Consecration Acres

"If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy."


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Hay fever continued

It’s amazing how much a nearly-invisible particle (and all its friends and relations) can affect your life.  For us, the pollen has all but banished us to the indoors and we are really hoping we will soon see a decrease in levels.  I am diligently eating as much minimally-cleaned garden produce as I can manage, keeping in mind that this process will take time…  It is hard after all this down time to be patient and wait for this.

For the Garden Report:  the lettuces are starting to wilt and or bolt in the higher heat, the radishes and spinach are well into bolting and I’m not sure that the fava beans are going to survive long enough to produce anything.  I thought that the favas would be heat-happy based on their country of origin, but the package warned that they should be planted as soon as the ground could be worked and we were way past that point when we got that first bed cleared.  Next year…

I regularly have forehead-slapping moments, and I had one today.  I was out watering and lamented to Elijah that the peas were just producing but that one double row was turning yellow and dying.  He picked a couple from a different row and fed them to Joseph, who gobbled them and then went on to pick some from the yellowing row and eat them.  Elijah told him he shouldn’t eat those ones.  As I was thinking back over the varieties I had planted (so as not to plant the dying variety again) I dragged from the mists of my mind that I had planted a pea variety with “golden” in the name.  And so I tasted a pea pod.  They were great—Golden Sweet Snowpeas if anyone wants to plant them.  This was almost the same as two years ago when I was worried about and trying to remedy yellow spots on my melon leaves, only to realize that they were Moon and Stars melons.  Once again, a feature, not a bug.

As we wait to get out in the garden again, I am trying to chip away at inside projects.  Bethel and I moved the first of five kitchen cabinets up 2” to match the newly installed ones (long story) and Isaiah and I finally installed the barn doors to the piano room.  I may do some before and afters as we complete these projects.  I never did very much with the house back in CA.  It was enormous and overwhelming and expensive to do anything to it.  This house is human scale and we were able to avoid taking out a mortgage, so even though it needs a lot more work, I feel much less owned by it and much more content.  It’s a little small for our current family size, but as we begin the process of launching soon, I suspect it will not remain so.

We had an exciting hay development these last two weeks.  A neighbor mentioned that we might be able to sell our grass hay and got in touch with someone who agreed to cut and bale it for half the proceeds of the sale.  Tomorrow evening the bales will be picked up and we should get around $300 just for letting the grass grow.  This may be the most we have ever made from our little farmish efforts.  Huzzah!

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Change

Some are gradual and some are sudden. Fall arrived quickly—90+ temperatures one week and our first frost the next. We tarped the peppers and eggplants and row-covered one row of tomatoes and they weathered our first frost quite well. The uncovered tomatoes suffered some frost damage, but kept on growing. We had pulled out some of the uncovered tomato plants and hung them upside down in the bonus room when we saw that frost was approaching. They have continued to ripen, but, unfortunately the grape tomatoes fall off and roll down the stairs as soon as they turn red. There have been some casualties when people go up the stairs without looking down first… This week we will see lows in the 20s and there is no significant rise in sight, so we hung a bunch more tomato plants up in the bonus room and harvested all the remaining peppers (a five-gallon bucketful!), eggplants and frost-tender herbs. It is a mess up there now, but one that makes me happy.

We also started digging up the sweet potatoes. The frosts had started to kill the vines and I read that if they were left in place then they could spread rot to the sweet potatoes, so I went and yanked them all out. When I did so, I saw a lot of evidence of voles in the bed and so I started digging. I got about 1/3 of the way through the section of the bed that we have been digging from already and I have a heaping 5–gallon bucket. I expect that I will dig up another 2-3 bucketsful before I am done.

The carrots are early harvest size (we are perhaps a little impatient) and the radishes have been fun to look at and eat. We planted a watermelon variety with a pale green outer skin and pink or purply-red inside. They are mild enough to eat plain. We are also nibbling at the lettuces. The Ben Shemen variety is my favorite so far—mild and buttery. We also have one good-sized Pak Choi that survived from the first planting surrounded by a lot of babies from the second, a bunch of spinach, chard and beets on their way, peas in need of taller supports and green shoots from the garlic and onions filling their allocated bed.

