Thursday, December 29, 2005

The flu came to visit

We managed to get through the Christmas play at church first, and then "the visitor" arrived--uninvited I might add. First it came to see Claire. Her temp reached over 103 and she was miserable. She got sick Tuesday, the 20th, and managed to get better by Christmas Eve. Well, mostly better anyway. Meanwhile, on Wednesday Clark received the same visitor. His temp was around 103 and he stayed in bed without any effort from me. If you know Clark, you know that meant he was ill. Thursday was Roger's turn. His temp soared to nearly 104. By Christmas morning it was only around 100 so he thought he was better. Silly man. But he did manage to go milk Isabella and see the Christmas milk fairies (We don't know who they are either. We think it's something the fever helped him come up with.) He also managed over the next couple of days to go to work at the EDC and move the kids' lockers into their bedrooms. These are heavy items and he was still running a low fever. So, by the end of the day Tuesday he was back in bed. Once I got it through his head he needed to stay in bed, he stayed mostly in bed. But he still got up and was picking up trash in the yard. I had the kids start helping him so he'd get done faster. He went on to work on something else. I was feeling desperate wondering how to keep him rested so he could get better. He already had a pulled achilles tendon in one ankle from his activities of the past few days. But that wasn't slowing him down enough. Thank God this morning Roger woke up with the other ankle sore, too. We can't figure out how he did it, but he managed to sprain his other ankle during the night. So now he can't walk. He's in excruciating pain. He can't walk because both ankles are sore. He can't swallow or talk because his throat hurts so bad. He is finally resting!!

So that means all the work he normally does is falling on us. The kids are sharing chores mostly without complaining. Stephen made dinner last night and skimmed the morning milk's cream and watched the little ones while I helped Faith milk Isabella. Then this morning and evening Faith and Stephen milked. Meanwhile the other kids, mostly Mitchell, are pitching in to do Stephen's and Faith's chores. Grace got a touch of the flu but was only down around 24 hours. Faith seems to get touches of it off and on. It seems to start with fever, aches and pains and then when you think you're about over it, the sore throat hits. Stephen, Sam, Joy, and I all had a slight touch of it, but not enough to even go to bed. Just felt bad for a day or so. So far so good with Mitchell.

The calf has been a bit neglected. Somehow everyone seemed to miss that she needs more than her bottle each day. Mitchell couldn't get her to take her bottle so I went out to try. Several blessings came from that. One was that I got to discover that while Faith and Stephen are milking Isabella, no one is making sure Sarah has water and fresh hay. So that's been taken care of. Another is that when I came in the house I got to witness a beautiful sight. My 13 yr old son, Mitchell, had taken his very upset 3 yr old sister, Joy, in his lap to calm her down and was watching Signing Time (a video series that is just incredible if you have a child who wants to learn to sign. with her. Watching the interaction between them was very cool. Mitchell really does have a soft, loving side even if he doesn't show it often. He was quick to explain that she was crying for me really loudly and he didn't like the noise. The third blessing for me in taking care of Sarah was that I got to enjoy our farm. It's been drudgery for me and my attitude was getting rather sour again. I spend so much time cooking and cleaning and teaching and working inside that I never really get to get out and see our beautiful ranch. Tonight I took Sarah "for a walk" and got to enjoy our land. The sun was setting, the guineas were making their weird noise, the calf was munching grass and it was just quiet and peaceful. I don't get to experience quiet and peaceful very often and it was so much easier to feel God's presence. Just to know He was there, nothing more than that. So now I know that I need to find a way to get out and work with our animals more. I don't know how, but I need to do it.

And more news. The kids all got money from their grandfather for Christmas. They were beginning to make individual plans as to how to spend it. Meanwhile Faith had been trying to figure out how to earn some money because she wanted to raise something so she could earn money from that. She'd about decided on sheep. So now all the kids are pooling their money together to buy sheep. We're waiting until Spring. Meanwhile, we're doing some research on what needs to be done here to prepare for them and what breed to get etc. But it looks like Panivino Ranch is going to have yet another type of animal. I think that's pretty cool and I'm also very proud of my children for making such a decision.


