New Website for Consulting!

I’m starting in on a new and improved website for the consulting end of the business. Please let me know what you think!

JPEcoFarms

Rehab, Again!

PennySqueekieBall

I do not like to stroll or stand.
What kind of dog do you think I am?


I will not go slow
on that leash.
I will not go slow.
for bacon treats.


I will not go slow
on a sedative.
I have all the funnest
of funs to live!


I will not go slow
with a cone.
One whole knee
Isn’t even blown!


I will not go slow
in the house.
I need to steal
the catnip mouse.


I will not go slow
in a small room.
My only speed is
Vroom Vroom Vroom!


I will not go slow
because it hurts.
I only really need
one leg that works.


Not in the house! Not with the mouse!
Not on a leash for bacon treats!
I will not go slow here or there.
I will not go slow anywhere.
I do not like this, human being
Let me run, let me spring!


PennyConePennyBall

Joel Salatin: Farm Bill Squashes Innovation in Sustainable Agriculture

A clear and concise look at the irrationality of padding weak practices with subsidies rather than letting consumer choice and production innovation move the agricultural marketplace forward. All the buzz over GMO labeling shows the people are ready for progress, yet federal programs and regulations continue giving commodities enough life support to reign over real food.

Joel Salatin’s Q&A in GreenBiz

Hogs at Polyface

1000 hogs in one of New Fashion Pork’s barns (eating gov’t subsidized feed)

Multiple Intelligences

I been sorely tempted to go shoot some goats. Perhaps, I’ll just let them starve to death for want of usable brain cells.

I’ve been trying out a new four-strand electric fence setup for the last few weeks – a gratifying success! A short length, just fifty feet long, creating a chute out to their main grazing paddock, I’d hooked it up as the sole recipient of my most powerful charger, rated for 25 miles. Close proximity to the zesty snap of that tick tick tick just sets your teeth on edge once you’ve grabbed it once or twice, or god forbid gotten zapped in the crotch hopping over, forgetting it was on. Thank the lord for flannel-lined jeans.

My critters, lacking flannel-lined denim, know all about this short-fence-on-a-big-charger trick of mine, and have been uncharacteristically respectful of the new fence, despite it’s tempting gaps and relatively low stature – four strands don’t stand a chance against a goat’s hopping, squeezing, and limbo-ing skills. The goal behind electric fencing is to create a highly visible psychological barrier, and, once you’ve seen a goat shred, climb, and pulverize a mere wood and wire fence, or a hog plow through barbed wire and patiently root up eight foot cedar posts, it’s effectiveness is astounding.

I was busy congratulating myself on the new fence, which was allowing me to expand the usable pasture immensely, and also on my critters’ docile behavior – the mollifying effects of our hiking regime keeping youthful mischief at bay. That is, up until two nights ago when the high winds blew the gate to the pasture shut, I failed to notice (being otherwise occupied sleeping and digesting thanksgiving pie), and thus they went without their breakfast. When I went out late morning to move the pasture fence, I tossed in some fresh hay thinking to tide them over while I set up a fresh pasture, but the damage had been done – with their the routine upset and the guarantee of full bellies horribly betrayed*, the adrenaline and hypoglycemia cleared those tiny brains of any thought save an endless cycle of: get out, get food, act a complete ninny, get out, get food…  For, of course, the one situation in which psychological barriers invariably fail is when adolescents are involved, most especially hungry ones. Hormones, short term “thinking,” and insatiable curiosity creates un-fencible monsters.

I opened the gate, expecting a joyous rush down the chute and into the new pasture. A rush indeed ensued, distinctly  more panicked than joyous, but instead of the expected left turn to the pasture, the goats barreled straight through the electric fence, falling on the grass on the other side like lost arctic explorers on their last package of twinkies. Once through the fence the first time, it immediately lost it’s power, and in no time the goats were popping in and out with maddening glee – in for a drink of water, out for a nibble of grass, in for a siesta in the shade, out for a sweet little gallop in freedom. Their casual disregard for my painstakingly constructed barrier short circuited my own mental processes. Insulted, frustrated, at a loss, I resisted my temptation to chase them around hollering, perhaps throwing sticks to satisfy that apelike desire for a thorough threat display. Cathartic as that might be, I could probably find no more counterproductive outlet for my feelings – the practicalities of adulthood can be such a bore. I retreated to the house, abandoning the goats to their feckless freedom, and cleared the mental anguish through the time-honored technique of a snack break. With my brain back in working order I quickly realized a single electric line along the bottom, completely separate from the four above to concentrate the charge, and hooked up to TWO chargers would mostly likely solve the problem. Which, in fifteen gratifying minutes, it most certainly did.

