Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rest In Peace, Rowan.

Back when my hubby and I first met, he had no pets.  I couldn't believe it.  After much discussion (and a coworker who had free kittens), he got two.  One of them picked me.  His name is Ruaidh (Gaelic for red), and the other one was Rowan, who picked Scott by promptly falling asleep in his arms. 

Ruaidh, pronounced Roy, was always the friendly one, while Rowan was always a little shy of strangers.  Still, she was my constant couch companion while I was pregnant (both times).  If you knew her and she knew you, she was cuddly.

That's her in the front, Ruaidh in the back.

Sure, she had her moments . . .like when she was laying next to you and sucking on her feet.  She'd appear out of nowhere to be your little feline speedbump. 

Folks, tonight she died.  I'm not quite sure what was wrong, but she was gasping for breath and moaning.  Every now and then she'd have a seizure.  We all took turns sitting with her to let her know we loved her.  She passed her final moments on a pillow. 

Rowan, I'll miss you.  Scott will miss you.  The kids will miss you.  You were an incredible kitty.  May your spirit return to grace us.

We love you, Rowan.  Thank you for blessing our lives.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

It's Such A Pain

Living on a farm brings its own particular pains. When you realize that you shouldn’t have stabbed yourself in the foot with a pitchfork, it makes for a memorable moment. When you realize that forking hay on a hot day while wearing a tanktop, shorts, and flipflops will make every particle of hay in the whole world stick to you in some places you’d rather it didn’t (along with bugs), that’s a memorable moment (as will removing said particles). When you were foolish enough to go to the chicken coop wearing not only toenail polish (with said flipflops) AND a sparkly ankle bracelet . . .well, the bloody wound was pretty memorable too.

Of course, we’re not even going to count the multiple scrapes and bruises that just seem to accumulate. Sure, you lost your balance and grazed your knee on the rickety steps into the coop. Of course, you MEANT to whack your leg with that fencepost. Then there was the “freak” shaving accident when you decided that now might be a good time to shave your legs, lest your husband think he married a cactus. Oh yeah, and don’t wear your Wellies without socks. Your ankles will get sores, but those don’t count.

One of the worst possible things you can do is to twist your ankle. Believe me, I came by it honestly. I was playing Monster Mommy with the kids (which involves me stomping around and growling “I’m gonna GET YOU” while they run and scream. It usually ends in a good ticklefest. Well, this time, I managed to forget about the steps in the kitchen. I missed one. My (yep, you guessed it) flipflop skidded out from under me, and I took quite a tumble.

To my kids’ credit, they wanted to help me up. I figured that I was rather beyond that. Good thing I managed to only croak “OUCH” instead of the myriad other phrases that popped to mind that would have made a sailor blush. I’m glad I knew where my Ace bandage was. Within minutes, I became a hobbling vehicle of pain. Sure, I put ice on it and took some ibuprofen. Yep, I wrapped it up, and was very proud of the idea of cutting the toe end off of an unmatched sock to keep my bandage clean. So there I sat. Ice, Compression, Elevation. Every step was sheer agony. I cursed the day I thought that I could keep up with 8 pens of poultry, 2 horses, 2 rabbits, and 2 dogs (plus all the cats). How in the heck am I going to take care of them?

When you have a twisted ankle, you suddenly rediscover every last hole in the yard that you meant to fill in. Your injured foot finds every single bit of uneven ground on your property that you always meant to do something about. Never before in your life have you been more aware of possible pitfalls, looking for available handholds, or figuring out how to stand up from a chair without crying out. I know you seniors out there know all about this.

Then there’s setting up your table for farmers’ market (shameless plug here: I’m set up in Marion Central Park Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings—ask me about eggs!). Dragging your table from the truck. Setting up your merchandise. Walking way farther than you really should. Dragging it all back to your truck. Afterwards, you can come home and hobble back down to the chicken pens to check them, drag the hose to water the horses, and still chase kids . . .albeit slower than before. Chores take twice as long as before—after all, you’re not striding out there, you’re hobbling. You're trying to watch out for those holes, and finding some of them the hard way. And of course, you’re out there in 100 degree heat. Gosh, next time I twist my ankle, I’ll make sure I do it when the daily high is under 70. Sweat and Ace bandages just don’t mix. Standing at the sink and doing dishes? Standing at the stove and making fried chicken? Let’s just not talk about that. It's making my foot hurt just thinking about it.

I’m so glad that my hubby is willing to step in for me. After all, Ibuprofen really doesn’t help if you re-injure yourself. I’ll just have to show him the secret spots in the coop where the goofy chickens sometimes lay eggs, but he’s learning fast. He's awesome at forking hay to the horses. I honestly don't know what I'd do without him.

So at least for now, my foot doesn’t look like a black and blue mutant marshmallow. I’m still moving slowly, but I’m still moving. Watch your step, folks (especially when you play Monster Mommy)!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

On Speaking Terms

Every day, something good happens to you.  Sometimes you need to look for it, but other times it gets dropped in your lap like a ripe peach for you to enjoy.

Saturday mornings have been pretty depressing.  I get up early, do my chores, then I head out to the farmers' market, and I sit there.  ALONE.  Nobody else sets up, nobody stops by, so I usually pack it in and head back home to finish more chores.  Talk about starting out your day on the wrong note.

Today was different.  Yeah, I was running late as usual, but at least I'd had a shower.  To my incredible surprise, there was SOMEONE ELSE SET UP!!  My jaw just about hit the ground. 

Lo and behold, they had produce.  Of course, I hear that somebody else is setting up at the other park in town, but hey.  They could have been here and having fun with us.  Because that's what we were doing--having fun! 

Then someone walked up to me and asked if I was the Thornhill that wrote for the Hillsboro Free Press (apparently my I <3 chicks shirt tipped him off).  Sure I am.  Joel, Dawn, and I had a really great conversation--as a matter of fact, she has some chickens that I WANT, and I'm going to put some eggs under my broody hen for her tomorrow.  How cool is that? 

Then I get on to write my blog.  As usual, I check on my stats--you know, how many views, from what countries, what posts are popular, and where referrals come from.  I got knocked flat.  A link showed up there that I'd never seen before, so I clicked on it to see just who was referring me.  An amazing site met my eyes.

I'm joining it.  Y'all, please go to www.eggzy.net if you value your food (and your chickens!!) as much as I do.  Their kind selves have included a link to my Chicken Math in a blog about their own Chicken Math, so please do them a favor and check it out.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.

As the final cap on the day, my wonderful, handsome, sweet, long-suffering husband Scott just dropped another bombshell on me.  Mind you, the entire time we've been married, the only time he's ever eaten fried chicken with bones in was on our honeymoon (when he was STARVING, or so he says).  So, I've resigned myself to making boneless fried chicken.  Tonight, he told me that he's willing to eat OUR chickens fried with the bones in.  Again, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.  Hey, that's great!  I can't wait to test the idea!!!!

The moral of tonight's story is that you should never be afraid to talk to people.  You never know what kind of friends you might make.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I Don't Get It.

I mean, I really don't get it.  While reading through my beloved Countryside magazine tonight, I came across an article written by a vegan.  She was very happy that they juiced carrots and used olive oil lamps in winter to save the environment.

HUH?  Unless you live next door to an olive grove, where do you think the oil comes from?  Where do you think the electricity comes from that you use to juice?  So I went to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegan to see what this was all about.

After reading the article, I REALLY don't understand why vegans won't eat eggs or drink milk or wear wool sweaters.  I can completely understand the idea of opting out of commercial production (heck, I'm doing that myself) but why don't they just look up their local farmer who DOESN'T run a CAFO?  I'm not exploiting my chickens . . .laying eggs happens whether I eat them or not.  Sheep grow wool.  Does it hurt them to be shorn?  Nope.

