Thursday, December 8, 2011

These Gardening Boots should last awhile!

After looking all over the place for a good pair of backyard muck boots, I ran across these at our local ARC Thrift Store.  They were brand new, with tags attached and cardboard still inside each boot.

Steel toes, shin guards, thick insulated rubber,
Thorogood Hellfire Structural and Hazmat
real honest to goodness Firefighter boots!

Okay, Napoleon and Gussie, let's see you try attacking my feet and legs now!

ARC Thrift Store price:  $9.99/pair 
I got a pair for Emma, too.
Online price (Anclote Fire and Safety):  $249.00/pair

They even come with a one year warranty, though it only covers normal firefighting use. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Muck-y Boots

You know it's time to replace your backyard boots when you have more invested in the duct tape you are using to hold them together than in the boots themselves. I didn't buy the designer duct tape, either.  In case you don't know, you can now buy duct tape in various colors and patterns, including pink polka dot, zebra stripes, skull and crossbones, and purple paisley.  My duct tape is the standard silver stuff that everyone has in their garage.  
When I put on my knee high, plaid, Target clearance rack, two-year-old, $6.00 boots this morning, I noticed that the tears on the sides had gotten a little longer.  There were a few new ones as well.  This meant I had to change my wet socks as soon as I was finished with my outdoor chores.  It was cold this morning, too; in the single digits.  Though I hate to admit it, the old plaid boots would have to go.  After two years of being worn daily by me and my daughter, they are worn out.  

I figured it would be easy to find a replacement pair.  I went back to Target and went to their garden section only to find out that it had been replaced by the snow shovel and fake Christmas tree section.  Maybe it's time for plan B.

I decided to look online.   I found a cute little pair of green boots for $7.99.  They fit over your shoes like the old galoshes.  Upon close inspection of the reviews, however, I learned that they tear easily.  "Buy several pair!" one reviewer exclaimed, "They're cheap!"  I wondered if they came with a roll of duct tape.  On the other end of the spectrum were the Burberry rain boots, offered at $375.00 at Saks Fifth Ave.  I don't think those were meant to be worn while cleaning out the chicken house.  

Between these two extremes were many pairs of boots labeled rain boots, garden boots, farm boots, and one with the brand name of "Muck" boots.  I looked at the last one closely as the name clearly described the purpose for which my new boots would be worn.  However, at an average of $100.00 per pair, I didn't think I'd feel comfortable wearing them in the muck.  Out to dinner, maybe, but not in the chicken yard.

Hmm... I'll probably go with something decent but inexpensive, like the boots in the Vermont Country Store catalog.  It's either that or the designer duct tape.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Score one for the Foxes

It had to happen sooner or later.  We've had our birds for a year and a half, and during this time, we haven't lost any of our birds to predators.  Between having our guard geese, large white Embdens that patrol our chicken yard, and the fox population being hit hard in our area with mange, we just haven't seen foxes around much for the last two years.  This has been a mixed blessing.  Not only do I like foxes and enjoy seeing them, but they also keep the squirrel population at bay, something we were made aware of this year as we tried to garden.

In a normal year, the foxes will raise their young in the ditch in back of our property.  When the kits are old enough to learn how to hunt, mom and dad bring them to our farm to learn the ropes.  Fortunately, this has usually meant going after the squirrels.  I remember one day when I was working in our garden and a young fox caught a squirrel about 30 feet away from me.  The little guy brought his lunch over to the garden fence and sat there eating it, right in front of me.  I didn't appreciate it at the time.  

This year, however, the squirrels ate everything, chokecherries, plums, tomatoes, sunflowers, and apples.  They also raid our chicken food on a daily basis, knocking the lid off the metal trash can where we store the grain and even hopping right into the chicken feeder.  Where are the foxes when we need them?  I've been hoping they'd come back.

I got my wish tonight but it wasn't quite the way I'd planned.  We came home from a wonderful dinner at our son and daughter-in-law's house.  Coco is an incredible cook and we sat around feeling lazy and visiting for awhile.  By the time we got back home, it was dark.  And the birds were still outside.

Chris went out to put them all away, knowing that the chickens would already be in their house and the geese would be anxious to be let out of their pen.  They guard the yard at night.  The ducks are the ones who spend their day with the run of the whole yard.  It's complicated because the different species do not get along.  The geese will pick on the chickens, sometimes literally picking them up and giving them a shake. The male duck, Harold (named after my uncle), has made himself very unpopular with the male goose because he's always chasing the female geese.  Harold is also unpopular with our female duck, whom I named Cecelia (after my aunt), because he's always chasing the female geese.  Harold would also chase the hens and would probably have gone after the female squirrels if he thought he could get away with it.

