Friday, June 29, 2012


No, I'm not rendering more pork lard.  I was out watering the garden for the second time today.  And that sizzling you heard?  Yep, that was me, melting into a pool of fat and cooking on the gravel driveway.  The entire 10-day forecast has us at a 100+ degrees for all but three days (those being 97 and 99).

Now, I know this is Arkansas and considered the "South", but we're far from being considered the desert.  It got up to 111 here three days ago and today was up to 109 today.  So said the two theomometers on my back porch, which is shaded the hottest part of the day.  And not a drop of rain in sight.  We had some rain in the beginning of April, maybe a bit over an inch.  And then a ten minute drizzle a week later.  But that's it.  The only reason my pathetic garden and fruit trees are alive is that Paul and I are watering them on a daily basis.  I sit with my eyes glued to the Doppler radar and sob uncontrollably when I watch the wonderfully colored green, orange and red colors representing rain split or disappear just before they hit our area.

Last year was a scorcher too.  I have a picture somewhere of the temps reaching 115 degrees.  But that was in the beginning of August - we haven't even hit July yet for gawdsakes!  I can only hope and pray for rain.  I know it's horrible, but I was really hoping that Debbie was going to turn into whopper of a hurricane.  Not because I wish misfortune upon anyone in the form of flooding or destructive winds, but hurricanes usually mean rainfall for us farther up north of the Gulf.

I can't imagine how the hay situation is going to pan out this year.  The first cutting was about a third lighter than normal.  And those that waited a bit too long ended up with fields of brown and crunchy bails of hay in their fields.  We were able to get six bales of a good hay in the barn (and when I say "we", of course, I mean "Paul") and the promise of another ten bales.  I called the hay guy last week and he assured us that he'd save ten of the forty bales he has for us, but they have yet to appear.  I don't want to call him and nag, but if I don't hear from him in a few days I'm going to call to check.  I'm a little hay-shy since our "promised" hay from last year was sold from under us and sent to Texas.  Hey, I know you guys in Texas need hay too, but this was supposed to be our yearly load.  Luckily we were able to scrape up a bale here and there, although the last two bales were really only compost-worthy.

So, here we are again, waiting on the hay.

And here I go again, watering the garden for the second time today.  I can't imagine what we'd do if we had only our garden to survive on and didn't have a constant and reliable supply of water.  Oh wait, I could imagine it.  We'd STARVE to death as our vegetables would be dead and the fruit trees withered beyond any chance of bearing fruit.  Even if we did have our rain catchment system in place, there wouldn't have been enough rain to catch anyhow.

Well, I suppose I'm done complaining now.  Try to stay cool, and keep those in the areas ravaged by the wildfires in your thoughts and prayers.  Oh, and if you're in a drought area, please, PLEASE refrain for lighting off fireworks on the 4th.  It's not worth burning down the forest, your home and your neighborhood.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Goat Bloat

I noticed that Nettie hadn't been looking very perky the past few days.  She's been just picking at her grain during milking time and had been spending almost every daylight hour underneath the barn, not even venturing out for a handful of sunflower seed treats.  Not that I blame her, the temperature has been in the triple digits.  It's just horrid out there.

Then yesterday, I couldn't get Nettie out from under the barn yesterday for milking time.  I figured I really didn't need to milk her since her milk output has been cut in half for the last few days because of her greatly reduced appetite, but it still worried me that she was refusing to come eat her grain.  She was still parked underneath the barn without the slightest intention of coming out.

When the temps dropped a little during the early evening, Chop Suey and Annette were busying themselves with munching on hay and occasionally giving each other a good head-butt.  I threw some weeds from the garden into the goat pen and they came running over to dine on some fresh greens, but Nettie still wouldn't budge.  And now when I sat down near her, I noticed that she was starting to talk to me in low grunts.  I finally managed to get her out from underneath the barn with some gentle prodding and pulling on her collar.  She walked around a bit, mumbling to herself, but wanted to just lay down again.  I kept her from going under the barn and put her in some grass (dry and crunchy as it was) in the shade.  I went into the house to grab the animal thermometer and took her temperature.  It was 102.7, well within normal goat range (a healthy goat will be between 102 - 103).

After watching her for a while, I noticed that she was nudging her belly every so often.  This last sign made me realize that she probably had a case of bloat.  Bloat is a condition in ruminant animals (cows, goats) and dogs that causes a buildup of gasses in their stomach.  When those gasses cannot escape, the stomach becomes bloated and distended and causes much discomfort as well as a possible emergency situation if left untreated.  Bloat can be caused by several factors; overgrazing on fresh lush pasture, eating something poisonous, eating too much grain (something to look out for if your goats just got into the feed bin and gorged themselves), eating too many legumes.

I started massaging the left side of the stomach (where the rumen is located) and noticed that it was a little harder than normal.  I then pulled her to her feet and made her walk around the yard.  This massaging and walking helps move things around in the stomach and will hopefully get her to burp that extra gas out.  After about ten minutes of walking a very uncooperative goat around the yard, I went in the house to get some common pantry items in hopes of helping:

I drenched Nettie with 60 cc's of vegetable oil (about a 1/4 cup) along with a tablespoon of baking soda.  Then we went back to the massaging and reluctant walking.  It was getting dark, and thankfully cooling down, so I left Nettie out in the grass for a while.  I went out to check on her every few hours during the night and massaged her for a minute or so and walked her around the barn two or three times each visit.  I also got about 10 cc's of Probios down her.  The last pre-dawn walk-about she seemed much better and she actually came over to me to see if I had any treats or green things to munch on.

