Tuesday, January 31, 2006


First, I need to dig out of a hole. Not only did "Tike" pronounce his name for me last week when we introduced ourselves, but he also spelled it for me and I still managed to get it wrong! Sunday I learned that it's pronounced "Key*Kay". I'm not going to even attempt a spelling on it for now. I'll get the spelling soon. He wasn't at the farm Sunday but his name came up in conversation and it sounded like "KeyKay" every time I heard it! What the frig was I hearing last week?

Okay, onward.

A very small group of people at the farm Sunday to work on the barn and even though it began raining around 2:00 a lot of work was completed. Doug and Dante played RoofRats for the morning with Pat taking over for Dante in the afternoon. They were hammering-up 2" x 4"s to provide support for the metal roof that will go over them. I was on the ground cutting boards for them with the circular saw. I haven't touched any kind of saw in years but only blew one cut. Morgan, Anthony, Jen, Dawn, and Gretchen spent a lot of time crawling over new walls like human bees with hammers.

So, two new names:

"Gretchen" is on the board of directors of the "Catskill Farm Animal Sanctuary". Jen and Doug have a long-standing relationship with them and today Gretchen was helping out with the new barn. It was the Catskill people who originally saved Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis from veal farms. I plan to visit the Catskill Sanctuary soon for a tour.

"Pat" came with his wife and baby (whose names I did not get). It was his/their first time at the farm and he had his own tool belt which gave me the impression that he knows his stuff.

Towards the end of the day Doug, Morgan, Anthony, and I spent about an hour putting up some final walls. 7/8 of the barn walls are now up. Next week, from what I heard, a lot more of the roof will be put on.

The three newly rescued chickens didn't make it. They had to be euthanized. Apparently, the euthanizing drug stays in any animal's body after euthanization so it's important that the body be cremated so that other animals do not eat the animal and die as well. Morgan had set up a metal barrel for cremation.

I know we're talking about three chickens here who probably do not have the same concept of death that we do, but it made for a sad moment. I first saw them in a cage just off the kitchen in Jen and Doug's house. It was supposed to be their first step towards rehabilitation and there was the inherent hope of it all. Next I saw them outside in their fenced in area inside the chicken coop and there was, again, the hope that they might make it. Each one could eat and drink, but only by picking up and moving their necks and heads a little bit. They could barely, if at all, pick up their bodies. They couldn't live, but they found sanctuary to die in a better way.

Okay, to change mood let's check in with Andy for a sec and then rub some pig bellies.

At one point during the morning, work had slowed temporarily and I told whoever was in ear shot that I was going off to play. I walked over to Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis who were in their field and in easy reach next to the fence. Andy was grooming Ralphie's head with big tongue licks and nose schnuzzles. Ralphie would lower his head and Andy would zoom in for a groom. Occasionally, they would put their heads together, tilt their heads back and forth a little bit and click horns slightly. Not forceful enough to be called a "spar", they were communicating with each other something known best to Steer via this horn-rubbing.

Keep that last image in mind for a moment.

What I do with Dylan when I get the chance is to lower my head in front of his with the hope that I might get a quick schnuzzle if he's in the mood- and he always is! So, after Ralphie walked away, I thought I'd try it with Andy since he was in "grooming mode".

And it worked.

But there was more than I expected.

I stuck my head through the fence and touched his nose with mine. All good so far. I then lowered my head in front of his the way I had seen Ralphie lower his head and as I do with Dylan. And I got my schnuzzle on the top of my head as hoped for!

Again, all good so far.

But then I noticed, as I was crouched way down with my face almost pointing straight towards the ground, that Andy's face was

y coming into view in front of me. He had stopped licking my head and was lowering his face in front of mine. He didn't put his face below mine for a "counter schnuzzle", which is what I thought might be coming. He stopped when his face was directly in front of mine. And then he started tilting his head slightly left and right and I knew that what he wanted was to click horns- BUT I DON"T HAVE ANYTHING TO CLICK!

It was so silly but I felt like I had let him down! I would have rubbed my face into his head/neck if he wanted that but I couldn't do the "horn thing"! Also, I was slightly concerned that if his head moved just a little too fast I might lose an eye.

I pulled back in part shock, part awkward laughter, part guilt, and re-grouped. His head went up after that and he just looked at me. I stood up, gave him a mush on the head, and I think he was okay with that.

Pig bellies.

Pigs have big bellies. Big pigs have really big bellies. These pigs have "Hogzilla" bellies. At some point I said to Dawn that I had seen on the website that the pigs are given belly rubs and I asked her if there was some special approach, or to just go for it. She said that there really isn't a special approach but that one female pig doesn't like it, but she forgot which one(!). I figured with odds of 1 in 12 that I'd annoy the wrong pig, I'd probably live to hammer another nail so off I went to the pig barn.

They were all sleeping, as expected. If one does not see the pigs outside eating one can be pretty sure that they're inside sleeping. And grunting. And snoring. And harrumphing.

I pretty much followed a "watch the nipples" kind of strategy as I started in with belly rubs. If I could see too many nipples I stayed clear owing to Dawn's recollection of the unknown female pig. Of the ones that woke up, they seemed to like it. Pigs mouths have that "perma-smile" to them so they always look happy no matter what. Many did not wake up and I just moved from pig to pig like some kind of mad belly rub monster in a room full of monster pig bellies.

