Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bourbon Reds

It's hard to believe that this was once a small, gangly poult. I loved that tweenie stage. They would run after me and gingerly take bread from my fingers. Now, they are likely to take the fingers (by accident, of course). They are the most fascinating animals - from their candlewax-like carbuncles, to their adjustable snood. Amazing. But LOUD. I had bought the two as a breeding pair, but soon had to change Georgia to Georgie. When spring arrives, everything/one gets stirred up and there is no room for brotherhood. Someone always has to be on top.
Unfortunately, in their case, they need to be on top of everything with feathers. This does not work out well when the weight ration is 15:1. I just happened to walk outside as Georgie tried to mount one of my small hens. All I could see were a few golden feathers and a gasping, squeaky noise. More drama! They are now on the fast-list to freezer camp. One of the many things I have learned in the four+ years of doing this homesteading thing, is that not everything works out the way you planned. That is especially true with livestock. I went through my quail stage - determined to make my fortune raising them from eggs and selling both eggs and processed birds. They were a snap to incubate and grew amazingly fast. But they were LOUD. (Are we seeing a trend here?) The male quail will let out an alarmingly loud pealing cry at any time of the day or night. Preferably around 2 a.m. And the way I have my livestock operation set up (using the term very loosely), that put them almost right outside of my bedroom window. I think that I have learned my lesson and will stick with the tried, trued and truly loved - chickens and ducks. Please remind me I said this after the April 25 Poultry Swap.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Whosyerdaddy aka Hoosier

When I first got my sheep, there was the question of who would guard them from the large coyote population in my area. There's a lot of information out there -- and as many opinions -- and I did a lot of research. A Livestock Guard Dog (LGD) was out since it would cause problems with my own dogs and would mean providing more comprehensive shelter. Then there were guard donkeys. I loved the idea of a guard donkey -- one step closer to horse ownership. My dairy farmer neighbor happened to have two donkeys so I started hanging around making helpful conversation like, "I bet it's hard to take care of all those cows AND donkeys." I am so subtle. I really didn't have to convince him all that much and we were just on the brink of making the deal, when both donkeys brayed. I doubt if I could convey the eardrum-splitting volume of two donkeys braying in close proximity. I immediately was set upon by visions of my nearest neighbors calling 911, the ASPCA, the State Police, their cousin Vinny. And I was also aware that my buccolic, peaceful little spread would be so no longer. I backed out of the barn quickly under some pathetic cover like, "um, I have to go feed the chickens - I hear them calling me." My neighbor is very understanding. Long story not short enough, I ended up with a guard llama. He came from a llama breeder south of me at a bargain price - he was intact, bucktoothed, had an embarrassing name, and was small for his breed. He kept getting pushed aside from the grain by the bigger boys. When I first brought him home, his only interest in the sheep were running over them to get to the grain first. I wasn't impressed. Just as I was seriously considering turning him in for a REAL guard llama, the ewes lambed. Hoosier went from aloof to Uncle Hoosie. He sniffed the lambs thoroughly and went into guard llama mode and never looked back. He's a gem.
(Kudos to Connie for a great picture!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Don't Mind Me - I'm Just Another Chicken...

Can you find the odd one in the picture to the right? Dottie doesn't think she's odd. No matter how many times I have put her back in with her fellow ducks, she manages to escape back to the coop and her soul sisters. I actually think she is avoiding the drake, but I may be wrong. Dottie is a Muscovy with a penchant for white bread. I trained her to eat out of my hand - thinking I was so clever. Then I realized that Dottie had realized that she wouldn't have to beat off the chickens if I gave it directly to her. They're too giddy to focus on direct feeding techniques. I am humbled on a daily basis.

Shrinking Violet - or - There's a Pullet Living Under my Shed

If you look very carefully at this photograph, you will see a little grey head to the left of the red water dish. This is Violet. She is a Blue Andalusian - if I remember correctly. I haven't seen more of her than her little head in over three weeks. One morning, three weeks ago, as I was bending over to unlatch the door to the coop and let loose the hoard, I noticed a LARGE pile of grey feathers on the ground near the shed. Dang! I figured the hawk had claimed a pigeon. Then I recognized the feathers. A quick check of the little coop (nursery to all small poultry) came up with one short of the head-count. I didn't see any blood or gore, so I figured she had been carried off. As I leaned over to pick up the feathers, I noticed a grey-feathered form squeezed under the shed - she was alive and terrified. I suspected Bernie - the closet hunter. Violet must have gotten out of the nursery and I unwittingly let the dogs out. Bernie gets a mouthful of feathers, and Violet moves under the shed. Since the ground is frozen, I cannot dig her out and she has shown no signs of venturing out on her own. It's fine for now, but the trouble is, there's a 'backdoor' on the wild side of the shed - and no end of chicken-eating varmints who know it's there. I'm trying to convince myself that it is worth it to cut a hole in the shed floor and roust her out. So far, it's on the bottom of my six-page to-do list. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Haste Makes Waste

