Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When the Spawn of Josie escape.....

Nico told me last night about a nice compliment he got.  A local lady had bought a bunch of steer calves for a 4H project from a neighbor who purchased one of our bulls.  She told Nico how nicely the calves were turning out.  My first question: Was the bull one of Josie's offspring or relatives?

Some background is needed.  Josie was an awesome cow who routinely lead the herd in volume of milk produced.  Her only "quirk" got her the name "la vaca que habla mucho" from the milkers and the nickname "Moanie-Groanie" from the family.  When Josie saw a human, she'd start grumbling.  She'd grumble....and grumble....and grumble.  If Josie liked you, she'd let you pet her and continue moaning.

Some of Josie's offspring - although not all by any means - had a different quirk.  They were a bit brighter than the average cow and used that intelligence to escape.  One of her daughters nearly got sold because whenever she was in heat, she'd take off - away from the bull.  Another grandson - or great grandson - got the name Houdini.  Houdini spent the better part of one summer running around the milking barn of the main farm.  He'd cuddle up against a pregnant cow in the birthing area for a nap, then head across the alley to snack on the fresh cow food.  On sunny days, he'd hang out in the shady free stalls by the parlor.

On a warm day last summer, one young bull at our farm learned how to lift a gate off its hinges with his head.  He let a bunch of young steers and bulls run free.  I saw them out and started rounding them up while more people came from the main farm.  Most of the steers were behaving like a herd except for one.   After two laps around the calf barn, I figured something out. That one - 406 - would look backwards at me, decide which way I was trying to steer him and bolt in the other direction.  If 406 was anticipating my moves, I could try and push him in the opposite direction.  I wanted him to go to the left.  Normally, I'd stand behind him on the right.  He'd look at me then bolt across my line of travel towards the right.  With nothing to lose, I shifted my position so I was standing on the left of him.  406 looked at me and bolted across my line of travel toward the left.

406 was so proud of himself. He was bouncing and prancing around the corner...until he saw the open gate to the catch pen.  I swear his mouth dropped open.  That was when I realized that cattle have relatively poor spatial relations.   From 406's point of view, we had started in one place.  He'd run forward with an occasional zig-zag but had never gone backwards so we kept moving away from the evil pen.  In reality, 406 had walked forward the whole time, but took 3 left turns around the calf barn leading him back to the starting point.   Knowing the game was up, 406 meekly wandered back into the pen.  

Catching our breath, Nico pulls up 406's information on his phone.  He looks at me and says, "Hey, 406 is out of one of Josie's daughters."  My reply "Of course he is...."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Why Chickens Hate Mother Nature

We've had a strong wind day.  By strong wind, I mean 30 mph average with 50 mph gusts.  At some point in the last 20 hours, my improvised coverings over the western windows in the chicken coop came loose.  The wide open windows have let snow blow into the majority of the chicken enclosure.  I got out of the car and heard loud quacks from two irritated ducks.  It took me about 20 minutes to refasten the shower curtain/feedbag covers.  Climbing over the large snow piles from the driveway always makes me feel like a mountain goat.

By the end of the external repairs, the poultry had quieted down.  I went back inside and started fluffing the straw like I do most days.   I use a deep litter method during the winter months.  At the beginning of winter, I put about 4 inches of straw down on the floor of the coop.  A couple times a week, I use a manure fork to lift, flip and separate the straw to keep it from getting too compacted.  I find that keeping the straw aerated lets composting happen in the lower layers without getting some of the noxious smells associated with anaerobic decay.  Because this winter has been so cold, I've added more and more straw to the coop so that most areas have between 5-8 inches of straw.  The chickens get especially excited when I start moving the straw around because they can start scratching around to find more loose grains of millet.  I usually throw a few handfuls of mixed wild bird seed into the coop after loosening the straw.  The chickens seem to love millet.  The ducks tend to go for the sunflower seeds and cracked corn.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Teaching Quirks: "I'll take it"

My Chemistry class was approaching the time of year I hate: quantum number time.  It's not the actual process doing quantum numbers that's the problem.  The problem occurs when I have to explain the differences between the Bohr model and the electron cloud model. The differences are important, but so abstract. I don't have a great pitch for this one.  I've tried lectures, drawings, readings to no avail.  This year, I drew up a Bohr model atom on the board and an electron cloud model and waded into the bog.  The students this year were clearly trying to understand, but nothing was clicking.  In a last ditch effort, I flailed into Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle when the following conversation took place:

Student A: Oh.  Is that where Heisenburg comes from?
Me: Yeah.  It's named after the scientist who figured the theory out.  Dunno what his first name is, though...
Student A: That's AWESOME
Me: *really confused* Yeah, if you figure things out,  they can name stuff after you!
Student A: *looks at me confusedly* No, I mean, don't you watch "Breaking Bad"?
Me: *lies through teeth*  Every now and again.  OH!  Yeah, I'd forgotten about that.  *laughs*  It is pretty awesome.
(Side note: The main character on Breaking Bad is a former HS teacher turned meth maker.  Too much graphic violence for my taste, but I've got the overall plot arc.  He uses the psuedonym "Heisenburg"
Student A: It's perfect because the cops know he's there somewhere but can't tell where exactly or where he's going next.
Student B: OH!  That is funny!
Student A: (To Student B) You get it now?  Like with the atoms?
Student B: No....
Student A:  The electrons are like Heisenburg!  You know they're there, but you can't say exactly where or where they're moving.
Student B: *Eyes light up* Yeah!  That kinda make sense.

And that little voice inside my head said "I'll take it. It's closer than we've ever gotten before."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The REAL reason I keep skis in my car....

Last Saturday, we got a call from a neighbor a few miles away.  They had seen cattle out down at the barn where we keep our steers.  Nico and I headed down there and, sure enough, a single steer was out and about.  The steer must have been out for a while because we saw lots of footprints.  We know he was ready to go back into the pen because he kept looking at the gate that would let him back in.  After a few false starts at a different gate where the sun/shadow combination was making it hard for him to see the entrance, he was reunited with the herd.

Fast forward to today.  I'm driving home from work thinking over how funny it was when that steer got out.  I glance over at the steer barn as I pass and see.... cattle in snowbanks. I swore. I use a nearby driveway to turn around.   Thankfully, my larger car now acts as a good cattle guard.  I park it to block them from taking off down the driveway and pull out a handy cross-country ski.  Catching cattle is much easier if your arms are at least 6 feet long.  Fifteen minutes later, everyone is back in the groups and I'm on my way home.