Friday, August 31, 2012

Rain? Only once in a Blue Moon apparently.

Ok, let me start this post with an admission and an apology.

That was it.

Now here is what it was for.

I am being ungrateful - that's the admission.  I know I should be grateful for whatever rainfall we receive in light of our recent droughts (yes, that's a plural).  I should be outside thanking the Lord, the heathen gods, the Morlocks for whatever amount of rainfall comes our way.  But I was hoping for creek-bank bursting, dam filling, ground soaking, aquifer filling deluge.  And that didn't happen.

I feel slighted, screwed, jipped, and even a bit bitter (did you know I was a bitter person??)  An entire stinking hurricane comes straight through our state and all we get is an inch of moisture?!  And I'm sure there are other drought-stricken areas that were praying for rain and got zip out of this.  Tropical Depression?  More like Tropical Depressing.  I blame my heightened and probably over-zealous expectations of sky-moisture on the weatherman.  If there wasn't such a hype about the coming rain, I would have normally been ecstatic about the current weather conditions.

But I do feel a bit guilty for my current inability to be thankful. We have actually had a nice light rainfall on and off since late last night.  As I look out the window right now, the rain has stopped.  Again.  But after all the dire warnings of "Flash Floods" and "3-plus inches" of rainfall expected, I was left, well, longing.

And I'm sorry - there's the apology - for those that were adversely affected by Isaac's moisture and wind output.*  I joke about loving hurricane season as it usually means rain for us, but I can't even imagine having to go through a real (as opposed to fake?) hurricane.

I hope that Isaac doesn't putter out before giving some more of the drought stricken areas some relief.   My laptop has had the regional radar constantly streaming and I am checking it like every thirty minutes as if my diligent surveillance of the green, orange and red blobs of color transposed over a map of the Midwest can somehow change the outcome of weather patterns.  And to think I used to make fun of those "older" people who always had the Weather Channel on their televisions.

In the mean time, enjoy the rain if you're getting any and go out tonight and see the last Blue Moon until the summer of 2015!

* I do not, however, care one lick if Rachel from Cardmember Services had her house washed away in the flood.  STOP CALLING ME!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Waiting on Isaac

I know that I shouldn't say this, but I was relieved to hear that there was a hurricane south of us.  Not because I'm a heartless bastard and enjoy the havoc that it brings upon those in the gulf area, but because it usually means rain for us.  And we so desperately need the rain this year.  My prayers go out to those being affected by the hurricane though.

Of course, we're going to have to prepare as it's expected to rain for two days here and more than likely that will mean flash flooding along the creeks and rivers, but hopefully the dams will keep up with the excess water as they are about 6' below normal because of the drought.  We're well uphill from the large creek down the hill so there's no chance of flooding at the house, but two days of steady rainfall will mean barn chores will be interesting.

As those of you who are keepers of goats, you no doubt know that they absolutely detest rainfall.  So basically my little herd will be either under the barn or inside the barn.  The entire time even a drop of rain falls from the sky.  Their hay rack is outside of the barn.  Which means that they won't be venturing out to eat hay.  Which means that I'll probably have to open up a stall in the barn to feed them hay.  Which means they will stay in there and mess it up.  I was really meaning to get a lean-to built for their manger and a place they can eat without getting wet, but it got put on the back burner like every other project around here.  And since it rained, like maybe twice during the entire year, this project was forgotten.  Until now when it rains.

The chickens will eventually come out in the rain to forage, but I assume they will take up their usual unfair-weather posts under or in the barn and I'll have to feed them in there also. Which means even more barn animal excrement will mess up the barn.

We did finally get the remaining bales of hay tarped.  Yesterday.  Of course, nothing like the last minute.

I'm also anticipating loss of electricity.  Seems like a squirrel farts around here and the power goes off.  So with the anticipated rain and accompanying winds, I figure we'll lose power.  Hopefully not for too long or I might lose the eggs in the incubator.  Which are less than a week from hatching.

I vacuumed all that I could, did all the laundry that needed cleaning and just came in from finishing up evening barn chores.  I fed & milked the goats about two hours early, not that they minded eating earlier, and took care of the equines earlier than normal.

Time to go around the house and make sure I got candles, matches, flashlights, oil lamps, etc. ready.  If Isaac is on his way to your homestead, are you ready?

Jelly Time

After processing the grapes into juice, it was time to make the jelly.

I put five cups of grape juice into the pot, turned on the heat to high and stirred in the package of pectin until it was dissolved.  Brought the juice/pectin to a roiling boil for one minute, then dumped the six cups of sugar in.  Stirred until it came back to a roiling boil for a full minute then took it off the burner.

