Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Cattle Drive Part 3 "The End"

     By now I am sure you realize a few things about me.  I never have "A Plan", I am not the one you want navigating your trip out of familiar territory, and I would do just about any ridiculous thing to get a darn ol' milk cow.  You would be right!!!  It was a relief to see that farm again and pull up to that red barn that held my dear milk cow.  We backed in and she even loaded herself into the loading gate.  She was ready to go. 
     We exchanged money and the short version of our long trip.  The young man selling her got a few chuckles later that afternoon I am sure.  She loaded with no problem.  Hopped right into the trailer just like she was ready to go home with me.  My dad was commenting on what a beautiful cow she was.  I was feeling accomplished from the flattery my dad was sending my way.  I think it was at that moment I really realized just how BIG she was.  She looked out over the top of the gate at me and I looked at the man again.  "She wouldn't jump outta that trailer would she?"  I asked.  He looked at me sideways, "Well she may trample you when she comes out of the trailer after a 3 hour ride, but she can't jump out."  Then he laughs loudly....I sheepishly grin because I feel like a fool for even pondering such an event.  Oh if I had only known what the next few hours would bring.
     We said our "goodbyes" and were on our way.  We wanted to make NO stops on the way home if we could help it.  The trip home was uneventful and I was glad.  I was concerned because she was 4 months bred so a pregnant cow in a hot trailer=not a happy cow.  I soon found out just how, "Not Happy" she was.
     About and hour from home the "middle" started asking if we could stop...he needed to potty.  I told him there were some bottles in the back of the truck to use, that we were NOT stopping till we got home.  As we neared our exit he became insistent that we stop.  I held to my conviction that we would not.  We pulled into the driveway around 5 pm.  Tired, thirsty, in need of a bathroom, cramped dad gets out to help me back up to the gate.  We made it!!!!  I look in the rearview mirror to see him motioning me back....then stop....then back....then stop, and then his face contorted in such a manner I opened the door to ask the problem only to see the front half of my cow coming out of the trailer......3....feet...from....the...gate....!!!!  So very, very close.  I slammed on the brakes and she did a nose dive onto the ground.  Luckily she got right back up...I was so relieved she was ok that I didn't realize the problem of her not being inside the gate.  She was free and there was school traffic running up and down our road from the middle school close by.
     She headed into the woods and over to my dad's field.  We followed and coaxed her with food, I begged and prayed and almost cried.  The school traffic was enjoying the scenery of a large milk cow in the middle of an unfenced property.  We almost drove her back home and then she made a run for it.  She went a half mile down the road through the which I followed.  She then ran into the road and we followed...Thinking, praying, what do we do.  Then I saw a house that belongs to a friend and remembered he has a fenced in yard.  We turned her into his drive way and into his backyard where she stayed till a farmer friend of ours came and helped us load her.  We toted her back home and got her in the fence.
     This was one of those days where you just wish you lived in the city and bought all your food from the grocery store.  I was sure my dad, or myself would have a heart attack that night after all we had been through that day.  But we all lived another day.  I know we provided many people with laughs that day, and days later.... ourselves too.  My only laugh to have that day was that we did not stop at a gas station to let him potty.  She would have barreled over the door and been on the loose somewhere in a town we were unfamiliar with.  We decided we would have just left her and cut our losses....I wanted to call the young man just to tell him how very wrong he was about her jumping out, but I just didn't want him to have any more laughs at my expense.
     Why do this to ourselves?  Some of you may wonder what in the world would possess a person to live the life we live.  I will try to cover that in my next few blogs.  But mainly it is my love of family, life, nature, and animals.  But most importantly my love of God and the beautiful creation He gave us in this blessed land we call home.  I look back at that day now and realize that homesteading is coupled hand in hand with my Creator who spurs me onto new and different things and experiences.  The reality of it, though it is tough and sometimes difficult it builds bonds with the ones we love and memories that can never be taken away. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Cattle Drive Part 2