I am interrupting my cast of characters theme to bring you proof that the old saying is oh, so true. I had originally built the hoop house to the left as a sort of chicken tractor for my first batch of meat birds. After a weasel pointed out it's failings as that type of structure, I was able to move it to the sheep pasture for their shelter. It has framing, strength and I took my time building it. The 'structure' to the right was thrown up quickly because I had diddled around and left myself no time before the llama arrived. Basically, I pounded four t-posts into the ground, bent a couple of cattle panels between them into a hoop, and bungeed a series of tarps over the lot. I was very proud of my ingenuity. I had every intention of reinforcing it. Then I diddled for a year. Then we got two feet of very heavy snow. Lesson learned? We'll see. It's propped up with a 2x2 for now -- and I hope to be able to salvage most of it to reuse in another area. This time I WILL take the time to put it on a frame. Or will I?

Part Three: The Cats

Cookie will be 10 in a couple of days. He is the size and coloring of a Holstein, but as sweet as can be. He started his life living with a foster dog who licked his head into cowlicks every morning and he's never recovered from the sheer bliss of it. Unfortunately, neither Bernie or Scrappy have the least bit of interest in picking up the habit .

He was inseparable from Woody, a very sweet Holstein-like cat who was white where Cookie was black. Woody passed away from cancer last year and Cookie still misses him, as do we all.

With the exception of Tippet. Tippet - a mere parakeet in comparison with Cookie - does not like: cats or dogs. She loves me and will do any of the following to get my attention: butt me with her head, bite me, paw me. And all of this is done incessantly, unendingly, with an obsessive might that either means she is diabolical or has the mental capacity of a morel. I suspect both.

We will soon be adding a Tuxedo kitten named "Thumper". I have told no one this - including Cookie and Tippet - because my family and friends already suspect that I have "issues". I have found it prudent not to give them any ammunition so I just drop in a turkey, llama, kitten, quail and wait for the reaction. There is a benefit from living with this menagerie - it keeps them off of the subject of why I am not in a meaningful relationship. Amen.

(thank you, Frances, for the amazing pics!)

Part Two: Bernie

This is Bernie. While she also came with this name, the only reason I didn't change it is that it took me so long to gain her trust -- it would have been cruel to throw in a curve ball. She is a complex, wild and wonderful thing - both shy and rapturous, timid and wolf-like. It all depends on the situation. Inside, she bows to Scrappy, both cats and me. Outside, she leaps, digs, wags, and trots. She lunges after cars, trucks, squirrels, coyotes, birds, leaves, grass - you get the picture. But put one teeny tiny bit of thunder in her way, and it's u-turn to home and under the bed until it's clear. That also goes for planes, guns, sudden moves, hard breathing, a fire in the fireplace -- the list goes on. She's had a hard life, this girl, and, 'tho she has it cushy now, old terrors lie just beneath the surface. Bernie is of an undetermined 'older' age, but I have lumped her birthday in with Scrappy's. It makes me feel better thinking that she will live forever.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Cast of Characters - Part One.

It is a varied and motley crew. Wait. I am the motley crew. We are varied, all right, but I am their crew and handservant. I am the Food Lady, the Poop Lady, the Where's-the-Graham-Crackers Lady.

Just for expediency's sake, we'll start with the indoor variety.

