Monday, December 26, 2011

The King is with his Ladies

Billy Bob Mojo Frank is a happy buck. He's been living with the ladies since Max the dog moved in and took over Mojo's pen. Mojo is the one in charge. Lil G gets knocked around a bit, but he's a happy buck too since he also gets to live with the ladies.

We are fairly certain all the ladies are pregnant and due sometime in spring. We're looking forward to little goat babies to hold and play with. We have four purebred Nigerian Dwarf ladies who should be bearing Mojo's kids. Pepper is pregnant from Mojo so that means Mini-Alpines. Tsica and Cow could be pregnant from either Mojo or Jorge. No telling until the kids come and we can see who they look like most.

Extreme Closeups by Farmer G

Farmer G likes to take pictures a lot. I've often wondered why he tends to make them so close...


Ms. Cow

Lil G



Obscene Radishes

This is what happens when you let radishes grow too long...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Radishes in December

Today, Farmer C and Farmer K harvested radishes they grew
all by themselves. They ate them all by themselves, too!


After much deliberation, talk of mules, llamas, and livestock guardians, and the husband's long, cold night on coyote watch, we adopted Max from the local Humane Society. He was not the prettiest. He was not the biggest. He was not the most intimidating. We chose him because he has experience living with livestock according to notes left by his previous owner. Max was surrendered to the Humane Society because he was too energetic for the older dog in their household. He is only one year old.

My aversion to getting a dog for the ranch was that I figured a dog could just as well eat the farmy animals as much as a coyote could. We met Max on Friday. His reaction to us was to immediately bound up to my husband and hug him. Not good dog manners, but pretty darn to the point. He hugged me too.

We spent a little time walking and playing with him and asked to place him on hold until the following day to think on it. He's not any kind of purebred livestock guardian. He was listed as a Sable Red German Shepherd mix. Judging by the spots on his tongue, he's part Chow as well. And probably part other things. It was a risk to expect him to be a guardian. I read up on German Shepherds and found mixed opinions on whether they are suitable livestock guardians. But then again, my plan isn't to have Max live in the goat or sheep pens or to hang out directly with the hens.

So I slept on the decision and decided it didn't feel wrong to go get him.

The kids and I picked Max up on Saturday and took him to his new home: Mojo's old cage where the first known chicken murder by coyotes occured. Now, Max is guarding. Eventually, when we know we can totally trust him (he's proven pretty livestock friendly so far) he'll have the run of the place.

Monday, December 12, 2011

and More Rain...

It rained most of the day.
Goats do not like rain or getting wet
in any way shape or form. Tsica and
Jorge stayed under their porch.

Even most of the sheep huddled together in their house.

The hens had a meeting in the single unit goat house.
The rooster wasn't invited.

The cows really don't care if it rains.
They just want more food.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Goat and Sheep Houses

The Studio
The single room or studio goat apartment. This luxurious yet rustic
getaway features concrete block walls, a beam roof complete with
corrugated metal roofing, and an all natural earthen floor.
The Sheep Model
A two until model with all the same features of the Studio times two!
Curl up in style with your favorite wooly friend for a cozy night of
bah-bahs and cracked corn, maybe even a hooficure, or the elusive sheep smile.

Frufru, Oreo2, and Lacey

Frufru, Lacey, and Oreo2
(A Polish Crested, Brown Lace Wyandote, and Silver Lace Wyandote)
These three hens are staying at home until they're older and it's safer for them at the ranch.
I held onto my "Ricardo" money and used it to purchase these hens.


We suffered some predation by coyotes the other night. Suffice to say it was gruesome and we are short some hens. So, I have made some changes to protect the birds. They go (unwillingly) into a coop every night to keep them from nesting by the fencelines or in trees. One of the ducks survived but has a nasty bite on its neck. Looks like he will make it, but he needs to heal. For now he keeps his head tucked in to hide the scabs. I'm pretty sure it was coyotes as they left behind some poo as if to add insult to injury. For the record, all the birds were in pens. But when they sleep close to the fence, they can be grabbed and literally pulled through it.

Monday, December 5, 2011


This morning when I showed up, Winter had been to the land. Not only were there little bitty snowflakes fluttering to the ground, but there was this:

Frost on the wood pile.
Ice in the muddy road.
And frozen hoses.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

New Chicks

A few days ago, a couple of the workers stopped by from next door wanting to know if I had any jobs for them. Although I didn't, I figured I'd take down their information in case I did in the future. The man who gave me his phone number said his name was Ricardo. At which point I began to get upset. I told them what had happened to my little rooster and pointed out his grave.

