12.27.2010

It's a Lull

Pic: Yeah, you WISH you were this talented!
Flopsy's progeny, Generic Peeper, at bottom.
It's been unseasonably warm this Fall/Winter, and I'm doing my best to take advantage of this fact by catching up on odd projects. For example, the photo left shows the goose hutch, recently modified by adding new left and right openings. Our geese like to have a clear view out, and the hutch as it was before would rarely be used by more than one goose. Hopefully that will change. Cutting out the new entrances was my first experience using a circular saw doing unguided "plunge cuts" (kids, don't do this at home -- or at all). The result looks a little like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. The geese, opinionated though they may be, have never had anything to say about architecture. Thankfully.

Pic: Left is Gertie, middle is ?, right is Billy-Bob.
The geese should start laying eggs any time now, but there's no sign yet that they're even thinking of doing so.  Last year they started dropping eggs by Winter Solstice. This year? Not even a hint of territorial crabbiness. No pairing for "snuggles" in the Pool of Woo. No cheering on of others "snuggling". Nada. We've lost four geese this year - Godzilla, Princess, Gina, and Miss Cecily - and have gained a new Buff Pilgrim goose, adoptee "Purdy" Gertie. I've been wondering how Billy-Bob, the lone gander, is going to handle having a whole harem to himself. I'm sure he's not worried.

12.08.2010

Learn to De-Worm

It's that time of year when the hens slow down their egg-laying proclivities - the less light available during the day, the more they slow down. Commercial farmers get around this by using timed, artificial lights to keep the production high, but the drawback is this method also shortens the lifespan of the hen. Not something I'm interested in doing, as most of our hens are pets. [There, I said it, I admit it. If it wasn't blatantly obvious, I love our squawky, fussy little fuzzybutts.] Thankfully, our girls are still laying enough eggs to sell through the co-op and to individuals, which in turn buys their organic feed (and a bit more to make up for those slacker geese).

Fall or Winter is also a good time to de-worm. The problem with the usual deworming method is that it requires you to destroy any eggs laid during the deworming process. Pretty intense chemicals are used. On one hand, you KNOW that the girls are going to emerge from the process "clean as a whistle" when using these chemicals. On the other hand, I wonder if such heavy-duty chemicals are really necessary every year, unless there's a major infestation*. So this year, I'm trying out Verm-X and pumpkin seed smoothies.

You can read more about Verm-X at their site. Basically, Verm-X is an herb/spice combination that is supposed to have deworming properties. You can get it in liquid form, or feed pellets. One challenge, however: the girls drink and forage in so many places that I can't guarantee they're ingesting enough (or any) of the formula. Tried soaking bread scraps in the liquid Verm-X as an alternative suggested by their site, but the girls wouldn't touch the stuff - it has that potent a scent! After chatting on Twitter with a couple other hen-addled folks, came up with a solution: pre-soak scratch grains in Verm-X. This gives the Verm-X time to "off-gas" some its scent, making it more approachable. The girls are now eating the grains.

I also took home a bunch of free pumpkins from the garden nursery a few weeks ago -- one person's old Fall decorations are another person's home canning project -- of which the pumpkin seeds can be used as a dewormer. Grind fresh seeds in a food processor with some unsweetened bio-active yogurt, and serve. This recipe is what the girls REALLY love. Figure I'll make this smoothie recipe for the remainder of the six-week de-worming process (the Verm-X will run out before then), and see how it goes.

Supposedly back in "ye olde days", those who worked with animals on farms were also encouraged by country doctors to do a regular de-worming regimen (and of course, I can't find the links where I first read this). There are plenty of herbal parasite cleanse methods available to humans over-the-counter. It's been three years of owning animals, so I'm thinking it wouldn't hurt if I were to do one as well. And thankfully, I don't need to worry about throwing out my own eggs.


*NOTE: [start legalese] Be sure to talk to your vet or doctor (whichever is appropriate) before undertaking any parasite cleanse. This blog article is provided for information purposes only. [end legalese]

12.01.2010

Growing Ducks & Chickens

Remember these little fuzzballs? Look at how they've grown:


Ducks are so. freaking. adorable. Adorable, I tells ya! They squeak, quack and waddle. They swim like seals, speedy/sleek through the water. They think I'm evil, but I hug 'em and squeeze 'em when I can. I can't wait for the big waterfowl pen & pond to be finished, just so I can pull up a chair and watch them swim and play. "If we had adopted ducks first" Spouse bemused, "I don't think I'd ever have wanted to get geese." [Blasphemer!!]

Pic of Maggie. Would this
sweet face steal eggs?
Oh yes, in a New York minute.

It will be a few months yet before the new ducks start laying eggs, but when they do, this particular breed can lay at least four eggs per week, oftentimes more. Whether we can gather that many eggs to sell is dependent on how quickly we can find them on the property before Maggie does. Since we've tightened up the entrances to the hen house, Maggie no longer has easy access to the laying boxes, and has missed her daily egg snack. Woe was Maggie! She finally figured out, however, that the eggs the one mature duck lays - Moe -  are NOT those fake porcelain eggs we put into the egg boxes to encourage the chickens to "lay local". They are quite an acceptable substitute. It's a race in the mornings between canine and hominid to find Moe's latest laying spot. Moe likes to keep us all guessing and switches up her laying spots often.

Now, for the chicken update: Flopsy and her baby are doing well. We had to set them up in their own quarters, as some of the other hens weren't too clear on the fact that the chick wasn't a new squeaky toy (no worries, the chick was/is unharmed). We set up one of the chick brooding kennels for their nighttime digs  - a big plastic dog crate with an adjustable heat lamp affixed to its ceiling  - and lined it with hay. Since it's been dipping below freezing temps at night here, the crate's heat lamp keeps the girls cozy. There's also a goodly amount of protected, fenced-in space for Flopsy & chick to scratch and sun in peace during the day. The chick is already sprouting wing and tail feathers, but since I'm not handling her much, she shies away whenever I'm around. Feeling dang lucky to have caught these photos:

11.19.2010

As Protective As A Manager...

