Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Update

It does not take a calendar to tell me that autumn has arrived on Harrison Farm, thanks to the current chilly mornings and cool nights.  It was quite brisk out this morning -- despite the sunshine -- as I chased three nefarious escapee goats.  Admittedly, my attire of pajamas, bathrobe, & muck boots were not the warmest or most functional clothes in which to be chasing goats through the bushes around the (currently dry) creek -- but the goatherd must respond to goat escapes immediately!  (And apologies to my neighbor who drove by as I was herding the goats back across the road while making such a glamorous fashion statement!)

My junior farmers Joseph & Eliza have been learning many lessons about goatherding lately, as they are now the proud owners of Jodie the Country Goat and Cute Face.  Joseph & Eliza have been working on my farm to earn their livestock.  Joseph picked out Jodie, and Eliza was determined to have Cute Face.  Joseph used some of the metal that the summer storm took off my barn roof, reconfigured it to create a goat shelter, and then put up fencing for a small pasture.  He is an extremely industrious young man!  Cute Face is a buck and Jodie is a doe, so in about a year their herd should expand.  Until then, Joseph is manfully learning the responsibilities that go with feeding goats, protecting goats, and attempting to corral goats . . . and every few days I respond to assist in goat wrangling when Cute Face finds a new spot to escape from the pen that Joseph built for him.

Last week, Joseph & Eliza got to ride Flirt the Horse for the first time and they were very, very excited!  Flirt struggled with some hoof issues which required regular treatment for much of the summer.  It also took her awhile to bond with me.  It seems as though just in the last few weeks, I have begun to notice a change in her interactions with me -- I have gone from "that person" to "her person".  I have been riding her a little bit around the farm bareback, and finally got to the point where I was comfortable having Joseph & Eliza each take a turn riding her.  It was Eliza's first time on a horse, and she grinned from ear to ear!  I feel very blessed to be able to share my love of farming with these two young people!  They are remarkable individuals, and add so much to my life!  It amazes me that it has only been a few months since they first began to visit the Farm, yet they have mastered so many new skills -- and are now learning to ride a horse!

I will admit that I gave Flirt plenty of time to adapt to me before I began climbing on her to ride.  I begin to think I have found a horse too much like me: she does NOT like change!  Flirt has had quite a bit of change in the last few months.  In December she left a large group of horses to come live with me.  At that point, my two visiting horses TG & Carson were here.  Flirt slowly adapted to living with them, but they soon moved closer to their owners on the west side of town.  After that Flirt lived with Baby V and D Calf for a few months, until they departed to be slaughtered.  Following her cow experience, Flirt moved in with a group of goats -- no wonder my horse is opposed to change!  Yesterday, my new sheep arrived, including a ram that is now living in the same group as Flirt . . . and she is NOT happy!  Flirt spent the first hour chasing him relentlessly, but I am confident she will soon accept his presence and carry on.

The biggest change on the farm this summer, though, has been Grandmother's move to a retirement community.  This was a very big surprise for me (I literally found out when my aunts came to pick up Grandmother), but both Grandmother & I are learning to adapt to a new normal.  Grandmother moved to Sterling House in Urbana at the end of May.  I was travelling for much of June, then July was busy with visits from friends & family to the farm.  Grandmother had a difficult July, as she took a nasty fall that resulted in three separate trips for medical attention.  By August, she began to recover and I began to adjust to living on the farm solo.  Grandmother has recently been appointed as co-chair of the Resident Grievance Committee at Sterling House, and is enjoying wielding her new authority.  She maintains her feisty spirit, even as her memory struggles.  (Case in point, Cousin Eric asked during his visit with her how the food was at Sterling House.  Grandmother smiled sweetly and replied "crappy!")