We talked some more and I offered them the huge pile of wood at the front of the property. Ricardo was grateful and said he would come by Saturday and not only take away all that dead wood (which I have been trying to get rid of for some time) but bring me a hen as well to replace my Ricardo.

Instead, he brought me two hens! He said he has about 200 chickens and has too many. I figured I had too much wood so this was a good deal for the both of us. I'm not exactly sure what breed these hens are. I asked him and he said they were a black Mc-something or other. I'll have to do some research to see. They're shaped like a Dark Cornish, long and lean. Nothing like the hens I have.

The buff hen is very friendly and tolerates being held. The black one has to be captured in order to be petted. I never know where they'll be when I show up as both can fly and sneak from pen to pen.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Giant Concrete E

There's a giant E in the goat pen. Are you wondering why? Could it be that I want to write a concrete message visible from the sky? Possibly. I've done odder things.

Going back to my list a few days ago, this is the beginning of concrete goathouses. Concrete that horns, bodies, and hooves can't knock down. This one is in the main pen and consists of two large rooms. There is a one room unit going in behind the chicken area which will likely become the buck yard. And the sheep are getting a two room unit in their area though I'm not sure sheep care if they get wet or not.

They will also get roofs made of something virtually indestructible, like metal. Now, if only I had a little house out there...


It's been drizzling and raining off and on all last night and today, so I didn't stay very long at the ranch this morning. Too much mud and too chilly. The recent fence repair has caused me some finger cuts that hurt if I try to do more. Good excuse not to, right?

Anyway, here is what the steer looked like this morning... He eats beneath Gucci. She likes to rip the alfalfa out of the feeder and shake it around until it's um, dead.

The Moral: Don't stand under the bigger cow when she's eating.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How to Make a Calf Crate

Three pallets tied together in the back of my truck.
Alfalfa is strategically located in the corner to give
the calf something to munch on during the trip home.
Today, we drove to Marana to see about a steer calf. He's mostly, if not all, Black Angus, a breed that originated in Scotland. Angus cattle are naturally polled, or hornless. I'm thankful for that after having been bumped by Gucci when I didn't let her out for her walk soon enough for her time standards. I can only imagine what that would have felt like with horns. Ouch.

Back to the calf. He's six months old and weighs close to three hundred pounds. He was a feedlot calf that was bottle raised by the woman who owned him. What this means for me is that he isn't terrified of me when I go into the corral to tend to him.

For anyone interested in transporting a calf in the back of a truck, this post may be helpful. We do not yet own a livestock trailer. We have a friend who does, but this was one of those situations where I felt like we could handle it ourselves. I was originally going to use an extra-large dog crate. And in this case, it probably would have worked being that this calf is very docile. But my friend Angelica was worried about my general safety. She knows I have very little experience with BIG farm animals. She also knows that I do crazy things that I might not have done if I knew better.

Old neighbor gate added and simply fastened with knotted
hay bale twine to serve as a door. Worked like a charm!
So I erred on the side of caution and built a proper crate for the calf using what I had onhand. Pallets. Baling twine, some nails, spare pieces of wood, and a recently taken down chain link gate. In the back of my truck I assembled three heavy wood pallets in a C shape, lashing them together at the junctions with the twine. I nailed on a few braces (salvage bits from another pallet) across the top to keep the pallets stable. Then I placed a large 'roof' atop the pallets which was scrap wood a friend had given me. After affixing that, I had the base structure completed and it was sturdy.

All I needed was a door. The new wall construction meant my neighbor gate had come down. It was exactly the right size for the pallet crate. I lashed it on with more bale twine and we were ready to get a calf. To keep the little guy happy on his journey, I wedged a leaf of alfalfa inside and brought along a container of sweet feed.

I also taught myself how to make a calf halter from rope, but that's another post for another day...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Murder Most Foul

WARNING: This post is sad.

This morning was a little hectic. I've been battling a cold my oldest son shared with me, and I admit I overslept, so the boys and I were rushing to get to school. They were having their usual in the car bickering session about nothing in particular. After dropping them off at school, I was glad to get to the land and have some quiet time doing chores. The workers were busy building the brick wall. Things were looking up until I drove in and noticed my goats were zipping round and round the pens.

Then I saw it. A WOLF!  Okay no. I don't think we have wolves here in Tucson. But we do have little coyotes and big dogs. And this was someone's husky that had obviously escaped and came to terrorize livestock on my property. Basically a wolf with blue eyes. Needless to say I was mad and scared for my animals.

