THE OFFICIAL BLOG
Cattle and fences
We started the new year, as we always do, with an ambitious plan. We decided it was time for a complete overhaul of the use of our land. Although we love the idea of waiting for our livestock to shape and change our rocky and heavily wooded property, we are mortal and only have so much time on this earth to get things done.
Part of our plan was to have a professional with heavy machinery come in to clear the brush and smaller trees on the three acres on either side of our long drive. However, the extreme rockiness of our land proved too much for a couple days work and we were left with a bit of a mess by the time spring rolled around. Undaunted (mostly), we forged on with making a nice, new wooded lot for our little fold of Highland cattle. It would not be as large as we had intended, but featured lots of lovely shade for summer and would be nearly rock free for heavy cow hooves. Also, it would be close enough to our hay storage area to provide them with an entire bale of hay periodically.
We long passed the point of temporary pens and fences and very much want to make sure that we spend our time on projects that will endure for many years to come. We took our time making sure our cattle panel fencing was neat and well-joined. Posts were driven straight and solid. Gates were hung nicely on good hinges and heavy chain. Only the best for our cows, and all that.
An incredibly long and miserable season of rain stopped progress for weeks. Our cow paradise was on hold well into the heat of summer. By the time we were able to get back to it, the brush had grown up and we had to designate someone as a lookout for snakes as we worked, but we DID work in spite of it. And it was beautiful. It was clear and flat and full of cow enrichment possibilities -- trees to scratch on, little shrubs to nibble, brush piles to headbutt, and an entire fresh bale of grass hay in a lovely grove of hickory trees with the stock tank nearby. Can you hear the birds chirping in my mind? It was perfect.
To me. It reminds me of all those times I spent hours making houses out of cardboard boxes for my cats, really. I cut out little windows and doors and made planters for their porches full of cat nip. The cats were not interested. Apparently, I learned nothing from that experience.
We had these cattle for just over a year before they were moved into cow paradise one sunny afternoon. In all of those months, we never had an escape attempt. And a good thing that was, considering just how flimsy our fences were. (At one point, they were even deterred by nothing but some green plastic snow fence wired to a couple floppy t-posts.) There WAS that one time that our oldest cow got a little overenthusiastic when reaching for hay on the outside of the fence and basically walked right over it... but she didn't leave. No one left. They liked it here.
I think they hated cow paradise.
Within the first 48 hours, three of them escaped. Two had wandered far into the woods on the road side of the property. In the meantime, our bull was wandering around in the driveway as if he had nothing better to do. So, they had found the weak part in our fencing. We knew there would be bumps along the way. It was all very normal. We brought them in and repaired the fence. But there were a couple more short break-outs within the next few days, followed by a dramatic prison-break which brought one of our neighbors to the door one morning telling me they were on the loose. They had walked out... past several bales of hay and plenty of fresh grass on the easement.... and were on their way to parts unknown.
The question in my mind is: "Why?" But I don't think I will ever think like a cow. We gave up after that final adventure and moved them back to their small pen behind the barn. In the meantime, we moved our donkeys to cow paradise and it pleases me to say that the donkeys seem content there. The cows are content as well so far - at least happier than they were when we put too much effort into their surroundings.
Plans for 2022 continue with the intention to eventually add an adjoining area to their existing pen -- in the hopes that they won't mind adventuring a little closer to home.
The current situation: Much despised due to the very real fear that Jacob will injure himself in the open panels and the very real reality that free-range chickens are a nuisance sometimes.
Every now and then, we have been known to put the cart before the horse when it comes to homestead projects. I fondly remember that one time when we bought a pair of adult, super-sized goats and brought them home despite having not one existing fence or outbuilding ready. They slept in our garage. It was ... fun.
We have gotten much better about planning ahead and actually preparing before any major poultry or livestock acquisitions. Jacob, the paint horse, may have been a recent exception. I say 'may have been' only because we were not completely unprepared. We at least had a plan in place for his immediate housing, nutritional needs, and safety. However, it wasn't an optimal plan and we knew that it would all be very temporary. We immediately set out to find a proper horse stall. Used options were quite limited - which is probably good because we would have had a hard time loading and unloading prebuilt stall walls anyway. New options were not only incredibly expensive, but just as limited as the used options. We were told that stall components were backordered from all of the major suppliers.
By the end of January, we gave up on the idea of finding that sweet spot between price and availability and ordered a complete stall kit. That stall kit finally arrived this week.
All five of us will be tackling this project bright and early Saturday morning. I have been itching to start working on it since the materials arrived, but nothing is ever so easy. A good portion of this job will involve setting up a temporary pen for the donkeys to keep them out of our workspace (and to keep Loreto from stealing my tools), while there will also be some floor preparation to do before we can really get started. Once we start, we will have to finish as we can't leave anything unfinished (and, therefore, dangerous) inside the equine enclosure. I can't wait to see this one done and will surely update on our progress this Saturday just because I will be so darned proud of us and will need to share.
Adventures in Quail
When someone you just met offers you a bunch of fertile Jumbo Coturnix quail eggs, two things inevitably happen: you make a new friend and you end up hatching a bunch of quail eggs before you have a solid plan as to what to do with them. (Or maybe that's just me?) That's how our adventures in quail began just a couple of months ago.
The eggs hatched pretty well for a first attempt, though I am a perfectionist and can never be happy with mediocre hatch rates. However, we started out with so many eggs that we were sure to end up with plenty of quail even if every egg did not hatch. The little buggers grew so fast that we scrambled to come up with facilities to house them.