In the barnyard, we butchered our first batch of chickens and need to get to the rest ASAP. And we will be boarding Penny and Margo in a stall next to our neighbor’s buck beginning early the week after this so that they can be bred. The roof is finally on the stall. We have gotten rain since then and, oh my, how wonderful and dry it is under there!

And so things plug along here. Oddly, we will not be here to see the completion of some of these cycles as my husband has accepted a job in Utah and we will be moving early next year. I have frequent moments of panic. We have worked so hard here and have been greatly enjoying both the fruits of our labors and the unearned blessings of a generous God in this place. I will submit to His will, whatever it may be, but I so hope that we will have land and the ability to do this again. I have so loved it.

And so, expect infrequent posting for a while—until we are settled again.


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Someone’s been eating my garden

We still don’t know who, or rather, what. All my little whos do their own degree of damage—Joseph likes to pick peppers, take a single bite and then throw them and has also decided that cherry tomatoes are fun to pop, the other littles will pick things too green and waste them—but I have yet to have a child bite the tops off of just-sprouted beets, chard, peas and lettuces. Whatever it is, it’s a nasty piece of work. As we still have warm weather I decided to try yet again and I’m gradually replanting everything under floating row covers. So far, I am loving them, and so are all my plants. Instead of going out and lamenting every morning, I go out and sing the praises of whoever invented this wonderful stuff.

We are enjoying our small, but tasty harvest of fall raspberries. I know that raspberries tend to take over and become a bit of a headache eventually, but right now that sounds like a nice problem. They are so, so good.

The tomatoes, also, cannot come on fast enough. The kids usually beat me out there every morning, so by the time I get there, what is left is really green. I do have a secret, though…there’s a tomato on one end called a Purple Cherokee that only blushes pink on the bottom and always stays green on top. Oh, so delicious. And because they don’t look ripe, they are still there when the kids have picked everything else clean. Shhhh…

And I don’t think I’m liking Romas that much. The flavor is poor and if I can get something more dual purpose to work, I think I’d rather.

I made a third batch of makdous. It turned out better than the 2nd (no fruit flies!), but I still had some mold and some were a little alcoholly smelling again. I had found my recipe a year ago and saved it for when I had baby eggplants, but I decided to search makdous recipes again and see if there were any variations that might provide a clue to the issues I was having. Yes! My recipe dry-ferments (I don’t know if that’s the technical term, but there is a lot of salt but no water involved) for a total of five days which was 2-5 times as long as any of the other recipes directed! So, I am going to try a three-day ferment, two without stuffing and one more with and them into the jars. I am hopeful that this will do the trick and that my chickens will stop getting so much makdous.

I taught an home herbal medicine class this week and I have serious housekeeping back up. Among many other things my kitchen is full of past canning projects that need to be cleaned up, labelled, boxed and put away. Cucumbers were on sale and I want to try some fermented pickles (the family that was staying with us brought some and they were fantastic) and I’m out of sauerkraut! And then next week we need to do applesauce. My life is all food, all the time. Sometimes I have to laugh at the enormous amount of time it all takes, but I am grateful for my houseful of hungry people and the ability I have to provide the food they need.

The roof is going up on the goat shelter! I am so excited, so looking forward to dry hay in their feeder and less mud. I am funny. I am up to my eyeballs with everything that needs to be done, but I see our friend up there putting that roof together and think, “that’s not hard… I could do that… I should be doing that…” And then my more reasonable self takes me by the shoulders and looks at me with pursed lips and furrowed brows and clears her throat, ahem.

And it is goat-breeding month. I need to get in touch with our neighbor and see if we can just board Margo over there until she’s bred, but we’re doing heat-watch with Penny as we are still milking her. Wish us luck! We have not been wildly successful in the past.


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Sawdust, fermenting woes and an endless summer

Last item first. I think I reached my lifetime capacity for high temperatures while I/we lived in the Phoenix valley. I do try not to complain, but the foggy-brained, energy-drained state that heat puts me into leaves much to be desired. Thank goodness for our evaporatively cooled nights and mornings that allow me to pretend that it is fall.

