Monday, June 29, 2009

the service here is second to none

The goats have been with us for a few months now, and while they're still just about five months old, they're no longer babies. Which is to say, they eat A LOT. More to the point, they eat what I give them, but they'd like to be eating quite a bit more. Our buck is getting to be quite the butterball these days. They get grain and hay in the morning and hay alone in the evening, and they've eaten every bit of browse they can reach in their fenced yard.

The fact that we have twelve acres that's loaded with good browse makes it somewhat ridiculous that we keep our goats in their yard and feed them expensive alfalfa bales. We don't have a milking doe right now so at the moment, none of them need particularly rich feed. They'd do fine eating mostly browse, supplemented with a small amount of hay. The fact is, due to time and money constraints, we don't have any pasture fencing set up for them yet, so I can't send them out anywhere during the day. We let them out loose on the weekends sometimes when we're working outside, and they dutifully follow us wherever we go, but since I have to be inside working during the week, I can't just let them run around unattended. This is a rather unfortunate situation. What do you do when you can't let your goats out to browse?

You bring the browse to them! I think I've hit upon a workable, temporary solution to this problem (movable pasture fencing is still the long term goal). This morning, while the goats were happily chowing down on their grain ration, I took some pruning shears and cut them an armload of browse. I brought it in a big bundle to their yard and stuffed it into the hay rack. They were THRILLED! They love fresh leaves even better than hay (and they looooove hay), so they were some happy kids, indeed. Collecting it took me all of two or three minutes. I'll do it again tonight, I think, but I'll take a bucket and get more for them next time. It's a few extra minutes tacked on to morning chores, but so far I think it's worth it. They get (free) browse and I get to save the hay for when we need it more (winter). It's a win-win situation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

things turn up

One of the craziest things about living in the country, I think, is the way that things just appear, seemingly from nowhere. For instance, we went out to our truck one afternoon to go to the feed store or some such, and there was a jaw bone laying in the bed. Likewise, yesterday, while I was emptying and refilling the water pan for the birds, I found this lying in the bottom:

I've never seen this ring before in my life. We seldom have visitors, and it looks to be child-sized. None of our visitors have children, so I can't even guess where it might have come from. Furthermore, I found it in the bottom of a water pan that we dump, rinse and refill EVERY DAY. It was definitely not there yesterday. These sorts of finds lead us to all manner of speculation. We know that animals are the root cause - wild and domesticated - but we can't ever be sure what animal left the item in question, or when, or under what circumstances. I couldn't say whether this ring was dropped by a startled raccoon, or whether a duck picked it up from somewhere else and left it here. I certainly can't guarantee that it didn't pass through a digestive tract somewhere along the way. As for the jaw bone, did a hawk or a vulture drop it? Was it left there by some overly curious critter in the night, in trade for a more enticing item? And what animal did it originally belong to, anyway? Did the animal that left it there also kill it, or has the it changed hands (paws? talons?) many times over?

We will never know. Perhaps I'll start a shoe box labeled "Farm Curiosities".

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It's quiet around here...

I'm alone on the farm this week.

That sounds ridiculous to say, considering that I am in the company of four dogs, four goats, three rabbits, five ducks, innumerable chickens and one crabby cat. But I am the only biped. The only one here with thumbs. I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to handle things. I was afraid that something would go wrong and I wouldn't be able to fix it, but so far that hasn't occurred. I imagine that given enough time, something eventually would go wrong, but fears about being by myself for just a week seem now to have been overblown. I have made it halfway through the week without any need for a tool, a bullet or a phone call, and that feels like a small triumph to me.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures lately. It's literally too hot to stand outside for any non-essential reason, and frankly there's nothing inside worth taking photos of.

P.P.S. Rabbits really hate it when you soak them with the hose.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Today, it was sooooo hot...


Today, it was so hot, the chickens were panting.

It's bad, folks. I'm over here trying to keep the livestock from dying of heat stroke. Triple digits all week. The poor rabbits look like they could expire at any moment. Tomorrow I'll be soaking their fur to try to keep them cool. We already have a giant fan blowing on them, and ice bottles for them to snuggle up to, but it just isn't enough. It's nearly 9:30 p.m., and it's a delightful...94 degrees.