Poured the almost-jelly into pint jars, wiped rims, placed lids and bands on and processed in my canning pot for 10 minutes.  While the first batch was in the canner, I started on the second batch.

And here's what I ended up with:

Actually, there is one more pint jar and a small jelly jar but I stuck those in the fridge (have to taste test you know), so I got over nine pints of grape jelly processed. I also have about a pound and a half of grapes as well as 4 1/2 cups of juice left.  I put the grapes in a bag and the juice in a glass jar (with room for expansion, of course!) and stuck it in the freezer.  I figure when I get my butt back outside I'll pick some more grapes and continue my jelly making.

I did notice that the jelly was much darker than the 2010 harvest and it seems to taste a lot more "grapey".  I think it may be because the grapes were so small and maybe the grapey'ness was therefore more concentrated.  Got me.  All I know is that if I can get another two batches done I'll be set in grape jelly for at least a year.

When we went berry picking at the local berry farm this spring, I picked enough to make over seven pints of blackberry jam.  And in the next few days I'll be trying my hand at Apple (core) Jelly.

I think we'll be set in the jelly department after that.  Now if I could just grow peanuts :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making Wild Grape Juice

In order to make grape jelly, one must first make grape juice.

Take three pounds of de-stemmed and washed wild grapes:

Dump them into a large pot and smash them a bit with a potato masher (or other clean instrument suitable for smashing).  Pour 3 cups of water over them and turn the heat onto medium / high, occasionally stirring and gently smashing the grapes.  I simmered my pot for about fifteen minutes.

Take the pot of grape stew off the burner and strain it through a sieve.  I gave it a good smoosh with the masher in order to get as much grapey goodness out of it.  Some people will swear that you have to just let the stuff drip through a jelly bag (or good cheesecloth) in order to get the clearest juice.  But since I'm impatient, I speed things up a bit and smash mine.  I'm sure there's more sediment in my jelly this way, but I'm not that particular on having a crystal-clear jelly.

After straining/smooshing through the sieve, I strain it through the sieve again but this time I line it with a clean cloth.  This will eliminate most of the solid grapey stuff (i.e. sediment).  At first the juice will pour right through the cloth, but very shortly the dripping stalls to a maddening slower-than-molasses drip.  So I rinse out the cloth and strain the remaining juice through the clean cloth.  I have to do this cloth-cleaning several times.
Straining juice after several cloth-cleanings.
Aren't those colors just beautiful?
From three batches (each 3 lbs. grapes to 3 cups water) I got thirteen cups of grape juice.  It's a beautiful, dark purple.  The picture doesn't do it justice.

Those jars went into the refrigerator.  I was going to start right on making jelly from there, but I needed a break (and needed to start on supper).  Tomorrow is Jelly Time!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We have wild grapes!

I really didn't think we'd get any wild grapes this year.  This year's drought seemed worse than last year, but the grapes survived!  Since we didn't get to harvest any grapes last year, that meant no grape jelly for 2011.  I had to ration the 2010 batch which wasn't much fun.

The grapes seemed ripe for the pick'n this weekend, so I spent several hours picking clusters and plucking the tiny fruits from the stems.  There were three grape vines right by the house so I focused my time on gathering them.  There was, however, a vine right up the road in the ditch that had the biggest grapes on them I've ever seen in a wild grape:
My puny grapes on the left, Monster-Ditch-Grapes on the right.
I managed to snag about a dozen of those puppies and brought them home.  They almost look like table grapes!  I bit into one.  Most definitely not a fresh-eat'n grape.  Very tart, but oh so grapey!

I'm thinking I may take a cutting of that particular vine this fall and try propagating it.  I mean, can you imagine how much jelly / juice / wine I could make with those babies??

Anywho, there are still tons of grapes left on the vines here at home. Unfortunately most of them are like 30' up in the air.  Those suckers really like to climb.  My grape-picking height is restricted now to my reach while standing in the bed of the truck with a step stool (if you just so happen to be my homeowners insurance agent, please disregard that last sentence).  If I'm ambitious enough, I'd like to start pruning and training those vines lower to the ground for easier harvesting.  I just hope I don't kill the vines in the process.

I picked a total of two gallons of grapes this weekend.  It doesn't seem like a lot, but it was pretty time consuming.  I'd really like to get my bum back out there and pick at least another two gallons.

Tomorrow I'll be spending most of the morning processing the grapes into juice.  When I've got a good amount, I'll make the juice into jelly.  Stay tuned for juice and jelly pictures!