The benefit of the continuing heat is for both the end of the summer garden (heaven knows we need more eggplants, right?) and the fall/winter garden, which was put in late—as has been our MO this year. Our average 1st frost for this area is supposedly November 14th, but we haven’t had a frost that early since moving here and at least one year we harvested tomatoes in December. As we haven’t had much of a tomato harvest yet, due to too-high temps and irrigation problems, I suppose I can (sigh) suffer with a bit more summer for the possibility of getting a measurable crop. Tomatoes aside, I put in the lettuce, chard, peas and spinach on October 3rd and we’re just seeing our first sprouts. The carrots are looking good, the leeks are up (teeny things) and the first radishes should be ready this week. There are a few beets here and there, but nothing like the number I planted. I am wondering if my soil temp was too high. I really need to figure out the whole shade cloth thing. So many of our gardening issues could be improved.

Apparently, pouring near-boiling water over jalapenos prior to lacto-fermenting them in not a good idea. That jar went to the chickens. The other is in the fridge, awaiting salsa-making. I strung a couple dozen jalapenos onto some cotton kitchen twine and hung them in a west-facing window. Hopefully, they will dry nicely without spoiling, if not, oh well. We are not big jalapeno users, really. I wonder if we should just plant half a jalapeno plant next year.

My second batch of makdous was a disaster. I started them on Monday, stuffed them on Wednesday and was to have put them in jars on Friday. When I opened them, a cloud of fruit flies flew out and they (the makdous) were almost completely covered in gray mold. They also smelled really alcoholic. I think my biggest mistake was cutting some of the longer ones in half before poaching them. They are supposed to be 4” or shorter, but some of the Japanese eggplants were 6”-8”. Cutting them made them draw more water—I noticed when I was salting them that they were really soggy. My second mistake was not putting enough weight on the plate pressing them to squeeze out all that extra water. I think I had close to 10 lbs last time and only about half that this time. My third mistake was not making sure that the cloth covered all the holes in the colander. Fruit flies are small, love fermented stuff and breed rapidly. Those are my theories. Right about now I am rather wishing I could call up my little Lebanese grandmother and get her advice…

Small canning projects continue. I did a batch of pear chutney and some more canned chicken. Doing the store-bought chicken makes me really look forward to having our chicken again. They are getting so close.

We also continue to eat large amounts of food. We ate the first of the garden corn we dried in the form of cornbread. It was very nice. Grains, in general, are labor-intensive to turn into eatables, but the corn was not too bad. Each ear made ¾ cup corn meal and the kernels came off easily when I “wrung” the ear in my hands. The corn seemed a bit softer than the dent I have stored, and only needed to go through the grinder once. We also ate our first pumpkin pies from what we grew. They’ve been sitting out on our porch since July and then cooked for too long. One or the other thing meant that they were not very sweet, still, nice to have pies from our pumpkins, milk and eggs.

Bud sold! Yay! One less mouth to feed over the winter. The debate over which doeling to keep continues. Apparently, this is how one ends up with 7,000 goats.

I am building a canopy bed as this year’s answer to how to keep warm in an unheated bedroom. I have done a bit of woodworking now—a couple coops and other animal shelters, lots of food storage shelves and a couple platform beds—but nothing that was supposed to look like real furniture. I have to say, the finishing work is doing me in. The wood at the big box stores is far from shout-worthy and my little random orbital sander, even with 40 grit, is no match. As I am hoping to do more real-looking furniture in the future, I am thinking that it is time for a belt sander. Mmmmm, excuses to buy power tools…

Bethel and I are in the middle of the fall clothing evaluation/unpacking/purchases. We are done with the three girls and just have the three boys left. I am pleased by how little we actually need. After Joseph was born, we were in pretty rotten shape clothes-wise and it seemed like everyone needed new everything. No longer so! I am grateful for small victories over chaos.


