Saturday, March 24, 2012

What About Fire?

Perhaps our biggest safety concern in the mountains (surrounded by pines and not much else) is FIRE.  We do have a fire station just up the road that is manned during the summer, but there is a lot of forest, and professional help can only go so far.

Reading up on this, it appears we have two choices in the case of fire:  abandon the property or stay and fight.  Though staying to fight sounds dangerous, lots of people are killed abandoning their property because their exit route can be cut off by another fire.  There is only one paved exit off our mountain, and it is long and winding.  So, there will be no sprinting to safety.  The thought of trying to leave that way also makes me uncomfortable as we will have no idea what waits for us down the hill.

However, Kim has asthma, and the merest whiff of smoke can cause problems for her.  I cannot fight a fire on the ranch without her help, so any plan we have will need to address this.

Finally, we will have a lot of lives to protect when you consider our dogs, horses, chickens, and perhaps a few cows and pigs.  Too many lives to haul down the mountain in one trip.  So, staying to fight may be the only strategy I can live with, and I suspect that, in the end, saving our buildings will be the key to everything.

So, I will be researching strategies and opportunities over time and recording my findings under "Fire Protection".  Please take a look if you are interested in this topic, and if you have anything to to add, please comment!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Other Preparations for "Home Defense"

Least anyone feel Kim and I are trigger happy, let me tell you a little about our ranch wildlife philosophy.

We are practicing permaculture on our ranch.  That means, our primary goal is to figure out how we can live harmoniously with the wildlife around us (see the "Sundog Permaculture" for more background on this concept). In fact, ideally, we want to figure out how the wildlife can HELP us do what we want to do.  For instance, a raccoon family in the area is likely to keep other raccoons away. Kill the raccoon and you only create an opportunity for another raccoon to move in.  Same with wolves and bear.

Even if we were not interested in permaculture, Kim and I LOVE wolves, foxes, raccoons, bears, hawks, squirrels and all the other animals that surround us.   Killing them is the LAST thing we want to do.  The problem is, once they get a taste of chicken (or fruit, in the case of the vegetarian "preditors"), it will be very hard to keep them from coming back for more.  So, our FIRST task is either to make it very difficult to get that FIRST taste or to have enough to go around!

BARRIERS:  Our property will be surrounded by a five foot woven wire fence.   Though no fence will keep a determined animal out, it will keep our animals in and help take them out of the "easy meal" category.  Since most predator attacks occur at night,  all of our smaller animals (and our horses) will be in a secure barn or coop at night.  Our important food crops will also be protected (from the cold and the nibbling mouths of wildlife) by greenhouse walls.  Finally, our chickens will have plenty of tree cover during the day to reduce their daytime visibility from the sky (where hawks will be hunting).  Their dark plumage should also help them avoid detection to some degree as they will blend into the shadows and pine needle ground cover.

DOGS:  Our next level of protection will come from our dogs.  Kim and I have four dogs all told.  Two are Australian Cattle Dogs, who take guarding our property from unknown humans very seriously.  The other two are Catahoula mixes, and they are excellent hunting dogs that love to chase squirrels and do not like other predators on their property.    All four dogs will be patrolling our property, backing each other up, and their scent will be on everything.  We are hoping that between this and the barriers our livestock will be reasonably safe, and squirrels and other rodents will be keep in check to some degree.

BIOLOGICAL VECTOR CONTROL:  We are depending upon our chickens (an perhaps pigs) to help us keep rodents and bugs in check as we will not be using pesticides or poisons of any kind. We will also be encouraging bats and birds to live on our property as well.  The more they work, the less we have to!

MOTION DETECTORS:  Our barn and chicken coops will also be protected from predators through the use of motion detectors that turn on lights and/or water pistols. Hard to keep your concentration when you are being soaked with cold water or illuminated so all can see!  These signals will also likely start the dogs to barking, which is an added deterrent.

DISTRACTION: We plan to have a number of fruit trees on our ranch, which we know will attract birds and squirrels.  However, we will also be planting a number of lower-growing food crops underneath the fruit trees, some of which will provide food we are not interested in at the same time the fruit trees are ready.  This "polyculture" approach to farming should serve to distract bugs, squirrels, chipmunks and birds from the fruit we want to some extent.

