Thursday, December 24, 2009

What's Another Chicken or Ten?

I haven't sat down and figured out what it costs to raise a chicken yet.  It's probably...well, chicken feed.

We've been planning on getting some poofy-headed Polish chickens once we move.  Why the silly Polish ones, with their Rastafarian feather-do's? Well, just because they're silly and cute.  And because we want to have fresh, free-range chicken eggs. 

I'll probably go on at some point about how free-range eggs are better for you and all, but for now:

The point is, the chicks cost about $1.34 or something when they're little.  After feeding them for a few months they'll start laying eggs.  We started thinking we'd begin with maybe six hens and a rooster.  Once they're grown to egg-laying age, that's about 6 eggs per day, and divide that by the 4 folks in our family, we'd have 1+ egg each/day. 

Then we realized that eggs are a great protein source for our dogs too.  Figure we're going to start with two rescue dogs, and probably have more like a dozen by the time we've "normalized".  Okay, so maybe we should think about starting with a dozen hens and one rooster.

Now, one of the themes you'll probably find as our blog grows is, "what can we do to make the world a better place?"  As an example, on our third date Quantum told me that his favorite TV show was on, and he hoped I didn't mind if we watched that.  I'd never seen Extreme Makeovers Home Edition before.  (I didn't have much access to TV in those days.)  I spent the next hour crying in awe and joy. 

So the other day, I was thinking, "what one small thing can I do to help feed people who need it?"  And I thought, "get more chickens." 

Six chickens, a dozen-and-a-half chickens?  How much more could it really take to feed and house them? And I can find a local church or food pantry to bring the excess eggs to.  Even better, I was having a hard time dealing with the idea of slaughtering extra roosters.  (If I raise something, I can't kill it.)  But if I donated those roosters to the food pantry and found someone else to do the nasty duties...I could perhaps deal.

Just six or a dozen extra chickens would eat hardly any extra feed, since they'd be living mostly on bugs an wild plants anyhow.  But they might feed another family.

How a Holiday Soup Kitchen Should Be

It's Christmas Eve, so sometime in the next 24 hours you'll probably see some reporter running a piece where they do the usual feel-good news showing volunteers ladling out plates of food to feed those less fortunate. 

Pretty much always, the place looks sterile and cheerless except for the rows and rows of people being fed.  Now I'm not trying to detract from the good folks who are doing what they can to see that others don't go with empty bellies. 

Then again, I've had friends who've been homeless or at least poor enough that they needed a soup kitchen before.  They generally tell stories about being forced to sit through some sort of religious service and get themselves "saved" before they can eat.

So on this Christmas Eve night, I wanted to remember, and tell you about, a "soup kitchen" that to me, modeled the way this should be done.  It was about 20 years ago, Thanksgiving, and I was living near Woodstock, NY.  Don't know how I got word of it exactly, but it traveled through the hippy-vine and reached me.

We showed up at a church which had donated space for the night.  I brought a couple roasted turkeys, some pies, some veggies and stuff, and my flute.  The "volunteers" set up the tables and plated out food for the needy folks.  Everyone had brought a crazy amount of food, so after we made sure that everyone in need had all they could eat, the rest of us got plates too, and sat down with our homeless neighbors, sharing love and stories.  Once we'd all eaten our fill, we whipped out the musical instruments:  my flute, a bucket-load of guitars, a couple violins and a damn fine harmonica or two.  We ate, played music and danced and had a great time.  The party lasted well into the night and by the end of it, you couldn't separate the "give-ers" from "give-ees" and know which was which.  And those of us "haves" felt as gifted by the night as the "have-nots".  Probably more so.

The only sad thing, is people seem to get out for stuff like this only one or two nights a year.  But those have-not folks need to eat the other 363 days or so too, right?

I can't do it all, and you can't either.  But once I'm set up in my new home, I'm going to try to replicate this sort of Alice's Restaraunt Massacre "soup kitchen".  (Without the pile of garbage or the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, lets hope.)

And do it more than once or twice a year.

Twas the Night Before Christmas...and I couldn't find a place to volunteer

It's Christmas Eve and I can't seem to locate a soup kitchen.

For the first time in several years, we're not planning to go to my mom-in-law's for Christmas.  She fell down, got a hairline fracture on her wrist and "her house isn't clean enough" for us to come visit.  "Really Mom, we can cook for you."  "If you need help cleaning, well, what are daughter-in-laws for?"  Deaf ears.  Quantum says it's an old-fashioned Midwest thing.  Or maybe it's a "haven't gotten used to having a daughter-in-law yet" thing.   