...of a young starlet against the paparazzi, Flopsy the Hen is brooking no nonsense from me or anyone else. That's HER baby, and don't you forget it:

"Is there something you need? No? Then please to be leaving now."

"Careful there, cowgirl... I peck hard!"

Photo success!
Buster, aka Butch, aka "@#$! rooster!"
From the coloration, I'm thinking Buster is the father. Not quite sure if this is Flopsy's biological progeny, as I didn't check the color of the egg she was sitting on, and there was no leftover shell that I could find after the hatching. I'm very happy that Flopsy was successful, as I hope to have our hens brood and raise any new chicks in the future. Of a few rare breeds I'd like to try, it can be easier to get fertile eggs instead of day-old chicks. Plus, having a mama around to show the chicks the ropes, keep them warm, clean any pasty butts, etc. - I'm all for it!

11.18.2010

Link Love

Things I'm laughing, doing, thinking about lately:

Hyperbole and a Half: Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving. Seriously, I laughed until I cried. Her graphics really capture the story. If I need catharsis for any reason, I'll go read one of her entries.


Made this recipe recently, and love it soooo much I wanna crochet a sweater for it: Cider-Braised Kale with Sweet Cherries. I ate the contents of the entire pan.

Getting ready to re-build the compost bins. The chickens have become very adept at getting into the compost contents, leading to more compost laying about the bins than inside the bins. Will continue to use pallets, but will line with chicken wire to keep the girls from pecking the contents out from between the pallet slats. You can find different ideas for putting together pallet compost bins online, like, here.

If you live in zone 8 or hotter, growing certain stone fruits like cherries is near impossible due to the scarcity of chill hours. There's now low-chill cherry trees available for sale. I pre-ordered mine from Raintree Nursery for March delivery. The trees are named Minnie Royal Cherry and Royal Lee Cherry; both are needed for cross-pollination (i.e. you won't get many cherries unless you have a second, somewhat unrelated cherry tree nearby with which to share pollen). I'm so excited! Do note that birds love cherries just as much as we humans do, so I've also ordered a few Silk Hope Mulberries and some Blue Elderberries in hopes of distracting the birds away from the cherries. Yeah, wish me luck with that...

Security Theatre: what the latest TSA intrusive body scans and pat-downs are accomplishing. Know your rights, and know where you can complain. (thanks Christine!)

Coming up soon: pictures of our Barred Plymouth Rock hen, Flopsy, and her new baby chick. Yay, another successful momma in the flock!

11.03.2010

A Two-Dollar Chicken...

...just received three-figure dollars worth of surgery yesterday. Red, the Ameraucana hen, is a pet. She's a bit addled - she thinks the geese are big roosters - but she's scrappy, and lets us pick her up and snuggle her. So when I picked her up the other day and noticed a foul smell and the golf ball sized lump of her crop, I knew something wasn't right. Research narrowed her symptoms to a sour and impacted crop. Brought her inside the house and tried some of the suggested home remedies, but the crop wasn't getting any better (nor the smell... yeesh). Called the vet the next day, who took Red in immediately.  Lavaging her crop wasn't budging the contents, and so they asked - and received - permission to open her up.

Red had stuck in her crop: her regular feed, grasses, larvae, seeds, grains, bugs, other greens. She's definitely got a varied and healthy diet! What has caused the lack of crop motility is now the question of the day. There were a few flagellets found in samples taken from her crop, but it's hard to say for certain what's going on. In the meantime, she's our housemate for the week. She needs some time to recover from the surgery, grow in some feathers on her chest where she was shaved, and receive regular medication. On the list: antibiotics, de-wormer, and other anti-parasitic drugs. Soft cat food with probiotic powder to help her gut achieve balance again. Electrolytes in her water to help rebalance any possible dehydration issues. And hopefully getting some rest, which means holding back much fussing on my part. Get better soon, lil' chicken gurl!

10.27.2010

DIY: Big Dog Feeder Stands

Emma is a bit arthritic, and so the thought was to build a feed stand* for her. Having the dog food bowl a bit higher would be easier on her shoulder joints. Then, of course, we'd need to have feed stands for all the dogs, as we wouldn't want any jealousy going on during the morning chow-down. Happy discovery: the dogs' current food bowls fit perfectly atop five-gallon plastic plant pots.

The bowls, with lip, measure about 11 inches across, and the plastic pots slightly less (so as to support the lip of the bowl, natch). The pots stand about a foot tall.

While these pots were left over from recent plantings, you could probably pick some up for free or spare change at any garden nursery center that recycles their plant containers. Throw some rocks in the bottom of the pot for stability (or bricks, or whatever heavy refuse you have laying about) and voila! Feeder stand!

[* Please note: there is some controversy over feeder stands, as some believe it contributes to bloating. See article on GDV here.]

10.16.2010

Mystery Revealed, or The Yolk's on Us

Not that we have problems with gender indeterminate species around our place - see Miss Cecily - but we were curious as to what Mo might turn out to be. Neither Spouse or I had experience with ducks, and we didn't know squat about Mo when we rescued her. Not her breed, nor her age. Research on the web gave us an idea about her breed (a crested Khaki Campbell), but her coloring at the time we first got her looked as if she could go either way. Fast forward to now...