This morning she was up and about and munching on some weeds I threw into the pen, even butting Annette out of the way.  Hopefully everything worked itself out.  This is the third time Nettie has had bloat in the six years we've had her; I've never had problems with any of the other goats.  I'm not sure if Nettie just has a sensitive digestive system or if she manages to get into stuff she shouldn't without my knowledge.  I'm not sure what caused it this time, but I'm sure glad I knew what to do.

Here's a good link for information on bloat in goats if you're interested:

So next time you let out a big ol' burp, remember how lucky you are!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Little by little, step by step

All my family and friends think I'm a wack-o-conspiracy-theorist-nut-job.  Well, here's another little something to make you think (although those who refuse to acknowledge things like this will continue to do so no matter the signs):

(Big thanks to OFG for the link on her FB page)

It's not a long article, so please take the less than two minutes to read it.

Yes, I know, it's in the UK, but it seems once something like this becomes the "norm", it's only a matter of time before everyone gets on the train.

So now they have your food buying habits on file.  And next they'll be "nudging" you to eat healthier.  How far of a jump is it then to expect the government to start fining you for not eating how they dictate is healthiest?  Or what if your government-imposed monthly allotment of alcoholic beverages has surpassed the limit?  Will that mean that the DCFS has grounds to take your kids from you because you're obviously a raging alcoholic and cannot possibly care for children?

"Oh, they'd never do that."  Or, "The people of the USA wouldn't allow that."  To which I say, and quite unapologetically at that, "Bullshit".

Remember when the whole Seat Belt Laws were being discussed?  First the cops would only ticket you for not wearing a seat belt if you were pulled over for some other driving infraction.  Fast forward a few years and they just started pulling you over for the simple act of not strapping yourself into your own personal vehicle.  This all, of course, came with a nice mandatory monetary tribute to your local or state police.  

Now we've got random "Safety Checkpoints" throughout the country where the police feel that it is in your best interest to stop, detain and search your vehicle WITHOUT PROBABLE CAUSE and WITHOUT A WARRANT.  To make sure you've got your seat belt on, or to make sure you have all your "Papers" in order (driver's license, proof of insurance, proof of vehicle registry, proof of current county/city sticker, etc.), to inspect your phone for any recent text messages or just because - heck - they want to.  But it's basically to tell you flat out that you are in fact, not a free person.  That you cannot travel peaceably where and when you wish without being harassed.  That you are guilty until proven otherwise.  That everyone is a criminal.  And if they dig deep enough, they will find something in the "law" books that make you one.

You cannot be trusted to do anything without the government looking over your shoulder, going through your personal vehicle, inspecting and scrutinizing your refrigerator, all with the intent of eventually making a criminal out of us all.  There's no such thing as the Food Police you say?  Uhm, I don't read many Mega Media news outlets, but I do know that there's the assenine Mayor in New York wanting to pass a law to make it illegal to sell anything larger than a 16 oz. (or is it twelve??) soda.  First they will fine the sellers, then when everyone's finally used to that, they will go after the buyers of those sodas.  "Excuse me Ma'am, is that a 32 ounce cup of Pepsi you have there?  I'm going to have to take you in for questioning, confiscate your soda and your vehicle (because it's an accessory in the crime, you know) and write you a $100 ticket."  

Laugh now all you want.  Because you'll want to remember those "happier" times when you're sobbing in that jail cell or writing that check out for that ticket.

Part 2 (or the continuation of my crazy-angry-homesteading-chick-rant) to follow tomorrow.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why I hate Chickens, Part 2

They tear up the gardens. I haven't had a single tulip pop up in years.  What the squirrels haven't dug up, the chickens immediately start scratching around when the leaves poke through the ground.   I planted a dozen each lilies and tulips, a handful of hyacinth, crocus and mums in the front flower garden.  Almost every one has been scratched to oblivian by their raptor-like claws.  Whoever said that you can garden with chickens is lying through their teeth.

My raised beds are completely useless.  The second I plant something in there and turn my back, the buggers are in there scratching around and looking for what they can eat.  We could use the raised beds in the winter and early spring when we had plastic covering the hoops, but now that the weather is like a billion degrees, the plastic had to come off.  This uncovering of the beds obviously signaled that the chicken salad buffet had officially opened.  I'll have to get some sort of light fabric or bird netting if I'm ever going to be able to use those beds again.

Even where we DO have a garden fenced off, the chickens will manage to flap their way up and over the 4' fence in order to dine on the berries and newly emerged succulent sprouts which you will never see a pea, bean or cucumber from.  I did manage to clip almost every wing in order to stop the berry-garden carnage, but obviously I missed at least one because I've had to chase it out of the garden half a dozen times.  You know, after it had been in there long enough to lay waste to my blueberries.

The also leave little booby traps for me. The dig holes in the dirt / wood chips for their dust baths -conveniently located directly in the middle of the path to the barn - ensuring a twisted ankle at least every other week.

Don't leave gathered seeds in a bowl, even for three seconds as chickens will automatically assume you have collected all those heirloom spinach seeds for their mid-morning snack.

