Saturday, July 27, 2013

Back in Black

Why the hell did I get all these black goats???  That's pretty much what I've been saying to myself for months, anyway.  Why?  Copper deficiency.  It's been SUCH a struggle for the girls, and the deficiency shows up in their black coloring as ugly red-brown.

I have tried so many things: different minerals, Replamin, copper sulfate, to no avail.  So I finally broke down and first changed their diet (I had some concerns about the molasses covered guck they were eating), and then, yup, I bolused. 

That did it.  Take a look:

Dulcinea May 1st of this year.
Dulcinea today.


No, I can get over the difference either.  

Minerva, May 1st of this year.

Minerva today.

The coats of all the goats are smooth and shiny, like goat satin.  It seems the deficiencies were so bad that nothing else worked.  From now on, I will need to bolus to keep their conditions up.

I did not bolus them with the bolusing gun however, I popped those capsules open and hid the rods inside dry papaya, which they all pretty much eat without chewing.  That's the only way it worked.  The holdout? Cynthia.

Cynthia is the uni-horn with the hay on her head.  Olive's in front of her.

It took me a couple of weeks to get her to take her copper, and I had to hide it REALLY well so she didn't taste it.  So right now, she pretty much looks the same.  In a couple of weeks I expect that will change, as it took a few weeks before the other girls started to look better.

But there you go.  After all the aggravation, bolusing was the answer.

And I only want to have white goats from now on.

The end.

post signature

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another Off the List

My to-do list is long--stupid long.  One of the things on it (way at the bottom) was to finish the kids' tree house.  Well, tree platform, as it has no roof and walls.  Back when we moved in 3 years ago, we took apart an old cedar playset that was here, exactly in the spot where the big garden is.  I wanted the space, my kids are not playset kids, so down it came.  We used that playset in so many different ways, and still have some left.  Part of it became a platform up in a tree for the kids to play on.  A set of monkey bars became the ladder. 

For the past 3 years, my husband and I have cringed every time the kids went up in the "tree house".  No walls=fall.  Many times we had to yell "Sit with your back to the tree!".  I could have put it on tape and hit repeat, I really could.  It would have saved my voice.

Finishing the tree house was on the list for three years.  And it always was at the bottom.  The kids would ask and ask when it would be done, and I would say "soon".  But, not being "mission critical", it just kept getting bumped.  This year we finally bought some materials to make it safe.  It still got bumped.  But finally (finally!), 3 months later, after getting the stuff and having it hang out on the driveway, the tree house is done.

Hallelujah.  I crossed it off the list.

And just because I'm always telling them "Don't bring that up the ladder!" I got a little clever and made them a little hinged trap door with a bucket on a rope to pull stuff up with.

But no pulleys or anything, though.  What do you think I am?  An engineer?  HA!  I think we're all lucky I thought of the bucket to begin with.  It's on a rope with a hook, and it works just fine.  In fact, as soon as the kids saw the tree house was done, they started to move in.  This included trying to put the cats in the bucket to send them up to the top.  The cats were not amused.  They went up the old fashioned way.

Most important of all: Do the kids like it?

Yes, I'd say that they do.

post signature

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Permaculture and Chicken Scratch

It all starts with "I've been reading...".  Those words are always trouble.  I read, and get all these ideas, and try them.  Not necessarily a bad thing, overall.  But it always means more work.

This time, though, it's meant a lot of thinking.  I recently read Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway and came away with lots of ideas.  Actually, I should say that I re-read it.  Years ago, I read it and dismissed it out of hand.  At the time, I was a suburban gardener, and though I had a small plot of vegetables, we had a lot of lawn, and a whole buncha flower beds.  Now..there is nothing wrong with flowers--I love flowers.  But you can't eat them.  And at the time, I thought of the flower beds and the vegetable beds as two very separate things.  And so they remained.  But now of course, things are very different for me, and I work the land as a whole.  Yes, I have flower beds and vegetable beds and they are separate, but I am trying to understand how they relate.  This is why, I think, when I picked this book up for a second time, I started to see the picture I didn't see before.