Monday, August 27, 2012

State of the Hen House Address

I know I'll be saying I wish I had some broody hens next spring, but for now, I'm glad that mine are finally over their broody behavior.

The first hen hatched out eight eggs and six chicks survived.  Not too bad of a chicken mama.  Except she deserted her brood after only three weeks.  I had her and her chicks locked in the kidding pen, but after a few weeks she started flapping her way over the door and joining the flock.  She would come back at night to sleep with the chicks, but eventually even gave that up.

The second hen (who managed to eat almost her entire unborn brood) hatched out a single chick.  I put her and her chick in the kidding pen with the abandoned chicks.  At first, the hen chased the older chicks everywhere, but after a day or two she got bored with chasing them around.  And after a week and a half, got bored with staying in with them at all.  Flew the coop.  Great.  Now I hand deliver her back to her chick each night so they can snuggle.

About a week later, the third broody hen (who crushed all but three eggs in her clutch) hatched out a single chick.  There were actually two more eggs underneath her, but I took them away after two days as she still wanted to sit and wasn't paying much attention to the newly hatched chick.  I candled the eggs and one was a dud and the other I wasn't sure of.  So I put it in the incubator and sure enough, two days later there was a chick peeping inside.  Not sure of the reasons for the long delay between hatchings, probably somebody sat in her nest and laid an egg after she started setting.  Anyways, I took the not-quite-out-of-the-shell chick and shoved it underneath the hen at night and crossed my fingers that she didn't freak out and peck it to death.  The next morning I went out there and there were two fluffy chicks, one four days younger than it's sibling, but doing well.

Because I'm a glutton for punishment,  almost two weeks ago I filled up the incubator with forty-five eggs and turned it on.  Twelve eggs have already been tossed because they were infertile, and I'd guess that about another dozen are "maybes".  I erred on the side of "hopefully a good maybe" for those and kept them in the incubator.  No skin off my back if they are in there and if I'm lucky, my candling guesses were incorrect and some of those "maybes" will turn into live hatches.  I'm hoping to have better luck than my spring incubating efforts (i.e. only two darned live chicks out of over ninety eggs).  It feels like I just stopped worrying about eggs and chicks and brooding and now I go ahead and started all over.

But there is a method to my madness.  Really.  Hear me out...

We usually order Cornish cross meat birds in the beginning of September for butchering in November.  So if I plan my homegrown hatching to correspond with the delivery of the meat chicks, I can put them all together in one pen and brood them all at the same time.  Hopefully, the beginning / middle of November will be cool enough for butchering the meat birds yet still warm enough that the homegrown egg laying chicks will be feathered out nicely and won't require supplemental heat.

That's the theory anyhow.

So at least I've got something growing this year!  We may not have much fruit or vegetables, but there sure is plenty of protein either running around (meat birds), waiting for collection in nest boxes (eggs), or in the milk pail on our homestead.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Logistics of Hay, Part 4 - Hay Storage

We've been getting our hay in large rounds for over a year now.  Although I like the ease of working with the smaller square bales, it's just too expensive that way.

The mule barn can hold eight round bales (more if we stacked them, but I'm a bit leery of having them 2-high), but with this year's drought and last year's still crisp in our minds, we stocked up.  Bought six bales earlier this spring and got another ten bales over a month ago, and there were still two in the barn.

Since we don't have enough barn area to store all the bales up at the barn, we had to do something to get the remaining bales under cover.  Granted, you don't have to have them covered up, but it most definitely decreases the likelihood of them getting mold or mildew.

Last year, we brought two round bales to the house for the goats.  In order to make it easier to get the hay off the roll, Paul tipped them on end so I'd just have to walk around the bale and peel off hay as I went.  We put tarps over the bales to protect them from the weather and figured the hay was safe that way.  The first roll was fine, but when I got to the second roll, I untarped it and found mildew/mold all around it.  Not that it was totally unexpected, but what I didn't expect was to find that the mildew went ALL the way through the bale.

Normally, if round bales are stored outdoors, they are on their sides.  I thought this was just because it was how it came off the bailer and made it easier to move (i.e. roll) them around.  But apparently they are also stored this way to help with shedding rainfall.  I know this now.

Since our bales were tipped on end, any water or moisture that happened to get under the tarps just drained down into the center of the bale.  Then add the fact that it was tarped, what moisture was in there wasn't able to evaporate because of the tarps on top.  Wonderful environment to promote mildew and mold.

So Paul ended up rolling the $65 bale of hay down the hill.  Pretty expensive mulch, hugh?

Anyways, back to this year's hay.

