Tuesday, April 27, 2010
It's thundering. Right this very second. I can hear the low, rumbling echoing through the surrounding hills and off the forest. I haven't heard thunder for almost a year. It doesn't thunder too much in the winter and although I have heard it a time or two, it's rare.
I love the rain. Especially at night. It has a calming effect on the kids. I can hear them moving around the house performing their routines for settling in for the night. The house is pretty quiet. And I'm sure if I peek into the little, red, chicken coop right now, the hens would be snuggled next to each other dozing in their special spots in the rafters. And the rabbits would have their soft, warm fur puffed up to hide their feet.
I hope it rains all night.
Our family has rented our homes for 11 years (!) mostly because my husband was in school for his undergraduate degree then his masters. Then the housing bubble expanded across every part of the country known to man and we couldn't find a house that both fit our budget and our large, rambling family. (Now, finally, prices are returning to normal and we anticipate buying a house by summers end.) So in the mean time we've been renting. In our case, renting a house means that I cannot paint or replace the carpet or put up book shelving. So on an every day living level, I've been frustrated because I can't make the inside of my house look the way I want.
Here's a picture of our sweet, little, red coop. It was built in about 1933 and is very sturdy and roomy and was given to us (IE: FREE). It used to be brown and now it is red. Since red is my favorite color, the new paint is an improvement. But, I would like to place rocks around the foundation and paint the trim white. There is a small back window that is screaming "shutters, I need shutters!" Plus the door needs some updating. I've not put anymore work into the coop right now because I'm not sure we will be able to take it with us (the last move was pretty hard on the structure. I'm not sure it can take another big move.) It's untapped potential drives me crazy on a visual level. But, it works great as is so right now, it remains "uncute" .....function over form.
If a person were to further inspect the grounds that the chicken house occupies, one would notice that there is something or somethings around the side of the building just, almost, not quite out of sight.
What is all that stuff on the side?
What IS all the junk?! My husband would say that this is a slash pile waiting for a big burn. My poor, sweet, long-suffering husband. He is even more visual than I am. These kind of messes drive him crazy! But he doesn't complain........too much.
Ahhhh! What a mess! My eyes! They are becoming sore just looking at this pile!
Well, this "junk" are (is?) crates. Big, wooden, free crates. Three of them. My plan is to put the chicken wire (from that roll you see standing up) around the perimeter of each crate to make chicken tractors. Or, maybe, turkey tractors. The blue tarp will go on the ground in the garden spot for a quick weed kill. But first the compost has to be spread out a little more. Also, there is a spare cage from our recently deceased buck rabbit. It has already been cleaned and is now getting the "sun" treatment (this is where an animal cage/ water bowl/ nesting box is cleaned out then allowed to lay in the sun for the bleaching/ sterilizing effect. It's some thing I thought was a good idea a long time ago and I've just always done.) Also present are the metal bottoms to all the rabbit cages. The cages are in the chicken coop and the manure is allowed to fall into the deep litter to be scratched and picked at by the chickens. So even though we are not using them right now, the metal bottoms might come in handy some time. You never know! And I didn't even address the goofy, I-thought-it-was-a-good-idea-to-paint-a-tree-on-a-door door.
Almost every thing in this picture was free or acquired very inexpensively. And though none of the acquired "stuff" will be used right away, every item will be needed some time this summer. Already having the "stuff" means one or two or three less trips I have to make to town and dollars I don't have to spend. So it's a good thing, this trash pile. Probably all good farmers have a trash/ junk pile or two they can pick from on the property that saves them money and time.
But it surly is sore on my eyes.
And so I remain.....conflicted.
The entire contents of the coop seemed very insignificant when it was all out on the garden spot. Very insignificant for 4 hours of labor. I think the job was completed just in time, however. With every shovel full of compost I noticed big puffs of dust emanating from the pile as I moved it from the back of the coop to the front. It was only when I picked a wayward hammer that was unearthed deep from the pile (how did that get there?) that I realized the compost was hot. Really hot! And the "puffs of smoke" I was seeing was steam (if you use your imagination, you can see steam in these pictures).
I have seen barns burn down from baled hay that was thought to be dry but in reality was still wet enough to become a smoldering bon fire. So I'm glad we got the chore completed when we did. Also, it's supposed to begin raining tonight and it is great to have the compost on the garden instead of in the coop.
The chickens seemed slightly grouchy to be moved from their digs during the clean out. They were foraging outside most of the time during the shovelingbut meandered back in to lay eggs in the nesting boxes. Some of them took turns and others just pushed and shoved themselves into position.
