Friday, May 31, 2013

T-Minus 4 Days. 5 Days? 4 Days.

I guess it depends on how you look at it. 

She's due the 4th of June.

She's gigantic.

Poor Minnie-Merva. 

She's tired and uncomfortable.  She sat down, stood up, sat down all day.  Her back end is all puffy.  Her udder is HUGE.  She has had tummy trouble because there are FEET in her rumen.  Go figure.  I can actually see them move across her side and land-POW-right in the wrong spot. That hasn't helped at all.

And to add insult to injury, she's in lockdown in the kidding pen in the garage-barn until she gives birth. 

During the day she can roam and hang out in the goatyard.  At night, I need her close, so I can hear.  Minerva has CAE, remember, so I have to pull her babies after she has them.  This is not something I look forward to or will relish doing, but it should be done for the sake of the babies.  We'll see how it works out.  Either way, I need to be there to make sure she's a-ok.

So she's in lockdown.  But she was SO lonely last night, I couldn't leave her lonely.  So I brought in her second in command, her trusty lieutenant, Lilly.

"Um, hello?  It's ME!"

Who is a picture hog. 

Tonight, the same thing.  They are in together.  You'd think that would make them happy, or at least resigned to the same old same old, but no.  After they were put in the pen with all the nice clean hay and the cold water bucket and a little alfalfa and beet pulp they complained.  It went like this.

Translation:  Hey bellhop.  Where's the mint on the pillow??

Translation:  Why isn't there Pay Per View??

Then finally, when that was not working:

Translation:  I have a herd to run, you know!!! 

Translation:  Why do you hate us?  We are so nice.  Why do you lock us away, alone, and forgotten?  Why, Bad Lady, why???

Minerva makes her sad face, which coincidentally looks just like her "give me more grain" face. 
She's a chameleon, she truly is.

It is very, very sad.  It truly is. 

We are in the countdown.  Soon, my friends, I think soon. 
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Full Days

You know how spring is--time to hustle and bustle!  Lots of things are happening here, and I thought I'd catch you up.

*  The kittens are getting big.  They hit the big 3 week mark yesterday, and were all down the hallway.  They spend most of their time under my daughter's bed, but they have started to venture out.  They are cuties, and I think they'd spend more time walking around, but mama cat is a bit too nervous.  She likes to scoot them right back under the bed when they go out, complaining the entire time. 

Which way am I looking???
 When we do see them, they are very sweet.

*  Spring means lots of eggs, so I've been using them the best I can.  Currently I'm working on pasta.

Multi-purpose drying rack!

I have made egg noodles and regular fettuccini.  I think my next thing will be to make pound cakes to freeze.  Then maybe an Angel Food cake.  Or three.  Maybe that'll get it under control.  :)

*  The gardens are nearly planted--I have the dry beans to get in the ground, which I keep meaning to do, and then either something else comes up, or it rains.  I'm hoping tomorrow morning is the morning.  Otherwise, I'm all planted.  I can tell you that I underestimated the number of seedlings I would need this year.  Going from 2100 square feet to the 3000 square feet was a much bigger jump than I thought it would be, and I ran out of lots of things and was sticking things in willy-nilly.  It should work out, it's just not as organized as I'd like.  But that's ok.  Things will still be delicious.

 I've also got it mostly mulched, which is good, because the weeds are out with a vengeance this year.

*  It looks like it's going to be a good year for strawberries.  Though the pipes are doing "ok", the bed is doing beautifully.

Lots of little strawberry-lings popping up make me very happy!

*  The little Muscovies are thriving, which is wonderful.  They are not thrilled with people, but I didn't get them to be pets, so that's ok with me.  They are growing by leaps and bounds, and I am thrilled to say, that small as they are, they are already trying to eat the flies straight out of the air.  I'm just fine with that!  The flies also seem to be out with a vengeance this year.  Anything they can do to help is just ducky (HA!!).