Oh, and did I mention that I have another two hens gone broody on me?  Neither of which actually have any eggs under them.  I haven't decided if I'm going to continue flinging gently carrying them out of the coop or just collect some eggs and see if they'll hatch some chicks out.  I can't see the brooding going well as it got up to 100 degrees this weekend and it's supposed to be just as hot this week.

Then there's the Poop.  Oh my gawd, the poop.  On the porch.  On the patio furniture.  In the front yard.  On the goats - yes, on the goats.  Although Rhiannon has become somewhat of an expert at avoiding chicken landmines, there is still the occasional overlooked turd and she will come to Mom-Mom to scrape it off her shoe or foot.

Chicken excrement will take the finish off a car.  It will permenantly etch the industrial floor paint on a concrete patio. Although many a gardener will praise the nitrogen-rich benefits of composted chicken poop, I'm surprised that the Department of Defense hasn't used this stuff in some sort of biological weapon.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Blogging Anniversary Giveaway!

You know, it's about time we had a giveaway!  Well, when I say "we", I mean somebody else actually. I'm sure we're all crazy busy with our gardens, either dealing with the biblical-type flooding or the hotter-than-Hades weather and drought and I know it's been hard to keep up with all the blogs, but take a few minutes and go check out this one: Little Homestead in Boise.

Nancy is celebrating her One Year Blogiversary by having a giveaway.  Ain't that just sweet?!  I'm not going to tell you what the prize is, so you're just going to have to get your lazy bum over there and see for yourself.

Happy Anniversary, Nancy!  Keep on Blogg'n!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sorry buddy

I wasn't sure if I was going to share this with you because it doesn't have a very happy ending, but I couldn't help it.

Yesterday morning on my way to feed / water Ms. Melman & Nugget, I saw this poor thing caught up in the neighbor's fence:

I rushed back  home, told Paul to grab wire snips, gauntlet gloves and the cat carrier and we came back to try and get him out of the wire.

Not once did the owl flinch or kick or move.  I was kind of expecting a lot of biting and clawing but he was obviously so drained from being in there he was just too exhausted to put a fight.

We got him out, but couldn't get the barbed wire out of his legs and wing without tearing more flesh, so just snipped off the pieces to get him free.  One of the local Vets takes care of injured wildlife so I called ahead of time to warn them we were coming in with an injure Barred Owl.

The vet took the owl from us and we went back home to our regularly scheduled day.  I called the vet's office a few hours later and they said that they had to put him down.  There were just too many wounds and they weren't even sure he would have made it out of the surgery.

I felt terrible when I heard the news, although I was half-expecting that outcome.  And of course, I've been kicking myself in the pants, saying that if I had been up earlier I would have found him sooner and maybe he would have had a better chance.  I know, it's not my fault, but it still sucks.  I guess I should focus on the fact that I did find him and he didn't have to sit there in the sun all day and suffer a slow death from heat exhaustion (it was a hot one yesterday).

Ironically, this little guy would have grown up to be a potential eater of my chickens.  And even though I just rambled on about how many creatures I killed in my last post, I have a soft spot for some animals.  Even if they do have a liking for free-ranging home-grown chicken.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Killer Instincts

I'm a cold blooded murderer.  In just the past three days I've destroyed seven wasp nests, swatted and ground the carcasses of at least a half-dozen bald faced hornets into the ground, killed a snake and crushed the bodies of another seven or eight mice babies under my boot.

And I don't regret it.  It's darned hot outside (although not quite Suicidal Squirrel Hot), there's been no significant rain for over two months and because of that I'm just plain pissy.  The wasps and hornets are also particularly testy, which makes for an interesting time milking in the barn.  Lots of swatting, waving and swearing.   Do you really have to dive-bomb me when I'm in there?  Honestly?  Don't you have a million other bug things you could be doing?

Normally, unless the wasp nests are near a doorway or some place that Rhiannon plays, I leave them be.  I'm sure I'm jinxing myself now, but I've never been stung by a wasp.  Bald Faced Hornets (which are technically a wasp) and ground hornets (yellow jackets) are another story; I have been stung countless times and will kill each and every one I am able to.   I don't care if they help depopulate the annoying barn flies, they are all pricks and I say "Up Yours" to each and every one I can send to Vespidae Hell.

The mice problem in the barn isn't as bad since I cleaned it out a few weeks ago, but the little buggers will find any corner or otherwise secluded piece of barn real estate to set up camp.  While scooping chicken chow into buckets the other day, I thought I heard squeaking.  There isn't much crap in that section of barn, so I was a bit curious as to where the squeaks were coming from.  I moved the metal garbage can (which holds the chicken & goat feed) and the little buggers had made a nest underneath it.  I don't know how they squeezed under the thing, but apparently there was more than enough room for an entire rodent family.  Two adult mice managed to elude my clomping feet, but the nest of almost-too-cute-but-not-cute-enough baby mice met their maker via the bottom of my shoe.  The chickens were more than happy to indulge in a breakfast of tenderized rodent veal.

As for the black snake, I figured we had one or more visiting (i.e. lunching) the chicken coop as there are days when I'll only get a few eggs.  There are twenty laying hens.  I know it's hot, but that's not an excuse for getting only three eggs some days.  And last night I found the culprit, or at least one of the culprits.  So I picked up the six-plus foot writing mass of muscle (BTW, did you know that snakes will crap on themselves - and on you - as a means of defense? Ask me how I know this.) and took him out of the coop.