Always loving a good experiment and knowing absolutely nothing about quail, we did a little research and decided to try three different methods of quail-rearing to find out which would work best for us and the new birds. First, we purchased a battery breeding cage from GQF to raise breeding quads and make egg collection easier. Second, we built our own long and low quail pen out of wood and wire for birds mostly kept for meat. And, finally, we decided to dedicate one of our chicken grow-out pens to some of the overflow birds to test the aviary approach to quail.
So far we are happy with the battery cages. Although it seems like such cramped space, the little quail seem perfectly content. I have begun providing them with an occasional plate of dust and grit for dust-bathing - which they seem to really like. And they get the occasional handful of grass or garden plants as well. The number of eggs these birds are producing just a few short weeks after they hatched is astounding.
The meat pen quail, as we call them, are doing just as well. There are no eggs from the meat pen though, but that would be because it is currently inhabited by all roosters. We have not yet gotten around to causing any of these guys to live up to their name. However, we are looking forward to that portion of the experiment. In the meantime, it is good to have some back up roosters in case something goes awry in the breeding cages and we need to replace a breeding male.
That brings us to the aviary experiment. Now, being a fan of free-range chickens and free-range everything... This particular experiment was my favorite. When we released a batch of about 30 little quail into the big, open pen, I was pleased as punch to see them darting here and there -- hiding under plants and exploring the rocks. Sunshine, fresh air, plenty of bugs to chase, and tons of room to stretch and relax seemed ideal.
As it turns out, the aviary has been the least successful pen so far. Every day for the first several days outside, we lost at least one quail to some completely unknown something. The casualties showed no signs of injury or distress. Most of them seemed to have just bedded down somewhere comfy and neglected to ever wake up again. Perhaps they had trouble finding the food. Or the water. Perhaps they spent too long in the sunshine. Who knows? But, in the meantime, we had not lost a single quail in either of the other pens. As the days went on it seemed that the number of quail in the aviary was decreasing even without continued daily discoveries. We had our suspicions... But they were not confirmed until we actually found the rat snake swallowing a rooster whole one late night.
We knew that snakes happened, but this was a huge surprise to us considering the number of chicken chicks we have grown out in exactly the same pen without losing a single one to being swallowed whole. Besides, the adjoining pen is full of young chickens, too. (Who were watching the entire spectacle with morbid fascination, by the way.)
Moving forward, we will probably abandon the large aviary idea. We plan on retaining the smallest of our grow-out pens that we usually use for very young chicks to serve as a temporary hospital for female quail recovering from mating-related head injuries. So far, the resident rat snake has not made his way into that particular enclosure.
Two months into this new adventure, it is decided that we will continue with quail here at LeChat Noir Farm. They are fairly easy to care for, even though they stink to high heaven. They don't take up much room, which is great even though that tends to amplify the stink. They hatch easily and grow quickly. They produce tons of beautiful little eggs every day which are a joy to collect. And we think the birds themselves are rather pretty.
We will officially be adding Jumbo Coturnix Quail eggs, chicks, and grow-outs to our offerings within the next few weeks, so stay tuned. And look out for our hints and tips for raising them which we will be adding to the website based on what we have learned.
And Speaking of Roosters...
Remember the little difficulty we had had between Roosteau and Roostah a month ago? The one which ended in an epic bloody battle and a missing rooster? Roosteau may have won, but to any outsider he looked like the loser. I thought it would be nice to update and let everyone know that he is almost 100% back to normal these days.
Hopefully we won't be going through this again any time soon when we introduce the new guy. Fingers crossed.
The New Guy
So there he is. This is the fella we have selected to grow out for our free-range flock. I'm hoping he's either too shy or too bold to get bullied around by our number one rooster (Roosteau) when the time comes. I think I'm going to call him Chevalier. Just because.
He has the beginnings of a beautiful comb and wattles. His feathers are full and not too orange for my liking. And I think he's going to be a big boy. Also -- his crow is pretty musical for a beginner. Don't let anyone tell you that your rooster's crow doesn't matter. You're going to hear it one hundred times per day so it better be a somewhat pleasant sound.
Baby Donkeys Are Everything
Have you seen those baby miniature donkey pictures online and just thought they're too good to be true? You were wrong. They are just that good.
Kittens are cute, yes. But newborn kittens? Well... not so much. I mean you can stretch your imagination enough to remember that in a couple of weeks they will be adorable kittens. It takes patience. Same goes for puppies. And, furthermore, both kittens and puppies (and bunnies and don't get me started on baby birds...) are definitely eventually cute - but they do not look exactly as they will as adults.
Baby donkeys? Within an hour of birth they are just tiny donkeys. Tiny, perfect, bouncing, bucking donkeys.
Yeah. I'm partial.
So, our 2020 babies have arrived right on time and mothers and babies are doing great! I was happy to have this foaling set to avoid cold nights - but I really had not thought ahead about the flies in summer... So the next couple of days will be spent setting up fly traps and doing everything we can to make it super comfy in the stalls. In the meantime... Cuddles and pictures!
The Joy of a Good Donkey Barn
I am particularly grateful that we had it ready in time for foaling. That was the plan, but there was this virus and a lot of crazy shut-downs and delays and it seemed like we were going to have to make-do for another season. But miracle of miracles - it was ready for Guadalupe and her baby. They have a safe, dry, and well-lit stall which allows the rest of the herd to check in and interact any time of day. (In the meantime, Fatima is waiting for her turn in the adjacent stall.)
