Saturday, September 28, 2013

I know it sounds silly

I have a problem. I'm indecisive. It doesn't sound like too much of a problem. More like an annoying habit. I seem to take it to a whole new level. My indecisiveness can be crippling, as it has been the last few days. If I'm not sure exactly what the best way to do something is, or if I have a ton of things to do and I'm not sure which I should do first, I mentally shut down. Instead of making a decision and running with it, I just can't seem to bring myself to do anything at all. Something as silly as "should I let the guineas out to free-range today, or should I let Luna off her chain (whole other story) to run for a while, because they both need to get out and exercise" is impossible for me to decide upon sometimes. Needless to say, neither got to run free for a couple of days. Planting beets has been put off for days because I'm not sure where the best place to plant them is, "and should I find something to amend the soil with because nothing else I have planted is doing well because the soil is crap in that area, but what do I amend it with because I have no compost and I don't know where to get any from, so what I really need to do is build a proper compost pile because the chickens just scatter anything I try to compost, but the chicken manure won't give me all the compost I really need... what I really need is a cow". Yep... that's how my mind works. Chaotic, isn't it? And in the meantime nothing gets accomplished. In my own defense, it isn't that bad all of the time. Rather, I'm usually better at controlling it and forcing myself to be more focused. I have ADHD and I don't take medication for it because I have learned to live with it, but when I'm stressed or I have a whole lot on my plate, I lose the ability to function like a normal human being. My brain seems to short out and just go completely haywire.

Today I actually managed to get something accomplished! I let the guineas and turkeys out to free-range for the first time while I let Luna's correction collar charge. Guineas are loud! I have read that they will quiet down after they get used to free ranging. Apparently, they start a ruckus whenever they see something new (which is what makes them such good "watch-dogs"). The thing is, right now EVERYTHING is new. So they weren't quiet the entire time they were out. (I tried to upload a video of them, but blogger was not having any of it tonight.) They stuck pretty close to the turkey coop and were amazingly easy to put up for the night. They seemed to enjoy themselves. Bugs-beware! The guineas are comin'!

The guineas moved in one cohesive group at all times

I love their beautiful feathers! 

Sari, one of the new hens. I thought she was a self blue but she has
a single slate marking on her wing. 

Ari chillin' with Jack . Einstein and Jack had a fight the other day.
Apparently Einy won "Head Roo" position. That means that Jack has no
more ladies so he has been spending his time checking on the turkey
babies and hanging out with the dogs. Hopefully once the 4 cockerels
go to freezer camp Jack will get some of his ladies back. If not I will get
him some more. He seems so lonely! 

"Can I help you?" Last of the original flock all refeathered and beautiful

My handsome fella, Yellow, showing off his new tail feathers. 

I bush-hogged the back and side yard. At least until the mower deck threw half a metal disk out from under it and it started shaking so badly that I was afraid I was going to throw a blade. I swear I didn't do anything rough with it! I was just mowing! Flat ground with nothing but grass! I Promise! It was really rusted and I guess it just decided to give up the ghost at that moment. Either way I managed to break my father in-law's bush hog attachment... thingy. I hate breaking stuff that belongs to other people! I am always so careful with things that don't belong to me! I admit that I am really rough on my stuff though. Ugh... At least it waited until I was pretty much done with the back yard.

I also weed-eated (is that a word??) the pig fence line, the garden fence line and some along the paths between garden rows before I wet through all 3 batteries. Did I mention that Brad got me a battery powered weed-eater? It is a Black and Decker and takes the same batteries that my chainsaw does. It was refurbished but is working like a champ. The real sell? It came with 2 batteries and a charger AND it cost less than a single new battery would have. I had been planning on getting another battery for my chainsaw because it never lasts very long. Now I have 3 batteries and can charge 2 at a time. I think my old battery is having a hard time holding a charge though. I have a bad habit of leaving it on the charger even after it had been charged.... like for weeks. Note to self: DON"T DO THAT!!! Anyway, now I can weed-eat in the garden so I can see where I am walking and don't step on anymore snakes. Hope, hope hope.

