Because They're So Gosh-Darned Cute

It's hard to get a photo of a chick. They move so fast, all the camera can usually catch is a blur of fuzz ("Aaaaughhh! THE BIG HAND!!!"). We've upgraded their kennel lining from paper towels to hay, gave them a bigger water well, and have added a full jar to the feed hopper to keep the feed flowing. In just four days, they're eating and pooping up a storm of epic proportions. They're even showing tiny little feathers on their wings! Here's a few photos that did manage to catch a couple standing still...

One of the Sicilian Buttercups (she looks like she's wearing a mask), and one of the Plymouth Barred Rocks:

Another Sicilian Buttercup:

A Black Giant:

Here's what they'll look like all grown up, courtesy of Feathersite.com:

A Sicilian Buttercup:

A Plymouth Barred Rock (hey, she's got the same attitude as our Frau!):

A Jersey Giant, courtesy of Tuskwitt Farm:

Wait a sec... Spouse just looked at our invoice for the chickens. The Jersey Giants, which were supposed to be males, are listed as females. Eh? Can this order be any more screwed up? No, don't answer that. Pretend I didn't even say it.


Rooster Tryouts

Did I say we got eight extra chicks yesterday? Make that ten, TEN extra White Leghorn rooster chicks. Add those ten to the two Black Giant roosters and the one Plymouth Barred Rock rooster for which we actually paid. Now we have a total of thirteen roosters trying out for the Big Man on Campus position, a.k.a. Protector o' the Flock.

Position Requirements:
  1. Have at least a grudging respect for the humans.
  2. Don't take any guff from the geese or dogs, but don't go looking for trouble, either.
  3. Treat the chicken ladies with the utmost respect and courtesy and, of course,
  4. Protect the chicken ladies from predators, overly playful dogs, and crotchety geese.
Position pays in organic feed, and benefits include plenty of ladies to woo, several acres to roam, and a penthouse suite on the cedar branch of his choosing.

Those who try out for the position and prove themselves unqualified will report to Le Creuset for a future, one-time assignment.

[pic: two of the White Leghorn chicks]


When does eight equal sixteen?

Eight equals sixteen when you order eight chicks from the poultry supplier, and they add eight more White Leghorn rooster chicks "for warmth". Gratis, but whoa... sixteen chicks! Was definitely NOT expecting that!

[pic: the new additions are three Sicilian Buttercups, two Black Giants, and three Plymouth Barred Rocks (two of which are roosters to protect the chickens from the crotchety geese). The unexpected Leghorns? We're naming them Tettrazini, Cacciatore, Soup, Stew, Dumplings...]


Elitist Chickens

Had to dump an "old" bag of arugula due to a new bag we received from the CSA. Decided to give it to the chickens...

Twitter conversation:

dasparky (me): chickens love arugula
Virgotex: elitists!
dasparky: don't be a chicken hater...
Virgotex: on the contrary, I suggest some elitist Chardonnay for them as well.


[Pic of Frau. I really need to get some more pics of those elitist chickens.]


Peppered Goose Egg, Part Deux: Success?

"Look out the window," I whispered to Spouse, "Maggie's eating the cayenne-filled egg!"

The goose egg (one of two) was the cumulative effort of over an hour of huffing and puffing to blow out the eggs, and then trying several different ways to fill the eggs with the rusty red spice per Chance's suggestion. Perhaps I should have also asked Chance for details on how she did it first. After trying (and failing) to fill the eggs with home-made funnels and straws before finally punching a hole big enough for a real funnel, much sneezing happened, and then I rubbed my eyes before washing my hands... d'oh! You can guess what happened, but no permanent damage was done to my eyes - just to the confidence in my supposed intelligence. I then partially hid the finished eggs in one of the empty goose kennels.

Back to Maggie: I watched her lick the tape off the hole where I had filled the egg, crunch into the shell... then an expression of confusion and horror covered her face. Spouse went outside as Maggie was backing away from the egg. Spouse grabbed the egg and held it up to Maggie's face... she continued backing away, looking in revulsion at what was once a tasty ill-gained treat. We're hoping she's learned her lesson. Thing is, did it take one or two eggs to teach her? We still haven't found the second egg.


Peppered Goose Egg: FAIL

Sh*thead #2, aka "Maggie", has developed a bad habit of sneaking into the goose laying areas and stealing their eggs. I thought I could break that habit by cayenne peppering an egg. Maggie thought it was a delicious flavoring agent.

I guess if the dogs think two-week old rotting skunk carcass is tasty, a little cayenne pepper won't phase them in the least.

[Pic left: failed experiment. Pic right: Maggie's yawning reaction to my experiment.]