In a nutshell, Gaia's Garden is about permaculture.  Permaculture is an idea, I believe, that started in Australia, when a man named Sepp Holzer and a number of other very smart down-underers looked around at their wasteful society that farmed completely idiotically, said "This is stupid", and decided not to participate.  Instead what they decided to do was to go the opposite way, stop wasting everything, and start to create landscapes that worked with the earth, instead of against it.  Seems as though Australia has the same problem we do.  We (as a culture) throw out everything, and farm in a way that's not only non-sustainable, but is horribly damaging as well.  Essentially what permaculture is about, to my understanding, is to work the land the way nature would do it, but in a way that is beneficial to you; i.e. you get food from it.  It's a holistic viewpoint that nurtures the growth of plants instead of forcing the growth of plants.  And it does the nurturing by putting back in the earth just as much as it takes out.  It takes things that would seem to not be related and relates them and has them work together.  It's a very interesting idea. 

For me, I combine this with another idea, the idea of holons.  As you know, housing has always been a problem here at Chicken Scratch, because with the exception of the house for us, there was nothing here.  Na-da.  We fixed this problem by building and building, and now we've got a whole bunch of little houses for everyone.  Twelve, actually.  Twelve buildings, some little, some big-ish on this land, and it looks like a little village.

I'm not complaining.  I love the little village that we put here, and I think it's wonderful.  We built as the animals arrived and we had the money, and that's what worked for us.  It also gives me the unique problem of making all those little buildings and their very separate occupants work together.  When I had heard the idea of holons, I immediately knew that it applied to us.  Basically, all the buildings (and their occupants) on this land are separate, and yet still part of a whole.  So there's a duck holon, a goat holon, a chicken holon, and so on.  They are all different, with different needs and producing different things, but are part of the whole which is our homestead (and the homestead itself would be a holon, and that of the community, but I'm not going that far).  In truth, the different buildings that we have actually made it easier to see this, as I intentionally have to go between the areas from one animal to another.  So really the idea was beating me over the head the whole time, I just didn't see it!

What permaculture strives for is to make all the systems' inputs and outputs work together so that everything that is produced is used somewhere else.  This goes not only for the products of your work, but also for the waste products of your work.  Perfect example:  your chickens.  Your input to your chickens is the feed you give them.  The output the chickens produce are three things:  One is eggs.  We keep chickens so we can eat eggs.  Another is meat.  We keep chickens so we can eat meat.  But the chickens, in their work producing the eggs and meat, also produce waste.  They poop.  If we're stupid, we take the waste and throw it in a black bag and let the garbage man haul it away.  We've then broken the system.  If we're smart, we take the waste and throw it in the compost pile or on a fallow bed and let it go back to the earth it came from, thereby putting back the nutrients the chickens took from the earth to nourish themselves.  Permaculture.  See?  Can we go further with this idea?  Oh yeah.  And I will.  But not today.

Today I want to leave you with the few points that have been have really required my brain to churn.  Call me a slow learner if you will, but these things went against everything I had learned about gardening before.  No, I have no idea where I learned these things, but now I need to unlearn them, and it's not the easiest thing.  So the points I have been mulling lately are these:
  • The earth likes to be kept busy, and therefore bare earth will never stay bare for long.  Basically, this tells me that my ritual of "putting the garden to bed" every fall was wrong, wrong, wrong.  Earth is like the kid that won't go to sleep.  It likes to have something to do.  Cover cropping, anyone?  Or how about growing on through the winter?  Anyone like that idea?  I know I do.

