Sunday Morning Excitement

Our weekly “day of rest” got off to an interesting start this morning. While heading to the barn at about 7:45am, I heard an unusual commotion in the distance. About 50 yards down the road to the west, I spotted a man and woman who’d parked their pickup truck near the edge of our hay field. They were thrashing around in the brush with sticks or rods, and shouting.

Given how few people are usually even up and moving around here on a Sunday morning, let alone one as cold as today, my initial assumption was that they were hunters in hot pursuit of something they’d wounded. It is, after all, still firearm deer season in Lower Michigan. But why would a hunter with a firearm not use that firearm to finish off the deer? They were acting more like they were after a pheasant or a wild turkey, but I don’t think either of those are in season.

As I continued watching, now both curious and a little nervous, something truly odd happened: a large dark object began inching up a scrawny tree, like a flag being hoisted up a flagpole. The larger of the two people was shouting and swinging a stick at this “flag,” but to no avail.

Realizing that this “flag” must in fact be some sort of varmint, I ran inside and grabbed my twelve gauge shotgun. Once back outside, I shouted and waved at the pair (who were now both swinging sticks at the varmint), and jogged across the hayfield toward them with the shotgun.

“It’s a coon!” the man called out to me.

“Great!” I called back, jogging nearer. “I’ve got a shotgun!”

The couple, who I assume were husband and wife, explained that they were out early delivering Sunday newspapers when the coon had run across the road in front of them. They’d stopped and given chase with makeshift clubs, knowing that a small child lives in the next house down from us.

“And we have kids and livestock,” I added. “I appreciate it, because we’ve lost lots of chickens this last year. I hate these things.”

I loaded the shotgun with buckshot, disengaged the safety, and prepared to line it up with the coon. The thing was about ten feet off the ground, which was most of the way to the top of the scrawny tree. And the sucker was huge. Wouldn’t have surprised me if it’d feasted on several of our chickens and ducks.

“Wait,” the man said, as I drew the shotgun to my shoulder. “Do you want the pelt?”

“I just want it dead,” I replied. “Why? Do you want it?” I’ve never tanned hides, and had no interest in getting started today.

“Yeah,” the two of them told me. “Can you shoot it in the head?”

I told them I’d do my best, but a twelve gauge is a twelve gauge. And I wasn’t going back inside for my .380 pistol with the laser sight. A buckshot shell contains nine large pieces of metal, which will spray when launched, but the odds were better than using birdshot. I aimed high, and the fairly close range meant the nine pieces of shot would remain pretty much together on impact. With one squeeze of the trigger, the big coon tumbled from the tree like a bag of wet cement.

The man kicked the coon over. When it didn’t move, he picked it up by a hind leg and announced, “Huge hole in the head!” Indeed, it looked like half its skull had been blown off — but the rest of the body was untouched. In all honesty, it was a much better shot than I’d been expecting to make, given the coon’s vertical (head upward) orientation on the tree trunk. The man handed the coon to his wife, who tossed it into the back of their pickup.

They thanked me for letting them keep the coon for its hide, and for dispatching the coon before it could hurt the little boy who lives next door. I told them how much I appreciated their stopping and making so much of an effort chasing the thing down, and giving me the chance to take it out.

They seemed like a nice couple, and pure “country folks” without any pretentions, who really wanted to do the right thing. Which is what I like so much about living out here: no matter what we might do for a living, or what kind of vehicle we might drive, or what kind of property or livestock we might have, we’re all pretty much of one mind about a lot of things.

Like what you do when you catch a big fat coon crossing the road.


As mentioned one of this blog’s earliest posts, our family has grown to have a great appreciation for the custom of Sunday rest. Unless some kind of true necessity arises, such as unavoidable professional work or bringing in hay before the rain ruins the crop, we spend Sundays going to church and hanging out with family or close friends. We try not to even shop on Sundays, apart from last-minute dinner necessities that may arise.

I was initially skeptical — and resistant — about this new approach to Sunday, but Mrs. Yeoman Farmer insisted we give it a try. For that I am grateful; it’s really changed our family for the better. I can’t imagine trading our current Sundays for the ones we used to spend.

