Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Interlude

Here we are halfway through summer and while I've introduced you to a good many of the beasties, I haven't caught you up on Sim Farm©, the Rainbow's End edition, lately. Animal health is always a paramount concern on a farm, so I'll start with a quick medical rundown then talk about the big renovation project underway.

Usually the beasties here can be categorized simply as alive-and-well or dead. Over the past few months, the current beasts have been remarkably healthy and free from injury. Oh, there was the time back in May when Lucy the goat tried to push her way through a gate I was opening and managed to impale her lower eyelid on a rather wicked piece of tie wire. Trying to extract a piece of wire caught in flesh millimeters from an eye while dealing with a frightened 90-pound goat, a swinging gate, and a group of curious horses was an experience none of us wants to go through twice. Let's just say in the end the goat was freed and Lucy's eye was saved.

This past week, however, there were two rather perplexing injuries. One of the roosters somehow hurt his leg. It didn't seem to be from a fight or an attack, but there he was limping about. He's now in a cage in the sunroom to keep him away from the other roosters and give his leg a chance to heal. He's standing up and eating when he doesn't think I'm looking. Otherwise, he's down and looking as pathetic as possible hoping, I think, that I'll let him stay in where it's cool and he has a food bowl all his own.

The more disturbing injury was to one of the female ducks. She was attacked in broad daylight right next to the barn. By what, I have no idea. But the scattered feathers and deep wounds point to a big coon, dog or coyote. One wing and a leg are in pretty rough shape and she, too, is recovering in the sunroom -- sharing quarters with Fafnir the iguana. I've been reluctant to let the ducks go back out to the pond as the attack happened within sight of the horses in a fairly well secured area in the middle of the day. Short of digging under a gate or scaling a four-foot fence, an animal big enough to do that kind of damage couldn't get in. Even my dogs don't go in that pasture. What surprises me the most, though, is that the duck survived the attack. Did the horses chase off whatever it was? I do like to think they were protecting their little duck friend. How else would she have managed to come through the ordeal alive?

As for the renovations, I'm fencing in two more pastures and building another barn. By which I mean I have contractors doing the work. Well, most of it, anyway. The first contractor was here to do the dozer work. The new barn (I'm referring to it as my "summer barn") will be smaller than my main barn and will be built in a low area on the property, which means it needs to be built up on a nice pad to keep rainwater from getting in and ponding on the dirt floor. Building a pad involves using a lot of dirt to build up the ground on which the barn will sit. Just as with the main barn, I elected to dig a pond and use the excavated dirt to build the pad rather than haul in dirt from somewhere else. There were a lot of tricky drainage issues that had to be compensated for when digging the pond for the main barn, including creating berms and a dam and an overflow field.

Because of the natural topography and water runoff that drains directly into a creek that runs alongside my property line, the new pond doesn't have to be much more than a hole in the ground deeper at one end and shallowed out to catch the runoff at the other end. We hadn't had rain for a few weeks so the initial digging went fast and the pond was looking good. The dirt was spread for the pad and the dozer had rolled over it a few times to pack it down when the rains came. Nearly 4 inches before it was all over. The unfinished pond, about 5 feet at its deep end, filled halfway up, effectively shutting down effort to dig it any deeper. More dirt was needed to finish off the pad, and the dirt had to come from the shallow end of the pond but the dozer couldn't get into the pond far enough to pack it down well. It'll take a few rains and few seasons now for it to all sort itself out to where the pond looks nice. Meanwhile, I'm just thankful the heavy clay we have here means the pond will hold water regardless.

Now, you would think someone who has been building pads for 20 years would 1) know the pad should extend a few feet out from the actual dimensions of the building to be built on it and 2) would put a tape measure to the pad to be sure it's big enough. I started getting antsy about this guy when I measured the pad width and found it was exactly the planned width of the barn with no extra on either side to compensate for erosion over the years. Which is why he had to go back and dig more dirt out of the pond.

I had also hired this contractor to clear some brush and saplings along a short area where the new fence was going. There were basically three thickets that needed a 15-foot swath cleared through them along a straight line, taking out nothing more than scrub and leaving all big trees alone. I walked the area with the contractor and carefully explained what I needed. He kept assuring me he could clean everything up in this heavily treed area and make it look like a park. I carefully explained I did not want a park, I simply wanted a clear fence line, 15 feet wide and straight. That was all I needed and all I was prepared to pay for. Confident in my communications skills, I returned to the house and my day job work.

I had an inkling something wasn't right when I saw a 20-foot cedar fall. I knew 1) from my desk window I shouldn't be able to see him working along the path I asked to be cleared and 2) there were no mature cedars in that path. I ran down to the worksite. That's when I discovered the man has a vendetta against cedars. He'd been taking out trees that he felt detracted from the landscape, and these big evergreens were in his gunsight. Five of them were already prostrate on the ground. And he'd completely missed the point of needing a straight fence line -- he was clearing an area a good 30 feet from where the fence needed to run. Now, not only were some trees I looked at as a buffer between my property and my neighbor's land uprooted, there was the question of what to do with the corpses, including the huge rootballs. Digging yet another hole and burning then burying the large trees was the only answer.

