Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Puppy Love?

After a LONG weekend saga with friends wrapped tight into the Haitian orphan adoption situation, I'm gradually recovering and getting on with daily life.

The 5 remaining layers are doing well. Even the one with the crooked neck. She's moving around, clearly eating and drinking, and even laid an egg the other day. We bottomed the big layer pen and moved the meat birds into it so we can eventually take down the electric fencing. However, I simply cannot even BUDGE that pen. With 24 fat birds, the weight of the birds is over 200 pounds. Then take a large amount of poop caked around the wire and the ground... its just not going anywhere. We're hoping to slaughter the roosters this Saturday to ease the load a bit, but this is just NOT going to be a sustainable option.

So what do we do?

My vote is get a dog. Randy's warming up to the idea. So, holding true to our absolute nerdist ways, we've researched it thoroughly. We've decided a border collie is the dog for us if we do go with the dog plan. Given a job to do (and I'm always thinking of jobs this pup could do for me!) they are supposed to be tremendous animals. Can it water the fruit trees for me? If I turn on the water will it take the hose to one tree, wait for my signal then take it to the next tree? Gloria can do that, but she gets bored doing it everyday and it becomes a battle of wills. I win when I engage mind you, but she'd much rather being doing things with me instead. Can this dog roll empty chicken waterers to me? Can in run into the pasture and retrieve hay baskets and empty feed buckets for me? Will it collect the sticks that litter the pasture and drop them on the burn pile? Will it read all the great literature I miss reading out loud to me as I hoe the garden?

The toss up was between a border collie and australian shepherd. Aussies seem to bark a bit more, being better "watch dogs"... as in it will bark if an armadillo enters the yard. They also love to herd children... sometimes by nipping. I'm all for our dog herding our kids and keeping them out of harms way, but I'd prefer them using the "care bear stare" method instead. Maybe a few barks to let me know something's amiss. Aussies also have such a need for human interaction, they may not be satisfied sitting outside on duty while we are all inside doing school or inside chores. I'm NOT going to have a house dog. Porch, garage, no problem, but a furry creature will not be in bed with us.

So the bottom line comes down to if the expense of keeping a dog is worth its service. Calculating, barring the unexpected, it should cost around $300 a year to keep a dog of this size. That's like losing a half a pen of meat birds every year. Do we just let it go and take the risk of predator loss or do we essentially "buy insurance" against it?

Randy asked a very good question- if we do get a dog and its just not filling the role we want it to fill, will we be too attached to get rid of it? I don't think that will be a problem, but I also remember having "Rooster" and how sad I was to see her go. "Rooster" was one of our first laying hens that started the horrible habit of egg eating. She got the boot from the pen every morning and would lay her egg in the scrub every afternoon. We called her Rooster because her comb was enormous. She followed me around like a puppy. I really enjoyed it. This went on for a few months then we found fleas in the house. We assumed it must be from the day ranged chickens as those were the only animals anywhere near the house. It was so hard to chop off Rooster's head. I hated it. Especially when it later dawned on us that we were just given some furniture from a friend of a friend... who had cats. All that to say, no, I won't be chopping the head off a dog who doesn't pull its weight, but it could be a little hard to see him go to another family.

I think I'd really like a pup if we get one. I've heard border collies are rarely pushed to their potential which causes some very destructive habits to be formed. Though it would be a while before a pup could perform its duties, I think I'd rather do that than shock a pampered pooch into work-life AND have to break its bad habits.

I'd love some people's perspective on this topic. Please leave all opinions, for and against. Also give any other thoughts of other jobs to give it to keeps its mind properly employed or other concerns we may not have yet considered. Thanks in advance.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


While I'm not a martial arts expert as the new Sherlock Holmes movie depicts, I've been applying my own powers of deduction to our newest predator.

1) The hole is LARGE with distinct paw prints.

2) Most of the dead chickens had no blood on them. Their necks were broken indicating opposable thumbs.

3) One survived chicken has a single puncture wound on its back that looks like it could have been made by a claw of a deft little hand. Not a tooth or there would be a second nearby.

4)A neighbor saw what she thought was a possum, but was brown, had longer legs, and a stubby pig-like face and a very round belly like a pot-bellied pig.

5)Another neighbor saw a family of racoons leaving the woods beside our house a week or 2 ago.

