Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Oak Creek Campaign--Year One

The property we purchased a year and a half ago had been neglected for quite a while.  Fixing a few years of neglect on a house and 25 acres is a real battle--and sometimes I think about it in those terms.  I've gone on about the house previously; the war there is not won, but is stalemated while our resources and attention have been focused on the grounds.  Our first animals arrived almost exactly a year ago.  There has been lots of action since then, including some setbacks (or "learning," as it is more euphemistically called), and lots of sweat, and some progress.  Here's a map showing the advances and retreats over the last year. 
Aerial reconnaissance shows a property overgrown with Himalayan blackberry (light green mounds), and at least one decrepit building (marked with red star).  The available recon is out of date; it underestimates the amount of blackberry, and all fencing was completely degraded.

Operation HOT FENCE:  The initial attack was on blackberries in the main pasture by brush hog, followed by installation of a four foot, 2x4 inch no-climb fence with three strands of electric wire (black line).  Action was delayed by almost six months by weather.  The decrepit barn put up only token resistance before being knocked over and burned.  After the initial assault, blackberries are regrowing.
Operation CHICKEN DANCE:  The shock troops in our assault were chickens; the coop was placed in the main pasture. 
We initially placed a fence around the coop, fearing predation. 
The chickens, being zealous troops with airborne capability, ignored the fence, and have expanded their range considerably.  However, their strategic effect has been negligible.
Operation WHITE CASTLE:  The first real assault on the grounds was made by a rookie regiment of yearling Nigerian Dwarf goats.  These occupied a play castle that had been built by the previous owners and taken over by blackberry and poison oak, and established headquarters therein.  A perimeter was established using materials leftover from HOT FENCE, and virtually everything green within the perimeter was eliminated.

Operation SHOCKING GOAT:  Following the success of the goats in the castle, we attempted an assault on the dense blackberries surrounding the demolished structure and nearby walnut trees.  This was also a test of a new type of electric fence. 
The goats may have been intimidated by the overwhelming amount of blackberries, or perhaps homesick.  A mutiny, led by Ariella, resulted in the regiment's rout and retreat (running through electric fencing) to their secure territory in the castle. 
Operation CROWDED SHEEP:  A regiment of yearling ewes, who had been housed in a converted dog run, were moved into the Sheep Housing/Mobility Unit (SHMU; blue rectangle), a trailer converted into luxurious sheep cote.  Although the sheep were now nominally in the pasture, they were kept in the SHMU due to a lack of adequate fencing.  At the same time, operation HORNY GOAT established a presence of male goats in a fenced-off garden area (red checkers). 

Operation HAPPY HOOVES:  Given the standoff on the goat front, it was deemed necessary to open a second front.  The SHMU regiment was moved to a new part of the pasture, and a small enclosure of Premier 1 Electromesh fencing was erected.  The sheep rapidly occupied the area, obliterating all herbacious resistance, and the perimeter was secure. A regiment of second- and third-year ewes was introduced to the dog runs. 

The success of HAPPY HOOVES was capitalized on by expansion of the perimeter around the SHMU as more Electromesh became available.  The regiment of ewes rapidly and efficiently decimated all resistance within the perimeter, creating a situation in which their advances threatened to outrun the supply of fencing.  After a lengthy delay, operation BARN DANCE (grey rectangle) began the construction of a new, permanent barn.  Operation BARN DANCE is ongoing, with an anticipated completion by year's end. 

Operation BUCK WILD used a commando of buck goats to subjugate an area of heavy blackberry concentration adjacent to the HAPPY HOOVES front.  The bucks faced a painful learning experience operating the Electromesh fencing, but have since decimated resistance from blackberries and are currently operating against thistle and other undesirables.  Simultaneously, operation HAMMERHEAD moved a pair of rams into the quarters recently vacated by the bucks. 

Operation ANGRY RAM was an effort to utilize the weed-eating capabilities of the HAMMERHEAD rams, as well as redirecting their efforts from property damage to blackberry damage.  A cote of steel gates and a fence of three-foot mesh and two hot wires was erected to contain the two rams, who rapidly ate the enclosed area to nubbins. 

Operation HOOFED LOCUSTS capitalized on the experience of the SHMU regiment of sheep.  Having devastated all resistance in the HAPPY HOOVES theater, they were moved and enclosed with a combination of Electromesh and (much cheaper) three strands of hot nylon on pigtail posts.  The operation is ongoing, with a projected completion date in late July or August.  
Operation EXPANDING EWE employed an experienced regiment of second- and third-year ewes who had been bred to a local ram.  These were initially housed in the converted dog runs; initial action was contained within a perimeter of Electromesh.  Success of these initial operations has led to a staged advance, bounded primarily by a perimeter of hot nylon on pigtails.  Both ewes and their lambs are respecting the fence, and eating the pasture to a close-cropped lawn. 

Operation ANGRY RAM II capitalized on the impressive eating capabilities of the two rams; the perimeter was established using hot nylon on pigtails, and the theater of ANGRY RAM was closed off, except for the cote.  The operation is ongoing, with an expected completion in August. 
Operation EXPANDING DOE attempts to redeploy the rookie goats from WHITE CASTLE/SHOCKING GOAT, who have since been bred, using Electromesh fencing.  Initial gains are promising, with the goats respecting the fence and destroying the blackberries therein.  The operation is ongoing.  On completion in August, the goats, being pregnant, will be moved to the barn. 
Looking at it, that's a lot of action for one year, but there is an awful lot left to be done--"not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." It has to be noted that this campaign is being conducted with more tactical than strategic drive. Where assets and fencing have become available, they have been deployed.  Operations have been tethered to supply lines from the house, complicating delivery of water and food, and less than a third of the fenced pasture is under hoof.  Such strategy as has existed has been to keep rams and bucks in distal corners, and away from ewes and does. 

Near term strategy has HOOFED LOCUSTS expanding south and west, and commando units of goats from EXPANDING DOE and BUCK WILD being deployed (with electromesh fencing) on pockets of blackberry resistance. 

Completion of BARN DANCE will provide a strong advance base of operations, with water and food depots for pacification of the entire southern theater.   Increases in troop strength from EXPANDING DOE, EXPANDING EWE, and recruitment from external sources will assist in both occupation and invasion.  Heavy resistance from concentrations of poison oak and blackberry will complicate occupation of the south and southwest.  Complementary specialization (goats' preference for browse, sheep for grass) and expansion of fencing capabilities could result in complete occupation, if not pacification, of the pasture by 2014 or 2015. 

This campaign accounts for about half of our property.  We'll still need to fence and occupy the giant shed at the south end of the property--which is completely surrounded by poison oak and blackberry.  We need to rebuild one bridge across the creek, and build one more, and then fence the streams and surrounding forest.  Then, we need to fence and graze the area across the creek, which is completely wild with blackberry and poison oak, into submission.  There's gonna be a lot of blood, tears, toil, and sweat. 

1 comment:

  1. "Hooved locusts" -- yup, we have those. Glad to hear you're making progress! Thought of you (and your analog computing analogy) while teaching summer school today.