So we have all these people who are eating cheese or meat "alternatives."  Gosh, a lot of them are made from SOY.  Roundup Ready?  You betcha.  How much gas or energy does it take to make that soyburger or your soy milk?  How much more pollution is belched into the air to get it to you?

Then there's this to think about:  plants scream when you cut or uproot them.  http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=772

Then there's the bit (in my mind) that really stands out.  If you scroll down the Wikipedia article, you'll see him with two dogs . . .that I'm sure he refers to as "his" dogs (thereby refuting his own statement).
Gary L. Francione, professor of law at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, is also a rights-theorist. He argues that "all sentient beings should have at least one right—the right not to be treated as property,"

It really seems to me that the vegan movement is a result of misinformation and laziness.  Sure, if you don't CHOOSE to eat meat, that's your right, and I'm not going to stomp on you about it.  However, if you think you're doing it to save the environment or save those poor CAFO animals, there are other avenues open to you that would be much more beneficial. 

If anyone can explain this to me, PLEASE do so.  I just don't get it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Strangers In The Night

OK, so they're not strangers.  Most of you know how much I dislike insects.  Sure, I realize that most of them have a purpose in life--flies and their larvae help break down dead tissue, ticks make guinea food, spiders *supposedly* eat other bugs (I must have slacker spiders!), crickets exist to tell you what temperature it is and get on your nerves in the house . . .you get the idea.  Still, there is actually one bug that I actively LOVE.

Put yourself in my shoes (or flipflops like I'm wearing tonight).  I'm walking back up to the house in the twilight after finishing my evening chore round.  I'm hoping I didn't pick up any ticks along the way, and blessing the wind that seems to be blowing the mosquitoes the other direction and away from my sweaty self.  The sun has set, the world is going dim.  I can hear my horses munching their hay contentedly, I hear chickens softly cluck as they settle in to roost.  I take a deep contented breath.

And I'm surrounded by little winking dots of light.  Down here under the trees, the fireflies seem determined to show me just how many of them there are.  My rational brain is thinking "well yeah, it's been a wetter year than last year."  Thankfully, my artistic brain is thinking "aaaaaah."  I stand still.  Some still choose to stay in the trees and undergrowth, but some choose to investigate this newcomer.  They fly close.  I don't duck or swat.

I simply stand and breathe.  Those little bright green lights come closer.  It seems like magic, here in the twilight.  For just a few moments, I feel like I live among the stars.

Reality descends, and reluctantly, I head back for the house.  I wonder what they thought then, those bright green stars that surrounded me.  Some of them have followed me though.  Would I catch them?  Put them in a jar?  Never.  You can't bottle stars. 

The bravest ones that venture up to the house give me a deep feeling of contentment and rightness.  Reassurance too.  Looking out the window or sitting in the screen porch and seeing those lightning bugs . . .sometimes it's quite a few, sometimes it's just one.  It seems like they have a message for me.  I wonder what it is.  I'm usually pretty good at languages, but I haven't yet learned to speak lightning bug.

Maybe it's the message that you should treasure every last little moment of beauty that you can.  Realize that sometimes what you think is mundane is vastly more unique and awesome than you expected.  Keep that with you always--even during the worst winter storm, you'll still have the promise of fireflies later.

photo from turnbacktogod.com

Friday, June 15, 2012


My friends, I am the victim of a conspiracy.  My children watch to see when I head out to do chores and invariably get into trouble the MOMENT I step out the door.  I have tried various techniques--staggering times, random checkings, you name it--but they're masters of espionage.

Remember those old westerns when Slim says "It's quiet--TOO quiet?"  Welcome to life in my home.  The kids drive me nuts when they're stomping around, hollering, or slamming doors.  Still, when I step into the house and I don't hear anything, I get WORRIED.  Rightfully so.

Some days, they sneak food up into their bedrooms.  (They're well-fed at mealtimes, they get snacks, so I have no idea what the draw is.)  Some days, they decorate the bathroom with toothpaste.  Some days, they decide that the pets should all be confined in their bedrooms.  Some days they think that Play-Doh and stickers really work well with my decor, an opinion that I vehemently disagree with.  Still, I think that today took the cake.

When I went up to check on the (too quiet) children, I found multiple empty boxes of Jello in their rooms.  Since I couldn't find any sugary piles, I assumed that they'd eaten them.  However, after interrogation (no, I didn't put them in the Iron Maiden, use thumbscrews, or beat them . . .but the idea did cross my mind), they confessed that they'd poured them into the sink "to see what color they made."

So, I went into the bathroom and found the wreckage.  ANTS WERE EVERYWHERE.  Anyone who suggests that I have no self control has never seen me at that moment.  We had a nice chat.  Well, I had a nice chat.  Maybe I should clarify that:  I (re)stated all of the reasons for not doing such a thing and they looked properly abashed.  Still, that didn't stop them from taking more food to their rooms as I was doing the afternoon chore round.  Mind you, this is after they've been warned about ants, roaches, and mice.

So, maybe a different strategy is in order.  A very dear friend (my other mother!) enlightened me today.  Perhaps I'll encourage them to take every last bit of food up to their rooms, so as to draw any pests away from the rest of the house.  After all, if mice get upstairs, so will snakes.  (If this sounds cold-hearted and mean to you, you're more than welcome to come clean up the daily messes.)

What Happens When You Say No

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Getting Older

It's official.  Yep, I've reached the ripe old age of 36 without meeting my end in a number of possible ways like:

*breaking my neck as I jumped off the swings at school
*crashing my bicycle into objects harder than I am
*picking a fight with a guy WAY bigger than I am
*freezing to death stuck in a snowdrift less than a mile from my house
*being pecked to death by crazed chickens
*being strangled by any number of people I know that have lost all patience with me
*having my face torn off by wolfdogs
*being thrown from a horse and breaking my neck (that was a close one)
*wiping out on my motorcycle
*falling face down on skis and not being able to get up

So, I've learned a few things in these 36 years.  Here ya go, and may they help you sooner than they did me.

*Be careful.  Be very careful.  But don't be so careful that you forget to have fun.  (And NEVER EVER say "Hey folks, WATCH THIS!")
*Family is important.  I can't stress that enough.
*Always be willing to try something new.  It may scare the bejeebers out of you, but you might just enjoy it.  If you don't, you don't have to do it again.
*Love Makes the World Go Round isn't just a saying.  Love the people around you (and if you don't, don't hang around them!), Love what you do, and Love who you are.
*Go out and LIVE.  Those dishes will still be there when you come back.
*If your day is crappy, find one special moment when it wasn't.  Treasure it.  Be thankful for it.  Make it happen again.
*Don't take crap from anybody.  Check your definition of crap. 
*An oldie but a goodie:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Don't be afraid to lend a helping hand:  someday you might need one too.  Besides, sometimes you meet neat people that way!
*Shit happens.  The sooner you can laugh about it, the better, but someday you WILL look back at that moment and laugh.
*If you're like me, adventure follows you like a rabid dog.  It chases you around then it bites you in the butt.  Roll with it.
*Don't get 60 chickens until you're sure you have enough pens.

Here's to another great year, folks.  May yours be as good as mine will be!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

You Can Never Have Enough . . .

of . . .well, the list is here.

*Chickens.  They're cute, they cluck, they either lay eggs or make meat.  What else needs to be said?

photo from newpetzone.com

*Tomatoes.  Between eating fresh tomatoes straight off the vine, slicing them for sandwiches or salads, drying them for tomato chips, canning them for winter use, making fried green tomatoes or green tomato jam . . .30 tomato plants is STILL not enough.

photo from tomatoesweb.com

*Hoses.  Until you've slogged around 100 yards worth of hose all over your property, you don't know why you really need hoses in place for your gardens that you can simply hook up to the spigot with a shorter hose.

