Dec 2012, our intro to the frac sand industry

snow pants

Our house has a hard time holding in warmth now that the temperature outside has dropped to the negative numbers, so I’ve resorted to wearing my snow pants indoors. But even then, I’m chilly and restless. Time to seek out something hard to do.

It’s sunny, still and a crispy 13 degrees today. Perfect winter weather for getting things done outdoors. I decide to unload a bunch of hay bales for the ducks’ needs over the next weeks. Most of it was put into a building-sized pile next to the rabbit barn. The ugly looking pile is barricaded with tarps and hogpanels, and kind of hard to extract bales from easily, so it’s better to do a bunch at once, and then close ‘er back up. The reason for the barricade is our dogs, and the weather. Our dogs absolutely love to destroy piles of neatly stacked bales by digging out nest caves in the bottom bales, which wastes alot of hay. Each and every bale of hay is precious, and when they waste good edible hay by getting their doggy stank on it and/or make the whole tarp covered stack come tumbling down, well, that is not a good time to hear angelic words leaving my lips.

Last winter, after witnessing this activity over and over, and going hoarse yelling at the dogs to quit it (which they didn’t) I came up with a scheme to prevent it this winter. I made a hog panel fortress around each hay pile. Now they cannot touch the stacks, no matter how badly they want to. I don’t think Andrew noticed or understood the need for my clever trick, as he proceeded to put a bale of hay on the ground in the rabbit barn, on the ground. That very night the dogs went and ripped it all apart to make a giant cozy hay nest. Now, of course there is nothing wrong with the dogs wanting a cozy hay nest, but there is something wrong with them wanting to build a new one every day.

Since we get about 400 bales off our hay field each year, that means we have a bit more than 1 bale of hay per day to use between the ducks, the goats and the rabbits. Each wasted bale means we are more likely to need to buy hay elsewhere at some point. This year hay is EXPENSIVE, like $5 to $7 a bale! Winter is when we use most of the hay, for feed and for bedding, and in the spring, summer and fall, we use less- just for bedding the ducks’ barn and feeding the the rabbitry mommas who are not in the rabbit tractors. The goats of course are grazing the pasture in summer, not needing hay. But this past summer it was so dry that we had to start early to supplement their diet with our precious hay that had just been cut.

I open the hog panels around the hay pile and proceed to rip a hole in my snow pants as I climb through the tight opening. The bottoms of the panels are embedded in the snow-ice on the ground, so they won’t budge much. My snowpants are kind of 1990’s antiques, being hand me downs from one of my sisters, and the filling is like what you find in a teddy bear. I cuss at the white poly-fill popping through the rip. Oh well. Climb under the blue tarp and inhale the herbal scent of a summer hay field, all dried, compressed and preserved like jerky. On the underside of the tarp, the summer condensation has turned to ice frost, which sprinkles down on my face as I juggle bales loose from the pile. I cuss when I see a hole has been gnawed through the top of blue plastic tarp, and again when I see evidence of mice or rat burrows in the creases of the bales. Just annoying, but there is nothing you can do to prevent that from happening. I go to grab a bale and the twine comes loose in my hand. Urrgh. When a bale comes undone, it suddenly expands and is much harder to deal with volume wise. This is to be expected when the twined side of a bale is resting on the soil, but not higher up inside the layers of dry hay bales. Those rodents are to blame.

I pitch a bale towards the wheelbarrow, which proceeds to fall over. The tom turkey gobbles, as he is wont to do with any loud and sudden noise. It’s not easy to wheelbarrow a huge pile of bales to the duck barn, so I do just bales 2 at a time. Have to keep the wheelbarrow on the tightly packed snow path, if it veers into the unpacked sides of the path, the wheelbarrow just topples over in the soft snow. I lug the bales in for the ducks and they are excited. There is nothing they love more than hay bale time. As I take trip after trip, 2 bales at a time, I warm up and have to remove my big puffy winter coat. The bales are arranged in the duck barn for them to use as nesting areas. They also love to sit on top of the bales to keep their little tootsies warm.

The loosened bales are brought one armload at a time to sit atop the rabbits cages, and they all get excited about this.They can now pull their snacks through the top and have something to do all day. We only have one litter of little kits right now, Marshmellow’s nine beauties, and they all sniff at me expectantly, waiting for a nice chunk of hay delivered to their doorstep. Baby rabbits are extra cute and fluffy in the winter, and this momma has done such a good job over and over, raising calm, bountiful and healthy babies.

I also bring some armloads of hay to the goats. Since the departure of two of the herd, the 7 remaining are only going through a bale every other day. The hay saving plan I wrote about is working! May, the queen goat, always takes first dibs on hay, so I place some in the manger for her, and some outside so all the “underdogs” can eat their fill. The does are all looking a bit different, a bit plumper and maternal, all in good shape, so I am sure they have all been properly knocked up for kids arriving in April. I bring them a bucket of kelp, which of course May commandeers first. The deep sea minerals in kelp are very beneficial to goats, even though it doesn’t sound natural for them to be eating sea plants. Goats will devour the granulated kelp until they satisfy their need for those minerals. I try to offer it to them about once a week.

Andrew arrives back to the farm with a fresh load of the ducks’ feed which we unload into 55 gallon barrels in the duck barn. These barrels are a godsend to keep rodents from gnawing into the feed bags, wasting and contaminating feed. Our country neighbor has a home brew shop (www.windriverbrew.com) and he saves the giant malt extract barrels for us. Thanks Scott!!!

