Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kits, Chicks and Heat! Oh My!

 We've had some interesting adventures this week.  Thursday morning, I noticed Mona had pulled some fur and was looking crazed.  That evening Husbandman went to check on her and agreed, lots of fur, crazed look, but no babies.  Moments later Farm girl runs in screaming that there are baby bunnies on the ground.  Sure enough, 1 was outside and squirming around in the dirt.  Angel helped to find the others that had fallen out toward the back of the pen.  Mona had decided that even this nest box was not suitable evidently.  And delivering them outside the box meant they all fell out of the pen.  I called a friend and she said not to put them back in right away.  So we created a little home for them... in our bathroom.
This set-up is a 5 quart ice cream container (curtousy of my step-dad who's an ice cream junky... I totally dig the buckets).  The 5 babies are under the pile of fur that Mona had pulled out.  We set up our heat lamp that we use for chicks.  Over the top I laid an extremely well-used (but clean) cloth diaper that would block out some light, but have enough holes in it to allow some air circulation.  Later that same friend sent me a webpage giving me better details on how to care for baby rabbits... like keep the house between 68 and 72 degrees and IF its cooler than that add some heat.  Needless to say the light got shut off immediately.  Our house is kept at 80 and since outside night time temps may not even dip down to 72, I figured that would be just fine for them.
And so I fed them goat milk via dropper that first night and hoped for the best.  In the morning, they were all still alive and wiggling.  I fed them goat milk again (rabbits only nurse once per day and if fed by hand, should only get it twice at most).  My friend came by with a homeopathic concoction to help calm Mona.  I put that into her water a waited a few hours.  Then I put 2 babies back in, wrapping them well in some fur.  By feeding time that evening, there was still wiggling under all that fur so I knew at least 1 had survived and I put the remaining 3 back in.  As of yesterday, there was some wiggling, not much, but enough to know at least 1 is still alive.  We really can't find out anything more certain with out potentially causing more harm by freaking Mona out so we'll just wait and see.

Yesterday morning, while preparing breakfast, we noticed chicks scurring loose about the front yard.  We ran out and collected them and discovered a hole where something had dug under the pen.  4 chicks disappeared with only a few feathers left behind.  This is our first predator loss since getting Angel.  But we pulled an enormous tick from Angel on Friday AND she always sleeps in the back yard.  I think the reason we only lost 4 and not all 20 was because of Angel, but I think a lot must have gone on before it woke her up.  Either because of distance, the fact that the chicks are still very quiet or she was feeling lethargic due to that tick that had been feeding off her for quite some time.  At any rate, we moved the chicks to the back yard (where I was gradually working them toward anyway) where she could better protect. 

The garden is doing miserably.  By now okra and beans should be pumping.  I have nothing but amaranth, watermelons and cherry tomatoes feeding us.  I tried new varieties of okra and beans: eagle's pass for okra and Chinese red noodle bean.  With both they get just so big, produce maybe 1 fruit and then curl up and die.  Since ripping out my cucurbits (except watermelon), I've had room to add my standbys (Burmese okra, rattlesnake beans and red-seeded asparagus beans) so I'm hopeful to still get a decent harvest.  But I'm also concerned killer compost has found its way to Florida.  Monsanto has been selling this herbacide for hay fields.  Only it doesn't break down after the animal eats it.  Instead, it gets pooped out, composted and tossed in the garden where it continues to kill everything.  Since learning the problem, have they taken this junk off the market?  Goodness no!  They wouldn't make any MONEY if they did that!!!  Given that some beds are fine and others are not, I think it could be other issues.  But, for example, my eggplant should also be big a producing by now... I've had to reseed 4 times!  They either wouldn't germinate, stunt out before transplanting or stunt and die shortly after transplanting.  I just got all new seed, got my first good germination and transplanted healthy looking plants.  Hoping for something good.

The heat has been rough this past week.  I transplanted some new collard green starts (from my own seed!) and they just couldn't handle the heat.  I watered every 2 hours the first day and they still just laid down flat.  All but 2 transplants are now dead 3 days later.  I've got an idea for shade frames for transplanting in the summer heat... just add building them to the to-do list. 

Another interesting event earlier this week was Zuma came down with laryngitis.  She spent most of her 5 years in a concrete pen being fed from a hay rack and drinking from a pig waterer.  Her previous owners warned us that she probably wouldn't drink for a while since her only option was to drink from a bucket.  And we also discovered she didn't know how to graze.  I'd tether her out and she'd do precious little eating and absolutely no drinking.  One day this week, I did the same... only it had been very hot and a bit smokey the days prior.  That night and strange noise was coming from the barn.  Husbandman told me about it and said he thought it was Zuma.  Angel was going nuts.  I ran in and found her looking just fine... just sounding like a pubescent boy whispering.  We grabbed a bucket of grain which she ate happily.  I did research about sheep laryngitis and the results were miserable... like immenant death!  But she was eating fine, standing fine so I figured she just pulled on her tether a bit too hard, got dehydrated by refusing to drink from that bucket all day, and the smoke further irritated it.  I left her in the pasture for a couple days and she was back to her normal loud, deep demands at first light from the house.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Day of Firsts

I'm exhausted.  But what a great day.

Some friends came over to help us with a hive inspection (we were also moving the entire hive stand set-up).  In one hive, we had a considerable amount of honey in the super.  For reference sake, we have 8-frame hive boxes.  We have 2 deep boxes and 1 shallow super per hive.  In this one hive, as I said, the honey was calling us.  Also, the bees had drawn the comb rather helter-skelter.  We're not sure why.  They're bottom boxes look great.  But we decided to harvest honey for the first time from 4 shallow frames of honey and replace them with 4 empty frames. 
Each of us took a sting.  Our friend got his very first sting right on the nose (his veil fell against his face).  Husbandman took one to the hand (no gloves) and I had one crawl up my pant leg and get me on the leg just as I was walking away with their honey.  But other than that, and given that none of us really knew what we were doing too well, I'd say it went rather well.