  • Related to the above point, rows of vegetables with nothing but earth in between is not the best way to grow things.  Why?  Because Mother Nature isn't going to leave that earth bare.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and she'll fill it in with something.  Most likely it'll be weeds that you don't want, and then out comes the Round Up.  Don't use Round Up folks, it's bad,  horrible news.  Keep your earth covered.  Mulch, mulch, mulch.  (I will draw aside here and say I knew about the mulch, and I mulch everything I can get my hands on.  And I don't grow in rows.  But I do love looking at other people's rows--I think they are the prettiest, tidiest things and I love to look at them so, so much.  I have row envy.  There I've said it.  Think what you will of me.)Beds, which are what I use, are only slightly better.  The ground is covered better, and there are better yields in a smaller amount of space, which suits me well, since most of my property is wooded.  But in both of these methods the plants are all segregated--beans here, corn here, squash here, and so on.  It would be better yet to do companion planting, or even better (according to permaculture principles) to plant in guilds.  Guilds are like companion plantings on steroids, when all the plants are all willy-nilly and different and helping each other out to grow better.  I have a LOT of trouble with this principle.  I like things kept separate in the garden--it's so much neater.  Permaculturists call this use of many guilds a "food forest".  It sounds lovely, but I don't know if I'll ever get there.  Too much willy-nilly-ness for me.

  • Nutrients UNDER the roots of a plant are better than nutrients ABOVE the roots of the plant.  This one I learned this season, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.  The garden in the front is a "lasagna" garden, basically a bunch of crap like dry leaves and grass and rabbit and chicken poo formed up into some sort of bed shapes on top of my front lawn with some topsoil on top (because I was going to use the beds immediately--if I was not, I could have waited a season for the stuff to break down, or if I was really brave, just planted in the stuff right then and there-however, I think we've already established that I'm not that brave.) and that garden is kicking the ass of the garden in back, which is a tilled garden with enriched soil.  Never mind that the back garden is three years old and has been enriched for all three years consistently.  The front garden is miles ahead of the back one.  MILES. 
    • Now you'd think this idea would be a duh, right?  After all, roots grow down, not up, so nutrients under them would be more quickly accessible to the roots as they grew down, instead of waiting for the nutrients to filter down from above.  Yeah, you would think that.  But I am so programmed to planting in "dirt", you know, the brown crumbly stuff?  Yeah, that.  I was so set to be planting in "dirt", that planting in leaves and rabbit poo and straw felt completely freaky and I expected it to fail spectacularly.  It has not.  More the fool I. 
      • As a side note, I recently watched the film Back to Eden, and though I had some trouble with all of the narrator's views (he is very religious, and I am not, but there is room on this earth for all of us), he grows in what is basically wood chips-successfully.  No "dirt" to be found.  If you are interested, I would say check it out.  It proves the point above quite well. 
I have a way to go yet.  There is still a lot to think over, and the concept is big and chewy and my brain has to work on it.  So I guess it'll come along slowly for me.  But how about you?  Have you any ideas about permaculture?  Do you implement any of the principles?  Is there anything you want to talk about?  Let me know and we'll talk about it.  Maybe we can all figure it out together, no?  I think the world would be a better place if we did, so let's give it a shot.

'Till next time, I'll be ponderin',

post signature

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Next Steps

Chicken Scratch hit it's 3-year mark this month at some point.  It may have been last week, I'm not entirely sure.  When I look back at how I felt about all of it then, I can see how chaotic everything still was, but how far we had come.  We were so busy adding!  More chickens, more ducks, more goats, rabbits, on and on.  Whew!  I know at the time I had been hoping all my efforts to reach outward would mean that the community was going to rally around and get involved in their food and we'd come to know many people and be able to feed a number of them.

