Me, Myself and I

Hello Luna, my good old friend?! I can hear her calling to the hapless moths that she will promptly turn to dinner. Such a comforting sound.

I had kept away from the farm for a while. I needed to think and figure out how this story was going to progress. In the process, I was turning fifty and needed to have a “Team Building and Strategy Conference” between Me, Myself and I. For this very critical conference, I chose to spend four nights in the Maasai Mara, in the company of my two other participants – Me and Myself! The venue of choice was a beautiful setting in the Olare Motorogi conservancy – The Olare Mara Kempinski. If you have never been to the Maasai Mara, especially during the world-famous animal migration, then you owe this to yourself. Go!

I have friends who were concerned about my choice of celebration venue and company. Personally, I thought I was going to be in excellent company. I was not wrong. The Kempinski in the Mara is beautiful. Serene, quiet, steeped in nature, and frankly speaking, a little scary. You get escorted around the camp between the hours of 6pm and 6am by armed Maasai gentlemen. The camp is not fenced, hence the need for the escorts. Who knows – you might meet a ravenous lion or a disrespectful baboon!

Any who, I turned 50 in the bush. Strangers sang Happy Birthday to me and the hotel baked me a cake slice. I got adopted by two wonderful British couples who made me part of their game drive posse and we had the most amazing 3 days together. That’s 6 game drives! Enough time to get to know people really well. Also, enough time to get to know the Cheetah Mama and her cubs, the Lion Pride, the Elephant herds and the myriad Zebra, Gazelle, Antelope, Wildebeest, Giraffe and Hyena. By the end of my four-night stay, I spent some time reflecting on what I had learnt about myself, and also what the four day “Conference” had yielded by way of results.

For one, I realized that I truly love and enjoy my company. This is an extremely dangerous trait for an introvert. There is a risk that one may turn into a blissfully happy hermit! Secondly, I realized that solo travel is one of the best ways to meet new people. The two British couples that I met would probably never have reached out if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was seated by myself, with a plump glass of red next to me, ready for a sumptuous dinner. Solo female travelers invite curiosity, and I don’t know of a better way to meet people. Third lesson – if you really want to get pampered by hotel staff, travel alone especially as a female. The staff at the Kempinski took care of everything. Royal treatment all round. At some point, the chef came to take my special meal requests because he felt I needed special attention. I loved it. So, cheers to many more solo holidays!

Back to Luna! I’m at the farm trying to make head or tail of this place. Again! My borehole dried up, then started producing water again. My farm manager is sure this is pure sorcery! I think its just pure science. Someone tampered with the borehole water sensor settings, and once those were adjusted, voila! Water! We did however lose quite a number of chili plants, though I have also realized that chili is pretty resilient and can go long periods without water. The chickens are doing ok, so are the goats and cows. However, we are in the grips of a drought, and no matter how much borehole water one can pump, nothing can substitute rain!

As I sit here listening to Luna trying to catch moths, I wonder how she has survived this drought! What does she eat given that there are no moths in this dry weather? Does she adjust her diet? To what pray tell?

We walk into the general elections to be held on 9th August, and here’s another curve ball. My workers would like to travel to their home regions to vote. This made me wonder. Is this purely a Kenyan problem or do other countries treat voting the same way? Does an American need to travel from California to New York to vote because they registered as a voter in New York and now live in California? Do we complicate voting in Kenya?

Finally, when is it ever going to rain? We have had three failed rain seasons, which means we are in the grips of a drought and, sadly, a famine! If I had cloud seeding technology, I would use it and get this country a few drops of rain. They are needed.

As always, I wonder why I keep going. Why do I keep chipping away at this dream that others would have given up on ages ago. As always, I turn to the source of a lot of my encouragement, the poet Rumi. I leave you with this from him;
“The soul which cannot endure fire and smoke won’t find the secret”

Here I am, enduring my fire and smoke in search of the secret!

Beliefs and Assumptions

Every once in a while, it’s good to take one’s beliefs and assumptions out to the patio, take a broom stick, and thoroughly beat out the dust, mites and other muck that may have accumulated over the years.  Then bring the beliefs and assumptions back into the house, well aired and fresh, just like you would a well-loved carpet.  That’s what I’ve been up to.  I felt I was getting stale when it came to what was meant to work or not work on this farm – and I am not talking about the well-manicured nails.  Those stay!