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Wild weeks

There’s no other way to put it—these last two weeks have been unlike any other. Combining our household with that of the family evacuated by the fire was hugely challenging. I think if it had just been adults, it would not have been a big deal, but I vastly underestimated the kid issues. Our house is big, but very open and a challenge, under normal circumstances, for those of my family who need quiet and privacy to recharge! A couple times I just packed up my kids and took them off for the day, regardless of chores. The house got messier, but I think it was probably good for our family and theirs. On the flip side, we enjoyed far-too-late-night conversations with the couple and are really happy that we were in a position to help out. Their new baby boy was born this Thursday night, after about three days of on-again off-again labor. Issues with the birth and the baby caused them to decide to take mom and baby to the hospital about two hours after he was born. When it became evident that it would be a longer stay than the couple of hours they had hoped for, they decided to move the kids to a relative’s apartment near the hospital and that they would then move directly home again after all the medical issues were resolved. And so most of their stuff was moved out on Friday night—the rest will go when they move back home. Anyhow, after spending two weeks with them all, even in the midst of enjoying a little more space, privacy and quiet, I find myself wondering and worrying about them a lot and feeling like something is missing. Throughout this experience, a scripture kept running through my head, “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all…” When I teach this to my kids I emphasize the connection between familiar and family and that we are to treat everyone as if they were family. Perhaps these feelings are evidence of having approached that end.

And now to the mundane records and details of these weeks.

Joseph got along with their boys for about three days and then decided that he’d had enough, so we always had to have someone watching him closely, often holding him, and sometimes in an entirely different room from the others—which is extremely challenging with an open floor plan (an awful design for a house that is nearly always occupied by a large family, in my most humble opinion). The baby gate was often used to keep kids away from each other instead of out of rooms where they shouldn’t be. Anyways, with a Fall garden not yet planted and a little boy who could no longer play nicely, I decided to try to plant with him. It went okayish. I think he mangled my rows of Chioggia beets—I will either have gaps or crazy spacing in one section, and he fell and whacked his head on a planter box at one point—a lovely shade of green today, but for the most part he enjoyed being outside, digging in the dirt and eating tomatoes straight off the plants and I managed to get carrots, beets, radishes and the rest of the leeks (leek seed is only good for one year, so I figured it would be better to get tiny baby leeks than no leeks at all) planted. I still need to label and mulch the rest of the beets, but that’s one bed down, two more to go!

I harvested 28 more lbs of eggplant just two weeks after I harvested that other 25! I made two large, eggplant-heavy meals (Moussaka and Ratatouille) for this giant household and then sliced and dehydrated the rest. Between everything I have frozen, pickled, makdoused and now dehydrated, when the world all comes crashing down, we will surely be eating eggplant. And I think we need to revisit the number of eggplant plants we put in next year.

The jalapeno peppers are also coming on thick and fast. Elijah’s promises to keep up all swimming in salsa haven’t yet materialized, so I started two pints of peppers fermenting this week. I was going to try a whey ferment, but after talking to the mom of the family staying with us about her whey fermenting experience I decided just to brine them. For my future records, I used one scant Tablespoon of salt per pint of sliced peppers (perhaps eight peppers to a jar?). I messed up on the second jar and initially filled it with instant hot water instead of filtered water. I dumped it out and re-filled and salted the jar, but if one is softer and perhaps saltier than the other, that may be the reason behind it. I believe I started them on Wednesday, the 23rd, so they’ll need to be checked this Wednesday….not sure how I’m going to do that… As we have approximately a million more coming ripe, I think drying is next.

I am also drying the rest of our not-very sweet corn. After about the third time of being disappointed by the corn, I could no longer get anyone to go out and pick and husk it anymore, so a bunch of it has been drying on the stalk. I pulled the last of it off, gave a couple damaged ears to the chickens and pulled back the husks of the others to finish drying. Right now I wish I had exposed beams in my kitchen ceiling from which I could hang all my dried and drying foods.

Finally, I think we missed the potato harvest time (newbies). It appears that the potatoes are re-sprouting. Yay. We’ll try to catch it this next time around.

And I canned a second batch of pears. It was one of my worst canning sessions in a while. Two jars broke and one failed to seal. I either offended the capricious gods of canning, or else missed something because I was really tired that morning, I don’t know. If it is the former, I hope that they are happy with the toll they exacted and will allow me to can applesauce in peace come October.

And the last of the news is that Bud’s castration was only half successful (woohoo) and so we are desperately trying to sell him while he can either still be wethered (I’m definitely not up to doing such a big goat) or eaten before he starts getting smelly. Of course, if someone wants a buck, he is a purebred Nubian, he seems very much interested in buck-ish duties (we have had to separate him from the ladies) and he is a great price. We are hoping someone will be able to benefit in some way from our mistake so we will not have to feel quite so embarrassed by it.