In my family, if someone needs help (assuming the rest of us are in driving range, which we aren't any more) the tribe shows up and does what has to be done.  Holidays were boisterous events where everyone crowded into the kitchen and got in each other's way cooking. 

So anyway, since we aren't making it to the mom-in-law's, I thought we should go volunteer at a soup kitchen.  This isn't the first time I've tried this.  Thanksgiving before this one, I tried to do the same thing.  Couldn't FIND a bleeping place to go volunteer. 
Now I don't know if it's just my town or what.  They're trying all they possibly can to hide the homeless folks.  In fact there was a group that was feeding people in the local parks and the city council started coming up with all sorts of crazy rules - things like you can't feed more than 25 people, you have to change parks every week, and so on.  Orlando FL is a big tourist place, and gods forbid we let the tourists know we have homeless.  Fortunately, the ACLU has jumped on it, and they seem to be winning.

I thought about buying food, and contacted the place that feeds folks in the park.  They still haven't gotten in touch with me...since November 2008. 

I don't belong to a local church - maybe I'd know of one then. 

I looked at the phone book.  A couple food banks, but not a single soup kitchen listed.

Now I've got internet, a telephone, and all that.  If I can't locate a soup kitchen, how on earth do the homeless folks find one?

You'd think, in our troubled economy, that soup kitchens would be doing all they could to let folks know that they need volunteers, need food donations, need money.  Yet the only time I ever HEAR of a soup kitchen is some feel-good news mention on the holidays--and of course that's always after the fact, when it's too late for me to bring food or help.

Called the local TV station.  Well, they're not open.  So much for asking them.  Radio station, same deal.

As I'm writing this, I'm on the phone, trying to find somebody to let me know where I can be helpful.

The Salvation Army says the only people feeding folks tomorrow is the Coallition for the Homeless.  The ONLY people?  In this huge city?

Then I get the number of a very lovely man named Rich.  He says, "listen, don't worry about finding a place to volunteer.  Instead, find some folks in your neighborhood.  Buy them a meal, bring them some clean socks, underwear, give them an extra coat."

Good plan.  I've done that before but I sort-of wanted to do something more.  But according to Rich, (who used to be homeless, and now works at a rescue mission) that sort of "personal touch" might actually make more of a difference to someone.  So I'm off to the local department store tomorrow to pick up some socks and stuff, and I'll see who's hanging out in the back alleys of our town.

Blessings to you, my hopes for peace on Earth and may you have goodwill to all mankind.

Yak Pics Have Arrived!

Finally got some pics of our girls.

This elegant cow is Yonkers.

And this sweet little girl is Yazoo.  Her star looks like either the state of Texas or the state of New York, not sure which. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Community Gardens

Back when I lived in upstate NY, we had a community garden.  Actually, I can't say "we" since I had my own garden at my home, and only visited the place once or twice to help out a friend.  But "we" as in "our town" had a garden.  Some of the plots were wild and overgrown, others were gorgeously neat and productive.  Most were the latter.  At the time (about 20 years ago) you could buy into the collective for, I think $20/year and plant what you wanted on your small plot.

How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can ImagineSo I'm reading this How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine book (by John Jeavons) and I'm thinking of where I live now, the small condo association that we're trapped in here until March or so, which is, it seems, our set-off date for Colorado.

Since I've been living here, I've had a small container garden on my porch.  Most of the condos here have a tiny backyard, but we're living on a second story flat, and all I have is the porch.  Even so, I've managed some herbs, even a few tomatoes on this 4x8 postage stamp, without getting in the way of our entrance to the door.  Meanwhile, the homeowner's association is super strict (despite the fact that they do a crappy job of keeping up their end of the bargain) and although we allegedly do have a small area we can plant down below, we also have a psychotic downstairs neighbor who thinks she's the only one who gets to make decisions here, so we don't bother with it.

But since I was talking in my last blog about how small a plot you'd need to grow on and be at least partly self-sustaining…

If we were going to stay here (and we're not) it occurred to me that I could talk to the board about starting a small community garden collective.  There's a heck of a lot of wasted space in this place.  Several large grassy places between the buildings which are far wider than the little golf cart they use to tour around the place and conduct repairs.  Almost all the two-story places have a tiny area in front of their houses and a little back yard.