Last time I was here, my Farm Manager and I were off to visit a farm.  We did.  And that was when my assumptions got a thorough beating. Here’s why; First off, the farm was made up of eleven well-functioning, dare I add profitable green houses, managed by three gentlemen who worked like a well-oiled machine.  One of the three was the Farm Manager, Richard.  On top of the eleven greenhouses, he oversees a further twenty-five greenhouses, located in various parts of Kenya.

Secondly, these gentlemen were focused on outcomes and not time-wasting activities that would generate no money.  Watching them, you got the impression that every movement of their body was well timed, calculated and thought through.  They were economical, not miserly, with their energy and the results were visible.

I had spent my time dead set on open air farming, yet what I had forgotten, or ignored, was the simple fact that in tropical Africa, you need to manage the climate as much as you need to manage the pests.  Richard and his team had figured this out and knew they needed greenhouses. I remember him mentioning that he had initially started off with open air farming, and by the end of three months he knew he had to manage the heat and scarce water if he was to succeed.  Why had I been so obstinate?  Who had put it in my head that organic farming can only be done in the open fields?  As I said, assumptions, beliefs and a broomstick!

As a result of putting their crops in a greenhouse, here’s what else Richard had managed to do.  He was no longer using pesticides in one of his greenhouses. Yet this was the greenhouse that had the most pest attractive crops – tomatoes and capsicum.  How you ask?  Because he would diligently scout the greenhouses and ensure there was not a single pest that got in.  He had a red-neck contraption that consisted of a light source slung above a basin filled with a mixture of oil and water.  Any bug that ventured into the green house got attracted to the light and promptly fell into the water where it either died, or its reproductive organs were covered in oil, rendering it unable to reproduce and ultimately, harmless.

Due to his diligence, Richard was able to calculate the cost of production to a single plant, as well as the income from every single plant in the greenhouses.  He had this down to a science.  I repeat – assumptions, beliefs and a broomstick!

We spent the better part of four hours with Richard.  We asked questions and he patiently answered every one of them.  I was stunned by what these three gentlemen had accomplished.

When I went back to my farm, I was excited to implement what I had learnt, but I also realized I had to get my farm hands to understand that open air farming was never going to get us to where I wanted.  This was the real battle!  Changing a mindset is a herculean task on a normal day.  Pepper that with the usual “this is how we have always done it”, and you are in deep, shark infested waters. At some point, I threatened to shut down the entire enterprise and send everyone home.  Not my proudest moment, but it yanked a chain that made my farm workers sit up and think. 

And that is what has gotten us to where we are today.  Where we are now clear that we are farming chili so we can raise money for green house farming.  The dream of organic farming is alive and well.  What has changed is that it will be actualized in a greenhouse and not in an open field. 

I have learnt to be less obstinate and observe things a little more closely.  I have learnt that I must air my beliefs and assumptions more frequently.  I have learnt that I must deliberately connect the dots of my experiences and turn them into a story.  My father always said I was militant and rebellious.  I think the word he was looking for was obstinate!

I leave you with my latest inspiration and challenge from Rumi;

“Everything you possess of skill, and wealth, and handicraft, wasn’t it first merely a thought and a quest?”

Nostalgia

The other day I was reflecting on my farming journey, as I watched the birds flitting across the backyard, with Mooshoo chasing them and barking at them.  In her head, she is “super doggo” and she can fly!   I spent time wondering why April is a month filled with such nostalgia for me.  And then, it dawned on me.

If you grew up in Kenya in the mid to late 70’s, you are a child of the East Africa Safari Rally.  You know names of cars that no longer exist; Datsun 160J and Peugeot 404! You also know the names of rally drivers like Joginder Singh, Vic Preston Jr, Rauno Aaltonen and Bjorn Waldegard. Names a 6-year-old, with missing front teeth struggled to pronounce without swallowing her tongue.  Those names spoke of excitement and far off lands that were only seen on maps.  Those names, to me, were synonymous with adventure. No wonder I ended up studying Geography at University!  I had to learn about the places that gave their children such exotic names.

Easter was the East Africa Safari Rally.  They two meant the same thing to me.  The onset of the long rains was sometime during the end of March, and they were never late, unlike the touch and go schedule of the rains these days.  The rains were of biblical proportions, and would pour and soak the earth roads turning them into a mushy mess.  That mushy mess was the route of the Safari Rally.  Five thousand kilometers in four days, across Kenya, into Tanzania and Uganda, and finally back to Kenya, limping onto the podium at Kenyatta International Conference Center for the final splash of champagne and on to the next rally.