So I went after the dog. And as any beloved pet would, it came bounding up to me with that stupid-I-love-you look on its face, just as happy as can be to see me.

Off in the background I saw him. My poor, sweet Ricardo. Dead. Murdered. Offed by that very dog.

"Bad dog! BAD DOG!" And he looked sad about it. Not that I think he really knew what he did. Ugh. Dogs.

I ran over and shouted at the workers, "WHOSE DOG IS THAT!?" They looked frightened of me. (Probably because talons were growing out of my clawed, angry fingers and my eyes were turning bright red.) But it wasn't their dog they said and also that they had chased it off two times before and didn't know it had returned. "IT KILLED MY CHICKEN!" I screamed. They stopped working and looked even more frightened.

I scooped up my Ricardo, who was still soft and warm, and placed him in the bed of my truck so I could deal with the dog. The workers shouted at me that someone was calling at us from the property line. Apparently, the dog's owners. They asked if I had seen a dog and I yelled, "YES, IT KILLLED MY CHICKEN!" Then flames shot out of my eyes and the owners and the dog were instantly incinerated.

No, not really.

I cried. I put a leash on the dog and tied him at the milking ramada. The owners drove up and paid me for Ricardo. Both apologized again and again. One even petted my little, dead rooster. They were very sorry. They said the dog had gotten out somehow and they had been looking for him. They took him away in their truck.

I buried my baby rooster. And that's the downside of free ranging chickens.

Rather than end here, I guess I'll try to be a little philosophical. His feathers were scattered here and there near the chicken coop. Why he didn't just fly back over the fence like he has done every day since I caught him sneaking out, I'll never know. Anyways, I found a tiny clump of his neck feathers and tied them to an old, rusted, unearthed horseshoe the workers dredged up when digging the wall foundation and placed that little memorial by our main gate. Sometimes chickens want to free range farther and wider than the range we give them. Sometimes, so do dogs. They can no more help being chickens or dogs than we can help being human.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's Going On?

Plain Jane Goat Milk Soap
It's been a while since I posted anything, so here's a quick note to let you know what's going on at the ranch right now.

1. Winter is chilling the nights and shortening the days which means the hens are laying less eggs. Or they're hiding them somewhere real good that I have yet to stumble upon. The goats are giving less milk as it's been close to a year on Star and Pepper being in milk and little Violet is tiny and never gave a lot anyways.

2. Winter froze some of the gigantic garden, so much of it is not producing. We still have a few tomato plants that are barely hanging in there, a lot of bell peppers, eggplants, green onions, cabbage, and I think (hope and pray) the zucchinis are hanging on beneath the plastic sheeting I put up to protect them from frost.

3. The test garden is almost gone. Why you ask? Because when I let my cow out to roam (and I really like to let her do that) she likes to eat the test garden. Don't feel bad. There wasn't much left in it anyways. The few plants that were still alive have been transplanted to the gigantic garden. Besides, Gucci is not all to blame. The goats occasionaly escape and they, too, like to eat bell and chili peppers. Who doesn't want a little spice in their life now and again?

4. The pumpkin patch is halfway gone. For the same reasons listed in number 3. Once the vines in there die out, pumpkins will then be grown within the safety of a fenced area.

5. There's a WALL going up. A five foot brick wall between mine and my neighbor's property. This is great news. I'm 99% sure a goat cannot get through a brick wall. Note the 1%. They're very clever, sneaky animals. I wish the wall was going up around the entire property and that there were little brick goat and sheep houses, but hey, you can't always get what you want. Once the wall construction ends, I will have to do some fanagling with wire fences and pen rearrangements. Oh the neverending joy that is fence repair.

6. The cooler days mean I'm very busy out there moving dirt and poo. A lot. More often than ever before.

7. I've made two batches of Plain Jane goat milk soap. Only soybean oil, goat milk, and lye. That's it. No colors. No fragrances. No weirdness. So, if you want some, it will be available at our Swan and Camp Lowell restaurant location in about four weeks. It has to fully cure first.

8. Gucci likes to bump me with her head until I scratch the spots where her horns used to be. A little frightening, but ends well as long as I do what she wants.

9. Still no baby goats, Mom. We're waiting patiently.

10. The new goathouse is in need of repair ALREADY! They managed to knock down two rooms by way of rubbing and butting on the walls. Hence the mention of dreamy brick goathouses in number 5. Ah, someday...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Creepy Coop

The chickens still haven't taken down all the Halloween decorations...
When we first went into the shed that is now known as the creepy coop, it was FULL of cobwebs. Now only a few remain in the high reaches hens can't get to.


