Friday, July 18, 2014

I'm Blue (Dah Doo De Dadada)

Ok, I'm not really blue, but the deck is! 

After years of looking at the back deck, which was sad and unpainted and showing it's age (and we would ignore it and just not spend any time out on it), we finally had a couple of bucks to sand and paint it.  And we went with blue.  Actually, my husband went with blue, and I just went along with him.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Ok, what color are we going to paint this deck?  (Thinking light brown, or something along those lines)

Husband:  I don't know.

Me:  Really?  Or you just don't want to pick a color?

Husband:  Well, I'm going to be wrong, so I'm not going to say.

Me:  How about this time you pick then?  And we'll do it, unless it's completely crazy.

Husband:  Ok (without even looking at the color swatches), then I pick blue.

So I look at him.  Nothing in the yard is blue, except for the meatbird houses, and they're just blue because I had some on hand.  There is green, there is red,

there is yellow,

and there is turquoise.

 Blue?  Nuh Uh.  But a promise is a promise, so...

Me:  Ok.

Husband:  REALLY?

Little backstory for you: I never let him pick colors for anything.  He's a wonderful man, with no color sense at all, so though I ask him, I never go with anything he chooses.  No, it's not very nice.  But if he picked, this house would be all sorts of odd colors, but mostly some form of blue, and none of it would go together.  But not this time.  This time he got to pick.  He picked blue, and now it's blue.

In fact, I even tried to paint the stairs blue,

But it looked like a public pool.  Or the circus.  Or a public pool at the circus.  In either case, it was NOT a good thing, so I painted them brown again.

But the top of the deck is blue, as you can see here, which is a picture of Hocus Pocus Milkdud, who is trying to eat my son's parakeet, unsuccessfully.

And the blue that is now introduced meant that I had to tie it in somehow, so I went and got a bunch of half-priced outdoor fabric and went on a wild pillowing spree, and now it looks a little more cohesive.

Mainly because I brought in some yellow, red, green and yup, turquoise. 

Then we fixed up the outside table with some plywood and cheap floor tiles,

and it's now a place we like to sit.  What a difference!!

And though I've been busy at work and busy painting the deck, many other things have needed my time as well.  My babies are gone, off to a new home.

Oh my gosh, I miss them!  But as my son says, we'll have more.  They were sweet as pie, those two, and I'm thrilled to say I know they went to a good home, and they went together, which makes me happier than anything, as they were so attached to one another.  Mama got over it pretty quickly and is still an excellent milker (Though she STILL doesn't stand still and is a pain).

There is a new batch of meatbirds, three weeks old and plumping up nicely.

There are 35 this time, from a different hatchery, and they are pushy and plump and I really like them because they're sparky.  They are doing well and I generally find them ALL over the yard during the day.  They are busy for little fat birds!

The broody coop did it's job beautifully, and hatched for us 15 ducklings, who are residing in the old goose house for now.  They are stupid and annoying, but my kids love them, so that's really all that matters.  People tend to pause when you say "I have 21 ducks", but the truth is, ducks are delicious, and our woods are full of predators, and by the end of the summer, I probably won't have 21 ducks anymore.  Honestly, though, if we wind up with too many males, we may be having duck ourselves, because that's just asking for trouble. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, though, if I have to.

And the gardens?  Well, the weather has been so odd, that some things are very happy, and others are not as happy.  Generally the peppers and eggplant are not thrilled, nor are the melons, but other things are very happy indeed.  Take a look:

Back garden (needs weeding)

7-foot high corn

Cucumbers.  Yes, I do see the blue meatbird houses. ;0)

This was the temporary duckling relocation tent.  It was not successful and since been abandoned.

Cowpeas and beans
Overall, I have noticed that wherever I mulched with goat manure, the crops have EXPLODED.  So I guess that's the secret?  I have fertilized with the organic fish emulsion I use all of twice.  Once in May, and once in June.  All of the growth that the plants have put on has been because of mulching. 