Cecelia was by herself, waiting to go into the yard.  Chris looked around and saw a pile of white feathers lying on the ground by my studio.  On further investigation, the pile of feathers turned out to be a Headless Harold. Unless Cecelia just got so fed up with him that she literally bit his head off, I have to assume that a fox got him.  We are going to have to be very watchful this week.  Once a fox finds a nice meal somewhere, they tend to come back for more.  The chickens will have an earlier bedtime now and Cecelia will be hanging out with the geese.  That's okay, because they get along with Cecelia just fine.  

If the foxes were going to make a come back by eating one of our birds, I guess Harold was the best one to go.  I can't even make myself be too upset by this.  The foxes are far more useful than Harold ever was.  I only hope that next time, the foxes find a squirrel or two for their dinner.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Oh, Hawk!

We've been very lucky at our little urban farm.  Because of the geese, we've had no problems with foxes, coyotes, raccoons, or neighborhood dogs.  Our flock of hens, ducks, and geese, have thrived and multiplied.  So far, we've had almost no trouble with predators.

That may be changing.  The other day, I looked out the kitchen window in time to see a large hawk swooping down into the chicken yard.  I ran out the door in time for the bird's second run.  Fortunately, both were unsuccessful.  Emma and I managed to call the chickens into the smaller enclosure that is covered.  The ducks, having the run of the yard, were able to find a place under the bushes where they were out of sight and relatively safe. I wasn't worried about the geese.  They can manage on their own.  The hawk swooped down one more time, landing on our roof, then flying up into the trees next door.

It took Emma and I awhile to catch our breath and stop shaking from the adrenaline rush. We were grateful that all the birds were safe, at least for the moment.  We went back inside and related the story to Patrick.  He, too, was grateful that all the outside critters had survived.  "But," he said wistfully, "it would have been funny to see the hawk carrying away Napoleon."

Napoleon, of course, is our little rooster, who is Very Fierce.  It would have been funny, but only if we could have heard what he was saying:

"Squawk!  Let me at ya. I can fight you with one wing tied behind my back. You gonna come quietly or am I gonna have to mess with ya.  Still not tawkin?  You gonna be sorry as soon as you put me down.  I'm packin' 4 inch spurs, ya know."


He wouldn't have quit fighting or squawking even after the hawk ate him.  Knowing Napoleon, he would have given the hawk the worst case of indigestion imaginable.  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Squirrel Stew

The squirrels got to the garden first this year.  The problem is, they have no natural predators in our backyard.  It's an interesting phenomenon that our geese are amazingly good at scaring away the large predators like foxes, coyotes, and raccoons, but the squirrels and mice go freely into their pen and share their grain.  The squirrels, in fact, our getting fat.  The are also procreating at an amazingly fast rate. I've seen more baby squirrels this year than I've seen in the last twenty years we've lived here, and they are all well fed.  They've eaten most of our plums and apples, our sunflowers, many of our tomatoes, and they've figured out how to take the lid off the chickens' grain bin.

I've begun to consider the possibility of cooking up squirrel.  If it was legal, I might actually try it.  I found one recipe that sounds pretty good.  You simply soak the squirrel legs in beer, then coat with various yummy spices, then wrap bacon around each leg and grill.  The only problem would be catching them and preparing them. Even fattened up, I'm not sure there's enough meat to make it worth the work and it might take a bit to convince our daughter to try them.  I talked to my dad.  He's eaten squirrel.  He says it tastes like chicken.  I could possibly convince our daughter that she was eating chicken but then she might think it was one of OUR chickens.

This brings me back to the matter of our chickens.  It's that time.  We should be looking seriously at preparing some of our birds for eating.  I've done it before and I can say without a doubt that I am looking forward to it with the same enthusiasm I reserve for root canals and math tests.  It's a nasty job.  Killing them is the easy part; it's everything else that comes after, like dunking them in hot water, plucking them, and getting all the inside stuff out, that is unpleasant, to say the least..  The smell alone could convince one to become a vegetarian.

I would mind being a vegetarian.  I like vegetables and grains.  I wouldn't give up dairy because that would mean giving up such wonderful things as cheese and ice cream.  On the whole, a vegetarian diet would suit me just fine.

If only I could grow my own vegetables.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hanging Out

I've been hanging out in front these days.  No, it doesn't have anything to do with eating too many chocolate chip cookies.  I'm already a "muffin top", though that is simply because they don't make pants that fit real people....but I digress.