After repairing the fence failure, I victoriously re-released the goats and quickly discovered a second glaring flaw with the chute to the pasture system. Access to the edible pasture requires a hard left turn and then a twenty second walk along the fence to the pasture – no problem for any thinking creature, yet an impenetrable maze to a hungry teenage goat. This feat requires surprisingly deep concentration and problem solving – oh how we humans take our staggering intellects for granted. One must turn away from a wide open view of munchables (now inaccessible with that hot as the dickens bottom wire), and commit to the loooong walk (with no munchables at all!) to actually gain access food. This was no problem at all when the chute was twelve paces, still no problem when the chute was twenty four paces, but at thirty six paces, it suddenly became a paralyzing conundrum. Leaving the goats trapped in their pen, their next meal as inaccessible as if the gate were still shut.

It required an entire lunch break to overcome the desire to let them starve. This afternoon, we’re practicing:

goats

* to clarify lest you think I’m abusing ruminants, the goats had at least three meals worth of leftover hay available, but were abstaining for want of their more preferred foods (as only the chubbiest of spoiled goats will do) – the farmyard equivalent of refusing a breakfast of oatmeal because you were expecting pop tarts

Things I Read Last Winter

This protracted illness has hindered my pursuit of trail running and crossfit and exuberant evening socialization, but it has been quite marvelous for my novel consumption. Supplemented by the excellent taste of my pet sitting clients, I’ve been indulging in Steig Larsson, Cormac McCarthy, Deepak Chopra, and, most recently, Ishmael Beah’s chilling memoir of an African child soldier.

Stopping by the library to print up some flyers last week, I dallied a little too long into the Recommended New Fiction section. My weakness for jungle men overrode my literary judgment, and I found myself surreptitiously employing the self-checkout and sandwiching my find between flyers on the way to the car. Suffice to say the book entailed an appalling attempt at paleontological discourse, a generous amount of text devoted to Tarzan’s physique, and a frustrating lack of logic regarding which species of African wildlife inhabit which biomes. I polished it off with more relish than I should probably admit to.

After that dalliance, I was looking to slake a different sort of fantasy (the sort where Robin Hood helps me run my animal shelter), I delved into a dog novel borrowed over Thanksgiving from my mom’s bookshelf. Dog novels are by their nature very hit or miss if you’re emotionally involved with canines. Marley and Me made me deeply uncomfortable, while Art of Racing in the Rain was an absolute, tear-stained delight. A Dog’s Purpose managed to illicit both responses, as a few of the dog’s reincarnations were as sweetly moving as the others were painfully cliché. Merle’s Door improved upon the standard world’s-best-dog story with Kerasote’s profound philosophy and gorgeous prose, and was deeply moving despite human characters that weren’t the least bit compelling. And well we’re at it, can you really ever top Old Yeller?

Once the compelling writing won me over and calmed/appeased my dog book wariness, I raced through the first three quarters of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. A mute farm boy who becomes a uniquely talented dog trainer, an unusually realistic cast of dogs, a tasteful dash of nature writing, AND a murder mystery to boot – oh, hell yeah, sign me up for the box set. And the complexity of the characters was downright refreshing after that frivolous jungle romance. The story was especially fitting when read amidst my week’s melange of four dogs. With Penny alternatively licking my ears and snoring, Wilbur committed to his status as little spoon, Griffin persistently attempting to lie on my head for unknown reasons, and Keeyah twitching dreamily while using my calves for a pillow, I really had no choice but to surrender to a half-day glut of reading.

