Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy

What else is new?  This is a farm, y'all!  Life doesn't stop or take breaks!

Ok, I don't really say y'all.  But I wish I did.

Anyway, yep, it's been busy!  And what have I been doing, you ask?


"Hey flat bills!"  "Hee hee!  Your bills are flat!"  "What happened, did someone step on them?"

The geese have been busy heckling the new ducklings.

"Seriously.  Leave. Me. Alone."

Fat Black (aka Abigail) has been busy being broody and is setting on anything put under her--a plastic Easter egg, a golf ball, etc.  Finally I decided that she needs to put all the broody energy to good use and went to another local farm who has scads of chickens and picked her up 3 fertile eggs.  I'll let you know if anything comes of it.  At least she's working, though.

I've been busy building a new rabbit hutch for Bunnicula, who's been busy chasing Robert all around the world and beating him up.  Dopey.  I don't know what's gotten into him, but I think it has something to do with Petunia. 

The guinea keets have been busy escaping and not coming back.  One has returned, and I caught it to feed it and give it water because it was STARVING, and that caused it to eat and drink and then be busy screaming its fool head off, because it didn't want to be caught and was doing just fine on its own, don't ya know.

The kids have been busy going to half-day summer camp in town, which is great because then I can be busy playing my fiddle and they can be busy not hearing me do it.  By the way, I've kicked Home on the Range's butt, and am working on the next tune.  Woo hoo!

And the kittens?  They've been busy, too.  They've been-er-busy conserving energy.

I swear: they ARE alive.

I am proud to say, though, that they can catch flies out of mid air.  That's got to count for something.

That's not all, though.  The biggest, and most exciting news I have is that we built a chicken coop!  A HUGE one!  We went from this:

Which is lovely and built beautifully, but is really tight even for 9 chickens, to this:

A 64 square foot multi-colored (currently) behemoth!  It's beautiful!  I am calling it the Dream Coop, because I couldn't have asked for anything better.

This baby features a large chicken door that faces the wired run,

 a nice-sized person door on the opposite end that I can go in and out of,

And not one, not two, not three, but FOUR 8 foot perches! 

And one short, low perch for the Silkie and the roos, because they don't like to fly up high.

5 perches altogether!  Holy cow!  And still room to spare!  It will eventually also feature 12 nest boxes, but I'm still in the construction stages for that.  The rabbit hutch has to come first.  Stupid Bunnicula.

Can you believe it?  It is so wonderful, I can't even explain how happy I am with it.  It's as of yet unfinished, of course.  It's multicolored because I can't pick a color to go with.  And it's not trimmed, and the windows aren't on, but it will be done soon.  But it's workable so that everyone can live in it and not get rained on or eaten while I pretty it up.  Hurray!

Best part?  We built this with our friends and family.  My brother designed it (with very minimal input from me), and our family and friends came from all around to help build it.  It was a great day.  We talked, joked, laughed, ate, and worked like maniacs.  We never could have done it without everyone's help.  And I love the coop all the more because of it. 

There is something so satisfying about having a coop that you can comfortably fit your chickens in.  It's kind of like the relief I feel when I get the crops planted after having them juggling in small pots for so long.  You put them in the ground, and you feel like "Hey, there it is.  Finally.  Safe and sound"  Same thing here.  It gives me great pleasure to see all the little chicken butts on their perches in that house.  Safe and sound. 

Ahh.  Really, it doesn't get better than this.  It just doesn't.
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Brooder Burnout

Ducks Take 2 arrived this morning, and I have to admit, it's become less exciting.  I guess it's the fact that this is the 5th or 6th batch of little ones that I've brooded this year.  I think I'm suffering from Brooder Burnout.  They are cute little bugs, though, aren't they?