Especially when I’m forced by circumstances to revisit those “bad old” Sundays, as I was a couple of weeks ago. Two Sundays before Thanksgiving, we planned to spend the day visiting MYF’s brother and his family in the Detroit suburbs. We hadn’t seen them in awhile, and the timing was also good for delivering the Thanksgiving turkey.

The day didn’t go as planned. Oh, we made it to church just fine that morning. We came home and got ready to go to Detroit just fine. We got onto the freeway just fine. But less than a mile down I-96, I heard the unmistakable sound of one of our minivan’s tires blowing out and rubber flapping on pavement.

I managed to steer onto the shoulder, and got out to inspect the damage. The right rear tire was basically shredded, so I prepared to fix it. Keep in mind the weather was cold and overcast, and cars were whizzing by a few feet away. Mrs Yeoman Farmer was in the car with all four kids, plus our new dog (Pepper), who we can’t yet leave alone at home for extended periods. We also had the frozen turkey in a cooler, of course.

On a Dodge Caravan, the spare tire is under the chassis and must be lowered by turning a bolt inside the vehicle. I’d done this once before, so was familiar with the mechanism. However, unlike that other time, on this particular day the tire refused to lower itself. The bolt turned fine. The cable of the winch system played out just fine. But the tire itself remained stuck to the bottom of the van. I pried at it with the minimal tools available. It wouldn’t budge, no matter what I tried.

Thank God for AAA. They got us a tow truck within about 20 minutes, and the driver (a really nice, younger guy) had fortunately seen this exact problem before. After a couple of minutes of fiddling and prying with his crowbar, the spare tire dropped free. He filled it to maximum capacity with air, lifted the van with his hydraulic jack, removed the old wheel with his impact driver, and had the spare installed in no time flat. He even gave us a jump start, because we’d run our four-way flashers so long the battery no longer had enough power to turn the motor over.

We thanked him, and were again on our way toward Detroit. This was my first time driving with one of those lousy temporary “donut” spare tires, and it was as bad as I imagined. Even fully inflated, it wasn’t safe to drive more than about 55-60 MPH on the freeway. The handling was terrible. We stayed in the right lane, and let everybody else buzz past us.

We arrived very late, but all in once piece. I dropped everyone else off at my in-laws’, then headed up to the local Sam’s Club in search of a new set of tires. There was no way I was driving 70 miles home that night, in the dark and in the cold, on that temporary thing, with the whole family in the car and no spare to fall back on. Given that we’d put over 70,000 miles on this set of tires, I figured it was just a matter of time before the rest of them started going. This was definitely the day to get a whole new set.

Unfortunately, the Sam’s Club just up the street didn’t have a tire center. The tire store in the same shopping center was closed on Sundays. As was the Belle Tire a few miles down Grand River. My brother in law suggested I try the Sears Auto Center at the local shopping mall; they did in fact turn out to be open. But because they were pretty much the only place open that day, everybody and his brother had come to get their cars worked on. (With the cold snap that morning, they apparently were doing a booming business installing new batteries.) They did have a set of tires in my size, but said it’d be 90 minutes to get them installed. I had no choice but to get my car in line and wait.

And wait. And wait. They did have a football game on in the waiting room, which was nice. But I’d a thousand times rather have been hanging out with my in-laws, watching the game at their place with them. The game dragged on, and then the late game came on. Sears ran into problem after problem with my tires; first, they turned out not to have the cheaper tires in the right size for our vehicle and had to get my permission to spend lots more installing a more expensive set. Given that I was basically stuck, I told them to go ahead and do it. Then, as they were pulling the old tires, one of the mounting studs snapped off. They had to find me again, ask if I wanted to pay for a new one, and then search around to see if they had the part.

Once it became clear my van would be unavailable for a lot more than 90 minutes, and I’d lost interest in football, I decided to take a stroll through the Twelve Oaks Mall for a change of scenery. All I can say is: I am never going to willingly set foot in another suburban shopping mall again. Especially not on a Sunday. The place was jammed, and already decked out with Christmas decorations in mid-November. Kids were getting their photos taken with Santa. But the worst part was the cacophonous noise, and the impossibility of escaping from it. That, and the utter frivolity and idiocy of so much of what was for sale. Not just the skanky lingere stores. Or the “clothing” aimed at teenagers. So much of what the stores were peddling were frivolous trinkets, and junk I couldn’t imagine letting my kids waste their money on.