My thought: it was a jagaurundi (otter cat) and a racoon. The jagaurundi is part of the cat family, is capable of digging holes, kills for sport, etc. This is likely what the neighbor saw. It looked like a pot-bellied pig because it had just had a large chicken dinner. After the jagaurundi dug the hole, killed a few, and had a good meal, the chickens were wandering the yard and a coon or 4 moved in, killed a few more as they were scattered about the yard, injured one's neck, punctured one with a claw and ate a couple more in peace deep in the woods.

The jagaurundi will unfortunately not be made into slippers as they are apparently endangered (or at least 4 of the 8 subspecies are). We'll just continue to protect our birds as we can and hope it finds greener pastures. I've heard of this thing killing a neighbor's rabbits a few years ago. Gee. Endangered yet we can't protect our livestock from it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

more unexpected

the "thing" struck again. this time it wasn't satisfied to take one chicken and leave the rest unharmed. (so is it the same "thing"?) No, this time it left 5 uneaten carcases strewn about the front yard, 3 more dead inside the pen (again, not even nibbled on), 4 gone and presumably eaten, 1 with a near broken neck but at this point hanging on to life, and 4 intact birds. It dug a monstrous hole under the pen to get in. I cried at the sight of it all this morning.

So where do we go from here?

I set up the electric fencing around the meat birds and replacement layers' pens. The new layers' pen has a chicken wire bottom on it but I don't trust this thing to not go through great lengths to get at them. The meat birds' pen is being held together by prayer as it is. The weight of water during heavy rains has rendered it quite weak. It would take next to nothing for this critter to get in there and have a hay day with 24 fat and slow, almost completely grown meat birds.

But do I just protect as best as I can or do I lure and attempt to kill? Do I leave the seriously wounded one in the pen and sit up all night waiting for this thing to attack? Will it likely attack at dusk or just before dawn (given that a couple birds were not completely stiff, I think it struck closer to morning than yesterday evening)? Will it come out if it smells me outside? If I'm sitting inside and see it coming, can I get out and take aim before it runs back into the woods?
Should I bate a trap with an already dead bird? I kinda doubt its a coon so I don't think it will be too interested in old meat. So I'll end up trapping a coon that hasn't been the problem.

And if I do decide to stay up all night, should it be tonight or will it still be too full to hunt tonight? And I think I could stay awake if I knit, but if I have a light on to knit by, will that thwart all visitation as well?

I woke up this morning feeling so good. I had a great day planned. And now I'm just grieved and unmotivated. This thing took out a major food source for us. We eat about 4 dozen eggs a week. Or we did. Now we may get 4 eggs a week (with the low daylight hours and chickens in molt or past molt, they were laying much less than normal). The replacements were hatched in early November meaning we can expect them to start laying slim-maybe in March, possibly in April and definitely in May. That's a long time with few eggs.

We used to use chicken wire on the bottom of the pens, but it required so much maintenance and was so heavy with meat birds that we only used it for our "chick pen" or the pen that we keep the smallest birds in. But now I'm wondering if that maintenance is necessary. When we've gone 4 years with no attacks like this, how much do we change our method on one occurrence? And how much to we wage all out war until its dead?

And should we get a dog? We're not ones for pets. I'm in favor of a working dog, but farmer hub is not. Not unless the predation proves one necessary. And then affording one is another whole issue. Would we have to fence the whole property? Could we train one to stay on the premises? What kind would be a good working dog yet not rip a child's hand off, not try to kill a goat and still handle summer heat (I really don't want a dog in the house!)?

And are our goats in danger of this "thing"? Noel could kid in the next month... would it go after her baby? Should I move her inside the electric and pray she doesn't jump on a chicken pen? So many questions and I'm too exhausted to make good decisions. And if I'm staying up all night, the exhaustion will only continue.

But I want this thing dead and its hide warming my feet.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Winter Casualties

The misery of sub-freezing temps has passed for now. And here's some pics of the carnage left in its wake...

Ice that was in the goat's water bucket. This is about 9:30am. When I went out the first time, the ice was so thick it wouldn't come out. Its about 1.25" thick.

A frog that died early on and sunk to the bottom of a rain barrel. How in the world am I going to get that thing out???