This morning I did a little work in Gucci's pen. With the weather being cool, it's a good time to do the work I don't want to do in the heat. Since the land is in a floodplain, good drainage is a good idea. I'm digging a ditch that will span the goat pen and the cow pen and lead off to the trees at the west end of the property so hooves will stay drier.

What Are These?

We have several of these berry bushes at the ranch and we don't know what they are. Do you?


I like to say that our chickens free-range with the
sheep. But that's only partially true. They have the
ability to free-range wherever they want. And Ricardo
does that every day. I always have to snatch him up and
put him back with the hens. He's turned out to be very
colorful and I don't have the heart to clip his wingfeathers.

Winter is Coming

Depsite the cold, there is always a lot going on at the ranch. This is my feeble attempt to keep the eggplants and peppers from freezing. I know I can't win, but it's still worth a shot...

Friday, November 4, 2011

"BB" Lays another Egg

"BB" aka Big Boy who is now confirmed to be a female.

No one likes my geese. No one but me. I guess geese are like those dogs that only like one person and pretty much hate anyone else. I hold them and pat them and scratch them on their backs every chance I get. They're noisy. They let everyone know there are people about. And they LOVE me. They do. I don't care what anyone says about them. I love them right back. 
BB Lays an Egg

Geese eggs taste just like chicken eggs in case you're wondering. One goose egg is the equivalent of two chicken eggs. This morning I was there to witness BB popping out an egg. It was pretty neat to see.


Harvest from 11-2-2011
Lots of Green Chiles and Bell Peppers!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Goose that Layed?

Check out how big a goose egg is in comparison to a chicken egg!

One of the geese layed her first egg. I'm not certain but it seems that
the larger goose, Big Boy, is actually a big girl and so is Silly Goose.
Angelica took the second egg to incubate it and see if there might be
a boy goose out there, not that anyone but me wants another goose.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Gucci Walk

Gucci likes to follow me around a lot in the mornings. But sometimes she goes off exploring on her own. This time she discovered something new to her: the shed where hay is stored for the goats...or for hungry cows who are big and strong and stealthy when the doors are left open.


She's a Woman of the World

Not entirely certain, but Ms. Cow appears to have a bun or two in her goatly oven. When the babes come along we'll have to ask them, "Who's your daddy?"  If she pops soon, then it was Mojo. If she pops later, it was Jorge...

Either way I'm not milking her anymore. She's all dried up and ready to make colostrum when the special time comes.

I love it when a plan comes together...

I've always wondered how much hay I could fit in the bed of my truck. This day's count was 14 bales and I think there's room for more. I was successfully able to back right up to the covered storage/milking area which made me super happy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

When Life Gives You Poo...

A load of Mojo's bedding and poo ready for the garden.
In case you haven't read the About Markou Ranch section of this blog, sometimes things go wrong in life. Just when you think you have your path clearly laid before you, when you think everything is going your way, things change. Often for the worse or in a way that makes you want to tear out all your hair and scream or cry. We look back on what has happened since we purchased our land and have many should-have could-have thoughts. We should have been living there by now, could have chosen to build a smaller house back then and might have gotten it done before the housing market crashed. But as the old saying goes, everything happens for a reason. It could be a divine plan. It could be that's the way the cookie crumbles and you have to move forward and make the best of what you're given. So this post is about what many people think is something gone wrong or something they don't want to deal with: POO.

First of all, poo happens. Everyone does it and when you have animals, you have poo. It can't be helped. Before you look down on all that poo, think about the positive side of it. Poo is loaded with nitrogen and natural critters that will make it biodegrade when given back to nature as it should be.

Our land has no septic or sewer system. We have no trash pick up. That means we have to do something with the many varieties of poo generated there. Something that isn't going to make problems or gross out our neighbors.

Goat poo is easy to deal with. It comes in tiny pellets, or berries, that dry fast and sweep up easily into a pile. Goats are messy eaters, dropping out the stemmy stuff they don't like in their hay. Goat poo mixed with hay bits is proving to be one of the best mulchy fertilizers I have ever used. I wheelbarrow loads of it to new garden sites and lay it in across the rows. It composts fairly fast and becomes humus rich soil that absorbs a lot of water and provides nutrients to seedlings without the use of chemical based fertilizers. And it's free but for a half hour or so of sweeping, loading, dumping, and tidying.