It was pretty funny to watch.
The best part of all is that after the piles were placed out in the garden spot, the chickens jumped into one of their other jobs......scattering the mound all around. Just what I like to see: girls and boys hard at work!
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Ow, ow, ow.
I need to do chores.
Just as soon as my toe feels better.
I bred all the meat rabbits over the course of the last two days (Well, if you want to get technical, I let the rabbits breed. I didn't actually breed the rabbits myself.) So in about 31 days, we should have several litters of rabbit babies (the official word for rabbit babies is "kits" but around here everything is a baby....baby tomatoes, baby turkeys, baby rabbits.) Unfortunately, I found our big spotted buck dead in his cage yesterday. Hmmmm. He was only four years old. Most meat rabbits last a little longer than four years. But this guy was definitely gone. I thought when I broke the news to the kids there would be sadness and a few tears. The rabbit was a part of our lives for a while. But I was met with indifferent shrugs instead. I guess when you are a country kid, death is a part of life. I was just surprised by the unmoved attitude. (Of course the jokes were flying between my boys: "I guess the strain was just too much for him." "At least he was happy in his last days"....)
I was surprised at his shear mass when I removed the body out of the cage. I'll bet this guy weighed 12 pounds! When rabbits are alive, they tend to bunch up, hiding their feet, and it's sometimes hard to tell how big they really are, especially when it's still a little chilly. In the summer heat rabbits will stretch out to cool down and it's easy to see their body size. In any case, he was able to carry on his lineage by covering his harem in his last days. Hopefully, we will be able to pick a herd sire from this next group of new rabbits coming. Or I might just barter a new buck from another rabbit breeder. We'll see.
The plant babies (see, everything is a baby) in the basement are growing like crazy and are begging to be put out in the garden. But they have to stay protected in the house until the end of May/ beginning of June.
The little turkeys seem to be thriving in their big, rubber tub. It will be fun to see how that project develops.
The chickens are doing their part toward our food independence by supplying us with 8-12 eggs a day. Yea! I've been selling enough surplus eggs to cover the cost of the little bit of food I have to buy for them (between foraging in the fields and table scraps from the house, they don't eat a lot of store bought feed. I'm sure it will be even less by the time summer is here.) and I still have enough $ left over to cover our weekly share of the milk cow where we get our 2 gallons of raw milk on Mondays. My plan right now is to begin storing (freezing) the eggs for winter use beginning in July. All the chickens we were given were hen raised instead of being purchased from a hatchery or the feed store. So hopefully in the next couple of months, one of the hens will decide she wants to start a family and will go broody. If that happens, we will have a self sustaining flock of chickens that could bless us with new babies every year. That would be a great thing!
Oops. Speaking of chickens......my toe is beginning to feel less painful so I'd better get out there and work. I'm burning daylight (guess which famous John Wayne movie that line is from?).
Update: It's 5:05 and two of my boys and I scooped off the bulk of the chicken coop floor. We piled the leavings into the eastern half of the coop because the wind has really started to blow. I think I would cry if we shoveled all that great composted chicken/ rabbit manure (that I've been saving all winter) onto the garden only to watch it blow like so much dust in the wind. (All we are is dust in the wind.....name that artist.) So the "golden garden soil booster" is piled up on one side of the coop, in all it's manure glory, waiting for a calm day to be spread onto the garden spot (that grew nothing but very large grasshoppers last year). I can't wait to see how much better the garden will become this summer!
I can see the neighbor to the north and his daughter cleaning out the area where their piggies lived last season, in preparation for new piggies. It makes me jealous. I want to grow bacon, too (whine).
Thursday, April 22, 2010
The poults are here! For less than the price of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy- DVD boxed blu-ray edition, (way less!) our family has taken the next step toward food independence. And, what my oldest hopes, another way to make a little money on the side.
This next phase of our farm has me so excited that I can barely believe we are here. I have stopped typing about 12 times to run down to the basement to check on our newest babies. I'm surprised that the kids have not called from school fending sickness so they can come home and be part of the fun.
I'm sure that some of the novelty will wear off in time as the birds grow and feathers take the place of fuzz and chores become mundane again. But I hope not. I have a profound, humble spirit of gratitude for all the animals in our lives. Especially the ones we raise to feed our family. I hope I can imprint my children with the same gratitude.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Updates and plans: We have seen the coyote every day now for about a week. We sometimes see her twice a day; in the evening and morning. I can see her nosing around the pasture as I write. She seems content to stalk voles and other small rodents though the little red chicken coop is only about 100 yards from where she hunts. I have never seen her even close to the house. My husband and I agree that as long as she doesn't threaten our animals, she can stay in the pasture. But if she ever strays closer or acts like she might be looking for a chicken/ rabbit dinner, then she will have to be disposed of. Hopefully that won't happen, but we remain vigilant.
