Goats, rabbits, chickens (pages)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Perils of Free Range

It is so heartwarming to see hens pecking and scratching for worms and bugs; roosters flying up on the gate to crow; the wild, ungainly walk-run when they suddenly decide to get to the other side of the yard for no apparent reason. The freedom to roam across wide expanses of grass and herbs, to take a "spa" day and roll around in the dust, turn on their side and expose their underwing to the sun. They sing the most adorable little songs when they are happy, make a little grunting sounds then a loud cackle when they lay eggs. When I take a tea break in one of the little lounging areas around the farm, they always find me and just hang out for a while.

I had eleven of my original Mables left. They had been excellent layers until the weather reached triple digits for days on end. They were good little wives to Jack,their Banty Cochin Rooster. They came when he called; they groomed him every day; they usually acquiesced to his amorous advances and they cuddled next to him on the roost. He returned their devotion by warning if something flew overhead, a cat walked by or an innocent leaf floated down from a tree. He scratched up bugs, located new food scraps in the compost heap and defended their honor from the new adolescent roosters coming of age. I loved those little red hens.

Today, after having been out of town all day, I came home, changed clothes and when I fed the chickens I started counting, as always. Eight of my Red Star (Red Sex Link) hens were missing. Eight of my sweet Mables. Eight out of eleven. Hubs and I started looking and found three dead; obviously killed.

Free range has its drawbacks. We've always been around to drive off predators--scaring hawks by pounding on buckets (yes it works!) Trapping racoons and reprimanding neighbors dogs. The evidence points to the dogs which makes matters worse because they are sweet dogs.

So, it's a sad day here at the farm. But, the circle of life goes on and we have lots of little Mables (New Hampshire Reds), Millies (Jersey Giants), Lillies (Cochins) and Tillies (Aruacanas) who are almost ready to start laying. And, there are still three older Mables (Red Star) left.

So, tomorrow Hubs is taking some extra precautions with more fencing. But, we are still going to free-range...after-all, they are the best eggs in the world.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Good Morning

Without a doubt, my favorite time of day: early morning. There's just something about the quiet, the solitude, the feeling of having alone time with God. I make my herb tea in my ever-ready go cup, slip on my shoes and head outside. It's still dark with a hint of sunshine. The birds stir and rustle in the trees. The cats yawn and stretch. The breeze sweeps past my face and the rooster crows; I can usually tell which one it is.

I'm trying to train my chickens to scrounge for bugs IN the garden so I entice them with their breakfast in a bucket. CHICK-CHICK-CHICK. My calls are softer than they are at night when I call them home from their free-ranging. It's further to the gardens than they are used to going; some of them are real "chickens" and won't embark on the new venture.

The first morning I reached the gardens with about a third of the flock. Yesterday a few more brave souls followed and this morning I actually have a good sized bug-patrol. Cassie (my dog) and I sit down there with them for a while as they are used to being with me and I thought it may encourage them to stay. HUBS sat me up a canopy complete with chair for my garden breaks. It is so peaceful; the sunflowers look toward the sunrise, new tassels flow down the embryo corn like Rapunzel's hair; the cosmos are just beginning to bloom.

My efforts are rewarded when after collecting all the feed I had thrown out a few of my "Millies" (Jersey Giants) head into the strawberry patch and scratch around the weeds I pulled yesterday. I smile. Success comes in small increments. Life is good.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

So, what have I been doing for two months?

The gardens are my new BFF. They talk nonstop (I can relate). Sometimes they whisper......"psst...it's time to get up...yes I know it's only 5 a.m.". Other times they yell.."Are you gonna WEED today?" They tell me what to eat..(kale)and when.."stop looking at the tomatoes..they are not ready." Time to water? Without a doubt. Need to replant... now. The squash bugs are coming...The Squash Bugs are coming...THE SQUASH BUGS ARE HERE.

I have learned a bucket-ful of vegetable trivia this summer. Cucumbers don't like climbing on wire. The tomatoes want more elbow room. Pumpkins don't take well to transplanting after they are so big. Deer love beet tops. The lettuce just isn't going to germinate regardless of how many times I replant. Zucchini appear ready-to-eat overnight.

I have learned garden do's and DON'T UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES DO. Like mulch. I thought (and this was confirmed by others) that year-old hay would have composted the life out of hay seeds. Wrong. So, in addition to the weeds that naturally grow in gardens (I understand it's their mission), I PLANTED weeds under the guise of mulch. Woe.

But, I have had my triumphs. The satisfaction that wells up inside when I look down a row freshly freed of weeds. It's like looking at a clean kitchen or an empty laundry basket. That little beam of bliss that comes when my harvest buckets are full of produce. The secret smile of gratitude when my plate is full of home-grown greens. The thank-you on my lips when a farmers market customer loves my veggies as much as I do.

Yes, I get muddy from head to toe every day. Yes, my muscles ache, under my hat, my hair is plastered to my head and I scrub my nails with hydrogen peroxide to get them clean (correction..TRY to get them clean). But, I am having the time of my life. I love my gardens and am so glad I am at home on the farm. Life is good.
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