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.