My oldest son's knee is repairing nicely. He has finished the first 6 weeks of physical therapy and we are returning to the surgeon tomorrow for a follow up visit. He REALLY wants to play baseball this summer. So under the watchful eye of the physical therapist, he pushes himself and his joint to the edge and back trying to strengthen his weak right hamstring muscles. We'll see tomorrow what they all agree is the next step in his recovery. My son's pretty optimistic that his perseverance will pay off and he'll get to play.
I think spring has finally arrived. Today it was 82 degrees! 82! I can't remember when it was this warm in mid-April. Especially when I look back and remember that it snowed this time last week. I have a million, gazillion chores to complete to be ready for any type of food independence. I have two gardens to prepare; one at my house-that-is-on-the-market-and-might-get-sold-before-I-can-harvest-the-fruit-of-my-labor-in-the-fall and one in a spot remote from my house but is a stable place that I am welcomed use for several seasons if we continue our nomadic/ no house-of-our-own life. A good friend offered his garden site to our family. He swears that he is not going to use the space and will only grow the best looking weeds on the block if we don't put something edible in that space. I accepted. So now we have lots of square footage to grow food. Yea! It's way too early to actually plant in the soil yet even though the mercury says different, but the surface can be scuffed up a little in anticipation. I'm going to experiment with the "no-tillage" system this year. I'm pretty sure it'll work fine in my friend's garden space since it's been used several years before now. But I have deep clay soil here at the house. I also have lots of well rotted chicken/ rabbit manure saved from all winter. The clay and the maunre will need to have some sort of vigorous mixing before planting. I think the weather is going to be nice this week end so the plan is to spade the manure by hand into the clay just once (a kind of partial "no-tillage"). Then plant in June. I'm not finished planning what each garden will grow but I have some time before that needs to be settled.
I am going to start more seedlings in the basement in the next several days. After taking stock of what is growing and what is not- I determined that I need more celery (15 plants is really not enough), more Brussels sprouts (Fresh B. sprouts are nothing like the frozen ones in the store. So for those of you wrinkling your nose at the thought of eating B. sprouts, get over it. Fresh Brussels sprouts are the best!), more tomatoes and peppers. I completely forgot the peppers. Peppers can be kind of finicky so I need to get going if we are going to have peppers plants for the garden this year.
Also, I am picking up six white, broad breasted baby turkeys tomorrow at the local Ag center. It's a joint endeavor that my oldest and I are trying. The plan is to raise the six poults organically from now until harvest in the fall: one for our table, a tom/ hen pair to winter over for next year's babies (that's going to be tricky....stay tuned!) and three more to sell for a profit (he hopes). I haven't raised turkeys before and I understand they can be difficult because they are so fragile when they are young. Not like chicks which seem to be much more hardy. But we have all the needed equipment (heat lamps, feeders, waterers...) so the only monetary outlay is the poults. We have three 3'x6' crates that have no bottom but are enclosed on top and the sides with chicken wire (a little Joel Salatin style turkey tractor). And after about 8 weeks under the heat lamp and protected, they should have enough weight and feathers to go outside into the crates. If the predator activity keeps up (IE: coyotes), we might get some electrified poultry netting to keep them safe. Especially at night.
Lots of plans and ideas!
It's full on dark now. The south breezes are gently puffing through the open window as I sit here at the computer. I can smell the nearby woods in the draft. It's a little chilly and I'm yearning for bed. It won't be as warm or inviting as when my husband is home, but his socks will help keep me warm.... a little. Socks.... and my mind churning about the food that is yet to be!
Sunday, April 18, 2010
My mountain boy is home from Alaska so everything is put on hold. He will only be able to be home for 5 days this time. Five days out of the month of April. So we are just playing.....in between baseball practice and games, between school, between looking for houses. So blogging will have to wait, too. I have some cooking and hiking and loving to do.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Of course now I am wondering what the outcome was. So as soon as it warms up a little (it's 26 degrees right now), my daughter and I will go exploring into the woods. With the bear spray........just in case. I can't wait!
9:30 am- Update: Nothing! We traipsed around the woods for about an hour and found nothing. No blood, no deer corpses, no hanging limbs, no cool blood and guts. (Sorry for the graphic wishes. Everyone does know that I'm a nurse, right?) Nothing.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
So I want everyone to place their ruby snow boots on your feet and close your eyes. Now click your heels together and repeat after me:
There's no place like spring.