I started finding eggs in the night pen a few days ago. They were big hard eggs, left in the middle of a soft green weed patch. First thought was perhaps the dogs had poached the ceramic "dummy" eggs out of the hen boxes, and upon discovering the ruse, dropped them in disgust. (Ha! Rotten dogs). After picking up a total of three eggs over the course of a week, I started getting curious, as most of our dummy eggs are now marked with blue dashes (so as to easily see the difference when gathering from the laying boxes). I finally cracked open one of the mystery eggs tonight. Spouse suggested cracking open one of the largest hen eggs on hand, and compare the yolks side-by-side. I think it's safe to say that yep, the mystery egg is a duck egg! Woo-hoo!!

Now the next mystery: why haven't the dogs snarfed down these eggs yet? Talk about easy pickin's, right there in the open and all. Hmmm...

[Top photo: Moe. Photo lower right: the eggs. The duck egg is on the far right, if you're not sure.]

10.14.2010

Ducklings!

Little brown fuzzballs of attitude and cuteness. They arrived the day after Miss Cecily was euthanized, as if Miss Cecily and the Universe knew what was about to happen, and conspired to keep me busy. The ducklings have moved from house pen, to porch pen, to yard pen in two short weeks. They are messy, messy, messy. I love them to pieces.

Day old duckling.

One week old, and first day in the Big Blue Room.
@virgotex remarked "What are you doing, feeding them MiracleGro?" Nah, just organic duckling chow. Thank you McMurray Hatchery!

And then Michelle asked in the comments section "You don't mention what kind of ducks they are... inquiring minds want to know these things :)" Well, that's just the mind-bending power of cuteness overload, Michelle - one forgets to mention these things! These little squeezlings are Khaki Campbell ducks. They're to keep Moe, our recently rescued (and lone duck) company.

Almost two weeks old.

10.08.2010

Avian Leukosis

This is what Miss Cecily, and one other animal on the Big Softie Ranch - Hoppy the Chicken - had contracted: Avian Leukosis. It is a vertically transmitted virus, from infected mother to embryo chick. Miss Cecily's body was riddled with these tumors. All her major organs were affected (especially her liver), and her skeletal muscles as well. There is no cure. It was a minor miracle we kept her alive for this long.


With two separate birds/breeds post-mortem diagnosed with Avian Leukosis, this means the poultry breeder from whom we bought these girls has some problems. To be fair, however, no breeder is completely free from this issue. There's no way to tell if a young bird is infected other than biopsy. Regardless, because of other problems we have encountered with birds from these folks, we have already started buying from another breeder.

Photo: a retrovirus, courtesy of The Full Wiki.

9.29.2010

RIP Miss Cecily, aka Squeezlegoose

One of my favorite photos of Miss Cecily
She couldn't pick herself up from the floor. If I was able to help her onto her feet, she was at most able to take three steps before she was back on the ground again. I was helping her stand to drink water, to move around. Her eyes were still bright and alert, but the rest of her body was no longer willing to continue.  It was a hard decision, but in the end, it made sense to have her euthanized. I know, I know - for animals, the term is supposed to be "put down", but you know what? She'd become such a part of this family that I just can't use that term. My apologies to the purists.

Squeezlegoose doing the limbo under the
(supposed) anti-goose barriers for the dog beds.

Spouse said that I always doted on Miss Cecily, even when we first got her as a gosling. Something about the tilt of her eyes, her Very Small Tuft, her calm demeanor, her insistence on sleeping on the dogs' beds, always finding a way around or under any obstruction we'd put in place. How she and Godzilla were sweethearts, even though Tufted Romans are harem-minded by breed. And in the house: how she'd grunt in front of the refrigerator when she wanted greens, or would stand by the stove when she wanted her smoothie. Then how she'd tug on the hem of our shorts or pants, as if stamping her foot impatiently, while we got her food ready. And don't you dare forget to let her have her daily nap on your chest. If you missed the regular nap time, she'd stare you down with those beautiful, beady blue eyes until it felt like a laser piercing your skull. Must. Obey. The Squeezle.

Miss Cecily as a gosling, looking at Billy-Bob as if
to say "dude, you're doing it wrong..."
We're having her autopsied to see if some sense can be made of what she went through, in hopes it can help other birds in the future, and I'll be sure to post results here as well. We can't get her intact body back, but can get it back cremated, so that's what we'll do. Some have said that very few people would have gone to the lengths Spouse and I did to keep Miss Cecily going, in hopes she'd heal from this strange malady. I don't believe this makes us either heroes or fools - it's simply something we did for a beloved pet who gave so much to us. I daresay others would have done similar.

I found a bit of her goosedown on the floor today (amidst many other feathers, as she was going through her Fall molt). In time it will be put into the compost bin, like all things, even eventually our own sweet selves. For now, however, it's on my desk. I pick it up and give it a kiss now and then. Much love to you, Sensei Cecily, Guruji Goose. You taught me so much about life, illness and death. Sweet breezes and fair journeys.

9.11.2010

What Was That Word Again?

"There's a little word I'm gonna teach you", my neighbor said. "It begins with the letter 'N', and ends with an 'O'." But-but-but.... it was an abandoned pet goose! With a duck buddy!! How could I say 'no'? I imagine my neighbor would snicker, then patiently attempt to show me how to shape my mouth to make those sounds. 

With that said, let me introduce two new additions to the Big Softie Ranch: Gertie the Pilgrim Goose, and Moe (short for "mohawk") the (as best I can guess) Crested Khaki Campbell Duck. We've had them for about a week now. Gertie is slowly winning over the crabby geese already on the property, starting with Billy-Bob the gander (of course). Moe is getting to know the chickens a bit better, and is no longer stuck like glue to Gertie's side. Lest Moe have problems with species-identification issues, we've ordered ten more Khaki Campbell ducklings to keep her/him company. You know, because it's not right to have one of any particular animal on the farm. Yeah... (ahem). Besides, getting the new batch of ducklings will get Spouse and I off our backsides to finish up the Gooselandia pond. What was going to be an in-ground stock tank has now morphed into a small, slope-sided pond with fish-safe pond liner. We'll throw in some minnows and goldfish to keep the mosquitoes and algae down to a minimum, and... what?