This is Scrappy Doo. He, as did Bernie, arrived in my life via my favorite dog rescue group - Peppertree. I have been very lucky in that I chose both of them by their picture on the website. As the song goes, "Just one look...was all it took." Scrappy came with his name (although I do call him "Sparky" in weak moments) and, as he's 10 this year, it didn't seem fair to make him learn a new name. He is quite a character - we call him Burt Lahr in dog's clothing. He is also very jealous so, if I get a hug, I have to keep one hairy eyeball on him - he's liable to sneak up on the hugger and nip pants. Although it seem like Scrappy has been with me since the beginning of time, he's been here less than a year.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Neighbors - The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

One thing I learned early-on, is that neighbors - and your relationship with same - is very, very important when you are homesteading on your own with limited resources and abilities and a LOOOOONG learning curve. I have had wonderful luck in being situated near a small dairy farm that is worked by a generous and kind family. I trade baked goods, eggs and nail-trimming services (for a small but feisty dog) for wonderful raw milk. And they also plow my driveway when it snows. And they also 'gave' me a beautiful Jersey heifer calf who was born the day before my birthday. I love them.

So, that is the good. I also have the bad. Two neighbors in particular who live down my road and apparently see themselves as the land czars of the road. Between the two of them, they own about 90% of the land. When I bought my house, I was not made aware of a new gravel pit that had opened down the road. There is no sign, no indication that it is there - except in the spring, summer, fall and most of the winter when tens of heavy dump trucks roar past my house, covering lawn, trees, house in a tsunami of dust. This particular 'neighbor' has bought up a lovely farm with the most beautiful rolling fields I have ever seen. He is slowly transforming it into an extension of his gravel pit. They are the ugly. Very ugly. In the winter, he and his cronies tear-ass over the fields (and our roads, illegally) in their snowmobiles. At the risk of offending snowmobilers, it is just another so-called sport for lazy people. I cannot see the thrill of plopping my ass on a machine that tears up the land, makes horrendous noise and provides no exercise whatsoever. I suppose the labor of trying to stay on the thing while you've got a snootful of booze could be challenging.

Back to the good. I also have a neighbor/friend who will charge to my aid no matter what time I call. She always brings knitting, has a wonderful wit and sense of humor and is no-end talented. It also helps that she is willing to help me rassle my sheep and give them whatever injections or drenches they may need. I couldn't live without her. And her husband willingly gives up portions of his weekend to help me haul large quantities of hay and put up fencing.

I have another friend who is very handy and retired. He recently noticed my origami laundry tree (thanks to the snow/wind of last week) and casually mentioned that he would be happy to stop by, pick it up, take it home and fix it. Huzzah! He is a gem and good dinner company.

I am lucky. My good neighbors vastly outweigh my bad and ugly neighbors. As for the coming of dump truck season, I have ordered three willow bushes that are guaranteed to grow massively in short order. They will have their work cut out for them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hello my Life.

In the beginning there was a middle-aged, first-time homeowner, four acres of rocks, weeds and hidden caches of old, burned garbage. Four years later, there are rocks, slightly fewer weeds, and - I'm sure - still-earthed burned garbage waiting to see the light of day. There are also two hoop houses, housing four Icelandic sheep and a llama; assorted poultry buildings housing one bourbon red Tom named Georgie; four ducks; and way too many chickens. The little green house contains Bernie and Scrappy, my faithful, funny rescue dogs; and Tippet and Cookie, mousers extraordinaire. (You were the best, Woody, r.i.p.) And me, a 50-something homesteading late-bloomer.

In honor of the upcoming fourth anniversary of my venture into homesteading (and at the urging of family and friends who think my life is hilarious) I agreed to start writing about the strange and sometimes wonderful things that happen to me on a daily basis.

Let me start out by saying that starting on a path to self-sufficiency at my age was probably not the wisest move I ever made. But, then again, it couldn't be helped. I HAD to do it. Four years ago, with the keys to my first house in my hand, there was nothing I couldn't accomplish if I put my mind to it. I must have been totally delusional. While visions of painted white fences on buccoli rolling fields danced in my head, the realities are more like the Beverly Hillbillies meet Apalachia on mind-altering drugs. Still, I persevere because I love walking out in the morning to hear the blatting of the sheep and assorted other sounds. Juno, last spring's lamb, follows me like a dog and likes to have her ears scratched. Birds sing in the many trees surrounding me, the sun comes up over the mountains behind me. Hoosier, the llama, searches my pockets for graham crackers. These sights and sounds help me make it through the end -to-end blizzards that dump enough heavy snow to collapse my hoop house, warp my laundry tree, drag down my fences. Well, to be honest, I completely forget all the lovely moments when that happens.

The next installment will introduce you to all of my furred and feathered charges, and I will catch you up on the 'high' points of the last four years - while launching into the daily maelstrom that is my present. Cheers!