Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Livestock Guardian Dogs

We have two full time working dogs on our farm.  One is a Great Pyrenees mix (with Collie I understand), and the other is part Anatolian and part Pyr, which part is which I have no idea. That's her in the back wearing the mask..

These are beautiful, true working dogs.  They won't win any pageants covered in burrs as they usually are. But they are on the job all day and all night.  Not much escapes their notice and they hear, see and smell all of the threats to their flock.  We were told by the breeders of our raccoon masked dog, Daisy, that she would grow up not really caring about people.  She was to care for the animals and not much else.  We have found this to be very untrue.  She loves people, and considers them to be equally as important to protect, especially kids.  When working on different areas of the farm, it is very common to have the dogs follow us, and just sit there watching as we mow, make fence, dig or plant.  We are part of the flock they are guarding.  When the kids go walking, almost always one or the other dog follows with them.

It is truly a safe feeling to be awakened in the night by their barks, and to hear them race off across the farm to protect against some other critter.  When you are tent camping, is is reassuring to hear them just outside your canvas wall.  They are awake while we sleep.  They do an excellent job, and we have lost very few chickens as a result.  One can lie in the dark, and listen to their two barking voices, each very unique.  Lexie's bark is higher, a bit raspy and squeaky. Daisy has the deepest most improbable voice for a lady, a rumbling low register, big dog bark. 

I am amazed by their camaraderie.  Lexie the Pyr mix, was brought in as an adoption. Her former farm could not handle her anymore as she was rumored to be chasing their goats. When she arrived, she walked out amidst our chickens, took up a commanding strategic location in the chicken yard, and went to guarding immediately. She has been a steady part of the team ever since.  Daisy arrived from her litter in Georgia as a 10 week old pup.  She did not guard right away, and took several months to mature.  At approximately 8 months old, the guard dog powers were activated. With the teaching example of the older dog, Lexie, she has become the finest of guard dogs.  It is impossible to teach these dogs to do what they do.  It is pure instinct.  It is unique experience to watch a creature fulfill what they are meant to be, and without any human interference.  When one dog darts away chasing something, the other is quickly up and away after her.

These dogs are not without their shortcomings however, and we have been working to teach them the boundaries of the farm.  It is in the dogs nature to maintain a secure territory.  Sometimes this means going on "walkabout" and taking the fight to the coyotes.  They dogs will wander, seeking to push the predators further and further away from the home territory. Often this causes them to "go missing" for hours.  For a caring dog owner, this is torture.  Every Pyr owner I have talked too can tell me a similar story.  It is a priority for the dog's boundaries to be clearly established.

These dogs are a great asset on the farm.  So much would be lost to predators without them.  They completely earn their keep.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Corn Crop Failure

My To-Do list got the best of me this year.  Or perhaps it was luck?  Just as the Midwest is reeling and crops are dying, we in East TN are having climate issues as well.  The month of June, I recorded only .65" of rain for the entire calendar month.  That is terrible I must tell you, plus for a good part of the month, the daytime high temperatures were over 100 F.  Almost unbearable to work in.  For sure impossible to grow corn in without irrigation.

In 2011 I planted about 1/4 acre in Oxacan Green Dent Corn.  I got it from heirloom seed sellers.  My hope was that I would be soon filling my corn crib, and building a seed bank to plant with continuously.  I saved two bursting 1 gallon zip lock bags with the seed product of that 2011 crop, fully intending to replant and expand in 2012.

It didn't happen.

I never got it planted.

Too much infrastructure building going on.  Too much bush hogging to do.  Too much of too much.  Not one kernel of green corn got planted in the ground.

I never thought I could ever be so lucky. 

Yes, lucky. 

The farm has no formal irrigation system.  The system is me with buckets.  There is no way I could have kept that crop alive through June, July and August without mechanical/petroleum powered irrigation.  I would have lost every last kernel in the weeks of 100 F and higher heat.

Now my two bursting gallons of corn seed are safe and tucked away in cool dark storage, waiting for next year. [Yes, with proper storage corn can be kept for decades, perhaps centuries as was discovered in the desert southwest]

So, a failure turns out not be a failure after all, but merely another chance to gamble with nature next year.

LJF 1,  Nature 0--- But Nature bats last.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Untold Riches

Fall is nearly here, the sun is slanted low in the sky.  The evenings have cooled from their uncomfortable highs of summer.  And, I have hay in the barn.  Hay from my own property. This hay also brought some beautiful friends into our lives. The man we hired to mow it, brought his wife to help us load it into the barn the next day. A blessing, a gift of labor, and we are pleased to now have them as friends.
It is wealth from the bottom of the food chain, the most basic of blessings, the kind of bank that can keep a farm and feed all the animals and people on it.  I am a wealthy woman indeed.