Sunday, January 31, 2010

it's a boy!

Early yesterday morning, the first goat kid was born on our farm. There were actually two born, twin bucklings, but one didn't survive. This little guy and his mama are doing just fine, and after an insane couple of days, we are bone tired. Goat birthing is messy business, and it seems to be practically a given that they will kid in the coldest, lousiest possible weather. Just the same, they come through. We haven't named him thus far. Suggestions are welcome.

some things not very farm-ey

Today I'd like to share something that makes my heart swell with pride. It might at first blush seem as though this post is off-topic here, but in fact it's simply another, somewhat different expression of the overarching beliefs we hold here on our farm. The following is from my uncle, Greg Engle who, probably unbeknownst to him, has always been something of an "absentee" mentor to me. He and my aunt Maureen played a significant role in the cementing of my character. They (and others) taught me to hold fast to my values, put my money where my mouth is and advocate for what I know to be good and right, no matter how it may make me look in others' eyes. To them I am profoundly grateful. I urge you to check out what he's been working on here, which I think is really amazing.

Dear family, friends and colleagues,

Several years ago, a senior official at the U.S. Department of State (an addressee on this message) asked me to leave my ambassadorship in Lome, Togo -- the strategic hub of U.S. Government activities in the north, central Bight of Benin -- to serve at our Embassy in Baghdad. Another State Department official, in moving to seal the deal, suggested that another ambassadorship was a distinct possibility following my service in Baghdad, but I demurred. I advised the stunned official that the State Department's diplomat-in-residence position at the University of Texas at Austin was my heart's desire...I had a plan...

With the release of my debut album, "Take it Personally," I have achieved my objective. I invite you to visit to find out about the album and my rewarding collaboration with superb (and sage) Austin producer Stephen Doster, James Stevens and his assistant Kyle Ratcliff at EAR (the studio), and some of Austin's finest musicians -- Donny Wynn, Chris Maresh, Rolf Ordahl, Brian Standefer, Joel Laviolette, Nick Classen, Erin Ivey, Devon Guliford, and Donna Lipmann. I proud to say that the beautiful CD cover art, photography and design, some of which you will see on the website, is the work of my daughter, Jessica Engle. The website itself, which just went live two hours ago, is the fantastic work of Ryan Engle, my son.

I've tried to make this labor of love an opportunity to give back, in this case, via sales-based donations to A Glimmer of Hope ( for the construction of schools in Ethiopia and the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund USA (, which is interested in putting the first song on the album, "Nelson," on its website. You can hear that song and one other in full at Partial clips of all of the songs, as well as complete lyrics, are on the Music page of my website. I would also encourage you to take a look at the Giving page, which, in addition to citing the two organizations above, highlights a few others, with which I have a personal connection, that are doing special things to make the world a better place.

My good friend Michael Jones did the most amazing thing: A couple of days ago he produced a YouTube video that features my song "A Simple Prayer" (something I wrote for my children last year) with stunning streaming pictures from his trip through the Grand Canyon. Please watch the video and be inspired by Michael's work and his kindness.

The website provides information about the purchase of the CD or downloading the album or songs online, for those who are interested. If you would like a signed copy, the easiest thing to do is send me an e-mail with your snail mail address, and I'll get one in the mail for you and send you a response with additional information.

My best to all of you,

Friday, January 29, 2010

the votes are in

Thanks to everyone for voting in the Battle of the Cockerels! Thanks to you, we were spared the difficult decision of who would stay and who would fade away. Our man Elvis came out on top, with Little A handily taking second place. It was a close battle between Winston and Roscoe for third place, but in the end Winston staged a breakaway to prevail by four votes. Unfortunately for Winston, his only prize will be the thrill of victory. We have decided to only keep two roosters rather than three. Sorry Winston, you'll be missed.

Roscoe, good showing! I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you were always destined for the stew pot, so really you should be grateful for even getting a shot at the title.

Phil and Not Winston, how can I put this? Tough break kids, now shove off. And don't let the barn door hit you...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

last man standing

You may recall Roscoe, from the Battle of the Cockerels post...