Not only do we have a good grooming station but we have room to set up stations for all of them at once. Finally, proper daily grooming and training is not only possible, but rather pleasant - especially with plenty of light and all of the necessary supplies within arm's reach.
My initial request for a 20' x 30' building with the long side completely open was met with some... uhm... confusion... skepticism... maybe looks of 'Okay, lady. That makes no sense, but you're paying.' But I had donkeys in mind! I needed a structure that would be large enough to not only house stalls as needed, but also to serve as a run-in for the rest of the donkeys. And it was really important to me that this be more of a run-in than a barn - as donkeys don't care much for being enclosed. That's also why I was happy to accept the standard 10' walls for our 30 inch donkeys -- lots of air-flow and a high-ceiling that helps the space feel wide-open while still being protected. The raised clay and gravel pad is high enough to keep the ground as dry as needed for donkey hooves and the building itself is situated so as to face away from prevailing winds and sun all day long.
We still intend to rearrange and add more stalls for the future - though the current configuration is perfect for this summer. We also plan to add a lot more hardware for hanging and storing supplies on those high walls. Also in the works is a solar lighting kit for late night check-ups. That's going to be super cool.
We will probably be adding some seating for humans that is unlikely to be chewed by donkeys and plenty of decor to make the place homey. But for now - it just feels nice to finally have what we need to keep our little donkeys happy.
Roosters Are Jerks
For over six years now we have raised our flock of Buff Orpington chickens. We range as many as 75 and as few as 25 at a time. We also always keep at least two roosters out with the hens every day, all day. I have bragged on these roosters for all of these years - having never had an issue with the boys fighting or otherwise causing trouble. I had been told that roosters will fight if there aren't enough girls to go around and I was always sure to keep the rooster-hen ratio just right. And I patted myself on the back, too. MY roosters NEVER fight because I am the chicken whisperer....
But a few weeks ago we found both of our mature roosters bloody and huddled in the cold rain. Honestly, we were stumped as far as what had happened to them. Equally wounded and missing a fair amount of feathers, we speculated that perhaps they had both nobly fought off an attacker in the rain. Or maybe the peacocks beat the poor sweet boys mercilessly when we were not looking. We even hypothetically blamed Loreto the Donkey because he's usually to blame for just about everything.
Things were quiet for a couple of weeks after that. The wounds mostly healed with just a few tale-tell scars left behind. It was peaceful.
And then we caught them fighting. Brutally fighting. Neither one ran. Neither one showed any signs of backing down. They went after one another for at least an hour before we got out the water hose and tried to break things up. It didn't work. We had bloody, angry, WET roosters fighting in the driveway.
With no clue what to do, one of the kids rounded up one of the roosters into one of the chicken coops for some solitary confinement so they could both heal while we contemplated our next steps. But the roosters stalked one another and fought as best they could through the coop wire day in and day out. It was obvious that these two were never going to call a truce. We ultimately decided to release the caged rooster and let the two of them work it out in whatever way was going to be best for our flock. Apparently, the best thing was for one of them to win. The other is gone. Not necessarily dead by rooster-fight.. but gone. We are not asking any questions about his whereabouts now. It's sad. But it's over.
So what happened? Both roosters had enough hens between them. They also had plenty of territory to claim for their own without infringing on the other with just over 17 acres to roam. Food is plentiful this time of year and I have always been sure to do any supplemental feeding at at least two different locations during the day so that the boys can claim their own space. They were raised together as chicks and have been together for two years without previous incident. Everything I have ever read about keeping roosters together successfully had been covered. And ... Don't forget.. We had been doing it for six years without a problem. And, hello? Chicken whisperer? Remember?
I think this falls on these particular roosters. Yes, they were raised together, but more importantly they were exactly the same age. They both reached full hormonal maturity at the same time this spring. They also were evenly matched in size - so much so that it was pretty hard to tell them apart most of the time.
In the past I had always kept one mature rooster with the hens while I raised the secondary rooster from a different batch of chicks. What this meant was that we always had at least one older rooster who was boss. The younger roosters would challenge him when they came into their own - but it really didn't take much other than a good display of awesomeness to send the younger boys running back into the little territories they had carved out for themselves.
Given the fact that we exclusively free-range, we rarely kept a single rooster for a full two years. Roosters do tend to end up getting themselves uh... eliminated... in the process of looking after the flock. So we would often lose that boss rooster who would be replaced by one of the younger roosters... while we grew out another young rooster... and so on. This time.. it didn't happen that way. Both of these roosters, exactly the same age, managed to survive a full two years... There was no boss rooster and young challenger. Just two bosses and one flock of hens. And me, chicken whisperer, paying absolutely no attention to what was going on....
We will be growing out a young rooster to take up secondary position by the end of this summer and will be paying close attention to stature and attitude this time. Hopefully, as long as one or the other of them will just LOOK LIKE a clear winner - there will be no more need for fighting. In the meantime, we have peace... and one bedraggled, yet victorious, rooster.
On Donkey Palaces
When we acquired our first donkey, we thought we would keep her in a barn stall overnight and then set her out to roam and graze our property during the day. She was such a tiny thing and so cute and would be a joy to halter every morning for the routine. Except. The first problem was that she was as wild as any ass in the desert and wouldn't let me anywhere near her to halter. The second problem was that this tiny little donkey managed to kick down the stall gate within the first 48 hours of her time here.
Such problems continued with our plans as we acquired more donkeys. For quite a while they were housed in a large fenced area behind our main barn with access to the barn itself for shelter. But our jack, Loreto, is prone to boredom and bored toddler type destruction. The boy wrecked our barn. Then he turned his attention to our chickens and goats.