Ducklings are always so cute.  Right now they are motorboating around in the waterer.  I'm sure I'm giving the good folks at Metzer Farms a fit, with my "one of these, one of those" ordering style.  This time around, we've got a Khaki Campbell female, a Cayuga female, a Blue Runner female, a Buff female, and a Welsh Harlequin pair.  I would have loaded up with more Runners, but I placed the order before the other Runners died--I was still hoping at the time they would make it.  As it is, we are left with only Suzie, a Fawn/White runner, and Charles, who still thinks he's a goose, though he does talk to Suzie more now than before.

They are in their initial residence of LaundryBasket Land until I clean out the brooder (again).  The keets have run off (again), so there's plenty of room for the ducks.  I just didn't get it cleaned out in time-I've been busy.  You'll see why as soon as I get a chance to post it.  Very exciting!

Anywho, back to the ducks.  I have different plans for a new, improved Ducky Fort Knox.  I don't want the same thing to happen to these little ones as happened to the last batch--it was just too heartbreaking.  Stay tuned!!
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Friday, June 24, 2011

I Caught Me a Keet!

And he/she wasn't happy about it.

To sum up: two weeks ago I bought 4 Guinea keets to help with the Japanese Beetle/tick problem here.  They are annoying, to say the least.  They hop out of the brooder every chance they get, which makes me have to cover the damn thing with wire, which they get stuck in because they jump against it, causing me to change the wire type two times until I found a piece that they couldn't get stuck in.  But, of course, I have to change their water and feed them, so I have to pull up the wire, which causes the keets to jump out again.  And they are fast.  So, if they get out, they're pretty much gone. 

Twice I have gone in in the morning and found one missing, to be found later in the garage, screaming its fool head off.  Once I went in in the morning and found that I had been heating the empty brooder all night, because there was no one in it.   Again, they were in the garage, but when I looked, I could not find them anywhere, and they pretty much came out on their own.

Fast forward to yesterday.  I went to change their water, and they all jumped out.  I didn't even bother trying to catch them, because I never can.  Out they went, into the garage, and presumably, since the door was open, outside.  They were gone all night.  They were gone all morning.  They were not in the garage, anywhere in the gardens outside, in the chicken house, in the duck house---they were nowhere.  I figured that someone had a little meal of them, rolled my eyes, unplugged the heat lamp and went on with my life.  At about 3 o'clock, I hear loud keet screaming.  I come out of the woods where I am working, and hello!  there are four sad, bedraggled, slightly damp keets in the middle of the yard, screaming their heads off.

You'd think they'd be easy to catch after spending the night and day outside in the rain with nothing to eat or drink and in the cold, but no.  They ran like I was trying to eat them.  Which caused me to go to emergency measures--the butterfly net.  That's why the keet above looks SO happy--I scooped the damn thing up.  Ha!  Let me tell you, the day they gave brains out, keets were absent. 

Anyway, they've survived.  I unceremoniously shoved them back into the brooder box and put their lid on.  After they pigged out, this is how I found them:

They are alive, let me assure you.  They've simply passed out.  Dopes.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Naturalness of Nature

Well, didn't we have an interesting few days!  Yesterday, just after I finished telling a neighbor how the chickens are doing fine despite the hawks because the geese scare them away, the theory was tested.  The geese started screaming bloody-blue murder from their pond.  I ran to see, and lo and behold, this is what flew into the trees.

Disclaimer: not the actual hawk.  I didn't have my camera nearby at the time

He/she hung around for a while and flew to another tree, but I guess he didn't like the noise, so off he/she went.  No meal for him/her.  Good geese!

And then today, I was in the house cleaning up and I hear a small goose screech and then hear everyone run for cover under the deck.  Then I hear this pathetic "Fwee" noise, so I look out.  The little roo is diving for cover, as is everyone else.  He's the one making the noise.  Some alarm.  The geese were mum, I should say.  Just as I'm thinking "What the hell are you all running for?", something catches my eye, and it's this:

Big as life, in the yard, near the pool, which is maybe 50 feet from the back door. Really close, which is why all of the animals were running for cover, and the roo was doing his bad imitation of a warning call. 