Roscoe wasn't always a loner. He was once part of a posse. He ran with four other roosters that he'd grown up with - a Red, two Buffs and a Wyandotte - they were a little gang. They hung out together in the garden and were generally shunned by the rest of the flock. In their tender youth, they were as timid as any other youngsters. They stayed close to one another and always made curfew. Boys will be boys, however, and once in their teens they adopted some rather devil-may-care behavior. They took to...(gasp!)...staying out all night.

They risked disaster for the thrill of it and even got away with it for ahwile, until one night, tragedy struck. Late one night, coyotes moved through the yard. The boys were sitting ducks. It must have been quite a scene - trails of different colored feathers wound all over the yard. One of the buffs made the rather misguided decision to flee into the goat yard, where it was met by Caspian, the night watchman (who loves chicken - sorry Buff). In the morning, I went out to the yard to find not five roosters, but one. Roscoe was wandering around the yard alone, looking confused, disoriented and yes, lonely. He looked around for his compadres but found no one. He managed to save himself, we later discovered, by hiding in a tiny space under a piece of sheet metal that leans up against the barn. He still sleeps there every night.

Eventually he got over his grief and resigned himself to a life alone. He survives on the mean streets, getting by on his wits. He's even got a little girlfriend these days. Too bad for Roscoe that he's drawn the short straw and will soon fall victim to another round of downsizing. Such is the tenuous life of a cockerel.

Monday, January 25, 2010

moving the girls in

The chickens got some new, much more civilized digs today! I think they rather like it in the new house.

There's plenty of roosting space...

Nest boxes for everyone...

They liked it so much that they turned in a record number of eggs today! Thanks, girls!

the lesser of the evils

I find myself needing to make a rather unpleasant decision. I have too many roosters - six in all, and the size of my flock can really only support two. Three at the most. This decision is difficult not because I'm reluctant to send them to the stew pot, but rather the opposite: I'd like to send them ALL to the stew pot and start over. Much like a political election, I'm faced with having to decide which ones I dislike the least, and that is truly unfortunate. Let's take a look at the candidates, shall we?

Elvis, a two-year-old Barred Rock, and Senior Rooster:

Elvis is pretty much a shoo-in. Even though we've shared some ill will in the past, he's a good rooster and takes his job seriously. He does a good job of protecting his ladies, and they seem to like him. Besides, he's become something of an institution around here.

Roscoe, a 10-month-old Barred Rock:

Roscoe has proved himself on the mean streets, and is a survivor (more on this in a later post). He's a bit of a loner, but has found himself a rather devoted little girlfriend. He's been well-behaved and nice (so far), but the hens aren't too sure about him and the other roosters only barely tolerate him. He's sort of the "dark, mysterious stranger with a past" that no one quite trusts. The fact that he's ALSO a Barred Rock (like Elvis) is an unfortunate strike against him - I'm shooting for some diversity here.

Phil, another 10-month-old Barred Rock:

Phil is automatically disqualified. He has a deformed beak, NO ONE likes him, and again, he's another Barred Rock. Sorry, Phil.

Winston, a 10-month-old Black Australorp:

I adore Winston. He was my number one pick for a keeper back in the earlier days. In the intervening months, however, he suffered an injury that has left him with a permanent limp. He's kind to the girls and to me, but they're a bit wary of him with his lame leg (not good breeding material, after all), and I'm not certain how effective he'll be with a limp. He's done alright so far, but he's been working as part of a team of six. The jury is still out on Winston.

"Not" Winston, another 10-month-old Australorp:

He had a shot at the title, but has recently started showing aggression toward me. He's disqualified.

Little A, a 6-month-old Ameraucana:

"A" stands for a-hole. He went through a really rough patch during puberty during which he was exceptionally hard on the girls. This got him disqualified, however in recent weeks he seems to have mellowed out considerably. He's a beautiful rooster, and hasn't shown any aggression toward me (yet) but he's still very young and unproven. He's a bit of a wild card, and I can't decide if he's worth taking a chance on, or if I'm better off sticking with a sure thing.

What would you do? I've added a poll to the sidebar - let us know who should prevail in the Battle of the Cockerels!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

a girl's got to freshen up

Ronnie has finished her molt (finally). Isn't she lovely?