     Our journey began very early.  We were set in dad's truck and a small horse trailer borrowed from a friend.  Immediately into our trek we decided that we would use my dad's Garmin gps to guide us there.  My husband and I used his iPhone maps to get us there only days before and it was a very easy route.  I on the other hand am not so handy at navigating iPhone maps yet.
     The first shock came when we made the wrong exit 45 minutes into the trip.  As I began to panic my dad assured me it was no big deal we would turn around.  However, the next exit was a 25 minute drive.  (This should have been the first clue all would not go as planned.) 
     I calculated our trip taking around 7-8 hours at the most.  My dad has Parkinson's so I knew the faster we could make the trip the better for him, myself and the cow.  Three hours there, stop for lunch and four or five hours at the most coming home, pulling a big cow SLOWLY! 
     Oh where was I .....sorry.....I pulled up the address of our destination, while driving.  It took us off the main interstate across what looked like a harmless side road.  In 20 minutes we were about a half mile in the sky looking down off the side of a cliff....gulp.....(This was the second sign trouble was looming)...We decided to stop so I could get a "good" look at the phone.  Now, anyone who knows anything about gps, knows it needs to be updated.  It chirped its cheerful "RECALCULATING"  chant at me for the next 80-100 miles.  Because it has not had a map update for many, many, many years.
     We head on down the road only to find that this glorious trip up the mountain can only end by going down that same steep mountain.   The brake pads on my dad's truck were smoking.  My middle child chatting away while dad held onto the handles above his head, and I held onto the seat with my "seat."  The tires squealed as we came off the mountain pulling that trailer.  Only by the grace of God was it empty and not carrying my cow.
     At the bottom of the hill, drenched in sweat, with smoking breaks, 3 hours after our initial departure time, we finally arrive in Scottsboro.  I was familiar with going through the town when hubby and I had been there days before and realized how far behind schedule we really were.  After getting back on familiar ground for about 30 minutes I made my 3rd mistake....
     I should have learned my lesson and ignored that Garmin, but the constant "recalculating" coming from that black box convinced me to take ANOTHER wrong exit.  This landed us going through the major part of town and I finally conceded and called the owner of the cow.  We are going to be not fifteen minutes..... but probably two hours.  We stopped an hour later in town for food and then stopped to refuel.  This was the first time my dad had showed any loss of patience for our father/daughter trip to get a milk cow. 
     I got out to pump gas and wouldn't ya was one of those pumps where you pump and pump and it comes out one drop at a time.   I laugh as I write just had to be there.  Ten minutes into this my dad yells out the truck door.  "Hey, you almost done?"  I stick my head back through the door.  I look at my sweet daddy...."I will be when the truck fills up."  (It took 15 minutes to pump 15 gallons of joke.)
     We finally arrive and come in the back road to the farm.  Finally, the day can't get any worse...could it???  Stay tuned for part 3....

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Cattle Drive Part 1

     My long awaited journey to a family milk cow ended about a month ago.  I am just now here to tell the "story" of her arrival.  I have wanted a milk cow for at least 3 years.  I have dreamed about it, planned for it.  I was so desperate that I finally decided to sell our 3 steers to get her.
     I was in the process of raising our own dairy heifer, but was told recently by a knowledgeable farmer she would not breed till fall.  I was hoping for a spring breed so I would have milk by end of the year.  This was devastating news to me.  I needed to regroup and make a decision on what to do.  We were planning to take a steer to slaughter at the beginning of May.  I could trade him?  The thoughts began to roll.  I began searching for a perfect fit for our small farm.   It would be hard to find one local of course.  Not many people homestead here, and if they do it is mostly goats.  The few who do breed or raise Jerseys want a FORTUNE for them.
     I began to look at what would make the proper family milk cow.  Good lactation, healthy, not too thin, not too fat.  I wanted a sound bag and preferably good in all 4 quarters.  Looks is always a plus too since you have to live with the animal..  I first saw her and thought what a beautiful cow.  The hubby and I traveled the 3 hour trip to look her over and decided she would be a perfect fit.  She was very interested in us and seemed pleased to be in our company.  It was decided that we would make a trade of our 3 steer of different sizes for the milk cow.
      After we got home, we realized we would have to take those 3 steer on a very long trip and quickly found someone to buy them for the amount of our cow.  They were sold and we headed out to make our purchase.  My father, my middle son, and me.  Little did I know the madness that would ensue over the course of that day.  It probably turned into the most interesting and tiring day of my life thus far.  Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Maple Sugaring in Tennessee???

    I wrote this back in January but am now just getting around to posting it.  Keep this in mind while you read.  Hope you enjoy!!!!
    It has been a while since I blogged and let me tell you why.  Here in Tennessee winters are mild and wet.  We usually experience very few temps below 30 degrees.  It has, however, been an unseasonably cold winter this year.  We just had the largest accumulation of snow since December 2010.  A whole 2 inches (snickering), it did however shut down schools for several days and make road travel very treacherous for many.  Luckily, since we homeschool we just enjoyed the beauty of it all and continued to do school(the downer for being homeschooled.) 