The East Africa leg was known for its brutality on man and machine alike.  If you were raised by a rally enthusiast like my father, you spent ridiculously early mornings chasing after the cars and parking at strategic spots to cheer them on as they splashed you with  muddy water and spun wildly in their effort to regain control and stay on course.  For a few weeks after the rally was over, some enthusiasts would deliberately poke a hole in their cars exhaust pipe to mimic the guttural growl of the rally cars and remind us that next Easter was eagerly anticipated.

This was also the season when my elder male cousins made toy cars out of detergent boxes and bottle tops and staged the local neighborhood rally, complete with a flag off event and judges to establish the best built toy car.

The Rally calendar eventually changed and the East Africa Safari Rally was no more. Even if it was back in April, the rains have become notoriously unreliable, and the cars are now engineered to almost think for themselves and adjust to terrain.

Sigh!  It is 2022.  The rains are still not here, never mind the dark threatening clouds that gathered a while back.  Some good things have happened on the farm though.  The earthworms multiplied.  From the measly 5 kilos I delicately transported to the farm, we are now at about 30 kilos of worms.  I need to renovate their home and increase its size!  The more worms, the merrier.

We have pushed on with the chili, though one of the biggest risks to farming in my neck of the woods is casual labor.  It is perpetually scarce and expensive yet we need it especially when it comes to harvesting and planting season.  The bulls I recently purchased have grown quite big and are maybe ready for selling.  Or maybe this is the sign to increase the number of bulls we raise for meat?  The dogs escaped again.  They grew smart.  This time they jumped over the fence, after spending time weakening it to a good sag.  No more tunnelling, I guess!  The goats too had escaped.  Turns out they went to visit the neighbor’s goats.  Maybe they have a book club where they discuss grass quality.  Who knows?

The chicken eagerly adapted to their human “mothers” and now multiply at a steady rate.  My target remains and my farm hands assure me it is a feasible target, if a little stretching.  My farm manager has convinced me that we need to scale our onion crop to commercial levels.  I agree! It will be brutally hard work, but then again, what isn’t?  In a couple of days, we will go on our first farm visit to see what other farmers are up to, and gauge whether they too suffer the vagaries of farming – or is it just us?  I  truly hope this farmer allows me to take photos and write about his farm.  I can’t wait for the visit.  If we can, we will squeeze in two farm visits.

As Mooshoo chases the birds and butterflies with her usual zest and verve, I continue to dream about those good old days!

Again?

I had the dream again. My teeth were falling off. They ache and shake then they fall off. In the dream, I have no emotion. No anger, frustration or sadness about the loss of my teeth. Nothing! Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung had a thing or two to say about dreams involving teeth falling off. I’ll let you check that one out for yourself! Freud and Jung aside, I believe this is what high levels of stress do. The stress seeps into your dreams and becomes an insidious bundle of nerves that translates itself into dreams of teeth falling off. This is stress about my farm and its low levels of water, stress about my farm and it’s lack of profitability, stress about pests on the farm and at some point, stress caused by my self-doubt that creeps up on me once in a while. Do I even know what I am doing?

The rains finally arrived. At first, insipid drops that could not quench the thirst of the land, but nonetheless, rain. Every time it rains, even a slight drizzle, my borehole suddenly rallies and starts producing large quantities of water. As you may have guessed by now, my relationship with my single source of permanent water is rocky at best. A week ago, I was ready to shoot the borehole, and now I almost want to make it a cup of tea and thank it for finally producing reasonable amounts of water.

Planting season is here with us. I enjoy this part of farming. It is a time that holds such promise and hope. Hope for a new harvest. Promise of crops sprouting and new life forming. It is a time of such abundance. Green foliage, blue morning skies that darken in the afternoon and turn to thunderous rain. The sound of the pouring rain and the smell of rain. That distinct smell that I always thought was the rain, until I discovered it was the bacteria in the soil reacting to the rain. Petrichor, they call it! Has anyone bottled that scent and sold it as a perfume? Or a candle? I don’t know. I love that smell though.

This season, we are planting the usual crops. Maize, lentils, beans and sunflowers. Those are our standard rain fed crops. Two seasons every year. The crops guarantee food for the farm workers, food for the chicken and excess to sell. Once harvested, the dried maize and sunflower stalks are cow feed. The rest is left in the field to rot and return nutrients to the soil. The termites make short work of this.