I grabbed a cup of coffee and retreated to the relative peace and quiet of the Sears Auto Center waiting room as fast as I could. Our van didn’t get finished until nearly 6pm, so I had plenty of time to be alone with my thoughts. I was grateful for several things: that we homeschool, and our kids aren’t asking to dress the way most kids at the mall were dressing. That we live so far away from suburban shopping malls, and don’t need to visit them for anything but emergencies. That we’ve rejected the frivolity and consumerism on such blatant display at these places. And, above all, that Sundays have become such a welcome refuge for our family from all this noise and chaos. When I was single, and living in the Detroit suburbs myself, I used to regularly patronize this very same mall on many Sundays…and used to think nothing of it. In fact, I used to enjoy getting out and going there. Now, as I sat in Auto Center Purgatory, I couldn’t imagine any more foreign place than a suburban shopping mall to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Once the van was ready, I hurried back to rejoin the family for what remained of our Sunday refuge from the world. Dinner was just being served as I arrived, and it was absolutely wonderful. Not just the food, but especially the company. I was sorry to have missed so much of the day, but grateful to at least be spending the main meal together. And especially grateful to Mrs. Yeoman Farmer for her insistence that we live the custom of Sunday Rest the way we have. Catching a glimpse of what life is like without that rest was a powerful confirmation of its value.

And I must add one more thing for which I’m grateful: the AAA dispatcher, the tow truck driver, those folks at Sears Auto Center, and all the others who must work on Sundays to ensure that families like ours can still get the essential services we might need. I sincerely hope that all of them are able to get some other day of rest with their families during the week.


I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday, wherever you are. We spent the day with Mrs. Yeoman Farmer’s brother and his family, in the Detroit suburbs. They grilled one of our turkeys, which we’d taken over a couple of weekends ago. It was fantastic, as was the rest of the feast they put together.

The best part, by far, was spending a relaxing day hanging out with family. But in so enjoying our time together with them, it was hard not to think back on the contrast with the way we spent last year’s Thanksgiving day. It was the only TG we’ve spent away from family in a long time, but it was also one of the most memorable and one that we may be especially grateful for for many years.

Last November, we were literally a thousand miles away from home. Yeoman Farm Baby had just been born, and we’d been staying in an extended stay type of hotel in that city with him and all the kids. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer had continued homeschooling the older ones, which after so many days in small and unfamiliar surroundings was getting old fast. It was all we could do to get them out to run around at various parks and playgrounds every afternoon. We were eager and anxious to get home, but we were legally not allowed to leave the state with him before we got formal written permission from both YFB’s state of birth and our state of residence. Given the impending Thanksgiving holiday, lots of staff at the courts and other bureaus were out on vacation. Our legal process ground to a crawl, and we (only half jokingly) began to wonder if we’d make it home by Christmas.

And then came the invitation we’ll never forget. MYF had managed to meet several other Catholic homeschooling families in the area; she’s a natural extrovert, and seems capable of making friends no matter where she goes or how long she’s staying in a place. Once everyone realized we were going to be stuck so far from home thru at least the first of December, we got not one but two different invitations for Thanksgiving dinners. One was very far away, but the other was just a few miles from our hotel. We accepted the more local invitation, and had an absolutely wonderful afternoon and evening together with that family — and their extended family.

Particularly moving was the effort our hostess made to accommodate the YFCs’ food allergies. She basically ended up cooking two Thanksgiving dinners: one that our kids could eat, and the other for everyone else to eat. We did contribute one of our turkeys, and tried to help with food preparation and cleanup as much as we could, but having a newborn made that complicated. Their generosity was incredibly moving; they’d only known us for a short while, but went to unbelievable lengths to welcome us into their home and family while we were so far from our own.

We’ve stayed in touch with our host family, and even some members of their extended family, in the year since. I want them, and all of you, to know how grateful we remain for the time when we were strangers and were welcomed. We have lots of other things that we’re grateful for this Thanksgiving, of course, and I’ll try to mention some of them in upcoming posts. But that particular incident from last year has been on my mind, and I wanted to make sure I shared it first.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Pumpkins Galore!

We thought we were doing well collecting five free pumpkins recently from a local farmer after Halloween.