SHARING:  We plan to plant far more fruit trees and berries than we need so we can afford to share to some extent. 

OTHER STRATEGIES:  We will keep looking for other strategies that require little energy on our part to be effective.  Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!

Recent target practice with a Glock, 17 shots/17 hits!
Hand guns and rifles are among the many tools that Kim and I are becoming proficient with in preparation for ranch life (much to the relief of my father and brothers).

While they are thinking of our safety from imaginary marauding bands of cutthroats, Kim and I are more concerned about protecting our livestock (and ourselves) from four-legged predators like foxes, raccoons, wolves, lions, and bears (which really are there and might very much like a chicken dinner).

However, what can be imagined can also become reality.  Though we are fortunate to be moving to an area that has had little but petty thievery  in its history, it pays to be prepared, and it never hurts to have skills even if you never have to put them to the test.

So, in the spirit of "the disasters you are prepared for never happen", we are becoming proficient at handling and shooting a variety of guns, as well as learning other less lethal home self-defense skills and strategies.  My instructors tell me I have an aptitude for it, though I am not sure how to take that.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Our Horses Are Going to Come From Nevada!

Horses are on the horizon for us, but probably not until this Fall.
Hank Curry, the trainer in charge of the Mustang Training Program

The Mustang Training Center at the Stewart Conservation Camp, a Men's Correctional Facility in Carson City, Nevada
Kim has always dreamed of having a Mustang, but we were worried they might be too much horse for us.  Many of our friends and family members have warned us to stay away from them saying they are too wild to handle, skittish, and small.

At first, we were dissuaded, but we took an opportunity to fly to Carson City Nevada where there is a Mustang training program at the state correctional facility.  The inmates learn to gentle and saddle-train the Mustangs (a way to keep them busy and learn a trade), and then (after an intensive four month program) the Mustangs are auctioned off to the highest bidder.  Bids range from $150 (the starting bid) to $4,000 (a rare high).

What we saw on our weekend trip was nothing short of amazing!  Sixteen horses were up for auction. Every one was beautiful, well mannered, and quite well saddle trained.  We had the opportunity to meet all the horses, nose to nose, talk to the trainers, ask all the questions we wanted, and then see all the horses perform in a group exhibition before the auction.  It was a beautiful sight to behold, and it was hard to remember that these horses had never been handled just four months before!

The Mustangs in formation after the exhibition ride
When the bidding started, each horse was brought out individually and his rider put him through his paces in front of the crowd (all the horses were geldings in this auction).  All the horses circled the arena at a trot and canter, changing gates and direction with ease and with very little direction from their rider.  They all stopped on a dime, backed up well, side stepped beautifully, stood still while being mounted, and allowed their hooves to be picked up without any trouble.  Many of the riders demonstrated that their horses could also be ridden bare back, remain unconcerned even when flags and ropes were waved over their head and in the face, would stand still even if you mounted on the wrong side, would follow the rider around the arena if they dismounted and let the rains drop and walked away, would turn any direction the rider pointed to while the rider was on the ground not holding the reins, helped open gates with the rider mounted, and allowed the rider to dismount by sliding off over their rump without any concern.  Two even allowed their rider to stand on top of the saddle and lay prone on their bare back with their feet on top of the horses head!  All without flinching or shying in any way. 

As to size, the smallest was 14 hands (which did seem a little small for us), and the tallest was 15.3 hands (a little BIG!).  Most were about 14.3 hands, which seemed just right.  We were assured by all the riders and many spectators that any of the horses (even the 14 handers) could easily carry an adult rider without any concern.

The Love of Kim's Life - Dollar the Mustang
Though Kim and I were not there to bid on any of the horses (since our facilities are not ready), both of us fell in love with all the Mustangs after seeing these demonstrations!  Kim's special favorite was Dollar (shown in the adjacent photo).  Though his photo many not show it, Dollar was especially charismatic and playful.  He loved people coming up to him and showed it.

The most surprising thing about the day was that most of the horses sold for less than $500!  They were all worth over $1,000 given the skills they demonstrated.  Apparently, it is a sign of the times, economically speaking. 

So, we are now convinced that we can and will be able to handle horses trained by this facility, and we will be back in October to pick out our two Mustangs!