Since we had six bales that wouldn't fit in the barn, Paul made some cattle panel hoop houses for them:

Although you can't see it, there is a wood pallet under each bale.  This will keep the bottoms relatively dry and as a bonus, the bales can be moved with the forks on the tractor.  We still need to get another tarp or two in order to cover the end bales.  Everything else we already had here on the homestead, so it really didn't cost us anything "extra".

The end bale is tipped up on end so I can peel the hay away.  There's a tarp directly above, not on it, so there is still air circulation to keep mildew / mold at bay.  As I go through each bale, we'll just take a panel hoop and tarp off, remove the t-posts, tip the next bale on end, and open the new bale.  The materials would just go back into our homesteading inventory until we needed them again.

I was thinking that we would have a shed roof put on the ends of Paul's building (you know, the one in our dreams) to store our hay, but honestly, I think I would be more than happy with using this Hay Hoop House from now on.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Could it be?

That Summer is finally loosening it's grip?

Yesterday morning I was outside doing barn chores.  There was a layer of fog covering everything and when I got back inside, I had the sudden urge to have some tea.  Not my normal glass of iced tea, but this:

Hot tea!  Vanilla Caramel Truffle Shouldn't Really Be Called Tea, cup of tea!

Of course, as the day wore on and the temps came up, I almost forgot I had downed a 125 degree cup of liquid just hours earlier.

Our daytime highs are only supposed to be in the mid to upper 80's this week.  This weekend was so beautifully warm (as opposed to scorching hot) that Rhiannon and I took a picnic lunch down to the river.

Paul, as usual, worked on the homestead this weekend splitting wood (can you even imagine starting the stove in this weather??), mowing the weeds (i.e. lawn) and other miscellaneous farmstuff including constructing a shelter for our round bales.  I'll do a post on the hay hoop shelter in my next post.

Got to get going.  Weather is too nice to be sitting inside :)

Monday, August 20, 2012


As my random number generator (Rhiannon) is still asleep, I resorted to assigning everyone a number (you got two numbers if you submitted a cat story/joke) and did the online version of Rhiannon picking a name out of the hat.

Lucky number six was the winner!  Come on down and claim your prize!

Oh, yeah, number six would be Mama Pea!

Shoot me an email at carolynrenee at centurytel dot net and I'll have Paperback Swap send your book to you!

Congrats to Mama Pea, and thank you all for entering and sharing your kitty stories!

See you all later, I'm off to do nothing the rest of the day! (rolls eyes)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Last day for giveaway!

I'll have Rhiannon pick the name of the lucky winner of The Education of Little Tree tomorrow morning, so if you haven't already, submit your entry either HERE or on this post.

You get one chance for just saying you'd like to enter, and another bonus chance if you can think of a funny cat story or joke.  Apparently there aren't that many cat jokes around, never really thought about it before.  Wonder why?  My cats are doing funny shit all the time.  Running around like crazed madkitties when they get a plastic bag handle stuck over their heads.  Frantically trying to run away from the poop stuck to their back end.  Attacking unsuspecting pooches stuck with whoopee collars on their heads.  Oh, sorry.  That would be Susan's cat.  Although I'm not quite sure what a whoopee collar is, I'm assuming it's one of those funnel like collars that prevent dogs from licking / chewing at a spot on their body.

And speaking of funny cat stories, there is one that I go back to over and over.  It's The Tale of Vent Kitty.  I almost pee'd myself when I first read this.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thought I lost these.....

...because I haven't seen nor used them say, since winter maybe???

We had some much needed and welcome rain yesterday afternoon and more again this morning.   Nothing record breaking or even something we would normally even give a second thought to in a non-drought year, but it was a wonderful blessing from above nonetheless.

Technically, I didn't really need to wear the boots.  The goat pen is still pretty muck-free, but I felt that I should get some use out of them and tried to stomp around in what puddles I could find.  

Besides, they're kind'a fancy looking, don't ya think?  And you all know I'm all about fancy :)

Wann'a chance to win a good book?  Click HERE to enter!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Almost Homemade Kind'a Fresh from the Garden Salsa

Ok.  I'm insanely jealous.  Pretty close to seething, actually.

Everybody but me is proudly showing off their bushels and bushels of tomatoes, peppers and other nummy garden bounty and all I have to show for it is a hand full of the toughest string beans known to humankind and a few patty pan squash that I have no idea how to cook.

Well, I have been picking a few green and hot peppers from the garden and a friend has been gifting me with some of her prolific peppers.  So I'm pretty good in the pepper department.