Speaking of "no" and lack thereof, Emma the adopted dog is now definitely "one of us". She proved it by refusing to budge from her napping space, forcing me to work around her as I finished installing lattice on the side porch for the evergreen wisteria. Just like Maggie and Bandit, she figured I'd work around her. Yep, one of us!

9.02.2010

Submit to the Chicken

"My, what big teeth you have Grandma!" I thought as I was giving Emma a look-over a few days ago. Not only are her teeth bigger than our other two Great Pyrenees, but her paws are larger as well. Online research has found that between her Anatolian genes and the Great Pyr genes, she could get up to 130 pounds. Holeeeee smokes! That makes now the time, while she's still under-weight, to get any lessons on submission done.

Emma, as she's coming out of her shell, is showing herself to be very playful, energetic, and curious in the mornings. Not that this is bad, it's just a bad combination while she's tailing me on the morning chores. I'd open the coop doors, and Emma would want to sniff, pounce and chase those fluffy, squawky things around. Uh-oh, not good at all. Firm orders of "no!" were unheeded, and distractions didn't last for long, so it was time to make her Submit to the Chickens.

I picked up one of the more docile hens - a fluffy Brahma. Then I grabbed Emma. Underweight though she may be, it took all of my weight shoved against her to bring her down, and even with my 155 pounds it took a good thirty seconds of wrestling to get her onto her side: one arm around Emma, trying to get leverage, and one arm holding the (now very annoyed) chicken.

Emma still has her spirit, I'm happy to say. She did not submit quickly, but she did "get it" once she was down. She relaxed, I kept the chicken in her face, and she looked away. I may have to do this a few more times to get the lesson sunk in thoroughly, but I think she's teachable.

Dog wrasslin'. I reeeeeaaaaly hope the security cameras on the property have recorded over that morning's takedown already.

8.29.2010

New Addition: Emma

You may have noticed an edit, an addition to the list of animals on the upper right of this blog (under "what this is all about"). Meet Emma - a Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shephard mix, a joint rescue by WAG and Wimberley Veterinary Clinic. Emma was dropped off for euthanasia by an owner who couldn't care for her anymore. WAG & Doc Sheffield, however, thought Emma deserved a second chance. And Doc thought Spouse and I would be pushover enough to take her in. He was right on all counts.

I was concerned about bringing Emma to our place, as not all dogs - even livestock guardian dogs - are cut out to guard poultry. So far, she has only a passing interesting in the chickens (just a bit of butt sniffing - you know, to make sure they are who they say they are*), and NO interest whatsoever in those noisy, bite-y, nasty geese.

She's not without issues. Emma and Maggie had a bonding moment when a summer thunderstorm passed through, huddling nose-to-nose in fear on the dog beds on the front porch. Emma also has more than a wee bit of food possessiveness - a trait not unknown to Great Pyrs. She's too dang skinny. Her coat was shaved close to help deal with mats and skin issues, and what's left of her coat is dull and rough. Her nose is still sloughing off some old, calloused skin. And she should fit into this farm of misfit animals just fine.

*John Callahan, cartoonist. Couldn't find a copy of the original cartoon, but it's basically two dogs in an office situation, with one dog saying to the other "I'm sure you are who you say you are, but I'm gonna have to sniff your butt anyway."

8.16.2010

Generosity and Larvae

I'm constantly amazed and humbled by the generosity of the people in this community. A chance remark to an acquaintance brought an introduction to a local who has recently started breeding Black Soldier Flies for their larvae. BSF larvae are used to compost kitchen scraps and other waste, and their leavings can be used as a simple soil amendment in the garden. Better yet, their leavings can be fed to worms, who in turn create double-plus good castings for the garden (as well as bait for the person who fishes in your family). And last, but not least: the larvae makes for fantastic chicken feed!

John invited me to his property, and showed me his setup of a half-dozen breeding boxes. Met his lovely partner Liz, and had a great time just chatting about life in general. I didn't offer to buy a batch of grubs at the time, mentioning it would be a few weeks before I could set up a proper brooder. Fast forward a few weeks, to an email from John:

"I've had some pretty heavy crawl-off since [we last chatted] and I'd be happy to drop off a bag at the feed store if you'd like..."

Oh heck yeah, the hens would LOVE some grubs! I arrive at work, and not only does John have a can of mature grubs for our girls, but a box for breeding, a chicken-wire box top, nesting medium, and a tub of young grubs to grow! He gave me a quick rundown on how to attract local, mature BSF's for more grub breeding, and was on his way. [Spouse, we have GOT to feed these folks some of your amazing pasta as a "thank you"... ]

Got the grubs home, and quickly threw together a temporary setup for the young larvae. A hole was cut near the box bottom, and a piece of hardware cloth guard affixed over the hole via duct-tape. (I'll take off the tape and use proper bolts and washers to secure the hardware cloth this week.) The sawhorses and box platform have been placed underneath a grove of shady oaks, so it will keep the grubs at a comfortable temperature. The platform is on a slight downward slope, and the box opening facing the downwards slope, which will encourage mature grubs will crawl out through the hardware cloth-covered opening and any excess moisture drain out easily. The bucket below will catch the grubs as they leave, who will then become high-protein, live chicken feed.

I've set out a batch of corn to ferment in order to attract mature BSF's to breed. The corn, as well as the scent of the grubs, should bring enough flies for a healthy breeding colony. Cardboard pieces have been set inside the box as temporary breeding cubbies for the flies to lay their eggs. To feed the young pupae in the box now, I've thrown in a batch of wilting lettuce and some goose poo generously donated by Miss Cecily. Tomorrow morning, they'll start getting regular meals of feed that has been knocked to the ground by the chickens and geese - feed which formerly was dumped into the big compost pile.