I ran the guy off as soon as the heavy work had all been done. As I was paying him by the hour rather than by the job, I figured it would be far easier for me to do the cleanup and move all the dead brush out of sight than to have him pile it up somewhere, probably in the middle of the fence line he finally did get cleared satisfactorily (that's the line in the picture above).

Despite the issues, the pad, the pond and the fence line all appear to be serviceable now. This is the view from my side porch door of where the barn will nestle between two matured cedars. I gambled a bit going with the contractor who charged a flat hourly rate rather than the contractors who bid by the job. One contractor had bid $4000 just for the pad and pond and was talking about bringing in a landscape crew to clear the fence line and this treed area in general. For some reason, everyone wants to turn this area into a park -- in fact, there's a whole line of trees (the ones you see in this picture) that run in front of this area and make it impossible to see from the drive or house. So spending several thousand dollars to dress it up for the occasional afternoon stroll? Um, no. I see it as a nice treed area to keep the horses cool, nothing more. Another contractor had bid almost $3000 for the job. I wound up paying the guy I went with $1600.

This week, the fence contractor will start setting posts for the new fences. Thankfully, I have some existing fence that can be incorporated into the new pastures. In total, it's about 3150 feet of fence to be installed along with 3 gates and will cost $8400. That's going with basic green T-posts (it's beyond me why the manufacturers don't sell metal T-posts in white to compete with the vinyl fence look -- hmm, maybe there's an entrepreneurial opportunity for me there!) and 5 strands of smooth wire. Not even a pretty fence for that price. Sigh.

Then, in 2 or 3 weeks, the barn builders will be out and I'll be dropping $8000 on what should be a cute red-and-white metal barn with a porch and cupola and a weather vane. In fact, the front view of the summer barn should look a lot like the side view of my main barn. Just imagine it! Or, better yet, through the magic of Paint and PowerPoint, let me help you imagine it. (Go ahead, click on it to make it bigger. You know you want to.)

So that's how I'm spending my summer and my vacation money for the next 6 years. What are YOU doing this summer?


fairyhedgehog said...

Oh wow. The bit that shocked me is the contractor bringing down trees just because he doesn't like them. What a criminal waste.

_*rachel*_ said...

I hate it when trees come down, especially old ones. There was a gorgeous 120 year old horse chestnut taken down last summer because of disease and storm damage, a younger shade tree right by a pond (people loved to sit in its shade), and on Sunday we got a bad enough storm that a lot of the younger trees in the area lost large branches. In a few cases, the whole tree came down. Makes me sad (though the 50+ year old oaks in my yard are fine).

And this summer? Working with 4-H livestock forms and at Subway. And the Farmer's Market selling jewelry, which is my personal favorite (though it pays less).

Anonymous said...

Trickster is ever ready to rear his head down on the farm.
Me? I'm heading to Ayudhya tomorrow to ride a happy elephant through the ancient Thai capital. I have been ASSURED the elephants are happy - the former street beggars live at the elephant farm beside the market and are well cared for. They apparently enjoy wandering through the city and it gives them something interesting to do. They were raised wandering the streets of Bangkok so it normal for them to tour. Now they are safe, better fed and have vet care. Will let you know if they are in elephant heaven and happy campers.

Phoenix said...

FH and Rachel: I agree about the trees! To be fair, most folk around here think of the red cedars (aka junipers) as nuisance trees. There are a couple of owners who've cleared every last one of them off their land and just left the oaks and elms and pecans.

Rachel: Sounds like you have a lovely yard in an established neighborhood! Farmer's Markets are fun. Do you make the jewelry you sell?

Bibi: That sounds glorious! I have nothing against animals doing an honest day's work so long as they are neither abused nor exploited in the process. Please report back on just how happy your elephant was and what a thrill it must be to tour Ayudhya on elephant-back.

You need a blog to document all the interesting things you've been a party to!

Anonymous said...

Divine Miss P,
I will report back. I need to find the courage to blog. Did you feel squirmy before you started? I think abouut it all the time - can't come up with a header - Ranch days, coyote nights, writing, teaching in Asia?
An Expat's Adventures in China/Thailand and commitment to NO MORE CHINGLISH?
One more blogger. Son of Blogger, Beach Blanket Blogging.
I hate making decisions. More on the tuskers, coming soon. I prayed for the fallen trees at the temple and burned joss sticks. Best,

_*rachel*_ said...

When I'm not at college, I live close enough to the city that it's not a bad drive, and far enough away I can see the stars at night.

I make it all myself.

Michelle Massaro said...

I'd be lucky for room to plant a few tomatoes against the fence that separates my yard from the neighbors. This boggles my mind. I can't even keep my small patch of grass alive.

Phoenix said...