The hanging out I've been doing is on our front porch.  I didn't think anything of this until our neighbors mentioned it.  They had wondered why we were always sitting around in the front yard when most normal people hang out in their backyards behind perfectly good privacy fences.  When they remembered how many animals we have in our backyard, they assumed that was the reason for this unconventional habit of ours.  Though that is not the reason, it was good guess.  It's not quite as easy to relax when you're watching out for our foot-attacking Napoleon or having to watch where you step.  

We reclaimed some of our backyard today, by enlarging the pen for the birds so they have their own space fenced off from the rest of the yard. There's plenty of room for them.  It's almost as big as the entire yard at our first house.  Someday our space back there will be a very nice place with brick walkways, a patio, and our very large garden.  It's nice now; however, I wouldn't entertain guests back there.  

The main reason we hang out on the front porch is because we want to.  I love front porches.  My grandmother had a large porch where she kept two rocking chairs.  When family was visiting, we all gathered on the front porch.  Only the very cold weather kept us indoors.  Because the porch was covered, we sat out during rainstorms.  That was my favorite time.  All my aunts and uncles would sit around, telling stories about the old farm and all the different ways they got into mischief.  All of us kids sat around, listening intently, making mental notes.  An education of this sort is priceless.

Front porches are where all the fun conversations happen.  Serious conversations happen in the kitchen.  In some European countries, babies take naps on the front porch, even in the winter.  They are bundled in their snowsuits and tucked into their crib or pram; outside.  They consider this to be far healthier than having their babies take naps indoors.  I remember hearing Helle Heckman describe the little ones in her Waldorf Kindergarten in Denmark (N√łkken ) as having "such adorable red cheeks" when they woke up from their naps in the winter.

Sitting on the front porch, you can visit with neighbors who walk by, read the paper, and make sure that would be thieves know that there is someone in the neighborhood who is home.   Maybe someday we will have such a nice backyard that we will entertain guests out there, but I'm hoping that the backyard farming takes on so well that more people start sitting on their front porches.  Maybe then, more people in the neighborhood will start getting to know each other, trade recipes and garden produce, and share tips on handling our urban livestock.

That would be nice.  It's a part of our living space, after all. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Life Is Better

Spring also means an abundance of animals that need homes.  We have become the official Urban Homestead division of the new Life is Better Animal Rescue.  We take in animals that fit in with our Urban Farm, like rabbits, hamsters, and pinny gigs... I mean guinea pigs.  We picked up two guinea pigs last night from Georgia Cameron, the founder of Life is Better Rescue.  She had sprung them from death row at the Municipal Animal Shelter and handed them off to us.  Our daughter is having a blast with them!  We will be fostering them for a little while and then they will be up for adoption.

While we were there, we also met the newest special needs puppy, Tinkerbelle. This little dachshund is pure white and is deaf and blind.  She has no eyeballs.  What is horrifying is that she was bred this way on purpose.  In attempting to get pure white dachshunds that are highly prized and very expensive, one has to breed in a way that is totally against nature.  I can't explain the scientific stuff but what it means to the dogs is that many of the puppies will be born blind and deaf.  Those are culled from the litter and the perfect white healthy pups are sold.  Culled is another way of saying they are killed.  It's just plain stupid.  

I am grateful to be involved with a rescue group that will take care of these special needs animals.  As we were visiting, Georgia's partner, Chris, came in to warn us that Mugsy, his blind boxer, was coming in.  All hands on deck and clear the pathway!  Suddenly, a small black and white boxer came running in at full speed.  He knows where he's going.  He's at home.  If we're in his way, that's our problem.

As complicated as spring can be with the animals, I wouldn't have it any other way.  They are a lot of work, to be sure, but the entertainment value is priceless.

She will be a foster puppy for awhile before she is able to be adopted.  
Check with the website for more details.       