*  And so we come to the biggest news.  The countdown.  Minerva is due in 6 days.  6 DAYS!  Holy crow!!!

Her plug came out last week, which is no big sign, but it was something.  Her demeanor, however, has changed drastically.  She has completely mellowed out and turned back into MY Minerva.  Snotty-potty head Minerva seems to be gone, and she's back to being my sweet girl again.  She let me feel her tummy the other day (for a half a minute), and I felt a foot.  My bet is that she's got either one big one in there, or two at most.  I don't think there are more than that, but I could be wrong. 

Minerva and I have a special relationship.  We know each other, and that's not something I can explain more than to say that.  I know her, she knows me.  I'm not worried about her giving birth, oddly enough, because I trust her to trust me.  Just because she does.  I know that she will let me do whatever needs to be done, if anything at all needs to be done.  Because I know her.  I know, sounds odd.  But if you've ever had a special animal, you know what I'm talking about.  Minerva's my girl.

You know what I am nervous about?


AAAHH!  Stainless steel!  It scares me!!

Ok............. no.

Milking.  Oh boy.  Milking scares the bejeezus out of me.  Lemme 'splain.  Back when I was a little kiddle, my uncle owned a dairy farm in West Virginia.  I don't remember a lot about it--my long term memory is really bad--but I do remember that he had pigs, which I thought stank, he had blackberry bushes that were huge and full of fruit, which I thought were really cool, and he had goats.  'Cause it was a goat dairy, see?  I don't remember what kind of goats they were, but my mother tells me that they were the ones with the "droopy ears".  So, Nubians.

Stewart says "Nubians rule!  Wanna hear me yodel?"

I remember going into the milking parlor and having him show me how to milk and then letting me try.  And I got not a drop.  Not a single solitary drop.  I have no idea how old I was, or even what I did right or wrong.  As is with memories, I only remember the failure.  Now, years later, I have successfully milked a goat--very briefly--I was testing a friend's goat to see if she had let her milk down for her babies.  So I have sort of redeemed myself.  But still the sting of that past failure persists.  I want so much to milk, I am afraid I'm going to have some sort of handicap.

Of course, Minerva wants to hear none of this.  She doesn't care about my insecurities.  All she wants is someone to alleviate that giant udder of hers when it's time.

It's enormous.  Especially when you consider she's a first freshener.   This pic can't even capture it really, it is so full and round.   If I compare it to Lilly's,

who is also a first freshener, the difference is huge.  Of course, Min is a precocial milker, so I'm not that surprised.  Lilly is not.  Still, we'll see who proves out in the end.

Anywho, I worry that I will not be able to milk my girls, and then I really worry that I won't like it.  Having the animals was so natural to me, I fell into the routine of feedings and cleanings and puttings-in like it was breathing.  Now I can't imagine my life without all the animals and all their routines.  How empty it would be.  I am hoping that milking is going to be like breathing--natural.  I'm worried it won't.  I guess I'll find out, either way, next week.

In the meantime, I am prepared.  The stainless steel above is a milking pail, a strainer, and the strip cup.  I also have filters and teat wash and balm and the whole nine.  And of course, I have this:

OHH!  Snazzy!  My millions of thanks to Fiasco Farm, who did all the thinking for me and designed this baby.  All I had to do was build it.  It took me an hour and a half and not much in lumber, and it's beautiful.  And functional.  I figured I'd take it for a test drive before I had to actually milk, so I put everyone in it for a hoof trim and haircut.  Why haircut?  Because it's going to be 90 degrees here on Friday, and my girls and boys are still in their somewhat winter hair.

Here's their before:

And Maxwell and Cynthia too:

They is cutie patooties! 
Don't mind the pen.  It's been raining here A LOT and it's all muddy and gross.  I can't wait for it to dry out!
Lots of shaggy butts!  So I put them in the milking stand like so,

Cleo really needed very little in way of a haircut.  She needed her feet done. 
Max is helping her eat her grain.

trimmed their feet, and shaved them down.  Now they is beyoo-tee-full!


