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All Points Bulletin: Heifers at large September 5, 2007

Posted by Joe in Farm.

When we moved to our little slice of creation that we call Blessed Acres Farm, about 50% of the 24 acres were enclosed with 3 strands of barbed wire. It was enough to keep a content horse inside, but little else. So over the past year or so, we’ve been slowly upgrading our fences.

Where the fence line separates our pasture from some non-pasture land that we own (along the driveway for example) we’re supplementing the existing 3 strands of barbed wire with 3 strands of electric fencing. The electric fence serves as a great deterant to keep the animals from testing the fence line. Once they’ve touched the electric fence a time or two, they learn to stay clear of it. I know this from personal experience, too. 🙂 Occasionally a chicken will stray into the electric fence and run 200 or more feet away, squawking up a storm. Our dogs keep a healthy distance from the fences, too.

Along the property line, we’re adding field fence. The field fence, a grid of vertical and horizontal wires woven together about 6 to 8 inches apart, can keep all but the smallest creatures inside or outside of a pasture. We opted for this solution because the boundary line fence lines are nearly completely covered with blackberry brambles, honeysuckle vines, and other varieties of low-growing vegetation. It would be very difficult (even if we wanted to) to keep it clear for an electric fence. If limbs or vines touch the electric fence, it significantly decreases its potency resulting in a little if any jolt when touched. This is referred to as a short or ground-out.

This has been a long process; we’re only partially done. We’ve only gotten 4 paddocks completed so far. To put up the field fence we must first clear the fence of the aforementioned brambles. Sometimes that means removing brambles and vines that are several feet thick before we can even see the existing three strands of barbed wire. It’s also slow going due to the expense of the woven wire. It’s not cheap.

We’re also planning to use rotational grazing methods which
requires that we regularly move animals from one paddock to another
every week or so. We’re using 3 strands of electric fence for the cross
fences of the paddocks.

Until the field fence is completed along the property line, we’re restricting the animals to only the 4 paddocks where we have woven wire.

That’s been working well. However the only real potential issue is that currently one of the cross fences (three strands of electric fence) separates the animals from other areas of the pasture with rather porous perimeter fencing.

Can you see where this is going?

Earlier I had mentioned one of the potentials drawbacks of electric fencing – it can ground out. If a limb falls on the fence and completes the circuit, the fence is left with little charge to discourage potential interlopers.

Although our new heifers come from a very well treated and calm herd, they have been going through the normal separation and new environment anxiety. They don’t come when I call to feed them sweetfeed, in fact they run the other way. It usually takes an animal 2 to 6 weeks to gradually overcome their initial fears and begin accepting their new home.

Unfortunately for us, a limb fell across the electric fence that currently serves as a boundary between a paddock and a soon-to-be paddock that still only has the three strands of barbed wire. Our two new beautiful heifer discovered that lapse in robustness due to the ground-out and went through the electric fence to the uncompleted paddock.

I noticed they were missing from their normal pasture and went looking for them in the adjacent paddocks. When they saw me they pushed their way through the three strands of barbed wire and into the tobacco field next door.

Trailing them, calling them, attempting to lure them with sweetfeed, only seemed to fuel their anxiety. Our friend Jason, from whom we bought the heifers, came to help, but they ran from him too.

The last time we saw them, they were heading through a neighbor’s woods. That was Monday afternoon at 3:00. There is a pasture with other cows in it on the other side of the tobacco field. We’re hoping that our heifers find that herd and join them so we can retrieve them more easily. We’ve asked our neighbors to keep an eye out for us.

I cannot believe that the heifers we bought got out so quickly.

Here are some lessons learned along the way:

  1. If you use electric fences, check them regularly.
  2. Make sure your perimeter fences are sound.
  3. There is a marked difference in animals you own and new animals that you are acquiring. New animals will try your fences much more rigorously than your existing animals.
  4. Befriend your neighbors. Not only is it the right and Christian thing to do, but you don’t want your first call to them to be “Have you seen my cows?
  5. Listen in church. The message in our Sunday School class on Sunday morning was about trials and adversity. I’m glad I paid attention.

Although I am really disappointed that the heifers have escaped (not to mention really embarrassed, too), I’m hopeful that we’ll find them. I do like having cows on the land.

But, I’m keeping it in perspective. It could be a lot worse. In the long run this will not make or break us; it’s a temporary set back.

If we get them back, we’ll praise God.

And if we don’t, we’ll praise Him.


Mooooo-ving on up September 3, 2007

Posted by Joe in Farm.

Rachel and some friends rest on the cattle trailer.

As part of our homesteading adventure, we’ve added chickens, goats, and donkeys to our collection of animals. Each fulfills its own purpose as we take steps towards self-sufficiency. The chickens, of course, provide a source of eggs for our family; they also contribute in more direct ways to our family’s nutritional needs. The goats help to keep the pastures weed-free as they live up to their billing – willing to eat just about anything. And the donkeys provide protection from predators for the other animals.

At one point we had turkeys, but they’ve since disappeared. We’ll add them again at some point. And of, course, there is Guido the guinea, who just showed up one day and has decided to make the animals of Blessed Acres Farm his new flock.

This past weekend, we added another animal to the mix, a couple of heifers. For those unfamiliar with the bovine terminology, a heifer is a young female cow that has never had a calf. Once she produces her first offspring, she is referred to as a cow.

These new heifers were purchased from a friend of ours so we know they’ve been treated well, are disease free, and come from a great lineage. Their father is a beautiful, pure-bred, and registered Black Angus bull. Their mothers are both 1/2 Black Angus.