Dragon carrots
It has not worked out that way--let's leave it at that.  So yes, after the two years of scaling up, I looked around and saw that we were still only feeding ourselves and occasionally the rest of my family, and I said "this is stupid", and started to downscale.  That's why half the chicken flock is now gone.  I don't need 60 chickens to feed 4 people.  On the plus side, we have met some die hard customers along the way.  Only a few, but they mean so much--I would call them friends at this point.  And being the "odd" family in the neighborhood has meant that in all the neighborhoods I have lived in, this is the only one where I can say I've met nearly every neighbor and am friends with several.  That's really something in this age of "keep to yourself".  I guess being odd has it's advantages. 

Truly it's not been a bad experience, though it was not the experience I had been hoping for.  And no, I'm not done here.  None of this goes away, but it does change.  I can see that I am now to the point of "honing" the systems at work here.  Actually, it's a nice place to be--far less frantic, and much more problem solving and thought involved.  Right now, I have enough livestock to keep us.  And when I don't, the livestock I have can make more of itself.  Input-wise, I will have to continue to purchase meat birds, but layers can breed themselves, ducks can breed themselves (if ever I wanted to add more of the dang things), geese blah blah, rabbits obviously can multiply, and goats?  I've got 9.  Eventually we will purchase a pig for food, and one day I would really like to add a larger fiber animal (probably another goat, just because I've got the hang of those guys), but that's about the size of it. 

So the honing begins, and it's going to be about how to make this place run more efficiently, and how to get more from the land that's here.  The 3000 square feet of garden is producing well.  I won't know how well until the end of the year, but it's looking promising.  I need to continue to use it well and to feed it well, so it will feed us well.  And I have to get the hang of cover cropping and growing in different seasons.  I'm still in the dark on those two things.

I would like to have the systems relate to each other better--that's a big thing for me as well.  It's all about permaculture and holons.  Yep, you're going to hear more about that next time, so if you don't know what that is, you will!  It's also about problem solving, because there are a couple issues that really need addressing and more that I know will come up along the way.

Anyone know how to get a national month declared?  Because I think this should be one.
In short, I want to see this place hum.  I want to see it all relate to each other and become an efficient whole.  So what do you say, friends?  Let's rock it and see what shakes out.

Dilly beans

'Till next time,

post signature

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Problem Solving-- Part 1

Problems.  Everyone's got them.  I'm not talking personal problems here, but problems with your house and land.  No matter where you live or what you live in, there's going to be something you don't like or need to fix about the place you're in.  When you homestead, you probably have more problems than the average person, and weirder ones, just because it's not just you and your family living on your land, it's you, your family, your chickens, sheep, rabbits, goats, horses, ducks, etc.  Some problems I like when it comes to homesteading.  They're like puzzles that have to be solved.  How do we make this work better?  How do we fix this?  How does this relate to that?  Those are things I can really sink my teeth into.

The latest problem I had to solve had to do with the fiber rabbits.  My hairy little bunnies were living in individual cages in the garage.  It was no problem during the winter and the fall.  Even into the spring, the temps were low, the garage didn't get hot, and my wool covered friends were doing fine.  But then summer hit--really hit--and the garage was no longer a place  anyone should be living in, lest they get cooked.  So the rabbits had to move out.

But what to do with them?  Yes, they all had cages, but I can't just leave cages all over the property.  And building individual hutches was not only a waste of all the nice cages they already had, but really expensive.  Plus, can you imagine 7 little hutches all lined up?  I didn't even know where to put them.

Yeah, no.  No hutches.  So I then considered building a half a house for the cages, and putting them up on shelving.  But that's another building.  And I hate building.  And there are a lot of buildings here already (12!).  So that wasn't a happy idea, but it was the best I had.

Fast forward a few weeks and I've been mulling this problem over and over in my head.  What to do with my homeless rabbits?   If I build ANOTHER building, where does it go?  How much is it going to cost?  Then one night my husband and I were sitting outside in the evening and it hits me--I'm going to put them in the chicken run.  Why?  Because I read The Small Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery last year, and I think he said that he keeps his rabbits in with his chickens.  hmmm...It was either him or Joel Salatin.  Maybe both.  I don't want to give the wrong person credit, so how about this?  Someone once said that keeping rabbits and chickens together works, and I didn't want to build anything else, so I used what I had, and now the rabbits live with the chickens in their run.