Monday, December 19, 2005

We're back, see you in a week.

It seems that every second or third post begins with “sorry to have not blogged in so long, but…” As Pee Wee Herman said in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, “Why is it everyone seems to have big buts?” In our case, we are simply too busy a lot of days living our lives to write about them. In the last week we have gotten rid of Jimmy – he killed another chicken – helped install a video projector at church, attended a couple of work related meetings, directed a children’s Christmas musical, milked a cow a bunch of times, been sick and found a mouse.

The mice in our life seem to be the more interesting parts of the story. A week ago Saturday Faith picked up Katrina and was petting the top of her head when she felt a sharp pain in her thumb. The cat had a mouse in her mouth and the mouse bit Faith, a deep, blood gushing bite that almost required ½ a stitch. (Strange how a cut or bite is only serious when it is yours.) Anyway, I ran out and got the mouse out of the cat’s mouth and called a friend of ours out here that is a vet and asked about rabies and mice. After the vet quit laughing at me I learned that while a mouse can theoretically carry rabies, it is so unlikely that the vet told me if her own kids were bit by a mouse she would not bother with rabies testing. Upon further reflection it makes sense seeing as how rabies is passed on by a bite from an infected animal to another and so the mouse would have to survive the bite to spread rabies.

The other mouse story was yesterday. Melissa had been hearing some scratching sound and started to narrow the location down to the hallway. It was further refined to the vacuum cleaner. At that point the mouse poked its head out and two scared each other. We took the vacuum outside and while I was trying to get a kid to find the cat the mouse jumped out and ran away. We decided more than one cat was needed and wouldn’t know that as we left for church last night the new cat was walking up to the house. Even better, later in the evening Stephen saw an owl hanging around the near barn.

Also of interest was a cool blessing of meat. Last night at church one of the members came up to Melissa and was telling her how he works for a guy with a game ranch and they are culling out the herd right now and would we be interested in one, two or a dozen deer? We are getting three deer worth of venison for nothing more than the processing costs. Not bad for a guy that doesn’t hunt. Particularly neat as we were about out of red meat from the cow we bought half of from my sister- and brother-in-law last spring. We have plenty of chicken. If you want some, let us know.

Also of interest since the last post, the City Manager of Coleman has resigned and is headed to a job in Springtown. I have had a bunch of folks ask if I am interested in the job. I guess it’s a fair question since it is what I have spent my entire adult life doing, but it won’t be happening again. As I like to say, I am not obligated to continue making the same mistake. I like life on the farm too much to spend more time away. The farm gives me all kinds of chances to make new mistakes.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Big Week - Post 3

Two days of hard work of processing chickens was rewarded with a trip to Grapevine for the sale of the chickens. I had not planned to take everyone. I had planned to take a few of the hardest workers. I failed to take into account that such an arrangement would mean the hardest worker, Melissa, would not get a reward. From now on I think we will all make the trip to Grapevine. It is a reward. It is also the final hard day of the processing cycle.

I was up to get Isabella milked and then it was full bore hustle to get the coolers packed and into the van, kids fed and dressed, surviving chickens fed and the family on the road. Three hours later we were in town. We spent a couple of hours at Parr Park, but the kids were just not all that interested in the playground. I am not sure why other than it may be boring to play in grass with very little danger in the way of rattlesnakes, spiders or scorpions.

On our way to the park we bought some soda at Tom Thumb and had a picnic at the park. This was the kids’ first soda exposure for the day. Later we would soda up for dinner as we drove home. On Sunday morning the kids were all talking about how they could go a few weeks or so without another soda and be fine. While I have a hard time understanding such a healthy attitude (I would kill for a dip of snuff right now) I am able to admire it. I am utterly unable to make any claim of responsibility for this odd behavior other than it is my fingers that get them their milk each morning.

After the sales were all complete we went to see my parents in Dallas. Dad was fine and had a couple of his friends come up to see his grandkids. Our visit with Mom was a mixed bag. I have known all along that at some point I would go to visit her and she would draw a blank. The last year or so she has not known my name but at least known I was significant in her life. Saturday she was polite but she had no idea who I was or Melissa, Faith, Grace or Claire. It probably has something to do with the beard, but she is not going to do anything but go further downhill. It is the sad fact of dementia and I told the girls as we were leaving that they were not going to come with me on the visits any more. They have a poor enough set of memories of my mother and I do not want their mental snap shots to get worse.