Then came the fun part.  In the future, we'll likely use a honey extractor so we don't have to destroy the comb, but this round given the state of the comb, we just cut it right out of the frames.  We put it all into our big stainless steel milking pot.  And I got to squeeze.

After I got it all squeezed out, we set a jar in a bowl and our milk funnel into the jar.  We set a piece of cheese cloth into the funnel and filtered the honey.

 The chunks of wax we'll melt in the sun and filter through cheese cloth.  Maybe mix it with some goat milk for soap???
 From those 4 frames, we ended up with just shy of a gallon of honey.  Its a bit thin, but experts say to set the capped frames in a dehumidified room for a few days before extracting.  Bees can't bring the water content down in Florida humidity.  We skipped this step.  We're fine with runny-ish honey.  In China, it was water thin... but then again, it really is precious little more than water at their own doing.
Our next adventure of the day dealt with this new toy... a Nutrimill grain mill!  I've been wanting an electric grain mill for years.  I finally got to order one and it arrived late this week.  I already had some wheat berries given that I used to occasionally pull out the hand-crank mill and let Husbandman crank it shirtless for my own amusement, but it really didn't produce fine enough flour for nice breads.  But today, Husbandman stayed fully clothed, the kids ran to a bedroom and shut the door against the noise and I listened to the hum of nutrition bursting from tiny little grains.

 A couple hours later (and a bit of our own honey in the recipe), I had these beauties.  It tastes good.  I'm a bit of a novice to the various types of wheat and all the recipes so I have lots of reading to do, but I'm sure the nice folks at Bread Beckers will be happy to supply me with all my knowledge and material needs.
Here are the boys, licking the dregs of honey from a bowl lid with a slice of freshly baked bread in hand.  Though the meal was light on veggies, I thought bread, honey and fresh goat milk made for a mighty fine supper.  They thought so too.

Friday, June 3, 2011


So, let's rehash some history.  We've been collecting other people's cast off pet bunnies.  That's how we came by both Mona and Brownie.  Both were "girl bunnies".  We bred Mona to the "boy bunny" down the street.  It didn't end well, but it did varify that Mona is still in bunny bearing years and not older than... well, our oldest son.

Last week we decided to give Brownie her round with the buck.  We took her over.  Brownie's previous owners were over so, yes, we made quite a spectacle of it all.  Except, it really wasn't going well.  Brownie wouldn't hold still for Steve (the confirmed "boy bunny") and they even swapped places a few times.  We sat there scratching our heads for a bit then when biting started taking place we quickly removed Brownie and headed home.  The astro-physics major who lives next door suggested comparing the 2 bunnies' nether regions.  Yes, at least 2 head smacks were heard all over the street. 

Uh... Brownie looks just like Steve.  We took him/her home and put Mona with him/her.  The gender was immediately varified.  Brownie wasted no time and did a grunt and roll that could rival the biggest polygamists. 

So now we have Mona pregnant again.  And Brownie, for a buck, is literally half the size he should be for good meat rabbit breeding stock.  So we will still need to acquire new stock when we finally get this rabbit operation moving.  But I think Brownie will stick around.  He's actually much nicer than Mona.  I'd rather have the kids play with him instead so if we can only keep 1 cute little fluff-ball, it will be him. 

Breaking the change-of-gender news to the farm girl wasn't easy.  She looked heart-broken.  Then she went outside and said that Brownie still had really long eyelashes so that means he's still a girl.  Sorry, sweetie, Brownie's just a very pretty boy bunny.  She's gotten used to the idea now.  She actually tells people that he "used to be a girl bunny."  We haven't tried to correct her.  That's a can of worms better left unopened by the 5 yr old brain.

Bella and Zuma

 Meet the newest additions.  This little nubian is Bella (I know we already had a Bella, but hey, we like the name).  She's a 1 year old doe with good genetics and very sweet disposition.  She's a bit skinnier than we were expecting so we're taking this month to condition her and we'll breed her to Copper at the beginning of July.  She's our replacement for Doby and our means of milk through the winter.  She'll kid in Nov/Dec.  Dulci will kid in Feb/Mar and Helen in June/July.  Milk flowing all year and Helen still gets her nice long vacation.
 Bella's a quick study too.  After only 1 day of leading her to the milking table, she knows right where to go and the patches of nicest leaves when she's finished with her grain.  Like the other goats, she doesn't much care for tethering.  She doesn't like to be away from the other goats, even if it is so she can have the best forage without competition.  I guess most anorexics do it for social reasons, right?
And this is Zuma.  She's a Suffolk/Hampshire cross ewe.  She's 5 years old.  Her previous owner was a local middle school student and wasn't going to be able to continue taking care of her as she went on to high school.  Zuma has been bred twice before and gave twins both times.  She's a good bit bigger than our Khatadin sheep.  The twinning genetics and the size hopefully coupled with Valentino's fast growing genetics and we have a winning combination.  Zuma is also very sweet and tame.  When she first arrived, she was scared and rather scary.  The other animals ran when she came near.  Now, they're exercising the we-were-here-first attitude and shoos her off the hay until they're done.  We're working on keeping a collar on her and we'll soon tether her as well, but I want her to get used to us first.  Scared animals are dangerous animals.

And meet our Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars.  There were 10 of these guys on my fennel plants.  They're missing now so I assume they've gone to metamorphosize.  I hope so.  Farm Girl would love to see a host of swallowtail butterflies dancing outside our living room window.  And thankfully she's not skillful enough with her net to catch too many either.