We spent several weeks over a previous summer building a low barbed wire fence around the immediate perimeter of the cleared area around our house and barn so as to give the donkeys more room to range and play -- and curb frustration and boredom. It worked. They were no longer bored. They were completely entertained by eating all of our trees and shrubs and accessible outbuildings. Oh.. and grass. Every. blade. of. grass.
So then came the Okay. New Plan. part of this story: we bit the bullet and hired a good company out of Tulsa to build us a pole-barn type building. It was a slightly strange request as I was looking for a run-in or loafing shed - but wanted it to be large enough to take care of future needs including weather-safe stalls if necessary. The result was a 20 x 30 foot steel building totally enclosed on three sides and totally open on one long side -- an over-sized loafing shed.
We also enclosed a little less than one half acre of a nice wooded area with cattle panel for them to play in when they aren't out with us. There are tweaks to be made to the fence as we put it up as quickly as possible to get them moved in. We also have a few frustrations to work out on the building itself as the pad takes on all of the drainage from our driveway and is staying pretty wet -- too wet for donkeys -- during all of this rain. Some more grade work and ditch-digging will take care of that.
We are using the corral panels that we had already purchased to make barn stalls inside the shed. We are short one gate panel before we can put together two stalls which will do for the time being as we are expecting two foals this summer. Ultimately, we would need four more gate panels and $360 more dollars. And, honestly, after all of this construction that's not currently in the budget.
I think maybe our barn-building guys thought I was a little touched in the head to be having all of this built for these tiny little donkeys. And I may actually be a little touched in the head, but I think it will all work out just right when it is done. I mean, the donkeys are here to stay and they are well worth it.
And once the tack hooks, solar lights, and decorations are all in place - we will be able to move on to all of the other little projects we have neglected for years - such as planting trees without having to build fences around them. Maybe someday we will even buy a park bench ... and then we will sit on it... and relax and enjoy all of the work we have done. Maybe. I can dream anyway.
Stay At Home Orders
I know that this COVID-19 disaster has caused major upheaval and, yes, tragedy in so many lives. I acknowledge the gravity of it. Which is also why I write this post in a spirit of gratitude. I am grateful that our daily lives have not been impacted much at all so far.
The first change for us was not going out for weekly archery lessons. We all miss our coach and the rest of the archery team. And I may even miss the pleasant drive all the way to Coweta (though I do not miss the drive back. I'm sure you understand how that could be so.). But not having to leave the house on Mondays has meant a less hectic start to the school week and a pretty sharp reduction in the amount of gas I need to purchase in a month.
And of course, I mentioned school. I can only imagine how disruptive it would be to have to bring your children home from school in the middle of a semester. I can only imagine because we homeschool. Our daily school routine has continued as it has for years. There is only minor inconvenience when ordered books required for online courses take a couple of extra weeks to get here because of COVID-related shipping delays. It doesn't matter much... we aren't on a schedule so classes start when the books get here... whenever that is.
My husband is the one who has had to adapt to the biggest changes once he was asked to work from home starting over a month ago. Mind you, it wasn't an unwelcome suggestion. We are both happy that he has been able to remain employed through all of this... and we, frankly, love having him here working from home. It happens to be something we always wished he would be able to do (and we will all be sad when things return to 'normal' and he has to commute in to the office once again). It just so happens that we have a comfortable office space down in the barn where he can work in private and is only occasionally interrupted by hens screaming their egg song of victory or a bleating goat.
The hardest change is not having access to Mass. Online streaming is nice for a sense of community and all, but as Catholics not having access to the sacraments (which are a visible sign of a grace received... emphasis on visible.. tangible.. in person) is tough-going. Our daily prayers continue unabated and we look forward to the restoration of public Mass in the future. God willing.
As a small farm, these times have been interesting. In the beginning of the crisis we were swamped with requests for chicks, hens, roosters, eggs, geese, goats milk, meat rabbits... Anything and everything that people felt they would need to make their family more self-sufficient in the event of a long-term disaster.
The demand has died down now. And, unfortunately, I don't think that it is because everyone is ready to take care of themselves. I am pretty sure that a bit of complacency has already settled in again. Maybe even on our part as we are no where near as self-sufficient as we had planned to be following the first large-scale disaster we survived.
Mostly I am talking about food. We have chickens and eggs. We even have enough eggs to have been able to start offering some for sale to the local community during a time in which it has apparently been harder to find them in stores. But surviving on chickens and eggs alone is for only the harshest of times. And this is not yet the harshest of times. I am disappointed that we still have to go to the grocery store for staples and wish I had already set up a network with friends and neighbors who own cows for our butter and milk. I wish we had a chest freezer full of beef and pork -- and a friend to buy more from. I wish my vegetable garden did not crash totally and completely with late freezes and too much rain. I wish squash bugs did not exist.
The lesson learned here when this is over... Please - if this is ever over... Is to make those connections in earnest so that we are not at all dependent on a long food supply chain.
In the meantime, we have enough of what we need and are fortunate to be able to somewhat enjoy this slow and quiet time all together at home. We are praying for everyone out there as they navigate all of the uncertainty and fear. And if there is anything we can help you with - please let us know. A grace shared is a grace multiplied.
The Thing About Resolutions
Is that they are so quickly abandoned.