The one big lesson I have learnt with my water mishaps is this. Singular focus! What is the one crop I want to concentrate on and how do I make a success of it? What I realized is that I am chock full of ideas, but I have a finite number of years on this earth to execute all these ideas. Unless I have a singular focus, it will be difficult to achieve what I want. This has forced me to take a moment, and have a board meeting with myself, to decide what I want to do. The decision was not all that hard. Have a maximum of three cash crops grown commercially on rotational basis, and have a little lot where we grow vegetables for our own consumption. In addition, commercially raise chicken, goats, cattle and have an apiary. That’s it! The animals are a lot easier to manage than the crops. Another lesson learnt.

As I sit here and count my lessons, I continue my journey of discovering Rumi. Here’s another one from him

“Respond to every call
that excites your spirit.
Ignore those that make you fearful
and sad, that degrade you
back toward disease and death.”
I have chosen to focus on the first part of this saying! Farming is the call that excites my spirit!

So, What’s up?

They escaped again! Who you ask?  Houdini and the crew.  And I am mighty sure it was she who came up with the plan.  I remember a few weeks back, my farm manager caught Nala (Houdini) in the cattle kraal, pretending to be taking a leisurely walk and admiring the cattle and the plants.  She was creating the escape route, and she did a good job of it.  She then proceeded to spend the following weeks managing my farm manager and convincing him there was no intention of escaping.  My farm manager got comfortable and fell for the ruse. Then, boom!  Saturday night, she talked the other two partners in crime into escaping.  They are not back yet.  If they stick to their MO (modus operandi), then they will be back tomorrow morning.  Haggard, hungry, dirty and looking sheepish!  Let’s wait for tomorrow and see what happens.  Tomorrow came and it’s today.  They came back looking exactly as I expected.  Haggard, tired, dirty and sheepish.

The harvest came in.  All of it, except for the maize, which is in its last stages of drying.  In the meantime, preparation for the next planting season is underway.  We are using a mix of ox ploughing and tractor ploughing this time.  The reason is easy really.  We sold our ploughing oxen, and the new ones have not gained enough weight and muscle to pull a plough through the tougher parts of the land.  So, we hire a tractor and get on with it.  I must say I like the look of the dust swirling up in the air, behind the tractor as it makes the neat lines in the land.  The oxen never throw up much dust.  They are slow and gentle on the land.

Did I tell you I hatched a plan to dig up a new water storage hole?  I went through all the motions.  I got a guy who checked out and we agreed on a day for the work to start.  He showed up as planned with the earthmover in tow.  Guess what?  First scoop of the earth and hid digger “bursts a vein” so to speak.  Why is it that things don’t work the first time round on this farm?  Is this really the universe teaching me how to “toughen up”, or is it just bad luck?  Anyway, because I am indefatigable, I looked for another guy, found him, and he’s promised to show up with a fresh digger.  Let’s see how that goes. As I suspected, he did not show up with the digger, and he asked for a fortune in payment prior to showing up.  I declined his offer.

I’m in a rush to get the hole completed because the rains are fast approaching.  The land smells different and the wind whispers the promise of rain.  I have learnt the smell and feel of my soil when it’s dry, when it’s hungry for rain and when it has received the rain.  I know this land intimately and right now it’s telling me the rains are coming.  The acacia trees have also flowered and turned a deep green that’s a sure sign of impending rain.  I have learnt that if you own land, and learn to listen to it, then it whispers to you, and deep down, you’ll just know what it says. You can also just look at the sky and see the dark gathering clouds – no abstract wisdom required!

The chili harvesting has picked up speed, and due to the heat, they are drying in all of two days.  That’s 66% of their harvest weight lost in a measly 48 hours.  Here’s the flip side of this story though.  We got a thrip infestation in the chilis.  We could not spray them as we were in the middle of the harvest season, and the buyers are adamant about their chili quality and the mandatory absence of pesticides at harvest.  So, what to do?  After much head scratching and deep breathing, my farm manager and I hatched a plan.  Spray with diluted dish washing soap.  It won’t kill the thrips, but it will greatly reduce their numbers, and dish washing soap is not a pesticide so it won’t show up in quality tests.  What brilliance!  The harvest continues!

Lately, I have found myself reading the works of Rumi quite a lot.  One of his quotes spoke to me loud and clear, like the tinkling bells at the Catholic school where I spent my formative learning years; “Start a huge, foolish project like Noah. It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.”  Here I am with my huge foolish project, without a care in the world and my soul singing for joy.

