Friday, December 28, 2012

What Happens to all the Leftover Christmas Trees?

30.8 million live Christmas trees were purchased in the United States in 2011, with a real market value of $1.07 billion.


Can you spot the three boys in their "forts" ?
Did you ever wonder what happens to all the leftover Christmas trees from tree lots? I had no concept of how massive the leftover volume can be until I responded to a craigslist ad offering free trees. I spoke with a man on the other side of town who had a lot with some leftovers. He was admittedly too far from me to drive to but he knew another man, Jose, who runs five tree lots in Tucson and had some leftovers too. He passed my information to Jose who then called me and said he'd be able to deliver a load of leftover trees to me. I asked how many trees and he said, "Oh, about a hundred or so."

Mind you I was thinking a hundred small maybe 6 foot trees. Easy to handle. Not a big deal.


His 20 foot tall truck arrived in the dark of early evening on Christmas. It was so tall that it could not safely drive beneath our low hanging mesquite trees at the front of the property. Not to worry. Jose pulled out, turned around and backed in as much as he could to a cleared area. He and his son rolled open the back of the truck and the tree tossing began.

Most of the trees were still bundled with twine. Most of the trees wel well over 6 feet tall, some even in the range of 15 feet with massive 6-8 inch thick trunks. They tossed and tossed and tossed some more. I tried to pull the trees back to allow them more room but there was no way I could keep up, and my kids were no use as they were too busy climbing and rolling on the trees like crazed puppies.

Jose also brought me 10 bales of straw that he had no use for. Wow. Just wow. Free goat snacks for a year and free animal bedding. Last year I had cruised my neighborhood alleys for tossed trees, but this year I have to say I doubt I'll be doing that. Only two landfills in Tucson accept leftover trees from the sale lots and they charge for them to be dumped. No wonder Jose was so anxious for me to receive his. He asked if he could bring me more. I hated to say no, but this many trees is more than enough so I suggested he contact Shelby who runs HoofsnHorns Farm, the farm animal rescue we had visited when we first were interested in getting a milk cow.

I did find out that Shelby received a massive load of trees too, and she was (like me) amazed and overwhelmed at the quantity.

I told Jose to keep my number and call me next year if he needed a place to drop a load.

I liken Christmas trees to the bison the American Indians subsisted on. I use every part of the trees. The needles are fed to the goats and they munch some of the branches off. When they're done, I pull out the trees, lop off all the remaining branches and pile them to dry as kindling. The trunks I use to line garden beds, but this year... I have ideas. Little goat, sheep and child size wood cabins. Pine fence posts. Goodness knows what else I can make them into. It's nice wood. It smells fresh and clean, and it will not go to waste here. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

New Baby Ram

Brave Sheep's Baby: Mark
Brave Sheep had a baby ram sometime this morning before we came to do chores. He's healthy and sweet, but by tomorrow will likely be a wild thing that wants nothing to do with human contact. So, this morning I seized the moment to hold and pet him while his mom was busy eating. He took a little nap. I had to give him back when Brave Sheep came looking for him.

Yesterday we had a lot of steady rain which we really needed. It's good in that it gets rid of the dust, bad in that all the pens turn into mud messes churned up regularly by sharp hooves. We need real pastures. It's the only way I can think of that would prevent the dust or mud issue, but pastures take time to grow. Someday... Hopefully the rains will be steady and all those seeds I spread will dig in and flourish.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cookie the Cow

I have been remiss in posting lately because life has really become crazy. It's the most wonderful time of the year for stress. Can I fast forward to January, please?

Anyways, we purchased a little heifer calf at the Marana Stockyard auction November 29, 2012. She is listed on her paperwork as a red and white heifer. She was sold as "60 days weaned" and her previous owner has no phone number so we can't find out more. That's what happens when you buy at an auction. It's a gamble in that you don't know a whole lot about what you're getting other than what she looks like. You can't go right up and pet the animals although you can stare at them for quite a while from outside the pens. You can look for problems. You can make guesses. Like...oh I think that one is a Hereford.

This little calf was one on a list of calves we wanted to bid on. We wanted a female, maybe two if the price was good. Things moved very fast at the auction and we only got one little one. During the long wait to bid on the calves I enjoyed a gigantic chocolate chip cookie from the Cattleman's Cafe. So, we named our new calf Cookie. We loaded her up no problem and brought her home.

She has turned out to be a sweetheart. She likes attention, likes to be scratched and petted and offers licks with her sandpaper tongue in return. She did develop a cold after we got her which the vet said she likely picked up at the auction. Our (fantastic, wonderful, helpful) vet taught me how to give neck shots and I administered them for three days to Cookie. But before I left my shot lesson, I showed her a picture of the calf and the vet said, "That's not a Hereford. That's a dairy cow."

This was interesting news which led to more questions.

"I wonder why someone would sell a heifer dairy cow at auction," the vet said. "Unless she's a freemartin."

"A what?" I asked.

"Twin to a bull calf. That means she's likely sterile."

