Last Friday, April 8, 2016, Scott Thompson interviewed me, on my birthday!, for the daily "Farm Talk" on the Big FM 93.7, a local radio station out of Monroe, WI. I talked a bit about our
farm, the process of moving animals frequently, managing multiple species, and the benefits of perennial systems. It was a great experience, and I hope that I can continue to share with others
It was on pretty early in the morning at 6:20 AM, so for anyone that missed it, here's a direct link to the file. Enjoy!
If you enjoyed these topics, want more discussions like this, or just like hearing my voice please give them a call at 608-325-2161 and request that I be on again!
A Day of Blessings
On Facebook this morning, I posted about my eventful morning, and ask anyone that knows me- I get jazzed about anything community involvement, democracy, and getting to go vote and anything related. I'm blessed to live in a time in history where I can vote. I'm blessed to live in a country where I can vote. I'm blessed to have been raised to value voting by my parents. So yeah, my morning was tough to top.
Even though I didn't get to grafting my apple trees, my afternoon didn't only top my morning, it was the highlight of my dad, week, and year to this point.
So I went out to forage my ramps, and I have 7 beautiful batches to pick from this early. Seeing I had more than enough, I left 4 of them untouched and decided to head home for lunch. That's when I saw 2 red-tailed hawks spook as my utv drove out of the woods. I wondered was going on and then I saw it: a bobcat!
Well, actually it wasn't a bobcat, but the outline of the head from 50 feet could have fooled anyone. The "bobcat" hopped out into the path from the wooded edge, and that's when I was corrected, it was a great horned owl. What a treasure! I vocally exclaimed "you are so beautiful" to myself, which I'm sure the owl picked up with its great hearing, though assuredly oblivious to the meaning of my noise.
We stared and shared the moment, and after a while I decided to snap a few pictures. My movements made her (or him) anxious and she decided to flee. That's when I was able to observe what was going on. A broken wing limited her flight to just 10 feet and rewarded her with a tumultuous landing.
I realized that this owl could be saved, but it would most likely starve to death if I didn't intervene. So I looked up wildlife rehabilitation centers in the area, but didn't find anything nearby other than in Madison. Nonetheless, I called and left messages, what's the harm in seeing if they would come down and get it?
With no answer, t I decided to push her to a safe haven- a thicket of sumac in the low ground of our pasture. Unsure of what would happen, I wished her goodluck and patience to stay there.
About 2 hours later, I received a phone call from Four Lakes Rehabilitation center in McFarland and they said they would take her. I said that I would try to catch her, but wasn't sure how that would go and if I got her, I would give them a call back. I wasn't sure she would still be where I last saw her, and even if she was, how would I catch her without injury to her or myself.
Turns out, catching an injured owl requires 3 things: a calm voice, patience, and an old quilt. And luck definitely helps!
She let me get about 20 feet away on the first try, but good luck throwing a quilt that far in the wind. i was constantly talking to her, hoping that she was as quick of learner of human intention as she is wise. Then I was able to get within 15 feet. And then 10 feet.
That was all the closer she would allow me to get, and she fled to the south into the open pasture. What ensued was what I call a slow motion game of chase, resembling a combination of tag and red light-green light. At least that's what I romanticize it as. I'm sure a fly on the wall would have appropriated circus music to it, but this is my story and my memory.
She tripped up before I did, which is no small feat as I was sprinting around in rubber boots, and she found herself on her back. An owl on their back in broad daylight is not much different than a turtle flipped onto its back. I capitalized by throwing my quilt, which to this point served as a combination of a low altitude kite and a matador's cape, onto her. She seized it in her 2 inch talons immediately!
With cautious I covered her head in the quilt, and a calm entered the situation. Despite the calm, I was not going to compromise my advantage by getting complacent. I sprinted over to the gator (utv) to get the dog kennel I "borrowed" from my neighbors. I thought the hard part was over, and maybe it was, but the next part was the most dangerous, at least for my superficial features. I had to somehow get the owl into the kennel, without further injuring its wing, and at the same time avoid those talons and that beak. Tools forged by millions of years of evolution to specialize in piercing and not letting go and pulling apart flesh. I respected the need for caution.
Now, I don't know if my strategy actually helped, but I ended up successful. To disorient and occupy the owl I lifted the quilt up and down to let in varying amounts of light. My thinking was that a super sensitive nocturnal goddess that an owl is would have an exaggerated experience that many humans can relate to. You know that feeling, the one where you walk into a dark room after being outside in the bright sun, or conversely being woken up to the curtains being opened.