*Hay.  You'll run out of hay for your horses about a month before you can get your pasture baled.  Count on it.

*Onions and Garlic.  You'll always use them.  You think you don't, but you do.  They keep well--plant more!

*Spare fencing.  There's always a pinch for fencing.  Even if it's not quite what you had in mind, what you have will work.  KEEP THAT WIRE!

*Spare cages.  Rabbit cages, chicken tractors, even some chicken wire that you can put screens on top of.  If you're anything like me, you need more cages ALL THE TIME.

*Firewood.  Of course, we heat with a wood furnace, but I get a little antsy when we hit that last stack before winter is over.  I want a buffer zone!!

*Lumber.  You never know when you'll need to build something else, or fix something that's already standing.  Best have enough to at least patch it.  Plywood stockpiles are good too.

*Ideas.  Well, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't.  You learn from them and go on.

*Friends.  True friends--not just the people that say they like you.  True friends are an amazing asset.  They can lean on you, you can lean on them.  They're there to pick you up, stand up for you, and help in any way they can . . .and you'd do the same for them without a second thought.  Family works this way too.  Sometimes family and friends are the same thing.

*Love.  Find it where you can, but treasure it when you do.  From my kids' kisses and hugs to my family's interaction (yep, more hugs there!), I've learned that everyone needs to remember this:  every second that you receive love, send it back and send it forward.  Sure, some won't return your love, but there just may be somebody out there that needs a kind word or a hug.  Maybe that lady on the street needs to hear that she's wearing a pretty shirt and her heart is warmed by your smile.  Maybe you can spend some time volunteering in your community to show love to those less fortunate than you.  Pass on some love wherever you go--plant that seed and the world will grow.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nuts and Bolts (and nails!)

My wonderful husband.  OOOOH, my WONDERFUL HUSBAND.  Not only has he encouraged my chicken habit, he builds things for me.

Mind you, I took shop class about 20 years ago.  I have a general idea about how to do stuff (or use the stuff to get something done).  Scott, however, is in an entirely different class.  That man can BUILD.  He took the vague ideas I had about building chicken tractors and made them work.  Granted, there are still things I'd change, but he's really got the talent. 

KLA (who was kind enough to comment :) ) this is for you about the wheels.  I'll try to give a step by step instruction.

The wheels are mounted on a piece of 2x4 which is bolted to a 2" spacer on the side of the tractor.
(We got most of the wheels as salvage from the local dump)

See the bottom hole on the wheel strut?  You pull up on the top of the 2x4, use your foot to move the wheel forward, and stick the nail in the bottom hole on the strut that matches up to the hole on the spacer.  That way your wheels don't just keep going forward.

Hubby demonstrating the nail and wheel technique

Here's a closeup of the mechanisms.  Lucky you, you get to see my dirty toes.

the back of the tractor.  See ma?  No axle!  Those blocks on top of the nest box hold the lid open without laying it over.  How cool is that? 

I hope this might help anyone wanting to build a tractor.  Of course, I wanted to paint them but we needed them NOW.  I'll bet that if you need more tips, my husband would be happy to give you some.  I'll let you know about any more modifications we decide to make.  Happy Chickening!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Screen Porch

AAAH.  Don't you wish you were me?  Just minutes ago, I was sitting out on my screen porch, safely ensconced in my Sky Chair.  The breeze caressed me, I was rocking gently, surrounded by the peeping of chicks and the nibbling of bunnies.  The crickets are chirping (fine, as long as the dang things STAY OUT OF MY HOUSE), the cicadas are singing, and I even had a book.

Mine's blue, but it's heaven.

Now that it's late spring (yeah it got a little warm today--summer's on the way!), the screen porch is THE place to be around here.  It's about 8 feet wide and 20 feet long.  Scott has his hammock chair set up out there, I have my Sky Chair (and if you don't have one, you simply must get one!!).  It's been used as brooder space for chickens, shelter for bunnies, space for hardening off seedlings, a place for the egg fridge . . .you name it.

Still, I can go out there and sit in the breeze (it's screened on the north, east, and south) without having to worry about rain or mosquitoes.  Sometimes flies get in but hey, I've got a flyswatter and I'm not afraid to use it.  Flies make good chicken treats.  We can watch storms go by, we can watch fireworks in town, and we can just chill out, relax, and communicate with each other. 

Scott and I used to sit on the porch at our old city place every night and use it as talking time.  You know, what happened that day, what made us happy, what was bugging us . . .the way a good marriage should be.  However, it got a little distracting, having to continually swat june bugs out of my hair, or (as happened once with my mom) having a huge preying mantis land on my glasses.  Now we don't need to worry. 

Screen porches seem to have gone the way of the dodo.  That's really unfortunate.  It's a great place to kick out, reconnect, and relax.  Of course, many of those things have gone extinct too.  The more we lose touch with those closest to us (our family, then our neighbors), the more we lose touch with the world as it should be. 

If you possibly can, build yourself a screen porch.  It's not hard.  You'll thank me for it later.  I'm going to head back out to my little bit of paradise.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chicken Tractors

I finally got the latest batch of meat birds moved out of my screen porch today.  YAY!!!  My hubby was wonderful enough to build me a couple of chicken tractors so I could have room to move birds around.  We have the whole garden planted this year, but I can't wait to run them through it this fall to till up our soil and fertilize it for next year!

These are still prototypes (the lumber could be thinner, and I want heavier mesh to keep predators out) but here ya go.

The first model.  The top of the run is screens, topped by a tarp, held down by bricks.

That white thing on there is an old washtub that I used to use as a brooder but now use to make sure that the nestbox top doesn't flip up when I don't want it to!

The second generation.  I need heavier fencing, especially hearing how close the coyotes have been getting lately.  Still, the 2x4s could be replaced with 2x2s, halving the weight.

Nifty kick out wheels.  After this pic was taken, the whole thing was wrapped in another layer of fence, because, dangit, I don't want those 'yotes eating my meat birds!

looking into the nestbox area (which will be fitted with a lip and possibly dividers to keep bedding inside the boxes)

nifty new double hinged top idea.  I can get in to take care of feed and water, or the whole thing can be moved to get in the pen to catch.  I think I want hook & eye fasteners to keep it secure, but great idea from my hubby!

One half of hinged top open.  Spiffy!

So, we're still perfecting the plans.  I was absolutely flabbergasted when I moved the meat birds out today--usually they won't eat the fresh greens I pick for them, let alone eat scratch grains when I put them in the feeder.  Well, once they were out in the tractor, not only were they loving the grains, they were pecking at the grass.  This batch should be SO much tastier than the last ones . . .and the last ones weren't half shabby either!

Please feel free to contact me--I don't have this down to a science yet, but I really love to share experiences and compare notes on how to do it better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Eating Healthy

One of the wonderful things about living out here is all the fresh produce.  OK, it's a little slow to start this year, and the bugs were *ahem* KIND enough to eat my lettuce, but there's always the farmers' market.

I always have to laugh at people that say they can't afford to eat fresh, healthy, local food.  I also laugh when people expect farmers' markets to have EVERYTHING.  Come on folks, learn what SEASONAL is.  No, we don't have green beans--they're not producing yet.  No, apples usually ripen for picking in the fall. 

So back to the affordability.  I scored a bag of beet greens ($1), a bag of new potatoes ($3), and a bunch of onions ($1).  I came home and used half of the potatoes, half of the beet greens, and one onion. What did we have? 

Roasted dilled potatoes (with olive oil, salt, pepper, and dill), beet green salad with white balsamic vinegar and some fresh ground pepper, plus some reheated home-raised chicken.  Total cost for the meal for four?  $2.20 for the veggies (OK, I'll even tack on $1 for the oil, salt, pepper, and dill), probably $3 for the half-pound of chicken that I used.  We had mulberries from our trees for dessert.  So, our family of 4 ate tonight for $6.20. 