And it does, in fact, work.

Take a look.

The original plan was to build shelving all around the run in the part that is 8 feet tall.  When I started it, though, I realized I could build up instead of around, and it would save space, and I wouldn't whack my head as much.  So the rabbits who are in the cages with bottoms are on top.  The rabbits without bottoms on their cages are on the bottom.  My husband, who is brilliant, liked the idea of the shelves in the run, and suggested closet wire shelving for the cages.  You know why?  Because when the rabbits poop, it goes right on through.  And you know who really likes that?  The chickens.  And me.  Because now I have fewer trays to dump and scrub out. 

Pickle and Collette share a cage.  When I tried to separate them, they both looked lost.  If ever I need to move someone out, I have room on the other shelf.

I do rely on the rabbit manure for my gardens.  It's like rocket fuel for the plants.  When I need a shot of rabbit poo, I can put the bottom trays back and collect.  When I don't need it, I don't have to collect it, and I have less cleaning.  I think it will work well.

The only issue I have with this is that there is no ceiling on the run.  Therefore, I have to construct a sunshade/rain shade for the cages.  I'm thinking a tarp of some kind will work.  I will also need to make protection for them for the winter, or I'll have to put them back in the garage.  I'll figure it out as I go, I think. 

The chickens like the "stuff" the rabbits give them, and can still access the run behind them--there is an opening under that shelf that leads to a really nice run in back.
Problem solved!  I'm happy with it, and I am hoping it's going to work out well.  This was a tough problem--one I've mulled over for months.  It's nice to have it off my plate.  Next up?  I've got two that I can see.  One:  the problem with rain collection and the runoff from it and two:  the pond has dried up and isn't coming back.  What to do?

I guess we'll have to wait and see.  Stay tuned!!

post signature

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Uncle Mommydaddy

The two kittens remaining are children of Milo and Sara, both our outdoor cats.  Milo is Thor's brother, and Thor, as you know, lives inside.  Therefore, Thor is, in a way, the little kittens' uncle. 

Uncle Thor.  It has a nice ring to it.

However, since mama Sara was booted outside weeks ago, the kittens being weaned, and her just sitting around starting fights with everyone (namely Thor), Thor has taken them under his "wing".  He washes the kittens, plays with the kittens, and acts like a daddy.  So we called him Uncle Daddy for a while.  But now he's taken things to a whole new and weird level.

Yes, friends, in case you can't tell, that is Uncle Daddy Thor "nursing" the kittens.

Unsuccessfully, I should think, as Thor is a neutered male.

But that doesn't stop any of them.  The two littles latch on and suck away and knead, and Thor purrs like a proud mama.

Yep, Uncle Mommydaddy.  That's my boy.

post signature

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday Snapshots

Well, three of the kittens are gone, and half of my chickens are sold, and three more ducks have disappeared.  It's been a rough week.  I'd lie if I didn't say that when the people came to adopt the last two kittens I had tears in my eyes.  It's all for the best, though.  And the selling of my chickens has been especially hard, but it was the right thing to do.  As to the ducks?  I have no idea where they went.  They disappeared during the day again.  Truth be told, I'd been thinking about parting with them anyway, as they're fairly useless, won't go in easily at night, and the Muscovies have proven their worth about 8 million times in the short time they've been here.  They've been eating flies like candy, they hardly eat much in the way of feed, and they're always in their house by 7:30 pm.  I could set my watch by them.  Why did I wait so long??