 Oh, and no, that's not my picture either.  My picture looks like this, because I didn't get the camera in time.

Can you see it?  No?  Let me help you:
Better, ya?  Anyway, I figure he/she came up because he/she saw the chickens and was thinking this:
Disclaimer: not my chicken.  If it were, this would be a different sort of post.

But no such luck for him/her.  He/she lumbered off without a meal.  Too bad!

You see, even though we have a lot of this:

And this:

And these running around:

We are farming in a non-conventional area: ie; it's all woods, baby.  So there's a lot of this:

And this:

And a bunch of this:

And that:

And more of this:

OOoh!  Orbs!  The place is haunted!

Which is why we bought the house in the first place.  House is nice, land is spectacular, and we planned on leaving much of it the way it is, using only what we need.  Animals and crops are kept close to the house for that reason.   But, of course, there are the "neighbors" to deal with.

Dang nature.  Again, I am thinking I might need one of these:

But being as though I loathe violence, maybe loaded with beanbags or blanks just to scare the thing away.  Anyone have similar situations?  What do you think about rifles to scare away unwanted potential feasters?  Inquiring mind wants to know!
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Exponential Growth

This time it's about the bees. 
The girls have been busy.  I noticed quite the bee cloud going into the entrance the other day, and I thought "Gee, I bet it's getting crowded in there".  And lo and behold, it was.

The feeder hides the mob

Remove the feeder and the bees bubble up

Bees building things they shouldn't on the inner cover

Looked at the hive body itself, and yep, crowded.

Help!  Not enough square footage!  We bee crowded!  (ha ha)

They'd used all but the last two frames.  Time for the second hive body.

All done

And I got some lovely beeswax to boot.  This was all stuck to the inner cover, and I though I would have preferred to put it back for them to use, there was nowhere to put it gracefully.  So yeay!  Beeswax!

Easy peasy. 

Oh, I thought I'd show you my assistant.  He's my go-to guy for pumping the smoker.  He also stayed nearby during my work on the bees today ---basically he crouched in the corner by the tree and said helpful things like "They can't get me because they can't see me" and "EEEEEEEW!  What is that?" and "How come I don't see the queen?  Can I see the queen?  Where are the babies?  Can I see?".

 My responses, because I like to be calm around the bees as to not get stung, mostly were "Reid, stop talking.  Stop talking Reid.  Really Reid, you have to stop talking.  Reid, I don't want to get stung, so stop talking.".  Mostly done out of the side of my mouth.  Such talent. 

I did not get stung.  Woo hoo!
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer Project

Disclaimer: not my fiddle.  I found the picture here.  I would have taken a picture of my fiddle, but I can't find the dang camera again.  This one is nice, though.

Oh yeah, you've seen it right.  I'm learning to fiddle.  Many, many moons ago, when I was a young lass, I knew how to play--kinda.  I was in the orchestra in middle school.  I had a violin that was given to me by a friend of the family; a beautiful instrument, which I loved to look at and loathed to play.  I don't know if it was the teacher, or the songs, or my age, but I just hated it.  As soon as I could quit, I did.

Fast forward an unmentionable number of years, and I felt the yearning to play again.  As the beautiful violin I owned so many years ago had been sold, I asked for a new violin for my birthday, and got it.  I proceeded to buy a huge number of books on how to play, how to read music, songs for the violin, and so on.  I started, got totally frustrated, and promptly quit.

Oh yeah, I'm a quitter.  Go me.

Anyway, fast forward still many more years, and I still have the violin.  The dang thing's moved to every house we've owned and I've opened it maybe twice.  But the call started again.  However, there were small kids to raise and plenty of things to do, and I just never found the time.