While I was in the garden I pulled out all of the sad, mostly dead tomato plants. The aphids and stink bugs finished off what the blight had all but destroyed. Even the green tomatoes I kept trying to bring inside to ripen kept rotting before they could because the aphids compromised them in some way. I started to burn the vines, the stakes, and the ties. Normally I keep the ties and reuse them, but I don't want to spread blight to my plants next year. The plants were still green enough to make them too wet to burn. Hopefully the fire dried them out some. I will try to burn them again tomorrow. Now the only thing left in that row are my pepper plants, which are still doing marvelously and pumping out the peppers, I might add! I also turned the soil and planted a small patch of beets (detroit red). I plan to plant more, but I need to amend the soil... with something. I figured that at least this way, some got planted. Whether they will grow is another story all together.

I cleaned out my in-laws' 3 deep freezers a couple days ago. We needed to make room for all of our future pork! The pigs greatly appreciated it. No... not the freezer space. They got everything that wasn't meat. About 5 trash bags worth of creamed corn, boiled peanuts, okra, bread, peas, and other yummy stuff. I shared the pumpkin, pumpkin pies, bread, berries, and corn with the chickens, turkeys and guineas. They were very grateful for the treat.

The pigs are doing great and are getting so big! I switched them to a locally milled unmedicated mash. They seem to like it. The chickens aren't managing to steal quite as much, and it isn't as big of a deal when they do now that it doesn't contain antibiotics. I have been raking acorns up and feeding them to the pigs, as well as throwing them persimmons as they fall from the tree. Good thing that they are happy with that. I completely forgot that they are out of feed until about 30 minutes after the feed store closed today. I think some days that if if it were up to me to remember to breath, I would have keeled over many years ago... Oh well. Scraps, acorns, and persimmons it will be until monday. And maybe some chicken feed.

I have to say, pigs are the easiest animal on the homestead to take care of. They are such a pleasure! They never cross the fence, or even test it much anymore. A single strand of electric keeps them in their paddock. They aren't into anything. They don't make a ton of noise. They eat all of the scraps, and aren't picky like the poultry. Refill their feeder, check the waterer to make sure it is functional, toss them some scraps (veggie peels and such), and they are content for the day. They may be a permanent addition to the homestead. Not these guys, as they are all male and are all "fixed", but perhaps next year I will get a breeding pair.

Oh, and Luna... She killed one of my chickens the other day. It was "Peggy": My gold and black Easter Egger, as opposed to her sister and counterpart "Sue" who is black with gold markings. She did it while I was at my in-laws' cleaning out the freezers. That correction collar doesn't do any good when I'm not here to push the button. She has been tied during the day for the last few days. I have been letting her off the chain to run and play with Ari and Elliot at night for a few hours. Once it is dark and all of the poultry are safely out of her reach. I need to get her out during the day and spend time with her around the chickens so I can correct her when she gets tempted. She isn't going to get trained tied in the front yard... Tomorrow I am going to start doing that. I'm writing it down so I will hold myself to it. I am holding out hope that she will be a good livestock guardian. She is still young and full of energy. She seems to realize what she did wrong, now. Hopefully I can deter her from making the decision to do it again. My rottie, Cassie, whom I lost a couple years ago at the ripe old age of 15, killed a chicken when we first got them. I trained her not to even look at them and she never touched another one. She was the most brilliant and loyal dog I have ever had the pleasure to see and I was blessed to have been her owner. She, too, was a shelter rescue. Cassie, however, was capable of things that most dogs aren't. Did I mention that she was brilliant? So, just because it worked for Cassie doesn't mean it will work for Luna. Luna seems really smart and receptive though. With enough time spent training her I am hopeful. Only time shall tell.

Now off to start dinner.... super late I know but Keegan is spending the night with a friend so I'm not in a great hurry. I also need to try to find a recipe for pickled banana peppers. I picked a load of them tonight and they wither quickly if not used. I also picked a few jalapenos and lots of bell peppers! Sounds like a good night for Brad's favorite: Tacos! Made with his dad's ground beef raised right down the road on pasture. :) I love eating as locally as possible! It makes me feel good to know how and where my food was raised. Life is Good. And so are tacos :) MmMmMm

Friday, September 20, 2013

We've had a chicken incident...

