Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Spring! Happy Easter!

Twenty-six years ago, on April 20, 1993, we were getting ready to go to church for Easter Mass and asked Patrick, then 9 years old, to make sure the animals had been fed. He went to do his chores, then ran back in quickly. Our goat, Bonnie, had given birth to two little ones just moments before he had gone outside.

It was a year of babies at our little urban farm. Bonnie's twins, Blossom and Buttercup, were the first arrivals. Then came chicks and ducklings. And in July, our daughter, Emma, was born. 

Those were busy years. We always seemed to have too much to do and too little time. Our lives were full. As our kids grew older and our parents grew older, we took on the task of hosting more of the holiday celebrations. There were always guests - family, friends, neighbors.

Now we have the opportunity to slow down a little and celebrate the holidays in a simpler way. We spent last weekend in Maine with John and Coco and the grandkids. Today, we'll have a simple holiday and celebrate our new life in Massachusetts by planting some flowers.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Puppy that Meowed

"Oh, what a cute puppy!" my dad exclaimed. He loves animals, especially dogs, and loves it when we bring our wee fosters to visit with him. This time, however, it wasn't a puppy. Curly is our first foster orphan kitty. Dad couldn't remember this detail, however many times he was reminded.

"IT'S A KITTEN!" Mom shouted at him from across the room.

"Huh?" replied Dad, cupping his hand around his ear. He had hearing aids, but kept losing them. Now he has an amplifier. We speak into it and he can hear through the ear buds. Theoretically. If he'd keep it turned on. Most of the time it's off and when I reach over and turn it on, he jumps. I don't think he really wants to hear.

We're all getting used to having an orphan kitty to raise. Bennie has warmed up somewhat, jumping up to give her a quick lick as we're feeding her. Cricket is miffed. How dare we let that thing in the house!

Cricket, if you remember, was mama to the 5 adorable pups we fostered in July. The pups entertained us for 3 weeks before they were all adopted within 3 hours at an adoption event. We had already decided that Cricket was staying with us. She was fiercely loyal to me and followed me everywhere. She and Bennie got along well. She is quiet and easy going. Except when she sees a squirrel.

When we let her outside, she will stand on the porch and stare at the apple tree. She knows they are there. Before I notice anything, she'll suddenly run and jump right into the crotch of the tree. The squirrels dash off quickly. I suspect she thinks Curly is a baby squirrel. Cricket is now spending most of her time outside, guarding the back door. She's not taking any chances of having any more squirrels come in the house.

Curly, meanwhile, is growing bigger and stronger. And, miracle of miracles, she's pooping. Only foster parents of orphaned animals can understand why we get excited about this. Won't last long, of course, but we're still in the excitement phase. We know how quickly these little animals grow, so we savor this time as best we can.

We've got a new development as of today. Bennie has decided the kitten is his. He cleans the little one thoroughly when she wakes up and does the job of making sure Curly poops. He also cleans up after her.

For those of you picturing Bennie with a tiny wash cloth in his mouth.. go with it.

Okay, so now that Bennie has claimed the kitty, Suddenly Cricket is interested. Bennie was having none of it. I know he was telling her, "I said it was a puppy, but you didn't listen."

Cricket looked doubtful, but curious. If Bennie has something, she automatically wants it. Curly said, "Meow". Bennie smiled and cleaned Curly all over again.

We went back to Mom and Dad's apartment last night to have pizza and ice cream and cake for dad's birthday. Dad was mildly interested in the food, but he was more interested in our animals.

"How's the little puppy?" he asked.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Newest Puppy Adventure

New fosters! Cricket is a great little Mama dog and, as opposed to the Kaylee last year, she doesn't mind if Bennie plays with the pups. Anything that keeps them out of her fur is fine by her. She's letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that the pups are growing up and won't be needing her too much longer. 

Cricket getting to know us.

Cricket and Bennie got along from the very beginning! Bennie didn't even bark when we came home with another dog. We introduced the two adult dogs before bringing in the pups.

And the pups! No names yet, but 4 females and 1 male. They are full of energy.

Cricket is curious about the chickens.

The hens' look of dismay when seeing 5 more dogs in the family.

