Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lunching With Wolves, Part 2

Friday morning dawned quietly, but then rapidly picked up speed as a friend of one of my sons called to see if he and wife and child could drop by to see the place and say hi. We had met before he went to Iraq, I like them very much, so was happy to invite them over. Besides -- as I recalled, Jubal was a big, strapping Texas fella, and I knew that would come in handy.

We fed them some fresh strawberry shortcake, chortled the baby and chatted a bit, and then offhandedly asked if they wanted to see the animals and, oh, by the way, would he be willing to help out with moving a few? Yes? Oh good!

We first moved four ram lambs from the ewes' pen down to the boys' enclosure at the bottom of the property. Stuffing the little buggers into kennels in the back of the Escape was a piece of cake.

Then we caught Bubba, a huge rambouillet-cross ram, and led him back up to a pen where we added four of his favorite fine-wool ladies. By this time we were all breathing a bit hard, but we had just two more to go: the ailing ewe and a yearling goat who had been on my must-go list ever since she first started screaming at all hours of the day and night. They were to go to the wolves. Catching and loading them took just about all the juice we had, and left us all sweaty and panting. Jubal seemed, well, jubilant, and we were unspeakably happy to have his help for the morning. They left to continue their journey north, and we headed south to the knackers.

Talone's Meat Market doesn't look like it has changed much, if at all, in the past 60 or 70 years. With a small yet well-respected meat market in the front, the old slaughter house sits on several acres of undisturbed history in the middle of Escondido. In the back are clean cement pens of live hogs, goats and sheep with a few rebel roosters strutting in the back lots. A sign points to a small office where one goes to transact business. The usual question is, "How many pieces?" But for the wolf-bound ewe, we didn't want pieces, we just needed her to be dead. This was a difficult thing to explain, but eventually I managed to convey the idea. Pointer finger to the head, drop the thumb, just dead. "Nada mas." OK, fine, $20 anyway.

However, as we were discussing this, I began to wonder why we would feed a lovely, milk and grass-fed goat to the wolves when we could very well enjoy it ourselves. So when the question came, "How many pieces?" I thought a minute, pictured the smallish goat, and said, "Two." He shrugged; $40.

The animals were off loaded and led up a series of ramps and into the dark interior. The ewe was calm and submissive, even ready, while the goat dug in her heels, screaming and protesting every inch. By the time she finally disappeared into the building I was wondering if the wolf center would consider just throwing her into the pen alive and letting us watch the wolves eat her. After adding up the sleepless nights for the past year, we would have almost paid to see that. But as it was, the ensuing silence was payment enough.

After an hour or so, one of the fellas came out with a wheelbarrow containing the body of the ewe and several large, blue plastic bags. We loaded everything back into the car and headed off for Julian.

Although we were much later than anticipated, one of the kind people at the non-profit California Wolf Center waited for us. The facility is wonderfully isolated, perfect for its guests. We unloaded the ewe into their freezer, and then enjoyed an amazing up-close (well, through two much-appreciated chain link fences) visit with some of the wolves in residence.

Some of the wolves are scheduled for release in Arizona soon, so they will not be fed any domestic animals. But the others will enjoy the lamb, goat, horse, beef and chicken from the freezer. I think we were of particular interest to the Mexican Gray Wolves (which are normally very shy) because we were standing up wind of them, and had spent the last 3 hours wrestling sheep and waiting at the slaughter house. Several made repeat "drive-by" visits to check us out.

It had been a long, tiring and eminently fascinating day, so when we got home I just put the bags of goat into the spare fridge without paying much attention. I would deal with them later. Boy, would I.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lunching with Wolves, Part 1

Well, it wasn't exactly lunching. In fact, I don't think we had time for any lunch at all that day, but hopefully the wolves did.

This adventure started when we realized shortly after shearing last weekend that one of our older ewes was going to have to be put down. I called the vet, then looked to see what was left in our checking account and became instantly, doubly depressed. It costs well over $100 to have the vet visit and put an animal down, then another $100 to have the disposal people come pick up the body. And this old gal, though aged, was full of vigor, not at all like Gwendolynn. Definitely not a plastic bag candidate. With the firm belief that there had to be a better (cheaper, easier) way, I sat down and started calling around.

County animal control said yes, they took in animals for euthanasia, was I interested in "after-care"? "No thank you," I said, "just disposal." She asked what kind of pet it was, and I told her that it was a sheep.
"Is it already dead?!" she asked with some alarm.
"No," I said with measured words, "I just need it dead."
There was a pause, before she told me abruptly that they did not accept livestock, but would happily give me the number for the pet mortuary where they sent their animals. I told her I didn't think that was a realistic possibility and asked, "What about road kill? What do you do with those animals?"
They contracted out for that, and she gave me the number of the livestock disposal people, which I already had.
"Do those go to the pet mortuary?" I asked the disposal people.
"No, they go to the landfill." OK -- now we're getting somewhere! What about the landfill?