And that was about it. An impromptu "belly rub moment" for the day.

I had vegetarian raviolis for lunch. Tofu-based cheese and no sauce. They were delicious and I have to find out if they can be bought or if someone made them.

Stormy seems to feel the new barn is progressing nicely. He returned again and again to perch on the high overhanging roof beams and monitor the action below.

Having been extra busy this past week at work I was in need of a little "sanctuary" myself by Sunday. Another good day of barns and animals.

More barn next Sunday and possible ice-skating Saturday night at Mohonk's outdoor ice pavilion with 26 ft. high fireplace! Should be a cool weekend!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Okay, nail it!"

More barn raising this past Sunday. As with the other week, there was an additional project slated for the day. This time it was the raising of new fence posts.

First, more new names:

Tike: I hope my spelling is correct. Pronounced "Tee*Kay". Having spent a lot of time around the barn on Sunday, it now seems that Tike and Chris act as co-coordinators of the work. One gets the feeling that between the two of them they've built many a structure.

Kirstie: Chris' wife and "chicken coop(s) person" for Sunday with Anthony. Anthony's family arrived towards the end of the day and he gave them a tour of the farm.

Mark: Mark is Dawn's brother who came down from Massachusetts to help out. He seemed to know a good deal about carpentry as with Chris and Tike.

Jeff, Josh, and Len: Three volunteers who spent much of the day filling in fox holes (with Morgan on the Dingo), pounding-in new fence posts for a new fence that will be going up soon, and hammering-up barn walls towards the end of the day.

Corn: Another volunteer who also worked a great deal on the new fence posts and ended the day hammering-up barn walls.

Manuel: I don't know if Manuel was a volunteer or not. I didn't hear him speak much English to anyone throughout the day and we didn't talk at all. He knew his way around a construction site and spent a lot of time helping Tike who speaks Spanish.

I didn't introduce myself to several other new people who were there today. Next time. There seemed to be about 15-18 total people there throughout the day counting the returnees from the other week.

I did, however, remember to ask what I ate for lunch! I've never eaten Kale in my life and there was some simmered in oil and garlic that was absolutely delicious! I could have eaten the entire pan! I also had a soy-based soup that had some neat spices in it. (At least I think it was soy-based!?) Add to that a few scoops of peanuts on the side and my everpresent Grapenuts and that was lunch!

I keep having the most interesting meals at the farm! Whatever's on the table, or whatever Jen and Doug offer for lunch, I always say "just give me whatever you think I might want" and I've liked it all so far! (Was that three "whatevers" in one sentence? Hmmm. Well, most of the food I'm seeing/eating at the farm is new territory for me and "whatever" might not be so bad of a word until I get a working vocabulary going with it!) There was broccoli in the macaroni salad that was there so I had to decline that.

Today's list of tasks:

Helped hand around wood and tools at the barn, helped Morgan a little bit mucking out Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis, then stacked boards for a while. For about an hour or so I held onto a safety tether that was thrown over the roof of the barn. Attached to the other side of the tether was Doug who was hammering nails into the metal roof of the barn. If he were to have slipped and started to fall, theoretically, and I hope "actually(!)", my holding the tether would prevent or ease any fall. The tether was tied to the side of the barn as well so in the event that I couldn't hold it, Doug wouldn't slide off the roof and into the great beyond.

At the end of the day Chris took some time and showed me how to use the air gun that was used all day to do much of the hammering. We were on the second story, which will eventually be the hay loft, and he positioned about 18 ft. of floor boards that I hammered down. A neat experience.

About 1/4 of the metal roof, two skylights, and 1/4 of the walls are up. More of same next weekend. Some people were saying that it should take another 3 or 4 weekends until it's finished.

The spirit lives. Another day of people having a great time for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of ways.

While working at the barn around 3:30 or so, I happened to look over at Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis in their field. They were each lying on their stomachs about 20 ft. apart from each other in somewhat of a tri-angular formation and were facing in exactly the same direction- towards the setting sun. Each had their head held up at the same level and each were "stone still". They were all getting the last rays of the sun as a group and they stayed in their positions until the sun had set. It was a "just stand there and absorb it" type of image for me, and one that I've often thought about since Sunday. Enormously powerful and gently peaceful at the same time. I showed Jen and she said that they often do that and that it was also "cud chewing time" for them.

More barn next week. Many images to re-play until then.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Hitting the Bottle with Dylan

A full farm day yesterday. A quiet kind of a day. I'm slowly getting the hang of the "routines". There is a morning routine and an evening routine.

To start the day Doug showed me how to bottlefeed Dylan. So funny! The process is to stand on the outside of Dylan's pen and hold the bottle over the edge so Dylan can reach it. (The bottle is probably half-gallon size and the nipple is easily "party size" in terms of human babies.)

Doug showed me two important things to remember when offering a bottle to Dylan. First, hold on to the nipple. Dylan will glom it so hard he could yank it off. Second, hold the back of the bottle against your chest. As a calf will do with an udder, it will sharply "push into" the bottle to stimulate more milk flow. By holding the bottle against your chest you'll lessen the impact of the push.

Okay, here we go.

