Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chicken Antics

Cool Hand Luke is one of Nate's favorite movies, so he is always quoting lines from it, especially as they relate to the chickens.  We suspected Vanilli would be the one to scale the new fencing, and sure enough, I found her on the top half this afternoon wreaking havoc with the tomatoes.  I called Nate and told him she busted out of general population and was roaming free.  His response was, "Cool Hand Vanilli, we have a failure to communicate. That will be three days in the hole."  We've never clipped wings before, but I think we will clip hers to keep her in the bottom half for her safety from hawks and the chopping block.  I can only take so much tomato thievery and general seedling destruction from scratching.  In the off season, I imagine they will have full range of the yard, but while things are growing, the bottom half will have to be home.

Bella, our Buff Orpington, is a sweet bird and a good layer, but she isn't the brightest of the bunch.  Nate calls her the Big Dummy.  She keeps trying to jump onto the retaining wall, which is now behind the wire fence, and ends up hitting the fence and getting knocked to the ground.  I guess it will take her a few more times to figure it out.

Our bantam (banty if you're from the South) rooster is coming along.  He has been fighting a pretty good respiratory illness since we brought him home.  Having been blessed with healthy birds, I've never dealt with a respiratory illness, so it took me a few days to figure out the problem and get some VetRx ordered and delivered.  VetRx is a natural poultry remedy for respiratory illnesses that has been around since the late 1800s.  We were tempted to take him back, but I knew he would face a certain death because the place we got him was not clean, and I imagine all of the birds are suffering from and passing it around to each other.  I didn't want to subject him to that fate, especially with cold weather approaching.  With some TLC, I think we can get him back to good health.  We've kept him isolated in the tractor away from our ladies.  Each day he's shown a little improvement with an increased appetite and activity level.  His missing tail feathers are growing back, and the wounds on his comb are healing.  I even saw him taking a dust bath yesterday, which is a first.  He smells terrible, which I understand is a sign of the respiratory problem and probably from the dirty farm as well.  Yesterday while scratching around, he discovered the beauty of being under the peach tree, which is the wealth of worms.  We continue to put ACV and garlic in his water, and along with his new, healthier diet, I think he will be okay.  This morning we were treated to his first crow, which really sounded like the caw of a black crow.  It was not too loud and was only two syllables each time.  He crowed about 5 times and then stopped.  Then, a few minutes ago I heard a strang cackle that sounded like a demented giggle and then a squawk.  I realized it was coming from him.  It is really comical to hear.  If he continues to sound like he did this morning, I don't see any reason why we can't keep him.  Actually Vanilli's pseudo-crow is louder than his.  Step aside, Vanilli, there's a real rooster on the homestead now.  He may be pocket-sized and 5 times as small as the hens, but he's all man.  I told Nate we could give him a step stool to service them.  Just back it up to the loading dock, ladies!  LOL! 

Happy homesteading,


Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Additions and Progressing Projects

One evening this week, Nate built my raspberry raised bed, and now I just need to get buy the composted dirt to fill it.  I am trying to decide if I should dig up the canes and replant them once the bed is full or back fill the bed and let the canes root themselves.  My experience with the blackberries tells me they will root just about anywhere they touch, so I imagine they will root if you backfill the bed with dirt.  My fear with transplanting them is that they won't survive.  Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?  The bed is probably a foot to a foot and a half deep, and you can see the canes peaking over the edges.

We finally got started on the fencing of the bottom half.  Having received no significant rain lately, the ground is like concrete.  Nate tried to pound in one t-post, and it was evident that post was going nowhere fast.  He thought it would be great is he could find an auger that attaches to a drill, and he did.  It's called a bulb auger, and it attaches to a regular drill and drills about two feet into the ground.  It made mincemeat of the clay, and we can't believe we've gone all this time without knowing about it.  

Lately I've had my mind on meat rabbits, so I started searching for a breeding pair.  I found a breeder of Champagne D'Argent rabbits about 30 minutes away, but he didn't have anything for me, and he said his doe ate her most recent litter, so he doesn't even have any for himself.  I've searched Craigslist, the state Farmer's Market Bulletin and the internet for breeders near me, but haven't had much luck.  Most of the breeders I find are hours away.  I finally found a breeder who lives about 2 hours away, but she only had a Beveren buck available.  Beverens are considered a critical heritage breed.  Even though I really wanted to find a pair of rabbits that were either breeding age or close to it, I was seriously considering getting the buck, so at least half of my search would be over.  I told the breeder I would let her know by this weekend, and I even went to TSC on Saturday to get a cage for him.  While I was in line I noticed the lady behind me had rabbit feed on her cart.  I started talking to her and found our she has a mini farm/animal rescue.  She told me she had a pair of Chinchillas and a pair of New Zealand Reds for sale.  We drove out this morning and got the Chinchilla pair.  The doe is 6 months old and the buck is 8 months old, so I have about three months before I would breed the doe.  They look pretty healthy, but they are still being quarantined until I can access their health.

