Friday, August 29, 2008

Rooster Redemption

The rooster and I have had some issues. Some days he and I simply don't see eye to eye. I haven't yet seriously considered him as a candidate for the stew pot, but sometimes, in an irritated snit, it does cross my mind. I've been watching him carefully, though, and it is becoming quite clear to me that he takes his position very seriously. Like a great dog, he does his job faithfully and very well, with a certain commitment to his role.

We came home later than usual last night, and when we pulled up to the house it had just fully turned dark. The chickens will always put themselves to bed by nightfall, and we simply have to come along and close the door behind them. As we approached the coop something looked, well, funny. The birds had decided to roost on top of the coop for the night, rather than inside. Evidently the door had been blown shut by the wind at some point during the day, so being unable to get to their "bedroom", they did the best they could. They were all lined up side by side on the front edge of the roof, with Rooster Boy right in the middle, wings spread slightly over top of the hens on either side of him. He had a very protective posture. In that moment it seemed apparent that he had gathered them all there, as away from harm as he could manage, and was trying his best to keep them safe. I was so proud - it was all I could do to not give him a resounding "Good boy!"

We plucked them each one by one off the roof and relocated them to the inside. Even the rooster went peacefully - they were so ready for bed. As long as he keeps that up and doesn't become outright dangerous, I'm content to keep him on the payroll.

Good boy!

And now for your Friday viewing pleasure - smoked chicken!

If she only knew.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dreaming Of Livestock

We've only lived for a couple of months on our land, and are still deep in the throes of "have tos" - all the immediate chores and repairs that must get done NOW and eat up most of the time we might otherwise have for "want tos". That does not, however, stop us from wishing and dreaming and sometimes even conspiring, and these days our thoughts are turning to larger livestock. This isn't new. We've been discussing meat and dairy animals since before the place was even ours, but we're now talking with a bit more intent and seriously considering the pros and cons.

The looming question on our minds is: goat, sheep or cow? Or a combination?

Our first (and almost automatic) thought was goats. Goats are small and inexpensive enough that we could keep a few, and they'd provide us with plenty of fresh milk and occaisional meat. We also have a large area of our property that is hilly and overgrown with brush - great for goats! The downsides to this are that we'd need to build extremely strong fences, since goats will free themselves from just about any enclosure if given the slightest chance, and frankly, while I like goat milk, I don't LOVE goat milk. I like it a lot for certain things, but wouldn't want to use it for others, as I find it rather more salty than cow's milk. Dairy goats apparently must also be milked twice a day, every day, which would mean a complete and total end to any spontaneity and flexibility in our lives.

I've begun just in the last week to seriously consider sheep. Sheep also produce milk, as well as meat and fleece, so they could be a good candidate for us. They are also a manageable size and from what I understand, are possessed of a more even temperment than goats. That is to say, they aren't as curious or prone to getting into things (or out of things!). It's fairly appealing to me to think that we could have all the benefits of goats, plus wool, with a somewhat more laid back animal. We also have a very large area of flat, grassy pasture with a few shade trees here and there, so accommodations wouldn't be a problem for them either. My biggest problems with sheep are these - I don't spin and really am not inclined to, so I'd need to find an outlet (or some use) for the wool, I've never actually had sheep's milk (only the occasional cheese) so I don't even know if I like it, and as much as I find lamb delicious, I just could NOT slaughter a lamb myself. I'd absolutely have to make other arrangements for that. They're simply too cute. Really. I couldn't do it. I mean, could you kill this??

Yeah, me neither. It's worth noting, too, that wool sheep seem less common in my area, possibly due to our extremely long and hot summers. I do see quite a few hair sheep, and sheep for meat, but finding an all-around multipurpose breed here might prove difficult.

I had categorically dismissed cows as an option until just yesterday. I had assumed that their size would make them too difficult to manage, plus we're literally surrounded by them, with a place selling pastured beef just down the road, so it seemed like there wasn't much point. But a cow would provide more than enough milk for us (and we know we like it) and they are generally quite docile, despite their size. There would be plenty of milk also for cheese, yogurt, cream and butter, and any excess milk could be offered to other folks or fed to our chickens or other livestock. We would also have the opportunity to raise a calf for meat every year or two, which would more than provide for the two of us. In this case, third party butchering would be a must. We simply don't have the facilities to handle such a large job and still keep everything acceptably clean. Given the great abundance of cows near us, I can't imagine it would be all too difficult to come by one. The big downside to a cow is the upfront investment. It costs considerably more to purchase a cow. Plus, a bigger animal means more feed, whether you're able to provide it with pasture or have to supplement with cut hay. The return on a cow is much larger, however, in terms of quantity of milk and meat. There is also the option of selling the calves on the hoof, which would return some dollars to our pockets.