And Uncle Bennie is fulfilling his duty by playing with the pups and letting them climb all over him. He's so patient with the little ones! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

One More Try - new chicken nesting boxes

Well, we've got a couple of new nesting boxes made in hopes that the hens will not be able to reach their eggs. It's kind of hard to see, but those are paint roller pans in the boxes. The idea is that the hens will lay an egg, then the egg rolls down the slope to the tray. We'll see if the hens will use it! 

See! Under the board, there's an egg. Okay, this is a fake egg, just to make sure we got the measurements right and it will fit.

The hen is still setting on her golf balls and she was not thrilled with being moved out of the way for the boxes.

Chicken Hill

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cannibal Chicken Update

We've managed to get our daily egg tally up to 5 or 6, only when we're able to check for eggs every 15 minutes or so, especially in the morning. One day, we brought in 8 eggs because I checked so often, I practically caught them before they hit the floor.

Chris is letting the hens out of the smaller chicken yard so they can eat the weeds during the day. They love it and they repay us by laying eggs in places where we'll never find them. A few hens have stayed loyal to the nests in the chicken house and that's where we get our eggs each day. One black and white Barred Rock hen has become broody. She sits on the nest all day and, as soon as another chicken lays an egg near the nest, she tucks it under her. She's as loyal to those eggs as Horton the elephant was to his.

For better or for worse, most of her "eggs" are golf balls.

Yesterday I went out and heard the distinct cackle of a hen in distress. Our broody Barred Rock was running towards the gate, towards me, making all sorts of racket. I crouched down and she actually came up next to me and continued cackling. Huh. Our hens are not pets. They are used to us and know we feed them, but other than that, they can take us or leave us. I've never before had one come to report a problem. I figured I'd better check things out.

Sure enough, some rude hen had stolen her nest and was sitting on HER golf balls - I mean strangely shaped eggs. 

I thought about it for a minute and realized our broody hen was WHY we were able to keep some eggs from getting eaten each day. She was protecting them. Oddly enough, she doesn't seem to mind when I pick her up every 20 minutes and take the real eggs. As long as I leave the golf balls under her, she's happy.

I shooed the other hen off the nest and left Ms Broody happily hunkered down on her eggs again. We've got a good thing going with her and she deserves a little reward.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Landscaping and Gardening on a Budget

It's time to work in the garden and there isn't a better way to spend the day... until it gets too hot, anyway. Chris has the main vegetable/flower garden in hand and it's looking better than ever this year. We have dozens of buds on the rose bushes and almost as many on our columbine. We've been adding arugula to our salads and juices already. Arugula grows so well and will come back every year, too. Kale is coming up quickly as is our lettuce, and the seedlings are doing well. 

Our budget for gardening, landscaping, and such is essentially non-existent, but it's amazing what can be done without spending a lot of money. We've been fortunate to get free seeds and seedlings from Denver Urban Gardens this year. I added the link because I suspect many families who would easily qualify don't know about the program. 

In our attempts to tame the rest of the back yard, we've started adding some easy care gardens which will thrive even in our hot, dry summers. Sedum comes in many varieties and will grow almost anywhere. To fill in the new garden beds, we can simply dig up small bunches of what is already growing well in other beds. Hen and chicks, ornamental strawberries, speedwell, thyme, and other ground covers should fill in the gardens and, if all goes well, we can thin them out in a year or two and have more to plant in other spaces of the yard. 

We started on this last summer and our first garden is doing well. Two more are in the works. The landscaping materials have come via Craig's list and - from their FREE lists. This is when we realize how many very generous people we have in our community. Granted, maybe it's easier to give away some extra landscaping stones rather than try and sell them, but it's still a nice thing to do. We try to do the same when we have something extra.

Two years ago, someone close by had topsoil to give away. We drove over for numerous pickup loads and the grandkids enjoyed helping out, too.

Last summer we made a pathway. I hadn't found the supply of bricks at that point, so the pathway was made with various odd chunks of broken concrete. Not the easiest thing to work with and the pathway is rather... rustic, but on the plus side, those chunks of concrete aren't going anywhere. It was mid summer by the time I picked up 200 brand new bricks from a house in Westminster. We wanted a patio and I knew 200 bricks wouldn't be enough, but I got them anyway. I knew we would use them.