Today, we hit the absolute pumpkin trove: a much larger farm stand, about seven miles up the road. They do an enormous volume of business each year, on a family owned parcel of land, but we don’t drive that direction very often. This morning, I noticed a sign in front of their stand: “Pumpkins. $10 per pickup load.” I took a closer look, and realized they had more than two full hay wagons loaded with pumpkins that never found a home before Halloween.

On my way home that afternoon with the kids, we stopped and chatted with the lady. I explained that our pickup truck died a few years back, but that I’d like to take the equivalent number of pumpkins home in our minivan. I gave her ten bucks, and packed as many pumpkins as I could around the kids and my groceries. She said that wasn’t even half a pickup truckload, and that I should feel free to come back later to get as many more as I could carry.

We got home, unloaded the first load, and tossed a great many to the sheep and chickens. They were quickly all over their new treats.

I went back out, van empty of kids and groceries, determined to maximize my next load. Here’s what I got in the back:

And here’s what I got in the passenger compartment:

I could’ve loaded more, but didn’t want to over-do it.

She told me they nearly always have way too many pumpkins, and mark them down like this the day after Halloween every year. You can guess who will be first in line next year, with his minivan emptied of all interior seats.

Our animals are going to be feasting for a long time.

Turkeys Were Here

No, it’s not graffiti. But the turkeys left their mark on the hay field as clearly as if they’d used spray paint. Green spray paint:

This year, we kept the turkeys in three portable pasture pens that we moved in a staggered formation along the edge of the hay field. Each pen is four feet wide and eight feet long. In their staggered formation, the three pens therefore took up the first twelve feet of the hay field. Because that portion of the field is bordered by fence, mowing and raking it into hay is a tricky proposition anyway. It seemed like a good place to let the turkeys clean up some overgrown grass. And since we have plenty of hay stored up in the barn, we didn’t mind seeing the harvest reduced by a few bales.

We moved the three pens each day, allowing the birds to feast on fresh alfalfa and grass (in addition to their 21% protein grain ration). As the pens were dragged forward, the turkeys would also scramble to snap up all the crickets and other bugs being disturbed by the moving grass, further supplementing the protein in their diet. Moving the pens got the turkeys off their droppings, and ensured their fertilizer would be spread fairly evenly.

The photo above is from a spot where the turkeys were over the summer. Each day, they consumed a huge amount of the grass that their pen had been covering. Judging by how well the “replacement” grass has been coming up, and how green it is, the turkeys left behind some serious fertilizer and is doing some serious work. It’ll be interesting to see how well that portion of the hay field yields next year. Maybe we won’t lose any bales after all.

Where are the turkeys now? Here, where the final two are meeting their end this afternoon (note the rooster cleaning up spilled grain from the previous day):

I’ve been butchering like crazy over the last few weeks; note the large pile of feathers on the right. That’s the fence post where every turkey hung upside down from twine tied to its feet, to bleed out, before getting dry-plucked. That took about 75% of the feathers off. I then took each bird into the barn, dunked it in scalding water to loosen the remaining feathers, and hung the bird from a nail in the rafters so I could finish plucking. I found that if I did no more than two or three in a day, it wasn’t too burdensome. Hefting around big turkeys can become a real pain in the back if you save all the butchering for a single day.

We had so many poults survive the brooder, and the freezer is getting so full, we’ve decided to overwinter two toms and several hens. Those birds are now in the barn at night, hanging out with the chickens and ducks and geese. They can go out and range in the pasture during the day if they like, but they’ve preferred to lie low for now. Given how well some of our Buff Orpingtons managed to hatch out and brood their own chicks this past year, I think we’ll try collecting turkey eggs and giving them to the chicken hens to manage (assuming the turkey hens don’t do the job themselves — it’s just that we’ve never had any luck in this department in the past). But if the Buffs succeed, we’ll be able to save at least seven bucks for every poult we don’t have to purchase from a hatchery next spring.

In the meantime, we’re going to enjoy roasting up the turkeys in our freezer. A heritage breed hen makes a nice Sunday dinner for our family, with enough left over for a second meal and some soup. The toms are a good size to break out when entertaining guests.

And, needless to say, we’re very much looking forward to our Thanksgiving feast later this month.