All of these animals have their own unique appeal, as well as unique drawbacks. It seems as though the more I think about it, the harder it becomes to make a decision about which is right for us. Perhaps the eventual answer will be "all of the above", but boy, does that seem like overkill for two people.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fun Day, At Last!

After many weekends (and weeknights) of nonstop working, we finally took a break for some fun yesterday. We did have to run into town for a few things in the morning, but after lunch we dug through boxes to find our fishing gear and went out back to fish in our pond. It was an adventure, to say the least.

Right off the bat, hubby walked out onto the footbridge and a whole section of it collapsed under him! There was a loud cracking sound, followed by a rush of water, and down he went! It was actually pretty funny - the water is only about a foot or so deep in that spot, and he managed to stay standing perfectly straight and upright as he went down. So he wound up standing just as he had been, only about two feet lower and with wet feet. :)

Once we got settled on a stable section of bridge, I broke my reel on my first or second cast. Then hubby gave me his and I promptly broke it too (on the first cast). Hubby tried to repair them on the fly, fish jumping all around us, mocking our misfortune, but to no avail. After a quick walk back to the house we had two new ones to use, and things were improving. I cast out my line and felt a good tug on it. I started reeling in and whatever I had was heavy. I pulled and pulled and reeled and reeled and I was actually afraid that I may have caught a turtle. After all the pulling and reeling I finally saw the end of my line and on it was...a branch. Woopee. Not to be discouraged, I got right back to business. I cast my line out again...into a tree. I had to walk it pretty far to one side, some distance around the edge of the pond and finally freed it. As I reeled it back in from there, I felt another tug...and another...and this time...I caught a fish! An actual fish. My very first fish ever! It was just a little one, a little sunfish or something, but I was very proud. OF COURSE it didn't occur to either of us to take the camera down there with us. With the luck I was having, though, I'm sure I'd have dropped it in the pond straight away.

We stood at the water's edge, quietly casting, sometimes catching something but mostly not. We watched birds, turtles, fish and dragonflies do their thing above and below the water. We even had the pleasure of seeing a hawk fly low right over our heads - it cast an enormous shadow. Finally it just got too hot and we had to hang it up and retreat to the house. It was great fun, though. After that, we got cleaned up, hopped on the motorbike and rode into town for an Italian dinner. It was a wonderful day.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Guess What?


Monday, August 18, 2008

Some Projects

We've been mostly shut indoors here for the past few days due to some unusually heavy (but very welcome) rain. That just means that we've had some down time to come up with more new project ideas! Also, we've been able to come up with some solutions to problems we knew were in the post.

After only a month, it has become quite clear that the chickens do not need to have the run of the place. Don't worry - they'll still get to range, but their "range" will be somewhat determined by us. The problem is that a chicken will go wherever it wants to, regardless of how you may feel about it. Given the freedom, they'll be in your garden, on your deck, roosting on top of your barbecue grill, under (or on top of ) your car, and so on. As much as we enjoy them, we have our limits. SO, the ladies and gentleman will be enjoying some deluxe but rather more confined accommodations in a soon-to-be fenced area adjoining the small barn. The chicken tractor will remain in use for now as well - it can be their enclosed quarters, or could be re-purposed to house new birds until they're ready to mix with the flock. We also don't quite have enough nest boxes for our twelve girls. The tractor has just two built in, so today I set up a third one inside a chiminea with a broken top that's been sitting around waiting for some good use. Here it is - no visitors yet:

Yes, there's a bucket over the top to keep the rain out of it!

I also started growing a few batches of sprouts (bean and sunflower). I did that a lot before the move, and was finally able to unearth the sprouter. Hubby had a stroke of genius, though, and thought of a way to provide me with a much BIGGER sprouter, to make many more sprouts. Off he went to root through boxes, and he came back bearing a paper safe (the type used in photography to store photo paper). It's a good sized enclosed box with built in shelves and a roll-up door on the front. He intends to fit the shelves with some screens and I'll probably need to fix the door open and hang something like cheesecloth or a tea towel over it to maintain some air circulation, but it looks like it will work. I'll let you know after I've tried a batch. For now, though, here are the beginnings of my latest batch:

Lovely, aren't they? Just a box full of sprouty goodness!

