Curses! Foiled…

I’m in my annual battle with the house finches. They just love building their nests in the corners of our porch columns, soon to be followed by the barn swallows. I don’t mind them raising their families, but I take issue with their using our front porch as their toilet. It really adds up over time.

Last year, we thought we’d beaten them by applying plastic pointy stakes to every corner. It looked successful for a while but then they figured out the stakes made nice little support posts to hold their grass and string nests, so it continued unabated. At one time we had four nurseries going at once, birds swooping in and out and droppings covering the lovely white pillars.

So, today I tried a new strategy. I wrapped the plastic spikes loosely with aluminum foil. I had mixed feelings as I removed a nest that already had eggs in it, but it comes down to whose house is this anyway?

I hear their animated chattering echoing through the porch as they gripe about my interference and strategize how they might fight back. I wouldn’t be surprised if they grab the foil in their beaks and pull it out. I am hoping they aren’t that inventive and maybe they’ll figure out they can use tree branches instead. Can’t we all just get along?

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Loving the Sunshine

angora goat

Spring is surely just around the corner! It’s 34 degrees out, but the sun is shining and the wind is blowing across the muddy fields and driveway and beginning to dry them out. The goats are starting to play with each other, butting heads and trying to knock each other off their spools. Their lives are going to get much more interesting than the dull patterns of walking from the shed to the food to the shed to the food to the…. well, you get my drift.

I went out to visit this afternoon and gave them each a big hug. Ely, the black faced goat, had mud smeared all over his head, which is unusual. I wondered what he’d been up to. As I returned to the barn, I noticed that the gate that keeps them away from the chicken coop was missing. What?! As the temperature shifts, I’d had trouble keeping it square and the latch wouldn’t hold it tightly. I figured my husband had taken it off the hinges to fix it and didn’t tell me, but I couldn’t find it in the barn. Surely, no one had come and stolen it! I gave it one last look around and saw a glint in the middle of the pasture. Ely must have
hooked it onto his horns, lifted it off the hinges, and then dragged or pushed it 50 yards across the field. Crazy goats. Just another symptom of spring fever, I guess.

Mickey the barn cat was loving the sunshine on the concrete. He stretched and yawned, hoping I’d reach down and rub his tummy so he could grab my hands and wrestle. I caught him mid-yawn and he looks quite fierce. The other cat was out prowling. This time of the year, I find many rodent trophies lying here and there waiting for my praises. We got the cats to keep the mice population down and they are doing their jobs efficiently. It’s a little gross, but whatever.

Wheaten Terrier

Fionny, my Wheaten Terrier, is full into his winter coat and looks like a bear. I will have to give him a bath and a haircut soon, but just like the goats, he is quite huggable right now. The grooming table is currently shoved into a corner of the basement because we are in the middle of building a play room and bedroom down there. We have already sanded and primed the drywall and today we gave both rooms a first coat of paint. After painting comes laying the floor, the trim, and finally decorating. By then, it will be time to shift our attention outside for the spring farming chores. I love this life!

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A Hard Decision

SweaterI love creating things, which is why spinning and knitting my goats’ mohair fiber is such a satisfying experience for me. One of my first big projects was to create a complicated sweater out of the white kid mohair that came off of Eddy. It took a long time and taught me a lot. Unfortunately, although I loved the look and feel of the sweater it turned out several sizes too large and hung on me like a tent.

This lovingly crafted item has been folded up in my closet for a year and only worn about three times, and every time I wore it I felt like I had to apologize. Yesterday, I came to a moment of reckoning. Angora goats are only “kids” for a short time and the fiber from those early years is at its most precious and soft. Why was I wasting it on something that rarely comes out to play? I decided that with the skills I’ve developed I should unravel it and try again on something new.

After a few hours of effort last night, my sweater has transformed to a ball of yarn almost the size of a volleyball. It has a number of knots to work around, but at least I am not wasting it.

I’ve spent the morning looking through patterns for something more likely to turn out well, and also happened across a book that is intended to teach me how to make knitted items that really fit. Let’s see how this works out!