Vaccinating the new heifers. This is best done using a “head catcher” in a loading shoot to help keep them still. 

The heifers were born in April of this year, so they are almost 5 months old now. Each weighs approximately 470 pounds. That’s a very good rate of gain, especially considering poor grass quality around here due to the drought we’ve experienced this year.

The heifers explore their new home.

We’d like to grow our little herd of two over the next few years and these two will make for a great maternal foundation for it.

Why We Homeschool, part 4 September 2, 2007

Posted by Laura in Faith, Family, Homeschooling.
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Deciding to homeschool did not come as easily as you may think. We are, first and foremost, Christians. We believe that Christ commanded us to be “salt” (Mark 9:50) and “light” (Matthew 5:16) in this fallen world. Though it is quite tempting at times to throw up a wall at the end of the driveway and keep to ourselves, we are to try to live in such a way as to draw others to Him. That requires us to be among the lost. Removing more of the already decreasing amount of “salt” and “light” from the public schools was difficult for us. I knew that I had the ability to influence those children when I volunteered. In the end, we felt God wanted us to remember that our first priority was still to the children He had entrusted us to raise. Though my presence in the school may positively affect a student there, it could not be at the detriment of our own child.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was also pretty personally invested in the idea that public schools could and should provide a good education for children. Taking our child out of the school felt like an indictment against my chosen profession. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that I shouldn’t be looking at it that way. The teachers were doing a great job. I approved of how I saw the principal handle things, also. So, what did that leave? The governmental priorities/organization/funding and the students (who are ultimately a reflection and the responsibility of their parents). Hmmm…

Both schools Benjamin had attended seemed well supplied. There were almost always enough parents who were willing to purchase things from the teachers’ wish lists to keep the teachers from having to buy too much out of their own pockets. I knew that was not the case in many (maybe most) schools. (When I taught science in public school, I didn’t even have magnifying glasses, much less microscopes. Almost everything I felt I needed to really teach science- instead of just read about it- came out of my own wallet. I remember asking my mom to save flat-sided tamale jars so I could mark measurements on them and make my own beakers!).

We think that removing prayer, the Ten Commandments, and discussion of God from our classrooms has changed the environment for the worse. In this country, we’ve also mostly removed discipline, but I think that is a reaction to another factor I’ll get to later. If there is no standard to which we can refer for what is right and what is wrong, it’s mighty hard to convince a child that some behavior cannot be allowed and will not be tolerated.

There are some government-mandated things that play a part in why we continue to homeschool, but they weren’t really an issue in our original decision. I will probably share them at a later time.


Objections to Homeschooling September 1, 2007

Posted by Laura in Faith, Family, Homeschooling.

Your children are being too sheltered from the world.

A reader of the blog had this comment to the last posting about why we homeschool.

“I really don’t think that sheltering a child from quite normal (though inappropriate) exposure is a legit reason to homeschool. I understand your concern and desire to protect Benjamin, but the child will learn it one way or another (in my opinion if properly socialized).”

I began to reply in the comment section but thought this may be better addressed in a posting of its own. I have the next part of the homeschooling series ready and will probably get that posted soon.

Though I don’t deny that protecting our children from influences that are unGodly plays a significant role in our decision to homeschool, there is more to it than only that. There was a time when I would probably have held your same opinion (and I was resistant to homeschooling for a variety of reasons), but maturity and becoming a parent has shaped my thinking. How you feel about a “social issue” in the abstract is a whole different thing than how you feel when it influences the ones you love.

As for unGodly behavior being “quite normal,” I think that in itself is a problem. “Normal” implies acceptable and inevitable, “the usual.” As Christians, the role model we should be emulating is Christ. His treatment of other people is the norm I’d like my children to use when deciding how to behave.

Most people have heard of language acquisition by immersion. The theory is that one should be immersed in learning opportunities- culture and language spoken by natives- by living in a place where the new language is all that is spoken. One will naturally absorb the language. Pronunciation and vocabulary will grow far faster than if exposure is just in a classroom setting.

The same is true of anything in which you immerse yourself. Our English grammar books tell us never to “dangle prepositions,” yet in the course of daily speech, we certainly do that and even pick up slang terms not find in the dictionary. That is an innocuous example, but we can expect our children to absorb and use as a reference point anything to which they get steady exposure.

There have long been studies of the behavior of children who watch violent television and play violent video games. Children who grow up in abusive homes tend to repeat the cycle because it is familiar to them. As parents, we must be very careful what we allow our children to find “normal.”

Does that mean we never go in public or associate with non-Christians? No. Does that mean that we’re in denial that they will still have some exposure to unGodly (and maybe even outright evil) people? No. Even Christians (in fact ALL of us) fall short of Christ’s example, so there will always be opportunity to learn to deal with the imperfect aspects of life.

Yes, we carefully (try to) shield our children from a constant bombardment of negative influences, but we WANT them to have small amounts of experience at a time with them. With our guidance, they can learn how to identify right from wrong, compare the standards of “the world” with those God provided, and respond in a healthy way. That is not the mission of public schools, as evident from the removal of all mention of God.

The object isn’t to put them in a bubble; it’s to allow them to build character and be tested in ways they can handle at any given age. We felt that first grade was not the right developmental time to be confronted with crude sexual slang and gestures. We looked into other options first, but felt that God’s intention was for us to teach our children at home for a period of time. We’ll continue to seek His will on this from year to year. He may have other plans in mind for the future. We don’t anticipate homeschooling in high school and possibly not even middle school, but we will listen for His guidance.

As for the issue of “socialization” you mention, I will try to address that soon.