I love snakes.  Really, I do.  I actually had the nickname of Snake Woman in high school. But I don't love them nearly as much as much as I did pre-Krazo Acres.  For several years I was relocating the black snakes, even the copperheads.  No more.  Not only am I convinced that a black snake will travel over a mile to come back to the egg smorgasbord, but I swear they lay their eggs closer to their fast 'n easy snack shack (i.e. my chicken coop) as there seemed to be a black snake population explosion in the past year.  And the copperheads are no longer welcome now that Rhiannon came into our lives.

So what did I do with the trespassing serpent?  "Off with his head!", Queen of Hearts style.  And didn't feel guilty about it at all.  Well, maybe a bit.  Ok, I really do feel badly.   But life's hard here in the Ozarks.  Especially when the resident homesteader is hot, sweaty and generally in a pissy mood.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bye Bye Birdies

Well, they are gone.

I decided to give up Jake & Elwood, the wild turkey poults.  I was going back & forth on an almost hourly basis on if I should keep them or not.  I really did want a few turkeys for the Holidays this year, but I don't think I could bring myself to eat these guys.  I felt that divine intervention took at least a small part in their rescue from the brush hog and that they should live out their lives without having to worry about ending up as the main course at Holiday meal.

Although that could have happened here (the living out their lives in relative safety), I made the decision to give them away to another farm.  Honestly, I don't need another critter to take care of.  And although it wouldn't be that much more work, it all seems to just keep adding up.  And the farm they went to has other wild and domestic turkeys, so they won't have to worry about being the "odd poultry out" as they would be here.

I admit that I already kind'a miss them.  They were definitely more needy than any chickens I've hatched, so that made me feel a little more "special".  I'd bring them out from the brooder several times a day for a little poultry play time with Rhiannon, which both parties did seem to enjoy.  We had them outside for a while, but they took to freedom a bit too quickly (by refusing to come out from under the porch for quite some time) so outdoor time was limited to the kiddie pool (sans water, of course).
I hope they enjoy their new, vastly more social life.  And who knows, if Jake and Elwood turn out to be Jane and Elwood, maybe I can score a couple of their eggs one day and start up our own little wild turkey flock in the future (didn't I just say I didn't need any more work???).

We also had another set of feathered friends leave the farm this week.    I noticed that the Phoebe parents weren't hanging out (and pooping) around the porch and when I went to look in the nest, the babies were gone.  I checked my dates on when they hatched, so the timing was about right for them to fledge.  Although I suppose something could have eaten them (I caught a black snake eating their nest of newborns two years ago), we'll just stick with the story that they flew off and started their new bird life.  We've had the same Phoebe's come back to nest here for the past seven years.  I wonder if their offspring will come back to nest or if they are territorial and the parents won't let them nest here.

Now that they are gone, I guess it's about time I scrubbed the poop off the porch.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hillbilly Hasenpfeffer

We have a berry garden.  A fenced-in berry garden.  Not that we've ever tasted a berry from it, although technically it's only two years old.   But the chickens, wild birds and the ever-growing rabbit population get what little berries do manage to grow in there.

You would think that with a beagle and two part-time outdoor cats that the rabbit population wouldn't be a problem.  But there are only so many rabbits an old, overweight and generally lazy beagle mutt can chase down (or should I say, "waddle after") and the cats can only manage to get a few baby bunnies.   Being front de-clawed sucks if you want to hunt for your supper.

I've shot one rabbit this year and Paul got another one several weeks ago.  It's not like we get our game bag, cram shells into our pockets and grab the shotgun for a thrilling morning of rabbit hunting.  All the deceased rabbits have been in the berry garden. You know, where Paul put the small wire fencing up last year. To keep rabbits and other garden-destroying critters out.  But apparently there is a hole somewhere and the smaller rabbits can get in there.  Either that, or they've constructed some sort of catapult mechanism that they use to fling themselves up and over the fence.

I don't particularly like killing wild animals as they have every right to be here as we do.  But sometimes you just gott'a do it.  Sorry, but there is no question in my mind that feeding and caring for my family trumps any garden or livestock-destroying animal.  And no, I'm not going to start trapping them and relocating them to another area.  I used to do that with all sorts of creatures; opossums, raccoons, squirrels, even copperheads.  But then I figured that I'm just releasing those critters to become a nuisance to somebody else.  It's no better than dumping unwanted puppies or kittens down a country road.

So for the past few years I've been dealing with the destructive wild animals by ending their lives.  I'm sorry if some of you feel that this is cruel, but this is just how I have to do it.  And to show what a hypocritical nutjjob I am, and although it's probably animal racism, I still won't shoot any domestic animals (i.e. cats, dogs), although technically they haven't caused any problems (yet).  This is the main reason that when we do find evidence (like a destroyed berry garden or chickens sans heads) of a nuisance animal around the homestead, we set out a live trap.  This way we can decide who lives, dies or gets sent to the humane society.  All that power in our hands; the decision if another living creature "deserves" to live.  Makes you think.  A lot.

Wait a second, wasn't this post supposed to be about rabbits? Sorry, I just got rambling on there for a minute.

Back to the rabbit.

Paul got a clean shot off and brought the just-deceased rabbit to the front porch, asking me what I wanted to do with it.  The last one I shot got tossed into the depths of the compost bin and it killed me to waste it like that. But it was crawling, and I mean crawling with fleas.  When Paul brought this one up I was expecting the same, but it was pretty much "clean" so far as a wild rabbit goes.  So Paul gutted & skinned it and I cleaned it up and put it in salted water in the fridge overnight.