Pepper Makes It Better

After Scooter’s tragic demise a couple of months ago, we’ve been left without a traditional herding-breed of dog. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve wished I had him around to help, and not just with the sheep. Scooter had an uncanny ability to know exactly where I wanted animals of all kinds (including chickens and ducks and geese) to be, and how to position himself to optimize the chances they’d either get there or stay there. Remarkable that a dog who could be so dumb in so many other ways (including trying to cross an unlighted road in the dead of night with a car coming) had such sharp instincts with the livestock.

Wilbur the puppy has continued to settle in, and he’s growing like a weed. We like him, boundless energy and chewing tendencies and all, but I doubt he’ll ever be more than a guardian and companion.

We’d been waiting for my professional work to slow down, so we could renew our search for a dog with herding genetics. One litter of shepherd puppies came into the local animal shelter, but were snapped up before we could take one. Then, last Friday, the intrepid Mrs. Yeoman Farmer spotted a new listing on the shelter’s website: a beautiful-looking, four year old Australian Shepherd mix female. She’d been a stray, but was totally housebroken and even leash trained. and despite being labeled a “mix,” she looked almost purebred.

MYF drove to the shelter during Yeoman Farm Baby’s next nap, and liked the dog so much she put down a deposit to hold her. The Yeoman Farm Children and I went in on Saturday, and instantly knew this dog was a keeper. She has a wonderful, calm disposition. She was really good with the kids. And she even got along with Wilbur (we took him with us to the shelter, to test their interaction).

We took her home that day, and she’s working out extremely well. She really is housebroken. After a couple of days of stand-offish adjustment, she and Wilbur have even begun playing and rough-housing together in my office.

The only problem was a name. The shelter had named her “Carly,” but that just wasn’t going to work for us. Every time I called her, or even referred to her, I knew I’d think of Carly Simon screaming “You’re so vain!” And MYF had similar associations with the name. After considerable deliberation and negotiation, the whole family managed to settle on “Pepper” as an alternative.

We take her on the leash with us all over the farm, particularly when doing things with livestock. But especially since she was a stray in the past, we don’t want to let her walk freely until we’ve had a solid adjustment period and she’s positive that this is where she belongs. Back in Illinois, we had one shelter stray wander off and disappear because we let her free too early.

It’s unclear so far whether and how well Pepper’s herding instincts will eventually kick in; she’s mostly intimidated by the livestock, and will not enter the barn unless she’s carried through the door. We’re hopeful that this will be temporary. But even if she never matches Scooter’s abilities, we’re none the worse for the deal: she’s an absolutely wonderful companion with me in my office. I’ll take that.

The only other odd thing about her: she doesn’t like cameras. At all. The shelter had the hardest time getting a good picture of her for the website. I tried snapping a few pictures, but she turned and ducked her head every time she saw the camera.

Finally, I had Homeschooled Farm Girl hug Pepper tight and make her face the camera. So…this may be the best photo you get of her for awhile.

No Showcase

We bought our farm here in Michigan three years ago this month. No one is quite sure how old the house is, as it was built before the county kept reliable records. The best guess is it dates from the 1880s, but it’s had considerable work (and additions) done over the years. The cornerstone in the big red barn reads 1913, so we’re pretty sure that’s when that building was erected.

The previous owners had it for about ten years, and were selling so they could retire and move closer to family in Arkansas. We met them a couple of times, and thought they were very nice people, but didn’t really know that much about them. The husband had some kind of a job in town, and the wife was a professional artist. The detached 25′ x 30′ building that is now my office had been her studio. Neither she nor her husband did any kind of farming here. Apart from five house cats, they had no animals. Apart from lots of flowers in the front yard, they didn’t cultivate a garden. Their kids were grown. The upstairs of the big red barn was little more than a basketball court, and the downstairs was little more than storage. The only fence was a white rail composite thing that gives visual separation from the lawn to the pasture — but is far too porous to serve as a barrier to any kind of animal.

When the wife wasn’t working in her studio, she seemed to have spent her time painting everything in the house that didn’t move. Exhibit A: the basement has a poured concrete floor, but she painted it to look like it was made of flagstones. Exhibit B: she painted quotations from her favorite author all over the trim at the top of walls in various rooms. Exhibit C: she painted the fuel oil barrel in the basement to look like a wine cask.

I could go on, but you get the point. She did all kinds of things to the house that were kind of cool, very artistic, but that few other people would ever consider spending time doing.