I was on my way home from picking Keegan up from band practice when I got a call from Brad. He said that he heard Luna outside barking like she was playing. When she didn't stop and he didn't hear the other dogs playing too he decided to check on her. She was indeed playing... with one of my hens. I asked him which one, having named pretty much all of them, and myself and Keegan knowing each one. He replied " I dunno... its one of the pretty ones." Hmmm... Well that didn't help me much because I think all of my chickens are pretty! When I got home he was sitting on the front porch with "Little Bit" on his lap. She is the youngest chick, and only hen, that I hatched out of my emergency egg incubator in March.

I checked her over and she appeared to only have superficial damage done. Missing feathers and some scratches on her back. She was shaking quite hard, breathing loudly, and having a hard time standing. I don't know if it was just because she was, quite understandably, scared and shaken up or if there is more damage that I'm not seeing. Brad had already sprayed her back down with vetericyn. I gave her a small dose of penicillin and she is currently borrowing Ari's dog crate. She is resting comfortably and seems to be much more alert than she was earlier.

I showed Luna the chicken and made is quite clear that her behavior was not acceptable. She seems to be a really smart dog. Hopefully this will be a one time deal and the lesson has been learned. I know it sounds terrible, because I don't want any of my chickens to suffer, but why do the dogs always have to get my favorite birds?! Ugh... well. Poultry are remarkably resilient creatures so hopefully Little Bit will be back out free ranging quickly.

On a happier note, I got my Basil planted. There are very few spots left in the "pig plowed" section of garden. I am still waiting on my order of seeds from Baker Creek. They should be here by now and I'm getting antsy. I want to get my beets in the ground! I also ordered some giant eckendorf beets that are supposed to be good for animal feed. Specifically for the pigs. At this rate they won't be done growing before the pigs are in the freezer!

Speaking of pigs... I realized that the pig feed that I have been giving them is medicated! Argg!!! One of the reasons I decided to raise my own pigs is because I don't want to eat meat that has antibiotics in it! I didn't even think to check, or to specifically ask for unmedicated feed. You know what they say about assuming... They are almost out and I will make sure that mistake isn't made again. Luckily, they haven't been on it for long and antibiotics will leave their systems quickly. The biggest problem is that the chickens are into everything, i.e. they have been eating the pig feed every chance they get. The pigs don't seem to mind at all that the chickens run directly to the feeder every time they walk more than 2 feet away, but I'm not too happy about it. That means that their eggs also contain antibiotics. I have had to start feeding the pigs every single egg laid until we get unmedicated feed. It would be so much easier to keep the great big pigs out of the chicken feed... the chickens and traverse almost anything and the more I attempt to keep them out the more interesting they think it must be. Keeping the chickens out while still enabling the pigs to get in will take some thought. Even after I switch the feed I need to try to find a way to keep the chickens from getting to the pig feed. Pigs are omnivores (as are chickens) and I'd be willing to wager that the feed contains chicken. Not a good thing. I wish I lived close enough to a mill to have my own feed ground so I know exactly what is in it. I will be looking into some kind of way to do that.

Rain is on the horizon! It has been overcast, hence much cooler, for the last couple of days. It is supposed to rain tomorrow! The grass is crunchy and we really need it. A strange thought after having daily monsoons for most of the year. It is amazing how powerful rain is. Too much or too little can be disastrous. Especially for a farmer. I'm so thankful that, while I try to live off of the homestead as much as possible, our livelihood doesn't depend on it. Worst case, we can still get food from the store. It seemed so normal to do that before, and now it seems to foreign to me. I hope that our fall garden doesn't leave us in as bad of shape as our summer garden did.

Well... Like a beautiful lady once said, "Que Sera Sera... Whatever will Be, will Be". One of my favorite quotes, and I can often be heard singing it (quite badly might I say) as I am working around here.

Monday, September 16, 2013

As the days go by...