So it's going well in there, I think.  I've pulled out 9 pounds of string beans in the past week, and 21 pounds of squash, so I'm looking for people to take it off of my hands.  :)  The lettuce has bolted, so It's time for re-planting, and the peas are done, so those will be re-planted as well.  The cauliflower is doing pretty much nothing, so I may give it up with that particular crop, and the broccoli is toodling along, but is nothing miraculous.  I am rethinking my strategy on that crop. 

Of course, it all a work in progress.  Now it's time to go out and clean out some livestock housing, unless any of you are volunteering for the job?  Have a great weekend, everyone!!

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Completely Adorable Goat Kids (TM)

Dear Sir or Madam;

I am writing to acknowledge receipt of two (2) Completely Adorable Goat Kids TM, which arrived on time, May 30th.  As promised, they are a girl and boy and they are Completely Adorable.  However, I may have spotted an issue with your inspection process, which I feel the need to point out. 

Understand this is not criticism--I have been very happy with the Goat KidsTM so far.  It is true what you say in the ads--  Just add milk-they grow like weeds!  They certainly do just that.  It is also true that they seem to be made of rubber and mattress springs.  Though I haven't done a close examination, they do bounce higher and faster than any others I've seen.  They are friendly, sweet, and soft.  However, though I know that the customer cannot chose color or ear type, the assumption was always that if I were to ordered a matched set, they would, indeed, with only minor discrepancies, be a matched set.  This is where something went wrong, Completely Adorable Goat Kid Company, and I felt I should point it out.

If you would indulge me, I have included pictures to illustrate my point.  Here is the female Completely Adorable Goat KidTM, and she is Completely Adorable.  Note her beautiful markings and bright eyes, and her ears like airplane wings, which, of course, make her Completely Adorable.

The male Completely Adorable Goat KidTM, however, seems to have not been inspected as thoroughly before leaving the factory.  He is also beautiful and bouncy, fun and sweet, but's his ears.  I think there's been a mistake.

One ear seems to be going up, while the other is definitely pointing down!  This "flaw" was not visible for the first two weeks--in fact, it looked like he would have "down" ears or "airplane" ears when he grew up.  However, that is not the case.  I definitely looks as if either two different ear types were attached at the factory, or there was a problem with the manufacturing of the ears during milling.

This is not a criticism.  He is Completely Adorable, and I'm thankful to have him.  Obviously his ear "flaw" only makes him more unique.  But he is not truly matching the other of his matched pair, and having ears that both went the same way was just more expected.  I would suggest you review your inspection procedures to prevent this from happening again, in case you have unhappy customers in the future. 

Thank you for your time and attention,

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Day in the Life

The end of the school year is upon us here, and the future hangs in the balance.  The job I've been doing full time is either going to end, or become permanent, and I confess I've spent WAY too much time thinking about it lately.  This week I am promised to know either way.  I will either have my summer off, or I will become a full time employee.  I don't know which way it will go, but I look forward to knowing and moving on, as the stress has been incredible.

However, no matter how much is going on in my head, there is still a lot to do around here, and none of it can wait.  Yesterday, which was the first day all week that did not rain, was a very busy one.  This is what I did:

  • Got up, and my husband and I fed the animals, and I also milked Dulcinea and Lilly.  Dulcinea stands like a rock.  She  is a champ, and milks over 3 pounds each session.  Lilly? was Lilly's first time being milked since her babies.  I'm "happy" to say she still sucks at being milked.  She danced, she ate like a pig, and she held back a ridiculous amount.  Welcome back, Lilly, I missed your pain in the ass antics.  Oh I didn't.  Anyway, she will get used to it again.  Hear that, Lilly?  You.  Will. Get.  Used.  To.  Milking.  End of story.  Thanks for playing.
  • When I was done, I went to check on the Little Red Coopette, aka; the Broody Coop.  The girls have been stuck in this really broody cycle lately, and there's no breaking it.  I felt bad for them a couple of days ago, because it's their job to be broody, but I have no need of any more chickens--so they had no job to do.  You know me, and how I like to keep everyone employed, so I improvised.  I had a whole batch of duck eggs in the duck house that 6 ducks were fighting over, so I stole some and gave one or two to each bird (because they are so small, that's about all they can fit), and yesterday morning, I got a surprise!
Yep, she hatched a duck!  Funniest thing about it was the look on that chicken's face.  She had the baby under her, but I don't think she really was looking at it because she was so intent on sitting on it.  But I pulled it out, she saw it, and she looked at it like "Uh...that's not right".  It was clearly not what she was expecting.  If a chicken could look puzzled, that chicken looked puzzled.  Yes, I got a kick out of it.
  • The ducks were next to check, and quite frankly they are annoying the hell out of me.  Anywhere from 4-6 girls will be sitting on a HUGE nest of eggs.  However, they fight all the time, so the eggs get jumbled and some get cracked, and usually a whole bunch of them get kicked out of the communal (and sometimes individual) nest, and then they get cold and die.  It's been a real pain in my neck (and my hand, when they bite me) to have to keep after them all the time, but every couple of days I need to go into the duck house, re-candle all the eggs, weed out the ones they just added, and make sure the ones that I marked long ago are still developing.  Yesterday I pulled out quite a few cold ones, and made a decision.  I pulled a bunch that were really close to hatching and put some in the incubator, and some under the girls.
Broody Coop--doing what it was named for.
That way they are all spread out and I'm not relying on the ducks to finish the job.  They still have quite a pile of eggs to try to hatch, but with all the fighting I heard yesterday, I'd be surprised if they are able to. At least there are a few that will hatch absolutely.
  • Finally done with the animals, I came in to address the milk in the fridge.  I made cheese.  Queso Fresco, as I've been wanting to try it, and it was a quick recipe.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  So good.  So fresh and wonderful.  I ate way too much yesterday, and I'm betting I'll eat way too much again today.  YUM!!
  • While I made cheese, my husband set up the backyard for butchering.  The Delaware crosses were at 13 weeks, and quite frankly, there were a LOT of roosters.  Their favorite thing was having a crow-off every morning around 5.  I don't mind a rooster or two crowing, in fact I hardly hear it anymore.  But get 9 doing it, and then get those 9 doing it and setting off the 3 on the other side of the house, and then setting off the one in the Broody Coop, you get a lot of noise.  I had been woken up too many times, and I had just had it.  Yesterday was the day.
It went well, and it went quickly.  Over the last few weeks, my husband and I have been catching the birds and looking them over.  If they were growing well, they would get a band on their foot, meaning they got a pass, and would be kept to make more of themselves.  If they got two bands, then we thought they were really good and should be able to live their little chicken lives in perpetuity. 
We disagreed with most of our choices.  We kept two roos, and agreed with one of the choices we had made, but the others we had thought were contenders were too small, and we went with another rooster all together for our second choice.  In hens, we agreed with a couple, but not all.  We wound up with 5 hens.  There are now 7 Delaware crosses carrying on the legacy of the original flock, and all the rest were butchered.  How big were they?  Ummmm.....

 If this is a Cornish cross (a big one, mind you.  He was over 8 pounds),

These are the Delaware crosses (hens).