Another frog... this time encased in the ice from the rain barrel. I had heard that frogs can freeze and will thaw out to continue living. I'm seriously skeptical of this, but I still pulled out the ice (lest I have TWO dead frogs at the bottom of a rain barrel) and left it in the sun in a hidden bit of scrub woods. If it didn't thaw soon it would be racoon food that night, I'm sure.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


as much as we say we need to expect the unexpected, i got caught blindsided again. its hard to deal with the unexpected with 3 little ones. this morning i ventured out into the frozen tundra early enough so that i could get it all done before farmer hub left for work in the big big city and save the layers and layers of clothes to pile on 3 kids. I was greeted by a few chickens...smiling at me... from outside their pen. I quickly saw a large hole ripped thru the chicken wire side. a few more chickens roamed freely. a few others stayed in the pen by choice. we set up the baby gates and a piece of plywood and loaded the birds in there. in counting, one was missing. and sure enough we noticed a trail of feathers all the way to the woods. what's funny is yesterday morning i thought something looked funny and did a head count. sure enough a buff colored rock was missing. i figured she must have died in the summer and i just didn't remember. had a serious case of baby brain for a few months in there. anyway, now i'm wondering if the critter didn't manage to get her on a previous night without doing major damage to the pen then came back for more and really ripped it up. a neighbor said he saw a big grey fox roaming around. we haven't seen coons work this hard for food before so my assumption is it was a fox.

so, all that meant i still needed to do chores, this time with farmer hub running late and the kids rather unsupervised inside. bundled 'em up, complete with gloves this time, and out we went. the littlest hated it. ended up trying to repair the pen with him in a mobi wrap... very difficult. finally got it apart, figured my parts list and loaded the car for the not-quite-so-big city. 5 stops later we're home with 3 sleeping but hungry kids. got them fed and tucked in for naps and ran back out desperate to finish as my normal to-do list was still beckoning. then discovered that the home depot helper that had spotted my 1" PVC elbows gave me threaded ones and I never noticed. ug! so i did all i could with what i had, woke up the boys, reloaded them and drove a mile down the street to my friend's handy hardware store. the 1" elbow box was empty. i could have cried. she announced she had some in the back so i stood guard at the front of the store, keeping an eye on the kids whom i hadn't unloaded from the car given that it was CLEARLY visable from inside the store and someone was always there to watch. well, in walks mr. do-gooder who rips me up one side and down the other saying that the police will come and lock me up and take my kids away for leaving them in the car. he repeatedly told me that he worked for the court system and that they'd definitely be locking me up. quite frankly, if i'm the worst criminal that they're coming after with such vengence, then please, lock me up because it means they've turned a blind eye and its far safer in jail. anyway, my friend had mercy on me and ushered me out the door and away from the continuous stream of wrath with my two elbows without paying. i drive away with 2 kids screaming that they wanted to see little hardware boy (the owner's grandson who totters about the place most days). we get home, i dole out the snacks, wipe cold, runny noses, put the shoes and jackets and gloves back on, feed the baby and try again to finish the pen. this time it went rather smoothly (aside from the little hands wanting to help glue the PVC together), but it was also almost 4pm. i finished and tossed the chickens from their cramped little makeshift pen back into their real abode and set about trying to prepare for the subfreezing temps again tonight.

for detail sake, i replaced the chicken wire with hardware cloth as i figured that will go farther in keeping out the wiley little critters than chicken wire. the other 2 pens are already done up in hardware cloth.

and my pet frog survived the night. he's now living in my utility sink. i run warm water on him every so often. ran a load of laundry in the drier tonight to boost the temp inside the garage a bit. prbly won't last long against 26 on the other side of that thin garage door, but its something.

and now i still have laundry to fold, dishes to do, diapers to deal with, a floor to wash, bathrooms to clean... and i'm so mentally exhausted i could fall asleep standing up with my eyes open.

but the boy is sufficiently nursed now and almost sleeping in my arms. its a pleasent feeling after all that.

just wish i could linger here a little bit longer...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

26... ish

woke up at 3 to a reading of 41. i did a dance of joy. woke up at 6 to 36. no ice around when doing chores at 7:30. very hopeful that the forecast would be better than the 27 it said before. i did not want to pull out the blankets and sheets.

too bad. forecast now says 26 with strong northern winds. boooooooo!

so, i bundled the kids and we all went out. thanks to a neighbor who purged her linen closet a few months back, i had just enough coverings. i have things laid out ready come dark. i turned the goat shed so the opening is pointed south. i put blankets over the northern sides of each chicken pen as wind breaks. I gave everything a good drink.