Finishing off the book late this morning, I found myself flinging it off the bed, snorting as it thumped conclusively on the fur-covered carpet, as my shock melted into wounded horror. David Wroblewski, how could you build up my trust for four hundred and sixty three pages, bring the whole thing so tantalizingly close to a satisfying conclusion, than do THAT to me? As far as I’m concerned, tragedies are strictly forbidden in fiction unless artfully executed in a didactic and satisfying manner. Well, I shouldn’t say more in case you, dear reader, are planning on self-flagellating with this cruel book, but apparently I should not have strayed so far from Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan. Then again, if you’re looking for a fantastic read, enjoy your heart out until page 463 and then call me so I can contrive and share with you an alternative ending. I would also recommend this tactic if you are interested in reading Seabiscuit: all characters retire happily, opening a horse rescue with their winnings, and Seabiscuit dies painlessly in his sleep of excessive carrot consumption at the age of 42.

jesus horse

 

My Favorite Day

Penny’s refusal of bacon confirmed my worries, and I wrestled open her beautifully-dentitured jaw to peer within. No sign of cracked teeth or visible bleeding. No bit of pork bone trapped between molars. I twisted down from my crouch onto knees and an elbow, torquing my neck owlishly to bring my eyes level with her squirming face.

There. Some shadow just above her gleaming back left molar. Snaked firmly behind her upper canines, my finger and thumb lifted her snout into a dusty ray of late afternoon sun.  A huffy breath dampened my eyebrows and settled her agitated tongue just low enough for the thumb-sized, splintered spar of wood to come into view, jutting bloodlessly, unnervingly, from her rippled pink palate. With a sharp intake of breath, I gently freed her muzzle.

“Good God. Miss Penny, how on earth did you impale yourself there? You’re definitely not supposed to poke sticks through that bone.”

She crow-hopped happily around me now that the examination was done with, tail beating against my ribs as I stared at the wall for a moment in wonder. My gaze flicked up to the clock, where the hour hand was just rounding the corner to the little red Cardinal perched at six o’clock. The regular vet closed at five thirty.

penny

Since the bright August day she arrived, Penny has blessed our little family with her undiscriminating sociability and unbridled cheerfulness. Fully realizing her role as Wilbur’s companion and playmate, she quickly became devoted to him with the same idolizing loyalty that he shows me. Loyalty insurmountable by all but the most enticing of diversions – fuzzy yellow balls in Penny’s case, and the irresistible possibility of prey in Wilbur’s. As much as I appreciate her sweetness and silliness and heroic efforts to pester Wilbur into pliable exhaustion, Penny’s greatest contribution has been calming Wilbur’s phobias of cars and confinement and separation.

P&W

Unfortunately, she’s accomplished his wonderful transformation through her own total and complete lack of fear. In the brief year following her fortuitous delivery to the farm, Penny has undergone three emergency surgeries and one near-fatal weekend in intensive care. She’s fallen out of at least four trees, off a ladder, and tumbled from the brink of several unexpectedly steep river banks – on one occasion to be swept by the current beneath a fallen log. She’s been bitten and stung and swatted and quite vigorously butted by a goat. Her fur is hiding countless scrapes and bruises, her back is regularly striped by long rows of scab from speeding under barbed wire fences, and the tender black skin of her nose and eyelids is marked with the pink and grey signatures of too many close calls.

Today, her second birthday, she’s three-legged lame from colliding with a tree trunk while leaping for a ball and is sporting a fist-sized wasp sting from a game of bite-that-bug. Tomorrow, she will leap with just as much abandon and will sample flying insects with just as much curiosity, and she will never know that Wilbur’s human has been wasting moments of this precious life on something so tiresome as worrying for her survival. It is a daily joy watching Penny embrace her life with uninhibited enthusiasm, but I can only hope Wilbur and I manage to keep her in one piece until her common sense grows in, and if it doesn’t, just until she’s too aged to jump into trees.

“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.

Penny and a very special One-Ear Up dog's reflection

Twinkle Twinkle

I’ve always been a girl who needs a dog. Not a girl who wants a dog. Not a girl who loves dogs. A girl who needs a dog simply to maintain functional levels of sanity and purpose.