They were so small I left the necks on.  Yep, I fit two in the same pan.  The roosters were slightly bigger, but not by a whole lot. 
Do I find this discouraging?  No, not at all.  They were young, so they were small.  If grain gets more and more expensive, I am going to go with the Delaware crosses, hands down.  They are little.  But they foraged like champs.  It would take some re-teaching on our parts, and a different way of looking at chicken production, and even eating, but there's nothing wrong with these birds.  Honestly, I look forward to dinner tonight, as I wonder if they taste any different.  Stay tuned for more about this!
  • When butchering was done, I wanted to do this: 
But with all the rain, there were WEEDS, so out I went.
  • I pulled weeds, I planted a little, I tied up tomatoes. 
  • I went and cleaned out half of the girls' goat pen, as it was all muddy and horrible in there and it needed it.  I used what I took out to hill up the potatoes, which are very, very tall.
  • Then I cleaned out the boys' house, which made Stewart so worried, it was palpable.  As I dug into the messy haybed, he sat on his butt in the corner and looked at me like "WHY???".  Worried eyes and everything.  Very unusual for Stew, as he's normally unconcerned about anything that doesn't include food or women (depending on the time of the year).  I guess he liked his mess.  But I cleaned out the dirty stuff, put in nice, clean hay, and gave him a skritching.  He seemed ok with it.  Later when my husband went to change out their water, he told me that Stew blocked him from taking the pail.  I guess he was still stressed. 
  • I picked strawberries; 3 pounds worth!  It brings the total poundage for this year up to 12.5.  Pretty dang good, I think.  I did an "emergency" jamming session this past week one night and made 8 pints of jam.  I baked a pie with some, I froze some.  I ate a lot.  This batch will probably become strawberry-rhubarb jam and some more frozen berries, or maybe strawberries in syrup.  Not bad for one patch of berries, really.  Not bad at all. 
  • Then I really wanted to do this,
but it was feeding time, so out we went, and fed the animals and I milked Dulci, but not Lilly, because she needs to feed her babies.  Plus, she's a pain in my neck.
  • Then I may have played with the babies for a while, but I'm not admitting anything.
  • It was time for dinner, so I made salads with lettuce from the garden.  I sauteed squash and corn that was frozen from last year,  added cubes of that really good cheese, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, and we were good to go.  It was a lovely, light meal.
  • After that, it was a bunch of little things to do until it was time to put the animals in for the night.  Lilly was to finally sleep in the goat house with her babies and the rest of the girls, so convincing her of that was a pain in the neck.  She was still looking for her deluxe accommodations; her garage-barn suite complete with babies, food, water, and hay.  Tough luck, tootsie!  She had to sleep with everyone else.  Then we had to catch the 7 remaining Delawares and put them in the big coop, as they no longer need to be set aside from the others.  They were not thrilled and probably spent the night huddled on the floor.  I only hoped they would not get beat up.
  • Then I did crash, and though I didn't look like Icky, I sure felt like him.  It was a good day.
Today promises to be more of the same, so I'd better get to it!  Have a great day, everyone!
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Monday, June 9, 2014

The Fool On the Hill

The "tweaking" of the homestead continues here at Chicken Scratch.  I continue to work to find ways to get it to run more efficiently and effectively.  It has been quite a challenge.
  • First, the "babies" have been disbudded.  I HATE disbudding, I think it's a horrible practice.  However, I understand why we do it, as I've pulled quite a few goats' heads out of the fence in my time, and often they're not just stuck, they are woven in it, and the horns are the thing that prevents them from getting out.  Though there's nothing I can do about the goats with horns, I can try to prevent it from happening to future goats.  Hence, the disbudding.  The girl was ok with it...or as ok as one who is having their head burned can be, but the little guy took it very hard.
Little girl

Little boy
Not being the type who likes to inflict pain on animals, I felt horrible and sat with him for hours.  He would just groan and groan and then softly meh, like it was too much trouble to make a big meh.  He would lay down and look like he was dying.  Then I would pick him up and put him in my lap, and he'd stop mehing, but he'd sigh a lot and groan and make a little meh here and there, and generally look like he was dying.  And I thought, "Oh my god, I killed him.  I did something wrong this time".

But he was totally playing me.

And when his mommy came in (Lilly) and proceeded to beat up on one of the other girls, he shot out of my lap like a rocket to watch, ran around and jumped up and down and followed her, cheering her on, and then drank about a gallon of milk from her udder.  ...Then noticed me sitting in the house, so he started to groan and make little meh cries again, and he came and laid down next to me, again looking like he was dead or dying, and I felt horrible and picked him up and held him, and he laid there like it was his last days on earth.

Then the cat walked by, and he ditched me to sniff it and smack it---with his head.

Nicely played, my friend, nicely played. 