I've also placed a pet fence around the whole setup - John mentioned that the grubs can sometimes attract raccoons and other grub-loving creatures.

Next things needed: create a covered shelter for the brooder - don't want rain to drown the grubs - and a more secure structure to hold the breeding box. Oh, and make permanent breeding cubbies by drilling small holes in a couple pieces of wood, and attaching to the sides of the brooder box.

I feel like such a geek to be so excited over breeding larvae!

Side note: "Maggots are not Black Soldier Fly Larvae", in case you wanted to know the difference.

[Pic top: mature grubs, ready to either become flies, or get eaten by our girls. They feel dry and leathery. Second pic: details of the temporary setup. Pic bottom: the current setup.]

8.10.2010

Re-Purpose and Re-gret

Our side-firebox smoker has served us well over the last couple of years, but the firebox finally rusted off and I was faced with one of two options: get a new smoker, or memorize the phone number for the Salt Lick takeout. D.A. was ready for the first option ('tho not averse to the second - d.a.). I stopped to do what passes for thinking and figured I could fix the smoker. There were some "issues", however, in ordering the replacement parts. Mainly, the manufacturer website was not available. So instead of waiting for them to get their website fixed, I went ahead and sourced parts locally that I could re-purpose. In the process of "fixing" the smoker I learned a few tips that I would like to share.

Things you should NOT do while fixing your smoker:

1. Do NOT order the proper replacement parts from the manufacturer (i.e. think globally - purchase willy-nilly. ). Those parts you procure at greater cost locally might ensure that you can get the job started (if not completed) quickly, but who needs matching bits on a smoker anyway? The tack-welded parts give the replacement character, and the unsealed parts where smoke leaks out provide visual cues when you need to add more wood. After awhile the parts will all be the same shade of burned, regardless.

2. Do NOT test fit, mark, or otherwise take a methodical approach to your "modification" (a.k.a. butchering) of the new parts. Let's face it - when you get these non-similar and not-made-for-each-other parts finally together, you better leave 'em that way because ad hoc engineering is like a redneck divorce. If you let it drag on for too long there is a high likelihood of violent injury and something suspiciously catching fire. Anything that can can be bent, persuaded, or otherwise mangled in such a manner to achieve "good enough" results means you are that much closer to being done. Doing things the "right" way is overrated. I want the smoker working "right now" so I can sit back and take my time while the brisket gets warm and my beer gets cold. Wow - I miss beer.

3. Do NOT identify any possible hazards behind the items you are sawing through. Stopping to look means you might have to clear some stuff out of the way. Besides,  it is called a SAWZALL for a reason.  ("Sorry about the ladder, dear. I didn't know that fiberglass could be cut through that easily".) And if the reciprocating saw can't cut through it then you're just using the wrong blade.

8.07.2010

I Am Well Trained

Dreaming: a chiropractor is giving me an adjustment. His technique is a bit strange, as he's...

*grunt-grunt*

...making this weird toning sound. The adjustment is working, however, and...

*grunt-grunt*

...the sounds are buzzing louder as he finalizes this particular adjustment, then he...

*GRUNT-GRUNT*!!

My eyes fly open. At the edge of the couch, not six inches from my face is Miss Cecily, giving me an impatient, beady-eyed stare now that she has my attention. Oh, I know what this look means: "where the h*ll is MY nap, human?"

I pick her up and place her on my chest promptly, of course. She has me well trained.

8.01.2010

Art Exhibit - "Lifeboats"

There's only two days left of Heather Carter's exhibit "Lifeboats" at Texas State University. Short notice, but if you're gonna be in San Marcos, go see it. Many of the pieces gave the impression of pulling a person inward towards protection, while at the same time putting another "hand" out to bring more in. The base of the sculpture "One Straw Revolution", made with old baling wire, reminded me of Fibonacci spiral. "A Pattern Language" looked fantastical and yet at the same time as if it could have been grown and chopped down from the artists own land. All of the pieces were created with scavenged project cast-offs or materials gathered from nature. 

Sculpture rarely moves me like these pieces did. Go see.

7.29.2010

These Dogs

Why do we have these dogs, again? Well I know why we have livestock guardian dogs. They are supposed to guard the chickens, geese, D.A., and whatever follows D.A. home this week (you not getting off the hook for those peahens, hon). What I don’t know is why we have these dogs. Yes, they are Great Pyrenees from a working farm. Yes, they are very active at night, presumably scaring off foxes and raccoons (but not little bunnies because we see them at night within 30 feet of the house and the dogs). And yes, we have only lost one chicken to predation since they have been here.

However, all dogs have their idiosyncrasies and these two are no different. Maggie hates thunderstorms. She hates them so much you can tell how bad a storm will be just by watching how quickly she retreats to her bed on the porch. Bandit is the brave one until she gets to the vet, and then it's Maggie that becomes the happy dog without a care in the world. Bandit dutifully watches after the livestock, and is the first one to come running when the geese start squawking. She even paws at Bob, the rotten gander, just so he will chew on her: she reacts like his nips are love and affection. Maggie, however, watches the gates and not to intercept any interlopers. Nope. She is looking to escape and the last two times she left Bandit behind – so much for thick-as-thieves littermates.

And then there is the car. The first year with us we could not get the dogs into the car. It was a virtual battle requiring heaving, pulling, and cajoling, and that was D.A. just trying to get me out the door to drag the dogs into the car. That has all changed in the last 12 months. If there is a car door open, then there is at least 110 pounds of drooling dog inside and possibly 220. Normally, it is not a big deal since you can call them and they get out. Today, however, was different.