Ha!  Now I'm making the time.  My kids are bigger, and though there are still more things than ever to do, I'm taking it on.  I'm pleased to say that I've been at it for two weeks, and I set aside an hour every day to play--AND I look forward to it (that's a biggie).  So far, I totally get it.  It's like the light went on at last for me and this instrument.  I know how to tune it, I know how to string it (just ask me how many D strings I've popped so far), and I know how to play scales.  I can find most of the notes with my fingers and I've kicked the crap out of "Mary Had A Little Lamb", "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat", "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "Shortnin' Bread".  I'm currently working on showing "Amazing Grace" who's boss (except I popped another D string-dangit).

This time I conquer the fiddle.  Maybe the key is not playing classical music.  Maybe I just had to mellow.  Who knows.  My goal?  I want to take on that solo from "Dust In the Wind".  That's the aim here.   Or "Devil in the Kitchen".  Either one.  Or both.  Anyway, this time I can do it, I feel it in my bones. 

Stay tuned.  There will be plenty more where this came from.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Test Passed

On Friday, I passed a big milestone for me-I attended a chicken processing workshop.  For those of you who have been processing your own livestock for some time, or grew up on a farm where this was done normally, it's not a big deal.  But for a formerly suburban girl whose family thinks she's just about flipped her lid with this "farm thing", it's a biggie.  I wanted to go to learn a skill that'll take me a little further off of the agri-business roller coaster.  Just to bring me a little further along to being self-sufficient.  I also wanted to go to test myself.  To see if I could willingly bring about an end of a life whose sole purpose was to be food.  In short, could I truly be a producer, in all senses of the word?

Well, the verdict is in, and yes I can, and I feel that passing this particular test proves to me that I truly belong here, doing what I am doing.  I am on the right road at last. 

Friday was a good day.  Not in the sense of wow, that was F-U-N!!!!, but in the sense that I learned a lot and met myself in a way I've never met myself before.  We were a small group in a ramshackle old 4-H building on the local fairgrounds.  We were made up of mainly small farmers who were looking to learn the skill to add poultry to our farmer's market tables.  The teacher was Jim McLaughlin, from Cornerstone Farms.  The man knows his stuff.  We started by learning the HACCP rules and regs and what was required for us, as small farm producers, to do to have a legal and legitimate abattoir.  It was extremely educational, and I absorbed as much information as I could and asked a bunch of questions.  We were not a shy bunch, overall, which was lovely.  Lots of good questions were asked.

After lunch came the practical part.  I wasn't nervous in the least.  When Jim asked who would like to go first, I raised my hand.  Might as well jump in with both feet, you know?  After he showed us how to mercifully kill a chicken, I went and got one for myself.  They were provided by the Cornell Cooperative Extension woman who arranged the day.  She had 40 broilers ready to go and we were going to do her the service of processing them in exchange for learning the ropes.  The hen I picked up was heavy.  I know I talked to her the entire time.  When I took her life, I apologized and thanked her.  I did not hesitate in my cuts--that would have been an insult to her.  I made it as quick as I possibly could. 

After that came the processing part, of course.  I was fairly stupid about it, using the wrong side of the knife to start cutting to begin with (duh), and causing the poor chicken's head to go flying off 15 feet behind me.  And I couldn't find the lungs to save my life.  Luckily Jim was processing his chicken at the same time I processed mine, so that helped a bit.  He was very patient, and I am grateful for that.  Quite a few times I was the only one out of the four of us processing STILL trying to find an errant body part.

So no, I was not a stellar student in the beginning.  But I kept at it.  By the end of the day, I had "dispatched" four chickens and processed three.  I thanked and apologized to each and every one of them.  I got much faster by then, too.  At the end of the day I think it took me only minutes to process instead of the half hour it took me with the first one.  I watched others in the meantime to really get the process down.  You know what?  It's not as bad as you might think it is.  The worst part is the killing, by far.  If you farm, it really goes against your grain to take the life of an animal.  We spend all our time, after all, nurturing life, not destroying it, so this just goes against everything we do.  But if you look at it as though you are helping the chicken do the job it was raised to do (I know that might be morbid), it's not as bad.  And truly, if you are going to take a life, being hesitant or weepy about it is just stupid.  It does no one any good at all--least of all the animal.  The kindest thing you can do, if you really are going to do this, is to do it well and quickly and not have the animal suffer.  And I don't think it hurts to thank the animal, either.  They're performing the ultimate sacrifice here.  The least they deserve is a little thanks.