Unfortunately, there is no real landfill in these parts, and the number she gave me was for the local "transfer station" where trash trucks disgorge their daily pick-ups. The guy there said they could take maybe a dead bird or a rat, but definitely not a sheep. Actually, I knew this already, because once I had tried to load a dead ram into our trash can for pick-up and got a nasty note and a stern warning: "NO DEAD ANIMALS" Plus, then had to go dig a HUGE hole and bury a very smelly, very heavy, by then long-dead ram.

Ever the helpful sort, he asked why I didn't just shoot it and bury it myself. By now, several hours into this hopeless search, my patience was dwindling. "Because I am a fat, 65-year old lady with arthritis and the ground is like concrete!" He mulled this over for a minute, then gave me the number for the REAL dump, somewhere down near the border.

The woman who answered the phone there was very kind and sympathetic, but allowed as how they couldn't take dead animals either. Then she started to say something, reconsidered, and finally said, "I don't know how you feel about this, but..." I am sure she could hear my little heart screaming, "Yes? Yes, but what??!"
"Well, there is a place in Julian that takes dead animals to feed their wolves." And before she spread her wings to take off to heaven, she gave me the number.

The California Wolf Center is located 4 miles south of the little mining/apple/tourist town of Julian, California, and about an hour and a half from here. The wonderful people there confirmed the fact they did indeed take dead livestock, providing it was not killed with chemicals and was already dead. They sounded happy, and said they would even drive out to get it -- sometime in the next week or two. Unfortunately, we needed to move things along, so I said we would be happy to deliver the sheep to them ... that Friday, two days hence.

The next morning the vet came out to confirm that the sheep was not in any way infectious, and I got online to ask local livestock folks about the next step and received a tip about a "custom slaughtering" place halfway between here and Julian. Zounds, a plan falling into place!
From then on, it was just a matter of ironing out the details.

Yeah, right.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Garden Euphoria

It is curious to me, when or if I stop to think about it, how someone who can care for and nurture animals with pretty near infinite patience (and a fair amount of success) has absolutely no ability to grow plants. And it is not for lack of trying. I have spent half of my life trying to have a garden of one sort or another, but usually my animal endeavors, children, work, climate, pests, and general forgetfulness spell doom from the first immersion of tiny seed into soil.

Our "garden" from the past few years was a weed patch, surrounded by gray, broken picket fence panels. Most people thought we were trying to replicate a Gothic cemetery. While we have probably the richest compost pile in the county, the main stumbling block was moving the compost to where we needed it. Then my husband got his little tractor going, and hope sprang anew.

We tore down the old fences, weeded the whole patch, extended two of the three raised beds, and then set about moving in scoop after scoop of llama compost and dirt from the goat pens.

What little fella doesn't like to play in the sand box?

Of course we all had our own ideas of just how things should be done, including the job forman, Ms. Mad Hen. Still, it turned out to be an amazingly pleasant, cooperative and (we all hope) productive bit of work.

Mad Hen spent the entire day worrying about the garden.

In a few days, we actually had plants in the ground. Most of our plants come from vendors at the farmers' market, but there are some seeds in the ground as well. The two upper beds contain everal kinds of squash and cucumbers, both gold and red beets, various colors of chard and lettuce, a few Cherokee tomatoes (more to come), a row of yard-long bean plants, and some left-over herbs that somehow managed to survive years of neglect in the lower bed. Herbs are in a big herb pot, plus smaller outposts (outpots?) around the place.

So far, so good.

The picket panels keep the dogs out (they love to dig in the cool, moist ground), and chicken wire keeps the rabbits at bay. Ground squirrels still sometimes go up and over the fences, but so far that predation gas been fairly light. Next week the eggplant should be ready to transplant, and we hope to add a few new kinds of tomatoes and peppers. Hopefully staggering the planting will result in a more continuous crop... do you think?

I have a few adult pima cotton plants, and am working on sprouting some colored ones. Next thing in the ground will be my dye plant seeds:
True Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria)
Common Agrimony (agrimonia Eupatoria)
Tansey (Tanacetum vulgare)
Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)
Golden Marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria Kelwayi)
False Saffron (Carthamus tinctorius)
Madder (Rubia tinctoria)
Cosmos (sulphureus Bright Lights and Klondyke Sunny Red) will go in my big "planter tubs" (old bath tubs no longer needed for watering livestock.