Just another day in Paradise

As you may have guessed by now, I did not shoot the borehole.  I doubt very much shooting it would have made a difference.  Besides, I did not have another one.  So, I worked to get it fixed instead. My poor farm manager looked like he was headed for a full-on cardiac arrest given the stress this was giving him. I told him to ignore the borehole and find other things to do or he would surely die of stress.  Once the borehole was fixed, we limped along with its mediocre water production.

In the process of getting it back on track, I lost 25% of my bird’s eye chili crop and close to 50% of everything else.  That’s what happens in semi-arid Kenya, with 31 degrees Celsius heat at 7.30 a.m.  We counted our losses, we re-grouped, watered the surviving crops and kept moving.  In the middle of all this, we harvested our first crop of bird’s eye chili.  I was so proud! One thing I’ve learnt about farming is this. If you stop for one day, just one day, you lose close to 6 months of sheer hard work.  This is a game of acquiring and sustaining momentum.

The first harvest was a great way to test our drying shed and see if we got the construction design correct or we were just mucking around.  We seem to have done this one right, considering the chilis took 48 hours to dry to the required moisture content.

Another piece of good news is that the maize (corn) is ripe. My farm hands are now enjoying snacks of boiled maize.  This is completely unseasonal, but then again, who am I to complain about gifts?  The sunflowers are fully harvested and so are the green grams and beans.  I can’t believe we are actually planning the next planting season.  The rains are alleged to be starting on 25th of March.  Here’s my other lesson – nothing about farming is ever on schedule.   We prepare for the rains to come on 25th, knowing full well they will show up whenever they are good and ready.

Did I tell you the puppies died? All four of them!  What happened you ask?  A quack vet doctor who probably injected them with water instead of the required parvo-virus vaccine. Sometimes I wonder why things have to die on this farm for others to thrive.  Why can’t they all just agree to live? Anyway, Mama puppies (Max) spends her days all droopy and mourning her babies.  I actually apologized to her for not taking better care of her pups!  I don’t know if she understood me, but I now have a qualified vet on call.

We still have not hatched a full batch of 64 chicks.  I guess the science of figuring out whether an egg is fertilized or not is still rather tricky for us.  The plus side is we seem to have stabilized at 30 chicks per batch from the incubator.  Not too shabby.  We will nail this down to a science in due course. Once in a while on the farm, you get to sit for ten minutes without anything dying, being chased or trying to run away.  I had one of those moments recently, and I just sat.  Listening to the birds complain about the heat, listening to the cicadas complain about the absence of rain, listening to the wind rustle the leaves and whisper millennia worth of secrets that I can’t interpret, listening to the bees buzz around the acacia flowers as they collect their days’ worth of pollen, listening to the sound of nature!  I was at peace.  Just another day in paradise. 

Really now?

Growing up, my father read to me, and had me memorize Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”.  I was nine years old when I first recited the entire poem without hesitation or mistakes.  He was so proud of me! I was much, much older before I understood what it meant. One phrase of that poem has always stayed with me and guided my decisions;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
   To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
   Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

I seem to have spent the past week living through this phrase.  My borehole malfunctioned! Again!  Sometimes I have to wonder whether the universe is saying something, only it’s speaking in a language I am unable to understand or interpret.  In the middle of 31degree (Celsius) heat, my borehole stopped producing water.  I am so tired of this borehole I want to shoot it!  So now all I have is the will which says “Hold on”.  The borehole has been flushed, but the water production has not improved.  So, I sent the engineers back to the drawing board to get me answers.  After all, is that not what engineers do? Find solutions?

The engineers had shown up at the farm, together with a hydrogeologist.  The thinking was we needed to be sure the borehole was correctly located, even as we flushed it and ensured it was devoid of silt.

The hydrogeologist showed up with dowsing rods.  I could not believe that we were going to find underground water using what seemed to me to be high end sorcery sprinkled with science.  Anyway, off we went, dowsing rods in hand, Mooshoo in tow and a very skeptical me leading the way around the farm.  Apparently, the dowsing rods identify the spot where water should be found.  I had to hold those rods and get a feel of how they point out water sources.  I wanted to feel if this was real or it was contrived to squeeze money out of my pocket.  It was surprisingly real!

Once the dowsing rods marked “X” on the ground, the underground penetrating radar is used to assess the geology to establish depth at which water can be found and the rock formations there-in.  That information, found in a long hydrogeologists report, is what the borehole drillers use to get water.  Apparently, my borehole was sunk in the wrong “X” spot.