We’ve stayed in touch with the previous owners, chiefly through Christmas cards, and also with an occasional call to ask about the myriad quirks present in a house this old and the way it was built / added onto. But given that they now live several states away, we haven’t actually seen them since buying the house.

That almost changed this summer. Almost. I was working in my office, and Mrs. Yeoman Farmer was inside tending children, when we saw a car pull into the driveway and stop. It pulled a little closer. It backed up. Pulled closer again. Backed up. Stopped. Waited. Waited. Waited. But just as I was preparing to go out and ask if the driver was lost (it happens a lot around here), the car pulled out and drove away.

We wouldn’t have given the incident a second thought, until a letter arrived a few days later. MYF had already read it, and handed it to me with a bemused grin. “We got a letter from [Artistic Previous Owner Lady] today,” she explained. “Just read it.”

I did, but quickly grew so infuriated that I almost didn’t make it to the end. I won’t quote verbatim, but the take-away is this: she’d been in town visiting friends, and had tried to stop by to see us. But she’d taken one look at how terribly we’d neglected the property, and it’d pulled her up short. The longer she’d looked at what a horrific wasteland we’d turned the place into, the more she decided she just couldn’t bear staying. She’d driven off before getting out, because she wanted to remember the property the way it had been in all its glory. This property was such a special place, she said, and they and previous owners had done so much to make it special. She hoped that someday we could get it together and preserve this special place.

“How. Dare. She,” I seethed.

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer simply laughed and asked if I wanted to read the response she’d already written. Being the queen of graciousness and tact, MYF’s letter led off by telling the previous owner how beautiful we thought her flowers and manicured yard had been, how much we like the house, and how much we wish she would have stopped by and spoken to us. Because if she had done so, we would have explained why the property no longer looks the way it used to. Instead of spending our limited resources cultivating flowers and decorative shrubs, and putting up beautifully-painted bird feeders, we have:

  • Fenced the entire pasture, including subdividing it for sheep and goats (this project took basically an entire summer, and cost many hundreds of dollars in fencing material);
  • Built three livestock areas in the barn’s basement and subdivided outdoor paddocks;
  • Built pasture pens for poultry, and raised many dozens of chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys;
  • Harvested and stored well over a thousand bales of hay in the upstairs portion of the barn. (This was made possible in part by spending over $2,000 one year on fertilizer, which was necessary because no one had bothered fertilizing the hay field for the last ten years and the yields were dropping crazily low);
  • Grown our flock of sheep and herd of dairy goats significantly;
  • Replaced all the windows in the house with brand new, energy efficient ones;
  • Done the same with all the windows in the office building;
  • Dramatically increased the amount of insulation in the attic (to our shock, there was basically zero up there when we moved in);
  • Been saving money to replace the roof (which we ended up doing later this fall);
  • Planted and fenced an enormous garden, which we have admittedly have not had time to properly weed and cultivate this year, because we have also…
  • Adopted a baby, who is the light of our life, but who requires all the attention any baby requires. While homeschooling three other children, including a high school sophomore. Which is much more draining for a woman in 40s than for a woman in her 20s.

MYF’s letter concluded by encouraging Previous Owner to stop by the next time she was in town. And that if she could give us a few weeks’ notice, we’d make sure we spiffed up the front yard before her arrival.

I told MYF that her letter was perfect, and was again grateful to be married to the Queen of Graciousness and Tact. We puzzled over why Previous Owner would send such a nasty note, because she’d struck us as a very nice lady.

Whatever the reason, the incident reminded us of something we’d read someplace. There are two basic types of rural properties with acreage: (1) The Working Farm and (2) The Country Showcase. The previous owner had gussied our property up into a Country Showcase worthy of a glossy magazine, and in her head it still was. But many years ago, it’d been one of the biggest working farms in this township — and we could still see and appreciate its possibilities to become one again. With a lot of sweat and time, we’d invested our resources into making it the Working Farm that our family needed.

Working farms aren’t always pretty, but they’re productive. And in our minds, that gives them a beauty all their own. I’d a thousand times rather gaze out on two dozen Icelandic sheep grazing behind a utilitarian metal fence than look at an empty field bordered by a pretty white porous rail fence.