To my "enjoyment" I was able to witness my strategy in effect. As I lifted the blanket and lower it I saw in glimpses the hyperactive pupils shrink and grow. I went back to 3rd grade in Mrs. Marty's (no relation) class where we learned about the pupils relation to the iris and smirked.
Slowly, I folded her wings in. After careful adjustment, I scooped her up into the kennel. By the way, I previously said you need 3 things to catch an owl. That's true, but if you want safely transport or handle it, you need a kennel or something.
The rest of the story is relatively uneventful. She, at this point she was named Aldo (after Aldo Leopold obviously, and screw gender norm names), and was able to enjoy a favorite childhood memory of mine: a gator ride. A ride in the back of the gator, often after dinner in the twilight of the day, when critters and creatures come out in the cool air. It was a feature of summer with my father, who captained the "ship". I don't think she realized that this was supposed to be a good memory. She was frantic, and I can't blame her, but in a few short minutes we were by the cheese factory (my home). I realized a second blanket (the first was in the kennel, and I was not retrieving that) could be used to return Aldo to the dark and consequently her comfort.
Before I could take Aldo to her new, temporary home afternoon chores were attended to, with no eventfulness I may add, a blow to the theory (law?) of Murphy's Law that what can go wrong, will go wrong. We also needed a change of vehicle, my car could not fit the St. Bernard sized dog kennel. Luckily a shirt-off-your-back type of neighbor, Lindsey, traded her van for my car for the rest of the day.
My father returned from a meeting, and was able to catch "something cool" before I departed. He was brave enough to pet her, something I thought he was pulling my leg about, but he "petted" her through the blanket. Not exactly what I had pictured, but Aldo seemed to not mind.
Ok, so now the rest of the story was pretty eventful. Dad helped me load her into the van, and the entire hour trip to the rehab center resulted in not a peep from Aldo. And to the credit of Four Lakes, the process was quick and painless (for me) and within 10 minutes of arriving, I was on my way.
I hope that Aldo will see my farm again, and the rehab center says that is definitely a possibility and something they like to do to reunite mates. I'm gonna have 150+ chickens in my pasture this year, so I'm hoping that Aldo remembers this day the next time she salivates at the sight of chicken nuggets in my pasture. I hope she diverts her attention to those voles that poses a definite debarking threat to my 2000+ fruit and nut trees that will be planted in the next 2 months. That's my hope, and while this might sound crazy to some, I'm choosing to put myself out there. I want to believe that there is more rhyme to this life than there is reason. That things will relate to each other in ways that they are treated, and by saving a potential "threat" to what I'm doing, I'm hoping that I am saved from a dysfunctional farm. A farm that is not in sync with nature. A farm that sees nature as a threat and not a fortune. A farm where I am not in the frame of mind to value all life as worthy of stewardship.
Thank you for reading. Aldo, thank you for this lesson.
Coming up with a name for this blog post was a bit difficult, but I promise it will make sense. We have cookies, meatballs, radio commercials, and mass extinctions in store in this post.
I just got back from a Holiday Cookie Exchange hosted by the Wisconsin Farmers Union South Central Chapter tonight at our local farm-to-table restaurant Cow & Quince, and as far as we could tell it was the first ever in our county. Now, I'm not much a baker at this point in my life (though I have a lot of pastured lard that I need to use in some pies and pastries soon) so I didn't bring cookies or any baked goods.
I'm comfortable with my grilling skills though, so I brought some savory "Great Balls of (Green) Fire" (that's not the only reference to this post's title) made with our own grass-fed ground beef . I'm just getting over my first (and hopefully last, right?) cold/sore throat of the
season so it was nice to be feeling better and get out and socialize and try some fantastic recipes from other local farmers. You could sense and see the culture developing. It was tangible and
intangible at the same time somehow. You could see it, but you could feel it. A culture based on relationships, camaraderie, laughter, and good food all stemming from people that feel connected
to one another and the land that feeds them.
Before the event today, I was driving back to the farm from town where I substitute taught agriculture for the afternoon. On the radio, hoping for some Taylor Swift or some Lean On (and let's be honest, some Adele) I tuned to Z104, the local "hit" station. My desires were not obliged, shockingly all I got was commercials. But all is not lost! Lately there have been some weird triumphant, propaganda(ish?) GOP lipservice commercials getting plenty of play on the local hit and hiphop stations. This along with a few (at least 2 of separate stations) of the morning talk show hosts hammering "out-of-control" government spending (I'm not disagreeing) during my most recent trip to the butcher. I've been noticing that there's been a certain political "tilt" developing in the Madison listening area, so it was quite to my surprise when I heard this come on the radio: "Each year, 1 in 1 Million species should die out naturally, but we will be losing them 1,000x faster than we should be. If you care about the future of the world's animals, and if you care about our planet as a whole you'll watch "Racing Extinction" tonight on Discovery Channel."