And I checked on my poor pet frog that I found yesterday. :-< Yesterday morning I saw a BIG frog hanging onto the side of a rain barrel. I figured the water would be the warmest place for him, but alas, a couple hours later I saw him spread out, dead, at the bottom of the barrel. Then I found another frog barely moving, near frozen, in another barrel. I scooped it out and set it in a bucket of water. Then I added warm water to try to bring its body temperature up. This was late in the afternoon so I brought the bucket into the garage. This morning I thought it was dead, but it blinked. I added more warm water and am hoping for the best. I know its pretty silly. And likely futile. But just because I hack the heads off chickens doesn't mean I want to see every bit of wildlife die a slow and painful death. Besides, frogs eat bugs.

So, tonight being the worst night forecasted thus far and as far as the almight radar can see, if all our little plants and froggies can make it tonight, we'll know we're doing alright. Good luck to everyone else out there. Stay warm!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Winter Wonderland

So, its not a winter wonderland as most people think of it. But for me its more, "I wonder if these plants will make it this winter?"

And thus we've gone the past 2 nights. Saturday night I was awake several times and kept checking the outside thermometer. 37 was as low as it showed. When I went out to do chores, a thin layer of ice sat in an empty hay basket, most likely dew that had frozen. A few pineapples were a bit yellowed, but the tomatoes and peppers still sat perky and green.

Last night I did another round of wondering. Should I have covered anything too? Will the Christmas lights be enough? Should I have tried to save the tomatoes? Woke up to the thermometer reading 34. Doing chores revealed a 1/4" of ice on the rain barrels and the goats' water. The tomatoes and peppers have bit it hard. Pineapples and tangerine trees still looking good though.

My mom gave the kids a nice wagon for Christmas. And I'm very glad. It makes it very easy to protect potted plants. I load them into the wagon and wheel it into the garage at night. In the morning I wheel them back out and never unload them from the wagon. May not be the use my mom intended, but its quite the handy farm tool.

The forecast is bleak. Freezing temps all week. Tuesday night supposed to get down to 27. That means running an extension cord and light out to the pump house. That also means covering the pineapples and tangerines as well as turning on the Christmas lights. I hate covering. Its so much work.

Anyway, for those wondering the best way to protect your plants, don't do as most do and throw a towel over your favorite hibiscus. You'll do more harm than good. First of all, know what needs to be protected. Bananas will die back but rest assured they will sprout again. Same for hibiscus. Staghorn ferns don't like cold, but throwing a blanket over them without getting them down from their perch first is futile. I smack my forehead many times in a winter as I see ignorant plant protection attempts. I follow this method:

1) Water thoroughly in early afternoon. Keeping them well hydrated is giving them their own insulation.

2) Use Christmas lights. On citrus or other grafted trees, wrap the trunk densely with lights. You need to protect the graft area to save the tree. Then throw lights around the central part of the tree. You'll lose some foliage but the tree will survive. Turn on the lights at dark and leave them on till the temp is above freezing. No need to take off the lights during the day.

3) When dipping into the mid 20s, also cover the plants. HOWEVER, they need to be covered from top ALL THE WAY TO THE GROUND! The cover provides a level of insulation. You wouldn't turn on the heat and leave all the windows open, right? Same thing here. Also, if possible, keep the cover OFF all foliage. Wherever the cover touches the plant, those leaves will almost certainly die. Now, I don't have enough stakes and poles for this. I cover as I can because I'm covering to save the plant, not the foliage. Still turn on the lights when covering. Uncover each plant in the morning and water again in the early afternoon.

4) Bring potted plants inside. Covering a potted plant will help, but it being in a pot makes it more susceptible to cold.

5) If dealing with a very large citrus tree, know that that tree has likely seen hard freezes many times and will probably be fine. Don't try to cover the whole tree. That's insane. The best way to protect it would be to wrap the trunk in lights as far up as is feasible and then also cover the trunk with a blanket. If possible, have the blanket tight at the top and tent it out to the ground.

The little farm girl and I recently planted some seeds for our "pretty patch". You know, back when the high was 73. Now I'm biting my nails for them. I brought them inside the house one night but once I saw it was going to be freezing all week, I just left them in the garage. I can have 4 flats of seeds lining my dining room every night and morning for a week. If they don't sprout, we'll try again later.

Homesteading Hubby pulled up the last of the sweet potatoes. They look great. The trick now is where to put them to cure??? Now they're sitting in laundry baskets in the porch with a blanket over them at night. Hope that's enough.