Dastardly Ducks and Chicken Butt Baths

Ah, springtime!  The first robins have been spotted, daffodils are blooming, and Easter peeps have appeared in the stores.  On our urban farm, the hens have kicked their production into high gear. We're now getting around ten to twelve eggs every day.  The ducks and geese are laying eggs now, too.  The garlic is growing in the garden and if our calculations are correct, we may have baby bunnies in a week or so.  Everywhere we look, there are things growing and blooming and beginning.
Ah, springtime!
Things are a little more complicated than that, however. 
Take the hens, for example.  Just as the high egg production season is starting, I spotted a couple of hens with dirty bottoms.  Looking up our handy dandy chicken expert on google, we found that our hens were being bothered by chicken butt lice.  No problem.  We just needed to clean them off and dust them with chicken dusting powder.  This, we have done.  I will spare you the details of the chicken butt baths.  
The ducks and geese started out confused as to who was who, but I had high hopes that they would figure it out in time.  That has happened, sort of.  Gussie, our male goose, has become super protective of Madeline, our female goose, and their nest.  Harold has realized that he is a duck and that Thelma is a duck, too, and not a bad looking one at that.  So, the normal male/female waterfowl behavior is proceeding as nature intended for it to proceed.  Until, that is, the ducks and geese are together in the yard.  Then Harold makes a mad dash for Madeline, again.  He thinks very highly of himself and can't imagine why any female fowl wouldn't agree.  These days, however, Gussie takes offense and chases them both.  The whole thingslooks like a scene from the Keystone Kops.  
During a calmer moment, the only thing I need to worry about is Gussie trying to bite my ankles or calves and Napoleon the rooster, attacking my feet.  Gussie is a sweet, mild-mannered goose who wouldn't hurt a fly, which is unfortunate, because we have plenty of flies.  He has no problem trying to take a piece out of me.  He will back down quickly if I am facing him but that is exactly when Napoleon decides to go into attack mode from behind.  
I decided I'd had enough.  I can handle Gussie.  I can handle Napoleon.  I just can't handle them both at the same time.  We now have the geese in a pen by themselves. Collecting goose eggs is going to be an adventure.  Does anyone have a spare suit of armor that I can borrow?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

How to Socialize Rabbits

It's not that hard, the website assured us.  Two rabbits of the same gender can learn to get along with each other as long as you approach it right.  The most important first step is to choose a neutral location.  Then, let the rabbits out together and carefully supervise them to make sure they don't fight.  It may be that you'll have to work with them for short periods of time, daily, until they start to bond.  If you are patient, you will eventually have two rabbits who enjoy being together.  

The website listed a number of possible scenarios when introducing rabbits for the first time.  One rabbit may try to kill the other one.  That is not good.  One rabbit may chase the other one around.  This is okay, as long as the other bunny doesn't suddenly turn around and try to kill the first one.  One rabbit may also try to mount the other one.  This is normal, the website says, and is a part of how they determine dominance.  Basically, as long as neither rabbit is trying to kill the other one, you're doing pretty well.

It went well.  Just as the website told us, one rabbit, MJ, started chasing the other, Eleanor.  MJ clearly wanted to be the dominant bunny because the next thing we knew, she was trying to mount Eleanor, and succeeding.  I began to get a little worried.  After the third time MJ exhibited this behavior, I picked her up.

Even vets can get it wrong, I know now.  MJ, named for Michael Jackson because of that one pure white foot contrasting with black fur, is a boy bunny.  

The internet is wonderful for looking up all sorts of information.  I immediately learned that the gestation time for rabbits is 28 to 31 days.  They ovulate on demand, every time the male is successful in doing his part.  This, the website tell us, almost assures pregnancy.  MJ went back to his cage, looking smug.

We learned a lot today.  Our experiment in socializing our rabbits was a success.  They did not fight.  We did everything we were told to do.  They should have added one more precaution, however.  

The first step in introducing two female rabbits should be to make sure they are both female.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mr. Chicken Bucket Man

During the school year, the three kindergarten classes save their food scraps for our chickens.  They all go in a special bucket and Chris picks them up in the afternoon.  The children know where the food is going and they get excited when they see Chris.  Last time, one of the boys greeted him with, "Hi, Mr. Chicken Bucket Man."  The teacher must have had a word or two with the child because when Chris came out of the last classroom and walked out through the playground, the same boy made sure to say, "Good bye Mis-ter Re-in-hart", in his most forced polite voice.

If for some reason Emma gets a ride home from school, picking up the scraps ends up being part of my morning drop off duty.  Fortunately, I've never been called Mrs. Chicken Bucket Man.  I entered the room one day to the chorus of "it's chicken time!"  After dumping the scraps into my bucket, I started to leave. I didn't get far before one little boy stopped me.  He had chickens, too.

"We got SIX EGGS IN ONE DAY," he exclaimed with enthusiasm.  He then went on to tell me all about their four roosters, who were big bullies and how he took a walk one day with his grandma and saw a goose that had been half eaten by a coyote.  "It was cool", I was informed.  "There were all these bones and stuff and the head was off."  He wasn't the least bit upset by what he'd seen and he seemed to accept the fact that the coyote was just trying to make a living, as we say in our house when one of our flock disappears.