SIX DOLLARS AND TWENTY CENTS.  You can't afford to eat healthy?  I don't buy it (pun intended).  My kids absolutely inhaled their dinners--they pretty much just said MMMMM a lot, with the occasional YUMMY!!  thrown in.  How many kids haven't ever heard of beet greens, let alone be eager to eat them?  They're jam-packed with vitamins and they're pretty too. 

photo from urbanacres.wordpress.com

Don't you want some of those?  They're so versatile that it isn't funny.  Use them fresh in a salad, saute them, stir fry them, use them in soup . . .wow.

Of course, you know I'm spoiled on my fresh eggs too (and apparently are a lot of other people--I'm having trouble keeping up with demand!).  Yeah, I charge $3 a dozen for mine, and those egg-shaped, chlorine washed things you get from the store are $1 a dozen.  Still, when I know mine pack 3x the nutrition (and heck, I'm on a first name basis with all my hens!), I think it's worth it. 

After all folks, can you afford NOT to eat healthy?  What's more expensive:  paying an extra buck or two for good produce or a doctor visit for health problems?  As more and more crops are becoming adulterated with GMOs or pesticides, isn't it worth it to look for your local farmer? 

Come on, I dare you.  Try it.  Go to the market.  If you can feed a family of 4 for less than $6.20, I want to hear your recipes!!!

Saturday, May 19, 2012


My husband is a confirmed bacon addict.  Being German, I prefer sausage, but bacon has its place.  Heck, we're talking about the man who wrapped a corn dog in bacon and deep fried the whole shebang. 

So I was pretty tickled when I finally found him the perfect Father's Day gift.  He's pretty hard to shop for, especially when we're on a tight budget.  I wanted to get him a new chainsaw, or a chipper/shredder.  Well, that wasn't quite in the cards. 

So, he's going to get a bacon rose bouquet.  Yes, you read that right.  I was pretty perplexed as well until I went to http://www.instructables.com/id/Bacon-Roses/?ALLSTEPS

pic from cheezburger.com

Who wouldn't love this?  And, there are easier ways than drilling holes in your nice muffin tins.  You can use votive candle cups (with holes punched in) or tinfoil cones.  AWESOME!!!  I was so jazzed about this that I couldn't wait to surprise him.  Well, now he knows what he's gonna get.  I'm pretty sure he'll like it. 

Folks, give the bacon lover in your life something special--a bacon rose bouquet!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Salad Bar Chicken

As an homage to my hero, Joel Salatin (who raises Salad Bar Beef), I thought that might be a good title for tonight.  And, well, OK, it wasn't a salad bar, it was an olive bar, but still.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old high school friend and discovering that we share a love of poultry.  He also has the good fortune to work at a salvage company.  When he mentioned crates, of course I had to jump on it.  Heck, even fiberglass ones that collapse.  Easy to clean, tough, easy to store.  What's not to love?  And he even was willing to trade for some longtail (Phoenix/Yokohama) chicks.  SWEET! 

When I was there picking up crates, he showed me the old salad/olive bars that his company had bought from a grocery store doing a remodel.  HMMM.  So many possiblities!  A brooder?  Maybe . . .but these had stainless steel inserts with a drain.  Sounds like a great slaughtering table!  I mentioned that I was interested, and sweetie that he is, he held on to one for me.  Heck, not only do they have food grade tubs, but underneath are plenty of shelves and a cabinet, plus some really great lockable casters.  It's about 7 feet long, about 4 feet wide.

Well, since Scott was off this week,  I thought it'd be easier to pick one up if he came with.  Off we headed.  The one with my name on it was mostly stripped (the compressor was taken out, the styrofoam lining was out, but that steel tub was in there, and Nathan had kindly left the lights in (with wires to be hooked up!).  WOW.  Now what would you expect to pay for a setup like that?  LOTS, right?  Nope.    $40 for a perfect slaughtering table?  YES!

It rolls like a charm, but he was nice enough to load it onto our trailer with a forklift.  It fit almost perfectly.  I mean, if I'd measured the thing, it couldn't have fit any better.  We got it strapped down and headed for home so we'd be home in time for Caitlin coming off the bus.  We did have to stop once and readjust the ties, but we made it in plenty of time. 

You've never seen a woman so happy about a salad bar . . .without any salad in it, even.  I can't wait to get it cleaned up, hook up an extended drainage pipe, and USE IT!! 

Sorry it's kind of a dark pic, but I can't get my phone to cooperate tonight.  I'll post better ones soon!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chicken Rustler

Am I a chicken thief?  That's a hanging offense around here (or shooting, at least!). 

After running late most of the day (remember how I said that when you're running late, EVERYBODY needs water?), I finally got on the road.  I needed to pick up hatching eggs from Dawn, take them down to Derby to Teresa, meet some of the other Back Yard Chickens girls, pick up some chicks to bring back to Dawn, and pick up guineas to raise.  Oh yeah, I had to stop for gas, plus pick up some nummies to take to the gathering.

I felt like I'd been clubbed with a brick when I got to the upscale Dillon's in Wichita and discovered that they had done away with the olive bar.  EEK!  Well, at least they had sushi . . .actually maki, but still good.  I finally made it out to Karen's place.  Late but I made it. 

Folks, that was one of the most pleasant afternoons I've spent in a while, and I've had my share.  I got to meet and talk to fellow chicken people--actually TALK and not type.  I got to see their FACES, not just icons.  It ROCKED.  I even got to have adult conversation with someone outside my family.  For those of you that don't have kids, you have no idea how cool that is.  We kicked back, talked, munched, went out to look at the chickens . . .altogether an amazing afternoon.

Here we are, the Crazy Chicken Ladies!
JosieC, Verna, me, Karen, Loralee, and Teresa

I was still running late.  I got to Dawn's to drop off her chicks and spent a little too much time talking.  I looked at the time and just about had a heart attack.  I'm running the farmers' market, and it starts at FIVE!  I'm not going to be able to make it home by then, let alone load up!!! 

Up steps my wonderful husband.  He loaded up the kids, loaded up my table (and non-perishables) and set up for me.  I got home, got the baby guineas set up with some food and water, and headed out myself.  I sent him home after I got there and let the kids keep playing.  We had a great night--my other vendor (Darlene) even made some money off me, but I sold plenty.  Sure wish I would have brought eggs, since someone was there looking for them!

So we get home and have supper (that Scott was wonderful enough to make).  I move chickens around to make room for the itty bitty baby guineas.  I get the guineas set up in my brooder and break a heat lamp in the process :( .  So, I'm out there admiring them and I notice . . .hmmm, that one doesn't have stripes on its head like the other ones do.  Its body looks a little different too!  Mind you, I'm not a guinea expert, but this looks like a chicken to me.

How mortifying.  To just meet someone and steal one of their chickens?  YIKES!  So, I called Karen.  Nope, she wasn't missing one--all of hers in the brooder were ducks, and I'm dang sure this isn't a duck.  Maybe Teresa was missing one?  Nope, she only brought the 2 for Dawn, and they stayed in their own box.  I'm waiting to hear back from Verna--I don't want to be known as the chicken rustler! :D  (I'd post a pic here, but the brooder lamp makes everything red.  Can't see a dadgum thing.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss

Folks, I'm not usually confrontational.  I much prefer to gently educate.  Still, I have a quick enough temper that when something gets under my skin, it blows up pretty fast.

I had someone tell me today that I have no idea what farming really is. 

Let's start with the back story.  Yep, I was raised in town.  My parents didn't farm, but my grandparents sure did.  I drove a combine in my grandma's wheat field on my 8th birthday.  My grandpa on the other side farmed with a team of Percherons.  We came over from Russia with the Mennonite diaspora--some of my ancestors brought over Turkey Red Wheat.  I can vividly remember sitting at Grandma's waiting for the wheat prices to come over the radio news, and projecting her potential yield based on counting kernels.  I used to play in the wheat trucks the neighbors parked across the street waiting to take them to the grain elevator.  My great uncle John had a doctorate in breeding wheat for the greatest yield (and that was the days before GMO.  This was just BREEDING).

