Bonafide Farm

Integration

May 29th, 2011 § 0

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I cleaned the coop today, and as it was airing out before I dumped in fresh shavings, the pullets snuck in to try out the big-kid roosts:

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They seemed so happy. Because the pullets are about 75% the size of the guineas now, and because everyone appears to be getting along when they’re all outside together, I let them stay.

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Iris took to the hanging feeder right away!

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When I checked on the birds a few hours after closing guineas and pullets up together, all seemed well (plus I found two still-warm guinea eggs). So unless something starts to go wrong, I say the flock is now officially integrated. Just in the nick of time too, because as we head into 90-degree days, the bigger side of the coop is better ventilated and stays much cooler than the annex where the pullets had been living. In fact, it’s getting to be about time to set the box fan up to help with additional cooling during hot days.

First of the season

May 28th, 2011 § 0

Well, it must be summer. The snakes are out again:

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I literally walked into this one in the front yard this afternoon.

After I determined that this was indeed a harmless juvenile black snake, I figured I’d use this snake to help train my farm dog. And once he noticed the snake, he knew just what to do. He went in for a sniff:

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When the snake reared up and started shaking its tail, Tucker backed off but began barking like crazy. IMG_0759Web

I’ve been working with Tucker on having good judgment with his barking, and this was one case in which an extended barkfest was entirely appropriate. So I let him go for it.

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After a minute or so, I stepped between Tucker and the snake, told Tucker thanks for his alert but I had the situation under control, and called him to me as I walked toward the garage. He happily left the snake and trotted to my side. When we returned to the scene of the snake less than a minute later, the snake was gone. Tucker sniffed where it had been, but was no help finding it. Vanished. What I find amazing is that among the several acres of cleared land around my house, the odds of a very fast moving four-foot long snake and five foot eight woman intersecting are pretty incredible. And yet we did.

I am very pleased with Tucker’s reaction…that he didn’t try to kill the snake but certainly knew that something was out of the ordinary and could communicate that to me. And that he left the snake when asked is a good thing too.

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With the snake gone, a happy smiling puppy, proud of his good work on the farm.

Walkabout, May 22

May 22nd, 2011 § 0

Tonight I went for a short lap around the yard, and in less than five minutes this is what I saw:

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“Pat Austin” rose still blooming like crazy

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“Black Beauty” Elderberry also putting on a show

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Persimmon planted last year, blooming and setting fruit

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Cherries! Too high to pick from the ground—enjoyed by birds, not me.

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“Celeste” fig, which I thought died of winter cold, is actually regrowing!

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Peaches on the recently lopped peach tree

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I closed up the bluebird box just yesterday, and since then Mr. Bluebird has been busy with Home Construction 2.0.

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Inherited grapevine…a gigantic mess that I finally chopped to the ground this spring. I hope to train a new central vine from this sprout. I worked today to pull out, by hand, the poison ivy surrounding this vine. I await repercussions.

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Unmowed hayfied reverting back to wild pasture. It’s so pretty like this—even full of berries and all—that I wonder why mow at all?

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Inherited iris growing in the drainage ditch by the road.

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And finally, two eggs a day appearing, as if by magic, from the guineas. I have it on good authority from egg-eating family members that they are delicious!

Two months of Tucker

May 20th, 2011 § 1

Two months ago today I brought Tucker home from Ohio:

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And today…

I am not going to say these past two months have been easy as I’ve bumbled through the entirely new experience of puppy raising. Thankfully the challenges, which have been related more to my mental attitude than to anything Tucker’s done or not done, have definitely been offset by moments of heart-bursting joy and pride. What I know for certain is that I have a fantastic young dog, we’re learning together, and we’re having a lot of fun. I couldn’t be happier with how things are going, challenges and all.

Tragedy or triumph?

May 18th, 2011 § 0

I checked the bluebird box today and found it empty. And thus began my detective work to figure out what got the babies. Of course my first thought was a snake…but a snake wouldn’t have left a pile of feathers on the ground.

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So I figure that something either pulled the birds out of the box or they fledged and were attacked on the ground. The nest was soaking wet, no doubt from the torrential rains we’ve gotten over the past six days, so I wonder if water had something to do with it?

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But then tonight I found this neat Web site with daily photos of baby bluebirds. I went back and looked at the dates on my images and realized that my bluebirds would have been darn close to fledging. So I’m just going to pretend that the babies flew away to start their new lives somewhere near the farm.

I cleaned out the old nest and left the box open to air out in the sun. I have hope that Mr. and Mrs. may return to raise another brood this summer.

Farmers are sexy

May 17th, 2011 § 0

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And they’re blue!

May 16th, 2011 § 0

The baby bluebirds are starting to get their feathers.

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I only could see three babies this time. I am not sure if the other two are under the pile or if they were shoved out of the nest box. Will have to check again soon.