Garden Beds Update

Of all the cane fruit planted, it looks like the Brazos thorny blackberries are the ones that are thriving best at the moment. I didn't realize there were second year canes on the plants, so it looks like we may even get a few berries this summer! The thornless blackberries (hmm, no name on the tag) look like they haven't made up their minds to stay or go. The Latham raspberries are just now poking a few green buds out of their branches; perhaps they're finally getting over the trauma of the dogs eating one of their sisters.

Once the New Moon comes 'round, it will be time to plant the new arrivals. We have goji berries (actually, Chinese wolfberries instead of Tibetan, but same plant), hops rhizomes, two small bay laurels (will be put into pots) and at least one passionfruit. The second passionfruit fell victim to the dogs as well. Were they after the plant this time? No, just the plastic pot. Sh*theads.

Tomorrow I'll head over to a local nursery and pick up two trumpet vines whose color just grabbed me by the heart. I'll plant them on the posts next to the patio steps - after I make sure that the leaves aren't poisonous to the geese and chickens. Hummingbirds love these flowers, and it would be great fun to watch them. Even nicer not to have to fill hummingbird feeders. Okay, so we humans in the household can't eat these flowers, but not everything has to be utilitarian, eh?

Having a "honey do" day on this first day of Spring: fixing leaky faucet, repairing wooden stool, gluing back together teapot lid. Hoping that blast of cold weather last week was the final shivery front of the season. Happy Equinox!

[Dog pic: Sh*thead #1, aka Bandit, and one of the reasons we have chicken wire and fencing around the soon-to-be planted plants.]


Surprise! CSA Calling!

"Hello, this is your CSA calling to let you know your basket is awaiting pickup at our stall in the Farmer's Market today..." Wait, what? Already? I definitely lost that particular memo. Now, I had joined the local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm because I had a sneaking suspicion that our own veggie garden wouldn't quite be ready this Spring.

[Sure enough, the raised beds still stare at me forlornly every time I walk past them. I keep my eyes averted now.]

Anyhow, I picked up the insulated bag at the market, along with a bottle of another vendor's home-made peach cider (smells like Summer, seriously). Looking over the bounty, we've got:

  • Rosemary - of which we have three huge bushes in the front yard (ah well!)
  • First picking of asparagus - a small bunch, but since Spouse isn't here, I don't have to share.
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Leeks
  • Green Onions (I think? They're huge!)
  • Arugula
  • Mixed lettuces, and...
  • Eggs. Duck and chicken. I forgot that they also provide eggs. Oof. (or should I say, oeuf?*)

Still, a fantastic Spring selection of goodies, which now means I actually have to think of ways to USE the darn stuff. I'm thinking...

  • Potato & leek soup.
  • Salads (of course).
  • Maybe a carrot & raisen salad?
  • Onion soup?

Wow. Time to hit the internet for ideas. Or do you have any suggestions?

[*French for "egg". Bad joke, I know. Sorry 'bout that.]


Third Time's the Charm - Sauerkraut Success!

Crunchy, tangy, tasty: the third attempt at making homemade sauerkraut is an unqualified success! Hooray!!!

I'll admit something, however: I was a bit hesitant to try it out. It didn't look like the sauerkraut I usually scrape out of a can. The cabbage wasn't as finely cut, nor as translucent as store-bought. There was the memory of the past two failures, and the thought that "whoa dude, this stuff has been sitting in a crock for almost two weeks!" Me, the person who throws out leftovers no later than three days after storing in the refrigerator, is going to eat this stuff!

But, I did it. I pulled some of the kraut out of the crock with a pasta spoon (you know, the one with big "teeth" and holes at the base to let the water drain out). I put it in a bowl, alongside my favorite way to eat kraut: with hot dogs and yellow mustard. Ohmigoodness, but the kraut is yummy. No more store-bought stuff if I can help it, ever again.

If you've decided "hey, if that dork can make a successful kraut, then it shouldn't be a problem for me!" (and you'd be right), then check out my review of the cookbook Wild Fermentation. This is the book I used for the kraut recipe. If money's tight, there's a boatload of free recipes via Google search, too. If you decide to make it, I'd love to hear how it turns out for you!

[pic: sauerkraut with hot dogs. Yep, that's hay on the counter; had just packaged some goose eggs for a customer.]


Pic: Look Who's In the Coop?

I felt like a paparazzi when quickly snapping these photos, but I couldn't believe who was making a nest in the chicken coop:

She stood up within the coop, and pulled out all of the hay from each of the chicken's laying boxes to make her own nest. Clever, sneaky girl!