One of the things I have going for me in this venture (misadventure?) is that I can laugh at myself.  Its also the fact that I tend to see the glass as half full and even appreciate the existence of the glass!  Few things get me down.  So, the upside of this story is that; I have a borehole; I know where a borehole should be sunk; I have some water; the engineers are finding solutions and my farm is still sort of ok!

So, what else has been going on at the farm?  Well, the chicks have been consistently hatching, so I guess Mother humans won this round.  The goats are healthier than I have ever seen them. Then again, goats do really well in dry weather.  The cows too are holding their own, and everything seems to be in its place.  Except for one thing! Luna has been derelict in her duties! I bumped into a moth the other evening.  In the house!  None of those Apache Helicopter sized monsters, but a moth nonetheless!  How could Luna do this to me?  Has she forgotten her status as my best friend?  We need to have a very serious conversation about her duties.

Mooshoo and Houdini (aka Nala) have become inseparable.  Whenever I spend time at the farm, they sit in shaded corners together plotting who knows what.    Mooshoo loves spending time at the farm.  She thrives on walking about without a leash.  The long walks to the borehole and the dam and the farm make her feel all grown up and important.  She has a strut she does when on the farm! She does not walk, she struts.

Even as I write this, the fundamental question I ask myself is this – when does one know if they should keep going or stop going all together?  Then again, if I stop going, what happens next?  Farming is my life blood.  Without it I will die.  So, for now, I will keep going.  And I live by the creed of a poem left to me by my father ages ago;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
   And never breathe a word about your loss;

Baa Baa White Goat…

Ever since I can remember, we’ve had goats on the farm.  My late father was an adventurous man when it came to trying new things on the farm.  We had Angora goats, though we never got any mohair from them.  We had what I now know were Alpine goats, though I am not clear how my father had hoped they would survive in the arid heat of Kenya.  We never milked them, so their kids had a whale of a time with Mummy’s milk.  Then we had the wild local goats that have a crazed look all the time and are, in my opinion, completely untamable.  They are permanently skittish and they will climb trees to get to the juicy delicate leaves at the tips of the twigs. 

Those crazed goats are the ones I finally inherited, when I decided to get serious about the farm.  I am guessing the farm hands had “taken care” of the more precious Alpine and Angora breeds.

Due to poor goat husbandry, the stock was of poor quality.  If you rear goats, it’s for their meat.  In this part of the world, we eat a lot of goat meat.  It has its benefits too. Much less cholesterol than beef, and a great taste, if a little gamey!  The stock I inherited was made up of tiny goats that would never fetch me the market prices I needed to make this a viable venture.  After much hemming and hawing, I woke up one day and sold them.  Every last one of them except 2 does and 2 kids.  After all, I was going to do this seriously!

We then bought a buck from the market.  Unfortunately for us, my cousin’s husbands’ family also gave my mother a buck as a gift.  This was a short rotund animal with very short legs and an even crazier look than your average goat!  The day he arrived, he broke out of the pen we had kept him in, to go chase the females.  Goats mate always!  Anytime, anywhere.  This guy would spend all night making the incessant annoying noise he-goats make when they are ready to mate.  He was impossible.  At some point, we had to lock the kids in a separate pen as he tried mating with those too!

One night, when I was at the farm, he kept me awake all night with his constant noise.  My farm manager was fed up and I had had enough! That very day, I bought a burdizzo and castrated him!  He spent the day looking all miserable and lost.  By the following day he had forgotten his missing manhood and was off to graze.  He is still rotund!

So, the other day, this posse of six (two does, two kids, one buck and one semi-buck) that I am trying to grow to a hundred, went off to graze.  As usual, the farm hands brought them home at lunch time for a drink of water and some afternoon siesta.  Promptly at three in the afternoon, the goats were back to the field to feed a little more, before someone picked them at six in the evening.  It turns out, when someone did go to pick them at six, they were nowhere to be found.

At nine in the night, I got a call from my farm manager, and the first thing he did was chuckle.  He does that when he is about to give me nasty news.  Guess what I asked him?  What has died?  Well, nothing had died but the goats were missing.  They were nowhere to be found!  I told him to call off the search and head to bed.

At 5.30am, I got a call from my farm manager.  The goats had come home and were at the lower farm gate bleating and requesting for the gate to be promptly opened.  Since we all now speak goat, here’s how the previous evening must have gone down in my estimation. The semi-buck found a nice thicket with juicy twigs and led the rest in there.  In his quest to fill his ever-enlarging tummy, he must have told the others that they could feed till late in this thicket, and if nightfall came, the thicket looked safe enough for them to spend the night.  One of the does must have chimed in with words like, it would be great to spend the night under the open sky for once.  Besides, it’s so pretty out here.  I suspect by 5 am the following morning, the idea was no longer brilliant, hence the early morning return home.