One of my neighbors has a beautiful rose garden in his front space.  The lady (and I use that term loosely) downstairs plants gaudy plastic flowers.  Truth, not fiction.  The majority of places have something in between.  Some have pretty shrubs.  Some have completely ugly and depressed looking shrubs.  Some cacti.  Some even have - yeah really - more plastic flowers. 

When I walk the dog, not one place I've noticed has veggies growing in the front space.  Don't know about the back garden-yards, since they're fenced off, but from what I gather, most are merely slabs of concrete with dirt edging them.  Actually, my girlfriend, who lives next to the lovely man with the roses, did try a couple tomatoes and peas last year.  Gardening's not her thing, but she got some tips and help from Rose-man.

But why not start a collective - to support ourselves in dealing with the homeowner's association who will no doubt find all manner of problems, as they do with most ideas?  Some of us could volunteer to help out the older folks, dig their gardens.  Those of us with less knowledge could learn from those of us with more.

It would be lovely to walk past this place, and instead of seeing ghastly rows of scraggly bushes, find glowing tomatoes, fragrant basil, carrots, peas, pole beans.

It's not a new notion; it's being done in cities worldwide.  If a food crunch comes, it's going to be efforts like this which might keep people from starving to death.  So the real funny thing is why I didn't think of it two years ago or more.

I'll pass my idea along to my girlfriend and Rose-man.  Maybe they can do it.  Me, I'm off to 40 acres in Colorado, and I need to get packing.

Compost and Saving the World at 3am

Compost.  Who would think I'd wake up at 3am and spend the next three hours researching that? 

The next book - and perhaps another I'll be recommending, is How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons.

This one is weightily technical (actually there's a "for beginners" book which I probably should have bought first) but full of information.  Actually it's not that hard to understand. 

So Mom was online when I got up, we discussed the book and she asked if it said anything about compost.  "I'm sure it does."  She had a problem with her composter smelling bad and drawing pests.

I did some research and found one particularly good site. Perhaps the most in-depth tutorial on the subject I've ever read.

If you don't know what composting is (maybe you've spent the last few decades on Mars) it's the process of turning your garden waste (the part of the plant you don't eat) and your kitchen veggie waste into stuff that your garden can use to grow more and better plants.

Right now I'm reading about the double-dig method, crop area percentages, companion planting and more. 

If this works, then I've been gardening "wrong" all my life.  Well I have always used compost, so I'm doing something right. 

The introductory section had some info that was downright scary.  Something that I only vaguely understood before:  "United States croplands are losing topsoil about 18 times faster than the soil formation rate.  This is not sustainable.  In fact, worldwide only about 42 to 84 years of topsoil remains." 

That's based on a 1994 survey.  Meaning that we're down to about 27 to 69 years.  This could happen in our lifetimes.

Remember the Dust Bowl? From 1930 till around '36 entire cities were covered in dirt that had eroded from farms in Texas and Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico.  In some places the storms lasted till 1940.  Caused by poor farming techniques and drought, these massive dust storms, called "Black Blizzards" reached as far north as Chicago and Boston.

Check out this video on Surviving the Dust Bowl.

In the Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck writes, "And then the dispossessed were drawn west- from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless - restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do - to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land."

If we don't get our acts together and heal the earth we're in big trouble.  The good news is that according to this book, you can grow enough food to feed yourself on as little as 1/4 or even 1/8 acre.  We can return sustainability to the Earth.

They're making some big claims, among them, their plan will let crops grow with a 67-88% reduction of water use, 100% increase in soil fertility, a 200-400% increase in caloric production per unit of area.

Quantum says, "if it even does half of what they say, are you going to be disappointed?"  Heck no!

Once spring starts I'll be double-digging the garden and doing my small part to save the world.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Man Who Listens to Horses

I feel like I've been given a gift.

I'm in the back of a used book store and this book tumbles off the shelf: The Man Who Listens to Horses: The Story of a Real-Life Horse Whisperer.

The Man Who Listens to Horses: The Story of a Real-Life Horse WhispererNow when books throw themselves off the shelf at me, I tend to take a moment and wonder if they're somehow important to my life and understanding of the world.  I've pretty much never been wrong in following this clue.