All in all, it was a good day.  It was nice to be in an environment with other people who know what I know.  For example, Jim is friends with Joel Salatin.  When he discussed how they worked together, we all knew who he was.  We'd all seen the same movies (Food Inc and Fresh) and had read most of the same books.  Nicest part of the day?  When I asked Jim if we were going to do anything stupid like give the carcasses a bleach bath after they were chilled and he just said no.  No shocked look and the exclamation of "they don't do that" or "what are you talking about, our food is not bleached!".  Just no.  Love it.  Worst part of the day?  The smell.  It's familiar to me because I have treated a few animals hereabouts and they all smell the same on the inside, but when there were 40 chickens, it was a lot.  It was stuck in my nose the whole rest of the day.

In short, I would not make this a career choice.  I far prefer nurturing to destroying.  But I can do it and I have learned a valuable skill.  One that I know I will use in the future.  So yep, test passed.  Bring on the next.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Window Decor

Yeah.....I don't know.  I don't think they'll catch on as a real design fad.

They move WAY too much to be really effective as decoration. 

These would, of course, be the "ferocious" mousers I just got at Agway.  Turns out they are just little mushpots that like to be with us.  When we go inside, this is what happens.  Oh, and there's lots of pathetic mewing as well to go with it.

Nope, definitely not the next design fad.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Dark Side of Farming

I don't know of too many other occupations that rely on nature and the weather as much as farming.  Those of us who work the land know how it is to be close to it, and how nature can be giving and make things beautiful, but that she is also very fickle and will take what she wants when she wants it.  Though we can grow luscious and wonderful things from her soil, the forest and grasses are always trying to conquer our gardens.  Though we can raise and nurture animals, she can send one of her wild creatures to kill and destroy.

Last night, they came for our ducks.

This morning, none the wiser, I went out as usual for feeding time.  It was quiet in the waterfowl yard, which is odd.  I didn't really notice too much, until I saw a large bit of dirt was pushed aside in front of the ducks' house, and the crack of the door was wider.  When I opened the door, the smell of duck dung and blood hit me.  It was a massacre.  Two were dead, one was missing, and four were badly wounded. 

My guess is that it was a weasel or a mink.  I could be wrong.  Whatever it was, it took the smallest of the new Khaki Campbells away completely.  It bit the heads of Lizzie, the other Khaki, and killed her, and Suzie, who is badly wounded but still alive.  It did horrible things to poor Phoebe, whose body parts were not left where they should have been.  It tore part of Jane's bill off, and went after Ophelia's bill and her left leg.   Fawn was so badly damaged, I couldn't see where the damage was. 

Fawn, Ophelia, Jane and Suzie were still alive.  I called my dad (thank goodness for nearby parents!) and asked if he could come lend me a hand with the kids.  I didn't want them to see what I was seeing.  I told them what had happened, and of course, they were very upset.  My dad arrived to take them out to get donuts, and I was left to treat the wounded and bury the dead. 

My first ministrations were quick--I had kids to get to school, and an appointment I had to attend.  Once those were done, I went and took another look.  Jane may make it.  Suzie and Ophelia might make it.  There was no way I could help Fawn.  As I racked my brain thinking of the most humane way to put her down (I have no gun, and that was the only suggestion I kept getting from people), she let me off the hook.  Thankfully, she went by herself.

So this is the ugly, dark side of farming.  I've seen it before, but this was my first big glimpse of it.  It was vicious and cold, and showed me exactly how harsh nature can be.  It was an education.  We have to start over again, which is disappointing, but I understand and accept how and that it happened.  We go on from here.  Once again, Chicken Scratch will hear the melodies of little ducklings.  I hope this time I can protect them better.
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