I placed the bottle over the rail to a waiting Dylan and he was all over it! I could feel the pulling, pulling, pulling, but it wasn't so hard of a pull that one could not hang on. He's craning his neck, positioning his legs, pulling backwards, sucking like it was his first, last, and only feeding. His eyes are rolled back into his head and the milk is just flying out of the bottle and down his throat. Cute, funny, sweet, and exciting all at the same time. While the milk was washing down Dylan's throat, all the "warm and fuzzy chemicals" were washing over me. It's impossible not to smile while holding the bottle.

For a moment I relaxed too much and forgot to hold the bottle against my chest.


It was apparently time to "push into" the bottle.

It wasn't so hard a push as to be at all painful, but it definitely stood me up a little straighter!

With about half of the milk gone, I poured the remainder into Dylan's feed which he polished off immediately. He's being weaned and this is the stage he's at.

Also, I'm wearing gloves and they came in, umm, handy. As Dylan was pulling down the milk, the side of his mouth foamed slightly with a saliva and milk mixture that was extremely sticky. Sticky enough so that I couldn't shake it off my glove no matter how hard I shook it! It came off with some paper.

So, I got to bottlefeed a sweet, silly calf!

After that Dylan and Olivia were let out so they could wander the yard together as is their favorite pasttime. They really are a pair! Where one goes, the other is rarely far away. As I saw several times today, Dylan likes to give Olivia "quick scrub and brush-ups" with his tongue. Olivia seems to like it. One of Olivia's favorite standing spots seems to be right outside one of the chicken pens next to the well pump. Of course only Olivia knows for sure why it's a good spot, but I have a suspicion that it's because it's a major footpath intersection and it's also a good place to view almost all farm activity. If the sanctuary is destined to have a "Grande Dame" it just might be Olivia.

This was a day of coop cleaning. Three coops. Out with the old, in with the new, everybody's happy.

There are three new chickens who, having been recently rescued, aren't doing as well as the others. Any of the three may make it, or they may not. They're isolated from the other chickens right now by a small fence. They have their own food, water, and heat lamp.

I also helped Morgan nail down a tarp to the roof of a hen house, fed pellets to the pigs, fed Dylan and Olivia several times, fed two bales of hay to Ralphie, Andy and Elvis, cleaned up an animal carrier that was donated to the farm, gave Moby a mush on the head and that was about it for the day.

Got a very nice card and some sprigs from Sheila who left to return home to Scotland earlier this week. (Hi Sheila! Everybody's cleaned, fed, watered, and warm!)

"Robin" is a new person at the farm. She looked to be late high school or early college age. Her and Jen were mugging Olivia in the barn for a quick hoof trim when last I saw them together.

More barn raising this Sunday. A great deal of work was done on the second story of the barn on MLK Day and all seems to be going smoothly.

Again, a quiet day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Snow. So no go.

The farm had a few inches of snow Saturday night and there were predictions of extreme winds Sunday afternoon, so the barn raising work was cancelled for the day. A small crew was to be assembled to do some work on Monday owing to MLK Day. I couldn't make it. As on all but a few holidays, though the post office doesn't deliver, there's always some kind of inside work to be done.

This has been a terrific week. I talked to my good friend Linda in Iowa, spoke with Sue as we do at least twice a week, and had "sodas and talk" with my walking partner Debbie at a local gym. I got to see my "Frog Partner" Becky on Monday. Becky is Sarah's 12-year old daughter who calls me "Bob the Frog". We exchange frog stuff that we find in our travels. I gave her my pig tusk. I worked at the farm last Thursday afternoon. Spent Saturday night between two dinner get-togethers (one here that Ken and his friend Ed threw for friends and neighbors, and one at the farm that was a combination birthday party for Sheila and going away party also for Sheila who was headed back to Scotland.)

I like driving in snow and there was a WICKED wind-driven snow storm Saturday night when I left the farm about 11:00ish. Only a few inches of snow but enormous winds. I've never understood how a tornado could sound like a train as is usually reported by tornado witnesses. I now know. Not that there was a tornado in the area but the wind was fierce, unrelenting, and "die-am!" if it didn't sound like a train was approaching in the distance.

Soup kitchen today, farm tomorrow, making dinner for Sue on Friday (I think), and barn raising this coming Sunday. January has never been my favorite month but this one just seems to be clicking along. I'll miss working with Sheila who was very kind and made me feel very welcome at the farm. But she'll be back on one of her trips over here and in the mean time I'll know what to pass-on to newer volunteers that come to the farm.

Okay, where's the coffee?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Barn Raising Weekend (and Pig Checks!)

What a day! This was the first weekend day (Sunday) that I spent at the farm, and with the new barn being raised the place was jumping with people! About 25 or so volunteers having just the best time! Lots of talking, laughing, and good feeling. This day was about the animals. It was one of those days that you always remember.

First, some new names.

Derek: Derek was outside taking photos of the work and of the animals when I arrived. I lost track of him afterwards. Derek doesn't know it but he's inspired me to unpack my 35mm. Will add some photos to this blog by Spring.

Dante: The sanctuary is situated in a valley at the base of several enormous hills. Dante works on a private family's farm on the other side of one of the hills and takes care of their animals. He was showing me something with Olivia called "stancing". He'd stand in front of Olivia, place his hand on her head and push down slightly. Olivia would in turn push upward slightly. He'd then push down a little harder and Olivia would push upwards a little harder. Dante continued this all the while raising his hand higher and higher so Olivia would have to crane and stretch to push his hand. The goal was to get Olivia as vertical as she would go. Dante said it's a game that's useful in getting a goat to dissipate stress and/or aggression. He uses this technique with his animals and Olivia seemed to like it.