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Pre-winter preparations and wildfire

The beginning of this week saw the departure of my husband and Elijah for a three-day backpacking trip, as well as a return to triple digits. As Grace reeled without her Daddy and the rest of us tried to make up for their absence in various ways (and got really sweaty), we missed them a lot and were glad to have them return on Wednesday afternoon.

My husband took the rest of the week off. While broiling temperatures prevented much outside work past about 10am, we managed to take a trailer load of trash to the dump (just from the garage!) and a giant load of cardboard to recycling on Thursday. The following day, my husband and the two older boys hauled 5 cords of wood onto the place and got pallets to stack it all on. If we have a typical cool and rainy El Nino year, we should have about twice as much wood as we need. If we the drought continues, we’ll have about four times as much as we need…we are hoping and praying for the former even if it means we’ll use more wood!

I have continued to hack away at the eggplants and now peppers as well. I finished the makdous. My husband ate nearly half the first jar as soon as he got home. I haven’t tried them yet…still gathering my courage for that. The tomatoes are looking crispy and stressed after this week, but I am still hoping that they’ll come around and that I’ll be singing the song of too many tomatoes before our first frost hits.

And I canned chicken for the first time. The chicken (boneless, skinless breasts were on sale from the store) was pretty dry going into the jars and I’m pretty sure 75 minutes in a pressure canner did not improve it, but I’ve got my feet wet on the meat canning thing and I’m happy to add those 7 jars to my stash.

The craziest news is that we will likely have another baby born at our house—but that this is not THAT type of announcement. Just as I was thinking that we had nearly gotten through wildfire season without anything near us burning up, a wildfire started just an hour away on Wednesday and absolutely exploded. This morning they are reporting over 72,000 acres burned and nearing 150 homes lost. Yesterday I stayed home from Church with the three youngers who were sniffling and coughing (we couldn’t tell if it was smoke-related or colds, and so we played it safe), but my husband talked to a friend there who was really worried about a family they knew who had been evacuated with their three little boys and the mom 42 weeks pregnant. They had been planning on a home birth and now had no home. Long story short, they are here now. Back even before we moved here, I started feeling prompted to gather supplies for mommas and babies—birth kits and things for newborns. The scripture “woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days” (Matthew 24:19) has always made me so achy-hearted. Anyhow, I did a little here and there, but the expense if it all held me back from getting it finished, until early this year I couldn’t stand it any more, bit the bullet and did it. I felt peaceful right after it was purchased, but as I sorted and stored and sorted and stored, I looked at the ark I’d built in the middle of the desert and prayed and prayed that I’d know how the Lord wanted me to use it. I looked a little bit into donating it, but it didn’t feel right. Anyhow, here we are. I am grateful that I listened and that we can make this all a little less awful for them.


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June’s conclusion

I can hardly believe the month is almost over, but I am glad that we are headed for later mornings, if not yet cooler temperatures (the second week of August is our usual turn-around for temps, bleagh). Joseph doesn’t care overmuch about darkness (he will still occasionally awaken around 3am, ready to start the day), but it does seem to make early mornings a bit more of a given for everyone else. The combination, this past week, of relentlessly early mornings, an incredible heat wave and an out-of-town husband left me mostly non-functioning by Friday, but I managed to hack away at a few things during my functional moments prior to that time.

We ended the week with almost as much zucchini as we began it with, but we did not end with twice as much, and that is a great victory. I used 4 cups in zucchini bread, shredded and froze 20 more cups, cooked a bunch up into Ratatouille (along with eggplant and beans from our garden!) and then Isaiah made veggie melts (homemade sourdough bread spread with mayo, topped with a slice of fresh tomato, sautéed onion, shredded zucchini and sliced mushrooms and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper and homemade mozzarella cheese). As I said, the box is full again, but there is nothing rotting or going to the chickens, so I am happy. All our zucchini foods have been delicious. Jordan was pretty repulsed by the idea of zucchini bread initially, but changed her tune upon smelling it baking and then tasting it. She had promised me that I could eat all of her pieces. She did not keep her word.