I'm trying to get things accomplished. I have just had to come to terms with the fact that nothing is getting done mid-day. The animals are fed and cared for, but no heavy lifting or forward momentum occurs until at least 4pm. It isn't possible with this heat and humidity!

Today the hoop tractor containing the 3 turkey poults and guineas was moved from one side of the yard to another. They didn't want to cooperate, but eventually we made it to the finish line. They are next to the permanent chicken and turkey coops, getting used to the surroundings. Soon they will integrate into the turkey coop and will later start free-ranging. Hopefully the 3 grown turkeys will tolerate it. They haven't been very friendly lately. They are always friendly to me, but they have been big bullies to the dogs and my little nephew Jaxon. I hope they settle down soon.

Since that hoop tractor has been moved and that section of the yard thoroughly grazed, I mowed it. It looks so nice! I let the sections of the yard that I move the tractors on grow out to supply the birds with plenty of good greens to graze on. The tractor is moved each day to the next plot over, but nothing is mowed until the entire section has had the tractor on it for a day. I try not to move the tractors over the same area more than once with any given set of birds. That way there is a resting period in which the manure can absorb into the ground, the grass can regenerate, and any parasites that may happen to be there can die off. I have never had a parasite problem with any birds on pasture. There is usually at least a couple of months resting time for each area.

I have been working on getting the garden planted. Thankfully we haven't has any significant rainfall. We really need it (I can't believe I am actually saying that after this summer!!!), but it will turn the freshly turned powdery dirt in that section of garden into muck resembling quicksand, which will promptly dry into a plaster cover over my garden. As I turn a row, I plant it and then cover any area not containing a plant or seed with newspaper and then hay. That way the plant and seed can get to sunlight to grow, but the weeds won't be able to and the rain won't be able to destroy the soil. It will take a while to improve the soil, but the first thing is to keep it from getting in worse shape before I can work to make it better.

So far in the big garden I have wide rows of broccoli and cabbage, half a row of cauliflower, half a row of swiss chard, a wide row of kale (3 kinds), 1/3 row of brussel sprouts, and 1/3 row of rutabagas. In the small above ground beds I have a bed of carrots (2 types), half a bed of lettuce mix, some late pole beans, the few remaining beet seeds I had on hand, and some zucchini planted. I ordered a bunch of seeds from Baker Creek, but they haven't gotten here yet. I hope they come soon because that package contains my beet seeds and I want to get them in the ground! I also still need to plant the basil I have germinated inside, some spinach, and garlic. Onions need to be started soon as well. I will try to get as much done as I can in the morning. I think the rain has held off for about as long as it is going to, so I need to work fast.

Also of note, Brad and I killed a juvenile copperhead this afternoon. We were taking cover during brief shower in the lean-to shed and talking when he saw it slither by my foot. That is the 3rd one I had a brush with this year. Apparently it is a bad year for venomous snakes in this area. I hate killing anything, including snakes, but I'm just not willing to take any more chances with the venomous ones anymore. Those little buggers hurt and result in very expensive hospital bills. Where are all of the kingsnakes when I need them?!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Another Scorcher

 It has been HOT for the last week. In the upper 90's every day, with a heat index over 100 degrees. The piglets enjoyed frolicking in the sprinkler to cool off a bit. They trotted around through the water, grunting and squealing as they pranced back and forth.
 It should be a law that all pigs get to have sprinkler privileges! They are so happy!
 After play time it was time to root around for a bit.
 The are getting so big!
 Miss Luna was looking awfully cute too! She has been running around the yard all day being so very well behaved! She went into the chicken coop earlier to get a drink of water, much to the terror of the hens that were standing around the water cooler gossiping. They flapped about and squawked. It scared Luna and she ducked past them to the water instead of trying to catch them. If that isn't a good dog I dunno what is!

 Mr. Yellow and Ms. Tallow looking striking in their new plumage. It is amazing how fast they have healed after the dog attack!
Last but certainly not least, the newly pig-plowed garden. They did a great job turning all of the soil and getting rid of the weeds that were taking over. The planting started in the back and is working toward the front. Hopefully this will be filled with yummy green veggies soon!