Goat poo bedding is in fact so desirable, that other people want some! Imagine that. Someone actually wants to take away poo. I gave some to my friends to start their garden in town. They said it worked great and they even came out and took trash bags full of it, shoveling it themselves while the goats supervised. My son's class started a garden for a science project and they, too, were quite happy to have a trash can load of goat poo bedding for their little plot. The teacher informed me just the other day that the garden is thriving and I should stop by and look at how well it has done thanks to the goat poo.

Gucci's Pies!
Cow poo is smooshy and generally comes packaged in a pie shape. Cows are very generous in the provision of poo that they offer. Many people are really disturbed by poos this large (horse poo is larger in my brief experience) but don't fear the poo! Celebrate it. If you've ever tried to keep a lush, green lawn, you are likely familiar with bags of manure from the garden center. It's cow poo that's been composted a little while. You bought them, didn't you? I have it for free every day, twice a day.

I manage the cow poo with a 5 gallon bucket and a flat bladed shovel. Right after I give Gucci her hay ration, I go on a poo hunt in her corral and gather up all her pies. I have a pallet compost bin set up nearby with two bales of straw stacked next to it. Here's a little secret most people don't know about poo. If you toss it in a compost pile and thoroughly cover it with dry organic matter (like straw) it doesn't stink or attract flies! Do this on a regular basis and you've got your own compost factory going.

Since cow poo is very wet, it's considered "hot" too hot to place directly in your garden. You'll want to compost it well to let it cool down and become dry and absorbent when blended with other organic matter. If you don't turn your compost pile on a regular basis and keep adding to it daily until its full, a good rule of thumb is to let it sit for a year. While that one is sitting, you'll be busy on others if you have a cow, of course.

Chicken poo is an anomaly. It comes in two forms: squishy-wet or dry. It all depends on what the chickens ate. They are not careful about where they drop their poo. Sometimes it's in the spent hay. Sometimes it's in the tree they roost in. Sometimes you are holding a chicken because they're so soft and warm and splat, the poo is on you. Like cow poo, chicken poo is considered "hot". Don't put it directly in the garden without first mixing with dry organic matter and letting it compost a while. Our chickens free range with the sheep and goats, so their poo is mixed automatically with hay bedding, piled periodically and carted off to sit in a new garden row until planting time.

Duck and Geese poo is high in nitrogen, comes in pelletish squishy forms and tends to end up in the pool they swim in where it becomes liquified. It's the easiest of all to maintain. Since it's so diluted with water, it gets dumped straight into the pumpkin patch twice a day. This is a trick I learned from Permaculture Soils, an educational video published by the Permaculture Institute of Australia.

Human poo is quite another story. Have you ever stopped to consider how much water is wasted when you flush a toilet, ever a low water use toilet? Water is precious here in the desert and daily people are flushing it down the drain, water that was treated prior to be drinkable. It's a strange way to deal with poo, because when you get right down to it, human poo is like the poo of any other creature. It's been made to go back into the earth. Rather than elaborate on this conundrum, I'd like to recommend this book as something to consider when dealing with human poo: The Humanure Handook. Find out more about it here:

Yes, that's right. Even human poo can be composted and given back to the earth. Imagine taking your own poo and turning it into a huge bed of roses. It might sound freakish and strange or wildly wonderful depending on your point of view. When life gives you poo, after all, what's best is to make compost...and garden.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gucci's First Day

This morning the boys went into the corral and petted Gucci up close.

Gucci watched me milk every goat this morning.
Ms. Cow and Pepper (above) were non-plussed.
Star was a little spooked.
Violet absoultely freaked out!

Later, Gucci and I went for a walk.
She admired the garden and probably wants to eat it.

After school, Angelica took her for a walk and introduced her to the wild
grasses and amaranth growing all over the property. It took Gucci a little
while but soon she figured out all that green stuff was for her.

Gucci's Arrival

Gucci came to live with us late last night after her pedicure. She arrived in the dark, riding in a trailer with her cow friends. It was a little scary getting that big trailer down our narrow road...

Here she comes!

Checking out the back of the property.

Checking out her corral.
Note the flashy fly mask.

We fed her some hay so she'd feel right at home.

She took great pride in ripping it apart.

Angelica gave a lesson on halters.

The water trough was inspected.
The kids and I spent the night to be sure Gucci was all right in her new surroundings. She walked around and taste tested for a while. We didn't hear a peep out of her all night. In the morning when I poked my head out of the camper, she stood by her feed bin and mooed twice to let me know she was ready for her breakfast.