A few weeks later, there was another ad for free bricks, this time from the renovation of an old 1888 home in Globeville. The man who owned the home took one look at our small pickup and he started loading up his huge truck with bricks, too. He not only gave us the bricks, but he made two trips to deliver them for free. I gave him eggs, fresh garden lettuce, kale, and arugula in return. Now we have a pile of over 600 old bricks in addition to the 200 new ones and about a dozen or so large retaining wall bricks. Time to get to work.

I admit, I went a little crazy on the free stuff. Chris finally gently suggested we had enough landscaping rocks and bricks to last us for any number of projects. Sadly, I had to agree. That was last summer, though, and yesterday I picked up some bricks which had been cut at various angles. The small garden cart they were in was also part of the free deal. I'll use them because this year we're putting in a patio.

The small brick pathway by the porch and the new brick porch by my studio have been our practice projects. We've already begun clearing the space for the patio, with the help of our grandchildren. They're moving across to Maine in a week so we all enjoyed spending the time and working together. Here's the new garden bed they helped with today. 

Somebody else is excited about the garden! 


*Just as I was finishing up this article, the thunder and lightening started and it began to hail. We can never take anything for granted in our gardens here in Colorado. I think we got lucky this time. Our plants look undamaged.

oh, hail

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cannibals, Golf Balls, and Mustard Eggs

We were naive when it came to keeping animals, almost as naive as we were about having children. This didn't mean we thought it would be easy, we just knew we'd be up to the challenge. It would be fun.

Nobody told warned us that chickens are cannibals. We learned it quickly enough, as soon as one hen cut herself on a sharp bit of fencing. We rescued her in time, but just. A feeding frenzy had begun to form around her.

Nobody warned us that chickens sometimes eat the eggs, too. Once they start, it's a hard habit to break, and ours started this summer. Finding an eaten egg now and then is frustrating enough, but to find only one whole egg in a nest of egg shells and sticky remains is maddening. It's not like we're not feeding them enough already!

It became a crisis the other day when I watched one hen pull another one off her nest so she could peck open the egg. I swore. Loudly. I chased all the chickens out of the chicken house and went in and swore some more. My husband decided it was time to consult the experts and get some advice. He googled it. These suggestions are supposed to work because, as everyone knows, chickens are really stupid.

We tried putting golf balls in the nesting boxes. The idea is, if they peck at the golf balls, they don't get anywhere and don't get the reward of eating an egg. It didn't work. Seems our hens figured out the difference between an egg and a golf ball and started their own golf tournament in the chicken yard. Smart asses.

We then blew out a few eggs and filled them with mustard. We let the hens peck them open. Supposedly, hens do not like mustard and this would clearly teach them to avoid eating eggs. However, the hens quickly figured out which eggs were stuffed with mustard, ate the other ones, and offered the mustard eggs for sale on Craig's list as a delicacy.

It was suggested that the hens might need more protein in their diet. I was wondering why they wanted to read the back of the chicken food bag. The advice given on the internet was to feed them some cat food. This will give them the protein they are lacking and they will not need to eat their eggs. They love the cat food. They like it even more with eggs.

The last suggestion was to eat the chicken who are eating the eggs. This would be hard to do. Literally. Ever butcher and clean a chicken and get it ready to eat? It's gross, smelly, and makes you want to become a vegetarian or at least continue buying chicken already packaged and ready to cook. Besides, we have chickens so we can get eggs. If we eat the chickens, we wouldn't get eggs.

We have one more thing to try. A YouTube video shows how to make nesting boxes with painting trays - you know, the trays where you pour the paint when you're using a roller. A 5" wide board was placed on the back side of the tray and this was further blocked off by a wall. The idea is:

Chicken lays an egg. Egg rolls down the tray and through a slot just big enough for eggs and into the deep end of the paint tray where they are kept out of beak's reach. Theoretically, this should work. It means spending the next few weeks trying to figure out how to build the new nesting boxes, but if it works, it'll be worth it.

Maybe. I won't count my eggs yet.