So, what does one do with green peppers when there are no tomatoes to make salsa with?  Well, I do the Almost-Home-Made thing.  I went and bought a jar of plain "Thick and Chunky" salsa at the grocery store and doctored it up a bit:

First of all, the store bought jar was neither thick nor chunky.  False advertising if you asked me.  But what does one really expect from a store-brand jar of salsa anyhow?

I dumped the jar of "salsa" into a large bowl.  Then added half a can of corn (left over from dinner the previous evening), an entire can of black beans (rinsed first), chopped up some onions and the homegrown green peppers, added some fresh ground pepper and a teaspoon of cilantro.

Yup.  Doing what I can with what I got, simple - and yummy - as that.

Maybe next year I'll be able to really make my own homemade salsa.  Corn, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions, black beans, cilantro.  I think I can handle that.  You know.  Next year.  When the word "drought" is just a bad memory.

Oh, and the salsa pictured above is already gone.  There are a few crumbs left in the chip bag.

Don't forget to enter the giveaway for an awesome book!  Click HERE to enter!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chick and Giveaway

One of the two remaining broody hens actually hatched out a chick!  As in one. As in started with a dozen eggs and only managed to not destroy three eggs after three weeks.  One of the three eggs was a dud (the contents sloshed about when I picked it up and shook it a bit), the other one was a green egg, but I wasn't sure if it was a dud or not.  I let her set on it another two days then took it away from her and put it under the other broody hen.  Not exactly sure what I'll do if it actually hatches as it will be several days before the other four eggs under her, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I know I'm constantly complaining about the broody hens and their apparent inability to not crush, eat or otherwise destroy their unborn offspring, but even this single little peeping ball of fluff makes it worth it.

So in order to celebrate this new little spark of life that has blessed our homestead (although in all honesty, may be blessing our supper plate if it's another stinking rooster), I'm going to have a giveaway!

I've actually been wanting to do this giveaway for a while now, but for whatever reason haven't got my bum in gear to do it.  I'd been waiting for some sort of "special" event or a sign from the heavens or something corny like that, but I got sick of waiting.  So up for grabs is the following book:

I guess I should have waited until gardening and canning season were over when you'll actually have some time to sit down and read it, but I figure if you can't squeeze in some reading time now you can put it away until winter.

And my apologies to Susan over at e-i-e-i-omg! as she probably won't be entering this contest as I know she already has the book.  She is the one who suggest it months & months ago and I picked it up from  Although I'm not excluding her from the contest as she could then pass the book on to one of her friends.  Or just have two copies.  One for home, one for the car?  One for her, one for the cat?  Heck, now she'll have to enter just so I don't feel badly for saying that she probably wouldn't!  Anyways....

Once I got it and started reading, I couldn't put it down.  It was such a great read.  I'll probably read it many, many more times.  How am I going to do that if I give my copy away, you ask?  Well, I'm not actually giving my copy away.  I still have some credits over at Paperback Swap so the winner will get one mailed from them.

So, thanks again Susan!  Let's keep passing on the wonders of this little piece of literature :)

Oh, yeah.  How to enter the contest.

Make a comment on this post saying you'd like to be entered.  And if you make another comment (can be on the same posting) with a cat joke or a funny/happy cat story you'll get a second chance!

Contest ends sometime late night Sunday the 19th, winner to be announced whenever I wake my lazy arse up on Monday and have Rhiannon pick a name out of the basket.  USA and Canada residents only.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Death on My Watch

Just over a week ago, I got a call from a lady down the road that needed to get rid of her laying hens.  They were a year and a half old, laying well, but a storm blew a huge tree onto their Chicken Condominium (man, this thing was spiffy!!) and they just wanted to get out of the chicken business.

Anyhow, I said I'd come over and help her round up the hens and give them a good home, be it with us or our neighbor's place.

Got the hens, a bunch of chicken "accessories" (no, not bracelets and hats for the biddies, just feeders and waterers) and took them home.  Paul put up some wire mesh on the door of the kidding pen so the new hens couldn't get out and I put them in their new abode:

They were quite the motley crew of chickens as five of them were missing almost all of their butt feathers and one had a naked neck.  The dominant hen was pretty much full of feathers, so I'm assuming that the nakedness was from picking & pecking.  But other than being a bit revealing, they were laying the first day I had them in the pen.

I wasn't sure how I was going to integrate the new gals into the flock, especially with their exposed skin, which was sure to be noticed by the current flock.  I figured I would just keep them locked up in the pen until they grew their feathers back then just let them out & fend for themselves.  This would probably have taken several weeks.  And I wasn't really sure if I wanted to be babysitting another flock of birds.

