Pasture Deficit Disorder

Lost calf

Last Monday evening, we were tending to the chickens when our neighbor came over and asked if we’d seen a chocolate brown calf loose on our property. Apparently, his heifer Peaches had her first calf sometime Sunday and he found Peaches after work Monday, but not the calf.  My father in law, here for a visit, said he had seen Peaches pacing along our common fence line, shaking her head and bellowing earlier in the day, while he was out taking pictures in the pasture.

We finished up our chicken chores and headed out to join the search.  We searched every corner of our property and across the fences of the adjoining properties for a couple of hours, to no avail.  We even tried to get Peaches to come through the gate to our property, and give her a chance to maybe find her baby herself, but she wouldn’t have any part of that.  We still had one more day off work for my father-in-law’s visit. We told the neighbor we’d keep our eyes open for the calf since we’d be around the next day.  Seven buzzards were circling overhead that evening.  My father-in-law said he hated to be a pessimist, but that wasn’t a good sign.

We went in for the night with heavy hearts.  My hubby asked the spirit of our beloved dog Maggie (aka Moo Moo), who is buried in the front pasture, now dubbed “Moo’s Meadow” to watch over the little calf that night.  Maggie was a friend to all little critters.  We swear she’s responsible for all the kitties that have shown up at our door!   

The next morning, my hubby was up and out early with the dogs - they don’t recognize days off for sleeping in, and luckily he always wakes up early anyway.  I was still asleep.  My cell phone started ringing and I groggily grabbed it from the night stand and saw it was my hubby.   When I answered, he said he needed help, they’d found the calf!!!   I flew out of bed and got dressed and ran outside into the pasture.  Here’s how it unfolded:

Hubby was out with the dogs and they were doing their usual frolicking around before getting down to “business”.  Hubby told Cisco (another friend to all critters – he’s also known as “Babe” because of this), “Buddy, we’ve got to find that little calf today.”

Cisco took off through the nearly three foot tall oats and rye grass (one of his favorite places to romp) and suddenly his nose went straight into the air.  He was wading through the tall grass, seemingly unable to even see where he was going because his nose was pointed towards the sky!  And then his head suddenly dropped down into the grass and his tail started wagging 100 miles per hour.  Hubby thought, “No way!”  He ran over to the spot and all-be-darned, there was the calf, about ten feet from our shed (and we had searched all around there the day before), curled up in a little ball in three foot tall grass.  At first, he wasn’t sure if the calf was still alive, but then he saw an ear twitch.  Yes!!

 lucky calf

What a beautiful little bull calf he is!  Hubby picked him up and I opened gates for him and we put him in the neighbors’ corral.  He stayed lying down right where hubby set him - now to get mama in the corral too.  Ellie, our Husky, was being naughty and not helping matters, and every time I tried to shoo her off, Peaches would follow me – away from the corral.  After several back and forth tries, I finally had to take Ellie all the way home and put her in our backyard.  Then I got a small scoop of sweet feed and convinced Peaches to follow me into the corral.  Hubby went to get the water hose to fill up a trough in the corral and I went to get Peaches some hay.  When hubby turned the water on, the noise startled the calf and he jumped up and went to the other side of the corral.  Peaches finally started nuzzling him a little bit and before we left, he had latched on for a much-needed meal!  Success!!

We got back to the house and within a few minutes, my father-in-law came into the kitchen.  We greeted him with, “Boy have we got a story for you this morning…”

With the horrible events unfolding in Boston on Monday, we were glad to have at least one small happy ending.  What an adventurous morning…and we don’t even have cows of our own yet. 

Until next time, worms rock and bees rule.

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Building a Coop, Part 2

Part 2 of our coop building adventure: 

The next weekend, it took the entire weekend to finish framing out the doorway and build the roof framing.  No matter how much I dislike my desk job, I’m really glad I don’t have to frame roofing for a living!  We also put in the linoleum flooring.  Now those who do that for a living have fancy equipment, but let me tell you, installing that flooring by hand is also not for the faint at heart!  We also installed half of the OSB roof decking.

During the week, we managed to get some work done a couple of evenings.  Monday’s attempts were hampered by 50 mph winds.  Work on the roof…no thanks.  By Wednesday night we had the rest of the OSB on the roof and OSB on two walls.  The third weekend, we got the rest of the osb on the walls and all the siding up.  The partition wall inside was framed and covered in hex cloth (chicken wire), the screen door was installed with a handle and a latch and the front door was installed.  The windows and ventilation openings were all covered in sturdy hardware cloth.  Finally, the coop our blog friend Wendy, from Unpaved Roads, dubbed the “chicken mansion” was at least completely roughed in and predator tight.  We piled in the wood shavings, set up their feeders and two new larger waterers.  I bought some galvanized shallow pans (like oil pans) and put a brick in the middle of them to help support the waterer, then covered them with hardware cloth.  (By the way, this has worked great to keep the coop dry with the ducks in there!  They are messy, messy, messy.)