So needless to say, he's all right, but yes I did still worry.  The little boy is spoken for already, but will not leave until he is weaning age.  The little girl is not yet spoken for, but since she's a beauty with a mom who is an EXCELLENT milker, I'm not worried too much.  She will stay until weaning age as well, because those two are attached at the hip, and it would be unfair to separate them so early.
Peony "Bowl of Beauty"
  • In other news with the goats, my husband and I continue to plan how to expand the pen for the goats so they can graze.  Once again, they came into the spring in rough condition, but now that they are getting fresh forage and fresh hay, they are starting to look better.  I expect them to always have this problem, as winter is winter, but during the spring, summer, and even fall months, I want to be able to better use the land we live on, ie; allowing them more access to the woods, so they can glean what they need and not require so many inputs from us.  So, we create pens that will allow them to go and glean and pig out and be happy and generally take in the nutrients they need--just the way they are supposed to.  This also means that I am thinking about how to use the area to store food for them for the winter months, so I do not have to rely so much on hay.  How to do this is a tough question to answer.  Any suggestions are appreciated. 
Goodness gracious, great balls of fire!
  • Animal-wise, the geese have moved on.  This was a decision long in the making, as I really do like the geese, but they are awfully noisy.  Back when we had 70-odd chickens who free-ranged constantly, the geese were integral to keeping the flock safe.  They watched the skies and warned the chickens when there was a threat.  Very important work, and they were good at it.  But the chicken flock is at about half that number or less, and then no longer free range as often or for as long, as the coyotes discovered them and last year many were disappearing.  Geese are no match for coyotes.  So the geese were unemployed, and quite bored.  They were loud, but for no good purpose anymore, so it was time for them to go.  I am happy to say the whole gaggle is now living on a 200 acre farm which is to be a petting zoo for autistic children.  I hope they will have good lives.  It was hard to let them go, but I think we made the right decision.
Happy broccoli
  • While the geese are gone, I am working on rebuilding the pond ecosystem.  The pond is small and shallow, and with that many geese, it was difficult to do anything with it.  Either their manure would kill things, or they would eat anything I planted.  But now I can gain a headway, and get some water-loving plants in there to help filter and clean the water, as well as hopefully re-sculpting the pond a bit to stop it from leaking.  The pond has been a thorn in my side since forever, and it's taken years to even get it this far, but I hope to get it sorted out.  It is a valuable resource to have, and one that I need to get working properly.
  • Happy tomato
  • Speaking of rainwater management, I have begun work on a rain barrel system to catch and store the water that runs off the roof and into the gutters.  This is water that can be used to water the plants, such as the annuals all around the property in pots.  It can, in a pinch, be used to water the crops, but such a process will be slow, unless we figure out a way to make it faster than filling a bucket at a time.  I also feel the water can be used to water the poultry and waterfowl, which can tolerate rainwater.  I am not sure about the goats just yet.
  • On the crop front, this year has been rough so far.  Though I am pleased to say that everything that needed to get into the ground got in the ground when it should have (despite the second full time job), the weather has been interesting, and some things are struggling.  Lettuce, tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, peas, garlic, cucumbers and the strawberries all seem to be doing well, but other things are not.  The peppers and eggplant are both in their second planting, as the first one pretty much failed.  The beans and corn are limping along, and I have had an outbreak of cucumber beetles unlike anything I have ever seen, and the winter squash have suffered because of it.  I am concerned, but still hopeful.  Last year was a weird one for weather as well, but it still managed to work out.  I am hoping it will be the same again.
The dry beans are pretty much a no-show
  • On the meatbird front, the Cornish Cross were butchered a couple of weeks ago, and we got some huge chickens from it.  There were a couple over 8 pounds, and a few that were nearly 8 pounds.  In all, a good harvest weight-wise, but we lost too many birds this time.  I can't point out a reason for it, but it did not go well.  It has made me re-think where I purchase the birds from, as my "go-to" hatchery seems to have failed me.  In truth, I have started to re-think the Cornish Cross altogether, as the price of grain is going up and up and up, and those guys eat a lot.  Yes, we love the birds, but cost of the grain is going to make them infeasible.  Instead, I look at the Delaware crosses we have running around, and I wonder if I'm seeing the future.  They eat very little in concentrated grain.  Instead, they forage constantly and pull what they need from the land.  This will be extremely useful in the future, as the prices continue to rise.  So as a side project, we have started to select the best of the ones we have, and we will breed them to others that we have to see if we can get a really nice chicken out of it.  It will not be on par with the Cornish Cross size-wise, but getting a good tasting bird with a nice amount of meat on it is really all we need.  We just need to rearrange our thinking a little.
The wave of the future?
  • Dulcinea is a milk machine, and Lilly is up to bat come Saturday, so it's been a big cheese making time here.  Yesterday I made some cheddar, which is my go-to cheese when I have a lot of milk and a little time.  We eat a LOT of cheddar, so making it is high up on my list of things I like to make and turn out.  Yesterday, though, I decided to use the Anatto extract I had to color it orange.  When my kids were little, and we bought American Cheese (we no longer do), they would BEG for the orange cheese.  And, of course, most cheese in the supermarket is orange.  But when the cheese I was making was being made, I have to tell you that the orange color freaked me out a bit.  It is a really odd color for cheese.  It made me think about who in the hell thought cheese should be orange in the first place, and why.  It seems really strange to me, and the weirdest thing was how I accepted all along that cheese was orange--which of course, it isn't.  I know, odd thoughts.  But sufficed to say, I think coloring cheese orange is really weird, and I won't be repeating it.  And I guess, if I ever need to buy cheese from the supermarket again, I will really think twice about that color.  Point is, did you ever think of how many odd things we accept?  I bet you're thinking about it now!
  • And speaking of questioning things and accepting things, I would urge you to read the June/July issue of Mother Earth News.  This time around they wrote articles about the lack of nutrition in the foods we eat and the "Green Revolution".  It gave me a lot to think about.  I have known for a long time that the reason agriculture has tootled along for so long was because of fossil fuel inputs (fertilizer), and that the fossil fuels are getting harder to find.  This, of course, means that food will become harder to find, when there is no "quick and dirty" way to prop the system up.  Knowing this is why I have chosen to do what I do--I have children.  I want to provide for them.  What I never realized was how nutritionally deficient those mass-farmed foods really are, and how bad that really is for all of us.  It gave me yet another reason to redouble my efforts. 
I will also add, that if you are feeling low, Joel Salatin's article in this same issue will give you a boost.  I take a lot of flack from people about growing as many things as I do, and keeping as many animals as I keep.  Whether it's a family member wondering "why I would bother" with all the animals, or a coworker telling me "how much work" this all is, there is a lot of pressure to conform.  I've been called crazy, I've been laughed at.  Mostly people just shake their heads and walk away, discussion over. 