Our neighbors have been chicken-less for several months now.  They've been having predator problems, even with them locked up at night.  Something was taking their hens at night, inside the coop, one by one.  No blood, no big pile of feathers, just missing chickens.  So when they got down to a few hens, one of them an egg-eater at that, they just gave them away and figured they'd start over again after the heat of summer.

I have chickens I didn't really want, and I had neighbors that wanted chickens again.  So I gave them to the neighbors who were more than happy to have a small flock of already-laying hens.

The neighbors had planned a short weekend vacation prior to acquiring the new hens, so they asked if we would watch the hens.  Of course, no problem!  Open the coop in the morning, feed & water them, collect eggs, close the coop up at night.  Repeat.

Except instead of finding seven hens one morning, there were only four.  There were seven when I locked them up.  No blood, no chicken "parts" no more than a few feathers scattered here or there.  The neighbors are gone one stinking night and almost half of their flock is already gone!  That night I made sure that the coop door was locked and walked around to see if there were any obvious breaches in the floor or door.  The coop door itself is a bit wobbly, and if you pushed on it a certain way there is a gap of a few inches, so I pushed a big rock in front of the door to keep it from being pulled open.  Said goodnight to the biddies and walked back home.

Next morning.  Only three hens.  Another one was taken during the night.  And the only evidence I saw were three or four feathers on the other side of the pen, over a 4' fence, and led out into the woods.

That evening Paul and I went over the coop and found a window where the chicken wire could have been pulled back, so he secured it with wire.  We also jammed a big piece of wood in front of the coop door and more importantly, brought the live trap and a can of cat food.  The next morning there were still three hens, but a big, fat opossum in the live trap.  Which quickly became a "dead" trap for him.

Of course, I was anxiously awaiting the neighbor's phone call the next day.  I had to tell them that four of their seven hens were eaten on my watch.  Man, did I feel crummy.  But of course, they understood and didn't hold it against me.  Not that I thought that they would, but it's just a bummer of a feeling when livestock "happenings" happen when you're the one who just so happens to be watching them.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why I hate Chickens, Part 3

Yes, I know.  I said that I was going to do a post titled "Why I LOVE Chickens", but you know what?  Their antics and generally infuriating behavior lately has made it difficult to focus on the good aspects of chicken ownership.

I've had three hens go broody on me this summer.  As in the summer of daily temps in triple-digits.  As in what frekking stupid chicken would want to start setting on a bunch of eggs when the weather is so hot that the ticks are even afraid to come out?

Well, one of those chickens successfully hatched out seven chicks, but one (the scalped chick) died shortly after.  But still.  Six chicks.  I was pretty happy.  Because she didn't EAT her stinking unborn offspring.

You see, the other two broody hens I have are pretty pathetic, if not downright murderous, mothers-to-be (or maybe not mothers the way things are going).   I have one hen sitting on three eggs.  She started with thirteen.  And every few days, there would be another broken or half-eaten egg in her nest.  And she's have a bit of yolk dried on her beak.  This is obviously not very good mother hen type of behavior, but I figured I'd let her have at a pile of eggs.  Because before I let her sit on eggs, I unsuccessfully tried to break her broodiness by throwing her off the nest about twenty-seven times a day.  For two weeks.  So I finally gave in and let her sit.

Another hen started going broody about a week after I let the other hen set.  She seemed to be a bit more stable, so I figured what the heck.  I was tired of throwing broody hens off nests so I let her sit on twelve eggs.  And every day or so, another egg was cracked or smooshed to oblivion.  Now this morning she had yellow tell-tale signs of infanticide on her beak.  She is down to five eggs now.  And the pisser about it is that the eggs had developing chicks inside.  I'm not sure what her problem is.  She doesn't seem to purposely break the eggs as most of the damaged eggs were just that, damaged.  Like she was too rough on them and they just cracked.  The shells were pretty solid, so I don't think it's because of thin shells.  But once that egg cracks and she moves them around, it's like a free continental breakfast for her I guess.

It's depressing enough to see underdeveloped chicks die by their own mother's beak, but it also means that I have two totally unproductive hens.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do when the first broody hen finally eats / breaks her last three eggs.  I guess I'll just go back to tossing her off the nest and hope she finally "gets it" and goes back to laying eggs.  There is less than a week before those eggs should hatch so I guess I don't have to wait long.

I put out a wanted ad in the local paper looking for newly-hatched chicks in the hopes that I could shove a couple under the hen but I've never had luck introducing new chicks to broody hens.  I just end up having to brood the new chicks myself and the whole purpose of having these stupid broody hens is so that I won't have to take care of them.

Long, drawn-out sigh.

