Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Battle of the sexes

When we got our chicks, we made sure we were buying females.  We wanted hens for their eggs and that was that.  Of course, when we arrived at the farm and I saw the ducklings... so cute... well, we just had to bring a couple of them home.  It's not so easy to tell the sex of a week old duckling but we took our chances.  The young gal who chose the ducklings for us was experienced enough with birds that she could make an educated guess.  
I had already decided that we needed to have geese again, too, though we had to wait another week or two before the goslings were hatched and ready to sell.  Our same young gal chose the goslings for us, again hoping for two females.  Our backyard flock was complete.
Then I saw the ad on Craig's List for a banty hen and rooster.  They were almost giving them away and, well, they were right on my way home.  Why not stop and take a look?  Banty hens are marvelous setting hens.  We could certainly use a good setter if we wanted to hatch some eggs next spring.  We used to have a banty rooster named Bertie.  He was really gentle and let Patrick (age 7) pick him up and carry him around the yard.  A banty rooster should be no trouble.
Fast forward six months.  We got lucky and, other than Napoleon, all our chickens are hens.  We are getting between 8 and 12 eggs per day.  The ducks and geese ended up being pairs.  We have one male and one female of each.  This will be great if we want ducklings or goslings next spring, but what do the males contribute the rest of the time?
Most of the time, they are a pain in the neck.  Our male goose, Augustus, started nipping our ankles when we walked through the yard, especially if someone unfamiliar came into the yard with us.  At first, I would chase him down and hold him upside down by his feet for a moment, and scold him.  I was determined that we were not going to have a biting goose.  Now he's too heavy to hold upside down, so I put him by himself in our garden.  He's in time-out for a bit.  
Napoleon has gone on attack now, too, jumping and pecking at our feet as we walk by.  He's so small that he seldom can do any real harm, unless we're wearing sandals, but he's in danger of being accidentally punted across the yard, just by startling us with his sudden desire to do battle with one of our shoes.  That doesn't slow him down at all.  He comes back, just like the little chicken hawk in the cartoons, and attacks again.  
Augustus would be in danger of becoming Christmas dinner, if he didn't have a name.  How could we possibly eat something we've named?  One of my friends suggested we rename him "Dinner".  Napoleon is not in danger of being eaten, at least not by us.  He wouldn't make more than an hors d'oeuvre.  
Now, we're stuck with two really annoying male birds (the male duck is okay) that I insisted we have.  What good are they?  
I had considered the options of giving them away or keeping them penned up all the time.  They were of no real use to us, anyway.  Then one day, I saw something interesting out back.  The geese had suddenly started running back and forth across the yard, flapping their wings and making all sorts of loud noises.  I looked for the chickens and they were all heading into the chicken pen!  Napoleon was standing on top of the ladder, inside the pen, making a noise which we hadn't heard from him before.  I think he was calling the hens back in.
It was then that I realized we hadn't had any foxes or other predators in our yard at all, ever since we've had the birds outside.  After seeing this scene repeated numerous times, I had to conclude that the geese had seen a predator and had chased it off while Napoleon made sure the hens were safe.  That's a big accomplishment for a goose and a miniature rooster!  I silently apologized to our goose and rooster for considering eating them.  They have a job to do, protecting all the female birds and they're taking it seriously.  Augustus will still go into time out if he bites me, but I'll be more understanding.  
They're just watching out for the girls.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

News from the yellow brick road and a few farm adventures

I'm almost finished with the plum chutney.  The recipe said it made 8 pints.. my first batch made 10 pints.  I'm running out of jars and I can't find my handy dandy little tool with the magnet on it, so I'm fishing lids out of boiling water with a fork and burnt fingertips. 
Aaahhhh!  The end of a lovely and long day.
Mom now has a ride down the yellow brick road.  It's a big bus with Total Longterm Care written on the side.  The bus driver helps her on and takes her into a center where she will see her doctors, eat lunch, have physical therapy adapt her walker so it doesn't slip, take part in activities, and then her driver will find her and take her back home.  For the moment, she is going once a week.  Soon, we hope to increase those days. 
Dad got a welcome break today.  He rested and then went to the store.  Mostly, he was able to spend a few hours NOT worrying about Mom. 
Total Longterm Care is a PACE program (Programs for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) in Colorado and I am sold on it already.  Even throughout the process of applying, they provided invaluable support for me.  I am grateful, especially, to Janice Morrow-Siebenaler, for so much, including numerous long phone conversations. Now that Mom is enrolled in the program, she also has an aide who comes out twice a week to give her a bath.  Maggie came out yesterday for the first time.  Mom LOVED her bath and thoroughly enjoyed being spoiled by her aide. 
Now, I can spend a bit of time not worrying about Mom.
The rest of the chutney should be done before long.  I have 4 quart jars, 2 pint jars, and 1 half-pint jar.  Hopefully that will be enough.
We got ten eggs today from our hens.  The hen house desperately needs to be cleaned and the yard needs to be raked.  I didn't get to it today because we spent the afternoon watching our grandson.  Teo discovered just how entertaining his Grandfather's beard can be.  Chris was so patient as Teo repeatedly tugged on his beard.  They will have a special relationship. Tomorrow we'll watch Teo, too.  I guess I won't clean the chicken house tomorrow, either.

Now...back to the chutney.....  

Plum Chutney Recipe

The best plum chutney:

12 cups sliced plums (I used Italian prune plums from our tree)
1/2 - 1 finely chopped green pepper (I prefer the larger amt)
1 1/2 cups raisins
4 cups sugar
3/4 cup grated ginger - I freeze my ginger root so I can take it out and grate it easily when needed
3 cups vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp whole allspice

Combine all ingredients except spices.  Tie up the cloves, allspice, and cinnamon in a double layer of cheesecloth or just put the cinnamon sticks in the pot and put the cloves and allspice in a tea ball.  Tie a string on the tea ball and let it into the mixture.  Tie end of string on the handle of the pot.  Bring it all to a boil, stirring frequently, unless you want to spend lots of time scrubbing the pot later.  Turn heat down and simmer for about 2 hours. 
Prepare clean jars and clean tops!  
Remove cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.  Fill the jars.  Cool and store.

Cleaning the jars - I put the jars in the dishwasher.  The lids, I put in a large stainless steel pot and pour boiling water on top.  Cover the lids completely with water and bring to a boil.  Simmer till time to use them.  I got a nifty little gadget with a magnet on top to lift the lids out of the boiling water. 

This should make at least 8 pints of chutney.