if you have never been exposed to chickens, you may be surprised to find out that there are basically two types. The lucky and the unlucky, so to speak.

The lucky chicken is a “layer,” and as its name implies, it is raised to lay eggs. The unlucky chicken is known as a “meat chicken,” and these poor birds have been genetically crossed or hybridized to create the perfect chicken for eating.

When the chicks arrive from the hatchery, they are all equally adorable, cheeping, tiny balls of fluff, but over the course of only a few days their differences becomes obvious.

The little meat chickens are bred to have an appetite that just can never be satisfied, they are literally bottomless pits. They will trample anything that stands in their way of food. They just eat, and eat, and eat….. but a few months ago there was one chick who was different.

This little bird came to us missing her top beak. I noticed her and thought, we should just put her out of her misery, she’ll just starve, but we didn’t, and she didn’t.

She did the best she could do, shoving her way into the pack of ferocious eaters. Day after day she fought to get enough, and she did pretty well, but one day she decided enough was enough.

I was outside in the wood shop working on a project when she walked up to me. She was alone and she just stood in front of me and stared up. I knew what she was trying to tell me, so I got her some food, made it into a sort of soup and put her into a yard alone to eat it. She ate and she looked at me gratefully (or so I imagined).

Then every day, several times a day she would find me where ever I was and I would feed her, and as it would happen I began to feel very, very guilty.

My husband put into words my thoughts, “Are you going to keep her for a pet?” (a short lived pet!) You see these birds have short lives not only because of external causes (if you know what I mean) but because of their cross breeding – they just physically can’t live long.

One day she was missing. I looked for her, but she was gone.

My husband confirmed that one of the birds I had wrapped and put in the freezer was her, my little Smiley, that is what I called her.

Do I feel guilty? Well, maybe a little, but I am glad she ended up here at our farm. Did I love her as a pet? A little, but this is the way of farming, it is all bitter sweet.