 

 

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Vortex at Bluestem Pond

Frosty cap growing from the Radon release pipe

The whole Midwest is suffering under this year’s polar vortex, and we are feeling it here for sure. The temperature at 11 am has risen from 17 to 10 … (oh, that’s negative Fahrenheit, in case you didn’t know!)

I’ve had the goats closed up in the stall in the barn for several days. I normally only use that to confine them while they get their trimming and parasite medications. I covered the floor with straw, so it will be a mess to clean up once this is all over but I’ll probably wait till spring in case we go through another round.

This morning, I drove the Jeep out as I’ve been doing because it is too painful to walk the 70 yards to the barn in the biting wind. I quickly closed the overhead door behind me to hold in what heat was left in there. Mickey, the cat, was quick to greet me and ask for a cuddle to put his cold little feet against my coat and feel my warm breath. The litter box, ignored for most of the year, was full of frozen items to clean out. Who could blame them?

The goats were bleating, happy to see me and anticipating their breakfast. I gave them a double portion so the heat of their digestion would keep them warmer. I have an electric heating column that I use sometimes when I’m working in the fiber room, and I hooked it up to blow into the stall for a while. I set the oven timer when I got home so I won’t forget to go back to turn it off. My memory is only reliable when I don’t get distracted by other things, which is always.

The chickens are living in the coop, with drifts blocking most of the door out to their run. They have absolutely no interest in dipping their scaly little feet out into the frigid snow. I took their heat lamp off the timer to run constantly for the duration. They are eating and drinking more than usual in their confinement so I have to check them twice a day for supplies and to pull out the eggs before they freeze. Last night I took out some extra wood shavings to cover the floor. The sound of it terrified them and they went shrieking up into the rafters. Just chicken, I guess.

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Mystery Hen

I have not much to say recently, as most of my farm experiences have become routine and not worth a big announcement on the blog. We’ve just returned from a week away, visiting for Christmas, and I am so grateful to get back to my animals and my “normal”. Does that get to be more of a big deal for everyone as they get older, or is it just me?

buttercup combAnyway, here is a mystery solved. Our spring batch of hens – the little ones that survived the fox – has four members. One is Prince Harry, the rooster. He is now quite large and proud. Then there is Tophat, the olive-egger, Gemma, the Sapphire Gem, and Scooter, the one little chicken of unknown breed. Unknown until now, anyway.

I have been wondering if Scooter was perhaps a little rooster because of the way she holds her tail high, and because I haven’t seen any eggs that I thought were hers. I finally took some pictures and looked her up on the internet. It turns out she is a Sicilian Buttercup. They are relatively rare (like $7.00 each instead of $1.99) and their most distinguishing feature is their comb that forms a cute little cup. Scooter’s is very pronounced but she moves fast and is not easy to capture on film. sicilian buttercup

Here is a photo of someone who looks just like her.  I think Scooter moves so fast because she is the smallest one in the coop and needs to be able to protect herself. I’ve seen her slip out of the clutches of the rooster several times so it seems to work for her. She lays white eggs, which is why I didn’t think she was laying. I can’t tell the difference between hers and the four white  hens I got later. I’ll just assume it is happening.

So, anyway, here is the one thing that is new and noteworthy at Bluestem Pond. I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays and time away from the normal routine.

 

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A Heavy, Icy Snow

We heard the blowing sleet hitting the house last night and the weather report said it would be a few inches by morning. Still, I was surprised to look out the morning window onto a prairie laid flat. Just yesterday, we’d strolled the paths and remarked on the beauty of the tall dry prairie grasses in shades of brown and red. This snow was wet and heavy and shoveling it off the porch steps took some strength. The temperature hovered just below freezing all day, so as it flirted with melting it just as often shifted to ice.

My greater concern was for my little grove of pine trees that were drooping at unusual angles under the weight of the ice and snow. I decided a rescue was in order. I bundled up and found a broomstick to knock the snow off the branches.

Up close, I could see the trees were at a greater risk than I’d imagined. The sleet had crusted tightly to the needles and without any promise of sunshine in the next few days, the branches were not going to be able to withstand the weight.