We finally got home at 9:45 p.m. I struggled to stay awake the last hour of driving. Melissa could have driven it, but she would’ve had to wake up to do the driving. Anyway, our late arrival meant that I had to milk the cow in the dark. We have a lantern, but it is battery operated and the cold has sapped the batteries. When the milking was done it was agreed that a new lantern that did not rely on a nice temperature would be purchased. It was purchased Sunday and it does work. It took until Monday to get her back to normal with the morning and evening milkings.

Maybe next time I will stay at home and let Melissa go to town.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005


We interrupt this blog’s travels through last week to bring you BIG NEWS.


That’s right. We had Isabella, our milk cow. Now we have Isabella and Sarah. Sarah is a black baldy heifer. Black baldies are a Hereford/Angus cross. They are all black except for their faces, which are white. Some have a bit of white in other spots and Sarah has a white patch on her chest.

I was at a meeting yesterday and I got a message that I needed to call Alice or Joe Pat Hemphill. They are long time Coleman County residents and ranchers. Their son is also the EDC’s attorney. Anyway, they had a dogie that they had found that morning and needed to put her someplace. They called because they had read about us in the paper and wanted to know if we were interested. Dang right we were.

So, in the midst of a bone chilling afternoon, the temperature was in the teens, Stephen and I got the old chicken coop modified to hold Sarah. Joe Pat delivered her all tied up in the back of his pickup and we untied her and put her in the cow coop. She managed to escape. Stephen and I ran after her and cornered her. I actually roped her. Then we got the harness on her and Stephen and I took turns dragging her back to the cow coop. She is all snug and out of the wind in the coop now and Isabella is milked and we will get after taking care of her tomorrow morning, bright and early.

Joe Pat says that she saw her first humans yesterday and is a bit wild. After my brief encounter with her today I must agree with him. I think we can calm her down in the coming weeks though as she has to be hand fed and the kids will be doing that. We now have the first cow of the herd. While she is only about a month old, she will grow up. When she does we will breed her and build a herd. I have read that black baldies are not ideal for this purpose as the advantages of the mixture of the breed are only there for the first generation, but good eatin’ is good eatin’ and she will be producing food for the table.

I cannot tell you how great this feels. Yesterday, during Bella’s morning milking, I was thinking about how we were going to the red side of the ledger awful fast and was busy thinking about options. As I walked from the stanchion to the house I realized that I had never felt better about my place in the world than at that moment. I had a bucket full of milk I’d taken from my cow and was headed to the house with a beautiful sunrise coming up over my shoulder. Later that same day, from out of no where, the Hemphills call and they have a cow they want to get rid of – we do have pay them for the cow when we sell her, but not right now and not in advance and only calf value, not retail value – and they want to know if I want it. That cow was delivered today and is now in the shelter I modified for her to go into. In the coming years she will provide meat for my family as well as income. By the way, to tell you about the character of the Hemphills, the kind of people that I get to deal with out here, I want you to know that I still have not met Alice and I only met Joe Pat this morning. They had a cow and they knew a person that they had never met could use that cow. God bless the Hemphill family. We certainly will always remember their kindness in our prayers.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Big Week - Post 2

Day two of the processing dawned another cold day, but not as windy. This was good as we had decided that no matter how cold it might be we were going to have to get after it and just suffer through. By nine we had the first bird in the killing cone and had a pot of 150 degree water rolling. One adjustment that Melissa figured out was to turn the water heater up to the dangerously hot level of instant scalding and then close the doors to the younger ones.