There's no place like spring.
There's no place like spring.
Now when we open our eyes, it will be spring.......
Ready, set, go........
Monday, April 12, 2010
On days like this, I have to remind myself that it really is spring and the snow will stop eventually. When we lived in Texas, if you didn't already have your potatoes planted by February 14, they wouldn't have time to make before it got too hot. I was planting tomatoes and warm weather tenders by April's end. But here in Montana I wouldn't even think of planting potatoes yet. And the tenders won't go into the soil until late May or the first week of June. So I have to placate myself by wandering down to the basement where the new seedlings are thriving in plastic containers and (home made) organic liquid fertilizer. Running my hand gently over the tomato and oregano babies lets off an amazing aroma. Closing my eyes I can breathe deeply and dream of summer.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I quickly dish out chicken crumbles, rabbit suppers and distribute fresh water for all. Then I gather the eggs from the day. This is the real reason I make a run into the live ammunition loaded coop. The eggs. Poo or no poo, it's always worth the trip.
There. Did you hear that? I think that black one on the left, in the back just laughed at me.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
We have a great family. My mountain boy and I didn't even meet until we were both OLD. We met at work when I was 32. He was a flight paramedic and I was a new flight nurse. He cut a pretty handsome figure in his navy, blue Nomex flight suit with the-glow-in-the-dark-stripe down the leg (In other words-- he was HOT! He was as hot then as he is now! Don't tell him I said that.) It was a whirlwind relationship (get it.....helicopter, whirlwind......) We married on October 9, 1993 at 11:00 in the morning after dating for two years. And nine months and 45 minutes later our first born arrived. A son. He was, ummm, a challenging baby to say the least. There were many times I was ready to give him back. But we kept him and have never been sorry. Well. almost never.
Our oldest son is a normal kid. He was born in Texas, was verbal pretty early (he could talk in complete sentences at 20 months but he could not run or climb....weird) and he was a big kid. He still is a big kid. He is the oldest of four; one sister and three brothers. He takes his big brother duties pretty seriously.
He is 15 years old now (is that possible?) and a freshman in high school. He's 6'4" and one of his life goals is to be taller than his dad (hasn't met that goal yet!)
and fishes (or is it "fishs"?)
and plays in the snow.
(Montana is kind of like a big play ground for boys.)
But his heart is baseball. He lives and breathes baseball. He watches baseball on TV when he's not at the field. He constantly is reading about how he can improve his game. He's pretty good too. He would like to play ball in college and maybe further. He dreams about professional ball.
Which is why my heart sank when he called from the gym the first week in Janurary where he was playing basketball for the high school to tell me that he had hurt his right knee........again. He had dislocated his patella (knee cap) three times over the last 2 years, each time the damage was extended a little more. This time the damage was too great. His orthopedic surgeon (pretty bad to have your own surgeon at the ripe old age of 15) scheduled him for surgery on Janurary 26th. After 6 weeks on crutches and 6 weeks of physical therapy he will be able to run in a straight line; no cutting or twisting or deep bending of his knee. Then after 6 more weeks of a slow quiet jog and more PT he will maybe be able play a little sports........that puts the date at July 26th......6 months post surgery and one week after the baseball season has ended.
He might be able to play next year if he takes care of himself.....that means no horse play with the possiblity of re-injuring his knee. That means no cheating and pushing his knee to perform before complete healing has really taken place. That means wearing his brace and doing his excersizes and NOT running or jumping before it's time.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Here's a veiw to the chickens pecking, kind of frantically, at a handful of dehydrated corn. One of our escaped rabbits from last fall gets into the action too.
Here's the story on the rabbit: last August, I separated a litter of 8 week old rabbits- does from bucks- with the intent to save the does for breeding and harvest the bucks for the freezer. They were split up with one cage of 3 does and another with 5 young bucks. Well, one night really late, I heard a funny sound coming from the back porch where the rabbit cages were at the time. But I just rolled over and went back to sleep instead of investigating. The next morning I noted with the utmost sadness that the buck cage had tumped (yet another Texan word; "tumped" meaning "to tip") over the step Finding Nemo-style (remember the scene of all the fish in the net?) and spilled all the young rabbits into the night. Of course they were no where to be found. The next several weeks we spied them frolicking in the yard and fields by our house. Though we could never catch them once they tasted freedom, I left food out for them through the winter. All but one disappeared. That one is pictured in the video.