Spinning Marathon

yarn on a niddy noddyI have made it my goal to convert my many bins of combed mohair into yarn before the end of summer. This is quite time-consuming but satisfying as I see the piles go down and the skeins of fresh yarn pile up. I dyed the spring shearing in small batches of many random colors, so I now have whole palettes of yarn for rug hooking. The batch from the fall was done in three big piles of single colors, enough for sweaters.

I plan to make something for myself out of this pretty pinkish-violet color. I thought it would be fun to knit in a picture my two goats in their natural color on the front. That would be a winter project, but I’ll get all the yarn ready so I won’t have to stop and spin more.

I have two other sweaters close to finished but the end is painfully slow as there are so many other things to work on this time of year. Also, it seems like it gets a little boring towards the end of the project. I am determined, though, and will be ready to wear them when the weather turns cool, at the very least.

My son made me a really cool contraption to hold the spools while I ply two of them together or when wrapping the finished product into a skein. The old fashioned tool is called a “Lazy Kate” but I don’t have a name for this. It works quite well except for one design flaw. As the spool turns, it gradually loosens the round metal part it sits on and it slips off and inside the spool. I came up with a solution, though. I have one knitting needle that is the same diameter as the hole in the middle of the spool, and I slide it in and jiggle it around till the metal part falls out. Then I screw it back on, put everything back together, and proceed. I don’t even swear while doing it anymore. I am lucky to have a son who likes making things for me as much as I like using them.

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Freezing Strawberries

strawberriesInexplicably, this year has been great for my little strawberry patch. I’ve been collecting about two quarts a night and it just keeps on giving.  In contrast, the asparagus is weak and sparing. I put straw on both of them in early spring and I suspect that is more appreciated by berries than it is by asparagus.

Anyway, I had two bowls of strawberries in the fridge and worried the precious morsels would get tired and mushy from neglect. I looked on the trusty internet and found that all you have to do to freeze strawberries is wash, dry, remove the stems, and freeze them in a single layer on a tray.

The pan is now in the bottom of our chest freezer and when they are solid I’ll vacuum-seal them into pint-sized quantities to enjoy this winter. Then, I’ll just have to remember to use them! I already made four batches of freezer jam, so I think I’ve done my part as a farm lady.

I took the stems out to the chickens. They know if I come to the door they are in for some sort of a treat, so they were quite eager to meet me there when they heard the tell-tale noises of my approach. It’s nice to be appreciated. I shook the stems out around them and they attacked like a school of piranhas.

I wish I dared to let them out of their run to go free-range. After the fox incident last year, I only let them out once in a while if I know I’ll be within earshot for several hours. They have been a bit mean to each other, picking feathers out resulting in little bald patches. Some of it is due to the roosters, but I believe it is mostly their flock-mates. Some have bare bottoms that look pretty pathetic. I guess that’s just the life of a chicken.

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Private Home

tree frog in bird houseI’d like to introduce you to Terrence, the tree frog. He has taken up residence in a wren house that was unoccupied, and seems quite content to spend the day leaning on his little elbows and dozing in the breeze.

Number one, how did he manage to get in there? Number two, how does he get food and water? I wonder if he crawls out at night, up the hanger, down the tree trunk, and hops around getting supplies?

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My First Yarn Rug

I have a new craft for using my abundance of mohair yarn. I have launched myself on rug hooking! I made my very first small rug with the intention of hanging it on the wall instead of stepping on it. I am pretty happy with it, although I think in the future I’ll need to choose colors with more contrast if I want to make pictures.

Rug hooking is much easier than knitting in that you don’t have to keep track of rows or stitches. It is just filling in a picture, one pixel at a time. I am now making yarn out of all those cool colors I dyed last month. It’s a little tedious but seeing it come together is quite gratifying. I think my next creation will be a multi-colored rug to put into our basement bedroom.

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A New Use for Mohair

Dyed MohairMy goats recently celebrated their third birthday. I love them dearly, but their hair is gradually becoming less soft and fluffy than it was when they were kids. I have to think carefully before I choose a knitting pattern because it can be irritating against your skin. I had read that older goat’s hair is generally used for rugs, so I did some research.

It turns out, you can hook a rug with mohair yarn or even with the un-spun “roving”. Boy, that would save me a lot of effort! I bought a book on how it is done and some of the basic materials. Now, I get to begin experimenting.

I sheared the boys last week and had piles of clean white and gray fiber waiting for me to dye. I decided that if I was going to start designing rugs, I would need a lot of different shades of fiber to cover whatever pictures I chose. In the past, I would pick three or four colors, enough to knit one item of clothing out of each. This time, I would do lots more.

It was quite fun! A friend and I are going to try this together so we chose our first rug designs and looked over the colors in my stash to see what we needed to make to fill in the missing shades. Then, we began experimenting with dye powders, adding little bits until the colors looked about right. Then, I’d drop in a pile of fiber and let it simmer until I liked the color.

I have mostly primary color dyes, so I had some work to do to create earth tones: browns, shades of gold and hardest of all, black. We both need black for the designs we chose. I just kept going then, adding a little of this, a little of that until I had no room left on the drying table. I’ve got a pile of natural color left to use before the next shearing in October.

hooked rug

This rug-hooking is a new adventure for me. I made this little kit at the local fiber festival last year, out of strips of woven wool fabric. It was easy and fun, but I did not think I would do it again because the effort and equipment required for cutting the strips was more than I cared to expend. Now that I know you can use yarn or roving, I realize I have unlimited resources and this might be my new favorite hobby.

I created my first home-made design in PowerPoint, and used my math skills to expand the dimensions to make a small rug to hang on the wall. Then I drew it on tracing paper. The next step is to lay the paper over the “Monks Cloth” rug backing and draw it with a felt pen so that it soaks through. Then, it is just like filling in a coloring book page one dot at a time, or so it seems. I expect to learn by mistakes, as I usually do. Maybe in a month or so I’ll have something new to show off.

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Spring Baby

baby rabbitI’ve just gotta share this little guy who I rescued from our window well. He sat still in paralyzed fear for a few minutes, long enough for a close-up, then slid off the deck into the rose garden. By the afternoon, I found him trapped again in the window well, not having learned his lesson. I carried him upstairs again and this time set him down well out in the field where he may not find his way back to the house.

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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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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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