A freemartin heifer takes on the testosterone of her brother in utero and it renders them infertile 90% of the time. Sometimes there are no outward signs but occasionally the cow's vulva is a little freaky looking. Yes, I could be caught staring at my calf's vulva, trying to decide if she was...different. Still not sure. It looks different than Karma's, but well, you know those things all have their own sort of uniqueness.

The vet is to come out January 12th and administer Brucellosis shots to both calves and she said she'd check around in Cookie's back end to see if she could tell what was going on in there.

Seriously, farming gets weird at times.

Karma is checking it out too.

Life as Usual

Well, not for T-Bone-Mr.Sandwich-Texas-Baby-Cow. He had grown increasingly assertive about who was allowed to eat and who was allowed to be in the cow pen. In other words, he was beating up Karma and eating all the food and then he took to beating on me when it was time to do clean up in the pen. I can't say he was a mean cow. Just turning dominant. He'd come up for his scratches and pets and then take to whacking me with his big, heavy, hard head. He knocked me down once and was very excited at his newfound power. After that I wouldn't go in there unless I had a big stick to hold out in front of me in warning. I never hit him, but it was there in case he came at me. I didn't trust him anymore.

Nevertheless it was still sad to see him go and I walked him through the chutes at the U of A Meat Science Department to the holding pen where he awaited his doom the following day.

We did get a replacement cow so Karma won't be alone. She's a bit of an anomolay. Read more about her HERE.

Monday, November 19, 2012


My neighbor was over visiting on Sunday morning and we thought Ms. Muffy looked huge, ready to explode out a gazillion babies at any moment. So I set some fresh straw in the sheep mansion in anticipation of the blessed event. That evening when I came to do chores, I discovered a beautiful, red and white baby ewe following Muffy around. Yeah, that's right. Only one. Muffy has a serious eating disorder...

On a side note, the lady we purchased SugarSheep from thought Muffy might be a Tunis sheep. It's a breed that has some reddish coloring. I don't really have any way of being sure, but I searched for more information about Tunis and she does resemble them.

Muffy and Ginger

Friday, November 16, 2012

Yummy Rooster and Thoughts on Eating Your Critters

I understand people who choose to become vegetarians or vegans. I am not, but I can't say I never will be. Raising up your own animals with the intent of having them end up on a plate to eat is not an easy choice by any means. Nor should it be, in my humble opinion. I won't argue one way or the other about it. The truth is, my family eats chicken. We have been buying it from the grocery store or eating it in take-out, etc.

Last Sunday, we processed six of our roosters. These birds came to us by mail as day old chicks from the hatchery back in April. Raising them up to eat was our original intent, unless of course, we got some really cool hens that laid eggs.

There is something commendable about raising up an animal, treating it with kindness, feeding it well, protecting it from harm, caring for it, knowing it and treating it with respect when the times comes to take it to the block. To many people this sounds horrible, unthinkable, too difficult to bear. They could not do this. But I ask, did you know anything about that chicken nugget you just ate? Did that bird get to run around outside in the sunshine? Eat grubs? Scratch and roll in the dirt? Did that bird have a name? Did someone care about it?

My personal feeling on the matter is that if I am going to raise and eat an animal, I want that animal's life to be full and free for as long as possible. I want that animal to be treated with a kind hand and respect. As I brought my roosters to my friend to axe them, I hugged each one and petted him kindly. They deserved it, after all.

I'm not posting pictures of the process, but I will say it's both gruesome and fascinating. We were lucky in that our two friends came to help us. One to wield the axe. The other to help me dip and pluck. My husband was the one to clean and portion. Should you be considering raising up your own chickens to eat, I highly recommend that the processing be something you have help with. It's labor intensive, especially if you are doing many birds.

I read up on the whole ordeal beforehand and here are some pointers.

-Have someone else do the killing if you loved the birds, and look away.
-When dipping in the boiling water prior to plucking, hold the bird under the water no more than 30 seconds. Ours took 20 seconds.
-While wearing thick rubber gloves (the kind I use for soapmaking worked perfectly) take hold of the body feathers and pull gently to test that you've dipped long enough. Feathers will rub right off. Easily. If they don't, dip again. Be careful not to keep in the water too long or you'll cook your bird.
-Have an ice chest and zipper bags on hand for storage.
-Be sure you know what to cut out, how to clean, and how to cut up your bird. Don't assume you know. Be aware that there is an oil gland above the tail and a gullet that may or may not have food in it in the neck, and these need to be removed.

Our birds were seven months old and full grown. That's probably a little longer than most people would wait to eat them. Understand that the older a bird is, the tougher the meat will be. We cooked our first batch of legs and thighs slowly to tenderize. I have heard that some people cook them in the crock pot or pressure cooker at this age.

Some differences I noticed were that the meat was incredibly flavorful. This tasted like chicken times fifty. It was really good. Not anything like the chicken I'd been eating all my life. The bones were very long, much unlike the tiny bones from a store bought bird. There was almost no fat. The skin was thicker and stronger in texture.