So sleek and shiny! 

Lilly actually changed colors.


Ok, not really.  That's just the way her hair is.  Light on the tip, dark underneath.  Now that she's shaved down, though, she looks very different.  I think she's a bit self conscious about it, too.  She was hiding when I put them away for the night.  She looked embarrassed.

I had fun, though.  I love working with my animals.  I decorated me,

 and the driveway in goat hair.

But I am hoping they feel better in the heat.  I still have to do their bellies, which I could not do because the trimmer couldn't handle it.  Just a note:  people haircutting trimmers do not work well on goats.  I bought an inexpensive Wahl people hair trimmer to do my goats with, and though it worked, it could not do the long hair on their bellies.  And I burned out the motor.  Ooops.  I think it would be ok on a short haired goat like Cleo, but forget the dairy breeds.  It can't handle it.  I will be investing in a big-girl trimmer soon, so I can do bellies and the spots I missed.

And I think that's all!  Oh, if you are curious about the Replamin I've been giving the goats, this has been my experience so far: it works ok.  They shined up a little, and under the crappy browning, I can tell that they are starting to blacken back up, but it's nothing miraculous.  I'm three weeks in with it, and I'm not seeing miracles, by any chance.  They look a little better. 

I decided a week ago that I was going to redo the entire feeding system and scrap the feed they were being given.  I have given up the molasses-covered gack that they were eating and have put them on a diet of horse pellets, oats, beet pulp, BOSS, and alfalfa pellets.  THEY LOVE IT!  Not only that, but their coats' appearances have improved immensely.  They are glossy and soft again.  The color is still not great, though.  I think it may take bolusing to get it right.  But the feed change is here to stay.  I am thrilled with it, and so are they. 

Ok, THAT'S all the news that's fit to print.  Have a wonderful night everyone!
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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Oh, Ladybug!!!

I've got a million things to show you all, but I didn't want to not show you the office/sewing room makeover I told you about.  I am pleased to say, most of all, that I really like this room now.  I have hated this room for years--all three that we've lived here.  It was white (ick), tiny, and unbelievably cluttered.  It's still tiny, but it's no longer white.  You ready?

Ta dAAAA!!!

The bottom picture is a better representation, but is that a COLOR, or is that a COLOR??


It's called "Ladybug", and when it was made at the store, the paint guy said it kinda crawls out of the can.  HA!

It's ok with me. I really like it.  I took my inspiration from my bulletin board, here:

Under all that goosh is a fabric with flowers on it, see it at the top there?.  Some of the flowers are a bright pink, which I took to be the wall color.  You know what?  I have painted this entire house the colors I like, but with others in mind.  I love the blues, the yellows (especially) and the greens.  But this room is MY room.  I work here constantly, and no one else uses it.  So I did it for me.  I wanted pep, so I made it peppy.

And I love it.

After it was painted, I decided to get all wild and just put stuff together that I liked but made no sense, since it didn't have to make any sense to anyone but me.  So I put up an asymmetrical curtain from some fabric I had laying around,

And hung a banner made from some yarn and vintage handkerchiefs, like this:
This one is my favorite!

Eventually I'll find some fabric in my stash and cover the ugly computer chair, and then I'll probably make some things for the walls, but I'm happy with it the way it is just now.  It certainly gets my creative juices flowing because it's a peppy room, full of stuff that makes me happy, and now I like being in here.

And that's a huge step in the right direction.

But in case you're wondering if I've totally lost my mind, I haven't.  I have a history of making rooms for myself a little wild.  I present to you exhibit A, my last sewing room from the last house we lived in, the room that still gives my father-- the artist, mind you-- "nightmares".


In context, this new room is much more sedate, don't you think?