Late in the afternoon, we were ready to move all the feathered kids in!  (The door was installed after this pic by the way.)  We transported them in their brooder boxes and of course they squawked about being picked up out of them.  Once loose in the coop, they all huddled in a far corner, squirming and vying for the spot farthest in the corner.  After seeing a picture of them like that, my father in law advised us to put some cans of food in those corners so that one of them didn’t get accidentally smothered by being trapped in the corner.  Finally they started to relax and mill about, checking out their new house.  The ducks were being a little bossy towards the chicks.  They had been in brooder boxes “next door” to each other, but hadn’t been in the same space for several weeks.  I reminded the ducks that while they were quite a bit larger now because they grow so quickly, soon they would all be close to the same size and the ducks would be FAR outnumbered.  They seem to have all settled in together.  And the ducks are less bossy now.  We can tell the ducks’ legs are getting stronger now that they have room to move around.  We can’t wait to let them out into the yard to rummage around.  We’re almost done with their enclosed yard, but we’re thinking of sectioning off a smaller area around the coop for their first forays outside.  The ducks are getting their feathers.  We took them a shallow tote with about an inch of water and filled it with chopped fresh spinach.  Boy howdy…you don’t want to get in the way of that!  They had a glorious time eating the spinach and splashing in the water for the first time.

  In the chicken mansion
Still lots of work to do.  We need to build their roosts (which will have a poop "deck" below them), nest boxes, a little more work on the door, some shelving for the storage area, the permanent roof, paint the outside, and a permanent bird entrance door. But it's getting there.  They really needed the extra space - especially the ducks - and they seem to have grown super fast since they moved in. 

Until next time, worms rock and bees rule.

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Building a Coop, Part 1

In my last post, I shared the story of building the little "tractor" coop for Bob, our first chicken (who also happens to be our first rooster).  Well in February, we decided to get Bob's extended family going.  We got twelve baby chicks - six production reds, three plymouth barred rocks and three golden laced wyandottes.  Oh... and three cayuga ducklings!

That next weekend, we embarked on our endeavor to build our permanent chicken coop for all our “little tinys” that were living in brooder boxes (aka large totes) in our extra bedroom.  With twelve chicks in one brooder and three ducklings in another, they were going to get big fast.  In fact, in a few short weeks, the ducks had just plain outgrown their brooder box and were about to start bumping their heads on their “ceiling”.  Plus, they didn’t get to move around very much because there just wasn’t enough room for them to do some little duckling calisthenics.  We were worried about their little legs not getting very strong.  Not to mention that every single thing in the extra bedroom was coated with a thick layer of dust.  Ugh!

We had a three day weekend and were gung-ho to get started.  Oh, but first we had to take two cats and two dogs to the vet for a scheduled appointment.  God bless Dr. Dana for having Saturday appointments.  But there went the morning.  When we got our three-ring circus back home, we borrowed the neighbors’ truck and made a supply run to our brand new local McCoy’s building supplies - always glad to do business locally.

We got home and got everything unloaded and started laying out the foundation blocks (concrete Dek-blocks).  The ground looked relatively level in our chosen spot.  But of course it was not.  And it was just enough off to make us stop and completely rethink our strategy.

So now we’re on day two.  We thought through and tried some other ideas for getting the foundation started.  Anyone who has ever built anything knows that if you don’t get the foundation right, the whole thing is totally jacked up.  And small mistakes usually grow exponentially the further along you get.  After several more stops and starts, nothing was working.  Once we finally figured out the route to go, we had to stop and go get more supplies.  Double Ugh!   We finally got going on the right track and were making some progress when it got dark.

 foundation started
 So, on day three of our three day weekend, we were finally, really rolling.  Not only did we finish the foundation (and it was square and level – Yee Haw!), we also got three walls up.  So we braced that puppy and went to bed that night full of satisfaction.  Imagine what we could have done had we not had two days of false starts.   

 three walls up 

We got home from work the next night and finished the fourth wall.
  four walls
Stay tuned for Part 2...

I know, I know.  You can hardly contain yourself.  But for a couple of kids and a new homestead, this is big stuff!  :D

And by the way, Bob's really finding his voice and doing great in his coop in the back yard!

Coop Adventures - Moving Day

Recently, we were finally able to finish up the temporary chicken coop/future brooder.  Bess was getting very anxious to get our of her (huge) plastic tote in the extra bedroom, with no regard for how nicely the daybed was decorated.  Go figure.  And by the way, Gracie the cat is SO glad to have "her" room and bed back - she actually didn't hiss at the puppy for once after sleeping in there again for a couple of hours.