Would I do this again? Yes. Even though it was a great deal of work to raise up these birds, it was worth the effort. It's not for everyone, so don't feel bad if it's not your thing.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

4H Fur and Feathers Show

Farmers G and C are in 4H and their project right now is poultry. We started off trying to use the chickens we already had, but soon realized that they're too big to be handled properly by little hands. The show was supposed to start at 9AM. We got up at 7ish this morning and dashed to the ranch to get the chores done. The boys changed into their shirts before we zipped out of there and journied to the University of Arizona Agricultural Center.

Concerned we'd be very late, we resigned ourselves to standing by and watching in case we missed registration. We made it there with time to spare, but the lines to register were long. This show featured Cavy (Guinea Pigs), Rabbits, Chickens, Pigeons, and Pygmy Goats. We had fun watching all the kids go by, toting or leading their critters. The pygmy goats were hilarious. They resemble our Nigerians except that their legs are so much shorter and stockier.

Everything was well organized. There was a long table of donated items to be raffled off. I gave two baskets of goat milk soap. (A lot of people tried for those!) Someone else donated a pedigreed dwarf bunny. There were even canned goods, clothes, animal accessories, chicken scratch and so much more.

Waiting for the Junior Novice Show
The snack bar provided hot dogs and hamburgers and the usual suspects like chips and drinks. It was very affordable and not overcrowded. The boys and I had hamburgers and chips while we waited.

Gabe and Fluffball
First to show were the more experienced children. Our group has 15 kids in it, so we knew participants in every category. It was great to see such a huge turnout. What I enjoy most about 4H is how the older children really encorage and teach the new ones. We have had a lot of help from them, from answering basic questions to cheerleading for them as they showed.

Needless to say, it was quite a wait. There was so much to see though. While we waited, the boys took turns getting quizzed by Abby (girl in their group who had obviously studied well for this show). The three of them let their chickens play together and took turns challenging each other on the parts of the wing, why you show certain areas of the chicken and what to look for in heatlthy birds.

Abby's father and I had coffee (with goat milk that I'd squeezed out that morning) and shared stories. He had worked on a dairy farm years prior and explained that they would milk the cows there three to four times a day! He had worked with Holsteins and Guernseys.

The kids did really well being patient. When they got restless, we walked around to check out the animals. One lady was selling meat breed rabbits and was very helpful and informative about how she raises them and what breeds would be good to show in case the boys wanted to go into rabbits. (Eeek!)

Abby in the forefront, Farmer G, Farmer C.
By the time it was Junior Novice participants' turn, most people had left and we had nearly the whole arena to ourselves. The children lined up with their birds and did their best posing the animals, showing all the parts and answering questions about their particular bird and general questions too.

As soon as the judge began walking down the line, my boys became very solemn faced. They focussed on the judge and tried their best. As predicted, our new buddy Abby took first place with the most points. Gabe was second and Christian was third. Many of the children in this group received blue ribbons for their efforts.

Duck Pen

It's supposed to be a duck only club, but it hasn't worked out that way. There are three roosters in there, only one of which isn't on the freezer list...and the peahen. She's the real boss in there. Anyways, the duck pen was made to be coyote and hawk proof, but the layout inside wasn't ergonomic. I cleaned it all out and moved things around to fix all that. The "pond" gets emptied twice daily into an unused area where we will again plant some seeds so that nitrogen rich water won't get wasted.

The doghouse has already been voted out by the peahen when she landed atop it and knocked it down. I'm leaving the upsid0e-down pots and ladder in place since the birds like to roost on them. Hopefully this deisgn will work much better than before.

Field Trip to the Farm

Crowding around Pepper for a milking lesson.
Last week, several students from Emily Gray Junior High came to the farm to visit. They got to play with and pet the goats, check out the chickens, ducks and geese, and I gave a brief lesson on milking goats. The girls were mostly squeamish about milking, but the boys couldn't wait to try.

This was an impromptu visit that my oldest son arranged. Most of the 7th graders were away on a larger field trip and the teachers seemed thankful to have an interesting place to bring this group that stayed behind.

Sugar Sheep

We had been contemplating adding a couple more wool sheep to the mix since we were pleased with the way Muffy's babies filled out so much faster than the Blackbelly sheep. We purchased this lovely little lady from a woman who raises purebred Shetland sheep. This sheep is three years old, pregnant, and a crossbreed though mostly Shetland. I've taken to calling her Sugar since she's so white. She's a little skittish, but dominates the young Blackbelly ewes where she's currently residing. She is due the beginning of March.

Pepper Striking a Pose

One thing I don't like about the ranch is that it can tend to look untidy. I long for the day when everything has a place and it's in its place. Most everything out there is done for a purpose, like this pallet fence against the wire fence for a holding area in the main goat pen. When I first put it up, I knew it was ugly. It's pallets. Blech.

So, using what I had on hand, I painted the fence barn red. Still kinda ugly albeit slightly improved.