No More Excuses!

I keep putting off writing a blog because I want to take pictures to post with it. I keeping thinking about writing, usually first thing in the morning before I have had a chance to take pictures, or last thing at night when it is too dark to take pictures and I realize that I had forgotten during the day. That, and my camera has been going downhill since the screen got busted a month after getting it. It was brought down by a drunk falling out of a pub in Galway (Ireland). And no, I wasn't the drunk. LOL It was another American tourist that apparently attempted to drink like an Irishman. Perhaps it was the attempt at walking after drinking like an Irishman that got him... and my camera. Anyway, I need to post with or without pictures because I'm getting behind!

 The piglets are getting huge! I brought all three home in 1 medium sized dog crate. I don't think I could fit 1 of them in that dog crate now. They moved out of the garden and onto pasture about a week ago. My garden went from resembling a jungle, to being clear of weeds and tilled without any backbreaking digging or tilling on my part. Pigs make wonderful plows. They are now working on clearing a large section of brush that has been growing up for about 10 years. My brother helped me finally get the fence up around a little over an acre of wooded brushy area with some pasture surrounding it. It is beside the garden so they just had to cross the fence from one side to the other. Moving them out of the garden took a lot of persuading... and about 3 dozen eggs. I unplugged the electric fence, moved the wires down so they could step over, and put eggs on the other side of the fence. Jimmy is very curious and always the first to come when I call. He crossed immediately with no problems. Dean came shortly after. Poor little Link was another story. He knew that fence wire was there and he didn't want any part of it. He paced back and forth, squealing his little piggy squeal for over 10 minutes while the other 2 ate all of the eggs. After reasoning and trying to chase him didn't work, I finally had to raise the wire so he didn't have to step over it before he would cross. I saved him some eggs as a reward when he finally got the courage to run over to the other side. They went from a 3 wire fence, to a single strand run around the pasture. They don't seem to be the least bit interested in crossing it. In fact, Keegan accidentally unplugged it the other day and it was off for at least 24 hours. The pigs didn't even test the fence. I'm amazed! They really are smart.

My brother, who is staying on the property with us for a few weeks, and I have been working on getting the garden planted now that that half is cleared and tilled. So far we have broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, swiss chard, and kale planted. We have been covering all of the planted areas with newspaper and mulching with hay to try to stop the weeds before they start getting out of control again. Hopefully it will do better than the summer garden did. It has stopped raining and I have actually had to start watering the plants and plants-to-be daily because it is so hot and dry! What a change! The pig waterer is taking the use of my long hose, so I have been lugging buckets of water to the garden to water the seedlings and plants. Today I got a new Gorilla Cart, and boy did it make that job much easier! My wheel barrow has been worked hard and has been overdue for a replacement for a while. I love this cart so far. I hope it stands up to the test of time. I am rough on things. Real work gets done around here, and cheap flimsy tools don't last long. I really need to invest in another hose.

Luna, our new farm puppy, is so playful and sweet! She is so full of energy, but that isn't great when there are skittish chickens roaming around. She hasn't hurt any of them but she has been chasing them periodically. I bought a remote controlled shock collar for her. I know, I know... It seems so cruel. I have always hated the thought of those things. I even admit to stealing them off of dogs when I was a teenager and throwing them away... yes I was that pain in the butt animal and environmental activist that would have freed the frogs from the biology lab had they not started using computer programs instead of the real thing. But getting a few zaps seems much better than taking her back to the pound. She is a pitbull, which means that she doesn't have great odds of a happy ending. Also, it doesn't seem much different than using the electric fence. I tried it out today and it is amazing! First a zapped myself. I figure that if I'm going to inflict something on anyone I should know what it feels like. Funnily enough, the shock doesn't seem to bother her at all! The vibration setting is what gets her attention. No pain at all, just a little vibration to get her attention. She is already much less interested in the chickens, even when they run right past her. I'm so happy! I was really worried that she wouldn't work out and I couldn't bear having to take her back to that place!