Anyway, I digress.  I loaded Bess up in the pet carrier to move her out to the coop. Once I set the carrier inside the coop yard and opened the gate, she wouldn't come out.  I tried to tip it a little and she wasn't having any part of it.  Dried meal worms wouldn't even entice her out.  (Should have tried oatmeal - that girl will do ANYTHING for oatmeal.) Funny girl, thought you wanted out of the tote...  So here's where we discovered that I can crawl right through the coop yard gate and sit down inside quite comfortably.  HA!  I had to take her out of the carrier and she immediately perched on my arm for a good 15 minutes before finally deciding that the grass wasn't going to eat her.  Poor chick. Then she promptly crawled up into my lap to sit for a spell.  Despite all my attempts to get her used to being held when we first got her, Miss Independence did not like being held at all.  And yet now she curled up in my lap.  Eventually, she started checking the place out and nabbed those meal worms.  I had a string of Christmas lights on for her the first night because it was so incredibly dark (she had nightlights in the house) and all new.  At some point, she finally went inside her house and settled down.

Last night, way after dark, she was still milling around the yard.  I was stressing because it was dark, and she was supposed to be in bed by now.  Doesn't she know that's what chickens are supposed to do?  Observing her for a little while, I noticed her trying to jump up at the lights.  So I went and turned them off.  Guess what?  She went right to bed.  Okay... Bess 1, Chicken Mom - 0.  Guess she knows more about being a chicken than I gave her credit for and certainly more than I do.  She definitely needs some friends. Down the road, with a radiant heater, I think our little coop is going to make a fabulous brooder.  Now to get that chicken/duck yard fencing finished so we can build a full sized coop...Bess needs lots of friends!

  Chicken coop Bess in new coop
 Putting on the finishing touches.                           Bess checking out her new digs.

Bess lap chicken  

The lap chicken! 

Just a little postscript...Bess is trying to crow!  Of course, I think she sounded a lot like a turkey gobbling before too.  Maybe she's multilingual.  In the meantime, hubby has started call her "Bob".  Time will tell I guess.  All the rest of our animals are nuts...why not the chicken?! ;D

Post script to the post script…Bess is most definitely Bob!  He is getting a stronger voice every day and has the telltale long fountain feathers at the top of his tail…oh boy!

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Reflections on 2012 - Life in the Country

Cheryl in Texas head shot2012 turned out to be a big year for us, full of many little victories.  After all the horrible setbacks of 2011 we are mighty grateful!  Words can’t even express how blessed and grateful!

Last year at this time and through February, we were clearing dead trees to create our little home site.  We put planted the garden in March and installed about 300 feet of water lines.  The house was delivered in April and we moved in towards the end of that month.  

In May, we celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary and we also added to our furry pack – a pup from the shelter that we named Cisco.  Gracie the cat still doesn’t like him, even though she has always lived with dogs.  Go figure.  (Cisco weighed 10 pounds when we brought him home, and now, at 9 months, he’s up to 70+ pounds!) About a week later, a lost kitty found her way to our little farm.  We named her Two Socks; she’s the best dog we have.

In June we started fencing a backyard.  We came up with our own design, and now that “phase one” is done, we have to brag just a little – it’s a pretty darn nice looking fence!  

In June we also canned 30 pints of homegrown diced tomatoes and I started making homemade yogurt every week.  We ate tons of zucchini and yellow squash from the garden and put 15 pounds of homegrown tomatillos in the freezer for making green enchilada sauce later.  The backyard fencing project continued all summer.  

In August, our wonderful, sweet, oldest dog Maggie passed away unexpectedly.   Oh how she is missed by all of us!  But her spirit is ever-present in the pasture.  Furry sister Ellie has never quite been the same.  You’ll never convince us that animals don’t grieve! 

In September we celebrated our one year pasture anniversary!  Looking back at pictures, the pasture looked like a moon scape the year before.  But with some tender loving care and some blessed winter rains, it came roaring back to life!  We’re in desperate need of rain still, but hope to start cutting hay this next year.  I also started making all of our own bread in September – we don’t buy it from the store anymore.  

In October, an itty, bitty kitten showed up at the farm.  He couldn’t have been more than 6-8 weeks old, if that.  He started out as Kicking Bird (KB), but he’s so fast, we now call him Dash.  Then a few days later, another kitten, about 3 or 4 months old, showed up.  We named her Nala because we had just seen the Lion King on tv and she kind of looks like Nala.  So now we have barn kitties, but no barn…yet.   In the meantime, Dash has recently decided he likes being a man of leisure and has moved inside and made himself right at home.  It frightens us to think of what they went through to make it to us – especially Dash.  How dangerous it was for them to be on their own out there.  Whatever happened, we’re glad they showed up to be a part of our family.  