The spark today started with someone posting about fair value versus going price (in regards to hay).  We had a terrible year last year, and hay prices skyrocketed.  Some this year are already charging last years' prices and thinking about raising them . . .even though we've had a mild winter and, in most places, a pretty wet spring so far.  I know that, looking out over my pasture, haying this year will yield more.  Thank goodness.

The conversation began to spiral out of control when I suggested that $4/gallon gas isn't necessarily a fair price, but it's the going rate.  How dare I complain about my "drop in the bucket" when they had so much more land to farm than I do?  Then the insinuations--just because I have a few acres and raise a few chickens, I'm not REALLY a farmer.  Since I'm not depending on farmland for 100% of my income, I'm not REALLY a farmer (even though my grandma worked in a bank for her entire marriage while my grandpa raised wheat). 

Through the entire thing, I was forced to examine what being a farmer means to me.  Here's my take.  If you don't like it, and you don't think I'm a farmer, fine.  Those of you worth knowing will understand what I'm talking about.

--farming isn't about the amount of land you have, it's about how well you take care of it and how much you GIVE back to it.

--farming isn't about how much you spend on gas or herbicide or pesticide, antibiotics or hormones, it's about how much you can avoid spending on them.

--farming is being in tune with your land without just putting it on autopilot.  It's about the seasons, soil needs, animal needs (nope, not corn in a feedlot trough), and building on the strengths of your land while solving the problem spots.

--farming isn't about having the newest, biggest machinery, the newest, biggest chicken barn (Yuck), or anything newest or biggest.  It's about doing the best you can with what you have and still doing the best for your land.  Our old Allis tractor needs some cajoling now and then, but she does just fine by us.

--farming IS ALL ABOUT NEIGHBORS.  Lord knows, I've relied on mine often enough, and I hope they know they can rely on me.  Little things are the start--like trading eggs or borrowing a trailer.  The wonderful folks that helped catch my horses a while ago got a fresh loaf of bread.  Talking with the people who come to the farmers' market--they're my neighbors too.  Even the guy with the field across the road (who we see just a few times a year) is nice enough to do his field work when the wind isn't blowing towards our house.  Even if I HAD ever thought about doing it (which I never will), raising GMO crops wouldn't be neighborly.  Should Big Ag decide to look around, my neighbors could get sued if my artificial crops infested theirs.  I don't do things that way.

See, for me, farming (as with so many other issues) comes down to respect.  I respect myself.  I respect my land.  I respect my critters--yeah, even the chickens I slaughter.  Chickens and soil both give of themselves so that we can eat.  I love my neighbors--all of them.  We're all here for each other.  Isn't it amazing that people who live so far apart can be more tightly knit than a bunch of people in the city?  I love it.  I can walk outside in the morning and appreciate the glory of the day.  I can take personal satisfaction (or sometimes complete despair when I find that worms have eaten all of my lettuce) in the fact that I'm HERE.  I LOVE this place.  Even when the chores seem to take forever, even when . . .you get the idea.

I'm a farmer now.  Love me or leave me the heck alone.  I've got work to do.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Under Pressure

I'm truly sorry for the long silence, folks.  I've been busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, a one legged man in a butt-kicking contest, and a one-eyed cat watching nine rat holes.  I hope you'll forgive me.

It all started last Monday when I got a message from my cousin Patrick.  We had reconnected on Facebook and found that we had a lot in common.  Mind you, his last memory of me was a baby on a blanket, and I only ever knew him from a photograph on top of my grandpa's TV.  I suggested that he come up and visit sometime.  Well, this urgent message said "call me NOW."  Turns out he had a few days free and wondered if it was OK if he'd come up for that visit.  OF COURSE!  Would I miss a chance like that?  Not on your life. 

So then it was time to call the rest of the family to see who could come see him while he was here.  That involved more cousins who I haven't seen in WAY too long either, aunts, uncles, etc.  Offhandedly, I asked what Cousin Patrick would like to have for dinner.  He said that he hadn't had veranike in ages.

Folks, for those of you who haven't made veranike, it's a real skill.  I think I'm on my way to mastering it, but I have a long way to go.  I do take pride in my sour cream gravy though.  I told him I could make that happen.  "What else?"  I asked.  Moos.  (For those of you non-Germans, it's pronounced mohs, not moose.) Well, I didn't have cherries, but I did have gooseberries aplenty, and they make a fine moos.  Done.  What else?  "Swiebach."  My dad leapt into the fray and brought swiebach.  I baked up some German sausage and we had a fine meal, even if I DID forget the fried potatoes. 

Folks, I simply cannot tell you how awesomely amazing it was to reconnect with FAMILY.  I know I love these people simply because they share my blood, but being a grownup and being able to share ideas, values, and inspirations with them just blows me away.  I'm amazed that Cousin Emery (who used to tower over me) is just about my height.  I'm thrilled for Cousin Donna who looks just like she did 30 years ago.  I wish their kids could have come too--they've got some stories I'd like to hear!  And you know what?  Hearing the comforting murmur of your family getting together and sharing time with each other is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world.

Uncle Paul and Aunt Darlene came the next day, and it was more of the same.  Old stories, old memories that somehow never get old.  Staying up way too late with a person who until a few days ago had been a stranger and becoming friends.  Taking joy in cooking special meals or realizing how much you value the time you can spend.  If that's not a blessing, I don't know what is.

Well, then there's the farmers' market.  For the first two sessions, I was it.  Nobody else.  Finally, today, another lady showed up . . .and I think we both did well.  Heck, I bought from her.  You can never have too many tomato plants.  I also brought home another 20 meat chicks earlier this week, so in another 2 months or so, we'll get to slaughter again.  Hopefully this time, I'll have my own table.  Scott's on a trip to San Francisco, and I get to herd the kids by myself (EEK!) but so far we're doing well.  Why yes, I AM sleeping with a pistol under my pillow.

Speaking of doing well, I'd like to thank someone.  Tonight at the market, I let the kids run off and play while I manned the table.  When I looked over to check on them, they were usually with a brown-haired young man in a blue shirt with an eagle on the front.  I'd see him pushing them on the swings, chasing them around the jungle gym, or with them on the merry-go-round.  When I got packed up, I went up to him and asked what his name was.  It was Jimmy.  He didn't tell me his last name, but he looked like an early teenager.  I thanked him for keeping the kids entertained.  He said it was nothing.  When my daughter started to throw a fit when it was time to go home, he still talked to her nicely.  Whoever reads this and knows who Jimmy's parents are, they (AND JIMMY!) deserve huge pats on the back.  He is a wonderful young man.  Jimmy, the world needs more like you.

Sleep tight, folks.  I'll get back in the groove!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Natural Born Killers

There are so many ways to start out tonight.  For example:  I'll bet I'm the only person you know with a bowlful of chicken feet in the fridge.  Yes, I play with rooster testicles.  I now know what it feels like to pull the lungs out of a dead chicken.  Here's the best one:  I HAD FUN BUTCHERING CHICKENS.  (PETA advocates can just kiss my rear.)

As most of you know, it really started when I contacted Russell.  He was kind enough to agree to show me how to butcher, since I've never done it before today.  It turns out that he and his wife Jeanne are two of the most incredibly awesome people I've ever met.  So, I bought the meat birds.  I raised them.  Gack.  I was actually LONGING to kill them . . .their only redeeming quality is that they grow fast and make lots of meat. 