It's cliche to say I couldn't put a book down, and in this case it's not true anyway.  I had to put it down more than once.  Some messages are so powerful that you need to step away for a moment to think and breathe.  Some realizations are so intense that you have to stop and turn to your partner and describe them.  And the stories in this book are sad, tragic, funny, uplifting.

This particular book isn't just about horse training.  

Instead it's the biography of a phenomenal and interesting man on his journey of discovery into horse language and psychology.  The paperback copy I have starts with a long (but fascinating) introduction by another author, and by the time I made it through the first few pages, I was wondering who in heck Monty was, and why someone was spending that much energy glowing all over him.

Probably for the same reason I am.

It's the story of a man who learns a new way to communicate.  With horses and with the world at large.  It's about courage, persistence and a vision of a world that is more gentle and loving than it is now.

As a writer since I was eight, I'll tell you that it's incredibly well written.  We start with Monty at age fourteen, already a ten year rodeo/horsemanship professional, out in the Nevada desert watching wild mustangs.  He actually bothers to spend his time watching how horses talk to each other in the wild, and begins to use what he's learned in "breaking" his own horses.  His dad, a horseman from what sounds like a long pedigree of horsemen is not impressed with the technique, beats him, in fact, but Monty persists. 

If you don't know much about the traditional techniques of horse "breaking" I should probably give you a clue.  They are horribly cruel.  The horses are subjected to "sacking" which consists of tying them up to a pole and pelting them with feed sacks or other items, being tied in uncomfortable positions and all sorts of other abuse.  Think about Guantanamo for horses.  The entire process is designed to break a horse's will and create them into a fearful slave. 

Thanks to Monty, I've watched some videos now, and I'm stomach sick from watching the traditional process. 

And remember now, we're talking about the Horse.  The animal that is iconic to our image of beauty, power and freedom.  The creature that "Won the West".  Having studied horse theory from a young age, I knew the practices in the past were cruel (and were damn well nothing I'd ever use) but this book made me sit up and face it.

But this book isn't even ONLY about that.  Right now I've just watched him go from early success to nearly being completely devastated by a business partner, who - no fooling - almost had him killed because he wouldn't murder perfectly fine horses or lie in court.

From that very funny, sad, provocative emotional roller coaster - the kind of story writers DREAM about conceiving, except folks would think it was contrived (except it happened real-life), we go to the death of his longtime favorite horse Johnny Tivio. And the story of a friend who became a quadriplegic and nursed himself back to sanity because Monty helped him manage to stay involved with horses. 

If I hadn't been so inspired, I would probably have read it straight through.  I started this article when I was only 3/4 through it.

The guy I dated before I met Quantum was a double amputee from early childhood.  Several other friends are in a wheelchair.  If none of the other chapters had done it (and of course they already had) this scenario elevated the book to iconic status.  Oprah take note!  This is a book I'll be recommending for the next several decades, when it comes to people facing challenges.  Almost more than wanting to meet Monty, I want to meet his buddy Crawford, the guy who went from being what my friend Karl called a "gimp" (Karl broke his back in a motorcycle accident when he was young, but despite what the doctors said, managed to walk again.  He's since a confirmed master in his automotive field, but a born cynic, Karl slams himself and his physical difficulties left and right.) to an imperatively needed and useful member of Monty's horsing operation.  

Monty is still training horses out in California at Flag Is Up Farm.  You can find Monty's Join Up video on the web. Take note that I've found several "join up" videos by his admirers who don't follow Monty's full procedure, so be sure to watch the original.  

Meanwhile I should probably say a little about his "Join Up" technique.  Monty doesn't "break" horses, he befriends them in the manner of our Native American ancestors, with love, kindness and an in-depth understanding of how horses talk to each other.  I'll try to do justice to the practice:

He starts out with an understanding that as both herd animals and flight animals, a horse needs to be part of a group (strength in numbers) but also runs away from the unknown as their first tendency.  Think of it like Dr. Doolittle's "Push-Me Pull-You".  The horse is curious and wants to investigate, but also wants to flee from a potential predator.  So he chases the horse away and then lets it follow its natural tendency to come back, investigate the situation and "Join Up" with a leader who will keep it safe. 

For any herd animal, being excised from the herd is tantamount to death.  Two years ago I called to ask somebody about the yaks we were contemplating.  They basically told us, "no you can't buy one, you can buy two". 

Its wired into their genes.  Herd animals need a herd to be happy and sane.  And if you offer yourself as the leader of their herd…well it seems they'll follow you.

