Girlfarm is located at 5400 ft. elevation. We are backed by National Forest, the gorgeous Toyobi. The farm sits at the top of the watershed in that there is a significant dam or small lake that cover five acres and at one point held 165 acre ft of water.
Because of this water and the location the farm is visited often by wildlife, bobcats, Mountain lions, raccoons, skunks, occasional antelope, lots of deer, and yes, bears! In general, the bears move beyond the farms activities with few encounters, but for the raid of bees ( our fault really. The summer dry ground does not conduct electricity well for electric fence and the bear discoverd this twice - both times the queen remained and the hive recovered.
Last fall things became a bit different.
As part of our community participation, we will use human grade food waste. Not table scraps or garbage - but items that either have reached expiration or something isn't quite right in formulation for packaging. For the last few years our pork is particularly delicious with the addition to certified non GMO, 100% organic fig bars! Essentially making our pigs, fruit fed! You may now see where this is going.
Bears love fruit. Aside from bee larvae fruit and berries really are their preferred diet but for the Tahoe bears that really love garbage cans! Yogi showed up one late fall night, leaving his foot tracks all about the gardens, and lo, right up to the fig bar cubes. In the warehousing world they call these cubes gaylords. They weigh in around 1,000 - 1,500 pounds and are FULL of fig bar cookies and filling. It is my guess that the bear was making nightly visits and so I thought I would thwart it and lock the cookies behind the doors of our horse trailer. It worked, however our horse trailer had giant bear paw tracks up the back doors and he was clearly hanging on the door and reaching in and scooping bars!
We have had the John Snow, winter from hell here in 2016 and it came on fast and stayed until two weeks ago last week of April with a bit of snow to remind us Mother Nature is indeed in charge. All the while Yogi had not been around that is until last night.
Saturday began preparing for a group of scientists and graduate student that will arrive after 1p on Sunday.
The farmhouse is getting a new kitchen, but since it is a farm everything is done by us including recycling the old cupboards, tear out walls, electrical, plumbing, etc. The process is long when you do it yourself but the labor costs are far over our budget so while one of us full time farms the other is a full time PhD Professor of Geography at the State University. Can I repeat, the process is LONG.
While we can live with the chaos of having my wood shop in what is usually the dining room, the significant portion of construction is over and it was time to move out the entire shop back to the garage. With the help and hustle of a dear friend, things finally looked like a semblance of a dining room at around 9:30p. Sometime during the evening our friend said, "I was outside and because it is dark I couldn't see but I hear a lamb crying, it didn't sound in distress." I did not look immediately, however maybe an hour later I decided to do the nightly check on the sheep which is a light shining over where they have bedded down to make sure they are safe. I too immediately heard the crying, however as the farmer and shepherd the cry I heard was that of a newborn - which is incongruent as we had finished lambing, or so we thought!
So, after a day of farming, starting the clean up of the house yard which is bigger than most peoples entire homesite as it backs up to the lake, and milking the newly freshened first time cow, and making dinner at 9:30, and cleaning up all the house construction to have guest, my partner is already in bed and I was happily thinking I was going to be able to go to bed relatively early and sleep in a bit because we had gotten so much accomplished.
No, that was just a dream. Instead, my friend and I in the dark and the now soaked, it rained all day, upper field we grabbed flashlight and went to find what was clearly, a first time ewe who had lost or rejected its new lamb. In the dark. I will repeat, in the pitch black dark. We now have 21 new lambs, 13 mommas, three ewes who did not birth or so I thought, and we are trying to round them up into a shelter, in the dark! Sheep are pretty sure everything is trying to eat them so a night time encounter with hooded, gloved, and flashlights only increase their certainty something or someone is indeed trying to eat them. So, with a flashlight and towel yes a towel for the newborn wet lamb that the flock is now officially running from if I haven't said it yet, sheep are stupid. They are beautiful, funny, wonderful creatures but the lightbulb is often dim. This particular night, someone pulled the cord to off!
It was time to wake the poor Professor Farmer, who had already retired to bed after a long week of teaching, MC-ing the Banquet to award students and fellow professors, not to mention her own farm contributions to clean up all day.
While we trade positions to evaluate the situation, her cooler head often had alternatives to managing out of pocket challenges, I went up to change into actual farm clothes as I knew I would soon be smeared with lamb amniotic fluid, blood, colostrum milk, and other sheep gunk.
I exit the front door, looking out into the pitch black night to hear the four wheeler racing BEHIND the barn nowhere near the sheep on the hillside and my friend yelling, "Be careful, there's a bear down here!"
Yes, it is probably close to midnight, we have yet to isolate the errant mother ewe and my partner is clearly chasing off a bear that decided tonight was the night it desired a little cookie snack.
Racing back into the house I get the 223 long rifle. No, I did not intend to kill the bear however, I did intend to scare the bejeazus out of it! I located the light of the quad, yelled out to my partner, and sent off a couple booming shots into the night in the direction of the bears amble and it ambled it did not run nor was it truly afraid of us which is part of what I am sure will be another story. In the meanwhile, we have returned in the dark and have wrestled the ewe into submission.
Thank goodness for Jacob sheep! They have horns and gives you purchase to actually grab a four foot bounce without loosing your grip. The three of us bounce her about 500 feet to the lambing jug, with the new lamb plaintively crying in the arms of our friend behind us. Once in the barn, we hold the ewe down to get the lamb its first drink. Unfortunately, now we have a freaked out mother who just wants to be with the flock, has no idea what that little crying thing wants from her but she wants away! We do another force feeding standing up and ensure the baby has a full belly and we all traipse back up the hill to the farmhouse.
The story simply gets longer. Now my friend and I are on 'lamb watch' setting an alarm to return to the jug to ensure the lamb gets food whether by holding momma down, or observing it eating on its own. We will do this every two hours until 8:30a when the Professor will take the shift at coffee.
And that my friends is life on a farm!