I'm sure you've all heard about rabbit fever.  All I know is that "they" say you're not supposed to eat rabbit in the warm months because you can get some horrible disease.  But I've never really had a good understanding of the why behind it so I did some research on Rabbit Fever, i.e. Tularemia.

And after doing my little bit of research and feeling that we followed safe butchering, handling and cooking procedures, we had supper:

And it was good (and none of us died).  All I did was put the cleaned, whole rabbit in a pressure cooker with two cups of water and a package of onion soup mix for 25 minutes at ten pounds of pressure.   Made a gravy out of the soup after the rabbit was finished and out of the cooker and served it with cooked carrots and a hillbilly rice pilaf (cream of mushroom soup cooked with rice).

So if we happen to catch another varmint in the berry garden, it's going right into the pressure cooker.   If you happen to find yourself with an out of season rabbit, don't automatically assume that it's not fit to eat.  But please do some reading about Tularemia (and local wildlife laws) first.

Here are a few good websites I found in my online research, feel free to educate yourself:

Oh, and by the way, we are not breaking any hunting laws according to the AGFC Code of Regulations, Section 05.10; Exceptions.  Just in case you were wondering.   And so Paul couldn't yell at me for self-incrimination.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why I hate Chickens, Part 1

Well, the two broody hens that I had (notice the past tense verb) setting on eggs last week have been thrown off their nests. The black hen on the floor was on a bunch of eggs one day, then the next day there is nothing underneath her and there are two dried yolk covered eggs just a foot away from her. Did a snake get in and eat all the eggs? Did some other chicken eat here eggs? Did she eat her eggs? Once her nest was ransacked, she hasn't gone back to setting on anything. Hopefully she'll go back to laying eggs though.

Then I noticed that the barred rock hen in the top nesting box had yolk on her breast feathers. I lifter her up (and got pecked to all heck) and noticed a broken egg shell. Only a few days earlier I found a broken egg under her, but just figured she cracked it while moving the other eggs around. Well, this time when I took the eggshell to get rid of it, she grabbed it and started eating it. So I tossed her off the nest and destroyed the remaining five eggs, two of which had small embryos in them. Dang it! Not that I would have fired up the incubator for just those few eggs, but it was still a bummer to see.

Hey Gloria, I'm going out to grab a bite to eat, want me to bring you a sandwich?
No thanks Bonnie, I just finished eating one of my unborn children.  But I wouldn't mind a soda.
The barred rock was back to her broody self in just a few days, having selected another nest box with a handful of eggs in it. But I immediately threw her off and collected the eggs. Did that two times now. She just won't give up. But the heck if I'm going to let her sit on a bunch of eggs that she'll just end up eating when she gets a hankering for a snack.

I've also been keeping an eye on one of the Black Australorp hens. I know she hasn't been laying in months now, but figured she was just having a bad streak. The past few weeks she's been getting slower and slower and although she was always one of the biggest hens I've had, she's been getting a little bigger in the abdomen, making me think that she's egg bound. If so, that would be the third egg bound hen we've had here. I don't know if that's a common thing in chicken keeping or not. But if she keeps getting worse I'm going to have to decide if I'm just going to let her hang out until she croaks or put her down. I guess it depends on how bad she's looking. I had one egg bound hen that although she was slow and obviously not in top condition, she still stretched out in the sun, pecked for bugs and took what looked like enjoyable dust baths. I just couldn't put her down. And one day I went out to the chicken yard and found her in the corner dead. 

The second egg bound hen went downhill very quickly and when it was obvious she was in pain, I put her down. So I guess I'll just see how the Black Australorp does day by day and make that nasty decision when it looks like she's had enough.

I tell you, it's like a frekking Poultry Soap Opera around here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Busy Bird Business

There has been quite a flurry of avian events around the homestead lately.

The Phoebes have been much more active and I figured it was time to go check out their new nest.  

Five little chicks!  That's a lot of bird to cram into one tiny little nest and a lot of bugs to be bringing in.  Last year's nest was knocked down from a nasty storm so they got to building a new nest this spring.  For a while I was wondering if I'd ever see any progress as they started building not only one, but three individual nests.  But they eventually settled on the current location and really built themselves a nice pad.  I'm not sure how old the chicks are, but if I had to guess I'd say just over a week old as that's when I think I noticed the increase in activity (and increase of little bird plops all over the porch).  Bit of trivia for ya: Did you know that Phoebe chicks get kicked out of the nest around eighteen days?  Wonder if Mom & Dad lets them come back after college??

My second batch of incubating eggs (over forty of them) yielded only one live hatch.  And it wasn't a good live hatch at that.  Usually, any leg problems we get are "splayed leg" chicks, which is easily remedied by constructing a teeny-tiny hobble out of soft cotton string and within a week they are pretty much indistinguishable from their brood mates.  But this wasn't a case of splayed leg; there was some serious deformity in one leg and there was no way to splint or hobble or otherwise "fix" it.  So after two days of watching it unsuccessfully walk around, I quickly ended it's life.  Two 100% failed hatchings this year; almost ninety eggs worth.