     Now to the topic at hand.  Maple Syrup.....MMMMmmm!  Can't you just see yourself sitting down to a nice pile of hot pancakes with butter and pour your very own homemade maple syrup all over them?  I began thinking of "sugaring" last fall after reading several blogs about ladies and men who sugar in Virginia.  It got me thinking...Can I do that here?  I began researching on the internet for any and all articles, blogs, books, I could find about sugaring in the south.  Let me tell you, there isn't much out there.  I did come across a article in a paper close to home and there it was in all its glory staring me in the face.  YES!!! Someone has done it, it is possible.

      The first thing first, you must have trees that can be tapped.  To my amazement Maples are not the only sap producing trees.  Sweet Birch, walnut, sycamore and hickory are a few of the other species of trees that produce enough sugar content in the sap to use.  So in late fall before all the leaves fell off the trees we set out to mark them.  We used white spray paint, but I suppose you could use orange tape.  You just need to know what kind of trees you have.  They also need to have adequate sunlight so they heat up nicely and you have a good sap flow. 
     I checked several websites that sell the equipment and came across one on Amazon that I liked.  It is a basic plastic spile(this is what the sap drips out of the tree from) and some tubing that fits onto the end of the spile and goes into your collection bucket.  You will probably have to buy the spiles and the tubes.  There are other metal spiles that a bucket hangs on, but in my opinion lets in too much debris...think clean sap.  So with my spiles, tubes, several 5 gallon buckets, a drill, hammer, and 5/16" drill bit we took to the woods.
     My kit came with 10 spiles.  Rule of thumb is 1 spile per tree unless they are very large then you may use 2 or even 3 on a very large tree.  I don't remember exact diameter of tree, but you can do that research on your own.  We put out our taps and checked that afternoon....nada....big goose egg!! I almost wanted to cry.  I returned to the websites I found most helpful and discovered there is a temperature requirement.  It has to be below freezing nights with warm daytime temps in the 50's preferably.  Well, duh....we had a warm spell so no wonder.  I tried to wait patiently and next morning I ran down to check after my morning chores.  There is its simplest form.....SAP!  I was giddy.  I ran back to the house and got a bucket, (mind you it was only a cup).  I checked the rest of my trees and they were all dry except one.  So out of 6 trees tapped I only had 2 producing.  What???  I was totally confused.  What was I doing wrong??  I pondered for 5 before my dad, who had been watching me, encouraged me to tap trees in a different area of our property.

     Reluctantly I agreed and he and I sat off the next afternoon in a tapping frenzy.  The weather had been just what all the sites said was ideal, so with nothing more that 2 cups a day from my trees we moved to the woods behind his house.  I drilled the hole at an angle and a little deeper and before I could say anything the sap began to flow.  We just looked at each other in amazement and I think I even danced a little jig.  He is all about quantity so he wanted to tap the biggest trees we had and we did.  We also tapped a close friend of my dad's that lives up the street from us and had great success there too!  That afternoon there was a considerable amount about 2 gallons and so I began the boil. 

     Now, if any of you know the ratio of sap to syrup, you know that boiling my 2 gallons along with the gallon and half I already had, only gave me about a fourth of a cup of syrup.  But I was simply amazed with the process and the change.  It turns to a beautiful amber color and the smell is like nothing else.  The taste is the sweetest, most concentrated you have ever put in you mouth and it tastes just like it should....sweet victory.....I had done it.  I was so proud of myself and wanted to get my hands on more....only the rate it was coming was not fast enough for me.
     Then cue the snow storm I was talking of earlier.  After the 2nd day we were able to get out on the roads and I traveled to our friend's first and what I saw when I came down the hill almost made me faint, the buckets were full and spilling over on the ground.  I raced back home because I did not have anything big enough to get 2 and a half gallons in.  Then checked my dads and the same story second verse!  I was so excited I could hardly contain myself.  The seven-year-old said to me, "MOM WE ARE SO RICH!"  Yes son, in sap, we sure are!!  I think he saw my excitement and it rubbed of on him.

     The buckets have been running over every day since, they did slow some today but another freeze is coming so I am expecting another rush after it again.  I have boiled down over 60 gallons of sap with a gallon and 2 quarts to show for it.  I took a break today but will be back at it tomorrow.  This, for me, is like anything else I decided to try, several people thought I was out of my mind...including hubby, and he would tell you that.  I need to try something with my hands and then if it doesn't work you might convince me that it can't be done.  Now as I sit here writing this I have a batch cooking on the front porch.  The reality is, in homesteading, nothing comes easy and making maple syrup certainly is no exception!!!