Global Warming is fo' reals.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Great Potato Experiment, Year Two

On Saturday, we turned over the tire stack containing our early season potatoes. We really didn't know what to expect, as we had tried this method last year without success. We had very tall, lush plants, and zero spuds. This time we planted three stacks - one with earlies, one with mid season varieties, and one late season. The earlies are supposed to mature in 30 to 60 days, and it as been much longer than that. The plants finally started to die back, so we went ahead and dismantled it to see what we had. Again this year, we had very tall, healthy, fast growing foliage.

I removed the top tire...nothing. No big surprise there.

I removed the second tire...nothing. Okay, fine, maybe they're further down.

I removed the third tire...still nothing. Just plant stems and dirt. No evidence of root growth at all from any point on the original stems. I was rapidly losing hope.

I dislodged the bottom tire and moved it aside. I didn't really see anything, and was pretty sure it was a wash again this time. As I poked around in the dirt, however, something caught my eye. Something unmistakably RED. A spud! A real potato! I was so darned excited that we had managed to grow ONE potato that I was prepared to call the whole endeavor something like a success. There turned out to be several potatoes. About seven or so are big enough to eat, and a few more that are about marble-sized.

We've read over and over again that this method works and can produce copious potatoes in a smaller space than rows would demand. I'm inclined to try rows next time, however, since they all seemed to grow right at ground level. The idea is that when you bury the stem under more soil, new roots will grow out from there and form tubers. The higher you pile the soil, the more roots will sprout and the more tubers will grow from them. This clearly didn't happen - the portions of the plant that we continually buried under soil showed no new root growth at all.

We still have the two remaining stacks to go - I'll post an update when we find out what they contain. In the meantime, if anyone has tried this method, or knows why we're not growing spuds, please speak up! The experiment continues...

We WILL grow potatoes, in a measurable quantity. Maybe not this year, but someday.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fiddle Practice

Well, folks, it's been a couple of weeks since fiddle practice began (including a nearly week-long interruption). I'm proud to say that I can now play...the D scale! Badly! No matter, though. I'm moving on. My goal is to try to play an actual song by the end of the weekend. Mind you, it will be a simple song, and I won't play it well, but playing a song poorly has to be more interesting than playing scales poorly. Time to forge ahead!

In truth, it is quite enjoyable. It's refreshing to be working on something I've never done before, and even the tiniest bits of improvement feel like huge triumphs. On another note, in between fiddle sessions, I've also been practicing shooting at cans with my air rifle. I seem to be better at that. :)

(I was the girl-version of this kid - minus the BB gun.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Heart Popsicles

***Hypocrisy Alert***

For all my "natural" this and "sustainable" that and "self-sufficient" blah blah, I have to confess:

I am a girl who loves a popsicle.

Twin stix, fudgcicles, bomb pops, drumsticks, pop ice...whatever. High fructose corn syrup? Bring it! Red #40? No problem. Guar gum? Where do I sign? Maybe it's my proximity to the equator, maybe my brain is just heat-addled, who knows - but I think that frozen confections might be one of mankind's greatest achievements.

Not that that's saying much. ;-)

Monday, June 15, 2009


We're officially into summer now. It's right on top of us, and intends to stay awhile. No more cool mornings. No more mild, 75 degree afternoons. We're done with all that. Now it's days hovering in the upper nineties, nights not cooling much below 80, and no end in sight. This has drastically slowed the pace of farm work. Just this week, our work policy has shifted to:

Do everything as early in the day as possible, or as late in the evening as possible. Sit very still between the hours of 3pm and 6pm. Or, use these hours to run errands and enjoy the air conditioning.

It must be this way.