The surprise Easter Chick is doing well.  I opened the brooding pen two weeks ago so his mother could get some much needed outdoor time and so he could come & go as he pleased. I though for sure that he'd be picked on to the point of me having to lock him up again, but he's held his own.  And I know how he does it.  He's a frekking jerk.  As he has yet to figure out that all chickens are supposed to go into the coop at night, I have to hand-deliver him to the coop every evening.  And he pecks the crap out of me every time.  And I'm not talking just peck here peck there, that bastard bites and won't let go.  He almost became dinner a few days ago (another story I may share) but managed to live through it this time.  He's a rooster (if you haven't already guessed by my choice in pronouns) and most roosters are usually destined for the cook pot anyhow.  But given his particularly nasty behavior there is absolutely no question to his final destination; my dinner plate.

Although it seems as if my artificial incubating forays have been a complete disaster, I do have one - two actually - good things come from the weeks & weeks of incubator time:

Meet Jake & Elwood, my first turkey poults!
Christine named them, although I hope to have to change at least one of them to a more feminine name.  I was in Chicago when they hatched, so I came home to the little peepers all cozy in their little brooding box.  As these eggs were rescued from a brush hogging incident, I had no idea when they would hatch.  Originally there were eight eggs, but after candeling them I found six of them to be duds so we were down to two.  One of them has a misshapen foot, but it's obviously not hampering his ability to run around.  I'm not sure what I'll do about the foot, if anything.  The non-bum footed poult is a little less lively than his brother, but seems to be doing ok.  I've never raised turkeys before, so this is going to be a learning experience.

And as if to mock my continuing feeble attempts at artificial incubation and the unnatural brooding of poultry, Mother Nature has given me a big eye-roll and provided me with not one, but two broody hens.

They have been on their nests for over a week now.  When I first realized that they were going broody, I took the pullet eggs from them and replaced them with the older hen's eggs, hoping to get a better hatching rate from them.   The barred rock has six or seven eggs under her and the black hen is sitting on maybe eight eggs.  I really wish I could have shoved more eggs underneath them, but I didn't have many from the older hens.

So you win some and you lose some (like NINETY frekking eggs!!!), but time and life marches on.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

City Prejudice?

I made a quick trip up to Chicago to see my Dad, sees-ter and best friend over the weekend.  Dirt cheap airfare and I couldn't resist.  I planned on visiting, shopping at "real" stores and eating at restaurants that didn't have every menu item deep-fried and slathered in pork gravy.  You know, doing city kind'a stuff.

Paul complains that I go out too much (meaning to our "big" town).  That we moved to the country to get away from the city.  But I don't see why I can't still enjoy some of the city life.  City folk go on vacation to enjoy the country, why can't I go on vacation to see the city?  The main reason to leave the suburbs was to live in the country, not necessarily to forgo every single urban offering.  

Now that I think about it, it wasn't really hard to give up most of those "conveniences" because honestly, I didn't really see them as a convenience anyhow.  What good was it to have a million stores all around you when you couldn't safely walk to them?  You still had to get in a car to get anywhere, even if it was a half-mile away.  There were stores galore, but I was finding out that a lot of my purchases were out of boredom rather than necessity.  The higher paying jobs were there, but we spent more money
to live there.

As usual, I regress.  Back to my weekend.......

I visited with family and friends, ate way too much processed foods, baked goods (from a
real bakery, not the WM bakery) heavenly chocolates and drank an enormous amount of soda.  And although it was wonderful as I crammed those forbidden goodies down my maw,  I paid for it later.  I don't recall having such an upset stomach or pounding headache in my life.  It's amazing how much your digestive system changes once you make the move from processed foods to homemade cooking.  But I'll probably end up doing the exact same thing when I visit again.  I've already made notes for the next "Restaurant Crawl"; namely Sushi, Gyros and Thai food.

My sister and I also did a little bit of shopping.  Not that I really needed or wanted anything, but just to get out for a while.  Even with the opportunity to buy designer clothing at upscale department stores, I still couldn't bring myself to buy overpriced apparel, so we just window-shopped.  Which was still fun.  Mostly because we would snicker at the newest insane/wacko fashions or roll our eyes at the $65 price tag of a t-shirt (thinner than cheesecloth) made in China or a twenty dollar plastic bead bracelet.  I did, however, find three beautiful tops and a belt at a thrift store near my sister's house.  And I was a bit upset that one of the shirts put me back $7....but it was a beautiful dress shirt!

I also forgot about one of the little freedoms I have at home.  Namely going outside in my skivvies without having to worry about anyone seeing me (other than the livestock, of course).  I hand washed two of our new thrift-store finds and wanted to hang them outside to dry.  As Christine doesn't have a clothes line, I figured I'd just lay them over the patio chairs. But I had momentarily forgotten about the fact that I cannot just go out the back door in my skivvies.  The neighbor was outside watering his petunias and the community garden (which happens to back up to their yard) was full of mid-morning gardeners.  Never thought that going out half-naked to hang up your britches would be a country-living advantage, did ya?

So even though I occasionally long for some of the suburban / city life, I don't regret our move to the country one bit.  But I also don't regret making trips to the city.  
I'm sure that there are people that live in the most remote parts of the country and don't make a trip to the city for months or even years, and I admire the fact that they are self-sufficient enough to be able to do that.  I see it that I have the best of both worlds.  I live in the country but can still enjoy a little bit of the city life - it doesn't have to be "All or Nothing".  Even though Paul has been making me feel badly for leaving him and Rhiannon alone (probably because he had to milk goats and clean out litter boxes), I don't feel guilty about enjoying my trip to the city.  