Oh, and did I mention that the stupid chickens tore up one of the remaining three melon plants?

Stay tuned for "Why I Love Chickens".  Eventually.  Maybe before winter.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Moo-Moo Pickles

Pickles is six weeks old today.

Since we've had her in with the rest of the herd, she basically stays in the pen with them most of the day.  But she long ago figured out that she can squeeze through the cattle panel enclosure so I'll occasionally find her outside the pen munching on the greenery.  Thank goodness she hasn't figured out that there are fruit trees and my front garden that she can get to.  She's starting to have a bit of trouble getting herself through the panels, so hopefully she'll soon be confined to the goat pen and I won't have to worry about her destroying my gardens.  As if there were much left to be destroyed after the chicken and armadillo onslaught.

Pickles is still sucking down the milk like crazy.  I weighed her in at twenty-seven pound this morning before her first feeding.

Her last feeding is between 11pm and Midnight and then only again in the morning, usually around 6 am.  At least I'm getting some uninterrupted sleep now.  During the day I'll feed her about 16 ounces every 3 - 4 hours and she sucks the bottle dry.  She's eating hay and grass, although I haven't seen her chewing her cud yet.  She gets her own little bowl of grain when the other goats are penned up for milking / feeding time and she's been snacking on it, but not attacking the food like the older goats do.

I want her to grow big and strong (and meaty!!), and I'm wondering if I should increase her milk feedings or just keep them as is and let her get hungry so she eats more hay/grass and grain.  She's got at least another two weeks of bottle feedings before I start weaning her.  But I'm considering continuing giving her bottles during the day a full month past the typical eight week weaning period.  

What say you, oh keepers of goats?  Do I keep letting her drink until I'm sick of bottle feeding her or is there some detrimental side-effect of keeping a kid on milk past 12 weeks?  I kept Nettie's kids on her last year well past twelve weeks and they seemed to be bigger than the ones I weaned / sold at eight weeks.

Or it could just be that I didn't see those kids at twelve weeks 'cause I sold them. 

Any suggestions from the goat gallery?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tired of Fighting Mother Nature

No, this is not another "Oh my gawd, why is it so hot / dry / miserable here?" post.  Well, not all of it anyhow.

Just today I went out to feed moo-moo Pickles the bottomless pit and collect any eggs before they cooked in their shells.  As I opened the coop door, I was greeted by a 5' black snake bulging with several eggs in it's belly.  Oh, and I know it was 5' tall as I whacked it's head off and tossed it into the compost pile.  No, I don't hate snakes.  Actually, I kind'a like them.  But not ones that eat our breakfast, and not ones that could just as easily make it's way into the other side of the coop and gobble up the six new chicks.

Earlier this spring I had rabbits in the fenced-in berry garden eating the blueberry bushes and newly planted grape vines.  The deer have stripped half of the leaves off two of the semi-dwarf peach trees. The armadillo has laid waste to my newly planted winter squash plants.  Squash beetles.  Mice in the barn.  Opossum snacking on one of our hens.  Hornets & wasps constantly dive bombing me. Black snakes.  Not to mention the domestic animals; chickens having a ball scratching around in my newly planted raised beds and Moonshine occasionally using the same bed to bury an occasional bone in.

Yes, I know that all these creatures were here long before we were.  And I know that we should have everything securely fenced in, locked up, made tidy or generally "Animal Proof".  And we do have some fencing up; the berry garden is fenced in with small-diameter fencing and the fruit trees are surrounded by either cattle panels or individual wire enclosures.  The goats are contained, but the chickens are able to free range (and free buffet my raised beds in the front yard) because they can easily move in & out of the cattle panel goat / chicken yard. The chickens also get locked up in the coop at night and the hen and new chicks are locked up in their own pen.

But even those physical barriers do not stop the more persistent of the local wildlife.  Deer jump over the fences or push their muzzles through the wire to grab a leaf her or a leaf there.  Armadillos will bulldoze their way through a not-as-secure-as-it-should-be garden gate.  Wasps will continue building nests in the barn no matter how many times I knock them down (like a million so far). Chickens will scratch their way to China in any un-fenced or un-netted raised bed. And the black snakes?  Well, I don't think there's really any way to keep them out of the coop during the day.

Every time I go outside to survey the homestead, I wonder what damage Mother Nature has bestowed upon us during my absence or which fence/gate has been compromised because of overly-curious (i.e. insanely annoying little bastard) goats, mules or horses.  It's enough to make anybody wonder why they garden or own livestock.  I may just give in one day.

Ooooo!  Look at the calendar!  It's almost time for ordering the Cornish meat birds!