Woah, where did that come from?
Well, apparently Ryan Seacrest is spotlighting this major issue facing our planet. One that isn't being covered by popular media. One that is threatening a ridiculous amount of species, upwards of 50%! One that is approaching equivalence to 5 other events in the history of Earth! The Earth is 4.6 billion years old, with life being around for about 3.5 billion years, and it's only happened 5 times. Humans are probably most likely to blame (come on, "probably"?) for this one. What is it? Mass Extinction.
Yep, we're at the onset of the 6th Mass Extinction in the known 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth. Humans are mimicking a "Great Ball of Fire" (read: asteroid) and causing an ecocide in
the matter of decades and centuries, which are practically one and the same on a geological and evolutionary timeline. I go into more detail on the implications on society, the environment, and
how it influenced the naming of our slogan "A Sixth reGeneration" here. The ad, which was
different than the one attached to the above link, continued to elaborate on the current situation and why it's important. They were certain to make sure that all is not lost, and that we can
change the trend if we act now.
I haven't watched the film yet, but I can offer some potential solutions to chew on. There's no doubt that current, conventional (at least in western society) agricultural practices are expansive and more or less devoid of biodiversity, habitat, and generally Life. What if we managed that land with the objective of increasing, substantially, the biodiversity and habitat and consequently Life? In order to do that we do not have to sacrifice the production of food, rather we will have to sacrifice the type of food we produce. While turning the land fallow would work in some instances to combat climate change and provide habitat, it is not the grand solution. Rather than remove land from production we must redesign the production. We at Green Fire Farm are in the process of redesigning, and following the example many others have set forth. Innovators and Advocates such as Joel Salatin, Mark Shepard, Grant Schultz, and hundreds of other regenerative farmers that share their experiences. To learn more about what this looks like check out this.
Just like how there was a special culture developing at the Cookie Exchange, there is a growing movement that seeks to shatter public paradigms and build a more robust, resilient, and responsible global community.
Are you in?
P.S. I can't wait until next summer, in June and July, when I can use my own pictures of all of the trees we planted!
We welcomed 110 pinballs of energy this week to Green Fire Farm! These lil girls will grow and mature through the winter and be primed to start doing what they do best come spring: eat bugs and lay eggs!
They are an absolute joy to sit and watch. I used my own bird brain and pondered what it would be like to be a chick in another life. Though non-conclusive, I figure it would be quite the adventure. Everything is so incredibly new and learning abounds! To be quite capable and precocious (able to drink, eat, and move on your own) as a new member of this world would be a lot different than our experiences as a human baby. And it is like that for everyone around you. I imagine it to be a great atmosphere! I'm anthropomorphizing here, but I can see their dialogue playing out like this:
"Woah, Chicken Little, come over here! Have you seen this?! Drink it, man!"
"Dude! Look how fast I can run!"
"The ground is so bouncy. It's like I live on a TRAMPOLINE!!!"
"I'm so hungry! Food!" *Inhales feed*
Now that I think about it, it sounds a lot like college!
Chicks arrive only a day or two old (depending on shipping distance) and need water, feed, plenty of bedding, and heat. It's not rocket science and can be set up in just a few hours.
Observation is key after they arrive. Being able to catch any problems before they catch hold of the entire flock is essential. Lethargy, crowding under the heat lamps, and sticky and poopy butts are big red flags. Sleeping chicks are huge scares, but are almost always false alarms!
The good thing is that chicken chicks are usually pretty hardy after reaching their second or third day. Give them what they want and need and they do the rest!
On Wednesday, September 23rd 2015, Green Fire Farm had over 100 visitors to learn about rotational grazing and see what went wrong, right, and what the future holds!
The Green County NRCS and Land & Water Conservation Office co-hosted, and the Wisconsin Farmers Union South Central Chapter provided coffee and treats!
We introduced our small flock of twenty layers to the pasture where they will reside in their mobile coop, the "Egg Tank", and serve as organic pest control and pasture scarification.
This behemoth of coop can hold 80-120 birds and has outside access to nest boxes for easy retrieval and automatic waterers. It follows about 3-4 days behind the cows to hit the fly development
stage just right.