I got to work, whacking at the highest branches I could reach like a Jedi Master with a light saber, and working my way down as the branches lifted their bowed heads in gratitude. Soon, my fingers were aching with cold inside the soaked leather work gloves and I couldn’t see through my glasses coated with ice and snow falling slow-motion down onto my upraised face. Some small clumps of needles broke off, but I still felt good knowing that I’d probably saved a number of big branches that would take years to recover.

I have a weakness for trees. It makes my heart ache when I see them suffer, but I am fully willing to prune them mercilessly to make them grow stronger for the future. My family tends to be alarmed when I head out with pruning shears. It always works out for the better, at least so far. I think that today I made the right move and I’ll be glad I did when I see ice damage around town.

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One Big Flock

I think I now have the correct formula for growing my flock of chickens without creating a riot.  It took a lot of patience. I had to keep the youngest generation protected in their box for a long time, or the adults would molest them. Later, I closed up the adults in one part of the run and let the babies loose in the other side so they could get used to seeing each other. Finally, when the babies were almost as big as the smallest of the adults, I opened up the door between them and let them intermingle, with some supervision. 20181029_175227Yesterday, I took away the brood box and heat lamp and moved the baby chick feeder to the coop where the adults fell onto it with gusto.

Now, it is up to the babies to figure out how to file into the coop to eat and to sleep on the roost under the heat lamp at night with everybody else. The warm red glow should draw them in, but it is no longer my problem to engineer. At least they are big enough to be safe.

In this picture, you can see Prince Harry in the middle, standing tall and proud with his mature male body. He is losing his white feathers and gaining a strong brown saddle and a taller comb. He crows all day long and chases down the girls when he feels like it. I’ll admit that bugs me, but it is the way of the world.

We now get eg20181025_180417gs from at least two of the spring generation. One is a normal brown and the other is a deep olive green, so it must be from our “Olive-Egger”, named Tophat due to her tufted head. We also get blue eggs but I’m not sure if they are from old Arya or the little hen of unknown breed we call Scooter. We get three to four white eggs a day from our four white leghorns that I purchased after the fox killed most of the flock. These small four bittys stick together and are more curious and bold than the others. They come running when I appear and try to slip through the doorways or fly up onto the sill when they think there is food coming. I should appreciate them because they kept our egg supply from dwindling to nothing for several months,  but I find I kind of resent them due to their not being my own hand-raised children. Strange how I react to that.

Anyway, I am satisfied that I can now relax and ease into the winter schedule. The goats, cats, and chickens all have most of their winter equipment set up and ready for the cold of winter to hit us.  If I heard the weather report right, it may happen quite soon.

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Here in Goatland

I sheared the goats last week, on an 80 degree day. They were panting out in the sun, and I figured they’d love to feel the cool breezes again. Of course, the next morning it turned cold and hasn’t really let up since. I was worried about them, so I dragged my husband out that night to put up the big piece of particle board we use to block the wind from their shed.

It was the right thing to do. I frequently found them peeking out the door, or nestled back in dark corners on the straw to keep warm. However, I began worrying that they may feel insecure without being able to see what’s going on out in their surroundings. I told my husband I’d like to get a piece of plastic to make a window so they could look out while they are keeping out of the wind.

He found an inexpensive sheet of clear acrylic and cut a hole in the wind break. It looked great! The next morning it was on the ground, shattered into bits and pieces by my mischievous goats. Back to the drawing board, we ordered a larger rectangle of really tough plexiglass, guaranteed unbreakable. We cut a larger hole this time, and put in a beautiful picture window.

Later that afternoon, my husband heard something like a door repeatedly slamming shut and went to investigate. Eddy was facing the window, scratching his hooves on the ground and slamming into the plastic with his horns like a mad bull. I suspect he was attacking his own reflection, but I think we foiled him this time. It is still in one piece tonight.

With this cold snap, I’ve been on a race against time to get the shearing, cleaning, drying, dying, and carding of the goats’ mohair done out in my room in the barn. I found that regardless of what colors I choose, I have to dye it in three batches, two pots at a time, because there is so much of it. This time I chose a bright blue-green. The first batch was coming out too blue, so I added yellow late in the game and I got a really interesting patchy color job that I kind of like. I couldn’t re-create it in the second batch so that one was more uniform. By the time I did the third batch I was bored with that color so I tried another one that turned out a bit dull, but I still like having some variety. I guess I have a lot of spinning and knitting to do now.