On a morning when I finished my chores earlier than usual, I dusted off this piece of scrap plywood, painted it, and made it look like a farmy sign. Not gorgeous, but way better than a line of pallets strung together to give the animals privacy and added protection.

Pepper seemed to know the sign was all about her milkly abilities...

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Visit to the Marana Stockyard Auction

Yesterday morning we took the kids to school, did the chores, and headed to the Marana Stockyard Livestock Auction. This event happens Thursdays and we wanted to check it to weigh our options on purchasing a replacement steer and possibly a second cow for milking and the making of future steers.

Marana is a sleepy little farming city located northwest of Tucson. We've had luck finding some of our stock in that town. (Gucci and Lucky came from Marana.) There are fields of cotton and corn, lots of wide open spaces, and the landscape is dotted with horses and tractors.

We had never been to a livestock auction and didn't know what to expect other than animals being sold to the highest bidder. We arrived a little early. The auction usually starts at 10:30am. We took seats on the right wing of the viewing area and eventually noticed that most people sat on the opposite wing. We could tell right away that most everyone there knew everyone else. They called each other by name, joked, laughed, and shared updates on the goings-on in their lives.

The first animal came in a little before 11:00am. After that it was a long slew of in and out, whips cracking in the air or whacking the metal walls, and "Hey!" to keep the cattle in motion. There were a lot of Black Angus going through and we noticed many had extra teats. Then came a couple of cows that looked the worse for wear: one who had poor eyesight and one who didn't breathe quite right, her cheeks puffing in and out as if she were blowing up a balloon. They sold for less than the others.

Next were the pairs and bred cows and this stock looked better than the previous batch. Here we paid close attention, trying understand everything as it moved very fast. The bred cows had stripes painted on them to indicate which trimester of their pregnancy they were in. One for the first, two for the second, and three for the third. They called them stripers as in, "Here's a nice three striper!"

The pairs were a cow and her calf. Sometimes they were sold together and sometimes they were sold seperately. The most troubling part for me to watch was when they would put the mother back in the run so the calf could be bidded on alone. One mother cow was particularly defensive of her little baby and circled him ferociously to keep the men from parting them.

A Hereford heifer being bidded on.
There were also pairs in which the cow had been bred again, so you could purchase them and essentially end up with three animals.

The bulls were the most impressive, big, proud, dangerous guys who showed no fear in the face of the men cracking whips and shouting.

Next came the calves, from youngest to oldest. The first sets were not weaned. Later sets were. There were different kinds, but mostly Angus, some Corriente for roping. Some were sold alone, but many were sold in pairs or sets.

We went to the office to get the rundown from one of ladies who works in cashiering. The Stockyard administers vaccinations and can perform many services such as castration (ouch), dehorning, ear tagging, and worming. We were told that the next time we came we could go out to the barn area and view the animals firsthand if we got their early enough and it wasn't too crazy-busy.

All in all, it was very interesting. Around noon, we headed for the Cattleman's Cafe, a restaurant located within the auction house building. And yes, we had burgers. They were delcious. We chatted with one of the owners who was also our server.

After our meal, we headed out for a drive in the barn area where the cattle are held before auction and afterwards for pick up. Everything looked well cared for and the critters had plenty of hay and water. It wasn't a particularly hot day, so there weren't much in the way of flies. Thank goodness! It made for a tiring day after the drive back. For once, I was not in the driver's seat and I took the opportunity to have me a nap. Zzz

More Goose Babies

Today's goose baby headcount is 5. Mom had left the nest and was teaching her brood to eat the crumbles and alfalfa we had out for them. Dad and the two aunties were on guard to protect the little ones from any danger.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I shall name them: Trick and Treat

BB the goose has been diligently sitting in her eggs. She laid ten and she guards them with hisses and bites. I was skeptical that Sue (the male goose) had done what he needed to do, but I was proven wrong this morning.

From the fenceline, I saw a few shell bits in BB's nest and sure enough, upon closer inspection, I found two little baby Brown Chinese geese in there. We'll wait and see if the other eggs hatch. Crossing fingers they all grow up happy and healthy.

I moved another doghouse into the goose pen in case another one wants to be a mama. So far, the other two ladies aren't laying.

BB attempted to be a mama when she had a duck lover, but that never worked out.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What's Happening

Gigantic Garden
Although it's taken far too long to get here, autumn is in. The tiny mesquite leaves are fluttering to the ground. The garden is beginning to go to sleep. Unimpressed with the Gigantic Garden's production this year, I've decided to make some changes which I hope will improve its success come spring.

1. I am slowly removing all the Bermuda grass that has snuck in. I think it overpowered the vegetables and stole all the water. We didn't have any grass like this when we bought the property, so my guess is that when the garden was originally tilled by my handyman, and he added horse manure, the rhyzomes survived the journey through the horses and through the compost process and ended up thriving in my garden the second year.

2. I am adding a thick layer of goat poo mixed with alfalfa leavings from the goat pen. Basically, I'm starting over with heavier layers of organic matter to see if this fixes the problem the grass caused. All the pathways were mulched with an underlayer of cardboard to prevent grass popping up in there.