While we were at the farm today, Nate walked up to me and the lady and said, "Look what I caught; it's a pocket rooster."  In his hand was a tiny banty rooster.  The lady said we could have him, and Nate suckered me into letting him take it home under the condition that if it is too loud, it's going back.  The lady agreed to take it back if we decided we couldn't keep it.  I have a strong feeling it will be going back.  In the meantime Nate has named it Napolean.  I've been calling him Nappie because he looks pretty nappy right now.  I can tell he's been picked on because he's missing some body feathers, most of his tail feathers and his comb is scabby.  I didn't really pay too much attention to him at the farm because I was focused on the rabbits, but when we got him home I also noticed some discharge coming from one of his eyes.  I made some chamomile tea and used the tea bag as a compress against his eye.  I put ACV and garlic in his water, and we crushed up some feed pellets for him as well as gave him a big pile of weeds and grass.  I doubt he's ever tasted green food as there wasn't any green in site where he was kept, but he devoured the greens we gave him.  He is in quarantine like the rabbits.

Happy homesteading,



Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Vintage Apple Butter

Last weekend, my neighbor, who knows my love of canning jars, stopped by to tell me he scored 20 boxes of jars at a nearby estate sale.  He said he bought them all because his sister had recently expressed an interest in canning and he knew I would want some as well.  Of course, I wanted some!  I had to buy canning jars this year, and it killed me to pay full price for them.  He said he didn't know how serious his sister was about canning, so I only took 1/2 and told him if she decided it was a passing whim to let me know and I would take the rest from him too.  The kicker is most of them are still full of food ranging in dates from 1980 to 2005.  Being full of food, the jars make me feel connected with someone I never met who spent time preserving food.  It also makes me sad that 20 years later it still has not been eaten.  I bet she never imagined they would receive a new start a few neighborhoods over.   

Happy homesteading,


Monday, September 5, 2011

Upcoming Projects and Fall Planting

My apologies for not posting more often lately, but the hot and humid weather has kept me indoors and from having too much to say.  It's so hard to motivate oneself to go outside when it's 100 degrees and 60% humidity.  I am impatiently waiting for the weather to break, but the heat wave seems to continue with no significant rainfall to call our own.  Regardless, I have projects to tackle and fall plants to get in the ground.  This weekend I planted some collard greens, swiss chard, broccoli, brussels sprouts and garlic. I have some lettuce starts in the greenhouse and I hope to get some more started for succession planting.  Everything was planted in the front yard to protect it from the chickens, but hopefully soon I won't have to worry about the birds getting into my back yard plantings anymore.  And, as I was cleaning up one of the beds yesterday, I found this cutie giving me the eye.  This is a good sign, for sure!

I have two projects in the hopper, and we bought the materials for both this weekend, so hopefully they will be completed soon.  The first one involves the chickens and rabbits.  This is what we call the bottom half of our backyard.  A retaining wall runs across the yard, separating it into an upper and lower portion. 

Aside from a few hours of morning sun, it is pretty much shaded the rest of the day by huge overhanging oak trees.  You can see the rabbit shed to the left.  The rabbit shed did not work out like I had hoped, and we realistically can only fit four cages in it, and that's if I stack them.  So what we've decided to do is fence off this section of yard and confine the chickens to this level.  They will have plenty of space to wander, and it will hopefully keep them out of my vegetables up top.  Plus with the tree coverage, they will be more proected from hawks.  We are going to turn the rabbit shed into the chicken coop and the current chicken coop into the rabbit shed.  The current chicken coop will house probably six rabbit cages stacked, so it gives me slightly more flexibility with the rabbits, and it has an attached run that I hope to plant with grass to give the rabbits a space to get some exercise and fresh greens.  This project requires a good rainfall to soften the ground, because it is rock hard right now, but at least we have the supplies on hand and can tackle it when the time comes.   

The next project is a hindsight is 20/20 project.  In the spring we built these terraced beds off our deck for asparagus and strawberries.  By the way, the asparagus is looking awesome, so it must really like this spot.

We also transplanted some raspberry canes to the left of these beds, but I didn't think about how much lower the raspberries are to the terraced bed and how they would be blocked of sunlight by the asparagus ferns.  We need to bring them up to an even level with the asparagus bed, and the soil is so poor by the deck, a good raised bed is really needed anyway.  Building a rasied bed for the raspberries to the left of the asparagus ferns is our second pending project. 

I'll keep you posted on the progress and thanks for the kind words regarding Louise.   

Happy homesteading,