I actually woke up at 4 AM and thought "CRAP.  I left the feeder in there.  I'm supposed to starve them!!!"  I got up, put on a shirt and slippers, and took the feeder out, growling at myself the entire time.  I went back to sleep eventually--I think I beat myself over the head enough.  Well, the morning dawned bright and sunny.  No wait, that was yesterday.  Today dawned chilly and rainy.  I got chores done, but it looked like there was a pretty decent band of rain moving in.  I called Jeanne.

No, they didn't want to put it off for another hour.  They're tougher people than I am.  So, we tried to get things set up in the overhang of the barn.  Bless Russell for having a ready made wash table and bringing it.  Bless Jeanne for being the expert at scalding (and bringing rubber gloves so plucking was SOOOO easy!).  Bless both of them for being patient with a couple of beginners taking WAY longer than we should!  Thank goodness it quit raining fairly soon!

Even the kids helped.  Caitlin helped hold a chicken, Arthur was very interested in the guts, and they even tried to help peel chicken feet.  We only had one full crop, and one that had poo (yeah, it was my bad.  I nicked the intestine) but it only took about an hour and a half after setting up to process 16 birds.  For 2 beginners learning the ropes, I don't think that's bad.

To top it off, we had a great time together.  Not only did Scott and I get to do every stage--slitting throats, scalding, plucking, enviscerating--and learning TONS, we also got to spend time chatting with some really fascinating people.

So here you go--some pics from the fun today!

<<bleeding out in the killing cone

Scott plucking after the scald>>

  <<Russell showing us what to do

Yours truly getting ready to do my first solo.  Caitlin is watching, and that's Jeanne in the background.  I got rid of the gloves after the first bird or two--they got in the way.>>

<<Caitlin helping--holding one of the chooks ready to be slaughtered

Russell showing Scott the ropes and Jeanne's beautiful smile at the plucking tub>>

<<Finger puppets!!  (yes, I myself have been known to do this with squid heads on fishing trips.)

^^The aftermath:  gut buckets.  Upper left is feathers and heads, upper right is drained blood, bottom is intestines, lungs, etc.  and the liver I spoiled by breaking the gallbladder.

It was an amazing feeling today to look at Scott and say "I had FUN!"  I'm sure it had a lot to do with the amount of learning, but even more to do with spending some time with some really amazing people.  Thanks, Russell and Jeanne.  From all of us. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Newbies Are Here!

Remember how I said I was getting 8?  Well . . .

After some phone calls this morning, we were up and running.  Teresa got the shipment a couple of days ago, and was expecting the Faverolles to come in today.  We arranged to meet.  Of course, I also picked up some chicks to drop off to Keena on the way home, and a WHOLE BUNCH for Candace to meet me to pick up.  Just call me the chicken tractor.

In truth, I had forgotten that I arranged with Candace to get another Phoenix hen.  OK, no problem.  I have been saving my egg money (and asparagus money!) to fund my addiction.  I plugged in the brooder heat lamp this morning and it started to smoke.  NOT GOOD.  So, I unplugged it, went out to do chores (yeah, you try using a pitchfork in a lightning storm), waited for it to cool off, and cleaned it.  Problem solved.

Then there was getting my son ready for the drive to Wichita.  Have you ever noticed that kids never need to use the bathroom until you're 15 miles down the road?  Yeah.  Still, away we went.  I tried not to give the speed limit a compound fracture, but I was getting excited . . .and for good reason!

Not only was meeting Teresa in person really cool (she's a great lady and really arranged this whole thing, bless her!!), but I got to see some awesome chicken people again.  My son was even behaving well on the hours-long trip in the truck.  Of course, I got told about Spiderman a lot, and every train we passed was a momentous event . . .I'm glad that he had fun.
We got Keena her chicks while she was at work.  It was great meeting her coworkers.  Since she works for a greenhouse, I had to literally sit on my hands so I didn't haul the credit card out and buy everything.  Folks, if you're in Kansas, Kaw Valley has some awesome stuff.  I ALMOST left with a fountain, some succulents, and some black petunias, but apparently I'm getting better at saying NO to myself.

I had a blonde moment.  I took the wrong turn, or, didn't take the RIGHT turn.  I found myself 5 miles out in unfamiliar territory.  Gack.  I got turned around and eventually found the right road.  I hauled butt back to Marion, where I was to meet Candace.  Dangit, I hate being late.

Arthur was dozing, as I wished I could, but we made it in time.  The hen she brought me took my breath away.  OK, so Maki the Magnificent is a Silver Duckwing Yokohama roo, and Sushi the Sweet is a white Phoenix pullet.  I had been dithering about names for the new girl, but as soon as I saw her, I knew what her name had to be.  She's Miso.  Her feathers really look like a bowl of miso soup that I get at my favorite Japanese restaurant (Hana, in Wichita).  She is STUNNING.  She's a golden Phoenix.  Maki immediately started dancing for her.  She bloodied her comb a little bit on the trip in, but Maki is such a gentleman that he's ignoring it.  (mind you, I've checked in on them several times tonight.)  And Candace even did me one better.  She was talking about Phoenix chicks.  I figured why not?  What's a couple more?  Hey, it's a different bloodline which is good.  Sure, I was willing to pay a couple bucks for 2 of them.  This nifty lady and her hubby decided to give me 2 chicks (which will probably be white) for FREE.  If I could hug her, I would.

I feel like a pro at getting chicks settled in now.  Dip their beaks in the waterer and wait till they swallow some.  Paper towels over bedding.  Food scattered.  Even though I know that some are a little older, they should all come out to the same size.  So, with chicken math, I "started" with 8 and came home with 10.  It must be the mileage.  Still, it's fun to watch the bitty babies do laps around the brooder . . .I put in some fresh greens and they'd all chase the one that got the best tidbit.  Then they'd start again! 

I'll bet you're wanting to see pictures.  Luckily for you, I have some.  The red light is the brooder lamp, and some are a little fuzzy.

Chickies getting sleepy

Salmon Faverolle chick (with dye from the hatchery)

Ancona chick

That's all you get for tonight.  I WILL inundate you with more (and higher-quality) pics as they grow.  For anyone wondering, the "teenagers" out in the tractor are doing great.  I've had to do some creative tarp work, but they're alive and kicking!

Here she is, Miss Miso.  This pic REALLY doesn't do her justice.  She's very alert and active, her feathers shine in the sunlight, and she's already started laying eggs for me.  LOVE!!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicken Camp Out

Well, I can't believe it, but I'm letting the kids camp out.  They're only 5 1/2 weeks old.  I sure hope they do OK and that nothing tries to eat them.  I did have to scare a hawk off earlier today.

They were getting WAY too crowded in the brooder.  Scott built me a chicken tractor with the intent of putting the Cornish meat birds in it, but with the layer chicks needing more space NOW and getting ready to slaughter the meaters next weekend, we thought we'd let the layers have the space.  After all, the Cornish only walk about 6 inches at a time anyway.  I can hold my nose for one more week.

I've been getting the babies used to being outside during the day, but this is the first night.  I'm a little worried.  OK, I'm a LOT worried.  I know that there's a raccoon under the barn, and the coyotes have been coming awfully close lately.  I got paranoid enough that I wrapped extra wire around the whole shebang.  I put bricks all around the screens on top.  Now the only worry (hopefully) is the snakes.  I haven't seen one big enough to take on one of these chicks, but there are always some you don't see.  ARGH!!

I'd post a picture here, but my camera is refusing to either flash or focus through 2 layers of fence!

On a much happier note, I got a present tonight!  From strangers!  Turns out that a few weeks ago, a couple of guys asked for permission (from Scott) to hunt some turkeys on our land.  Of course, he said yes, but the turkey must have heard and promptly disappeared.  They asked him if they needed to pay us and he said "oh, just bring my wife some feathers."

