Friday, March 31, 2006

Day's end

I got the animal food (the critters were quite grateful), but didn't get any of the other stuff done. It rained pretty much all day, and we had some stuff to do in Cadillac (the local city), anyhow. We ended up dropping way too much money at Wal-Mart. We had to get Easter stuff, and some birthday stuff for our youngest son.

(Gabe was a planned c-section. His birthday is April 2, 2001. I wanted to schedule the surgery for April 1, but that idea was vetoed.)

While we were at the store, I bought some raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry plants. I also got a couple grape vines and a bunch of seeds. Now, I have even more stuff to do. I'm going to have to plant the fruit plants in the front pasture, and figure out a way to keep the deer from eating them. Little by little, we'll get an orchard and berry patch going there.

While we were getting some stuff at a feed/livestock (mostly horse) store, we noticed the peeping of baby chicks. TSC (Tractor Supply Company) isn't having chick days this year because of the bird flu paranoia, so it was a welcome sight. All they had were banties, though. Still, I was tempted. If we had a brooder set up and ready to go, we would probably have gotten some.

So... we came home and fed the critters. That little silkie hen is still trying to set some eggs. I really need to put her into a nice, secluded area and give her something to hatch. Maybe she would like to raise some little duckling babies. If I had already set up a secluded place for her, I would have put some chicks under her. Most broody (wanna be a mom) hens will adopt chicks if you do it right. Silkies are particularly ready to be moms.

Broody hens tend to be grouchy, by the way. Our little silkie isn't grouchy, but that's probably because she's a silkie. Regular breeds will peck the puddin out of you if you try to gather the eggs out from under them. They give you fair warning, though. Have you ever heard a hen growl?

A hen with her chicks is a real treat to watch. Chickens make really good mothers. They don't even care if you put someone else's eggs under them. In fact, you don't even have to get the species right. Hens routinely raise ducklings, pea chicks, pheasants, and other fowl. We put some guinea hen eggs under a white rock last year, and she raised them up just fine.

Today's gratuitous photo isn't really gratituitous because it actually pertains to the subject.

The realities of keeping animals

Most of us have had pets, or at least have been to a petting zoo.

It's very easy to become attached to our animal friends. Cats and dogs, particularly, have been bred to be companions for a very long time. They have instincts and personalities that mesh very well with our human instincts and personalities. In addition, they seem to genuinely love us. There has been much debate about that, but I'm convinced that our cats and dogs see us as more than a source of food and shelter. The debate about whether it is really love, or if it is simply behavior that simulates it is really a moot point. They have mammal brains, just like us, so the specific parts of the brain that cause that behavior should be similar. In any case, I choose to believe that my kitty loves me.

Farm animals are a different story. They were bred as sources of food, not as companions. Still, some seem to get attached to us. Goats, in particular, are very personable. I suspect that horses can gain the same kind of attachment that cats and dogs can. Time will tell.

A lot of that ability to form attachments comes from the herd instinct. I really can't think of any domestic animal that isn't a herd animal. Even our domestic cats are social -- though they don't seem to have the need to have an alpha male or herd queen around. Those of us who are owned by cats know that they don't really understand the concept of a boss or leader the way that dogs do.

But that's mammals. Birds are a different story.

Cats, dogs, and horses will get depressed if they are deprived of human companionship. Chickens could care less. Give them feed and water, and they're happy. A lone chicken will form an attachment to a human, but in general, most of them just consider us to be a part of their environment. They come when we call them because we throw goodies out to them.

That doesn't mean that a chicken can't be tamed. I tamed the smallest of those bantie roosters that adopted us. He still doesn't necessarily want me to catch him, but he doesn't get whacked out when I do, and he'll eat out of my hand.

Can a chicken really get attached to a human? I don't know for sure, but I know a few chicken fanciers who swear that they can and do. Some breeds are better at that than others. Silkies, in particular, are well known for being non-aggressive. On the other hand, there are plenty of Rhode Island Red combat roosters out there. Don't turn your back on that bad boy. I'm serious. He has spurs, and he knows how to use them.

We had a rooster that started to become aggressive. He attacked Mary a few times, and even went after our four year old boy. I managed to tame him a bit, but not enough to make us feel safe. We renamed him "Soupy". He would have ended up as soup, except a friend of ours lost a rooster and wanted a protective rooster for his flock. We took him over and introduced him to the flock. The current flock rooster, a Rhode Island Red, was less than welcoming. I'm sure that they eventually came to some kind of an accomidation.

