Timber

Fall has officially arrived, but you’d never know it from the temperatures. After a cold snap earlier this month (we actually ran the furnace a couple of times), we’ve been in the upper 80s / low 90s for several days now. The local high school cross country team even moved their practice to 6am yesterday, so the kids wouldn’t have to run in the afternoon heat.

We’ve been taking advantage of the nice weather to chip away at all the little projects that need to get done before things turn nasty. For example, a week ago, we butchered a young goat. And that reminds me: I need to start butchering the old, burned-out laying hens, so we can have soup all winter.

The biggest project, however, involves taking down dead limbs and trees. About a month ago, I finally invested in a really good chainsaw: a Stihl Farm Boss, with a 20″ bar. The price was about double what we’d spent in the past, for cheap chainsaws at Walmart. Those saws never seemed to last for long, however. And we now have an enormous amount of firewood to cut: in addition to dead trees on our property, we also have several other large trees to cut up — road crews took them down earlier this year, as part of a repaving project, and left them in the pasture for us.

I started with the trees that’d fallen along the pasture fences, and gradually got the chainsaw broken in. I’ve been extremely pleased with the Stihl so far; it’s very reliable, has lots of power, and runs forever on a tank of fuel.

I’ve since moved on to the dead trees that are still standing in the pasture; I wanted to get this done early, while of most of the foliage is still on the branches, so it’s easy to remember which trees are alive and which are dead. I’ve taken down several, and have just one or two remaining.

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Taking a break from the pasture, this weekend I turned my attention to something Mrs. Yeoman Farmer has wanted taken care of for a long time: a large branch on an enormous maple tree in the front yard. The branch was very much still alive, but in a precarious spot. It was growing straight back over our nice chain link fence, and then it took a sharp 90-degree turn straight upwards. We could see clear hollow spots near the base of the branch, which made us wonder just how secure that branch was. If an ice storm were to come roaring through, and take that branch down, it would crush the chain link fence.

Now, feeling empowered with an excellent chainsaw, I felt ready to take it on. I first got a ladder, and tied a rope as high as possible on the vertical portion of the branch. Then, with the oldest three Yeoman Farm Children pulling on the rope, I began cutting through the horizontal portion of the branch. I picked a spot safely on the other side of the chain link fence – so, even if the kids couldn’t pull the branch hard enough, it wouldn’t crush the fence. (How embarrassing would that have been? Talk about defeating the whole purpose of taking preemptive action…)

It’s sometimes hard to get kids to do chores on a farm. The exception, I’ve found, is anything related to bringing down trees. At least with our kids, few things get them as excited or ready to come outside and be part of what’s going on. The Yeoman Farm Children cheered enthusiastically as they pulled the cut branch, and it smashed into the front yard. (Yes, well clear of the fence.)

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Immediately, a fat, gray mouse scampered from the hollow section of the branch and staggered onto the lawn. He looked disoriented, and the kids offered to kill it. Without realizing this mouse may take up residence in our own house, I let mercy prevail and allowed the mouse to escape. (Only later did I realize we probably should’ve dispatched it while we had a chance. Oh, well.)

A quick inspection revealed the branch was even more hollowed-out than I’d initially thought. I was immediately glad we’d taken it down before it could cause trouble.

I set to work slicing the fallen branch into fireplace-length pieces, starting at the point farthest from the base. As I worked my way backwards, the pieces of course got increasingly thick. But then, as we got close to the base, we discovered something really interesting: an enormous infestation of wood-eating insects. I’d been cutting, and cutting, and then suddenly…when the saw went across the branch, a stream of bugs came pouring out. I cut again, and the volume of insects was even larger. And again. Larger.

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As these insects continued streaming all over the lawn, I regretted that we didn’t have any chickens handy. The flock could’ve feasted on all these things. We did run to the barn and try to grab a few, but most of the flock scattered. The handful of chickens we did manage to catch and release in the front yard were too flustered and disoriented to notice the bugs. They instead wandered off, and browsed the windfall pears under another tree. Note to self: next time, have a cage of chickens in the yard and ready to go before starting.

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Some animals did end up feasting on what came down from the tree: our goats. The Yeoman Farm Children dragged the most heavily leaf-laden branches off to the goat enclosure near the barn, where we’ve been isolating the males during the day. They ate their fill that afternoon.

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Then, when the rest of the herd returned that evening, every leaf disappeared within minutes. Next thing I knew, there were nothing but bare branches littering the goat area.

Much as I enjoyed watching the goats devour the leaves, I was especially glad we’d gotten that hollow branch down before Mother Nature took care of it herself.

Here’s hoping the weather stays nice enough, long enough, so I can get everything else checked off my list …

 

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