Dawn: I didn't get to talk to Dawn much but I did find out that one of her favorite places to spend a Sunday afternoon is in the dirt underneath 12 pigs. (See below.)

Dorothy: Dorothy is Dawn's white Pitbull. An absolute sweetheart dog. We split corn chips at lunch.

Louicella: I'm sure I've mangled the spelling of her name, so here it is phonetically- lou*ee*sell*lah. Louicella speaks as lightly as air moving over Mandolin strings but can rope a moving 500lb. pig's mouth in a flash! (Again, see below.)

Wendy: I was introduced to Wendy briefly. She made lunch for everyone. As the farm is most definitely, and most proudly, vegetarian-geared, I was also introduced to some new eats. What they were, I haven't a clue! I forgot to ask! There were some triangular bread pieces soaked in a mildly hot sauce that were terrific. I've only recently started eating avacados and I scapped a few up when they came around. And there were some different sauces they I ever so lightly put on my salad greens. I didn't know what they were and I just hoped there wouldn't be any broccoli in them! There wasn't! Good stuff!

Chris: I'm sure Chris is a professional builder who was volunteering his time with the new barn. He seemed to be directing much of the work.

Mike: Mike was in charge of the "Dingo". A small earth-mover used to fill in the numerous fox holes that were dug the other week in order to lay the barn's footings. Mike and the Dingo served double duty by also moving dirt over to the pig barn where I and some others had dug up the floor while mucking. (Once again, see below.)

Splinter: When I walked by the new barn around lunch time, Splinter was set up on the side of the barn with a table saw and was cutting boards. (Should I have expected something different?)

Anthony: Anthony seemed to be doing a little of everything throughout the day. I think he's from either New Jersey or Albany. I get the feeling he's been with the farm for a while. Sheila, Anthony, and I gave meds to some of the chickens at the end of the day.

Okay, so about the day!

I actually didn't help with the new barn on Sunday. When I got there around 8:00, much of the weekend's work had already been done the day before. Not that there wasn't a lot to do on Sunday but the barn crew was already in place and other things still needed to be done. I'll get to hammer some nails next Sunday or thereafter. For me, this was a day of pigs. (Is there a JFK joke in there somewhere?)

Sheila set me up in the pig barn to start. Pigs, including these pigs, do not pee in their own barns. They go outside. Recently though, several of the pigs have started to pee inside the barn in primarily two different spots. I think it was Dante who told me that sometimes pigs will pee inside the barn if they feel they have a lot of extra room, and it is a spacious barn. Either way, it needed to be picked up and hauled out. This required a bit of shoveling as well because, naturally, pee soaks into the ground. (Is this all appetizing enough?) So, that's how I spent the morning. Me, Dylan and Olivia in their pens, Stormy and his lady friend, 12 mostly sleeping, hay-faced pigs, a pitchfork, a shovel, and a wheel barrow.

The thought had occurred to me previous but this morning really drove it home- there is no need for headphones here. As one might expect, the sanctuary has many sounds. They weave together in a rhythym throughout the day. A different day, a different weave. This morning, the pigs were grunting and schnorting as they always do, Dylan offered up the occasional moo, Olivia contributed some bleats every so often, Stormy and his lady friend were fluttering around the rafters (and walking on the sleeping pigs!), the distant roosters were still announcing the Sun's arrival, and there were the voices and worksounds coming from the new barn area. This was this morning's "sound tapestry". Though I may have been ankle deep in pig piss dirt, I was surrounded by animals, listening to the day, and in no need of distraction via headphones or anything else.

Okay, break for lunch.

Jen announced at lunch that several of us would be doing "Pig Checks" for the afternoon. Here's what's involved with a Pig Check:

* Check, clip, and file hoof nails.
* Check and clean ears.
* Check skin.
* Check "boy parts" and "girl parts".
* Check and saw off lower tusks of the males.

Well now, how do you think the pigs might feel about all this?

Here's the scoop:

In the pig barn there is a large floor space for the pigs and an adjacent small pen with a door that leads to the outside. The idea is to separate one pig into the small pen, lock the gate, do the check, exit the pig through the door to the outside, then bring in the next pig for it's check. Jen, Dawn, Louicella, myself, and later on a half-dozen others, would be doing this throughout the afternoon.


* A long strap with an end loop used to tie the pig while the work is being done.
* Hoofnail cutters. (Just think "tin snips" and you'll have the idea.)
* Several large metal files for nail trimming.
* Mineral oil.
* Cotton gauze.
* A flashlight.
* A greenish liquid used to stop bleeding in case the nail's quick is nicked.
* A "Giggly Saw" (probably not the right spelling) for sawing tusks. Think "dental floss", only this floss is made of rough-textured metal wire. When quickly and repeatedly pulled back and forth against a tusk, the floss cuts through the tusk.

The Process:

* Wake up the pig. Jen left no doubt how to wake up a sleeping pig. Just w-w-w-wind up and slap it in the ass!