Tucker, the 2 girls (juvenile turkeys), and the guineas are going to be transitioned to the big hoop coop soon. They are getting big and I think they are ready to have more room. The other small hoop coop of turkeys are doing great and they are getting big too. Both small hoop tractors have been being moved every day and I think that all of the fresh grass and bugs really do them good.

The chickens have been laying like crazy! Yesterday I got 13 eggs and today I got 16! I have 20 hens and 5 roos right now. I really need to get back down to 2 roosters soon because they are making the ladies' lives rough. Now that Brad isn't working (back to school) and selling eggs at the office, I've been trying to find every way imaginable to use eggs. A couple of nights ago a scrambled over 2 dozen with onions and peppers, wrapped them in tortillas, and froze them so my guys have something easy to heat up for breakfast. Thankfully, Keegan has gone through them fast so I can make more soon. I hate wasting eggs! The pigs love whatever we don't use, so I guess it isn't a waste. It may seem strange, but I think a basket full of my green, blue, brown, pink, tan, and white eggs is such a beautiful sight! It makes me smile every time I walk by the kitchen table and see them sitting there. Simple pleasures. Life is good. :)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

LGD In-Training

Meet Luna! She is our new Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD). Or, at least, she will be once she is trained up a bit. I know that she isn't a typical LGD breed. Luna is an American Pit Bull Terrier. After doing a lot of reading, I decided that age is more important than breed. Even typical LGD breeds, such as Great Pyrenees, are not necessarily good guardians if they have never been raised and trained to do the job. Being a strong believer in adopting dogs from the shelter, rather than buying, it isn't often that I have access to a GP puppy. I went to the local animal shelter hoping to find a very docile puppy of any breed other than a "bird dog" like a retriever or hound. Luna was the only dog in the whole place not barking, or even interested in all of the people walking around. She is a very sweet girl and I have high hopes for her. She already doesn't appear to be the least bit interested in any of the poultry. Because she is going to be a working dog, she is going to sleep outside, which isn't something I'm used to doing. I've always felt that dogs are supposed to be a part of the family and should be inside. My Chihuahua mix, Elliot, has helped me become much more comfortable with animals being happy outside.

Our hard working farm girls, Ari (left) and Elliot (right) 
Elliot has inserted herself into the role of LGD over the last couple of years. She came from the same shelter as Luna, and was obviously an "apartment dog" when we got her. She didn't act as if she had ever seen grass and despised getting her feet dirty. If it was wet outside she just wouldn't go out. Now, I can't get her to come inside most nights. She will turn and look at me when I call her, and then turn back around and stare at the chicken coop. She takes her job seriously and doesn't want to leave it. She really doesn't care for the chickens or turkeys a whole lot. She doesn't want them near her, and doesn't want them eating anything unless she gets first dibbs, but they her HER chickens and turkeys and she doesn't want anything else near them! Every dog attack we have had has been when she has come inside for the night. Because she is so little (maybe 12 lbs) I fear for her safety and don't like leaving her outside on her own. Ari, our Schnauzer mix, also chases animals from the yard and does a good job, but isn't nearly as intent on keeping the poultry safe as Elliot is, and prefers to sleep inside. I am really hoping that Elliot can help train Luna, and they can keep each other company.

To help get Luna used to being outside and near the chickens, without leaving her unattended around them, I have set up the hog-ring near the chicken coop. She has a dog crate with blankets in it, and of course food and water. It is acting as a "play-pen" of sorts. We get her out and allow her to run around when we are outside (always with a leash until she is more used to the chickens). She comes around with me to do all of the animal feeding chores so she can see them excited over food and get used to the high energy levels that happen from time to time. I always make sure she is in a calm state before doing this. Taking her when she is full of energy and excited already is just asking for trouble. She is doing great so far! She has even started barking at things toward the woods, which I have yet to see, but apparently she isn't happy with. I really hope that she blends in with and adds new assets to the rest of our animal family. This is a functioning homestead so everyone works here, and I think she is already enjoying her job. Along with all of the hugs, kisses, and love, of course! Newest project that needs to be accomplished is to build her a proper dog house near the coops. A hard working dog deserves a nice comfy home to call her own