Apparently it was time for a new look. The all-black head was SO last season. That's her with the black head in the blog header photo - quite the metamorphosis, no?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

a night in the garden

I always love my country home, but there are times when it simply takes my breath away, and I'm deeply thankful that I get to be here. This evening is one.

We're enjoying a warm week in January, and the days have lengthened ever so slightly - the perfect combination of warmth and long light that makes me dream of springtime. I've taken advantage of a dinner already made and am spending the waning hour of daylight cleaning out my garden beds, in preparation for upcoming planting. I turn over big fistfuls of dark soil, marveling at the thriving earthworm population. I get a chuckle from the jostling and squawking of the hens putting themselves to bed - endless shuffling and shifting, punctuated by sudden outbursts, like children in their bunks at camp after lights-out.

I turn over soil until it is nearly dark and I can barely see. I can hardly make out the distinction between the black dirt and the smoke sky, the slate grass beneath my feet. The goats in the barn are silent, surrendered to their caprine dreams. A dog in the distance calls out to anyone who'll answer. Everything is quiet and still, and vibrantly alive. The air is cool and moist, faint lightning casts an orange glow on clouds too far away to matter, and everything smells of earth.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

hell froze over

Actually, it's just our pond.

All the same, a frozen pond in Texas is pretty high on the list of things I never thought I'd see. On this particular morning, the thermometer outside read two degrees. TWO. We're plowing through firewood faster than we ever thought possible. We thought (not unreasonably) that we'd probably get through the winter on one cord of wood, maybe a bit more. Now we must acknowledge that it might take three. We had pipes freeze, then burst. Our German Shepherd, who will hang out in the yard in even the worst weather, has decided that being close to the wood stove is probably a pretty good idea. I found an egg in the yard yesterday that was frozen to the ground (I had to just leave it there). These are crazy, crazy times.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Perry models the new spring line

And seems rather pleased with himself, thank you very much!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010

my four-wheeled farm hand

I started the new year with a new tool. I have long coveted a garden cart, and when I saw this one, well, I went weak in the knees. It's proper. A huge portion of my day is spent hauling things from one place to another, and the distances I haul them are too short to justify using the truck, but just a wee bit too long to do by hand without wearing myself out. This is the perfect solution. I'm technically still moving things by hand, and therefore not burning fuel of any kind, but it's much easier on me. It can go anywhere that I can go on foot. It's just the right size for a large square bale, all four sides drop down for easier loading and unloading, it makes amazingly tight turns and the big tires handle our rutted, uneven terrain with aplomb. I've only had it for forty-eight hours and already I've used it to move three loads of trash, firewood and sacks of feed. I don't get wound up over stuff too often, but really, I just can't say enough how much I am in love with this thing. I heart the cart!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

personal food supply, option B

It's 7:00 am, and my husband is out hunting deer. He didn't go far. He didn't load up the truck on Friday and drive out to a deer blind on some remote land. Nope, he rolled out of bed about an hour ago, and walked to the back of our property. He's taken quite an interest in hunting lately, but since we both come from families who don't, and friends who mostly don't, he had no idea how to even go about it. Turns out that all we had to do was pay a visit to our neighbor. A hunter himself, he quickly informed us that we have deer passing along the creek on our property regularly. Since we haven't had much cause yet to visit the far reaches of our place, we had no idea.

Back in my younger and more naive days, I was staunchly anti-hunting. I've never been against eating meat, but modern hunting is quite sophisticated, and it seemed unfair to me to essentially trick animals into coming close enough that you can shoot them from your blind. "They don't really have a fighting chance" I'd argue. Needless to say, I've learned more about hunting since then, and A LOT more about meat eating. Once I decided to raise livestock, I could no longer ignore the similarity between what I was doing and what hunters do. If anything, my animals are even less likely to escape their fate than the deer in these woods. In any case, either method is far better than buying feedlot meat.

I do hope we're able to do some measure of hunting on our land. Adding venison, rabbit, fish and wild duck to our freezer would add variety, increase economy and be quite a boon to our little homestead. It's somewhat comforting to know that no matter what happens, there is food right outside our door - it feels like money in the bank. And the fact that we can take advantage of it right here, without leasing land or setting up camp someplace far away...well that's just gravy.