In my agonizingly dogless years, I tried to slake that thirst with a staggering assortment of pets, generally illicit ones, and occasionally wholly inappropriate ones as well. I started modestly enough as a small girl with hermit crabs and house plants, but over the years I progressed to full-blown apartment menageries. Halfway litter-trained rabbits and frequently un-caged finches and massive tanks of tropical fish ensured that only the rare soul volunteered to be a college roommate (one very saintly ECM). Much was learned about stealthy animal husbandry and straight-faced deceit.

Ardley and a Guppy breeding tank

Ardley the hamster and a 55g guppy breeding tank

After a failed attempt to disguise a hamster cage as a storage bin, I constructed a more discrete enclosure by renovating the closet drawers. By arranging the hay and nest box underneath the bed, I could stack the odds that the guinea pigs would be quietly munching in their covert lair if an authority figure stopped by. By squirming sideways with my arms a little stiff, I could ensure that my RA wouldn’t notice the mouse in my pocket that one time she popped in for a surprise hug.

The jig was quite nearly up when I arranged to return for the fall semester with a dog to hide in the dorms. Though petite, he was very vocal and just a bit unpredictably aggressive, but my poor judgment was thankfully intercepted by a very good friend with a better grasp on reality (thanks again, dear ECM). Though now mostly rehabilitated from those rebellious spells of animal hoarding, I still have harrowing nightmares of smuggling animals around a college campus – essentially Rambo III with a satchel of ferrets.

196604_505871886925_8082_n - Copy

Oh, just another box of Norwegian sweaters here…

So, at long, long last I found Joy, and she kept the madness in check, reasonably limited to some foster rodents, a few generations of finches, and two cats that made rather quick work of that household bird population. After Joy, the unquenchable emptiness was kept at bay by my most wonderful cat, Cecil. Perhaps hoping to stave off any impulsive trips to the animal shelter, he thoughtfully provided me with a steady supply of rodents and rabbits, albeit generally in critical condition if not completely disassembled. He even joined me on the occasional walk and made me feel at least appreciated and noticed, if not adored and needed. A cat does have his limits on dignity after all.

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So. Much. Dignity.

But for all his marvelous qualities, even the very best of cats simply can’t fuel my joy for endorphin-packed adventure, and he cannot pretend to care which mood is lighting up my face, and any exertion spent training him would be better spent learning Cantonese.  After a long ten months of emotionally overburdening Cecil, I was blessed with the arrival of Wilbur, and my dog requirement was again abundantly satisfied.  I had a dear creature to adore me unconditionally, an endless sponge to sop up all the love I could muster, a hooligan to tax my patience and creativity, a ward to require ungrudging selflessness.

Picture courtesy of Tim Lucking :)

So. Much. Love. (Pic courtesy of Tim Lucking)

I had my dog, but not long after I began to realize that Wilbur needed one too.

So, as soon as he had mastered essentials of dog obedience (coming when called and not eating chickens), we got down-right serious about finding him a companion. I started haunting shelter websites and cold calling rescues, on the prowl for other border collie mixes. Despite his complications, Wilbur had won my heart completely, and I found myself filtering through available dogs in search of his carbon copy. We met with several candidates, but didn’t find quite the right mix of sweet and exuberant, the right combination of athlete and love bug.

Towards the end of our first summer together, we were happily working the morning away on the newly electrified goat paddock with the second-dog search far from our minds*. Crunching gravel and a coughing engine caught our attention, and we turned to watch a neighbor maneuver his dusty white Ford into the cluttered farm yard.  The bed was packed with turkeys and guineas he was looking to rehome before his imminent move to Montana, the cab full of farm dogs along for the ride. A fourth dog looked on from the truck bed, swaying like a seasoned sailor atop a rickety kennel of birds, a long-tongued grin conveying inquisitive glee.

After unloading the birds, our conversation turned to his dogs, whom Wilbur was exuberantly getting acquainted with, rising above the challenge of the truck’s lift kit with some awkward vertical bouncing.  He had a massive roan hound-husky mix and a beautiful merle Aussie and one of those troublesome black lab mixes with that unnerving whale-eyed, coiled-spring look about him. The animal shelter was the truck’s very next stop, where the neighbor was eager to unload – not the ticking-time-bomb lab – but the petite border collie in the back, his ex-girlfriend’s unwanted dog and one too many to take to his new life in Montana.

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* With a rescue border collie, the pronoun I becomes rather obsolete