It was starting to rain, which meant Maggie was up on the porch. The rain happened to coincide with errands for D.A. and I, who were getting in the car. As we headed out, Maggie appeared to think that we were leaving and that the weather might be nicer out beyond the eight acre fenced-in prison we call home. She followed us to the gate and before I could close it she was dashing to freedom. Bandit being the smarter (or slower) one stayed behind and barked encouragement. I am still not sure if Bandit’s barks were in support of D.A. who has started pursuit, or for Maggie who is looking for a lack of thunder and lightning somewhere two states over.

Did I mention the rain? It was a good Texas rain. The kind that made D.A. shield her eyes so she could see where she was going while running after Maggie. I think it was heavy enough to slow down Maggie because she stopped about 50 yards from the gate, where D.A. could grab her. I had D.A. put her in the back seat of my little Subaru Impreza and we drove back to the gate, where D.A. jumped out and corralled Bandit before she could get out the gate as well.

Once through the (now secured) gate, D.A. opened the rear door to let Maggie out. Maggie was fine to continue soiling my back seat, and stayed put. Bandit thought that looked like fun so she jumped in, too. Apparently this looked entirely too cozy for D.A. who by this time is completely soaked, and sent me back to the house while she walked back. She should have run to watch the spectacle that was about to come.

I drove up the driveway and parked. The dogs looked to me as if expecting a trip to the drive through for double cheese burgers or, at minimum, a trip to Dairy Queen for that new pecan pie Blizzard. When I opened the door they weren’t going anywhere. I pulled Maggie out and then went back for Bandit, who saw what was in store and jumped from the back seat to the front for my keys and a clean getaway. But since dogs can’t operate clutch (lucky for me and the local Dairy Queen) I was able to collar Bandit and drag her out. It was at this point I realized that I had either left the back door open or Maggie was able to open the door with her paws because now Maggie was sitting in the back seat right where she was when we started this story. As I went to get her, she also jumped to the front seat, which Bandit had also just reclaimed.

Now I am completely soaked and there are still two wet and muddy dogs in my car who, according to the mud splatter on my dash, prefer a lot of air conditioning and don’t like NPR on the radio. I finally get them both dragged out and then D.A. walks up and has no idea what happened until I explained and showed her the inside of the car. The dogs tried to tell their side of the story, but decided they were tired and laid down on the porch instead. I think they were thinking the same thing we were: "why do we let them live here again?"

[pic top: Bandit in the front seat during dryer times. Pic bottom: Maggie being a storm barometer]

7.27.2010

Biological Imperative

Butch wasn't supposed to be a Butch. He was supposed to be a Barbara, or a Bonnie, or even a Bedelia. Sexing baby chicks is an art, not a science, so once in awhile you'll get a male with your pullet order. (Don't ask what chick hatcheries do with all those unwanted males. You don't want to know.) 

Butch the baby roo has not only discovered his crowing voice, but the fact that he has boy parts. Boy parts that desperately need to make additional lil' Butch babies. So strong is this biological imperative that I'm able to snatch him up & away from any hens he's fixated upon before he comes to his senses and runs away ("Ack, stinky human alert!").

Adolescent roosters are absolute terrors to hens, especially in the morning (guys, you know what I'm talking about). Butch, unfortunately, is no different. Hopefully he'll outgrow his ham-fisted ways soon, else his last "date" will be with the stock pot.

[pic: Butch the hormonal]

7.13.2010

Flattery and Links

Lucky the Rooster. He loves being hugged, yes he does!
Joy's blog, "A Well-Armed Laura Ingalls Wilder" posts lots of good things, and one of the neat things she does is post links to interesting articles she's found. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I'm gonna steal her idea and start doing the same...

Homemade laundry soap - with some HE (high-efficiency washer)-safe recipes. Some of the recipes might require things you gotta order online, but the end result is a mix of scents & chemicals that you control, often for much less than what you'd pay at the stores:
http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.com/2010/07/homemade-laundry-soap.html

How to grow soap-nut trees - this came out of the discussion from the post linked above. Soap-nuts can be bought on-line or at most eco-product stores. Soap nuts have high amounts of saponin, which can be used as a gentle cleansing agent. Just throw a few in a loose-weave bag, and put into the washer with a load of clothes. Naturally, I'd like to grow these. Nothing on the page talks about soil requirements, or if the plant could tolerate the natural alkalinity of the soil here... any ideas on where I could find out something like that? Anyhow, here's the link:
http://exeterra.blogspot.com/2007/08/how-to-grow-soap-nut-trees.html

And last, but not least: 

Continuous lettuce harvests - something I hope to figure out how to do, as we currently feed store-bought greens to the geese, and it can be a drain on the budget. When we have a lot of wet weather, the grasses currently on the property do them just fine, but the dry seasons are tougher. Until we can get enough of the land "pasture-ized" (grow enough green grasses and fodder for the geese and chickens), growing our own might be the best bet. Plus, it'd be lovely to have constant salads for the table, too!
http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.com/2010/07/continous-lettuce-harvests.html

And no, we do NOT spoil our geese and chickens. Nope!

7.09.2010

Wildflower Season Forever!

It's been the longest wildflower season I've seen in the whoppin' three years I've lived here. Salvias, verbenas, daisies of all sorts - they've been nurtured by the cooler temps and extra rain we've had in South Central Texas.

Our lawn-slash-pasture was decimated last year by the Summer drought and a hard-freezing Winter. There really wasn't much left but a few straggling weeds. I had plans to reseed with a pasture Bermuda (forage greens for the geese & chickens), plus native grass on the edges, but lo and behold: Wildflowers started popping up in profusion, in quantities never seen before! I'm guessing the chickens, in their foraging last year, "deposited" the wildflower seeds and the wet Spring did the rest.

As long as there are blooming wildflowers, there'll be no mowing on this property. Let the great re-seeding begin!