* Next, coax the pig into the small pen with a bowl of food and close the gate behind it. This worked a number of times. When it didn't, the alternative was for three or four people to chase the pig around the room like sheepdogs (pigdogs?) using a large red plastic board until the pig eventually is funneled into the pen.

Yes, there is lots of noise!

* Once the pig was in the pen it was Louicella's turn. She was charged (her first time doing this, by the way) with slipping the loop on the strap over the pig's upper jaw and behind it's tusks. Once this is done, the pig begins to struggle and pull against the strap. This is where Jen, Dawn, and I come in. Our job was to literally push and maneuver the pig until it's face is 6" or so away from one of the pen rails. Once it's face is near a rail, Louicella would tie the strap to the rail and hold on. The pig would continue to pull back against the strap in it's mouth. As it could not go backwards due to the strap, for the most part, the pig would stay stationary. Louicella was "tusked" once in the leg. It seemed to hurt quite a bit for a few moments and work had to briefly stop until she was able to continue.

* Once the pig was stationary Jen and Dawn would go to work, one on each side of the pig, with clippers and files and trim the pig's nails.

This is where it gets a little scary.

The pig is intensely scared by this point and has little idea of our intentions. It's strapped to a pen rail and knows that it's being touched and clipped from all sides. As part of it's natural defenses it equates these actions with being attacked. And in a sense it IS being attacked but for benevolent reasons. It's natural reaction is to scream and so it does. Large, heavy, deep, loud screams. These are distress screams. They might only last for a second or two but sometimes a single scream might last 10-15 seconds or so. It's very unnerving and Jen warned us about it in advance. It naturally also upsets the other pigs who are for the most part still sleeping just on the other side of the rail.

The pig eventually calms down to a certain degree, with occasional screams and some thrashing and the work continues. It's actually quite remarkable at times how calm they DO remain for this process! While the clipping and checking are going on, I'm standing over the pig stroking it's back trying to calm it. Dawn was throwing off soft "OMs" near the pig's head. A light, steady tone that never once failed to induce calm in the pig at intense moments.

After nails were finished, ears were checked and cleaned, boy/girl parts inspected, and tires rotated.

Now for the tusks.

Male pigs have four tusks. Two upper and two lower. The lower tusks grow continuously. Left to themselves, lower tusks would grow straight into the pigs upper jaw until a point would be reached where the pig could not chew food. Therefore, the lower tusks have to be taken down to the gumline every so often. Tusks, as opposed to teeth, are not used to chew food. They're used for fighting and display purposes so afterwards the pig can still eat as normal using it's teeth.

Jen and Dawn handled this. Kneeling, sitting, and even laying next to and under(!) the pig's head, the Giggly saw would be placed around the tusk and the sawing would begin. (Again, think "flossing".) As the saw entered the tusk (there are no nerves so there is no pain) the pig would cry out at the sensation, however, more often then not, and remarkably so, for the remainder of the tusk cutting the pig would calm down even though it's tusk was being cut.

And so, that would be the end of one pig check. Each check takes about 15 minutes. The strap is removed from the pig's mouth and the pig is very easily(!) coaxed out the door.

Repeat these steps 11 more times and you have yourself a "Pig Check". This is done every 6-8 weeks. I kept a tusk. I also asked Jen if there is such a thing as a "Steer Check", or did a vet have to come and do that. She said there is such a thing as a Steer Check and it's done without a vet!


Some new pig names that I picked up: Julie (not "Juliet" as I first thought), Girlie (unless the name I heard was just an endearing term!), Phyllis, Oliver and Cromwell, Zach, Lodo, and Snubby.

Snubby is a gentle giant and is the largest of the group. I measured him to be easily the size of a Winnebago.

Well, it was nearly the end of the day. I helped Sheila and Anthony with the chickens, had some coffee in the kitchen, said my goodbyes, and left for home. The barn is progressing nicely with much of the main support structures in place. Next weekend it should take on a definite shape. It was a wonderful experience to be part of the humm of the day.

Some of you know Sarah who is a bud that I work with at the post office. Sarah has spent a lot of time around farm animals. While talking about the farm the other week, Sarah said to me "It's healing, isn't it?". She hit it perfectly.

When I got home, Ken had made a surprise dinner for himself, his friend Ed, Anthony, and I. A very memorable day.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Fast Calves, Fox Holes, and Great Pumpkins

Spent the entire day at the farm yesterday. When I got to the farm at about 8:30 Doug, Dylan, and Olivia were outside feeding the pigs pellets and squishy veggies. I helped out there for a bit.

After that, Doug asked if I would put Dylan and Olivia back in the barn. I said "sure".

The pair had wandered off in the mean time and it took a few moments to locate them. I saw them walking around investigating over by the cars a short distance away so I somewhat loudly called "Dylan!".

Now, what I was expecting was that Dylan would hear me and either walk over to me, or at least not walk any further away so that I could walk up to him.

Dylan had a different idea though. He turned his head, looked at me, and at full stride for a 400 lb calf with still gangly legs, through the snow and ice, he bolted directly towards me! And here he comes!

So now what!? A funny looking, 400lb, legs-charging, head-bobbing, steam-snorting, sweet, silly calf is running straight at me at 15mph! I know I have about 5 seconds before I'm steamrolled as flat as my shadow!

He stopped....(Whew!)....about five feet in front of me and just looked at me as if to say "Yes, hello."