Today we build the house for Stewart and Maxwell, so they can move out on their own shortly, as babies are due here on the 4th.  On top of that, lots of things have been happening, so stay tuned!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013


We've been under an attack of sorts here at Chicken Scratch.  Something has been eating our ducks and chickens by the boatload, and right in the middle of the day.  To date, we've lost 5 pullets and 10 ducks.  Some ducks were taken at night because they refused to go into their house, but several were taken during the day, right in the woods where they were foraging.  The culprit?  Unknown.  But the chickens are on lockdown until further notice, and because the ducks are still ranging (they escape no matter how I lock them in), they're kind of on their own.  Luckily, we have had no more losses, as the remaining ducks stick to the open areas of the property, as well as the stream right off the back.

It's been rough, with so many losses.  I had hopes that possibly the ducks that we lost may not have been lost, and were in fact forming a rag-tag duck colony in the woods, where they free range and bolster their numbers.  I was hoping that because we lost all our Runners (my favorites) and our two White Cresteds.  They were all the prettiest ducks we had.  Unfortunately, I know this is not the case, and the ducks have become a meal for whatever it was, leaving us with the motley crew of "homebrews", all the ducks our ducks made, a mish-mash of genetics and colors.

What I have discovered, however, is that free-ranging the ducks is far less destructive than free-ranging the chickens.  They don't eat my flowers.  They don't eat the vegetables.  They don't scratch.  They're actually pretty well behaved for ducks who run around willy-nilly all day.  So it caused me to re-think ducks in general.  As a rule, I kept ducks for my daughter, who loves them.  I don't find them to be of much use, other than egg laying.  I find them dumb, and flighty.  But with all the losses, and the discovery that the ducks remaining are actually not all that bad, I felt like I should bolster the numbers a little bit.

So I did.  But as domestic ducks are still dumb and flighty to me, I went in a different direction, and chose the Muscovy.

If you don't know much about Muscovies, here are some facts:
  • They are often called the "quackless" duck, because they are very quiet
  • They can fly, and like to perch
  • They have claws and can climb over obstacles
  • The males can get to be 15 pounds, the females 7 or so
  • Muscovy ducks can lay up to 195 eggs a year over a 40-week season. They'll nest three or four times during the season, hatching up to 20 ducklings a time.
  • The meat has a fine texture and is lean, like veal
  • Although the Muscovy Duck is a tropical bird, it adapts to icy and snowy conditions down to –12°C (10°F) and below without ill effects
  • They don't like to swim as much as other breeds because their oil glands are not as active. When they do wash they are incredibly thorough and most of the water is dispersed over a wide area ie, they like to splash and play
  • When a Muscovy is crossed with other breeds, it produces a sterile off spring called 'mules' which are good meat ducks
  • They are foragers and eat insects, small vermin like mice and rats and (unfortunately) frogs
Why did I choose this breed?  Flies.  We have flies.  And mosquitoes.  Lots of them.  These guys eat them like it's going out of style, and that's a huge plus in my book.  Also, I was looking forward to having an animal that can "care for itself" in a way.  You know, one with a little bit of brains to it.  And I like the idea of supplemental feeding, and allowing them to find their own food for the most part, especially if it's in the form of the bugs I don't want.  On the flip side, I was very hesitant about introducing Muscovies because A) they are kind of hard to find, and B) they are kinda ugly (ooh, I know!  Bad!).   But the biggest reason I held off for quite a while is because I don't know how their behavior will be--they're such an unknown.  I've heard they can be aggressive, as they are such "wild" ducks.  Then I've also heard they're not aggressive at all.  Whatever the truth of it is, I'll soon find out because I took the plunge, and they arrived today.

There are only 6, and they are all different colors.  And can I just say, I already like them.  They're nosy as all get-out.  They wouldn't remain in their box and instead jumped out/climbed out all over the car on the way home.  They are curious and talkative and much more precocious than a domestic duck.  I like sparky animals.  These guys seem sparky to me. 

So we'll see how this goes.  I am hoping that these guys will become another tool in the arsenal here and will provide a real benefit to us with their foraging habits and easy care.  I'm also hoping that they'll be a nice animal to have around and won't get eaten like their domesticated cousins.  No matter what, it'll be an adventure.  Stay tuned to see how this all turns out!