And I'm looking forward to my next trip.

Friday, June 8, 2012

I Dream of Cream

Although we have a plethora of fresh milk here on the homestead, we are at a loss for cream.  Well, at least at a loss for easily obtained cream.  

Goat milk is naturally homogenized so the cream does not rise to the top like it does with fresh cow milk.  If I want to get some cream out of my goat milk, I have to let the milk set in the fridge, undisturbed, for four or more days.  Some of the cream will rise to the top, but it's usually only a couple of tablespoons worth per half gallon jar.  I'll skim that little bit off the top & put it into a container in the freezer for using in recipes like Creamed Lambs Quarters.  At one point I had eventually accumulated enough to make butter, but it didn't turn out.  Not sure why, all I know is that I wasted a bunch of cream.

Technically, there is a mechanical device called a cream separator which would allow my milk to be relieved of it's cream, but there's no way I could justify spending upwards of $300 on a contraption like that.  Even at today's high butter prices, I would have to make one hundred pounds of butter to get our money out of it.  Not only that, but cleaning it is a huge pain in the behind.  I know this because we did have a manual cream separator years ago; I could never get it to work properly and everything had to be taken apart and cleaned after each use. Which would be ok except there were like a million pieces to clean....and put back together each time.

So even though Paul has mentioned the possibility of getting a family milk cow one day (yes dear, you
did say that), I am still without the means to acquire any significant amount of cream from my current dairy animals.  Whenever Julie over at Mooberry Farm posts pictures of Matilda, I break out in hives with envy.

I want so desperately make sour cream, cream cheese and butter and ice cream.  

Well, I think I may the answer to two of the above problems; Yogurt!

Yogurt cream cheese spread on homemade toast.
In my attempts to make a thick homemade yogurt from our goat milk, I've done a lot of straining.  And I kept some of it in the strainer until it was really, really thick. This batch wasn't very tart so I just added a bit of stevia to it, stirred it in and I had a darned close substitute to cream cheese!

I did the same thing with a very tart batch of yogurt, but instead of adding stevia, I added a drop of lemon juice.  Pseudo-sour cream!  

Goat cheese, beef and onion stuffed Enchilada topped with
more goat cheese (hey, we got a lot of cheese around here)
and a couple hearty dollops of my pseudo sour cream!
I'm not sure if the pseudo sour cream and cream cheese will work the same in cooked or baked dishes, but I'm sure I'll end up experimenting.

Another two items to scratch off my grocery list!  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Seeing triple???

We have three cats.  But only two black cats.
One black kitty, two black kitties.  THREE black kitties???
And either my eyes are deceiving me (and I just got an eye exam and new glasses), there is a strange reflection in the window (doubtful there could be a reflection as it is a really really dirty window) or there is another black cat outside on the back balcony.

I guess it shouldn't come as that big of a surprise as I've been covertly feeding the little bugger.  It's been about two weeks since s/he has been hanging around the homestead, but mainly by the barn.  I saw it eating leftover chicken scratch out of the chicken bowl one evening as I was putting the chickens in for the night. What cat eats chicken scratch??  Well, a starving one I figure.  So every night I've been putting some kitty kibble out there for it, hoping to eventually lure it into the chicken / goat barn so I can have a bonafide Barn Cat. 

There was another tabby that was hanging out around the barn last year, but when we got Harley, BK (short for Barn Kitty) decided it was safer to live somewhere else and moved on.  Which is all well and good as he wasn't a very friendly cat anyhow.

The black cat is nowhere as skittish as BK, and will even come around when I call it (meow-meow-meow) around dinner time.  I haven't been closer to it than this afternoon, although it was through a glass door.  I'm hoping to eventually get it friendly enough that I can trap it and take it to the vet for shots and fixing.  I am concerned about Evil Kitty and Susan though, as they are indoor / outdoor cats and I don't want any cat fights happening, so I've been keeping them inside as much as possible.  

I would be thrilled to have a real barn cat.  The mice in the barn drive me frekking insane.  And Paul DID say that I could have another cat as long as it stayed outside.  Now I just have to convince the new feline that the barn is a wonderful place to hang out, eat and sleep.

And what is it with black cats and me?  Susan was a stray that we brought with us from Illinois and Evil Kitty was found here by one of our dogs.  Now this black cat. Would it be that much to ask for a Calico?  Or even one of those "boring" orange cats? 

Paul's Take

Would it be that much to ask for all the cats to stay outside?  I don't like cats. They're fility creatures; they piss & crap in the house, and not always in the stinky litter box.  She can have all the barn cats she wants as long as they STAY outside. Susan and Evil Kitty started as outdoor cats.  Then they somehow managed to make their way into the house.  I will divorce her if another stinking cat comes in this house.

PS  - If you want a "You'll piss yourself it's so funny" cat story, hop on over to Prairie Cat's Tale of the Vent Kitty.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Salvaging the yogurt

Any of you that have been following my blog for any amount of time should know that there was no way I was going to just throw out all my failed runny yogurt. And I really wasn't feeling gracious enough to give it to the dogs, cats or chickens.

I made this yogurt darnit, I was going to eat it!  So here are a few things I did with all that fermented and runny milk goodness:

Frozen Chocolate Yogurt Cups
Runny yogurt, little bit of Ovaltine, drop of Stevia & into the freezer!
Sour yogurt biscuits.  Homemade biscuit mix, one
egg and enough really tart yogurt to make biscuit dough.
Peanut butter, honey & yogurt whipped up for dipping apples!