This post was originally going to be titled "The harsh reality of keeping animals" because I was going to discuss the fact that the critters often just up and die. Also, we raise a lot of them for food. When we do that, we need to make the kids understand that those cute little chicks are destined for the table. Luckily, they are less than cute by the time they are ready to be processed.

The rule is, though, that you should never name a food animal. If you want to love on a farm animal, go hug the dairy goats or the laying hens. The goats will appreciate it, but the hens probably won't. That's OK too, because loving something that doesn't love you back is a Godly thing to do. Jesus certainly loves even those of us who hate him in return.

But, even though an animal is destined for the table, we need to take good care of it. We want it to live a good life. After all, we all are born, and we all die. The part in between is called 'life'. We need to make that life as good as possible for our animals. It's our responsibility to do so. It's part of good stewardship.

Alas, the life of a meat animal on a factory farm is less than pleasant. I'm glad that we have the opportunity to raise our food humanely.

Well... this is getting longer than I intended, and I have chores to do. I need to go to the feed mill and get our critters some food. The stock watering tough has been soaking overnight, so it needs to be put into the pen with the horse. Maybe I'll get around to pruning the apple trees, too.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Another day...

Spring is here. That white stuff is melting. We're down to an odd patch here or there; mostly on north-facing slopes and in low-lying areas in our red pine forest. Fortunately for us, though, we live on high ground. That reduces the amount of mud considerably. The only really yucky place is inside the shelter area for the animals. The deep litter method works well most of the time, but all that stuff starts to stink of ammonia when it gets wet.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about today. Oh well...

We have been down to one vehicle for quite some time. That old 1984 Jeep Wagoneer XJ that we paid 500 bills for a couple years ago died just before the snow came. The big 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer has been dead for years. It sat for years waiting for some guy to rebuild the engine. I guess timely work isn't his thing. I mean, this thing inhaled some hardware back in 2001, and we had to really lean on him to get the engine done in time to get it out of the old Detroit-area yard in 2003. He still didn't make it in time, so it sat in an expensive storage locker for a few months.

But enough of this angst stuff. He did finally get it rebuilt, and our favorite mechanic back home stuffed it into the Jeep. We drove it up here, and used it for a while.

Then, the transmission failed.

Whoops, sorry. Didn't I promise that there would be no more angst?

Along came tax return time this year (we filed early for once). Down to the tranny shop goes our Jeep. I actually almost made it there before the thing totally refused to budge another inch. No biggie -- they were only too happy to tow it in.

Yep, the tranny (Chrysler TF727, if you're interested) was toast. So was the transfer case. Somehow, all the oil got up and ran away, leaving it clean and dry with little bits of bearing littering the bottom.

But heh... that old '84 XJ has exactly the same transfer case. All I have to do is crawl under that dead hulk and get it out of there. heh heh

Now, since we live in the country, we have to have the right ambiance, right? I mean, what would a proper country abode be without a car on blocks in the front yard? We don't really have a front yard, but the part where the driveway splits (so anyone driving in can see it) will do fine.

Besides, what Jeeper can possibly get along without a proper parts vehicle?

Anyhow, the first thing I did was to go to the local Family Dollar store and get a high-lift jack. The Jeepers call it that, anyhow. I think it was labelled "Farm Jack", or something like that. In any case, it's heavy, and takes some grunt just to operate it. It's a real manly man device. Tim the tool man would be proud. So would those two dudes on Saturday Night Live.

But I digress...

After a few tries, I finally jacked the thing up and placed some truck tires under the front bumper for safety. I have a friend who was working under a car when it fell on his head, so I use him as my role model on what not to do. That isn't the only bad thing to have happened to him, but it has to be near the top of the list.

So, tires under the front bumper, jack stands under the frame, and I'm relatively confident that my head will be safe. The fact that the jack stands ended up a bit tilted dashed that confidence, though.

But do I really want to detail the fun and games? I started to pull some bolts, and one let all the brown stuff (it's supposed to be red) out of the transmission. Luckily for me, I have experience with this stuff, so I didn't end up with fried tranny fluid running down my arm and into my armpit. It just made a mess on the ground.

After looking at the diagrams in the service manual, some struggling with various linkages, and the like, I finally got that heavy piece of metal loose and managed to ease it to the ground. Later, I heaved it up into the back of our one working vehicle.

All of that to save five hundred bucks...

So now, the t-case has been properly cracked open, inspected, fitted with a few of the not-so-identical parts from the original t-case, and mounted to our big 1989 Grand Wagoneer.