This is inconvenient, for sure. We still have outdoor projects to complete. We have a full-size chicken coop to build and a poultry yard to fence. You don't get much done when you only have a few hours to work. But it beats killing ourselves. The unintended upside to this method of working is that we enjoy quite a bit of forced downtime that we would never normally allow ourselves. We spend the afternoons talking, reading, practicing fiddle or guitar, or sitting under a big shade tree shooting BB's at cans. The sweating is awful, but the relaxation is pretty great. I still pine for cooler weather, but for now I'll take this unexpected gift of summer. When the chill does return to the air, there will be no rest.

the chicks that almost weren't

Four chicks hatched yesterday, out of a clutch of eight (well, a fifth one hatched and died). These babies were being incubated by our bantam hen, who simply can't resist an egg. She'll sit on any egg, anywhere, anytime. I'm convinced she'd sit on a pile of golf balls, in fact. Everything was going along on schedule, when on Friday, just a day or two before hatch, she inexplicably abandoned the nest. She stretched her legs awhile, had some grain, visited the new arrivals, had a dust bath. We assumed all were lost. In a futile attempt to make something happen with them, we took the eggs and placed them in another, frequently used nest with the hope that someone would sit on them for the mere day or so they still needed. No dice. None of the other hens were buying what I was selling.

Later that day I noticed that the eggs, and in fact the entire nest were covered with ants! A closer look revealed that a couple of them had pipped and the babies were hatching anyway, even with no one sitting them (it WAS nearly 100 degrees yesterday). There were tiny holes in the eggs where the chicks were trying to break free, but ants were moving continuously in and out of the holes. At first we thought the chicks inside were dead, but then we saw movement, and sprung into action. Lots of turning and rocking brought the ants out of the eggs, and we brushed them away one by one. We kept this up until they stopped coming.

Earlier that day, the bantam (we call her Fancy because, well, she is) had resettled herself on a FRESH pile of eggs. Mad though she was, I took them out from under her and replaced them with the ones she had abandoned, just hoping she wouldn't know the difference. It worked! She spread her wings wide and immediately rolled each one under her breast and out of sight. We checked on mama and babies several times throughout the day, and were relieved to see that some of them made it after all. This morning there are still some eggs unhatched, and I suspect that they won't. Four out of eight isn't great, but we're happy to have any at all, against such odds.

Here's the happy family

There are now five babies!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Curious Visitors

When we came home from our very long day at work yesterday, we noticed some unauthorized waterfowl hanging around our poultry yard. To be precise, they were standing on top of the chicken house. I was able to get this picture of them. It's not very good, but it was the only shot I could get before they saw me and took off.

We'd seen them once or twice before, but always down at the pond. We were quite surprised to see them so close to the house like this. Turns out they're black bellied whistling ducks. According to Ducks Unlimited, pairs often partner for life, and they feed at night on...grain. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, we've been finding our chicken feeder tipped over and empty every morning. They're quite lovely, as you can see here in this much better picture (also from Ducks Unlimited):

I'm always amazed at the wildlife we see here. I'd have never thought that we'd see so much in central Texas, and not so far from major cities - animals I never expected to see around my house. We regularly see blue herons, roadrunners, all sorts of wild ducks, egrets,'s just amazing to me. Ironically, the one thing we most definitely do NOT have out here are deer, and it's always seemed to me that you can't go five feet out of town - any town -without seeing deer. I'm not complaining, mind you. I know what kind of nuisance they can be. It's just interesting that we're in a sort of deer-void.

As for the whistling ducks, I hope they come back.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In Loving Memory

Our girl Lucy left us today. She was an outstanding dog, a tireless worker, and a wonderful friend. Her life was long, happy and well-lived. We miss her terribly.

We love you, Lulu.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What's Growing Now

In the garden these days, the radishes have wished us farewell. The lettuce, too, can be seen waving from the rear view mirror. This isn't the last of it, but close. These beans, however - Kentucky Wonder, Golden Wax and Rattlesnake - are newly arrived and look like they intend to stay awhile.

The Swiss chard has gotten comfortable enough to start rummaging through the cupboards.

Up and coming are lima beans and New Zealand Spinach, a hardy, hot weather green. Just in time, too, since we'll be enjoying temperatures in the mid-nineties all this week and probably beyond.

On the fur and feather side of things, 'tis the season for duck eggs, and they are glorious. Big, creamy duck eggs. Beautiful boiled, sublime in egg salad. We're enjoying the easy food now. Pretty soon - in just a few weeks - it will be chicken season, and we'll have to actually work for our supper.

Monday, June 1, 2009

It's Here!

Let the sqwaking begin!

My goal tonight is to try and get it tuned (with the help of my husband the musician, hopefully).

And then....SCALES! Mmmmm. Look out.