Two nights ago it was very cold in the old farmhouse, and so I turned on the heat.  It was a liberating moment when I realized I could now leave the door open to the upstairs so my bedroom could have some heat (previously forbidden).  It was always a running joke that thanks to the "no heat upstairs" policy, I would wake up on winter mornings with frost on the INSIDE of my bedroom windows -- true story!  I never look forward to a change in temperatures, but I am optimistic that fall & winter may be easier now that heat is permitted in the farmhouse!  Alas, this probably will not change the inclination of the goats to escape their places of residence on cold mornings, but at least I will be able to return to a warm house after dealing with "livestock at large"!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why Water Quality Is Important To Me

Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved water!  I have very happy memories of visiting the beaches of North Carolina with Auntie, of fishing on Lake Erie with our family friends Whitey & Nancy, and of sailing in the waters off the Florida Keys with my father.  Even though I detested Saturday morning swim lessons at the YMCA that kept me away from my beloved cartoons, my mother's insistence that I know how to swim was definitely beneficial.  My favorite waters, though, are the mountain streams that I have visited on trips out West.  I can recall watching my Grandfather bend down and trail his fingers through the cold, clear waters of numerous notable streams, and then lift a handful of water to his lips -- savoring it like the finest nectar.  I have adopted the same habit, and was delighted to be able to take some of girlfriends to visit those places during our trip this past summer: Two Ocean Pass (where Two Ocean Creek divides and eventually reaches both the Atlantic & the Pacific) and Lemhi Pass (where the headwaters of the Missouri River & the Columbia River start).

Places like Two Ocean Pass and Lemhi Pass appear in so many treasured memories for me, but water also has a very practical value in my life.  As a farmer, water is needed in so many ways for my operation.  I rely on our well to furnish the drinking water that the animals need.  We had a major storm at the end of June that knocked out the electric on the farm for a few days.  I was fortunate enough to be loaned a generator, otherwise I could not have run the electric pump that supplies our water.  Without a reliable water source, I could not raise livestock.  Even though I am a livestock farmer, the current drought is also impacting my operation.  Less rain results in a smaller hay crop, which in turn causes hay prices to climb.  Since I purchase the hay that I feed my animals through the winter, my expenses will increase.  In addition, the drought meant that the summer pastures I rely on had less forage for my animals.  Most summers I feed just a little bit of hay to the animals; this year I never stopped feeding hay.

I am not unique to the farm community -- water is a very important factor for all farmers!  Water quality issues are a prime topic of discussion within the farm community.  Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a symposium on livestock issues.  There was a panel discussion on water quality featuring the Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Director of the Ohio EPA, and the Director of the Department of Agriculture.  These gentlemen are very knowledgeable on agricultural concerns and understand that for farms to flourish, the environment must be healthy.  Ohio has faced many water quality concerns in my lifetime -- from the difficulties in Lake Erie during my childhood to the current challenges with algae blooms in Grand Lake St. Mary's.

I was delighted to hear all three Directors discuss the importance of perspective and collaboration in solving water quality concerns.  The media and a variety of environmental activists have far too often labelled farmers as prime contributors to the problems.  As a farmer, I am actually rather proud of the response of the farm community to these challenges!  Farmers have voluntarily stepped up to create nutrient management plans to regulate the handling and application of manure.  Opportunities to protect waterways on farms have been embraced as farmers have created buffer strips, monitored the impact of grazing, and tested soil nutrient levels.  Through its policy development process, the Ohio Farm Bureau has encouraged farm families  to become engaged in protecting water quality through such initiatives.  Far too often, however, farms are easy to blame for water quality concerns -- without looking at the impact of all Ohioans.

During the panel discussion at yesterday's symposium, I was amazed to learn from the Director of the Ohio EPA that roughly 8 billion gallons of raw sewage is released by municipalities into the Western Basin of Lake Erie EVERY YEAR!  It can be quite expensive to update treatment facilities and drainage lines, thus municipalities often operate under the idea that it is more cost effective to treat the problem later than to prevent it now.  Along with older drainage lines, heavy rains can contribute to the problem by washing chemicals into sewers from lawns, golf courses, and other treated areas.  Listening to the Directors discuss these concerns, it illustrated that we are all a potential part of water quality problems, but we are all a potential part of the solution as well.

Farmers face many challenges that we cannot control: droughts, floods, animal and plant diseases, market instability.  We keenly understand the need to protect our natural resources, especially our waterways.  I want to be able to have a reliable water source for my animals, so that I can keep farming for the rest of my life.  I want to contribute to protecting our waters, so that I can enjoy a clean water source for my own use.  And I especially want to see all Americans embrace the opportunity to protects our waters, so that I can continue to enjoy their beauty and share my favorite riparian spots with more of my friends!