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Never a dull Moment.... adventures with snakes and wasps

Posted 8/10/2018 2:31pm by Kinley Coulter.

     The Summer of 2018 seems to have its mind set on making it into the record books.  In nineteen years that we have been farming here in Juniata County, PA,  we had never once made it through an entire summer without seeing the dog-day summer pastures get dry and dormant... until last year.  We grazed verdant green grass from mid-April through Thanksgiving.  I didn't expect to see a summer like that again soon... but, this summer surpassed even that one.  Everything, including the weeds and thorns, is growing....and growing!

 
 
     We have had epic, phenomenal, almost Noahic rains.  It has almost made a confirmed 'summer-phobe' like myself re-consider my bias against summertime. Even as I write this blog post, the sunny, sultry summer day is being marvelously interrupted and tempered by yet another soaking downpour.  The pastures are literally bursting at the seams.  The happy cows are producing milk like never before, which is helping us keep up with the strong demand for our Certified Organic, 100% Grassfed Milk, Yogurts, Cheeses, Kefirs, Butter and Ice Cream.  It has been a real blessing to have enough milk to keep almost all of our products in inventory even through the heat of summer.  
  
 
     Along with plenty of grass, plenty of milk and plenty of cheese, there has been plenty of some 'less welcome' critters, as well.  We work hard to control the innate wander-lust of our purebred Jersey cows (Hereford beef cows and Katahdin Lambs as well) with electric fence.  It turns out that the grass really IS greener on the forbidden side of the electric fence.   
 
 
     Wet foliage growing up onto the electric wires has the shocking effect of dumping all of our fence voltage into the soil... promptly releasing the erstwhile captive ruminants to kick up their hooves and indulge in destructive mayhem in the neighbor's perfect garden.  What is a farmer to do after chasing the animals back into the pasture for the umpteenth time?  Deploy the mighty fence-line clearing arsenal, of course.
 
 
     At Coulter Farms, we clear over 10 miles (!) of fence-lines with nothing more than a Humble 'weed-whacker', a Hungry brush-hog, a Handy chainsaw on a twelve foot pole and a High-revving sickle bar mower (pictured above).  The picture below is of a fence line before the fence-clearing battalion attacks.  If you can't actually see the fence, it must be long overdue to be cleared :).
 
 
      Like all farm equipment... using any of these tools  is bound to lead to some noteworthy experiences that are worth recounting.  
 
  
     What kind of trouble can you get into with a Humble weed-whacker?  We have a lot of snakes here in hot weather.  Most of them go quietly about their business under the unwritten expectation that if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone.  I was weed-whacking around what seemed like the millionth fence-post when the heavy foliage fell in a pile on the hot fence wire.
 
 
     I knelt down and gingerly lifted it off the wire and found myself nose to nose with a big, angry, coiled, poisonous copperhead snake.  I wish I could say that he was as afraid of me as I was of him... but such was not the case.  My blood ran cold and my feet ran fast... in my dreams, that snake is still chasing me.
 
     
    Jared had a similar experience last week when he stepped into a ground wasp nest while weed-whacking.  He described running from the fiendish cloud of wasps at an impressive speed while the weed-whacker was bouncing wildly on the chest harness, doing its best to thwart his escape.  He was a couple of hundred yards away when he quit running, and still managed to take a final sting from a lone wasp.
 
 
     The Handy pole saw is brandished from the roof of our trusty (but pathetic) Ford Ranger.  From the five foot high roof, a six foot  tall operator can cut branches eighteen feet away.  I'm not totally sure that this apparatus would be OSHA approved (please don't tell them about it).
 
 
     Recently, while cutting down overhanging branches that were shorting out our fence wires, Jason and Jacob learned an important lesson about wasps.  Jason had lost the coin-flip and had to take the saw onto the roof of the ranger while Jacob got to drive along the fence in (relative) comfort.  
 
 
     Unbeknownst to Jason, a large wasp nest was hanging from a branch that he had set his sights on cutting down.  The cut branch landed on the hood of the ranger and rolled off... leaving the broken remains of the wasp nest.  The sun was then blotted out by the angry cloud of wasps.  Both Jason and Jacob stared for a long moment in horror... Jacob, as driver, reacted first.  Slamming the truck into reverse and gunning the engine, he popped the clutch and roared backwards to dump the fractured wasp nest off the front of the ranger hood.  He was highly motivated to do this, do it fast and do it well,  because our poor ranger only has half of a windshield and he felt rather exposed.  In the reverse rocketing ranger, Jacob escaped unscathed.  He even had a front row seat to witness the unfolding catastrophe.  
 
 
     Poor Jason did not fare well.   As the truck disappeared from under him, his memory of events became hazy.  He thinks he might have glanced off the hood on the way down.  Regardless, he found himself tangled in the pole saw and harness and laying squarely on top of wasp 'ground zero.'   He recalls hearing a strangled scream that was probably his... likely, the sound was distorted by the fact that he was departing the scene at something close to the speed of sound.  Mercifully, he only received a half dozen or so stings.
 

 
       Our final wildlife adventure this week was (of all places) in our cheese aging cave.  I would have never guessed that a snake would bother trying to live in a 50 degree artificial cave... I was always taught that snakes were cold-blooded and liked warm places.  I had reached up overhead to pull down 40 lbs. of cheese in two boxes when... horror of horrors... off the top of the boxes, in the semi darkness, slithered a big ugly black snake!  He (she?) wriggled all the way down the outside of my shirt, down my pant-leg and came to rest on my shoe.  I think I heard a scream... it must have been me because the snake looked angry, not afraid, in the dim light of the cheese cave.  He seemed to be pondering whether to devour me whole or just bite me really hard.  Well, to make a long story short, I was faster than he was and... cumbered as I was with cheese boxes... I stomped him to death..... actually, quite a ways beyond death.  Sorry, animal lovers, it was him or me.  When I finally got my wits about me and put down the cheese boxes, I went back to inspect the corpse and identify the snake.  It turned out to be, after all, a long black zip tie that some joker had left where it didn't belong.  The only redemptive thing about the whole episode is that no-one witnessed it, and my fragile male ego was left relatively intact.