3. Since the greenhouse was built late last winter, this year will be the real test to see if seedlings can get a headstart on the season. I am planning to start in there in November if the weather truly stays chilly.

4. The sprinkler will be retired and the rows will be watered by hand. The old Test Garden always did well and we watered it by hand with a hose and sprayer. While the sprinkler was nice for convenience I think the rows in the Gigantic Garden weren't getting enough.

5. I had really hoped to have an increase in production to enable the idea of a community supported agriculture farm to become more than just an idea, but it didn't happen. I'd like to get it happneing next year. If at first, you don't succeed...

Goats and Sheep
The goats are great producers of more goats. Since we were not able to sell as many as we would have liked so far, breeding will be limited this time around. Big Momma and Pepper had a visit with Mojo and Tscica had a visit with Jorge. I'm considering sending Ms. Cow to visit Jorge only because she's a good milker.

I'm doubtful Big Momma will have a baby since she didn't last year, but I gave her another chance. I think she may be hormonal or menopausal. She gets an udder and then it goes away and then it comes back. She likes all the man goats and flirts all day long when she seems to be in heat.

Pepper is my best milker so I helped Mojo out again this year since he is so short. I think he was able to put the plug in the outlet. It's difficult to tell when holding a big Alpine goat up so she stands on her hind legs in order to allow her shorter Nigerian lover to do what needs to be done. I couldn't really see what was going on but Pepper seems chunkier already. She's eating like she's got buns in the oven.

The goats are also great producers of milk which results in cheese and soap. Due to low demand we no longer sell raw goat milk. It's just not convenient and with the laws against selling raw milk for human consumption, it's not something we want to pursue. We love our goat milk raw, fresh from the teat and we will continue to use it for ourselves.

Goat milk soap has become a popular selling item here and there for us. I now sell soaps through Tanque Verde Feed across the street from us and am working on an online store for those who don't live nearby but would like to get some.

The sheep are also great producers of more sheep. Everyone had babies last season and we already have two new babies for this season. The Blackbelly sheep go into heat monthly and are able to produce lambs twice a year. We were able to sell three lambs so far, ate two, used one to pay for vet services, and have three ewes left. The three we sold were to muslims who traditionally sacrifice a sheep on certain religious holidays. They favor large breed sheep and/or wool sheep, so we are considering adding a couple more wool sheep to the herd. (Wow. I never thought I'd say that.) We're hoping for a breed that's good for milking, meat and wool.

We had a lot of chicken losses this year due to predation. Therefore all birds are now penned, which goes against my original hope to free range. They are kept in large runs with straw used as thick bedding and fed restaurant scraps, caught grubs, weeds, leftover parrot food from our kind neighbor, and 24% protein grower feed from the feedstore across the street.

We currently get an average of a dozen eggs a day. Most go to the restaurant to be used or sold to customers. We have yet to eat one of our own birds, but those roosters sure do look tasty...

Ducks and Geese
The ducks are penned with a few huge roosters and the peahen. They make five or six eggs a day, every day, rain or shine. They are fairly loud birds, and not keen on being handled.

The geese were moved to a pen in the garden so that the runoff from their pool can go into the garden, but more importantly, so I could feed them the majority of the grassy weeds culled from the garden. To date, they have laid and are incubating ten eggs.

The loss of Gucci was terrible and heartbreaking, making me question everything I do out there and if it's worth the sadness. She was a wonderful cow that made a gorgeous baby and gave us the best tasting milk we have ever had. She gave hugs too.

Karma, her baby, developed bony lump jaw and was treated a month ago. The lump does appear to be diminishing. If we breed Karma it will be when she is one year old next April. She has been trained to eat in the milking area and doesn't mind the stanchion. She gets her teats and udder touched so that she is used to being handled. I've worked on lifting her hooves so she will be used to the idea of getting trimmed when it's time for that too.

BabyCow-Texas-Mr.Sandwich-T-Bone whom we believed to be an Angus mix when we got him is now suspected to be a Dexter. That's what the vet said, unless he is a dwarf Angus. Either way, he's not getting any bigger. He is currently the big bad boss in the cow pen. Jorge the buck goat lives with him and Karma. As his time draws near, we are exploring options for his imminent replacement. Corriente, Angus, Hereford? We just aren't sure yet. We'd like another young steer though. He has been easy to raise up if not a little unruly when he doesn't get his way.

Farmers G and C joined 4H and are doing the poultry project. While we had hoped to use the standard breed birds we have, we succumbed to the realization that with their small hands, they simply can't hold the birds the way they need to in order to show them properly. Therefore we have two new bantam birds, a black silkie and a cream colord cochin. Both pullets are living at home in Farmer G's bedroom.

The 4H meetings have been entertaining and it's nice to see older children teaching the younger ones. The boys practice with their group in the'r leader's garage, holding the birds properly, showing each part of the bird, and trying to answer questions a judge may ask about their birds. We are all very new to this and a little lost, but so far, it's been fun and interesting.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Coming in November

Goat milk soap!