Yogurt Pound'ish Cake
Since the Yogurt Pound'ish Cake turned out so well, I'll share the recipe with you....

1 Cup Butter, softened
2 Cups Sugar
3 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla
8 oz. Runny Yogurt
2 1/2 Cups Flour (I used 1/2 white & 1/2 whole wheat)
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt

Cream butter & sugar, add eggs, vanilla, runny yogurt & mix.  Add sifted flour, soda, salt & add to bowl.  Mix well.  Pour into greased & floured pan.  Bake in pre-heated 325 degree oven for 70 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes then flip over to release the cake.


I also made yogurt sour cream by taking the really tart runny yogurt and straining it through cheesecloth overnight.  Delicious on baked potatoes or anywhere sour cream is called for.  I haven't tried cooking with it as a substitute for sour cream yet though, but will let you know when I do.

And of course, yogurt smoothies.  Who could forget about those?  Fruits, sweetener, semi-frozen runny yogurt, blender, done!

Yes Jane, I have "embraced the runny". :)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Berry Good!

Hopefully one day we will have tons of blueberries and raspberries and blackberries and other sweet goodness in our Berry Garden.

Half of the blueberry bushes were planted just last year, the other half this year. The grapes are also new this year and we still haven't replaced the dead blackberries and raspberries.  And until we can stop the chickens, the occasional onslaught of rabbits (one which recently became dinner, more to come on that later) and wild birds from eating all those few delicious bits of sweetness, we will have to rely on purchasing our berries if I want any cobbler, pie or jam.

This past weekend, both grandmas, Rhiannon and I went to the local berry farm to go berry picking!  The blueberries weren't at their peak ripeness, so we only got a gallon of them.  I'm hoping to go back out there next week and get some more. While the grandmas and Rhiannon were plopping blueberries in the buckets (and stuffing them into their maws), I strolled over to the blackberry patch and quickly filled a gallon bucket.  

I only took a few cups of the blueberries for fresh munching and the grandmas split the rest.  
The blackberries were huge, but not very sweet, and not squishy-juicy ripe.  But that's just fine because I didn't plan on eating them out-of-hand; I wanted them for making blackberry jam!

I made two batches; one with pectin the other without.  I opened a jar of the pectin-added jam and it didn't set up as firmly as I would have thought.  Still wonderful on a fresh out'a the oven slice of bread though.  When we finish up that jar, I'm going to see how the jam without pectin set up.  I'm hoping to give a few of these for the holiday season so I want to make sure I give the best ones as gifts.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Yogurt saga continues

In an effort to make a reliably good and thick yogurt, I've been using almost all my spare milk in yogurt experiments.

I wanted to try omitting the sugar this time.  I heated the fresh milk up to 190 degrees, cooled it to 110 degrees, dumped the starter (homemade runny yogurt) and a cup of powdered milk into the half-gallon jar, then put it into the oven to keep it warm. And that's where the trouble started.  I have no idea how it would have turned out as I made a fatal (for the yogurt, that is) error:

Jar was saved, but the lid melted to the top and
the yogurt turned into a cheese-like clumpy mess.
Because my oven is electric, it doesn't have that handy-dandy little pilot light. You know, that little feature that allowed your oven to be at the perfect temperature to keep things warm, or to say, incubate some yogurt.  In order to circumvent this little oven problem I have, I put the jar of yogurt in the oven, turned it on for about thirty seconds to warm it up, then turned it off.  Or at least I thought I turned it off.  I swear I did.  Really.

Paul comes up to me about fifteen minutes later and says, "I though you told me not to turn the oven on."  What?  Oh crap!  So I fling the oven door open, grab a pair of hot mitts and take my cooked yogurt out of the oven.  Another yogurt attempt down the drain.  Well, not exactly down the drain, but into the chicken bucket.

And you know what?  I did the exact same thing.  That same evening.  But this time I caught it before the oven temperature got too hot.  I don't know if I'm losing my mind or if I'm not pushing the "Stop" button on the oven hard enough.  This time I just used a half-gallon of still warm goat milk (instead of heating / cooling the milk beforehand), about a cup of homemade starter (runny yogurt) and a cup of powdered milk.  I left it in the oven overnight, for about twelve hours.  And when I opened the jar in the morning, it was like yogurt!!  Not thick yogurt by any means, and probably still a bit runnier than store bought, but by gawd, I finally did it!  

After it cooled down in the fridge for several hours, I strained it to get a really thick consistency.  Out of a half-gallon of milk, I come out with a quart of yogurt.  Not the best ratio in my opinion, but it's better than nothing and the chickens get the whey for breakfast.  

Although I'm happy about my successful batch of yogurt, I'm now wondering if it was just a fluke.  Throughout the whole yogurt making fiasco, I've been wondering if I'm not being clean enough.  I think I practice pretty good milking protocol, but there's always the thought in the back of my head that there is some sort of nasty bacteria or pathogen furiously breeding in my dairy products.  But I haven't died yet, so I suppose that's good, right?  Right.

I have a milk customer picking up her two gallons today, so I'll start my yogurt experimentation again with tonight's milk and try to duplicate my last effort in hopes of getting another quart of yogurt.

In the mean time, I've been finding things to do with all that runny yogurt.  Yummy things.  But you'll have to wait a day or so for that post!