This posse of six is targeted to get to a hundred soon.  Goats kid twice a year and most have twins or triplets.  My math may be off by a bit but then again, I’m a farmer – an eternal optimist!  Imagine the mayhem that will ensue when one hundred goats begin to reason like my semi-buck?

Mooshoo

Roughly nine months ago, a little before I lost my beloved dog Spotty, I adopted a dog. I named her Mooshoo. Of course, as is customary, I named her after a character in the animated movie, Mulan! Remember the little dragon in Mulan? That one.

Where I come from, we are exceedingly careful with names. We believe a person becomes their name. The ancestors may have been right to have this belief. Mooshoo is proving them right.

When she first arrived home, she was the size of a teacup – and not a big tea cup. She seemed to be perpetually cold and perpetually perplexed. You see, Mooshoo is slightly cross eyed. Her eyes don’t cross to the center of her face, but away from it. It lends her a look of perpetual confusion and wonder. To add to this, she has a patch over one eye, which makes one eye look bigger than the other. That was my Mooshoo.

After a couple of months of Mooshoo being home, I brought Spotty over to Nairobi for them to spend quality time together. My thinking was that Spotty was older and would act as elder sister/mentor. What ensued was utter mayhem! In the space of one week, they uprooted my jasmine plant, stole peanuts from my house help’s bag and ate them all. They tore through the house at dizzying speed while barking at everything and anything. By the end of the week, I was done with their nonsense and took Spotty back to the farm.

With time, Mooshoo got bigger. I could now take her on walks. She sort of understood the basics of fetch, but sometimes I think what she understood was that she got a treat after the game.

Eventually, it was time to take a trip to the farm with Mooshoo. We were stopped by some traffic policemen on the way and being Mooshoo, she growled and ferociously barked at them. The policemen were utterly amused at her big dog attitude in such a tiny body!

The minute we arrived at the farm, Mooshoo was out the car door like a bullet. There was so much to see and do. I remember the bond she made with one of the young roosters. I’d find them playing catch – or was it a dog and rooster version of hide and seek? Mooshoo would growl, the rooster would cluck, and the game went on.

Then there were the watering furrows on the farm. They were muddy and perfect for a little dog to play in. And she would swim in the mud. When that got boring, she would lead my farm dogs Nala, Max and Bitzen into the house and show them around all the rooms. As if to say, “welcome to my kingdom”. She was terrified of the cows and goats. She had never seen such beasts in her life before and she was not about to figure them out now. Every time they were out of their shed, she would take off at incredible speed to hide in the house.

With time, we were back to the city. Moshoo was a toddler and her toddler tantrums were at an all-time high. We bought her toys and she ate all of them. We bought her a ball and she “buried” it in my couch. What I had not realized was that Mooshoo was getting attached to me. I was Mummy! I learnt this the hard way when I left her in the house with my daughter. Mooshoo tore apart the shoe rack. She ate a floor mop much to the consternation of my house help. She shredded a roll of tissue in my bedroom. It looked like a cloud had moved in. She stole a dust pan and floor brush. This was separation anxiety at a different level.

Her other version of separation anxiety is to “feng shui” my house. She will carry dead leaves and stones from outside and place them all over my living room and around my work table and chair.

There was a stray kitten that adopted us and became Mooshoo’s best friend. They played together and generally did kitten and puppy like things together. One day, I bought bones for Mooshoo, and set them to boil so she would have bones to chew on and some soup to take later in the day. The pot boiled and I turned it off. I gave one bone to Mooshoo and continued with work. It was a busy day so I did not pay too much attention to her. I could however hear her in the background crunching on bones and gleefully belching her satisfaction. I could not fathom how she was gleaning such joy off of one bone.

When I finally turned away from my desk, my living room was littered with bones. Everywhere! I could not understand where she had found so many bones. I went to check on the bones in the kitchen and could not believe my eyes. Somehow, Mooshoo had convinced the kitten to get onto the kitchen counter, onto the cooker, get her the bones and slurp some soup for herself. Her little paw prints on the kitchen counter were the only evidence of the theft that had been orchestrated by a puppy and a kitten! It was unbelievable!

