Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Our Cup Runneth Over

In virtually every way.

We can't seem to stay on top of all our projects, we're overrun with animals and it JUST WILL NOT STOP RAINING. I'm deeply tired of being wet and muddy all the time. Bone tired. It's not all bad, though. In truth, it's been a bit of a mixed bag.

We lost another Phyllis, I'm afraid - this time to Caspian. While it isn't acceptable for the dogs to kill the chickens, I've come to think that one should simply expect to lose birds now and then in this manner. They are dogs, after all, and a squawking, fast moving chicken is irresistible to just about any dog. The chicks are getting bigger every day and are feathered out enough that they've begun to resemble tiny vultures.

The ducks, on the other hand, are getting quite big and have yet to sprout a single feather. I'm beginning to wonder just how long they'll stay downy.

We're going through some real growing pains with Cass. We came home from dinner on Sunday evening to find him on the wrong side of the fence. Not simply outside of his yard, but in the adjoining cattle pasture that doesn't belong to us. We spent the rest of the evening trying to get him to come to us and trying to figure out how to get him back to our side - it's a cattle-proof perimeter the whole way round, and it's some considerable acreage. We aren't quite sure even how he got over in the first place. When darkness was setting in, we resigned ourselves to giving up for the night, and leaving him to work it out for himself.

In the morning when I went to feed the goats, he was right where we had left him, on the wrong side of the fence. Again I tried to make contact with him (in the rain this time) and again without success. I gave up and went inside to work. I happened to look out the living room window about an hour later to see him wandering around our front yard. Clearly he had solved the problem, but had also overcompensated and was now running loose on OUR property. My mind started reeling with images of poultry being chased hither and yon, and testosterone-fueled foolishness between him and the house dogs. This was NOT okay. I went out after him but he was having none of it. Naturally, it was pouring rain. I would up spending the better part of the morning sweet talking a dog back into the yard with a bag of ham and a pile of meaty beef bones. Oh, I did the song and dance, too - "Looooook at the yuuuuuummy haaaaaaaammm! This is some deeeeeeelicious haaaaammmm!" I can report that this tactic does work. It just may take, oh, you know...HALF THE DAY.

In other news, there has been more reshuffling of our little goat family. Comfort has gone to live with her permanent family, and her brother Surrey is very sad. We brought him and Patience a couple of new friends, though. Two lovely brown wethers - twin brothers - that are just the same age as our two. Someday we hope to train them as a driving team. Now that she's the only girl left in the bunch, Patience is enjoying her herd queen status. We've just settled all of them in for their first night together. Hopefully peace will finally reign in the goat barn.

Where Are We Going?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


The decision was made. Action was taken. Caspian stayed, and Naomi went back to her previous owner. We need a guard dog, and the situation was far too stressful for her. There was no sign of improvement and her health was deteriorating rapidly, so in the interest of getting her well again and not causing her any more distress, we sent sweet Naomi home. She's a good girl, and we'll miss her, but we know she'll be happier this way.

So...anyone know where I can find a good doe in milk?

We'll miss you, Nae-Nae...

Friday, April 17, 2009

And It Continues

Relations in the goat barn are NOT improving. Another bad storm today with strong winds, heavy rain and hail, and where do I spend my morning? In the barn with the animals, so that the poor dog can come in during the worst of it without a fight breaking out. Naomi just doesn't seem to be coming around. I thought we were making progress, but she took another shot at him after the weather calmed down. She's still not really eating much either. Something has to give, and soon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

R. I. P. Phyllis

Yesterday was a "town" day. Every Tuesday and Thursday my husband and I make the very long commute into town to go to work. We're gone for a solid twelve hours, and at first we were nervous about it, since we're so far away and if anything were to happen here we either wouldn't know or couldn't do anything about it. Over time, however, we relaxed. We've been through many Tuesdays and Thursdays and always come home to find things pretty much as we left them. At least, until yesterday. We have a goat that's not really getting along with our new dog, and a whole mess of new chicks in brooders in the house, so I was anxious all day about being gone from the house for so long. Ironically, when we finally did get home, the problems we faced were not the ones I expected.

We pulled through the gate and saw Caspian in the goat yard as always, and things appeared at first to be normal. As we approached the house, however, that quickly changed. First we discovered piles of chicken feathers everywhere. Next we noticed that our rooster, Elvis, now had ZERO tail feathers left and a big bald spot on his rear. It was only after this that we noticed Sophie, our very short and extremely fat dog standing on the FRONT PORCH with her hackles up, barking like mad. We both said the same thing as we stared at the scene in disbelief: "What on Earth happened here today?"

The evidence: all those gorgeous tail feathers...gone.