Olivia showed up a minute or so later. I get the feeling that Olivia doesn't expend too much energy unless food is involved. She slowly walked her way over to Dylan and I and we all walked into the barn. I opened their pens and closed the barn door.

The reason that Dylan and Olivia needed to be put in the barn is that for the next few hours, Morgan and I would be working in several large fox holes on the property where a new barn is going up this coming weekend. Dylan and Olivia might become overly curious at what we'd be doing and possibly fall into a hole.

For the next few hours Morgan and I worked in the 5-foot deep holes with crowbars and shovels knocking out wooden forms from around the recently poured cement footings and also shoveling pathways around the holes through the snow in the area. The sanctuary is expecting a large number of goats from Pennsylvania soon and an extra barn is needed.

After lunch Morgan and I mucked-out Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis' house. We distracted them away from the house, for the most part, by placing huge pumpkins and some hay a hundred feet or so away. Doug and Jen got the pumpkins from a local grower who used to give them to the local Chief of Police's Longhorn Steer. But the Chief died, the Longhorns were sold off, and the pumpkins were offered to the sanctuary.

Owing to the new presence of the pumpkins, and according to Doug the accompanying sugar rush experienced by the Steer, Ralphie felt the need to assert himself with Andy and Elvis and for a time chased them around the field. He also chased Doug, Morgan and I to a small degree. I don't know about Doug and Morgan, but Ralphie did manage to impress his dominance of the cowfield on me!

Funny though, similar to Dylan earlier, whatever Ralphie charges, he always veers off at the last second. It is a "message charge" and not a "malicious charge". Though one can never fully predict such things, Doug said it's standard operating procedure for a Steer to "charge but veer". I understand the role of "bluffing" with other animals so as scary as it is when Ralphie's locked onto you, I agree and still feel as safe as before.

A small aside, later in the day Dylan came out for a bit and was face-smushing through the fence with Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis. It was a cute moment to see how fascinated they are with each other. Dylan's too young to enter their field at this point. He's 1/3 their size and there's three of them. Also, not that Ralphie and company would intentionally hurt Dylan, but the tips of Dylan's horns are only just coming through, so, in all, he needs some more growing time before he joins the gang.

Finishedout the day feeding about a dozen huge pumpkins to the pigs, helping Doug and Morgan fiddle with the tractor, and helping Jen by mistakenly giving pigeon food to Olivia (who accepted without comment!). We also fed the pigs evening pellets before calling it a day.

Some other stuff:

* Morgan seems to be involved with all aspects of the sanctuary, not just in fence building.

* The three dogs are Mio, Mae, and Carly. Mae's the older, Mio's the bolder, and Carly's getting used to farm animals.

* I met a second cat named "Henry". Large, long-haired, orange and white. Managed to get in a quick head smush during lunch.

* Jen told me the story about her coming home one day to find a bear in the kitchen! It was rummaging through some food. Jen shrieked, the bear ran out the door, and now it makes a funny story. There is a nearby town named "Bearsville".

* There are 12 pigs. Not 9. When in a group, they have the uncanny ability to look like 53.

* The second Guinea Hen is named Herschel. So we have "Herschel" and "Orville".

* Stormy has a lady friend somewhere in the rafters of the pig barn. There might be eggs.

* There's one rooster that hangs out in the pig barn instead of the rooster yard. Doug says it's a bit on the ornery side so it's just as well for the other roosters. The pigs don't seem to mind.

* I bought of pair of proper farm boots! Hunter green, all rubber, all waterproof, all warm!

When I got home my outer shirt was covered in hay, pants covered with dirt, boots with mud, and gloves with muck. A good day.

Barn raising this weekend and next.
S'more Soup?

As mentioned in a previous entry, I got the idea of volunteering time at the Food Bank from Gary who is a manager there and until recently was one of my three roomates here at 28 Balding Ave. Gary moved out about two weeks ago after only being here a short while. His brother, who previously lived in Queens, just bought a house in nearby Stanfordville. It's a fixer-upper so Gary will be living with him for a while as they get the place in shape.

The Food Bank is located in the basement of an old High School on North Hamilton Street here in POK. The top floors of the building are used for daytime shelter and counseling as far as I know. I haven't visited upstairs yet but will do so soon.

I think there are three main reasons why volunteering at the Food Bank appeals to me. First, the obvious, it's a worthwhile operation to support. Second, for the social experience and to establish some roots in the area. Third, a combination of more personal reasons. It's just something that I'd like to do right now.

Here's some of the people who work/volunteer at the kitchen:

Buddy: Buddy is the "Grand High Exalted Mystic Manager" of the kitchen. He does a lot of the cooking, directs staff, and fields any major problems that come up. To borrow from the film "Apocalypse Now", the operation might be run by the Food Bank but it damn sure is Buddy's kitchen.

Gary: Gary is more of a hands-on manager. He cooks as well, works with the staff, and handles many of the million-and-one jobs that pop up.

John: Staff member in charge of the dishwashing room. John also helps with the supply room.

Tom: Staff member. Kind of a "free safety". Tom does just about everything except cook.

Sue, Debbie, and Rosemary: Three local women who volunteer at the kitchen. They do a lot of food preparation with meals that are to be delivered to people who are unable to make it to the kitchen. Debbie and Rosemary also hand out prepared dishes to clients on the serving line.