 

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Segregation – in a Good Way

I think I’ve got this chicken dilemma solved. My baby chicks were being bullied by the young adults and I learned the hard way that this could mean mortal danger. I did some research and talked over options with my engineer husband and I believe we have a solution that we can manage.

Last year, we added an inner door to the chicken run so I could sequester them away from the barn door when necessary. As of today, this will limit their movement until the babies are big enough to fend for themselves. I moved the nursery into one side, moved a waterer to the other side, and aimed the heat lamp in the new direction. Voila! The babies now have their very own chicken yard to explore and exercise. The adults will get to watch and smell them next door until the kids are older and can begin to mix. If I have to, I can still close the babies up in their box to get them out of the way as the goats or people come tromping through.

I hope it won’t get really cold too soon.  That could complicate my plans but I am pretty good at adapting. This will also give the young adults an incentive to begin sharing the coop at night. They tend to cling to the cohort they were raised with and blending the family comes hard for them. The whole generation from two years ago never did quite learn to sleep in the coop.

 

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Graduating the Babies

Things have gotten complicated in the chicken yard. I brought eight baby chicks onto the farm last month, to replace the layers that were decimated by the fox. I had also added four young white hens that are now laying 3-4 white eggs a day.

You’d think all would be well now, with the three “babies” who survived the fox attack  and their brother Prince Harry the rooster. However, the whole social structure within the flock has turned upside-down. At first, the white hens were terrified of the existing flock and dodged their beaks all day. Soon, the white ones took over and began terrorizing the four that were about a month behind them in age. They react strangely to me, though. When I walk into the run, they spread their shoulders and squat in front of me, like they do to show submission to a rooster. At first it was funny but now it’s getting to be kind of annoying.

As time moves on, the little rooster is beginning to gain some heft and is crowing more frequently. He doesn’t always run away from the whites anymore, and may have been flirting with old Arya the other morning because I heard a cackling scream and she came chasing him out of the hen house with angry flapping wings. Soon he will be too big to be pushed around.

I now have to begin integrating the youngest chicks into the flock to prepare for winter. In the past, I put the brood box on the floor of the run and opened the trap door that allows them to run in and out but is too small for the big chickens to enter. They gradually gain confidence and begin mingling with the flock, at least they did in the last two generations. That was before I had to confine them all to the run to save them from the free range predators.

Today, something creepy happened. I went out to say hello to the menagerie and spotted a bloody mess. One chick had gotten caught in a corner and the others pecked her to death. I’ll admit I was so horrified and angry that I yelled and kicked a couple of the white hens across the room. My aggression was so unusual they all ran into the coop to hide from me.

I will have to do some research to find out how and when to  safely mix the babies with the adults. I suspect having them all confined contributed to their horrible behavior but I can’t keep them separated all winter. I have closed the trap door back up so the remaining babies are safe, but this situation has to be resolved. Any advice from my chicken buddies?

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New Fiber Room

My husband’s antique printing press wasn’t getting much use, so he sold it to a local college professor to use as a hands-on experience for his graphic design students. Moving it out of the barn and down to the classroom was not an easy task but we got it done and it freed up space for me to re-purpose as a fiber processing studio. (Sounds elegant that way, doesn’t it?)

We scrubbed out all the cobwebs and mouse droppings and uncovered the pristine white ceiling and walls we put in when we thought it would be a honey house. My handy-man husband put in a big double sink, a nice long counter top, and some shelves to put my tubs of fiber way up out of reach of the mice. I invested in a couple induction hotplates that won’t burn down the barn like a flame or an electric coil might do. We use induction at home so all my pots were already magnetic and will work with the hotplates.

Now, I’ve moved in my carding machine, my tubs of carded fiber, and all those pots and dying chemicals. I think I’ll be ready to go when I shear the goats in October. This one room is insulated so that it is always warmer in winter and cooler in the summer than the rest of the barn. Maybe not enough to stand in the freezing cold but we’ll see. Most of the work will be in April and October when I do my shearing.

