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.]

6.03.2010

Ripening!

I've been trying to get some photos (in good light) of the Hen Haus, but time or rain have prevented. In the meantime, I've discovered that our apricot trees mean business when the fruit is ripe: you either pick the fruit and eat/process that very day, or else the fruit will start decomposing by the next day. Found that out the hard way: picked a bunch of ripe fruit, and left them on the counter while I went out grocery shopping. Picked up a bottle of brandy in which to preserve the apricots, and got lazy, thinking "eh, I'll do this tomorrow". All tomorrow brought were mushy fruit and fruit flies. Yiiick.

I understand better why I rarely see apricots on the market farm tables around here. Too challenging to get out the door in a timely fashion!