Also on the horizon - a worm farm! We need to get out and rearrange the stuff in the barn, after which we plan to set up some worm beds. I'd like to get to that fairly soon, but the weather makes outdoor projects difficult, and we'll be busy this coming weekend helping our friends dispatch some more chickens (can't say I'm looking forward to that, but hey, what are friends for?). As soon as we can work it in, I'll post an update.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Woohoo, Commerce!

We sold our first dozen eggs!

And then we sold two dozen more!

I think I like this game.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Spent All Afternoon on...This?

My "big" project over the weekend was to mark off and start prepping Garden Bed Numero Uno. There will be many, eventually, but for now I marked off just two beds, and prepped one. The plan is to have two "banks" of 4' x 20' beds with wide pathways in between, and another wide pathway between the two banks. I basically prepped an 80 square foot area for planting, and it looked incredibly, impossibly tiny. That's actually about the same size as our entire garden was at the old house - that was all we really had to work with. Now, looking at it in the context of a much larger property, it looks so small. I can see how easy it is for people to over-plant and get into something they can't hope to maintain! Just that little area was quite a whipping, though. The dirt on this land hasn't been worked in many years (if ever), and it was just like trying to break bricks with shovel. I was actually breaking it loose with a pick ax at one point. But it's been turned, amended with some rabbit poo, covered with cardboard, chicken litter and straw, wet down and left to, uh, rot - or whatever it's supposed to do - until spring. Maybe I'll prep the second bed this weekend. Or maybe I'll look out there at the hard dirt and say "Oh, HELL no.". ;-)

And speaking of oh-HELL-no's, my rooster has started challenging me. Just Saturday, out of nowhere, he's taken to flying at me. I think we may have cleared that up for now, though, after a few swift kicks to the chest. I also find it helpful to stomp my feet and generally "loom largely" at him right from the start, before he gets any ideas. He seems to reconsider his position and head the other direction when I do that.

All's well, though. I'm in my living room working, listening to jazz, it's POURING outside (!!!) and I've got happy, nappy dogs.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Seem to Be Getting Ahead of Myself

By many, many miles. I've lost perspective. We got into this house after a long period of waiting, and I was so excited, so relieved to finally be here. In my mind I've envisioned the place the way I want it to be. I've been making lists. Every weekend I stack the deck with tasks for myself, trying to get it ever closer to "perfect".

And then, nothing happens. Well, not nothing, but all the wrong things. Things still need to be moved from the old house. I get a bunch of boxes cleared, and more show up. Things break. It's over 100 degrees every day for weeks, so no work gets done between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm. I still have to do my job. Money is tight from the move. My husband suffers an injury. All the wrong things. My list keeps growing and never shrinking, and every time I look around, all I can see are things not done. All the things I want to do here I want to do NOW.

Yesterday a friend was kind enough to supply me with a boot to the head. She confessed that she's been in her place for two years and is only now starting on many of her "to do" projects. They are still hauling off loads of junk that they inherited with the place. Some reflection on that made me realize something - I need to sit on my hands and let things happen. It's one thing to have drive and a sense of urgency, but there are just some things you can't force. I can't change the weather. I can't make compost happen any faster than it wants to. Water will flow where it will. Even more important than that, I realized that it's probably not a good idea to finish all my projects right away, even if I could. It takes the long, slow wearing of time to transform a house into a home, and a patch of land into an oasis. They need to be broken in, develop some history with you, get to know you. If I finished everything on my list tomorrow, what on earth would I do then?

Monday, August 4, 2008

You Take the Good With the Bad...

They like me! They really, really like me! Well, someone does, anyway. Rob, over at Rob's World was kind enough to present me with this fine award (my first!) and I'm most grateful.

Now, in turn, I will pass on the love! I hereby present the Brillante Weblog Award to....

1. Brenda over at Skunky Acre Farms for showing me the way, and for always meeting adversity with good humor.

2. Lewru at Wisdom of the Trowel, for always seeking out the answers and for frequent invocation of the Triple Word Score.

3. Risa at Stony Run Farm for the sheer beauty of it. Wow.

And in accordance with the, er, rules, I'll provide a few fun facts about myself:

1. In elementary school, I wrote a story about feeding radishes to a volcano in order to make it erupt. Sounded reasonable to me.

2. All of my chickens are named Phyllis.

3. Apparently I know more Christmas trivia than anyone ever should.

Thank you everyone. Thank you, thank you. {takes a bow}

What, you ask, is the bad? Replacing the water heater at 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday, because you happened to be behind the house on the east end, and heard water gushing from somewhere on the west end. Sigh.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Meet Mama Bird!

Apparently I didn't scare her away.