Before we had built the house, our barn was the only bit of civilization available when we drove down to the land to work on things. We’d put in a full bathroom, a fridge, microwave, and cabinet of essentials such as beer, and s’mores ingredients. Since moving into the house these touches were not heavily used, but now that I have my she-shed, who knows?

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Visitors

Big event, this weekend! Our son and his little family are visiting and we get to be “Grandparents: Live!” for a few days. Our little granddaughter has just mastered walking and in the last week started favoring it over crawling. We’re going to have our hands full, and be loving it!

 

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What’s This Geometry?

I saw this on the porch screen and was perplexed at the pattern until I looked closer. I guess I should have respected their privacy but it was so pretty! I actually hate these little triangular flies that follow me across the yard in circles around my head and bite when they land.

This is the time of year that most days are hot and humid and the vegetables are begging to be harvested. It is hard to keep up. We let the green beans grow up the garden fence so they are easy to find, and every day it seems like I get another big bowl full whether I’ve used the last batch or not. The bugs usually don’t find me till I am half-way down the row but after that I am swatting and rubbing my legs against each other to brush them off. Those last few feet of pole beans are the hardest to withstand as I get hot, sweaty, and itchy. Then, on the way out of the garden I notice there are four or five clumps of ripe grape tomatoes and a couple long renegade zucchinis hiding under the leaves. I come back to the house with arms full of produce and have to keep shifting my grip so they won’t slip out and force me to stop and scoop them back up. I look foolish if anyone is watching, so I’m glad I’m usually out there alone.

BTW, if you are waiting to hear that we caught that chicken-murdering fox, it has not happened yet. My husband is determined, so hang on…

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Re-building a Flock

Yesterday, we followed a Craigslist posting and picked up four white hens that are close to the age of the rest of our babies. They are tall, sleek White Leghorns, the kind of chicken that produces your normal, ordinary, white grocery store eggs. The owner said her flock was too big and had just started laying. Sure enough, today we got our first little white egg.

In the meantime, I am observing the intricate dance among the chickens to determine the new social order. The little rooster, Harry, is growing fast but still too small to throw any real weight around. Arya is the sole adult, and although she was always the smallest of the mature hens, she now finds herself being the big cheese.

The four white hens stick together, as birds tend to do, and are very nervously, cautiously avoiding the others. I notice that the other babies tend to reach out to peck the new kids on the block when they come close, but Arya is becoming quite the enforcer. She puts herself in between the Leghorns and the path to food, the coop, and anything else they might want to approach. They seem quite afraid of her.

The whites have spent more time in the coop than the other babies, and last night I peeked in to see them wishing to sit on the roosting bar, but keeping as far as possible from Arya who was taking the prime real estate. I’d think she would want to huddle for warmth, but maybe not until she has firmly established herself as the queen.

We have the fox trap baited with a piece of fried chicken, but so far no action. I am a little concerned with what we’ll do with him if we come across him trapped in the cage. One problem at a time…

 

 

 

 

 

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Catching a Predator

We are gradually recovering from our chicken loss, and are getting ready for battle. The day after the attacks, I spotted a fox crossing the property, stopping to take a drink from the pond. I read up on it and found that foxes will kill multiple chickens and drag them off to a hiding place to eat later. They also eat the chickens whole – bones and all. Raccoons tend to bite off the heads, and dogs just kill for fun and then leave because they are usually well fed. It would be challenging for a larger animal to squeeze under the pasture gate, but a fox could get through any opening that fits a chicken.

It began to dawn on me that the reason we kept finding more bodies covered in straw in the chicken run and the goat pen is that the fox had purposely hidden them to come back and fetch them later. Many dog owners have observed the humor of their pets scraping the carpet with their noses in an effort to bury their little chewy treats. I can imagine the fox doing this with my chickens, but the humor in it is lost on me now.