She is now nine months old. A complete hurricane of a dog that we love to pieces. My living room looks like a boneyard and my house is always full of dry leaves and stones. But guess what? This little creature has brought us all so much joy and amusement that I would not think of life without her! She has truly lived up to her name. Just like the chaotic and loveable Mooshoo of Mulan!

What do we do all day?

Ever wondered why farmers are up at the crack of dawn and in bed by sunset? It’s because they acquire the sleeping patterns of their farm animals! And it is not by choice, but by necessity. This was a lesson I quickly learnt when I moved to the farm. Prior to this, I always just thought people woke up early at the farm because it was the thing to do. Then I learnt the hard way – like I usually do these days.

So, what do we do all day from dawn to dusk you ask? Well, let me start at dusk. The typical work day ends at 6pm. That’s when someone brings in the cattle, locks up the chickens and starts dinner. It is also the time to re-group, assess how the day went, and plan for the next day. It’s the time to feed the dogs, lock up and generally get ready for bed. Once the chickens go to bed, you know it’s time to go to bed too. This is simply because when they are up, everything else is up and baying for food and attention.

The other day, the usual routine was in place, and off to bed we all went. At around 11 p.m., the dogs started barking incessantly and howling. When the dogs bark on a farm, you get out and check what’s up. So, I grabbed my flashlight and went outside. My farm manager and I met at the cattle kraal which is where all the racket was happening. Turns out the cows had broken out of their kraal and decided to make a midnight snack out of my lawn. The dogs were having none of it hence the insane racket. What is it with animals on this farm and their constant need to escape?

This is how, at 11.30 p.m., on some random night, my farm manager and I were out corralling the cows. This time we made sure there was no hope of escape. Back to bed we went. The first crow of the rooster is usually at 3 a.m. If you are a Christian, you know the story of this crowing rooster and the betrayal of Jesus. The rooster will then crow every hour on the hour after this. By 5.30 a.m., everyone is up and about. Clean the compound, feed the chickens, collect the eggs, make sure nothing died or got sick in the night. Chickens tend to get ill at night and their diseases are usually highly contagious. The earlier you isolate any sick birds the better. Someone starts on breakfast at this time and the farm gates are opened. This is also the best time to scout for pests and spray the pesky ones, like the white flies. Better catch them while they sleep. If its planting season, someone needs to go out with Leo (my late Spotty’s dumb as a rock efficient hunter) to ensure the squirrels don’t have a field day with the planted seeds. By the time this is all done, the sun is up.

Farm work starts at 8 a.m. I say that as if what was done earlier was not farm work. Anywho, by 8 a.m., the farm hands are on the farm executing what was planned the previous day. At the moment, there is land preparation to ensure the drip lines are properly installed. We still use oxen for tilling the land. I have found this to be efficient, effective and less harmful to the land. It is also brutal hard work, but who said it’d be easy? It has also meant that I had to purchase enough bulls to do the ploughing with. Previously, I’d borrow my neighbor’s bulls. I purchased a couple of bulls and a female. The rest have been born on the land. We now have five bulls and two cows.

Morning break is at ten, and lunch is at 1 to 2 p.m. We reserve the less taxing tasks for the afternoon. Weeding, general farm cleaning and transplanting are done in the afternoon. By 5pm, the farm hands tend to leave the farm for the homestead, then the next phase of work starts. Storing farm implements and generally locking up. This is also the time to switch on the drip watering system, which is done by block. Each block has roughly 8 beds that are 40 feet each. This is another piece of tedious work. Someone has to scout the drip lines and ensure there is no blockage on the line. It’s also the time to scout for pests again and make sure there is nothing dodgy going on.

By six in the evening, the cycle has repeated itself. The cows and goats are brought home, and the chickens are locked up and eggs collected. All this time, there is constant checking to ensure nothing got sick, injured or lost. I remember one time we locked all the farm gates and were ready to bed down, only to realize our Billy goat had gone home with the neighbors’ goats. Apparently, my neighbor has some really pretty she-goats!

Once again, we are in bed by 8pm.

There are no weekends or public holidays on a farm. The animals don’t take a break from eating and the crops need care constantly. The pests don’t take a break either, so how can you?

I have learnt a few things from this experience. The concept of time is very different on a farm. You do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Whenever that is! I transplanted spinach one Christmas day because that was what was needed. I have learnt to give my dogs injections because they are always being attacked by bot fly larvae. Nasty piece of business that! I have learnt to swallow my fear of grown chicken and catch them to check their health – because that’s what’s needed. And yet somehow, I enjoy it!