Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 4-H Poultry Projects

The kids all did 4-H this year. They stuck with poultry, which in my opinion, is a nice animal project because the birds are portable as opposed to steer or horse project which require trailering.

Christian's showbird from last year died unexpectedly on her nest box and Gabe's showbird was killed by some sort of feline--I suspect it was a bobcat but I have no proof. It could have been a feral cat, judging by the little footprints left in the frost.

Those deaths really put a damper on going forward with poultry.

Nevertheless, Christian decided to purchase a Creme Splash Dutch Cockerel from a breeder. Gabe was determined to show the standard birds we already had. He later found out that he had to do showmanship in order to do breed, so he purchased two bantam chicks from the feedstore. He was also given "Gertrude" an old buff Sebright, from the petting zoo we sometimes help out at. Gertrude was older and mellower, so she became his showmanship bird. The chicks became breed show birds.

Kyri bought a pair of Self-Blue Belgian d'Uccles from the same breeder Christian visited.

And so another year of 4H has come and gone. The kids love their leader, Irish, and she does a great job schooling them on breeds and what's needed to raise chickens. Here are the pictures of the boys and their birds from the Pima County Fair shows:

Farmer G with his Dark Cornish Rooster "Lil Devil" aka "Glare Jr"

Farmer C with his Dutch Rooster "Shimmer"

Farmer K with his rooster "Zeus"

Farmer G showing off his Showmanship ribbons he won with "Gertrude"

A Snake of Another Sort


I like snakes. I have always admired them. We often have a kingsnake that visits the farm and also some smaller ones that I like to think are her babies. I had hoped I would never encounter a rattlesnake on our property...

But a couple weekends ago, my youngest son and I were camping and Max the dog allerted us to this. Even though I could hear the rattle, I kept hoping it wasn't so. I got closer and shined my flashlight on it. Yeah, diamondback rattler. If the dog wasn't as smart as he is, he'd have been struck. Thankfully, Max the dog lives to show off whatever he has cornered on the property. He circles and barks until his humans arrive. This dog just has the guardian instinct built in.

Maybe a braver person would have caught the snake and set it free elsewhere, but to me, this was a dangerous situation. Young child. Dog roaming the property. Livestock. I did not want this particular snake loose on the property. The risks were too many. I would have been putting myself at risk by attempting to capture it. I didn't have the proper equipment to do so safely.

So I had to make a decision that wasn't easy for me.

I don't watch a lot of TV, but my family does watch Survivorman and Dual Survivor. I've seen the people on those shows kill snakes many times. I've watched them skin them and cook them. And I feel that if a life is going to be taken, then it should not be wasted. I had an axe and I did my best to be quick.

So, I skinned the snake. I taught my son about the inner workings of it, pointing out the intestines and lungs. I gutted it. I washed the meat and...

I grilled it over mesquite and we even ate some. Nothing went to waste. I even salted the skin and brought it home to later cure with glycerin and rubbing alcohol.

I still can't believe I did this. I hope that through all of it, my son learned that it is not an easy thing to take a life, but sometimes it might have to happen. It should be done with reverence and respect. I didn't want to do it, but I truly believe that my dog would have come upon this snake another time...or one of my kids.

If you're curious, it did sort of taste like chicken. I seasoned the meat with season salt and garlic powder because that's what I had onhand in the camper. The meat was chewier than chicken, but it was good.

Easter Babies

I got these babies on April 16, 2014.
The label on their cage said March 25, 2014, so I am guessing that was their hatch date.
The are a naked neck, Blue Andalusian, and a Cuckoo Maran.
I really wanted the Maran since they lay dark chocolate colored eggs.
I wanted the naked neck because...it's got a naked neck.
The blue was just because three is a good number of chicks.

Our hens are getting older and we've had losses over the years due to age, predation, and heat (in the larger breeds) so I guess these girls will fill in for the ones that are no longer with us.
They're growing like weeds. Literally, visibly bigger each morning than the one before.


And More Soap

I've been making soap again. For a while I had such a large stockpile that I didn't need to be the mad scientist. But my supply is dwindling. I've decided to focus on the large bars which sell for $4 each and are less time consuming than the individually cast smaller bars. I can make two batches and that fills the three trays I have. It's not mass-produced and I find it interesting that every batch acts a little differently coming to trace.

I decided to order some new scents. Be on the lookout for Apple, Honey, Sandalwood, Rose and Citrus Energy. I hope they all work. For now there are shelves of soaps curing away. 

Yarn Balls

My baskets of yarn balls are getting a little heavier. I have taken my little learner hand spindle with a bag of fleece to events where I would otherwise be sitting idle and listening: bus trip to Anaheim while chaperoning my son's junior high band, various 4-H meetings, and even for that long waiting period between poultry breed shows at the fair.