I know that I had resolved to maintain this blog on a more regular basis as soon as the business of the start of the year was through. Maybe I haven't actually abandoned the resolution and it is more a matter of the business has never subsided. And it was not entirely my fault this time - I mean, we ARE in the middle of a pandemic-induced crisis.
But I can't blame COVID-19 for my absence. We have actually had MORE time since all of the quarantining has started. More time to relax and reflect. JUST KIDDING! More time for projects and back-breaking labor.
By way of update, here is a run-down of a few of the changes that have happened since last I logged into the blog editor:
There's a lot more, I'm sure. It has been a very long three months. A very long, but totally enjoyable three months if not for the rain.
And now that I have finished with a necessary 'catch-up' post that will help put my head back in order... I'm off to figure out what I had been planning to write about before the world caught on fire.
It always happens when we are incubating eggs. The unhatched eggs are cycled through the incubator on their way to the hatcher for hatching day, but we always have to be careful not to end up with too many batches due to hatch and not enough hatching space. Hatched chicks and goslings are moved to brooders while brooding chicks and goslings need to be moved out to the grow-out pens. When we have the timing just right, it can be a beautiful thing and I feel a great sense of accomplishment. That's not to say the timing is always right. It is not always beautiful and sometimes I feel like a complete doofus - a doofus who has to race to build a make-shift brooder in an hour or less or run out to buy a tabletop incubator that is not on sale and way overpriced to use as an emergency hatcher. Sometimes.
There is extra shuffling here of late with the addition of new animals. That is to be expected. Baby goats are living in our kitchen in a garage to better protect them from the cold and wet weather. They are currently occupying a large dog crate which is usually reserved for the housing of young goslings who are too big for brooders but too small for ranging with the grown geese. Why, yes! We do have more than one large dog crate. However, another of those crates is housing our slightly-older recent goat acquisition, also in the garage. She was supposed to be staying in our outdoor goat nursery area - and she would be safe and happy there... she really would be! But the baby goats are more content with her nearby and...
Wouldn't you know that we happen to have goslings that really could use that crate right about now? We would not normally have young goslings this time of year, but ... I'm not sure why I even bothered to say that. "Normally" happens so rarely here that I don't think it qualifies as 'normally' at all. In any event, the point is that we have goslings which need overnight shelter in the garage. They are using one of our spare rabbit cages as housing at the moment. Shuffling is imminent as goslings grow at an unbelievable rate. This morning I had suggested using one of our metal animal playpens when the time comes to move goslings.
It seemed like a great idea as I know that we have two of those. I had ordered runner ducks a few weeks ago which should be here later this week, and one of our playpens has been set up in the garage to contain baby ducks when they arrive. That leaves one. I confidently shared my plan with Emily, the goose wrangler, who shot me down immediately by reminding me that the second playpen is used for the goslings for their outdoor time. Visions of having to take apart and move the playpen every night and every morning flashed through my mind for a few seconds and then I resolved that we would have to purchase yet another playpen for the garage.
It's a two-car garage. There are no cars in it. Just animals.
All of these things are extraordinary circumstances though. Just some extraordinary shuffling. The daily shuffle is the thing. Let's go through the daily routine for a moment:
Good, morning! Let the dog out into the front yard. Let two inside cats in - do not let the other inside cat out. Feed the inside cats inside cat food in the inside hallway. Bring the front yard dog back into the house so he will not be tempted to eat cat food and feed the outside cats on the front sidewalk - bring extra food to feed the peafowl who will steal the cats' food and also eat the front garden if not satisfied. Warm goat bottles and let the other dog out into the backyard. Feed the other other dog while the backyard dog is in the backyard because the backyard dog is obnoxious and will never let him eat in peace. Run to the barn to check incubators and feed chicks. Feed the barn cat who, no doubt, snuck into the barn office with you while you were feeding chicks. Feed whatever chickens happen to be in the grow-out coop. Wait.. no.. Don't do that yet. First, feed the donkeys so they do not mug you for chicken feed. Okay.. NOW feed whatever chickens happen to be in the grow-out coop today. Return through the barn office and remove the barn cat to the great outdoors on your way so she does not get bored and too interested in brooder chicks.
Back at the house, shoo the other other dog back upstairs (for his sanity) and bring in the backyard dog for his breakfast in his pen because he is far too impolite around little baby goats. Bring in the garage goats for breakfast in the kitchen. Release garage goats to the backyard for play time. Leave someone to supervise garage goats as they can and will squeeze through the chain link gate if they get lonely.
Make sure the older goats get breakfast while the donkeys are still eating theirs. (This may also have to happen before the release of baby goats into the backyard as the sound of bleating baby goats can motivate them to launch an escape attempt. If at all possible, get their feeding done while other goats are still in the kitchen.) Release geese from the (temporary) overnight pen for foraging. Do this while the peacocks are still eating so as to avoid them er.. complicating things. Then get the goslings out of their garage enclosure for breakfast and playtime in the front yard (not the backyard because the baby goats sort of scare them). Make sure the peafowl are otherwise occupied so they will not harass the goslings. This may require light supervision.
That's the daily morning shuffle. And that's the abridged version which does not include the rabbits. Nor the feeding and education of children nor housework nor self-care nor the myriad of maintenance tasks that must happen on a given day. And it all must happen in a very particular order. And that order will yet again change when the new ducks arrive this week and again when another new goat arrives the week after and when 30 brooder chicks move into a grow-out pen the following week and again when the donkeys get their new enclosure and so on. Also, that's just the morning.
They say that those little number-slide puzzles are great for keeping the mind sharp. My mind must be deadly sharp by now. Honestly, I am not sure because I'm too busy figuring out the next thing to test that out. Is that what they really mean by 'never a dull moment'?