The second day was aided by what we all learned the day before. Mitchell and I worked in tandem. Both he and I would take a bird from the cage and process it through to the eviscerating table, delivering a headless, footless, plucked chicken. From there the process got more specialized. Step one was done by either Faith or Claire, they would cut the oil gland out of the tail. The bird would then go to Stephen who would open the bird up around the neck, freeing the windpipe and craw from the membranes around the neck. Melissa then took the chicken and cut it open from the posterior and took its insides out. The chicken went back to Stephen who cut the neck off, stuck it in the cavity and threw it into the salted ice water. After 30 minutes in the water Clark and Claire (Faith if Claire was working the oil gland) would pull the chicken out of the water, bag it and let me know it was time to weigh it. I would weigh it and put it in the refrigerator. While all of this was going on, Grace was watching Joy and Sam.

I had heard from some friends that they had fond memories of chicken processing day when they were kids or that their kids had find memories of these days and I must admit that I had doubted them. Now that we are hitting a stride and beginning to see some progress in our speed I can see why these days were so special. I feel bad for Grace as her work is keeping her from being out there with us having all the fun.

Mitchell and I have decided that we hate all chickens and are going to try to kill all of them. It helps us with the work we do on processing day. We are infinitely fascinated with the nervous system reactions that we see the birds go through – I’d heard that a chicken with its head cut off would run around, it had never occurred to me that a headless bird would flap its wings as you carried it to the scalding station. Melissa and Stephen were endlessly fascinated by things that Mitchell and I did not care about. They would dissect hearts and lungs whenever they got a lull in the action. What each part was or did was something they wanted to know. The most interesting kid, to me, was Claire. She cared about the guts and such and would sit at the table, eating an apple, and watch the process going on. Claire had the best comment of the day when she asked Melissa if she could cut her own apples now that she was trusted with eviscerating a chicken.

Thursday and Friday were both days where I was up before the sun to milk Isabella, worked throughout the day and ended up milking her after sunset. I would come in, eat, help put the kids to bed and fall into bed exhausted and totally satisfied that I had just had a great day. Even after the first day, when we messed up a bunch of stuff and had to lose all of our work to the purpose of the sale of the birds, it was a great day. We learned a lot on Thursday that made Friday a better day. We were out in the fresh air working with our kids. I know that they all have memories of these two days that they will take with them and cherish. They are why I am here and not in Grapevine, so days like Thursday and Friday are my pay days.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Big Week - Post 1

Sorry to go so long between posts, but we have been too busy to post. I think it has been the best week we have had so far out here at the ranch. I have a very long post and will divide it into seven parts. This is a semi-lazy way to get a post done everyday for the next week. The only way to get it done easier is to get Melissa to do the posting.

This week was our first wholesale chicken processing. We started on Thursday and pretty much everything went poorly. The morning was cold and we were dealing with 20 to 25 mile per hour gusts of a cold north wind. We could have started at eight or nine, but chose to wait until 10 to get going. It was not much nicer then than an hour or two earlier, so we wasted two hours of daylight for no good reason. The big problem on Thursday was the scalding and plucking part of the process as well as the chickens that were not a part of the process coming over to eat what they could find. The scalding of a chicken is critical. The chicken is already dead, so you can’t go back and the chicken can’t go back. If your water is too hot – we find over 155 degrees to be too hot – you cook the bird while you scald off the feathers. If your water is too cold – 148 degrees is the low part of our range – the feathers don’t come off well and you have an old dead chicken by the time it is ready to process. So, your temperature has to be just right.

We could not keep the flame going on Thursday. It was either burning too hot – we scalded a few at 160 to 175 degrees – or too cold – we scaled some at 130 degrees. The money quote of the day came from one of the boys when he told me “the water looks to be at about the right temperature.” This was just before a 170 degree scalding that cooked the bird.

The worst bird was scalded too hot and then got caught in the corner of the picker. The rubber fingers of the picker tore the skin and the meat off the bird’s wing. When the water is too hot the feathers pretty much fall right off the bird. I also noticed that the barred rocks held on to their feathers, particularly on the wing tips, better than the red broilers.

On day one we processed 22 birds. The biggest bird of the two days was a 2.75 pound bird we got on Thursday. However, because we did so poorly on Thursday these 22 birds are our own stock and we left ourselves with having to go through a gut check on Friday when we had to get all of our sale birds done then.

Did we make it? Read tomorrow.