In addition to those above, there are about a dozen other people of all ages who work at the kitchen in a part-time capacity. Each receives Department of Social Services assistance for one reason or another and are thus obliged to give a certain amount of time each month to the kitchen.

Finally, there are volunteers who show up on a weekly, bi-weekly, or other basis who donate time for whatever individual reasons. Myself and Ken fall into this category. We're plugged into whatever hole there is for the day or we just help out whoever looks like they need it. Some volunteers show up only once or twice and then do not return. College and highschool students tend to do this. They seem to come for the experience and it's always a neat thing to see. You can tell they're taking the plunge into a world they might not know much about. When they come in their eyes are always big as saucers and they're unsure of it all, but they want to give it a go all the same.

I've been trying to put together some stories about my time at the kitchen so far but I'm finding that the kitchen doesn't lend itself to stories in the same way that the farm does. At least, none that I've been able to put together. I think the reason for this stems from the lack of deeper interaction on the part of all concerned (on both sides of the serving line). This is a place where borders are high, wide, thick, and maintained. Most people at the kitchen, again, on both sides of the serving line, are scared, scarred, suspicious, dirt poor, handicapped, ill, hooked, and/or struggling with life. Most all are appropriately cordial though some are just plain not nice people who you would not want to meet on the street.

But since no large group of people can be totally interactionless, there are moments that poke through. Moments of laughter and good feeling. Staff chat with each other in order to help the time pass, clients talk among themselves and one hears a lot of "war stories", and there is interaction between clients and staff that mostly remains on the "polite" level.

What I am finding is that the kitchen does provide instances of "mini observations" about the people who work there, the people who eat there, and about myself. I include myself in that last thought because having grown up in a safe, untroubled environment, and having lived my entire life in a different world than what exists at the kitchen, there's much that I find myself processing internally.

A bit from the kitchen (all client names have been changed):

* "The Onion Gang". Usually the teenage and 20-something year old males are given "onion detail". They can do it in a group and have a good yack while doing so. Everyone's faces are burning like wildfires but it's the bonding that seems to count.

* Debbie is probably somewhere in her 50s, extremely religious and is the first person I've ever met that occasionally speaks in tongues. I haven't asked what the language is. She's a very nice person who seems to have had a very tough life. Debbie talks to everyone and has a broad smile for all.

* "Buck" is a forty something year old client with dull-yellowish hair and a lot of hard living cragged into his face. He has a funny scam going. He sits at one of the tables and watches the staff coatroom for staff members coming and going. He knows that if you're a staff member who's been working for a while, if you go to grab your coat and leave the building, you're probably going outside for a cigarette break. This gives Buck the chance to grub one from you. He'll also tell you to watch out for people grubbing cigarettes because they're "everywhere"!

Buck also helps out bussing tables. Not that he's asked to. He's giving himself the chance to be useful. One gets the feeling that not many people ask Buck to be useful and it makes him happy.

* John (of the dishwashing room) tries all the time to be cynical and sarcastic with quick-flip answers and sour observations. But it just doesn't come off- he's too nice of a guy! He really is one of those people that we've all met that has the power of being instantly likeable. One wishes John felt better about things but the contradiction has it's funny side and I find myself smiling when we speak.

* "Maria" (again, not her real name) speaks very little English. Her first job in the morning is to prepare silverware and napkins for the coming day. I help out sometimes and I think she gets a kick out of my very limited knowledge of Spanish. We get along well with exaggerated facial expressions and funny hand gestures. We invariably wind up cracking-up about it all and having a good time.

* About twenty elementary school kids came in to sing Christmas carols a few days before Christmas. They lit up the room for about 20 minutes and were well-applauded.

* Children. There are rarely any children at the Food Bank. The Food Bank serves only one meal (lunch) a day from 11:00-1:00 and so, naturally, kids are in school.

More to follow soon.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Mucking about with Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis

Another day at the sanctuary the other day (Thursday). A wet day. Rain on and off. Mostly on.

Once again "Mio" (not sure of the spelling) did his best "Hound from Hell" impersonation when I first knocked at the door. Also, once again he smelled my hand while I did my best impression of a stalagmite. He seems to quickly settle down though once he has a scent to go with the knocking sound and I have again lived to tell the tale/tail.

Once inside, I talked with Jen and Sheila for a little bit, was introduced to Lisa who was working around the kitchen, mushed Moby's head, grabbed a cookie that Jen offered, and headed out to join Morgan for a happy day of happy cowshit.

--Cut to cow field.--

Just outside Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis' (the three resident Steer) house is an area approximately 15' x 15' where their hay is served and they do most of their eating. (At least now that it's Winter.) As such, the ground in that area gets most of the action in terms of accumulated dead straw and, umm, fully digested straw. So, it all has to occasionally be picked up and taken away by tractor to the compost heap two fields away. This is how Morgan and I with help from Sheila spent much of the afternoon. With the rain coming down, we're talking several tons of stuff!

Time for a quick tangent here about "cats" so bear with me. It'll all come together in the end.

For those of you who have ever owned a cat, you probably know what happens when you try to read a book. It's not long before the cat HAS to join you. And invariably, it's preferred way of joining you is by sitting on your book. As cat owners, we know this is their job.

Okay, back to our story.