In any event, I am off to find a better way to lock the front and back gates now that at least three of the donkeys have figured out how to open them all.
The Kids are Alright
Coming Up Again This weekend!
One of the reasons you haven't been hearing from us here at the blog is that we have been busy traveling back and forth from here to Broken Arrow, OK for something really fun: Our oldest daughter has a part in a theatrical production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as presented by the Classical Catholic Drama Club of Eastern Oklahoma.
There have already been three performances, and they did not disappoint. If you missed them and you will be in the area this upcoming weekend - we highly recommend you bring your family and enjoy the show!
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the website at: Classical Catholic Drama Club of Eastern Oklahoma
Things are getting serious. We finally gave up and had several round bales of hay delivered for the donkeys. The square bales we were buying were running out too quickly for us to keep up and hungry donkeys will eat your shrubbery and trees and scrap lumber and outbuildings.
All of this hay-buying mayhem has led to a few more wild ideas for our place in the future, which I will be revealing soon.
Happy New Year!
Am I twelve or so days late with the celebration? That's not so bad, all things considered. At least it isn't February. I am just going to take that and call it a win.
What was even more shocking than losing twelve or thirteen days in the year 2020 already was seeing the date on my last blog post here. I knew I had fallen behind a little. But, September?
I sat down yesterday afternoon with the intention of reinventing the blog over at Wordpress. Considering the fact that I had not been updating the blog at all as it is, the idea of designing an entirely new site from the ground up may seem crazy- ambitious. And it is. And I scrapped the idea entirely this afternoon. However, I was thinking about why starting completely over was such a natural impulse for me -- and also about how that same impulse affects everything I do -- or the things that I intend to do, but never seem to get done.
I have a sizable collection of notebooks and journals and handsomely-bound books that I acquired over the years for various intentions: journaling, poetry, sketches of nature, vaccination schedules for the animals, prayer, tracking my dietary intake, homeschool accountability, writing that novel everyone tells me to write... They all have one thing in common: They are incomplete. There is no mystery here. I know why they all end in blank pages: Life happens. But it isn't that life happens and they are totally forgotten. It is just that life can happen for a single afternoon, causing me to miss a single entry. In theory, I could go back and complete the entry, but that would seem dishonest to me. I could also, again in theory, just continue on and overlook the gap. However, that is something I have never been able to do. That single missing entry destroys my vision of a seamless narrative, seamless project, or - really - a seamless life.
Instead, I start over. And over. And over.
It is funny how my desire for something seamless leaves me with a series of starts and stops. Perfection is the enemy of good enough: Seamlessness is apparently the enemy of cohesive, coherent, and complete.
All of that is really to say that it is a pretty big deal that I am here today writing a blog post after nearly four months of neglecting it. If you thought I was going to wrap all of it up with another reference to the (twelve days ago) new year and my resolution to either a) achieve seamlessness for once or b) give up on the desire for it altogether, you were mistaken. Although I do accept that life may well be nothing but a series of starts and stops and do-overs (and that may be well and good), I also accept that I shall never be content with it as such. I believe that one day in eternity I will finally be able to see the whole picture and the gaps will fade until all that is left is one perfect thread that connected every moment to every other moment - and all of those to a single and everlasting moment.
In the meantime, there will be animal stories and photos of chickens to share, I am sure. Eventually. We will be busy with some outside-of-the-household activities over the next few weeks, but have plenty of projects in store when we get back to our regular routine. Here's wishing you all a happy and healthy 2020.
September 13th, 2019
After years of navigating methods of maintaining bedding in the chicken coop....
I think I have finally found what really works for us.
First, you need to understand that our chickens free-range so when I say 'coop' I am talking about the secure building where they roost overnight. Some of our older girls do prefer to lounge about in the coop during the day as well - but for the most part this is not a 24/7 coop and run.
Second, it's a pretty large coop. It's actually a pre-fab 10 x 16 lofted cabin that we converted to a coop a few years ago. It can easily and comfortably house quite a number of grown chickens over night. This summer it has been evening home to about 30 chickens, I think... But who's counting?
The problem that I have always had - which I know is common to chicken-owners everywhere - is finding some way to keep the coop clean. I have always prefered the deep-bedding method, especially in winter when the composting manure and bedding keep things cozy. In summer, however, the stench and the flies - OH THE FLIES - are less than ideal.
I experimented with different litter - from hay and straw to sawdust and back to regular old pine shavings. The problem was not the litter. The problem was the poo. Most books suggest using diatomaceous earth mixed with the bedding to reduce moisture, parasites, and odors. I tried that too. I wanted it to work. However, having a large coop meant needing a large amount of DE to get the job done. Also, simply handling the bags of DE sent me into coughing fits for days and the chickens fared no better - I had problems with respiratory illnesses in my birds whenever I did use the DE. Unfortunately, there was another major problem: it did not actually help. DE is pretty much useless once it gets wet... And I ended up with a nasty dirty sludge of wet DE underneath the bedding which I had to scrape up -- adding to my coop cleaning chores. Oh, and did I mention that DE is not actually as cheap as the internet likes to tell you it is? I was shelling out $25 per week just to keep the chicken coop powdered in DE which didn't seem to do anything other than make everyone sneeze. So.. scratch that.