Hi Bibi: Really, the only squirm I felt was whether I had enough content in me to warrant keeping up a blog right now. I didn't want to simply add more blather ABOUT writing to the blogosphere. Luckily, EE suggested he could throw revisions my way, but that was after I put up the blog. Not sure where I'd be right now without that bone he threw. So I understand anyone's reluctance to start a blog.

Rachel: Your jewelry pieces are beautiful. I'm with the bestseller crowd in that I really love the buterfly design. You are a multi-talented star, aren't you!

Michelle: You don't know how often I wish all I had was a tomato patch ;o).

Anonymous said...

Reporting on the state of the elephants in Ayudhya:
There is a large coverd facility (think hay barn kind of)beside a lovely new board walked very upscale market. The market is not the umbrella and pushcart type, but it is made up of real trendy/swish little stores with unique products for Thailand offered.
The elephants, maybe 8 or 9 of them, were a little anxious - like they WANTED to be out walking around. They know their job. Not too many people were willing to pay 600 baht for 10 minutes strolling around on one of the lovely animals. There was green leaves for munching (not a lot, call it chewing gum for the elephants). There was no water BUT don't be alarmed - my last elephant encounter, at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the mahout I chatted with told me there was no point in putting it out - the elephants wouldn't drink during their
"working day". The mahout I chatted with this trip told me pretty much the same. They have a little greenery to chew on but they eat and drink mainly at night. His girl, a sweet 80 year old Grand Mere, who I petted, scratched her ear, FED cucumbers - loaded with water he pointed out - was happy, content and loved the attention I gave her. She had been his father's so the young mahout had grown up with her. You could see the attachment. None of the handlers used/carried those nasty pointed gaff sticks.
Gramma got her nightly bath after work and a long bath with her caregiver at 6 am after the cock crows. He hops on her with a pushbroom, they both get wet in the river and she gets a good scratch/rub down which she loves. All the pachyd's were clean, in a clean hay barn corral, had good body weight and were clearly wanting to go for a walk. I am impressed with her caregiver's care of her and with her love of attention she has never been abused. Thhe animals are out all night with lots of jungle so they get their greens and the river of course is available to them.
Gramma was the oldest and largest. My friends stayed well back while I rubbed, scratched fed and stood with confidence and humility beside the wise one. I didn't feel an ounce of discomfort being so up close and personal with her. Thank heaven she and the others are off the street and are in the pink. Their feet are all in very good shape, none had any marks or injuries and I believe they wanted their constitionals. A 10 min. walk is nothing for these guys but I was glad their work in the sun/heat was limited to short periods and they had a nice shaded safe area to rest in. All in all I was very happy with the environment and the gang seemed happy and content, if a little bored.
Best, Bibi
PS Maybe I should blog about animals.

Phoenix said...

Thank you for sharing about the elephants, Bibi. They are such intelligent creatures and it's so heartbreaking to hear about the ones that are misused and abused. To hear about ones that are well-cared for and happy and are able to teach people something special about these wondrous animals is especially gratifying.

Yes, I think you should blog about animals! And about being an ex-pat in Asia. Maybe some stories about your time in Cambodia as well as China? How cool is that?!

Anonymous said...

At the market, I spotted a small horse, about Welsh pony size. Intact little stallion, lovely manners. Of course I started to groom him. The owner, a British foreigner, came over to chat. His Rottie sat on my feet, giving me his happy face while his German Shepherd kept rubbing against my leg. I felt normal for the first time in a long time. The boys were so open and friendly, the foreigner grinned at me and he said looks like they were waiting for you. The proximity to anything living feeds me in a way that is hard to describe. My friends, who love animals, were surprised at the warm welcome I got. But street dogs like me. I don't touch them, rabies here is a serious problem and I hate seeing them on 3 legs from being hit, but they know what's in the heart of a human. Can't fool them. So petting and having the boys wag at me so easily was a very good thing. I have a few geckos that run in and out of my little apartment. They eat bugs and are kind of cute. I have an outdoor kitchen and balcony and always keep the door open so we all get along quite well. Mr. Toad lives in the garden below where I can sit and read or chat with folks and watch the birds, sparrows, doves - we even have squirrels. But the rats come when the mango are ripening. So you pick the mango early. We have a fruit tree - kind of a spicey crab apple and banana trees.
Maybe it is time to get blogging. I could blog for ten years on my China days.

sylvia said...

We have pine trees in our garden, huge ancient things that have been here longer than the urbanisation. But I had a real battle to keep them, the guy managing the house build wanted to rip them out and in the end I had to lose my temper on the subject. I'm pretty laid back, so that had an effect. Eventually the guy got sacked from the project - so he was gone but the trees stayed. I cheered.

The builders were paranoid about the trees after that. They build the entire patio with a hole in the middle for the tree that was there because they were frightened I might get upset if they uprooted it. The tree - surrounded by concrete and ceramic tiles - died and began to tilt. They tied it up to keep it in place. It was like a bizarre parody of the parrot sketch, "It's not dead, it's sleeping." I eventually got them to understand that I didn't mind one or two trees that had to go because of the build, I just didn't see why they should all be uprooted "to make a pretty garden".