These batches have to cure until November
Be ready for some new scents:
Cucumber Melon
Spearmint Eucalyptus

and the old yums:
Oatmeal Milk & Honey

Sunday, October 14, 2012

One Man's Trash...

My mom has gone back to Florida, much to the dismay of the grandkids and me and the sheep--she took charge of feeding the sheepies the whole time she was here.

<-- Pictured is the last project she did before she left us. She finished up a worktable and a shelf in the Creepy Coop.

We found the old tabletop in an alley, left to be tossed in a landfill because it was "Brush and Bulky" pick up time here. The tabletop had no legs and looked like it was near the end of it's useful life. But Mom said it was good enough.

We tossed it in the back of my truck and took it home. After careful measuring, I sawed it into two pieces with a circular saw and toted it out to the coop where Mom fastened it to the wall with two by fours she'd managed to fashion into braces.

There's something satisfying about recycling stuff that was bound to rot in a landfill. So satisfying that we "cruised" several more alleys and found the following useful-at-a-farm-and-ranch items:

-Four large pine stumps for the goats and chickens to play on.
-An extra large doghouse for the ducks to lay in.
-A dog carrier for the hens to lay in.
-An old farm chair for tired farmers to sit in.

And all of those things have been set to good use. I don't take anything I can't use since I have enough of my own junk as it is, and it was sad to drive by so many things that could have been given a second chance by someone who could really use them.

My mom has often said her father was good at scrounging things and making do with what he had. I guess it runs in the family! I am sure we'll get a lot of good use out of this repurposed old tabletop.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Creepy Coop Mostly Done

Here are the most recent pictures of the Creepy Coop, showing a peek from several steps away.

A view from the side with the Veggie Shack in the background.
The Coop still needs a second coat of trim paint.
Here is Mom's chicken wire and framing wall and door.
She added a string pull on the inside to keep the egg
collector from being locked in with the hens.
Here is the tool shed side of the coop. We have scavenged
a used old tabletop which will be installed in place of the
plastic fold up table pictured above.
A handle where there was nothing but a hole before.
The wood backing is a piece of used fencing from my neighbor.
Anyone need a dozen?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Creepy Coop gets a Facelift

The BEFORE Picture
The Creepy Coop was a crooked little building filled with black widow spiders and mysterious heart monitoring medical equipment when we first purchased the property on which it stands. It was likely used as a chicken coop in its youth, indicated by the remains of bricks around the back (which may have been beneath a chicken run fence) and also by the unusual back door panel that had fallen off at some point, but had a handle (it could have been where the chickens went in and out of the run.) It was built reasonably well but had been beaten on by the sun and time. Parts had fallen off or become very loose. And when I say black widows, I'm talking haunted house infestation quantity spiders.

I used it as a coop when my chickens free ranged until the red-tailed hawk came. He figured out how to get in the coop and steal a chicken or two or three.

The coop needed A LOT of work to really make it predator proof. I still wonder if any enclosure is fully predator proof...

Mom in her fancy headgear, painting on the barn red.
Anyways, Mom is visiting. She likes projects as evidenced by the outhouse built last year. She decided to take on the Creepy Coop. We did A LOT of repairs to it using mostly stuff we had strewn around the property in order to save money (not time) <- important point.

We cleaned out all the debris inside and found some usable treasures, like a paint pan, tools, and bits of wood. Next we painted the coop barn red to match the Veggie Shack. Mom admired the craftsmanship on the Veggie Shack and decided to mimic its design by adding some decorative trim and using the same accent color on it (ginger lemon which was leftover from the Veggie Shack).

Nesting areas and perches.
The old screen on the "window" was removed. It was pretty crispy from being out in the weather. The screen was replaced with metal mesh fabric leftover from the chicken tractor project. The empty spots on the door where glass used to be once upon a time was also replaced with the same, tough, leftover metal screening to keep Mr. Hawk from his Kentucky Fried meal.

I installed "natural" perches (defined as tree branches scavenged from local trees) in one corner of the coop. Mom installed shelves (made of scrap wood and fencing) next to my perches. We cleaned up the old nesting boxes and moved them in. We had a couple of old crates lying around too that needed a shelf to sit on.

The Triangle Entry for Chickens Only
I should also mention that the Creepy Coop is located by the buck goats' area. In fact, it adjoined their domain until they beat two huge holes right through the back of the building. It was then that I decided to rennovate their bachelor pad and put up heavy duty horse fencing with a heck of a lot more t-stakes than ever before. I also moved the fenceline way back from the coop so they couldn't beat the heck out of it again. Mom and I patched the two holes with pieces of plywood that were just lying around. We found the old triangle shaped door I had used prior (the bucks had managed to knock that off) and reattached it with nails and screws. The idea of the triangle was to keep the ducks out as they're wider than chickens. It works, but doesn't matter so much now because I am striving to keep my ducks and chickens separate. It's just better that way. Ducks foul the water in seconds.