So imagine my surprise when the dogs sounded off after dark.  There were strange people here.  As it goes, they didn't get their turkey on our land, but they remembered that I wanted feathers.  So they gave me an ENTIRE turkey tail--bones and all!  How absolutely awesome is that?  I know I go on at length about good neighbors, but you really can't appreciate people like that enough.

I confess, I did tell them that if they wanted coyote, that we have some that are coming way too close.  Wonderful people that they are, they asked if I wanted the tails!  With regret, I said no.  I don't have the time to cure them. 

It seems to be part of the magic of this place that even a badly begun day can turn into a good day.  I miss my delivery pizza and convenient Chinese take-away, but I wouldn't trade this for the world.

Notes To Self

Sometimes, getting used to living in an entirely different world, there are certain things that are REALLY important to remember.  Here are a few of mine.

Before you stab that pitchfork into the ground, be sure your foot isn't under your target stab zone.

If you've stabbed yourself in the foot before, wearing flipflops to fork hay for the horses PROBABLY isn't a good idea. 

Wearing flipflops around hay WILL make your feet itch.  The itch will travel at will around your body, making you think you're infested with ticks at random inopportune moments.  While your gyrations and facial expressions may be entertaining to your family, they aren't fun for you.

Wearing ankle bracelets (or toe rings) in the chicken coop is a very bad idea, unless you want to get hurt.

Always carry a shovel in your vehicle.  Even if it's not winter (and you get yourself stuck in a drift), a shovel comes in very handy.  If you're not digging something, you can clong someone over the head with it.

Whenever you're running late, count on the fact that every single animal you own will need both feed and water refilled right then.  So what if you just filled the big waterer or forked extra hay?  By the time you're ready to leave, they'll need more.  Hopefully yours are closer together than mine. 

When you keep a chicken brooder in your mud room, every last thing in said room is going to be coated with feather dust.  Including the cobwebs you keep meaning to clean out.  At least now you might remember to clean them up.

If your windshield is dirty, count on being out of washer fluid.  Stockpile that stuff.  (My truck is now a lovely two-tone shaded from limestone-powder-white on the bottom to maroon on top.  I just can't bring myself to spend the time or money to wash it, since I know it'll look just the same in about 2 days.  The bird and bug splats on my windshield, however, bother me.)

News Flash:  I've had 100 watt incandescent bulbs last much longer than those new twirly things that are supposed to save so much energy and last longer.  Besides, I don't have to call HazMat when I break one of the old ones.  Incandescents are also good for providing gentle heat to growing or sick animals. 

Weeds can be your friends.  Sometimes.  The chickens love to eat them.  It's a crying shame that they grow faster than they can be eaten and that so many of them are poison hemlock.

There is no such thing as too many tomatoes.  (If you need ideas, I'll be happy to supply you.  If you're in my area and giving them away, I'll take all of them, red or green.)

Swiss Chard is a terrific substitute for lettuce or Bok Choi.

Those tappings and scrapings you hear are not intruders.  You do not have to load your pistol.  They're June Bugs.  Stop jumping every time.
Fresh eggs are IMPORTANT.  Feel sorry for all of those people who have never had really fresh ones and had to eat the ones they bought at the supermarket.

Look out when anyone mows your ditch.  After all, the rock you found embedded in your barn (narrowly missing your chickens and horses) wouldn't look as cool if it was embedded in your head.

Go fishing.  Go fishing.  Go fishing.  Walleye season might not be over yet.  (special note:  get license first.)

You now have enough animals.  Stop already.  2 dogs, 3 house cats, 4 barn cats (one has 3 kittens), 10 adult chickens, 14 immature chickens, 8 more chicks on the way, 17 meat chickens, plus 2 rabbits . . .just stop there.  At least until next year.  THEN you can get ducks.  And meat rabbits.  And maybe some of those Sebastopol geese.  We're not going to count the guineas.

Your kids are old enough to do chores.  Start them.  Especially since you don't have a dishwasher.

Get your family to visit more.  Get Cousin Pat up on his bike (and organize a Siemens cousin reunion).  Get Cousin Al (and of course, Cousin Vickie--maybe even Jon and Cody!) to come down and fish--and teach you more Lakota.  Talk to your other cousins that you haven't seen in years.  Remember how important family is.  Mitakuye Oyasin.

The farm & art market will go FINE.  RELAX AND BREATHE.  This ain't no lemonade stand.  It's better.

Pick up the dog poos.  You know you're tired of stepping around the one that's on the way to the coop.

Get bigger waterers for the chickens.  Summer is coming and you really don't want to tote water that often, do you? 

At least you got that weather radio.  Finally, you listened.  Now if you were just smart enough to get it to broadcast an alarm without having to run the dang thing all the time, you'd be onto something.

Remember to do something extra special for your neighbors.  Remember that party you talked about last year?  DO IT.

Make the calls you're supposed to make.  You're wasting time.

Folks, these mostly pertain to me.  I hope you find some of them funny or helpful.  This is my "to do" list . . .in addition to daily chores, watching the kids, doing dishes, doing laundry, making meals, keeping the house in a relative state of non-filth, and fulfilling my writing obligations.  There are days when I literally don't know where to start.  Everything needs doing, and it needs doing NOW.  There are days when I feel so discombobulated that I can barely figure out what leg to put in my pants first.  Hopefully you never have that feeling.  If you do, you know what a daunting task it is to make a "do" list. 

I hope that everyone can find at least a little humor in every situation--laughter (no matter how short or quiet) truly IS the best medicine.  I'd love to hear your "to do" lists too!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Queen is dead. Long Live the Queen.

You've all heard about how I got started with chickens.  I really resisted naming them (since I figured we might eat them sooner or later), but they DID get named.  You can see pics of all of them if you scroll back through older posts.

Stewie the Rhode Island Red rooster that I fully intended to make into stew.  My husband saved him by liking him.  Yeah, I'm a softie.

Trouble the Easter Egger roo who keeps trying to attack me (and who Stewie is very good at protecting me from).

Cow the Bantam Sultan.  SIMPLY ANNOYING.

But then there were my layer girls.  After all, they're doing all this work, so they had to have names.  My Buff Orpingtons are named for sisters from the British sitcom "Keeping Up Appearances."  Hyacinth is a wonderful layer, Violet does OK, and Daisy is starting to come into her own.

My Rhode Island Reds are named for queens.  It all started because the Reds were the first to lay . . .and the first of the Reds to lay was christened Bess (for Queen Elizabeth I, "Good Queen Bess").  The other two are Vicky (for Queen Victoria . . .but since I have a friend who's named Victoria, it seemed a little inappropriate to name a chicken after her) and Mary (Queen Mary Tudor).  Mary's nickname was Bloody Mary since she once pecked me hard enough to draw blood.

I had never raised chickens to adulthood before this last year.  I had started some chicks, but that's a long story for another day.  The first chicken I watched on the nest was Bess, and the first fresh, warm egg that I've ever held in my hand was hers. 

She was beautiful, glossy red with a comb big enough to flop over to one side--rather like a stylish milliner's hat.  Her feathers might have looked a little tattered, but that's the sign of a good laying hen--they put more energy into eggs than feathers.  She had a very distinctive cackle after she laid an egg, and she did that often.  Very rare was the day that Bess didn't lay, even in winter.  I got to know and love her distinctive eggs.

Folks, I found her dead this morning.  At first I thought that she might have been eggbound (when they're unable to pass an egg) because of some swelling near her vent.  Then, thinking back on where I found her, I think that one of the roosts must have shifted in the night and pinned her to the wall.  Neither option is a pleasant one to think about.

Bess got a dignified burial out in the pasture.  I felt bad when I tamped down the earth over her.  Heck, I felt bad enough when I found her dead!  How could I let that happen?  I guess I still have way more to learn.  I'm sorry it had to happen at Bess' expense.