Discouraging as it can be sometimes, I have always just looked at what I do as "opting out" of a system of which I did not want to be a part.  I do not want to contribute to the destruction of our planet as much as others might do (I cannot deny that I use fossil fuels, though I try to minimize our usage).  I do not want to rely solely on others for food.  I do not want my husband or children doing those things either.  So I do things for myself, I teach my children to do things for themselves, and I ask my husband to lend a hand and do things as well.  And we do them as naturally and "low-tech" as possible.  Truly, I always saw myself as sort of a chicken--I opt out and therefore cannot be counted.  I am silent in my dissent.  Salatin suggests, however, that those who opt-out are truly a sort of rebel.  That saying no says a lot, and perhaps more than marching around and saying it out loud for all to hear.  Reading this was kind of profound for me.  Who knew I was a rebel?  Definitely not me.

Icky and Tor is seepin'  :)
So read the magazine, it's worth your time. Don't take too much time, though, it's growing season, and we've got work to do!
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Friday, May 30, 2014

It's Like Deja Vu All Over Again

**Spoiler Alert!!**

You may have already seen this post.  Or have you? 

Lilly has given birth.  And I swear it's like last year, minus the dirt.

Last year's two babies from Lilly, one boy and one girl:

Boy on the right, girl on the left

Little boy

Little girl (Tallulah)
This year's two from Lilly (hold onto your seats):
Little boy on the right, little girl on the left

Little boy (looking demony because of the flash)

Little girl
Haven't I seen this show before????

I could swear my life's been running re-runs on me.

Notable differences?  The girl was born first this time.  And it was done inside, in the birthing pen.   That was a great change.  :)

So....introducing Lilly's new crop o'babies, born 9:30 this morning, and who are quite obviously Stewart's offspring.  That boy has some strong genes. 

Congrats to the proud parents!

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