We know of a few Country Showcases in the area which are also working farms, but they tend to be special cases. One of them is the family with the produce stand I discussed in the most recent post; their place is beautiful to look at, and also extremely productive. But that’s possible for them because the wife works full time at a professional job, while the husband tends the garden full time (he’s the world’s greatest green thumb). They have no children to tend to, so the farm can get all of their attention. The other “working country showcase” properties tend to belong to breeders of expensive purebred horses (or people who stable such horses on behalf of city people), where image is an important component of their business. They tend to look something like this (note the McMansion, pretty white fence, immaculate horse barn, and perfectly trimmed pastures):

Which is not what our yard looks like. But we really couldn’t care less. It works for us, and that’s what matters.

UPDATE: Mrs. Yeoman Farmer pointed out that the FRONT view of this particular house is even more of a beautiful showcase. I managed to get a picture of it this morning.

The house across the street from it is also pretty amazing:

By way of a postscript, a few weeks after sending the letter to Previous Owner, we got an extremely contrite note back from her. She apologized for jumping to conclusions about us, said she was very sorry she didn’t stop and visit, and assured us she would do so the next time she was in town. And then she said something revealing: her friends in the area had been telling her we’d been “letting the property go,” so when she’d stopped by to look at it her first glance only reinforced that preexisting supposition. She apologized for not getting the whole story directly from us.

We appreciated that explanation, but then couldn’t help wondering: What have the neighbors been saying about us? Not like we care, but still…it’d be nice if the locals would get to know us rather than talking about us behind our backs.

No matter. Gossip is a part of life everywhere, maybe especially so in small towns. We’ll just keep on loving our Working Farm as much as ever.

Post Halloween Pumpkins

Until I had a farm and livestock, I never really thought about the degree to which pumpkins go under-utilized in this country. Pumpkins are ubiquitous in October, but chiefly as decorations. Not just the ones that are carved into Jack-O-Lanterns, but the ones that are put out intact on porches and storefronts to sit like giant orange balls. I used to think these kinds of displays were a nice artistic contribution to the fall/harvest mood. Now I see them and think, “Look at all those great pumpkins, going to waste.”

New York City never lets itself be outdone in anything. So I guess it didn’t surprise me when I was recently visiting there on a business trip and saw this:

over and over again, as I walked down 34th Street. Dozens of pumpkins and other fall squashes, filling every one of the large rectangular planter beds that separate the sidewalk from the roadway. There I was, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, dressed in a jacket and tie, unable to think of anything but how many weeks my sheep and goats and poultry would be able to feast on all of these “decorations.”

Will these things be left out until they rot? Will the sanitation department eventually throw them into a trash truck with the rest of the city’s garbage? Or will an enterprising farmer be allowed to take them home to feed to his animals? He’d need a dump truck to carry all of them; there were many many more planters filled with pumpkins all along 34th Street. I wish I knew who in NYC government to contact with these questions, because I’m genuinely curious as to the fate of all this good livestock fodder.

Back here in rural Michigan, the answers are much easier to find. A mile or two from us, there’s a farmer who grows an enormous garden and sells produce from a roadside stand. The Yeoman Farm Children and I stop by there nearly every day in the summer, riding our tandem bicycle, and chat with them as we load up our rack pack with summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, and everything else our own garden may be lagging in production of. They do not have any livestock on their farm, but they know we do. Not wanting anything to go to waste, they came out and told us we should take all of their unsold pumpkins remaining after Halloween. For free. Ditto — during the summer — any tomatoes or other produce that are too blemished to sell. We should come on over with buckets and help ourselves.

We were naturally very grateful for this offer, and this morning I was finally able to swing by their place. They had several enormous pumpkins left, and I loaded all of them into the back of our minivan. They’re wonderful pumpkins, totally intact, but admittedly not very attractively shaped for carving or display.

But who cares? Certainly not our sheep. Dot (our leader ewe) saw me unloading these treasures from the van, and was the first of the flock to make a beeline for the gate. Note the geese, preparing to swoop in and poach some of the treat.
Within minutes, the whole flock had followed Dot’s lead. I think the first pumpkin vanished in under five minutes.
I’ve packed the rest of them into the barn, and will smash one per day until they’re all gone. Too bad there were only five.
Next time I go to NYC in the fall, maybe I’ll take a dump truck instead of an airplane.