Anti-Coyote Devices
The chicken run is a dog kennel (which also used to adjoin the buck pen and you can guess how well that went) which I removed the old, beaten chain link from and recovered with 6 foot horse fencing that I had taken down from the rennovated buck area. I covered the top with chicken wire to deter Mr. Hawk. The bottom edge is attached to one or two foot lengths of rusty old horse fencing that is buried beneath heavy gravel to hopefully keep Mr. Coyote from digging in. My wonderful friend Christa and her daughter Tami donated three pieces of corrugated aluminum to keep birds from being pulled through the fencing at night (because when it gets dark, some chickens sleep beside the fence and their brains shut off, making them easy targets).

We moved the hens in before the final touch-ups were in place becasue, let's face it, the chickens could care less what the coop looks like as long as no one is eating or terrorizing them. We also added the two bantam rooster Farmer G and Farmer K intend to show. Almost all the other roosters are on the Dinner Menu...

And the hens are so much happier. They thanked us kindly...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Off Season Egg

To my understanding, Chinese Brown Geese lay from February to June. It's September. So...someone in the goose pen did not check her calender.

Friday, September 7, 2012


This is Frufru, a polish crested hen who survived the coyote massacre but came out of the battle with only one wing intact. This morning when I moved her pen in the garden so she and her other one-winged hen friend could have some fresh grass to peck at, she jumped out and went on walkabout in the garden. I went to collect her and was surprised that she can still fly...halfway. She's fast too, and zipped up and down the garden rows to avoid me. Her wound is pretty much healed up and has healthy skin all around it.

Note: The bald patch on her back was caused by her naughty rooster lover and is also growing back in.

Dreaming of Greener Pastures

Pasture Seeds
Okay so if you've been following my crazy ideas, you may remember that I attempted to grow alfalfa. It sort of worked, mostly. At least, the cows said it tasted great and preferred it 9 times out of 10 over flakes of dry alfalfa hay...

Anyways, that pasture area needs some love. It's growing alfalfa, wild amaranth...and a here and there crop of tumbleweeds. I figured since things grew there with not too much work, I should not give up on the idea of pastures. It's a great idea if it actually works and I can manage it properly by controlling the grazing of my gigantic ruminants. That kind of control will mean a series of fences and gates so animals can be rotated...but that's another project for another day.

In the meantime, I need to actually grow pastures so that I will have areas that require fencing and gates.

The 'Empty Gap' between the bucks and the sheep.
Some time ago, Jorge, my huge Alpine buck, and Lucky, my Blackbelly ram, decided they wanted to kill each other and the fence between well as the creepy old coop since it was there and it's fun to beat the heck out of things with horns, if you happen to have horns on your head. So, that led to a 1/4 reduction in the sheep's large fenced area. It led to corral panels tied with horse fencing on Jorge's area. And this change left a gap between the two species so they couldn't hit each other through the fence anymore. I know, I know, I'm always ruining everyone's good times.

The empty gap was heavily fertilized with sheep poo and it's been sitting their composting for some time. For a while, it was a dumping ground for unused construction junk, but no more. Today it becomes a mini pasture. I have a couple bags of mixed pasture seeds suitable for my area that I got from Peaceful Valley aka that I wanted to try out.

Highly technical seed spreader.
So I whipped out my fancy dancy seed sowing device that I got from the local Wal-Mart, filled it up with several cupfuls of seed, grabbed my rake and headed to the gap. There, I was watched over by my trusty sidekick, Max. He was fascinated as I raked a long area, seeded it, then raked it again to cover the seeds. He laid in the newly planted area to test the ground for...whatever it is dogs test it for.

It didn't take very long to finish this patch since the ground is very moist from a nice rain yesterday. Maybe it will keep raining and this stuff will work. There are already wild amaranth and purslane seedlings popping up in there. It could work...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On Giving Up

August 26, I lost my beautiful furry friend, Gucci. The day before, the kids and I showed up to do the chores and discovered that my oldest son had forgotten to lock the chicken feed the last time we were out. We estimate that Gucci ate well over 100 pounds of grain and pelleted poultry feed. She seemed well enough, perky and content. But she did not get up. In fact, she couldn’t get up. I immediately gave her baking soda to help counter balance the effects of the grain and to help ease the bloating grain inevitably causes in a cow’s rumen.

We called two vet clinics here and left several messages for vets that the larger clinic referred us to as they had no one available to come out to treat a large animal. Their on-call emergency vet was a horse vet and would not work on a cow. It even says that on his receipt: Practice Limited to Horses.

My neighbor came over with his big ATV and we tried to pull Gucci up to stand with people on both sides and behind her trying to help. But she just would not budge. The rope actually broke. We gave her a dose of activated charcoal gel from the feed store across the street, which was indicated as a curative for grain overload. Later that evening I gave her vegetable oil as well.