Good Queen Bess, you will be sorely missed. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Star Maps and Little Yellow Brothers

OK, so tonight is the Lyrid meteor shower.  It's a weekend night, so I thought I'd let the kids stay up late and see if we could spot some shooting stars.  Easy, right?  Just jump online, find a star map to show me the constellation (Lyra) to look for, head out, and enjoy the show.

If you've never seen a star map, try looking one up.  Here's the one I used from http://skymaps.com/downloads.html:

Growing up in Kansas, it was drilled in at a very early age:  Never Eat Sour Wheat (NESW, moving clockwise).  You might notice that on this map, it looks like Never Wheat Sour Eat.  It's backwards.  Scott assures me that it makes sense if you're laying on your back, but dangit, if I'm looking for Lyra in the northeast, I'm standing up.  Facing north, northeast is slightly to my right (East).  I don't want to have to lay on my back collecting bugs to get the dang thing to make sense.

At least I know how to find the North Star (Polaris) and can pretty much extrapolate from there.  One of my favorite constellations is Orion.  I don't know why, but I always find that seeing him in the sky makes me happy.  I got a great chance to see him tonight before he goes away for the summer.

Photo from true-wildlife.blogspot.com

As I've mentioned, we live next to a train track.  The whistle always sets off the local coyotes.  Of course, I'm on heightened alert because I'm trying to move chickens outside to tractors (and don't have electric fence yet).  Ralph put some birdshot into one the other night that was--I kid you not--10 feet from his house.  Ummm . . .my chickens aren't that close to MINE.  By Golly, I'm not going to lose these chickens.  So tonight when I heard the train and heard those 'yotes on the other side of my horse pen, I sucked it up, loaded the pistol, and headed out.

I've always agreed with the Native American belief that it's bad luck to kill a coyote.  They are are little yellow brothers, and I admire their talents for survival.  However, they can survive just fine without eating my chickens.  Heck, if they'd eat the durn skunks and possums, I'd kiss them. 

So there I was, in the dark.  I had my headlight on, looking for eye flashes.  I had live rounds, my safety was off (with finger outside the trigger guard) and I hung out for a while listening for the 'yotes.  About the only thing I heard was the bugs.  I did manage to set Barb & Ralph's dog Hope to barking, but she quit when I let her know it was just me. 

I think I'm glad that I didn't have to take a shot.  Still, little brothers, you are SO not going to mess with my chickens.  Or my horses.  Or my dogs.  Or my barn cats.  Since my kids aren't out when you're active, I'll give you a miss on that, little brothers.  Still, I'll protect MY babies.  You aren't one of them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chicken Math

Granted, math has never been my strong point.  I can add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  Basic algebra and geometry are within my grasp, but I really dislike having to use them.  Thank goodness Scott does our bills and builds things for me.

Chicken math is an entirely different thing.  You get your chickens.  You figure out who lays and who doesn't (or who you can slaughter).  You keep half an eye on how much you spend for feed.  You go out and pick fresh greens every day to help your chooks be healthier, and hopefully cut the feed bill a little bit. 

You find out that your friends really like your chickens' eggs.  Your friends' friends like them too.  Pretty soon, you can't keep up with the demand.  YOU NEED MORE CHICKENS.

So you do what I did--look for the hardiest, best layers.  You also hope they'll be eye candy because hey, if you're going out to do chores, you want to see pretty!  You find most of the breeds you want.  You get them, then do some legwork and find the rest.  All of a sudden, your flock has grown from 11 to 13 (because you just HAD to have those Yokohama/Phoenixes) to 27 because of your new layer chicks . . .but don't forget the extra meat birds that bring your grand total to 44.  You know that those 17 meat birds are going to be in the freezer in the next few weeks, and it's a good thing since you have 8 more layer chicks coming into the brooder and you need to get the layers into a tractor to make some room. 

Let's not forget the breeding projects--Swedish Flowers and Cream Legbars.  They'll each have to have their own pens and I'll have to really keep an eye on bloodlines.  Then I'll have to learn about how to ship eggs in the mail.  GACK.

See, it's chicken math.  It's rather like tomato math--you know that you can never have too many tomatoes.  From the demand, I'm thinking I almost can't have too many chickens.  No, I'm not going to raise them in industrial conditions--they'll either have runs or be in chicken tractors, ranging over the yard and garden.  It's still just flabbergasting how many chickens you can amass and still want MORE.  My only problem now is how to keep them contained and safe from predators.  I really don't relish the idea of going out to find a bloody heap of feathers . . .or 2, or 4 . . .you get the idea.

Some people collect cats.  Some people collect dogs.  While I'm not in favor of animal hoarding, I AM the crazy chicken lady.  If I can get more coops built, I'll get more chickens.  They're pretty, they're funny, and they give me terrific eggs and meat.  (Cat Ladies can't say that!!!)  Try doing some chicken math of your own and let me know how many you end up with!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sharing a Brain

Photo from Have a Good Belly Laugh on Facebook

Is this not just about the coolest thing you've ever seen?  My knitting talent doesn't quite stretch that far, but luckily I have a sister who DOES have the appropriate talent.  I think I'll have to commission her to make me one.

See folks, I have at least 2 twin sisters.  Sure, we're separated by different parents, different birthdates, and sometimes a few thousand miles, but we're sisters.  And here's the best part:  we share a brain.

It all started when I met Amy in grade school.  Not only was she a really neat kid to hang around (I still remember our flights of fantasy about "diamond horses" in grade school), her folks had actual, living, breathing horses.  You should know by now that I'm a horse addict.  Her folks are really cool too--they took me on vacation with them.  I still call them Mom II and Dad II.  Even then, Amy and I had fun telling people that we were sisters.  I'm tall and blonde, Amy is a little shorter than I am and has gorgeous black hair.  Those vacations are the stuff of legend.  I could tell you about all the little fun bits but I think I'm going to keep you hanging for a while.

We've been best friends for almost 30 years now.  About 15 years ago (isn't it amazing how you can lose track of time?), she told me that we had another sister that she'd met at Wichita State.  Amy said "either you'll love each other or you'll kill each other."  Well, it's a good thing we didn't kill each other.

My second twin is Lorrie.  Lorrie was born in the Azores to a military family.  Of course we hit it off--we had archaeology in common, and soon found many more ways to interact, including belly dancing.  I can honestly say that I have never had the urge to kill either Lorrie or Amy.  It's probably because we share a brain.

I know, I know.  You're screwing up your face right now (quit it, it'll stick that way!) and shaking your head.  Each of us has our own special talents, and they're not limited to any one of us.  We're all creative--Amy loves art (but is still very practical) and does well at whatever she sets her mind and hands to.  She used to blow me out of the water when we took a jewelry making class together.  Lorrie took a big leap of faith and started her dream--she runs a yarn shop and teaches classes--and from what I've heard, is not only having great fun, but making an impact.  She has an incredible talent when it comes to anything having to do with yarn and needles.  Me?  I'm not where I thought I'd be 15 years ago, but I have 2 beautiful kids (that have extra doting aunties!), the farm I always wanted, and have found my niche as a writer.

Still, you all know the feeling when you have one of those "stupid" days.  You know, those days when you just can't do anything right.  Well, I figure that on those days, one of my twins must have needed the brain more than I did.  That's OK.  We've tried to figure out how to warn each other when we'll need the brain, and it seems to work.  Some days we get caught off guard, but it's all good.  It all gets laughed off as "somebody else must have the brain today!" 

I hope that you're all as fortunate as I am to share a brain.  Amy and Lorrie, I wouldn't ever want to be without you.  (Ernest and Judy, and you too, Kesslers, Cliftons, and Smiths.  I love you and appreciate you too!)  Family isn't limited by blood.  It's defined by heart. 

(And Lorrie, you simply MUST make us these hats.  Talk about a picture!!! :D)