Introducing Lilac and Iris

May 15th, 2011 § 1

I realize that in my last post I mentioned some mysterious pullets without ever giving them a proper introduction. Please meet the newest Bonafide lifestock: Lilac and Iris.

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I got Lilac and Iris Easter weekend at the Xions Crossroads Chicken Swap. I’ve been haunting these informal parking lot gatherings a lot since Tucker arrived, as they’re good places to socialize him among a bunch of animal-loving adults and children…as well as ducks, goats, noisy roosters and all sorts of new-to-him experiences.

I set out that morning determined to add something to my flock that would produce eggs. Little did I know that the very next day, on Easter, my guineas would present me with their first egg! I can still hear the universe laughing at my impatience.

Anyway, the vendors at these swaps are usually a mix of hardscrabble hill folk—die hard poultry fanatics all—and urban yuppies jumping on the pet chicken bandwagon. Just the chance to eavesdrop on the dialogue between the two groups is worth the trip, as the city folk struggle to decipher avian wisdom dispensed in an inscrutable dialect.

The Xions Crossroads swap took place tucked behind a lumber mill in the parking lot of a small hardware store next to the most depressing flea market I’d ever poked about. Old ladies creakily pivoted in chicken wire stalls, setting out second-hand rooster statues and chipped Jesus figurines. Next to the flea market was a gun shop comprised of a few shelves of ammunition and a couple of used shotguns on the wall. The owner hovered behind a counter with a hopeful smile as if the sale of that $249 Mossburg 500 meant the difference between dinner and going without. I almost bought the gun just to give him something to do with his hands, which he kept planted on the counter in front of him as if his weight could keep the whole place from blowing away.

I escaped back into the light and wandered amongst the poultry offerings spread out before me on the tailgates of pickups and in blanket-swaddled plastic tubs. I was looking for the perfect combination of breed, age and temperament. I knew I wanted to collect certain breeds, so that ruled out some offerings. And as much as I love raising baby chicks, with all the other spring farm chores as well as raising a puppy I knew I didn’t have time to monitor brooder temperatures and alleviate pasting up. Plus, I wanted a shot at getting my own eggs this summer instead of having young chicks mature in the fall and winter when they wouldn’t lay. And finally, I was looking for relatively docile birds. After dealing with mostly wild guineas for the past year, I was ready for a nice little bird that came when I called it, ate from my hand, and went in the coop when asked.

I’d almost given up and was ready to head home when a late arrival pulled into the parking lot. A woman got out of her truck and opened the back to reveal a dog crate full of gorgeous, glossy black birds. They clustered near the door of their cage as she spoke to them, and ate from her hand when she offered scratch. I could tell they were well-loved and very tame. And they were gorgeous—bright eyed, clean feathered, with violet and green iridescence to their feathers. I asked the woman what they were and she told me they were a mix of mottled javas and black australorps, two heavy breeds known for their docility. At eight weeks old I figured their size would give them a fighting chance when combined with the guinea flock, and as they were fully feathered and eating adult food, I could skip the nursery stage. I picked out two birds with the smallest combs, hoping they were both pullets, put them into a cat carrier, handed over $14 in cash and was on my way.

Lilac and Iris spent their first night in a cardboard box in the laundry room, much to the amusement of Tucker and the kitty. They stunk to high heaven, so the next day I moved them into the “Annex,” the feed storage area of the guinea coop. It’s fully protected but separate from the guineas—I figured I’d give the pullets a chance to put on some more weight before having to go up against the bigger birds.

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And that’s where they’ve lived for almost a month. I am loving being able to let them out in the evenings to free range while I feed and water all the birds. It’s very cute to see them poke around, and also wonderful to know that I can get them back in the coop whenever I want. With the addition of Lilac and Iris, and the guineas now reliably laying one to two eggs a day and even seeming tamer themselves now that there are fewer, my enjoyment of my birds has exponentially increased.

Domestic bliss

May 10th, 2011 § 0

Lately I can’t seem to work a full time job and also¬† find the hours to mow and weedwhack my couple acres of overgrown lawn, nor can I finish my deer fence, hoe the garden, plan the garden plantings, plant the garden, rake up the maple helicopters, or even remember that Monday night is trash night until the sound of the truck wakes me up at five Tuesday morning.

But tonight I’m working on a freelance job on the computer with Tucker lying at my feet, and kitty hanging out on the armchair right next to us. I’ve just come in from feeding and watering the guineas while the pullets pecked around the coop. All five baby bluebirds are wide-eyed and alert and quadrupled in size, stuffed in their nest box and waiting for worms. Nobody’s missing, sick, bleeding, dying, whining, inappropriately peeing, misbehaving or unaccounted for. And that makes it a very good night on the farm.

Do you like butter?

May 6th, 2011 § 0

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The farm has been blanketed with buttercups. A quick online search reveals they’re considered weeds of the first order, unpalatable to livestock, and indicators of poor soil fertility. But they’re just so pretty that I can’t even hate them.

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