In about four months I'm going to have the opportunity to test this on a different species.  While reading this book I've done some searches on things like "cow whisperer".  There's not much to find except a few idiots making mooing noises at cows and potentially driving them to run and get hurt.  I didn't even bother looking for yak whisperers…yaks are just that rare. 

I've read that Monty uses his Join Up technique to befriend his local deer population, so I'm going to make the experiment.  It's a bit scary, because our yak mommy Yonkers has horns.  Despite that yaks are trained to use their horns for guidance, much in the way that reins are used on horses, I'm at least a bit wary.  Should she be inclined, this lady could gore me and have me for breakfast.  I'll probably try it first on her calf, Yazoo.  Yazoo will be barely a yearling when we finally move there and meet her.  If nothing else, she'll be less able to trample me.

I'm sure that there are some differences between horse language and cow/yak language, but since there doesn't seem to be a lot of research on the latter subject, I guess I'll just have to be observant and hope to learn. 

So bringing it all together, brilliantly written, fascinating subject.  Even more, it’s a book about hope, taciturn belief and the ultimate realization of that dream.  As a writer, I'm floored.  As a book lover, I'm floored.  As an animal lover, I just haven't got the words to express the immense impact that this book is having on my life and potentially the lives of every single animal I will impact over the next 60 or so years of my life.  It gives me trust in my basic instincts (to train animals by befriending them, rather than through an organized campaign of terror) and even a plan as to precisely how I'll go about learning to talk with my horses, my yaks and every other critter. 

I'm an avid reader and writer, so it's not unusual for me to find plenty of good books.  Despite the multitude of books I've read during my life (at a rate of at least 3-600 pages per week and maybe more for a good part of my career)  there are very few that make the "I'll remember this and suggest this to others so long as I live" category.  The first book that I can recall which made that list was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.  Maybe because I was horse crazy, or maybe because those books were just that good - no, definitely BOTH - the next ones that got on the list were anything by Marguerite Henry, the Fury books, Maple Sugar For Windyfoot and My Friend Flicka.  Every one of those I read when I was under fifteen.  Since then, maybe twenty authors and their works have made the "I will tell everybody I damn well know" cut.
The Man Who Listens to Horses is one of those books.  Brilliant.  Life-changing.  I who have dedicated most of my life to a darn good understanding of adjectives…there aren't enough good ones to describe this book.
Read it, love it, and for all the gods, please LIVE it.  Reading it will bring you into a healthier understanding of our relationship with our animal friends, a happier life for yourself and a better, more humane world at large.  Join Up with your animal companions and experience the ecstatic communication you'll get from that.

Or don't.  After all, if you do not wish to enjoy the pleasure of bonding with the creatures who share your life, then you certainly shouldn't.

But if you do, run screaming to buy this book.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yakking about Yaks

Well we went and did it.  Just sent them the money for the yaks.  The shakes set in for a while, this morning.  Now we're really committed.  Not only do we own the yaks, but we need to hustle to get our butts out of Florida by the time Yonkers' new calf is born, probably in late March or early April.

Well since you probably think I'm insane, I should write a little about Yaks.  Maybe then you'll have a clue why we decided to do this.

Here's a pic of Sherpa, Yazoo's daddy.  Pretty, isn't he?

The yak, or Bos grunniens is an ancient long-haired bovine from the Himalayan region.  If we want to get picky, in the Tibetan language, Yonkers isn't actually a "yak" since that means a male.  She's actually a "dri" or "nak".  The name for the species in Tibetan is "gyag".  Oh and just to round out our little language lesson, a wild yak, as opposed to a domesticated one is called a "brong" or "drong".  Isn't Wikipedia helpful?

Yaks seem to do best between altitudes of 10,000-18,000 feet, so our land, at about 6100 feet is close enough that they should be fine.  I've found several yak ranchers in Colorado, so things are looking good there.

They're used for milk and milkfat, meat (don't even think about it!) wool and as beasts of burden.  I'm told that the milk is a rich creamy color that's not quite pink, and has a very high fat content - about 5-7%.  Anthony Bourdain says that yak butter tea (which is made it seems from tea and yak butter, go figure) is surprisingly tasty, so I'll be looking forward to trying that at least once and I'll let you know it goes.