It was a reminder to me that kindergarten children, especially kindergarten boys, really do live in a different world.

As much as I appreciate getting the food from the classrooms and I feel good about recycling what would otherwise not be used, I am not crazy about being on chicken bucket duty.  It doesn't smell good, and, after three class' worth of scraps, the bucket is heavy.  I'm a bit embarrassed, too, if I have to carry the bucket through the school hallways.  Up until a couple of weeks ago, I would put the bucket in the trunk of my car for the trip home, just so I wouldn't have to deal with the lovely aroma.  Not anymore.  The last time I did that, I had to stop suddenly at one intersection.  When I arrived home, the contents of the bucket were scattered all over the trunk.

It was disgusting.  The kindergarten boys would have loved it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bunny come, bunny go

Our first bunny was a beautiful white angora rabbit which was immediately christened Fluffy.  He was sweet as long as we kept him in the outside hutch but he defied all the evidence from the House Rabbit groups by becoming a mean, territorial, growling, charging, biting bunny, when kept in the house.  When he started shedding, I learned how to spin his fur, ultimately making a few tiny knit angora bunnies.

Then a neighbor's bunny hopped over and decided to stay.  I tried returning him to his family several times, luring him with bananas, but he always came back.  After the fifth time, the family suggested that we keep him.  

Then came the giant lop eared rabbit, another angora, and a little lop eared bunny that was labeled as a female at the fair where we bought him. I was pleased to have another female because I had a female already.  They could keep each other company.  The little lop agreed with this plan wholeheartedly.  Fortunately, he was so overeager that we knew, even before we set him down, that he was, absolutely, undoubtedly male.  Time for plan B, I had to find a second cage.

The little lop was named Snickers, because his coloring matched the candy bar.  Snickers soon decided he was not a bunny after all; he was a dog.  Our old Lab/Rottweiler mix, Montana, would suddenly come to life as soon as we walked out the door.  He would grab hold of a stick and run around in circles.  Looking over to the rabbit pen, we would see Snickers running around in circles with a stick in his mouth.  If that's what dog's do, he was going to do it, too.

For a long time, we had three rabbits.  When I say a long time, I mean a l-o-o-o-n-g time.  Velvet was the first.  He was a sweet, sweet bunny who was found crossing a major street in town.  The family had other rabbits and needed to find a home for this one.  Then came Bunnicula and Killer, dwarf rabbits.  Brothers from the same litter, they were the nastiest rabbits I've ever known, completely destroying any stereotypes of the "cute little bunny".  Killer proved to be an escape artist, too, and within a week or so, decided to make his way in the world.  Bunnicula stayed on to growl, charge, and bite us whenever we tried to feed him.  I started wearing leather gloves.  The last of the three (not counting Killer) was Carrot, a used classroom pet that came to us after spending 1 1/2 years in the 2nd grade classroom.  Carrot was another lovely, friendly variety and he was always waiting for someone to pet him.  

We lost Velvet last year at age ten.  Yesterday, we lost Carrot, also at age ten.  A week ago, I found that his hind legs were paralyzed and he wasn't able to get to his food and water.  I knew he wasn't going to recover, not at his age, for sure.  I called the vet's office only to find that they were closed for the holiday weekend.  We brought him inside and hand fed him twice a day. Then I would clean him up and change his bedding.  I was glad when he decided to depart even before the vet's office opened up again.  
Bunnicula is still with us.  At age 9, he is still just as feisty as ever.

We have our new rabbit now, too.  The rescue organization named him "Inky", which wouldn't work for us.  We have a niece by that name.  I thought we'd call her Binky, but my kids disagreed.  After trying out numerous possibilities, she was finally christened, "MJ", because she is black with one pure white paw.  Our daughter was adamant that MJ be a house bunny and it's working out well!  MJ is a friendly and social little critter who runs up to us whenever we enter the room, hopping in circles around our legs.  If we sit down on the floor, she will run around the room, checking in with us after every few laps.  She's not a sit-in-your-lap type of bunny but the way she stands and looks at us when she checks in, has me charmed. She's even housebroken!

We've had many animals come and go in our family.  It's always hard to lose a pet, but when we are lucky enough to have a sweet, friendly rabbit live a full, long life, it's not as hard to say goodbye.  Ten years is a long time for a rabbit to live.  Old Velvet even had wrinkles on his face!  I suspect there will always be one more bunny to rescue.