About half of the milk in the fridge had gone bad and I ended up tossing it, but the other half made fantastic mozzarella—perhaps the best batch I have made, in terms of texture. As always, there was plenty of gasping, jumping up and running to the kitchen when I remembered that I was making cheese in addition to everything else going on, but it’s nice to be familiar enough with the process to know where I can let it slide (waiting for it to curdle and the stretching) and where I have to be really on top of it (not letting the temperature get too high). Bethel helped me stretch it this time. I’ll probably start teaching her the rest of the process on the next batch.

The garden marches on. We pulled the pea plants out. It was a little dismaying to see how many were missed in harvesting. I collected a bit over a pound of “free” seed from my favorite variety—which turns out to be Green Arrow and not Thomas Laxton as I had originally thought—and the goats happily slurped up the others, vines and all. Nothing is ever truly wasted, I suppose.

We also pulled most of the parsnips and the big beets. The sugar beets still await that mythological gap in my schedule when I can squeeze in trying something new.

It looks like we have enough cucumbers for a batch of pickles. We have had some that have been so sweet that we ate them without salt, and a couple so bitter that no amount of salt could make them edible. I think I will just need to taste a slice of each as I go to make sure we end up with good pickles. I may try my mom’s German pickles this time as we still have both dills and sweets from the random Winter cucumber sales this year.

We also harvested our first couple of not-quite-ripe melons (we may lack a little patience around here) and 2 nearly ripe PUMPKINS. Pumpkins? In June? What does one do with pumpkins in June?

And it appears that we have an issue with those irrigation hoses that I was liking. I still don’t know whether it is a defect in the design or young user error (I am afraid that my pleas to adjust the water pressure to “just enough” fell on deaf ears), but we have now lost two and are throwing in the towel and converting to a system like this one. I am trying not to fret over the money wasted and just count it as part of the cost of taking Gardening 101. The funny thing about Gardening 101 is that you think that you are signed up for certain courses, say, Vegetable Varieties that Grow Well in Your Yard, but then the class is going along and you discover that you are actually in Irrigation Systems: Trial and Error or Plant Markers that Don’t Wash off in the Rain or Intro to Cabbage Loopers. The course descriptions need some work…

After a year of thinking about it, I am finally trying to make my own bone meal. The instructions say to fully clean the meat and connective tissues off the bones. After fiddling with it for fifteen minutes I decided the best way to clean the bones off was to boil them, i.e. make stock, but I left out the vinegar that I usually use to pull calcium into the broth as that seemed a little counter-productive. Any guesses as to how many Tablespoons of meal I’ll end up with from two chickens? Our soil is so calcium-poor that we should perhaps be raising something larger and denser-boned for this purpose.

After my old dehydrator died and took all those pineapples down with it, I was excited to see pineapple on sale again this week. Eight pineapples barely filled half of my new dehydrator. They turned out fine, except that the bottom tray was a little softer than the rest. It looks like I might need to do a little tray rotating, but at least this dehydrator does not have a track record of catching fire! Overall, I am pleased with it. I am planning to use the trays from my old one to build a solar dehydrator. We may as well get some benefit from the miserable afternoon temps on our SW-facing black deck.

I am knocking on wood that we are, again mouse-less. Apparently, our barn cats fell down on the job and allowed rodents to access the house at some point and we were seeing droppings and occasional flashes of movement in the kitchen and pantry. I set two traps and we caught one that first night. The other was empty that morning, but when I went to go put it away later on I found it occupied as well. Visions of a large family of mice residing and reproducing in my house filled my mind, so I dutifully peanut-buttered two more traps that night. One of them sprung when Isaiah bounced a basketball in the house, but the other is still set and empty. I pray that it remains so and that my cats are a little more diligent in the future.

And, in yet more vermin news…Isaiah was bitten on the top of the foot by something while he slept and, over the course of the next day, the bite became extremely swollen and uncomfortable. Our usual remedies didn’t touch it and by the following morning he had some edema all across his forefoot (he said it felt sloshy when he shook his foot) and this weird, lacy pattern was developing around the bite. My niece had been bitten by a poisonous spider a few years ago on a trip and they were advised to poultice it with damp tobacco and she recovered quickly with no scarring. We decided to try it out that second night and by the next morning, it was noticeably better. He has continued to heal well, even without reapplying the tobacco. Amazing how something that can be so destructive to bodies when abused can be such a powerful healer when used correctly.

“And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.”