We had broccoli and green and purple cabbage in the winter garden.  The wild extremes in our temps killed it all off.  We weren’t prepared this year with a cold frame.  And after days of high 70s and low 80s, who could have predicted it would drop to 18 degrees in 24 hours!   And it’s done that a couple of times.  Unseasonably warm to unusually cold.   But the beauty of mild winters is that there is time to try some cabbage again (I’ll be growing heirloom varieties from seed).  I’m getting the seeds started in the house and will transplant in January.  It should be done producing by the time the spring air starts to warm and spring garden seedlings and are ready to be transplanted.  

On that note, we are already making plans for the spring garden.  We will stick with strictly heirloom varieties like we did last year.  Only this year, we will endeavor to save seeds.  Learned that lesson just this week…one of the tomatoes we liked the most was the Sioux variety.  But the seed company we bought from last year doesn’t have them this year.  I’m sure there are other great varieties, but we will hopefully still have good germination from the seeds we bought last year and will definitely save our own seeds for the future.  

We have also started phase two of our fencing plan, which will include a chicken/duck run and coops.  We were planning to have it all done in time for spring chicks/ducklings.  And we’re making good progress now that it’s not so hot outside!  But everything has been kicking into high gear after receiving a surprise Christmas present of a pair of two-week old chicks!  They are living in the laundry room in a large box for now, but will need outdoor quarters in the very near future!

Oh!  I almost forgot...we have some bees ordered for this spring too!  We're excited to try once again and hope to have better luck this time around.  The hives are already built, so we're ready to go. 

Happy New Year to you all!  May your year be filled will health, joy and creativity!

Until next time...worms rock and bees rule. 

Building fence

So we've been working on building a backyard - carving one out of our 10 acres actually.  We need to a secure perimeter around the house and a place where we can let our dogs out unsupervised when they just need to "do their business".  We are not of the mind set that it's okay to just let our dogs roam and wander where they may just because we live out in the country.  And then there is the huge issue we're having with coyotes in the area lately. 

We didn't want to block our views any more than necessary, but we wanted something that would keep our furry kids in and unwanted visitors out.  Based on examples we searched high and low for, we pretty much came up with our own design.  We set 4x4 treated posts at 8 ft. intervals and installed three 2x4 rails in between.  All the wood has been stained cedar toned.  The progress has been slow going...hubby dug every one of the post holes by hand!  But I'll tell you what, that fence isn't going anywhere and it will more than likely outlast us.

 fence begins      fence progress 

 installing wire 

Now you may notice all the little tape flags along the bottom section.  Well, puppy had been used to just flying through the wide open infrastructure at 100 mph.  So of course, the first hour the wire was up, he headed right for it.  I was yelling and waving my arms trying to stop no avail.  He crashed nose first into the brand new fencing and put a huge dent into our nice, smooth, tightly installed wire!  Once we knew he was okay, it was pretty funny.  And we immediately decided that we needed to install the tape flags to try and help him avoid future crashes. Now all that's left is the gates.  We are building those ourselves in a style to match the rest of the infrastructure. 

This is just phase one of our master plan for fencing.  Eventually, the fence will extended along the east side of the house to the front "yard" and someday will enclose the garden, orchard, and future chicken/duck coops and runs.  The perimeter of the property is currently fenced with barbed wire.  As we go along, we will install field fence around as much of the perimeter as we can.  This will help keep all our future critters in and invaders out.

Another reason we want our backyard secured is for our newest inhabitants.  We are now up to three barn kitties (sans barn...yet).  One showed up about four months ago and her name is Two Socks.  Two Socks came to us fixed, but in pretty poor condition - ribs sticking out, covered in bugs.  She's a happy, sassy, healthy girl now!  Then just two weeks ago, we had a tiny little kitten show up.  He couldn't be more than 10 weeks old!  It took a few days, but he started letting us pet him and now we can hold him.  He's the cutest little boy - he's solid black with a few stray white hairs and golden eyes.  We're calling him Kicking Bird (KB to his friends and family).  Then about two days later, another baby showed up.  She's a little older than KB, but not by much - probably about four months old.  She's orange with dark orange leopard spots.  Her name is Nala.  I finally got to pet her for the very first time last night.  The two new babies will need to be fixed.  But they're all welcome to stay as long as they want.  As we heard two separate packs of coyotes howling last night, we were more motivated than ever to get our backyard finished so they have a safe place.  Below are KB, Nala and Two Socks.

 KB  Nala  two socks 

Until next time, worms rock and bees rule.  :)

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