I've wanted to learn cheesemaking for some time.  Since I love fresh mozzarella, I'm planning on that being one of my first projects.  In Italy they use domesticated water buffalo to make mozzarella, so I figure yak mozzarella should be doable.

I'm looking forward to packing with our yaks too.  Parts of our land is are a bit steep and rocky, and if we're going to move anything heavy around, teaching our yaks to help carry it will definitely help.  Fortunately yaks tend to be very nimble, and can go places that would be dangerous for horses.

 According to Wiki the wild drongs make terrible pack animals, so it seems that in domesticating them, humans have made some changes in them.   Humans tend to do that kind of stuff.  In this case it seems to be a happy change, though.

Quantum wants to teach the yaks to plow - yeah, the old fashioned way!  This way we don't pollute the air with gasoline from a roto-tiller. 

The fiber makes a smooth, soft down - and they say it's not itchy!  Amongst a myriad of other things, I guess I'm going to need a loom and a spinning wheel.  About 20 years ago a friend who had a goat farm taught me a little about weaving.  Guess I'm going to have to relearn that.  I could sell the stuff, and it seems to get a good price, but I think our family probably need at least one warm comfy robe each, for the cold winter days.

Yak dung is used for cooking fires.  Somehow I think I'll forego that one.  I'd much rather put it into the ground as compost.  They also use the butter for oil lamps.  Given the choice, I'll use normal oil and put the milk into my cheese.

So those are the possible benefits.  Now on to taking care of them:

Yaks eat about one third the amount of food that the average beef cow does.  That means that we can keep them on far less land than if we had regular cows.  They seem to be easy to fence, and they don't need shelter except during the worst weather.  When we visited our land last March, we saw bobcat tracks, and Quantum says the "dirt guy" (the guy who is supposed to do our driveway) saw cougar poop.  And we definitely have bear.  In fact the local name for our stream is Bear Creek.  With that in mind, I think we'll have to build them a barn for nighttime, though the lady we're buying them from says that a yak cow will have no problem chasing away mountain lions.

Another plus, they "calve easily" according to every site I've found.  No doubt calling a vet out to help birth your calves is expensive, so I'm going to appreciate that.  I just finished reading All Creatures Great and Small, a story about a country vet in Britain in the 1940s, and his book starts with a description of him with his hand up a cow, trying to turn the calf around.  I could very happily live without that experience if I can help it.

Yonkers is 9 years old, and has given birth to seven calves so far.  Five of those have been heifers (females) so we're told that the baby is about 70% likely to be female.  All their cows have "Y" names, so I'm thinking of naming this one Yeti.

The sellers want us to be there for the birth and meet our cow beforehand.  Yak mommies get very protective of their babies, so making friends with her is pretty important.  We'd vaguely planned to make the move in March.  Now we have to.  No pressure, sure.

Can't wait to see pictures of her and little Yazoo.  They're Imperials, by the way, meaning they're a piebald (like a pinto) black and white, as opposed to the more common browns. 

Horns, now there's a potentially "sticky" problem.  However I'm told that by handling them, the yaks learn to use them to be guided by, much like a bridle on a horse.  I'm a little scared that there could be a challenge between our puppy, Zen, and the yaks.  Going to have to spend the next couple months really working on Zen's obedience training.  Zen is a pit bull mix.  (We suspect there's some boxer and lab in there too.  We call him a North American Wigglebut.)  He's a great dog, sweet and gentle as heck, but with a very dominant personality, and thus far, watching the Dog Whisperer hasn't helped us make him behave as much as I'd like.  The neighbor downstairs doesn't help because she calls animal control the moment he makes the slightest noise.  I'm sure that'll come up in a blog real soon.

Back to horns, I honestly have no clue how well Yonkers is trained on that.  The folks we're buying from haven't really given us a lot of info regarding her.  Probably because we're not asking the right questions.  LOL!  A couple city-slickers starting our own farm.  I already know that a lot of our learning experiences are going to be based on the mistakes we make early in this.  Oh boy, won't that be fun?  They have about 8 yaks, and their herd bull is as tame as one could ask for.  Yonkers has never been used for milking, however.  That means I'm either going to have to teach her to be comfortable with being milked or I'm going to give up the idea of her as a milk cow and focus that intent on Yazoo and Yeti.Why in hell did we buy these yaks?  Shouldn't we have waited?  Probably.  But the price was good and it "felt" right.  I guess we'll just have to see.  To this point, taking leaps of faith has put us in the right direction.  The land was a complete leap.  We bought it sight unseen except for a few photos, a glimpse at its general location on Google Maps and a few talks with the realtor.  When we finally visited it last March we were astounded.  It was all that we'd hoped and more.  Dead gorgeous.  I should probably blog about our land.  I promise to do it soon.