Yesterday afternoon when I went out to check on everyone, I found more feathers out in the goat shed. I am absolutely certain I’d cleaned it out after the massacre, but there was a chicken buried in the remaining straw, in several pieces. This was the one adult I wasn’t sure I’d found yet. I think the fox must have hidden the body somewhere and then taken it back into the goat shed to eat and hide again for later. It feels like a taunt and I am taking the bait.

I buried the remains of this last bird and double-checked that the goat shed was clearly cleaned out. This morning, another pile of feathers were in there. Grrrr. All the remaining chickens are still safe and sound, locked into their Fort Knox fenced area.

So, we have some new strategies. First, the flock is no longer free to leave their run to wander during the day. I’m not happy about that, but I have to keep them safe. Next, I have found a local chicken owner who has too many chicks that are just about ready to begin laying and she wants to reduce her numbers. They are “Leghorns” and lay plain old white eggs, but it seems like they’d fit into the flock well. We may resume collecting eggs sooner rather than later.

The last strategy is WAR. We bought a large live trap yesterday and watched videos on how to catch a fox. We bought a piece of gas station fried chicken, apparently the most delectable fox delight, and will be hanging it from the inside of the trap. If we are able to catch the varmint, we’ll call Animal Control to do with it what they will. Wish me luck.

 

 

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I got a call from my husband in the afternoon, “You’d better come out to the barn right away.” I dropped everything and hurried out the door because this did not bode well. He met me at the entrance and said, “All the chickens are gone.”

We began checking all the normal places. One dead chicken in the goat pen. Two in the coop. Feathers everywhere. One of the old hens, Arya, was hiding up in the rafters, and I gently lifted her down, petting and cooing calming noises. She ran out, squawking, to the yard.

We jumped into the golf cart to see if we could find the rest hiding somewhere. We found one baby pacing next to the woods at the far end of the pasture but too afraid to come out. We drove around looking for a trail of feathers or any other clues, and looped by the neighbors’ yard to see if their dogs were involved. Still no trace.

Where were all the babies? Where were the eight other adults? While my husband began digging a grave, I walked up and down the goat pasture looking for anything. There, I came upon Cooper, my dear rooster, dead in the grass.

I’m so distraught, angry, and confused, all I could do was quickly dig into tasks. I cleaned out the coop to remove traces of the carnage and give Arya a fresh start. I’d meant to do it in the spring but never got around to it, so it was the least I could do for her now. Joe came in and told me he’d found several more chickens buried under straw in the run, so he started digging another hole. I moved on with a pitchfork to clean out the chicken run and the goat pen, where I found a couple more bodies under the straw.  I angrily moved on to hosing down the chicken run, taking out the brood box where the babies would go to escape the adults, and put down new straw.

By now, the lone baby had come back from the woods and was huddled next to Arya in the corner of the goat pen. We began putting away the tools and setting things as right as we could, dusty, dirty, and discouraged. I looked up and here came two of the babies peeking around the door into the barn. I yelled for Joe, who came running just as Prince Harry the baby rooster popped out from the corner to join the others. They’d been laying low and quiet in the bushes all that time and waiting for the coast to be clear.

In the end, we found five babies and Arya, herded them into the chicken run and locked them in, probably for the rest of their lives. It’s so sad, because they loved their free-range life. I just couldn’t bear to see this happen again.

Cooper RIPI wish I knew just how this happened – how the predator(s) got into the pasture and the coop, who did it, and how we can prevent it in the future. We suspect the neighbor dog who killed one chicken last year, but what can we do if we did not catch him doing it?  If it were a fox or a hawk, they would have taken one or two to eat, but dogs will kill just for the thrill of the chase.

Now that the rush of activity is over, there is nothing left but to mourn our losses. We’ll probably work on rebuilding the flock, but … Cooper was one of a kind in our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s a Boy!

Prince Harry

It is confirmed, one of our ten babies is definitely a rooster. Meet Prince Harry. I was beginning to suspect he wasn’t an ordinary hen, as his tail grew tall and he began strutting among his peers and leading them on a run from one end of the yard to the other.

This morning I definitely heard a strangled little trial “cock-a-doodle” coming from his throat. This guy is an Ameraucana, with the blue-green feet and puffy feathered cheeks. If he were a hen, his eggs would come out blue-green.