Once we were out of the car, it got worse. A dead chicken near the front door. Another around back. A quick headcount revealed that one was still missing. We saw that part of the fence around our dogs' yard had come loose, leaving a gaping hole big enough for any size dog to walk right through. The dead chickens showed all the signs of a dog attack. The missing girl was later located down near the barn, also dead, I know what you're thinking, but I can assure you there is NO way this was Sophie's work. She can't possibly run long enough or fast enough to catch a chicken, much less three chickens, AND take a piece out the rooster. It seems she just took advantage of the opening in the fence and once she was out, couldn't figure out how to get back in, so she did what she always does in that situation and waited on the porch (although I can't explain the barking).

As much as it pains me to say it, all the signs indicate that the culprits were most likely our two boy dogs. It certainly seems like something they would do, but we didn't actually catch them in the act, and some of the details just don't quite add up. For starters, when we arrived, they were both inside the house. The incident appeared to have happened quite recently, and we find it a bit hard to believe that they'd go out, kill a couple of chickens and go back in. It seems far more likely, given their history, that they'd have taken off across the pasture toward the neighbor's house to see what they could see. Also, they're both completely unscathed. Now, they are pretty tough, but I know that rooster would have fought them hard, and neither of them has a single scratch. We also found no trace of feathers, parts or carcasses in their yard or in the house, and they have a tendency to bring their spoils inside, so that seemed unusual also. Don't get me wrong, they're still our number one suspects, and they lack a solid alibi, but we simply don't have enough evidence to solidly pin this on them. In any case, we arrived far too late after it happened to effectively punish them for it, even if we were sure.

We found all three ducks down at the pond. Apparently mama duck had no choice but to abandon her babies and flee. Miraculously all the babies are fine, even though they were alone in the midst of the fray. We checked everyone in the goat barn too, fearing the worst, but they were all fine. Caspian let us know that he did his best, but wasn't able to stop the carnage from behind his fence. We understood. Frankly we were thankful that our dogs didn't cross paths with HIM. The outcome really could have been far worse if that had happened. We cleaned up the wreckage, the remaining hens and one very pathetic rooster all hobbled to bed, and we came inside, forgetting that we had been hungry, and consoled ourselves with some drinks.

We knew this would happen. We did. It was only a question of when. I'm afraid that doesn't make it easier to swallow, though. The fact that it was likely caused by our own dogs makes it an especially bitter pill. A few interesting things did arise from this incident, though. I made a bit of self discovery, for one. When it seemed as though the bodies were fresh, I suggested that perhaps we ought to pluck and dress them. I figured, why waste them? Why toss good meat out into the field for the vultures? We decided against it, though, since we really didn't know how long they'd been there, and it was a bit late to start such an undertaking. We also came to the rather comforting conclusion that if it really WAS our dogs that did this, at least they had the good sense to put themselves back in the house when they were done. Coming home to dead livestock is bad. Coming home to dead livestock and missing pets would have been far, far worse.

So I'm thinking it's a good thing that I have thirty-five new chicks in the pipeline.

Critical Mass

Ladies and Gentleman, we've arrived. We have officially reached the point where we are stretched so thin, and are wrangling so many animals (in addition to our house chores and day jobs) that we can handle no more.

Naomi, our adult doe, is NOT warming to Caspian. There have been a few scuffles, and really he's just trying to do his job (and get to know them). His attitude has been entirely friendly, and the kids don't have any issue with him, but Naomi really pushes him and he's lashed back at her a few times. I'm concerned that she may never get over it. Her milk production has also dropped drastically due to the stress. As much as we love her, we fear that if it comes down to it, she may be the one to have to go. We need a guard animal here, and she's such a queen that I'm afraid she will act this way with any guard animal we may bring in. Poor Caspian really wants to go into the barn, and she faces him down in the doorway every time. We're keeping them separated when we're not there to supervise, which is unfortunate since it keeps the goats in their barn and out of their yard most of the day. I only hope that with time and supervision, relations will improve.

As promised, I'll tell the tale of the chicken in the bathtub. As seems to happen in the country, we made a deal to trade our extra buck rabbit for a bantam game hen cross. We're not sure what she's crossed with, but she's very pretty. She's petite, with lovely brown, gold and green feathers and a tiny comb. She's also quite high strung, and that has made it really difficult for me to get a good picture of her. She's settled into her new apartment now, but the first night we had her, we had a storm coming in and no safe place to keep her, so she spend the night in a cage, in our bathtub with the shower door closed. Needless to say, she was NOT HAPPY about these accommodations and repeatedly complained to the management. The management tried repeatedly to explain to her that she, in fact, had the best room in the house that night and that she should be grateful. She was most decidedly NOT grateful. Meanwhile, our dog was deeply concerned that there was a THING! in the BATHROOM! and WE should know about it! Every five minutes or so. Sigh.