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Monday, May 20, 2013


I have been suffering with an outbreak of hives for the past 5 days.  It sucks, to put it politely.  I wash, I break out.  I don't wash, I break out.  You touch me, I break out.  You don't touch me, I break out.  I break out under clothing, I break out not under clothing.  I get something on one part of me, I break out somewhere else completely.  Shoes?  Yep or nope.  Soap?  Yep or nope.  Water?  Yep or nope.  Depends.  Sometimes I'll break out nowhere near anything that touched anything whatsoever and for no reason.

It's been hell, and since I don't know what's causing it, I can't fix it.  If you've never had the pleasure of hives, let me tell you how lucky you are.  Imagine having hives on the bottoms of your feet and the palms of your hands.  It's terrible.  I finally broke down and went to the "Emergency Doctor", who gave me a shot of steroids which hurt like crazy, and then gave me a prescription for the same.  They're not doing much.  I'm thinking I might live in a bubble, but I'll probably still get hives. 

Ok, enough moping.  I'm done whining.  While this has all been going on, I have been trying to keep busy.  I'm maybe 1/3 planted in the gardens, and yesterday, because it rained all day, I broke into my sewing room/office and cleaned it.  Then painted the trim.  Today, because I thought it was going to rain (it didn't), I painted the walls.  PINK.  Really red-pink.  And I will take you some pictures--after I'm done cleaning it up.  Until then, you'll have to be happy with the horrible, horrible before pictures. 

Ugh!  Scary!

These are pictures from January 2012, and it only got worse from there.  It was a catchall, and I could hardly walk in here.  No more, though.  It's all better.  Wait till you see! 

'Till then, pricklier yours,

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Steps to Install A Package of Bees

Today I installed my bee packages.  As always, it was an experience.  This is how it's done.

Step 1:  Put the hive together and set it on the stand.  Put bee package on the hive and admire it.  Think about how peaceful those little bees are.  Think about how ticked off they're going to be in a minute.

Step 2:  Remember that you not only have to annoy bees once, you have to annoy bees twice.  Begin to rethink the sanity of what you're doing.

Step 3:  Say to yourself "They're just little bees.  They can't really hurt me".  Suit up anyway. 

Step 4:  Pop the top of the package and remove the queen cage.  Take a look at her and try to ignore the bees that are already buzzing around you, as well as the ones clinging onto the cage.  Be glad you have gloves.

Step 5:  Open the queen cage's tab and place her between two frames.  Make a space in the hive by removing frames for the bees you're about to shake--yes, shake--in there.

Step 6:  Remove the feeder can from the package, which makes a big hole in it's top and then bang the bees on the ground.  Proceed to hold breath, turn package upside down, and shake 10,000 bees into that space you made in the hive.  Try to ignore the angry buzzing.

Step 7:  With your gloved hand, push the bees that are in the way of the top out of the way so they don't get smooshed.  Put the inner cover on, put the feeder over the hole, and place the empty hive body over it.  Put the top on and step BACK.

Step 8:  While you try to ignore that the air is full of thousands of confused and somewhat ticked off stinging machines, admire your work.  Then remember that you have to do it all again.

Step 9: Know that the package you haven't installed yet knows what you're about to do and doesn't really like the look of it and would rather opt out of the whole deal, thank you very much. 
Suck it up and  repeat steps 4-7.   

Step 10:  Ignoring the fact that there are now twice as many confused and someone ticked off stinging machines in the air all around you, place the fairly empty packages under the hives so the bees that you only annoyed by shaking, but did not manage to get into the hive, can get into the hive. 

Step 11:  Go back several hours later to see that all the bees went into their homes.  Take the packages and gently flick the "slacker bees" into the hives by the feeder so they don't freeze all by themselves.  Close them up and walk away.

Step 12:  Go have a stiff drink and know it was a job well done.

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PS--Happy Mother's Day to all you mamas!
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