There is no question, I definitely play favorites and I love my old rooster, Cooper, with all my heart. He is over four years old, though, and only two of his generation of twelve are still with us, Arya and Beauty. It is good to know we’ll have someone to carry on the duty of Flock Protector when the time comes for a promotion.

As I was working on getting a photo of Prince Harry, Cooper got a little jealous and moved between us. Harry immediately scooted to the other end of the chicken run, with the other babies crowding behind him. The adult gold and white hen in the center is Arya, and I was beginning to call Harry “Arya-2” until I caught on to his secret. I am quite attached to the beautiful silver-blue hen in the foreground. She is one of the two Sapphire Gem chicks I chose this spring. They both have such elegant feathers, the other one a deeper gray.

I wish my chickens were a little more trusting of me. All I’ve ever done is feed them and keep them safely tucked into the fenced area at night, but they run from me whenever I come near as if I were a threat. It hurts my feelings a bit. Oh well, at least a wary chicken is a safe chicken.

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Two New Colors of Mohair

At last, I’ve finished dying the goats’ hair for the spring season. I have until October to think about it again. I am still experimenting with colors and techniques, but I do see that I am drawn to color more than I am to the basic natural shades as they come off the goat.

I tried out two colors I’ve never used before – Poppy Red and Sky Blue. I did 2/3 of the batch in the red so I can make a nice sweater. In the picture, you can see a little difference between the small batches of Sky Blue and the Iris that I used to dye the white mohair last week. It turns out that you can’t see much difference between the color of Iris applied to silver-gray hair and the same on the white hair. The only real difference is that the parts that did not take up much dye are light on one and dark on the other. I guess that is what I should have expected.

I multi-tasked to the hilt today, cooking dye pots on the stove, carding mohair out on the porch, and drying finished batches out at the barn. In between those tasks, I baked a peach pie. I have earned an evening of sitting around in front of the TV with pie and ice cream.

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Pink and Violet

It took me about three months, but I finally spent a day cleaning and dying one goats-worth of spring mohair. I did Eddy’s white hair first because I’d bought a few new colors of dye and wanted to make some pretty pastels.

The light color is called “Rose Pink”, and came out kind of wimpy like an old woman with her gray hair dabbled with pink rinse. The dark color, however, is called “Iris”, and it is dazzling. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

This is the same amount of hair that I got from two goats together the first time they were sheared, so two years of growth makes a big difference. I have a few sweater patterns I’d like to try from a free knitting pattern blog. First, though, it has to be dried, carded, and spun into yarn. It should be ready for some productive winter knitting.

 

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Endless Improvements, Fun Projects

We just can’t leave well enough alone around here! I’ve been feeling irritated that I often have to disconnect the electric fence in order to enter the goat pasture to dump out the water bucket or the feeding trough. It is a pain in the neck, and I began to think of other ways to keep the goats out of the chicken coop without using those electric wires. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

My husband and I came up with this new design that boxes in the door to the chicken run with a permanent fence and gate, and we spent the last two days constructing it. It took a while for all the chickens to get the hang of squeezing under the gate to move between the pasture and their run, but after dropping some corn to coax them along, they now know what to do — unless they are in a hurry to get fed. That’s when someone inevitably panics and beats their little head against the fence trying to get in a shorter way.

The goats are very pleased with this new solution because now they have access to the shady part of the chicken yard that was always out of reach. It is their new favorite place to curl up and sleep during the day. We did discover that we needed to put up one  more little stretch of electric fence to keep the goats from abusing the fence that walls in the chicken run. They leaned hard against it bending it inward, and Eddy was relentless prying it with his horns like a can opener. The electric lines broke them of that behavior pretty fast, but as I said they are now quite content.

It is always fun doing a project together, although we were exhausted at the end of the day. My husband did all the post hole digging, so I don’t know why I was so tired, but it was a good feeling knowing we’d created something together.

Now, it’s back to the endless weeding and tending to our pond and crops. Summer is like that. There is never much down time unless it rains. As long as we can retreat to the air-conditioned house at the end of the day for a shower and a nap, I rejoice in the way our bodies heal up from a day of hard labor.

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