We decide on a walk around the farm land is in order, before the sun has set. We go through the pine forest, around the two huge oaks where we got married, through the low land grove, and up to the hayfield. Following the perimeter of this expansive field of dreams, we talk about and envision the ducks, turkeys, chickens, guineas and geese we’ll be pasturing up here in a few months. Spring is so far away, yet just around the corner. Life on the farm in the winter….never a dull day, but if you are restless, there are always things to seek out and do.

Our Toulouse geese totally match the gorgeous frosty color scheme today

Our Toulouse geese totally match the gorgeous frosty color scheme today

fracking & harvesting 12/31/12

What a scary whirlwind we’re in. How do you plan for a farming season coming up, when EVERYTHING might change?

The week before Christmas, something weird was going on next to our farm property line. What looked like drilling rigs were parked in the field, and some REALLY loud industrial noises echoed over to our farm. We walked over to take a peek, and noted the company name on the trucks parked there…. a Mineral Drilling Company. Barron County is apparently rich with the type of sand needed to do Hydro-Fracture mining, a destructive activity which seeks out natural gas deposits deep below the surface of the earth. Already, there has been some frac-sand mine activity beginning around here, but it never really affects you until it is staring you in the face. This is what is called the NIMBY effect- “not in my back yard.” It’s a shame we hadn’t been involved when this began in the areas around us, but we were incredibly preoccupied with our farm, and it wasn’t directly affecting us. How embarrassing, how selfish. But, here we go on our fight.

The neighbors down the road called us to let us know there was a community meeting in a couple days. These dear neighbors of ours live DIRECTLY across from where this whole exploratory drilling is happening. They could have a mine in front of their place, and they are PISSED. Not only because of the potential view and life changing situation, but because the man that owns this land is their friend. Or was. 8 years ago, when they were beginning to build their home and farm, this “friend” told them to never worry that anything would happen to destroy their view of the beautiful field across the street. What a greedy liar. The inter-personal dynamics extend to many people who know this man, were friends with them, helped him and his wife on their farm, and had many nights hanging in country kitchens over of dinner. And it gets even worse- he sits on our Town Board. Can you believe it? Talk about a conflict of interest. See, this township is un-zoned, which marks a nice big bullseye for the mining companies.

We went to the meeting on Saturday, and soaked up the wonderful community around us, all ready to fight this together. Many of the folks who live here chose this area because of the tranquility & the rolling hills, and plan to retire here. If we can get a moratorium put on any and all mining activity for a year, that will give the township residents time to come up with a plan that we all can decide on together. The ultimate goal will be to put zoning into place, but first we need to put the brakes on anything happening immediately. There is a monthly town board meeting next week, and we all agreed to come help get mailings together to send to all 300 residents of the township. We had to get this notice out ASAP for people to know how important this meeting is.

This morning all the letters were stuffed into envelopes and brought to the post office, so they can be sorted and delivered the day after New Years Day. People volunteered stamps, envelopes and printing. It’s sad that this is how we are getting to know our neighbors, but wonderful as well. We are all wanting the same thing- a rural, agricultural and peaceful place to live. If a mine goes in, we’re looking at 400 truckloads a day driving on our small country roads, silica dust drifting in the air, coating everything and having all kinds of negative effects on human, animal and plant life, as well as all kinds of unknown pollution to the water table, rivers and streams. Uggggggg.

If there is nothing profitable to mine (wrong kind of sand), this general vicinity will be safe from mining, but we have to establish standards for our township no matter what. From now on it won’t just be a NIMBY attitude. And if there is nothing for this jackass to make money on with his land-holdings, he is still screwed in this community. He lied to many, and threatened all of us with the loss of everything we hold dear. He won’t have friends around here anymore now that he has shown his true colors. This man put money over everything else. Disgusting.

We came home from the envelope stuffing with empowered and lightened hearts. We also had some major jobs to do- harvesting rabbits and the young male ducks. I got the scalder heating in the hoophouse, and Andrew got his gun for the rabbits. I’ve learned I can actually do the whole process with ducks by myself. It’s not as easy or as efficient, but I can do it. These boy ducks are the ones hatched in our living room, beautiful ducklings who came from our own heritage breeding genetics. Their sisters have already joined the lady layers in the duck barn, now it is time to harvest the boys, as they are full grown at 4 months old. I collect one duck at a time, holding him to my chest, stroking his neck and thanking him. His upper torso is laid on the chopping stump, with my left hand I hold his wings and feet. My right hand holds the cleaver. The duck calmly rests his head between the nails put in the stump. My right arm comes down with the cleaver, the neck is severed instantly and the duck is immediately dead. Andrew does the same, one rabbit at a time is collected in his arms and stroked and thanked. The only difference is he uses a tiny bullet to kill the rabbit, not a cleaver. Ducks have longer necks than rabbits. It’s weird to be doing this kind of activity, but I picture the alternative as I am going through my harvesting process. Ducks, moved from where and what they are comfortable with, crammed into poultry crates and shipped to a slaughterhouse maybe hours away. Terrified, unable to move and then killed by strangers who are “on the clock”, not emotionally invested at all. It’s different here. We saw these bunnies on the day they were born. We watched these ducklings hatch from their eggs. Their death is hard, but it part of the cycle of living, part of the cycle of eating, part of the cycle of a good farm.

image

I so hope we do not have to fight to keep our farm. I hope we do not have to move. I hope we can fight this fight, not worrying about the greed of corporations ruining places where lives and living take place.

Regardless, Happy New Year! Maybe you bloom where you are planted, fight for what you love and hold dear, and have many happy days in the coming year.

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