Chapter 37 – Hot Highlands

Earlier that spring when we had set up our first gardens, we had rented a tiller for a weekend. Coming to gardening as a deep-mulching, raised beds kind of gal, the tiller’s ability to fluff and primp soil was otherworldly to me. We wanted a tiller of our own, but new one was not affordable and a used one could be a mechanical nightmare. My friend and mentor Angelica heard about our plight and offered us her old Husqvarna tiller, which she had used extensively in the early days of her farming career. As her vegetable production scaled up, the cranky old tiller was parked and she upgraded to an actual tractor with a fancy Rotavator (this tilled up 4 foot wide beds in one pass) attachment.  Angelica said we could try out the tiller risk free, Andrew would spend some time revamping it and if worked, we’d trade the value of the tiller for goat cheese and other products from our farm. If the parts didn’t end up costing too much, this would be an ideal situation to get our hands on our very own tiller.

Summer had arrived and the weather was becoming super sultry; blasts of hot, moist air greeted us even in the early morning when we opened the front door. We had waited all winter for this heat, and now we were sweating from places we never dreamed of! When I watered the garden, I loved running the freezing cold water from the hose over my arms and legs. The gardens were exploding; carrots germinated in days instead of weeks, the green bean sprouts arched out of the soil, jalapeno pepper plants were loaded with flowers, the spicy smelling tomatoes vines seemed to grow a foot every day. Our ducks splashed in the water tubs loudly during their all-day pool parties. The Thanksgiving turkey babies had just arrived and were brooding in the house, but didn’t even need the heat lamp turned on.  The broiler chickens were growing like gangbusters, but the heat was very hard on them- we made sure the shade & air flow in the chicken tractor enclosure gave them some relief. In the hot evenings, I wiped sweat off my upper lip and forehead as I milked the goats, who were visibly relieved to be rid of the hot milk in their udders.

 

The morning we’d arranged to go down to Angelica’s farm to pick up the tiller, she called excitedly to report that one of her 2 cows had just given birth. She’d had her 3 Highland cattle for 2 whole years, and one of them was a bull, but she’d never seen him doing his job. Since no “action” was ever witnessed, she assumed her bull might not have had what it took. And then, on one of the hottest mornings of the year, out comes a calf. We were so excited to see the baby, not even we were immune to the lure of baby animal cuteness. I put on a sundress and flip flops, we rolled down the windows in the little red truck and sped down to Angelica’s. The hot air blowing around in the cab felt oddly tropical.

When we arrived, Angelica explained that she was bit nervous because she couldn’t see where the calf had gone. She didn’t want to enter the pasture on foot with the new mother, as Highlands are known for being sometimes very aggressively protective and they are outfitted with huge long horns which could impale a person in the blink of an eye. The three of us walked the outside perimeter of the pasture, looking through the fence to see if we could spot the calf. The 3 adult cattle were at the top of the hill in the shade of the pine forest, but the baby was not there with them. As we went along the south side of the fence, back into the blazing sun, we spotted the calf hidden out in a remote part of the pasture, far from her mother. She was hiding curled in the tall grass like a fawn, adorably plush with a rusty tangerine color to her fur. Compared to a baby goat, the calf was enormous in my eyes. Being a Highland, the calf was covered in a very thick coat of hair, fuzzy as a teddy bear. Would she be at risk of getting sun stroke out there?

It was decided that we had to go in there and get that calf out of the sun, but we had to be careful. Angelica had a brilliant idea of using her farm skidsteer as a type of protective safari vehicle. I volunteered to go in with her, while Andrew could watch the whole scene and alert us if the cows started charging, as well as get ready to call 911. Andrew opened and shut the gate, while we went into the pasture and headed towards the little calf. I walked ahead and Angelica followed me in the skidsteer. The plan was I would leap to the “Skiddie,” as she called it, if the cows came to kill us. We roused the little one, who confusedly ran the wrong way, farther away from the shade and her mother. She was a wild thing, this newborn calf. She was tired, confused and could easily overheat, so we tried to not alarm her too much. Luckily the adult cattle stayed up in the pine forest and didn’t show any sings of leaving the shade, but the longer we were in the pasture messing with the calf, the more at risk of being impaled we were. Angelica finally got the baby routed in the right direction and she was reunited with her mom. We exited the pasture and high fives were had all around.

Soaked with sweat from the heat and the adrenaline, we sat down for a few minutes inside the house, chugging down glasses of icy cold well water. We talked about the tiller, the possible repairs it might need, and the value of the trade. I appreciated Angelica’s trust in us, and her willingness to pass on a tool that could assist us so much in our CSA gardening. We also brainstormed on how to get the tiller, which weighed a couple hundred pounds, up into the bed of our truck. “Skiddie” to the rescue, again! The tiller was walked onto a pallet and ratchet strapped down, and then the skidsteer was used to lift the pallet and the tiller into the truck bed. Genius.

When we got home, our neighbor called to tell us he was going to be cutting the hayfield. The weather over the next few days looked good for hay drying and he had a window open to start the first part of the hay making process. The plan was the following afternoon he’d come back to rake the drying grass into windrows, and then that evening he could begin baling, if the grass had dried sufficiently. Like gawkers, we watched as he traversed the hay field astride his bright green tractor, pulling the mower around and then back and forth across the hay field. There was definitely an art and a science to how he laid out the mowing pattern. It was so exhilarating to watch all that grass starting to be transformed into animal fodder, right there on our own land. We felt so fortunate that our neighbor had the skills and all the equipment to make hay, and that he was willing to barter his time making this hay for half the crop.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Chapter 37 – Hot Highlands

  1. Tiller for cheese and dairy products – nice trade. I pay for my fruit tree pruning with broiler chicken. Same kind of sweet deal. Haven’t seen any Highland cattle in these parts for a couple of years, but there used to be a half dozen in a huge field near here, I’m sure they were completely wild, since they must have had about 70 acres of hillside, rock and woods to themselves.

    All day pool parties. I can just picture it.

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