I also tried the 'no litter' method during the hot summer months. What this meant was scraping overnight poo off the coop floor every morning and toting it off to the compost bin. Not only was it something akin to torture to wake up every morning looking forward to scraping chicken poo... but as the days got hotter and longer there was no way to stay ahead of the flies or the smell. And since the clean-up was always wet - and my cleaning methods also required the use of some amount of water to remove the sticky bits.. the coop maintained a level of dampness during the humid summer that was ... not good.
This summer I decided to try something totally new. I was convinced it wouldn't work, of course.. but I had to say I tried. After spring clean-up - I bought 1 ten pound bag of the cheapest all-purpose flour I could find (the store brand flour was $3.98 per bag) and three large boxes of store brand baking soda (at 98 cents each). I mixed it all together in a bucket and then layered it in to a thick layer of pine shavings bedding on the floor of the coop. Then I sat back and waited.
Okay, not really. I still turned over the bedding every morning... but that's a lot more like waiting than scraping up icky poo every morning.
Something amazing happened. There was no fly problem in the coop this summer. There was a fly problem, of course. But not in the coop. And there was no stench. Not that it smelled like one of those trees you put on your rearview mirror in there... but it did not stink to the point of gagging even on the hottest of days... it just smelled like... chickens.
Also... no respiratory issues this year... no mites... and... the final test....
After four extremely hot and humid months - I cleaned out the old bedding in preparation for fall and all of the bedding was perfectly dry. It was light and easy to move. It was not clumped together. It was not even composting.
If you can't tell how clean it was from the tractor picture above, then perhaps this will convince you: Did I mention that we floored our chicken coop with leftover wood laminate planks? You know, the kind of floor that does not hold up well to a lot of moisture? The floor tells it all. After removing the bulk of the bedding I was able to sweep the rest of the coop clean... After four months of heavy use.
The best part? I did not have to use any funky chemicals to get the results I wanted this year. And bonus - it was super cheap and convenient.
I won't be adding flour and baking soda to the new bedding as fall and winter approach as I will be wanting this bedding to compost to keep the coop toasty on cold nights. But you can bet I'll be heading to the baking aisle in the spring.
Wrapping Fig Trees for Winter
When we first moved up here I had zero idea what sorts of things we could grow or not grow. I was used to planting on the coast where summer was basically perpetual and winter consisted of about a week of sweater weather in January. Selecting trees was fairly simple: if it could handle unbearable heat, constant humidity, wet ground, and daily rain showers - it would grow with not a lot of effort from me.
Being clueless, yet enthusiastic, we picked up fruit trees from local nurseries - assuming that if it could be found in a local nursery then it would grow locally. That was silly, of course.
We bought several fig trees our first year here. They grew beautifully. Then they froze solid in the winter. The following spring there was no sign of them... But by mid-summer we were excited to see new growth from the roots. Being late starting, the trees did not have long to grow - let alone bear fruit. The same thing happened the following year.
Oh. So this is how winter works. Really. That was a revelation for me. Not wanting to give up - I formulated a plan and searched around on the internet for people who had grown fig trees in places where fig trees did not want to grow.... I found some basic advice on winterizing fruit trees and ran with it.
Every fall as the nights get cold and the danger of frost approaches, we go out and strip all the leaves off the little fig trees, trim the stems back to the oldest growth, tie the branches together to form a cone, and wrap it in several layers of burlap - being sure to not leave any gaps at the bottom near the ground. The very top is left open for air flow. When there is danger of a hard freeze - we cover the entire thing with plastic contractor-sized bags.
We have been pampering our fig trees this way for three winters. Though they were faster returning in the spring - the growth was not substantial over the season... and I was beginning to think figs in NE Oklahoma were a lost cause... Until this year! Finally, the trees have grown to the point that wrapping them this year will be a challenge... and....
They are absolutely loaded with large ripening figs. It is so exciting to finally see our persistence begin to pay off!
This year I am actually looking forward to tucking our little fruit trees in for the winter - because now I know it's worth the extra effort. Now if I could figure out how to overwinter citrus trees, I will be set.....
The Guineas DId Something
The Guinea Fowl girls are finally laying. The eggs are not full-size yet, but there are plenty of them at least.
On Friendship & Wonder
Recently I was making small talk with a lady whom I had just met (which seemed to be the proper thing to do given the circumstances), and inevitably ended up sharing a little anecdote about my goats. I say "inevitably" because goats have been a part of my life in one way or another for several years now, so that it is natural to include the subject when I am talking to someone who does not know anything about me. Of course, I am assuming (which is also a natural part of introductions) that the person wants to know something about me to begin with. Ah, but back to the conversation. When I finished my short little story about goat adventures, the lady looked at me with some irritation, waved her hand dismissively, and said, "Yeah. I have goats, too."
It stung a little. Aaand the conversation ended. I am pretty sure that any prospect of a future friendship with this person also ended at that moment. Not because I was offended, but because it was clear that she would not be particularly interested in such a relationship.
A few days later I was still tumbling the exchange around in my head. I wish I could say that it warranted so much thought because it was an unprecedented thing. On the contrary, it seems to happen more and more often of late. So much so that I am beginning to feel as if strangers are more strange than they ever were before -- that something happened out there in the world at large while I was busy on my hill. I missed the program. I did not get the memo. When did we become so completely uninterested in one another - to the point of rudeness? What is going on?
As I contemplate the awkward encounter, I keep coming around to the idea that years ago - maybe many years ago, but most definitely for millennia before the change - that moment of the discovery of some common ground, some common interest or experience - would have been a good thing. "Ah," we say to our fellow man, "We are cut from the same cloth! We can start here."