Rain and Superstition

I understand a little better why farmers from the dawn of agriculture were/are superstitious about rain and what prevents or brings it. Austin and the outlaying area where I live is going through a tremendous period of drought. Here at the farm, we're doing our best here to reduce and reuse what we've got:
  • the soiled goose pool water irrigates our fruit trees and food gardens,
  • stale water bowls are dumped onto the compost piles to keep them moist,
  • used dishwater takes care of the ornamentals (planted by a previous owner),
  • and the "warm up" water from our shower is stored in a bucket and waters whatever else is in need.
When I see potential rain clouds overhead, my mind starts spinning. I start thinking about the things I did that might have "encouraged" rain in times before. Did I have the car washed? Did I leave the car or house windows open? Did I leave a project outside that would be ruined by a good rain? I'm tempted to do any and all of these things in the hopes that some of that precious moisture will come down from the skies to relieve the oaks and grasses, and refill our wells. But of course, the rain will not be propitiated. It will rain when the conditions are right. Or when I want a couple of sunny days, like now when my Mom is coming out to visit.

Ah well. I quietly give thanks anyway, and hope the rain doesn't hear it and go away out of spite. Superstition is a persistent habit, isn't it?

[pic: the rain gauge reading from the past 24 hours - 2 inches!]


Fight! Fight! Fight!

Tufted Roman ganders are supposed to be harem-minded. As long as they have two or three females apiece to choose from, all the boys are supposed to get along fine. Supposedly.

Godzilla and Billy-Bob have been tussling for lead gander spot over the past two months, with Billy-Bob winning for the majority of the time (and ungraciously at that), until last night. Twice I was startled out of whatever I was doing by a huge clamor, as the males were battling and the females were cheering them on ("fight! fight! fight!"). Each would latch onto the others neck or wing, and then wing-beat the holy h*ll out of each other. I got between them on the first fight, and am paying for it with several bites and bruises. I decided not to do that again. I let them fight it out on their own the second time.

They still had energy for a third and final throw-down at around 10:00 PM last night (I give thanks that the neighbors haven't firebombed our property yet). I went out to check on the aftermath, and found Billy-Bob off by himself under a cedar. I went into the pen, and Bob did not move away. Not a good sign. Hastily putting up a temporary divider in the main pen, I then picked up Bob and set him up with food and water. He just stood in the corner, looking dazed and shocked, but no obvious cuts or breaks.

This morning he was still looking a little shocky, but had enough presence of mind to give me his trademarked baleful glare. He then ate some greens after I left the pen.

I'm hoping he heals up well, is accepted back into the flock (Godzilla, I'm looking at you, buddy), and is a bit more humble after this latest row. Will be ecstatic if I get the first two out of the three wishes. The third? Miracles can happen, you know?

[pics: Billy-Bob on the left, Godzilla on the right.]


Pic: Lost Dog

Yes, we do live in Texas... why do you ask?

[I hope they found their dog!]


Free Grounds for Your Compost Pile

I'm not much of a Starbucks coffee gal (well, except for an unhealthy love of their insulated metal commuter coffee cups). I'm more of a 7-11 or Dunkin' Donuts coffee drinker. Or better yet, making a pot of my own at home. Still, I'll get a decaf cafe misto from Starbucks when I know the decaf at my usual places will be nothing more than a burnt glob of sludge at the bottom of an orange-lipped coffee pot.

Getting to the point: Starbucks has implemented a "Grounds to Gardens" program, where they're giving away free (free!) bags of used coffee grounds for folks to use in their compost piles. You don't even have to buy coffee from them. The picture you see to the left? That's about forty pounds of wet grounds I picked up this morning while running errands in Austin. All I did was walk up to the counter and ask. Pretty darn cool! If you don't have a Starbucks near you, I imagine your local coffee shop would be happy to collect grounds for you, just for the asking.

[Be sure to read Starbucks instructions on best ratios of grounds to compost, for optimum pile health.]


Pic: Soft Egg Shell

I found this soft-shelled egg on the ground near the coop; one of the chickens must have pushed it out of the nest box and down the ramp (some of them will do that to a regular egg as well, rotten girls). There's been no other soft eggs since, and their regular eggshells have been nicely thick, so it must have been a fluke. Regardless, I've been putting calcium citrate into their feed, and they still have their oyster shell and granite grit mix to nibble next to their regular feed. I'll also order kelp meal for additional mineral supplementation.

Now if I could just keep them out of the dog food...


Lacto-Fermentation, Take Two: Fail!

I'm thinking that a presser made of wood is probably the wrong medium to use for fermenting a crock of sauerkraut. Or maybe I just need to do some further research (instructions? who needs instructions?). I took the weight off the presser, the presser floated up to the top - and within a few scant days, the wood molded. The sauerkraut below may have been okay regardless, and by golly it did smell like good sauerkraut as I was cleaning it out of the crock and throwing it away, but better safe than sorry. Dang it.

I'm hoping the third time's the charm. Thankfully, cabbage isn't too expensive. I've tossed the wood presser, as mold is almost impossible to fully eradicate once it has established a foothold in wood. Next time I'll use a smooth-glazed plate instead. Onwards and upwards!

Of Mice and Various Snakes and new Duck Feed Station

As mentioned in the previous post, our region is experiencing a near-Biblical plague of mice. "It's due to all the moisture we had...