I gotta get going now.  I've got some Bulls Blood heirloom beets and carrots to get in the raised beds before the day is over.  Maybe even some peas.  Or cucumbers.  Or......

Monday, August 6, 2012

What garden there is....

Not much happening on the gardening end of things here besides the watering, although we were blessed with a two nice little rainstorms this past week.  That makes two times in one week that I didn't have to water!  Pathetic, I know, but I'll take whatever break from watering I can.

I have three teeny-tiny watermelons on the vines that managed to live through the constant chicken onslaught (bastards!!!) and there are flowers everywhere on those and the cantaloupe.
Baby Watermelon!
(Wonder if Susan has an issue with both baby veggies AND baby fruits?)

This morning I went out to the "berry garden" (i.e. mostly other-than-berries in there) to find what looked like a gardening Shock & Awe campaign had happened overnight.  Holes dug every where.  And mostly around the roots of my plants!!  An armadillo had obviously shoved the garden gate open and went to town looking for grubs, and in the process, dug the roots out from two of my squash plants and around several of the grape vines.  The grapes weren't hurt too badly, but two of my squash plants are dead because of it.

The pumpkin, acorn and butternut squash that I planted last week (or week before) have been almost totally destroyed by what I believe was the bastard armadillo.  There are only two little acorn squash plants left.  I think I'm going to try again (and again, and again) but find something to put over them.  It will have to be something like netting or a small wire cage because anything solid like a milk carton or plastic cup would just cook whatever plant was underneath.  But if it was indeed an armadillo, he'll just bulldoze over any covering anyhow.  

My tomato plants (i.e. jungle) are looking wonderful.  Except that there is only a handful of tomatoes.  There were flowers a-plenty, and still some more popping up, but I've read and heard that the pollen dies over 95 degrees.  And since we've only had maybe two days in the past, say MONTH that wasn't over 100 degrees, I'd say that those flowers will be yielding no fruit.  Figures.

The peppers are doing ok, but nothing spectacular.  The squash plants that survived the armadillo's rampage last night are also doing well, but only because I've been religiously watering them.  I picked an eight inch yellow squash that just appeared overnight (honestly!!) and a probably too large patty pan squash.  From the only surviving patty pan plant (mumbles obscenities about armadillos to herself). 

The green and yellow bean bed (i.e. another vegetable jungle) seems to be doing well, but I grabbed a small green bean off the plant yesterday for a little snack and it was pretty tough.  Guess the heat is doing that?  Not sure, but if they are all like that, I can only hope that canning them will make them less tough. 

I'm going to prepare the two raised beds in the front yard (i.e. chicken-proof them) and plant some cabbage, beets and maybe even some cucumbers this week.  I really would like to put some lettuce out but it's just too darned hot out.  Wonder if lettuce would do ok in the heat if I put it on the porch where the sun isn't beating on it?  Guess I'm going to just try and find out.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

I'm a Winner, He's a Winner, She's a Winner......

....We're a Winner, wouldn't YOU like to be a Winner, too??  (Hey, that's kind'a catchy.  Maybe I can sell that little jingle to somebody?  Or maybe get sued.)

Lisa over at Spring Peeper Farm hosted a giveaway a while back and guess who was the winner?  None other than ME!

Earlier in the week I received a well wrapped package in the mail.  Actually it was Paul that retrieved the mail that day and he asked what the heck I bought because he was hit with an overpowering scent of "dirty old hippies" when he opened the mailbox.

Not that "dirty old hippies" smell bad, or that all dirty people are old, or that hippies are dirty, or that - hell, that's just what it smells like to me (and apparently to Lisa too!).  And it's a GOOD smell.

So I tore open my package and although the box did not contain actual D.O.H. (dirty old hippies), it did contain a plethora of homemade goat milk soaps:
Thank you, Lisa!!
The heavenly scents of Patchouli, Dragon's Breath and Lavender wafted out of the box.  The box which I still have and keep on my desk to periodically sniff during the day.  The soaps themselves are being toted to and from different rooms of the house so I can enjoy their olfactory goodness whenever I want.

The only drawback to these soaps is that I don't think I'll be able to use them!  Well, at least not for a while.  But when I do, I just may light some musk scented incense sticks, put some Peruvian instrumental music on, slip into the bubble-filled bathtub, light myself up a big ol' fattie and lather myself up with D.O.H. soap!

Or just use them in the shower after a hot and sweaty day in the garden.  But the former sounds much more exciting.

Oh, and if YOU want to be a winner too, stay tuned as I'm going to be hosting a giveaway real soon.  I just have to think of what weird things I want you guys to do in order to enter :)