At the fair, a man passing by my table stopped and was happy to tell me that he teaches drop spindle class. How cool is that? I felt like I wasn't so alone. If anything, I suppose I was entertaining those around me and the passersby who would stop and ask if what I messing with was wool. (It was alpaca.)

The spinning wheel is faster once a person gets the hang of it. I think I finally have the basics down. I did find this great video that helped me gain more confidence with the spinning wheel.

Part One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWiE8QOvynA

Part Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFksR5kG0EE

I highly recommend watching those if you're starting out with a spinning wheel and need some basic knowledge and a sense of courage to try the methods and fibers presented.

In other news, a man not too far from my little farm has a small flock of sheep that need shearing. I don't think he knows what breed they are as I was told his answer was, "the kind that taste good." Neverthless, I have agreed to shear them in exchange for their wool which looks pretty nice to me.

I'm not a fast spinner, and I don't make much more than yarn balls yet, but someday I'll have enough balls to crochet something warm and soft...like a blanket. After a long day's work at the farm and more work publishing and the endless work helping my kids with homework, I will gladly curl up under a blanket I made myself from the shearing to the spinning to the crocheting.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Corn, Trees, a Cat, Soap and Pies

It's been a little while since I blogged. Like many hobby farmers, I have a 'day job' that supports my 'habit' and also helps pay the bills for living expenses. I have been busy with that. Also with my children's many goings on: 4H meetings and duties, chaperoning a band trip, shuttling to and from school and soccer practice. Whew.

So if you're wondering what's happening at the ranch, here's a little rundown...

Today I planted heirloom sweet corn. If it's successful, expect a harvest in 76-80 days. If it's not successful, expect the cows to be eating some dried-up, failed corn stalks. I filled in the first two rows in the Three Sisters Garden. I may do more in the other rows soon. That garden is meant to be low maintenance and has some experiments going on to try to conserve water and still get a good harvest.

My husband expressed the opinion that there were not enough trees near where we want to build our house (someday--who knows when that will be?). That's true. That section of our property is fairly barren. It's supposed to be the part that's riparian, but it looks like a parched, sad, overheated desert. In general when there is a wind coming through, it comes from west to east and it can be strong enough to knock things over. Since that section of the property is so barren, it can also stir up a vast amount of dust.

The poplar cuttings I ordered from Frank Gomez (http://hybridpoplars.com) are doing so well, and are fast growing trees which (when strategically placed) can be used as a windbreak, so I ordered more. Behold, 100 hybrid poplar trees only about three inches long:

If all goes well tomorrow morning after chores, I'll dip them in rooting hormone, stick them in soil and watch them grow like the magical things that they are. As far as I know, we have plenty of time to grow some windbreak trees to have around our house that isn't there and may not be there for years. Time: waste not, want not.
In other news, although we have had no more farm animal deaths by predation, we did manage to capture a FERAL cat. This little guy/girl went off to Pima Animal Care this morning. Just a friendly reminder to spay or neuter your cats so they don't make more and more and more. If you can keep them indoors, do so. It's safer for them than letting them roam where coyotes and bobcats can get to them. Also, it keeps the odds in favor of small farm animals surviving, and limits losses to the native wildlife. Every year we seem to get an influx of feral cats in our area. I'm sure it's new litters born from those clever parent cats that manage to not get picked off by the packs of coyotes. And every year we see the evidence of their carnage on the quail, woodpeckers, doves, and whatever else used to wear all those feathers left in piles here and there. They kill lizards, snakes and many rodents as well. They are survivors.

If you've never encountered a feral cat before, you should be aware that they are not in any way shape or form like the kitties raised with a trust of humans. Feral cats can and will bite you or scratch you. They will do so with all the malice and intent of a wild animal that feels threatened and wants to get away from you. Don't reach down and pick up a feral kitten. It will bite right through your finger. True story. 

I wished the kitty good luck on his/her journey, but it probably will not be a happily ever after. This cat was older and did not like people at all.
I made some lavender soap. I was experimenting with a different kind of oil. It came to trace faster and hardened faster than what I usually use. I waited too long to cut it and was sad that much of it broke apart.  It's still going to be good soap but won't be as easy to sell since it's not in uniform shapes/weights.

I have been ever diligent about my manure maintenance plan and have discovered new ways to make the process easier. I may write a whole separate article about the process I use to get poo turned into black gold when I have more time. In the meantime, there are daily sweep and shovel parties as well as pie hunts in the cow corral:

Thus, I shall leave you with the above happy picture. 
Remember, if life gives you poo, make compost and grow flowers.
Chase your dreams and work hard. At least you will lead a full life.