Arriving at our 15' x 15' hay-eating site, I by foot and Morgan by tractor, we proceeded to dig in with our pitchforks for a good muck-out.

And here comes Ralphie.

Followed by Andy.

And of course, Elvis.

Now, Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis seem to have about 8 acres (again, I'm bad with acreage) to roam around on and a house where they could stay dry on this rainy day. But they weren't going to have any of that. They needed to investigate and they started with the tractor. Nibbling the seat, licking the tires, nuzzling the engine hoses, everything was given a good going over. (If you've seen the film "A Shark Tale", think "Whale Wash"!)

But it was all pretext. A clever and diabolical ruse, if you will, to slowly and slyly advance to where they wanted to go the most.

Ralphie's the boss so he takes the lead with all ventures. As he worked his way down the tractor, he eventually arrived at the front bucket into which Morgan and I were pitching the hay. Having head-rubbed the bucket for a few seconds, Ralphie chose his next stop. And of course, that chosen stop HAD to be squarely between Morgan and I on top of the hay we were pitching! I don't think he wanted anything in particular. With 8 acres worth of standing area available he just knew that that was the spot that he wanted to stand on at that moment. And that was that. One does not argue with Ralphie.

Again, Ralphie is the lead-taker with these things which also means that Andy and Elvis need to do their parts and follow Ralphie. And so, they did. There wasn't any more room between Morgan and I. Ralphie saw to that. But there was some available "standing land" just to the right and left of us, so Andy and Elvis filled-in the remaining space.

So here's the scene: Morgan and Bob are standing in front of a tractor bucket pitching hay when they are joined, shoulder to shoulder, by 6,000 lbs. of horned, well-muscled, Steer who are all doing their impressions of book-squatting cats. Except these "cats" are alternately licking my jacket and my ear and nosing me in the sides. Oh yeah, and Elvis keeps trying to lift my wallet! They are all moving slightly. A few short shuffles at a time and each in a slightly different direction so that at any given moment you are never exactly sure of any steer's exact location.

Basically, both Morgan and I, attempting to pitch some hay, are literally caught in a vortex of swirling steer determined to occupy the same physical space as we were.

Now, you have to be aware of some of the things that were told to me about Steer. Don't touch their horns, they don't like it. Don't stand behind them, if they get spooked you might get launched into the next field. And don't jab one in the ribs with the backstroke while pitchforking because you might startle it causing a mass panic and be turned into human coffee grounds. No one told me that one. It came to me on it's own.

So how did it turn out you ask?

Well, Sheila eventually joined us and we managed to fill the tractor bucket with hay. Morgan started the tractor and he and I headed to the gate on the other side of field on our way to the compost heap.

And who might you guess thought it'd be fun to tag along?

Once again, here comes Ralphie.

And Andy.

And Elvis.

The process with the gate is that one person has to open the gate while the other drives the tractor through the opening. The person who opens the gate is also charged with keeping Ralphie and company inside the fence. The gate is the access point between their field and the pig field. It's not that steer would intentionally hurt the pigs or vice-versa, but no one wishes to have to deal with the noisy confusion that would surely ensue should the steer encroach on pig land.

So having reached the gate, we all reached another standstill. How to open the gate for the tractor while keeping the Three Muske(s)teers inside the field.

Oh, and to make things a bit more interesting, here come two Hummer-sized pigs from the other side schnuffling towards the gate as well.

Sheila, who remained at the feeding area, called Ralphie and he eventually ran to her with Andy and Elvis in tow. I opened the gate for Morgan and rattled the chain that locks the gate which kept the pigs away. Morgan made it through the gate and I closed it behind him.

All concerned eventually forgot about Morgan and I making our numerous trips through the gate to dump the hay and Sheila kept the Gang of Three busy on the other side of their house so we could finish pitching the rest of the hay.

Cats have nothing on Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis. I'd hate to open a book around them.

As for the rest of the day:

Olivia and Dylan were in their pens inside in the barn for the time that I was there. I'm sure they were "battened down" due to the rain. Got to play with them a little bit while throwing down straw for the pigs in the adjacent pen. Dylan's still young enough that he can't quite figure out that despite the similarities, a hand is not an utter!

Got to feed the pigs again. Just pellets this time. Feeding pellets to pigs is not as uneventful as it might sound! With all the jostling, grunting, head-butting, and foot-working for position to get first crack at the bowl, it's quite a scene! There are about six bowls that get spread around so eventually everybody gets to fill up.

Stormy must have been riding-out the weather somewhere dry, or maybe the hat I was wearing threw him off a bit. I didn't see him this time.

Towards the end of the day, I spent about 20 minutes sitting with Sheila getting more acquainted with the chickens. Sheila seems to have a special feeling for the chickens (each one gets a kiss after meds!). In my mind I divided the 37 chickens into four groups. There were one or two that came closer to me and kind of "nestled-in". There were several that kept more towards Sheila. There was a group that just milled about in the center of the room possibily waiting for us to leave so they could throw on a movie. And the rest were content to just huddle under the heat lamp or hunker-down to sleep on the other side of the building.

I also got to scoop up three chickens myself for meds! Sheila said that the three were of the more docile ones so they would make good practice. All went well (Sheila said I was "a natural"!) and I'm sure I'll be moving up to the more resistant of the lot soon.

I seem to still smell like a barn.

Another good day.