And today, we drove over there and picked it up. Freshly rebuilt engine, freshly rebuilt transmission, properly serviced t-case, five new u-joints...

It Lives!

Now that winter is over and there is little chance of snow, we have our big Jeep back. It's the best snow car I have ever driven, by the way.

But that isn't the only reason we are anxious to get that thing going. It is also going to be pulling trailers full of hay, feed, and stove pellets. It's going to be pulling a horse trailer as soon as we get one. It's a big beefy vehicle that will pull tons of stuff without complaining.

Of course, that isn't quite the end of the story. I mean, what would a trip back from the shop be without some slight mishap like running out of gas? I had just taken the gas can out of the van and put it where it belongs, too. Then, when we got back there, it didn't want to start. It has a problem starting hot. I was blaming the programming of the fuel injection, but I now think it's the ignition system. The Jacobs ignition system had died last year, and the stock system seems to be going. I think I need to find the plans for a good capacitive discharge system so I can build my own system.

Oh, I suppose I ought to mention that the engine was originally carbureted. I added the fuel injection after it was rebuilt the first time. The new rebuild uses a stock cam instead of that lousy racing cam (I had asked for an RV cam, but someone didn't listen), so I have to reprogram the Holley Pro-Jection system that I had added.

Wait a minute... I think I got lost here somewhere. I'll balme it on being up too late. My wife is in bed waiting for me, so I really ought to get off the internet and go do something more important.

But she said that I should talk about the other stuff that happened today, too.

Remember the horse that we got last week? Well, we called a ferrier, and made an appointment for him to come today.

Is that how you spell it? Ferrier? Anyhow, it's a guy who comes out and trims the horse's hooves. He has these big clippers and a huge file. He gets the horse to cooperate, and he does all that stuff to her feet. He had to get stern with her, but he got it done. The chickens came and picked up all the filings. I guess they like fingernail clippings. Plenty of protein, I guess. Of course, chickens will eat just about anything that doesn't eat them first.

Then, it was our turn to be cutting and filing on hooves. The goats needed to be trimmed really bad. They were even more ornery than the horse, though. Luckily for us, they are smaller. I ended up holding our noisy nubian in my lap while Mary did the clipping. She was so mad that when the little baby buckling came around, she bit his ears. I wasn't paying too much attention -- I was just holding the two of them. She ended up biting a chunk right off of his right ear. Now the little thing is lop-sided. He was not too happy about the process, by the way.

But, like I said, things are shaping up for spring. I hooked up the hose, so we no longer have to fill up gallon jugs in the bath tub in order to water the animals. I knocked the stuff out of the 40 gallon stock watering tub that the cats have been using as a litter box, and it's now soaking. Tomorrow, it's going down into the animal run so that the goats and horse can drink from it. Hopefully, the chickens won't drown in it. The ducks will probably mess it up, though. Such is life...

We also had our first weenie roast of the year. We burned up some dead limbs that I had cut out of the red pine forest, and roasted hot dogs.

Spring is here.... lots of stuff to be done. I guess that means that there will be lots to write about. The next step is to prune the apple trees. That's not all that exciting, but getting good apples that I can actually reach will make it worthwhile.

Time to go to bed, but I think I'll leave you with a gratuitous picture. Maybe I'll do a gratuitous picture of the day -- depending on how much stuff I can store before having trouble.

Anyhow, today's gratuitous picture is a nice spring time picture because I'm really in the mood for spring.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Time to start...

I have been planning on starting this project for a long time. I have thought and rehearsed what I would be writing. Things change when the empty editor is staring at you from the screen, though.

So, what is this all about? What's the deal with a nerd in the country, anyhow?

Well, one of the things I will be doing is chronicling what happens when you take a computer programmer (wannabee engineer, actually), a pediatric registered nurse, and three roudy boys, and allow them to escape from Detroit and land on a nice, little ten acre parcel in the middle of Michigan.

Mayhem ensues, to be sure. Calmness happens, too. Roosters crow in the morning. The leaves rustle, and traffic noises are too far away to be an issue. If our youngest boy wants to go out and play, we don't have to worry about traffic, nosey neighbors, or strangers with bad intentions.

And you can't beat the view.

We have had many dreams put on hold, but the Good Lord has seen fit to bring this one to life. One month, we were visiting my parents' cottage and wishing we could stay longer, and the next month, we were looking for property up here. When God wants it to happen, you need to hang on, do your part, and enjoy the ride.

When Mary was growing up, she liked horses as much as any young girl. As a city girl, she never dreamed that she would some day actually be able to get one.

Dreams do come true.