But, as I stayed up all night by her side, and the more articles I read online about the outcome of severe grain overload, the more I realized that my cow was not going to have a happy ending. I brought her water every so often and sat in a chair, patting her bloated rumen with my bare feet to help her pass the painful gas in her body. By six in the morning, she was exhausted and in pain. You see, grain overload causes lactic acidosis and her blood was being poisoned by the grains fermenting in her stomach. She didn’t deserve to suffer. I called the horse vet and this time he actually answered his cell, and I asked him as best I could while crying, to come put her down.

I am told that everything in life happens for a reason, meaning that the reason is always something deeper than the obvious. The obvious is my cow ate a vast quantity of grain and it was slowly killing her. The other deeper meanings? I can’t even pretend to know. I have never felt so helpless in my life, unable to do anything to make her better. Certainly this could have been prevented by simply locking the bin, or by me double checking that the bin was locked instead of trusting a child to do it. There has not been a day that goes by since that morning that I haven’t broken down and cried and blamed myself.

It was sometime that night while sitting beside her and patting on her that I really wanted to give up. I wanted my old life back in which I worked an 8-5 job, had normal health insurance, so much less stress, and so many less responsibilities. Sure, I thought I was happy then. And maybe I was. But when you don’t know the great joy living the way in which you’ve always dreamed gives you, I suppose that ignorance was bliss. Back then I would never have dreamed of helping a baby goat come into the world by pulling its slimy legs when it was stuck. I never would have been able to give vaccines to an animal with an actual syringe. I would not have known the serene peace of milking a goat or a cow. Or the taste of sugar snap peas fresh from the plant…or those garden ripe tomatoes and eggs with orange yolks like they’re supposed to be instead of that pale yellow they have when store bought.

When I was five and I wrote down that I wanted to be a farmer and an artist, I admittedly didn’t know what that entailed. Being a farmer is hard, backbreaking work. It’s not for the faint of heart. It makes a person stronger, more resilient, and it takes the kind of person who presses on and refuses to give up. That’s not the kind of person I was before I bought four goats, but it seems to be the person I’m becoming.

The following day, my neighbor’s mother passed away. He had been the one to bury my cow for me near where she had died. We talked a lot before he left to go take care of the arrangements for his mother, and the one thing he said to me that sticks in my head is: “Well, you can’t just give up.” I’m not even sure why he said that. It was out of context after all.

I recently read a book about how to simplify your life and one piece of advice was that it is okay to give up on things that aren’t easy. That we’ve all been brainwashed to keep doing something until it works, but that’s not really the best thing to do. I don’t know. I’m torn. I love the farm and the animals. I love the garden and the peace of being outside in the sunshine and fresh air. But certainly this year, a lot of it is just not working the way I would have hoped.

After Gucci passed, I spent some time rubbing on her calf, Karma, and on Saturday, September 1, discovered a hard bony lump on her lower left jaw. After what happened to Gucci, I panicked and began searching online for what it could be. I believe it’s bony lump jaw, a common bacterial infection which occurs in young calves. It’s caused when they eat something sharp and it punctures their jaw. Bacteria gets in there and infects the bone. It can be treated, if caught early, with sodium iodide. Again, I called the vet, this time, the vet who had been helpful to me when Gucci had an abscess.

She returned my call and said she needs to see if she can order the sodium iodide and will schedule a day to come out and treat Karma. Yesterday I finished building a head gate for the calf so she can be safely restrained while the vet tends to her. I started feeding her in there to get her used to the idea. It’s going as well as can be expected so far. She’s not too keen on the idea and she’s very strong, so sometimes I have to get behind her butt and push until she goes into the stall. Karma wears a miniature donky size harness. She's not halter trained yet, even though I've had to lead her with one in the past when I had to seperate her from her mother for milk sessions.

Hopefully the medicine is available as the vet indicated it may not be, and if it is, hopefully the treatment will go well for her. It’s a slow spreading disease, taking a year or more to affect a cow enough to cause problems if untreated.

I can only keep my fingers crossed and try not to give up...and hope the sodium iodide does the trick.  There's really not much else I can do. Some things are beyond my control.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Not a Good Morning

Yesterday morning was not good. We have not had predation problems since the red-tailed hawk. I was just starting to get over my silent anxiety that all my animals would be okay when I showed up to do chores.

The coyotes got to the chickens in the trampoline pen. It was awful, like entering a battlezone after the war ended. We for sure lost Curly, a New Jersey Giant white hen who had two curved toes, and also our beloved Theresa, the tiny game hen who always wanted to fly up on us and be petted. There may have been others because we have so many chickens that they all don't have names.

There were five wounded. Two who have one wing ripped right off and two who have leg wounds. The fifth has a chest wound similar to what my old rooster had when he was attacked by coyotes. I cleaned up the injured birds and sprayed them with BlueKote.

I think they'll make it. I hope they will.

The mystery was where the coyotes came in from. I thought everything was secure. But when we returned for evening chores, Farmer C found this at the back part of the property:
All the birds have been moved to more secure locations and the hole was filled with wire, dirt and tamped in with an old tire for good measure. But I worry. This coyote is doing something they never did before. It's taking the time to dig under fences. It knows what it's doing.

I spoke to Gucci and told her to step on it if it comes back.