People seem to be constantly searching for two things - and, I believe they are willing to sacrifice friendship in the process: everlasting newness and knowledge for personal gain. Those two things are not unrelated in this land of consumers. Hear me out, here. We are all consumers, we all consume things. But there was a time - not too long ago - that it wasn't our consumption that defined us.
I believe it began with our consumption of things, although the consumption of things is not inherently wrong and does not necessarily lead to the destruction of civilization or anything like that. We are not locusts... or we are not supposed to be. (After all, we are also producers. Or, we once were -- sometimes it feels as if that role is declining.) But, once upon a time, there was an orchestrated battle for the mind of modern man and advertisers (who knew a lot more about how our minds work than the rest of us care to know) taught people - an entire society - how to be masterful consumers of things. And then they didn't stop at things, because there's always more to sell. We became consumers of experience, consumers of ideas, consumers of knowledge, consumers of one another.
If you have been following the blog or my Facebook page, then you know that we have been working on various home remodeling projects here - including (but certainly not limited to) - replacing our white wall-to-wall carpet throughout the downstairs with porcelain wood-look plank tile.
Downstairs includes our master bedroom. And once we had pulled up the old carpet, it was completely necessary to take the opportunity to repaint as well. The original walls were a mossy green - which I updated to a more muted bronze months ago.
We started laying our tile in the bedroom at the beginning of July. I will be honest: I thought we would have been done with the entire project by now. But we had a bit of a setback in having purchased and used the wrong mortar for the job when starting out - resulting in having to take up and reset a lot of previously laid tile. And there is also the problem which will never go away: my choice of tile.
Porcelain wood-look plank tile (6" x 24"): A few things you should know (that we did not know when we decided to use it.) First, porcelain is very hard and difficult to cut - a decent quality tile saw is absolutely imperative if you want to finish tiling with porcelain within a generation. Also - as we learned the very hard and tearful way following our wrong-mortar fiasco - the 24" sides mean that plank-style tile is always considered a large format tile - no matter how narrow the planks may be (purchase the appropriate mortar). Everything else is concerning the relative dimensions of the tiles. And I do mean relative. The tiles are not the same thickness. They are not the same overall size. They are not perfectly square - some curve significantly. They are not a consistent thickness throughout the tile. Many have a substantial bow to them and will not set flat on the floor (something you have to make up for with some creative mortar beds). All of this means that it is impossible to get a perfectly consistent grout line or a perfectly straight line on long runs of tile. The stuff is great if you start out with the idea in your head that you want a rather random and rustic look. (Fortunately, that's exactly what I wanted.) If not, you will surely lose your mind.
We have officially finished the bedroom - which looks fantastic. No regrets! Even though it took at least six weeks longer than we had anticipated. We now have somewhere comfortable to sleep so that we can rest up and conquer the rest of the downstairs floors.
We have begun laying out the tile for the remaining hallway and into the foyer. I am a little anxious about the incredibly long runs that have to happen from the front door to the back of the living room and we are hoping that enough planned randomness will compensate for less than perpendicular lines... Besides dark (black!) grout covers a multitude of sins.
Now I have to stop talking about it and get to work - I hear Dave mixing a bucket of mortar as I type.
Posted by Anita
Hates wall-to-wall carpeting this much.
Today i learned...
Fences are expensive.
And I mean really expensive. The next time you are driving down a country road and you see one of those cheap barbed-wire fences, remember that cheap is relative.
Sure, you can pick up a roll of regular barbed-wire for around 60 cents a foot. But then you have to multiply whatever length you need by 4 or 5 depending on how many strands you are going to be using on the fence. Pretty quickly you can find yourself shelling out $3.00 per linear foot. Chances are, you won't be pulling barbed-wire for anything less than 100 feet at a time per side.
Add in the cost of those beautiful wooden posts for corner and center braces at between $10 and $15 each and pick up some unsightly t-posts (just under $5 each) to drive in every 8 feet or so and you've got yourself an investment.
Full disclosure: This is not at all something I learned today. I figured out the expensive part just a few months into our small farming adventure. However, it is something fresh on my mind today because Emily brought the above photo evidence of downed-fence to me a few minutes ago.
To be fair, this particular stretch of fence was supposed to be temporary anyway. But it turns out that a lot of our temporary fixes end up in service a lot longer than planned. And, unfortunately, it simply is not time for a big fence project - the ticks are still alive and well, the temperatures are still in the 90s in the shade, and I have this totally rational fear of copperheads keeping me out of the woods right now.
Besides, we have floor tile to finish.
For now we will throw up some sort of emergency something to keep the donkeys from exploring all of Mayes County while we sleep at night. And we will be praying that Oklahoma storms get all of the fence-destroying business out of the way over the next few weeks and before we make repairs.
Posted by Anita
Keeper of the ever-expanding to-do list.
A recap of the year so far
As I sit here at the laptop this afternoon, there are far too many tabs open in my browser at the moment. Email, Facebook, this blog, articles to read, t-shirt designs, photo albums, homeschool planners... It's all over the place. I have just as many lists of things to do and paperwork to go through and books to read scattered on the table next to the laptop.
It does not seem possible that we will ever complete the various tasks before us... There is not enough time. There is not enough energy. There is not enough determination or concentration or motivation. Impossible. Yeah. I'm a little overwhelmed today.
When things get overwhelming, I have to step back and look at what we HAVE accomplished rather than melting down over what still lies ahead. For my sanity.
So what have we done this year so far? Here's a list of major accomplishments for 2019 in no particular order.
1. We got doors.