[pic: not a wildflower, but a zinnia from the garden nursery where I work.]

6.18.2010

State of the (Goose) Union

The Twain is Meeting! The younger geese are starting to hang out with the older geese, and vice-versa. Billy-Bob the gander prefers to hang out with the younger girls, but does his level best to keep all the ladies happy ("it's good to be the King!"). There's one mature female, however, who hasn't warmed up to the new girls yet. Duchess was broody & sitting when the youngers were battling it out with the rest of the geese. It finally got way past normal goose laying time, so I blocked off her access to the egg-laying shelters, which forced her to start socializing. Thankfully, Duchess is only giving the young ladies a nip now and then when they get too close for her liking.

Miss Cecily, aka "Squeezlegoose": Today's vet visit showed minuscule weight gain. Her bodyweight should be thug-bruiser at this point - she's getting four tube feedings a day, along with all the game bird chow she can eat. Doc is wondering if liver function is impaired, as she's improving in all other areas (hooray!) but not putting on the pounds. As of today we're trying a daily dose of Denosyl® to help with liver function. [Denosyl® is SAM-e but formulated for dogs & cats, and has been off-label used for avians for awhile now.] It could take up to thirty days for any effects to show, but am keeping fingers and toes crossed. Four force-feedings a day - prep and goose wrangling - is hard work.

In the meantime, her stamina and energy are improving, and she's following Spouse and I around the house like a puppy dog. She grunts in front of the refrigerator when she wants something to eat. She'll even poke her head into the 'fridge if the door is open. She doesn't quite have the coordination to pick up greens off the ground yet, but if you hold a leaf of lettuce in front of her face, she'll tear into it like it just insulted her mother. Her beak and neck strength is fierce; just ask the hapless tube she attacks at every feeding. And she's finally developing the coordination and flexibility to scratch the side of her face! If progress keeps going at this pace, we can boot her out of the house by late Fall. I'm sure she'd prefer the company of other geese rather than us smelly humans, although I might still pick her up for a hug now and then. Momma loves her goozle, yes she does!

We changed her smoothie recipe about a month ago when she lost more weight. We've worked this recipe out with our vet, but I'm posting here for your information - always check with your vet before force feeding your goose with an annoying rubber tube four times a day.

Miss Cecily's Green Smoothie

1/3'rd block of firm or soft tofu
1 C Purina Game Bird Startena
1 tablet glucosamine/chondroitin, pulverized
1/8 t probiotic powder
2 fish oil capsules (mixed fish blend)
kale, a good hand full or more
quarter cup corn - canned or fresh

In a one-quart mason jar, put in the greens and fill almost half the jar with water. With a stick blender, grind the greens in the water until the water is a goodly green color. Strain the liquid through a mesh colander or cheesecloth, squeezing out any remaining liquid from the ground up greens. Set aside liquid. (If you like, save and use the leftover ground-up greens in soups or human smoothies).

Combine the game bird chow, gluco/chron tablet, and probiotic powder. Pulverize in a coffee grinder or food processor until the mix becomes a powder. Put into clean mason jar.

In mason jar with the chow powder, add the corn, the oil from the fish oil capsules (just make a knife slit at the end of the capsule and squeeze contents into the jar) the greens juice, and the tofu. With the stick blender, puree the ingredients together. You can add a bit more water if the smoothie is too thick to pull into the feeding syringe. Refrigerate. Shake before pouring out a serving, and reheat individual servings to lukewarm before feeding. [Tip: to reheat, pour a serving into a Pyrex glass measuring cup, and heat the cup in a saucepan filled partway with water on the stove. The Pyrex won't shatter with the cold/heat combo. Once warmed, pull up the chow into the feeding syringe, then attach the feeding tube.]

Miss Cecily gets about three ounces of smoothie at each feeding, so this ends up making about 10 servings.

[pic top: the young geese having a good time with some mud. pic bottom: Squeezlegoose and I on the couch, pic self-taken with phone.]

6.14.2010

Tomato Surprise!

Ugly plants don't sell, and that's a fact of life at a garden nursery. Some of the plants with the shortest beauty & shelf-life are vegetables, especially tomatoes. Tomatoes grow fast and gangly real quick, and when they're just too far gone to re-pot them, management directs us to toss 'em or take 'em home. Although I already had about a dozen tomatoes planted, I went ahead and volunteered to take a  half-flat of tomatoes a few weeks back. Hey, they were free!

The tomato plants sat on a back porch rail, and were buffetted by rain and wind, knocked off the railing, and taste-tested by the geese a few times before I had time to get them planted. At that point, all the markers denoting what kinds of tomatoes I had were long gone. I think the new plants are Green Zebras, Celebrity, Better Boy, and Yellow Brandywine, but I'm not positive. So come July, we'll just have a nice big pile of "Tomato Surprise!"

[pic: our first harvest - Early Girl, Roma, VF San Marzano, and Yellow Pear tomatoes]

P.S. Did you know? Take a gangly tomato plant, snip off its lower leaves, and plant it deeply into the soil to where not only are the roots in the soil, but the stem and covering the snipped off lower leaves as well. Doing so, the plant will then develop new roots where the bottom leaves were snipped off, and be even stronger for the growth of a deeper root system.  Learned that from one of the horticulture staff. Pretty cool tip!

6.12.2010

Review: Lehman's Leather Flyswatter

@dasparky: Dear flies: while you're in my house, know that I don't want you to suffer. I just want you to DIE. Sincerely, me.

I recognize the worth of flies in the ecosystem, the cycle of life. They play a very important role in decomposition of various materials, and their young are a food source for other animal species. In fact, as I've mentioned here before, we don't even own a can of bug spray in the house. We catch and release as much as possible. Flies, however, are not amenable to "catch & release", and act like a herd cats when attempting to shoo them out a window or door. Just. Ain't. Happening.