Olive is still here.  I'd like to be upset about that, but I just can't.  No one wants to buy a quality animal right now.  I hear it from many, many people.  Sell them cheap (like Oscar), and off they go.  Sell them for a fair price (not high--she's got no papers), and they sit and sit.  It's not just me--all the ads that were on Craigslist from before I put Olive on are still there, too.  The cheap ones are gone, but that's it.  I'm not too troubled about it.  When the right person comes along, then it'll be fine.  Until then, I'm enjoying the heck out of that little jumping bean.  She and Amelia are now playing with Tallulah, who stays because she's Lilly's baby.  Lilly is an AMAZING milker.  She sucks at standing still, though.  Some days she tap dances way too much and she's put her foot in the milk bucket on more than one occasion, which thrills the chickens (who get to have the milk), but not me. 

Between Lilly and Minerva, we're getting about a gallon a day.  No, it's not dairy standards, but I'm not a dairy.  It's a good amount for us, though I realize that two goats in milk is not enough to produce cheese and other things and still have a ridiculous amount of milk in the fridge for my son -the bottomless milk pit -to drink.  Minerva is still making a minimal amount of milk, maybe a quart a day, but something is something, and I love her so who cares.  Min's got the routine down pat.  She's usually a pleasure to milk (some days, not so much, though.  Tap know what I mean??) and I just love that she knows what she's doing.  We're besties. 

Anyway, I have discovered Tallulah is nursing off of Lilly, so she's not a bottle baby like the other two bananas, and therefore is coming around more slowly.  We're making inroads, though.  She's 10 days old and has finally started to come and see what I'm doing.  I still can't catch her to snuggle her easily, but progress is progress.  I'll take it.

In the midst of all the animal craziness (and there's more, oh boy, there's more), I pulled out my back, and so spent the morning puttering in the gardens, which always cheers me up.  I took some pictures, and I thought I'd share.  Ready?

Squash Jungle
Bean Beds 
 Carrot Forest
I've already pulled out a pound of carrots from here, just in "thinnings".  I'm excited to see how many pounds are in here all together.
Small Tomatoes
The back garden's tomatoes are developmentally behind the front garden's tomatoes.  I think that lasagna gardening is a miracle.  Though I have been steadily improving the soil in the back garden, the fact is that it's still crappy clay (though enriched crappy clay), and though the plants are growing better than they have in past years, it's still a struggle.  In the front, since I lasagna'd, they don't have the same struggle.  The plants are HUGE.

See?  Those two posts that stick up there from the tomatoes are 9 feet tall.  Just for some scale for you.  The tomatoes are nearly as tall as I am.   
So yes, lasagna gardening does work.  Thank you for asking.  :)


Front tomatoes
Tomato Insanity

Forget knee high by the fourth of July.  The corn was waist high.  Now it's chest high.  I just read a book about permaculture where the author said that it was sad that all we look for is knee high by early July, when if our soils were as fertile as they could potentially be, we should expect so much more.  It was an interesting thought. 
Pumpkin Attack!

Trying to Eat the Broccoli
I think the two colors of the leaves are pretty, don't you?
My son's "School Cabbage". 
(Don't ask)

The Smallest Bed of Cucumbers.
I just thought it looked so pretty.

And in other areas...
The Berry Patch
These are supposed to be Anne, a yellow raspberry.  However, they're turning red as they ripen. Something's rotten in the state of Denmark, methinks....
 Red Raspberries
These are ginormous this year.  I think it's because during the fall last year, I mulched them with about a foot of dry leaves.  The raspberries are as big as my thumb, no exaggeration.  So, if you have raspberries, mulch them with a foot of dry leaves.  It seems to work.

Pretty Flowers
A giant pumpkin blossom
 Pretty Morning Glories

Rose Scented Bergamot
 Why yes, I do grow bee balm and flowers in my vegetable garden, thank you for asking!  The bees and bugs just love it.

And I don't want to leave you without a gratuitous animal picture of cuteness, so here they are, freshly shorn, so they look crazy, but all the cooler for it, I think.
Or, rather the back of Colette's head.  Those pom-pom ears crack me up!!!!
Have a great day!
post signature
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...