Maybe woad and Dyer's Knotweed, if I can find any more room, but more than likely they will have to wait until next year.

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.
~Author Unknown

Let's hope that works out. Cheers!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Happy Birthday Pups

Tank, our big Kangal Dog "puppy," turns two today. He tips the scale at nearly 150 pounds, but has the mind of a two month old .

Here is the litter with patient mom, Zerrin, shortly after birth, 4/9/07

We took some pictures to send to his birthday brothers and sisters:

Tank thought it was going to be just another day in the goat pen, trying to look relaxed under Daisy's withering suspicion. That is until we invited the goats into HIS pen.

They wandered around for a while, checked out the empty swimming pool, and generally entertained themselves.

This gave Tank and the others a chance to check out Eddie, which is what he really wanted for his birthday. Aunt Daisy (the black angora in picture #2) generally won't let Tank near the baby.

When all was done and the goat friends returned to their pen, he was one happy fella.

Friday, April 3, 2009

15 Minutes of Fame

Well, it is more like 15 words, but still...
We recently read this nice little mention in San Diego Magazine:

To Market, To Market
Spring offers the perfect invitation to sample the bounty of our local farmers’ markets. From Vista to Little Italy, we take you to the region’s best outdoor markets, each boasting its own distinct flavor. Disclaimer: You may never want to step into a chain supermarket again.
By Adam Elder and Julia Beeson Polloreno | Photographs by Ramona D'Viola
Vista Farmers' Market

Saturday, 7:45-11 a.m. County Courthouse (325 South Melrose Drive)

The longest-running farmers’ market in the county (starting in 1981), the Vista market has a devoted following of patrons who make a visit their Saturday-morning ritual. It’s a one-stop shop with offerings that range from Jackie’s Jams to beef jerky. Within the maze of booths, you’ll find locally harvested macadamia nuts, handmade soaps from Beauty & the Bath, fresh bread from Sadie Rose, gourmet items from San Marcos–based T&H Prime Meats & Sausage and bright yellow sunflowers bursting from white buckets. Schaner Farms brings fresh citrus and oversized gourds, Gaytan Farms sells an array of vegetables, and Oakes Knoll Ranch offers Dancey tangerines and extra-large Haas avocados. One unique offering comes courtesy of Rancho Borrego Negro, a Fallbrook outfit that sells homegrown and handspun wool yarns. At this booth, a woman spins wool into yarn as onlookers pause to watch; also posted are photos of local sheep for sale, presumably belonging to the proprietor.

My only regret is that I too-quickly logged on to San Diego Magazine's web page to add a comment thanking them for the kind review and also to give a plug for the local Bonsall Farmers' Market, where we go ever Sunday and which we have been supporting since their very first day. I say "too-quickly" because shortly after I left the notice on line, I received this totally unrelated email:
The Bonsall Education Foundation and Bonsall Farmers' Market have come to a decision as a group to discontinue our relationship with you as one of our market vendors effective immediately. There have been several serious instances where we deem your conduct to be unprofessional. Such conduct seriously undermines the well-being of the market. We are disappointed that our business relationship didn?t work out. We wish you the best of luck in the future.>>

Further attempts at communication or to find out more details have remained unanswered, so I am quite as confused as you are. At any rate, I am unable to alter the comment online (which is probably a good thing!) but have since found the lovely little Leucadia/Encinitas Farmers' Market, so that is how we now spend our Sundays. We are finding it infinitely more pleasurable and profitable. If you are in the county on Sunday, stop by and see us:Leucadia/Encinitas Market 10am-2pm; Union St and Vulcan St. (Ecke Elementary).

Ah, April

True to the old homily, March went out like a lamb and April has arrived with the faintest suggestion of showers. The weeds are growing like, well, weeds, and the sheep have been moved from pasture to pasture to take advantage of the green bounty. Now all that remain are the invasive and inedible thistles, which taunt me daily to get a shovel and get down there to dig them out before they go to seed.

Mazie, our elderly Angora goat, has been standing down in the bottom corner of the goat pen, far away from the crowd. It is a nice, sandy spot in the shade of high bushes, but still, we feared that her time was drawing near. I grew a little hopeful when she moved closer up the hill to lie in the sun yesterday, and then last night we found this:

Yollie watches Mazie and the new one.

I don't think Yollie (Kangal on duty in the goat pen) even noticed the birth until we walked over, then she quickly moved to inspect the newborn and help clean it. Too bad it's a boy, because I was all set to call the kid April. Now I think he must be named Oedipus, because our pygora buck was taken out of the girls pen a loooong time ago, and the only males remaining were her twin boys from last year. Obviously one of them was quite precocious.