Spouse and I have gone through numerous plastic flyswatters. None lasted more than a month or so before breaking. Terro has an aluminum mesh flyswatter which lasts much longer than the plastic ones, but uses a sewn paper border which frays quickly. Once the paper frays, the mesh starts to unravel with further swattings. 

Which leads to the subject of this review: Lehman's leather flyswatter. A piece of leather, tanned on one side, punched through with holes for faster swatting ability. Sewn & riveted onto a handle of twisted, thick wire. It's been getting quite the workout lately, as the newly repaired screens on the windows have been ripped out once again by the geese, which then let in the flies. Time to figure out some protection for those windows...

Flyswatter pros:

  1. Leather - it ain't gonna break.
  2. Repairable - I can hand sew it back onto the wire handle if the thread wears out.
  3. Wire handle - can be replaced with a twisted, thick wire hangar if need be.

Flyswatter cons:

  1. Leather is only tanned & smooth on one side. The other side is "raw",  so fly guts don't clean off as easily.

The swatter is $4.95, and dang well worth the money. We bought two.

[pics: the leather swatters, natch]

6.05.2010

Hen Haus - Version 2.0

[Many images, this will take some time to load.]

What can I say, we’re a couple of geeks.
  • “Beta” was the big box hardware store 10'x10' shed, delivered in a flat pack.
  • Version 1.0 was the strengthening of the shed infrastructure with additional lumber, plus the initial modifications of doors, roosts, and added windows.
  • Version 2.0 is the current Hen Haus as it stands.
Here's the breakdown of the coop...

Doors: The original shed doors are solid - well, as solid as pressboard and 2x3's (original hardware) can be. We added latches to the outer shed walls to attach & keep the outer doors open when desired. On the inside entry right is a recycled screen door; had to shorten it to 70”, then used hardware cloth instead of regular screen cloth for durability. The second screen door on the left was made from scrap lumber and various pieces of hardware cloth remnants. There’s a small entrance in the bottom middle of the left door; we’re hoping it's small enough to keep our egg-poaching dogs OUT. If not, easy enough to put in another piece of wood to make even smaller - it would still be plenty big for the chickens to get through. Anyhow, the screen doors swing outwards as well, so the sawdust litter stays in place, and we can easily sweep everything out when it’s time to clean. The inner & outer doors latch snugly together in various configurations, to guard against predators trying to squeeze into the coop from this direction.

Windows: the window covers flip down, as there’s no easy way to have the covers open & stay upright. Plus, with the strong winds we get around here, making the covers into some sort of awning is just asking for them to be ripped off the building, I kid you not. The window openings were cut open with a Sawz-All, and the cut-outs were attached and reinforced with wood, hinges and latches. The window openings, like the screen doors, are also covered by hardware cloth - more expensive than chicken wire, but much sturdier. The windows that go across the length of the back of the coop face South. The wall that has the smaller windows face East, which is the same side that has the second (main) entrance.

Main Chicken Portal: this is the entrance where we let the chickens out in the morning, facing the Eastern rising sun. Currently a manual opening system, but Spouse has plans & parts for a solar-powered automated door (which I’ll make sure he posts when the project is installed).

Inside... Roost & Ramp: the roosts are made from pine rounds (look like closet poles, but less expensive). They thread through 2x4's on the sides of the coop, and are supported in the middle by 2x4’s, attached to a 4x4 upright that is toed-in to the floor. The ramp & “young chicken” roost below the main roost is one piece. It is removable for cleaning, and connects to the main roost via rubber-coated bicycle hooks. Non-skid tape was used on the ramp, and cedar branches roosts. Legs are 4x4’s.

A skylight was cut out of the roof on the East (left) side, and covered with a piece of blue-tinted corrugated roofing. This will provide additional light in the Winter, when the girls are inclined to lay less during the shorter days. It also keeps the inside from looking gloomy. All things in beauty for the ladies!

Laying boxes: picked up a ten-cubicle laying unit at a roadside antique store for a third of what we would have paid for new. The cubicles are roomy: even the Jersey Giant hens have no problems sitting comfortably inside to lay. You can see the east-side entrance in the back.

Food & water: hung from ropes attached to the ceiling, and with the food/water containers attached to the ropes via spring hooks. Easy-peasy to remove/refill. 

Feed storage: on the right of the coop is where the feed is being stored. Still trying to decide if we want to put metal cans beneath the cabinet space for open bags of feed. That same space could also be used for a chick brooder, or to store bags of pine shavings for floor litter. There's a screened door covering the feed cabinet, but there’s also still enough room on top for one particularly determined pullet to fly up & roost. We’ll need to put a wide piece of wood across the top opening to keep her from doing so.

Yet a few more mods are in the queue:
  • A flip-down cover for the front screen door opening. The more breeze we can let into the coop during the summer, the better. Or if the automatic door works out on the East entrance, perhaps make a second one for the screen door...
  • Rainwater gutters, with water directed into an aboveground metal cistern. Rainwater would be used for the animals - much nicer tasting than our mineral-heavy well water. Mmmm, cloud juice!
  • Pergolas/arbors on the East and South sides of the coop, with deciduous vines. This would keep the coop nice & cool in the Summer, but allow sun to warm the coop in the Winter when the vine leaves drop. The vines could be grapes, honeysuckle, or maypops/passionflowers.
Between Spouse’s construction know-how, Uncle’s assistance, and my over-engineered projects, this ticky-tacky shed has turned into one solid coop. And now, after all this construction, I want a compound miter saw. Serslay.

[Addendum: Chickens in photos not scaled to size - except for the one Sicilian Buttercup, these are all seven-week old pullets, just introduced to the coop last night. Still too scaredy to go foraging with the big girls yet.]