And just Quantum and I meeting and falling in love…that was another leap of faith and will probably get blogged about soon.

Meanwhile I'm taking a leap!  Please gods, catch me!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yaking it up!

If you'd told me that tomorrow morning I'd be the owner of three (or is that 2 1/2?) yaks, I'd have said you're crazy.

Yeah, I really do mean those huge horned and shaggy bovines that if anything you've probably only seen in a zoo before.

Not that our nefarious plan for creating a sustainable farm hasn't been in the works for a couple years now, but it's pretty amazing how this is all coming together.

Should I start at the beginning?

Around 2005, my hubby started getting antsy to leave Florida.  I couldn't disagree.  I moved out of New York to avoid the miserable wet winters.  For a while I'd been thrilled with the fact that I didn't have to shovel the humidity out of the driveway.  Now it was getting weary.  Florida summers are nothing short of miserable.  For all that we get a gorgeous winter akin to summers back home, in summer we're stuck with racing from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car and back.  Anything else is purely horrible.

So one day we decided to move.  No clue how we'd do that or pay for it or whatever.  My honey wanted to be close to Four Corners.  That's the Native American "Grand Central" for the West, and since my husband is Chiricahua Apache on his dad's side, he wanted to go "home".  I remembered a family vacation to Colorado when I was seven.  Dad had been drawn there by an employment offer which he later rejected because he was afraid to leave familiar territory.  I'd been enthralled with the beauty of Colorado since that visit. 

Clear mountain streams where we fished up rainbow trout and fried them in cornmeal.  Daddy holding me over the edge of a cliff, and my view down a mountain chasm into a river.  It was in my mind, the most beautiful land on the face of the planet.

So I said, "Colorado" and we searched through the land available online.  Somewhere along there we came across this gorgeous piece of land.  No clue how we'd afford it, no clue on pretty much anything.  It just felt right.

And I licked it.

Licking it … might sound weird to some of you.  I'm amongst other stuff a metaphysician, have been since very young.    One of our "spells" was that if you licked something you wanted, it became yours.  I'll try to explain this at some later point I guess.  For now, just bear with me.

40 gorgeous acres in southern Colorado.  Pictures of wildflowers, a meadow, rock formations, a small stream.  I licked it and hoped that it would one day be mine.

Two years went by.  Then my Dad died in a horrible and weird sort of way.  I might go into it further in another post, but for now the basic info is that he had a heart attack and they found his body a week later.  His dog was still guarding him.

As a result of this, I now had a small amount of money.  Once I got over the general shock, we called the realtor about the land.  Maybe it was still available?  Dad had loved Colorado, and it felt like by purchasing the place we were honoring him.  Within a few months of Dad's death, we somehow owned it. 

So getting back to the Yaks…

Somewhere early in the process, years before we even owned the land, my husband turned to me and said, "How about yaks?"

My reaction was much like that of supposedly sane people worldwide.  "A yak?  Have you lost your freaking mind?"

Now when I was a small kid visiting the Bronx Zoo, the yak had for some reason been one of my favorite animals.  Even so I was pretty sure that hubby was nuts.

So I did some research.  Turns out that yaks are extremely docile.  They're also very efficient.  You can pasture 3 yaks on the amount of land that just one modern beef or milk cow would use.

Their benefits include milk, wool, and if you're willing to murder your critters, meat as well.  Two out of three anyhow.  Not a chance in hell I would use an animal for meat once I'd made friends with it.

We'd spent two or more years intermittently researching yaks.  We still weren't living on the land, but were getting closer to the process of moving. 

So last week we were talking about the yaks again and doing some more research.  There's not a huge amount of information on the web about yaks, but one of the yak breeders mentioned that she gave away a small pamphlet when you bought the yaks.  I wrote to see if I could purchase just the pamphlet.  She wrote back to say she had a couple yaks she was selling rather inexpensively.
Yonkers is a 9 year old cow.  Yazoo is her daughter, 8 months old.  On top of that Yonkers is pregnant.  They're going to board them for us till we move.  Can you believe?  I don't even live in Colorado yet, and I'm about to own three yaks!