I picked up our 26 chicks from the hatchery on Monday morning, and all are healthy and adorable. Incidentally, when the post office calls you to pick up your chicks, they call you at 6:30 in the morning. No one prepared me for that! The babies are doing fine in the brooders, but I can already tell that they won't be as smart or self sufficient as the chicks being raised by their mama outside. It's okay, though - we got quite a variety, and it will be some time before I'm able to tell what they all are, so that will be fun!

some of the babies

Having 26 chicks in the house and another 9 outside seemed like a lot, but it turns out they arrived just in the nick of time. Little did we know that all hell was about to break loose, and our hen population was about to experience a sharp decline.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chicks, Ducklings, and a Dog Named Caspian

What a week! This week began with the hatching of our first homegrown chicks. Mama is doing a great job mothering them, and we're very excited. There are nine of them, and so far all are healthy and doing well. The very next day we came home from work to find that the ducklings had hatched out as well - thirteen of them! Mama duck is taking extremely good care of them too, and after just a couple of days, they had their first swimming lesson:

All of these babies are quite fun to watch. They're tiny, but they're already learning to act like grown ups. The chicks are learning to scratch and peck, and ducks are swimming pretty well for such little things.

We ended the week with two more acquisitions - a Great Pyrenees named Caspian, and a bantam Old English Game Hen (more on her in a subsequent post). Caspian is two years old, and came from a loving family, but he was, err, strongly disliked by their other Pyr (a female), so he came to live with our goats. We just picked him up yesterday, and he's had a pretty rough 24 hours, I'm sorry to say. He's fairly suspicious of us and runs away when we approach. Our adult doe, Naomi, wants NO part of him being here and does her best not to let him into the barn. On top of all that, it poured rain last night and this morning and the poor guy spent most of that time out in the middle of the yard getting soaked. We knew there would be an adjustment period, and it's only the second day, but we're hoping to make some inroads with him and hoping that Naomi will relax and get used to him. He was really sweet when we met him, and was great in the car coming home, but he's quite anxious, poor thing.

Caspian, A.K.A. "The Bumble"

Now I'm off to deal with the chicken that's residing in my bathtub...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Farm Chronicles - March

Wow, March was such a busy month for us that I barely had time to post much at all! Sorry for the staleness around here. I think that's just how it's going to be in the spring.

March was all about goats and bees. Our goats arrived, and we all spent the first couple of weeks adjusting. There was a good deal of early morning fumbling, VERY amatuer milking efforts and lots of hang time in the barn. They've settled in very well and we've settled into a good routine. Naomi, bless her patient heart, gently informed me that I was not a good milker and that I Just. Wasn't. Doing. It. Right. I shaped up, however, and by the end of the first week, had earned her forgiveness. The kids continue to grow by leaps and bounds (and eat and eat and eat!).

After a great deal of anticipation and a degree of angst, we finally opened our beehive. We found a very helpful beekeeper who was nice enough to drive some distance to our place to help us open it for the first time and assess it's condition. What we found was...surprising. After dutifully feeding the bees sugar water all through the fall and winter, and observing their activity, we were certain that they had not only moved from the log into the hive, but that they were becoming overcrowded. When we opened up the hive to look in on them, we were greeted by a wasp, a beetle, a mouse and NO BEES. It went something like this:

BEEKEEPER: There are no bees in here.

ME: There were bees in there. Did they all leave?

BEEKEEPER (pulling out a comletely clean frame): No, they never moved in. They're still living in the log, and never moved into this hive at all.

ME: So, basically I've been providing them with free meals?


ME: So what do I do?

BEEKEEPER: With these bees? Nothing. They like it in the log, and they'll never come out. Just let them do their thing, and order some new bees for your hive. Oh, and, uh...don't feed them anymore.


So it turns out we were never actually "keeping" bees. Well, I have something to tell those ingrates. I have a three pound package of Russian bees on order with which to populate my hive, so those tree bees can just put that in their pipe and smoke it. I won't be needing their help! Hmph!

The rest of March was taken up with maintenance projects. I took a week off work and spent all of it tending to things I'd been neglecting. I unpacked, organized, cleaned, and worked on the garden. One of our raised beds is now planted with lettuces, radishes, onions, swiss chard, carrots and assorted beans. The other is waiting for my tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings which are still doing time indoors under the grow lights. Spring has been quite unpredictable so far, with a lot less rain than usual and more than our share of nights below freezing, so there has been quite a lot of covering and uncovering of the little plants, and uncertainty about when to plant things out. We planted potatoes too, and they appear to be thriving in spite of the crazy weather. We also started a series of rotational compost piles and ran water to the goat barn (hooray!). Somehow we managed to squeeze in a bit of socializing, but I'm not sure how.

Looking ahead: April means babies!

A Smallholder's Prayer

Broom Handle, my trusted friend
Thou art always at my side.
Thou leadeth me unafraid into the fields
and the dark places behind the barn.
Fierce destroyer of ant mounds
and turner-over of ooky things,
Thou warneth me of snakes and other crawlies.
I pray that thou wilt never be split in twain,
and that thou wilt deliver me from nighttime raccoon invasions
and ankle-spraining holes.
Please continue to guide wayward poultry
and put fiesty roosters in their place