Category Archives: Poultry and Other Animals

Poultry, Pigs, Cattle, Goats and Sheep, Cats, Dogs and a variety of critters one may find about the farm.

Are You Behind? Garden Overgrown? Don’t Give Up!

Yes, that’s my bohunkus there, pulling weeds out of my paths again. “The girls” are enjoying a foray out into the wide world to eat bugs and clover.

 

Don’t quit. Never give up trying to build the world you can see, even if others can’t see it.  ~ Simon Sinek

Sometimes life gets away from us — often it happens in summer, I’ve found. Things start getting out of hand. You’re gone for awhile, there are a lot of graduation parties or family events or sports…. What started as a few weeds untended in the garden quickly become a daunting patch of weeds, then, if neglected, a jungle. My sister-in-law teases that she’s growing some nice weeds this year. Sometimes things happen and it’s too easy to start feeling overwhelmed. But I want to encourage you to stick with it! Don’t get discouraged! Don’t give up!

“But you haven’t seen what’s going on here,” you might think. Ha ha ha! I’ve lived it!

Things may not go as planned, but they still go anyway. We’ll have pumpkins whether I weed my paths or not!

In fact, this particular summer has been only what I can describe as “crazy.” It’s been a weird, crazy summer for me. As some of you know, my Mom has been ill for some time, and since late spring has gotten steadily worse. We live out of town, and it’s been a real challenge to keep up with her needs, to keep on top of her current state and do our best to help out. But it’s been weird in other ways, too. It’s been predominantly only me and my eleven-year-old daughter Betsy living at home this summer. JJ moved out last fall, of course, and Cecily and Danny are both working at The Ranch this summer, ministering to kids using horses in a camp setting. They are only home for about a day and a half on the weekends, and they are exhausted when they get home Friday afternoons. They pretty much sleep, wash laundry, and go back to the Ranch on Sunday. And of course, our load of hay caught on fire and we haven’t seen a replacement yet, so we’re scrambling to keep our horses fed. Altogether it’s been weird having almost no help around the place — and consequently, almost no routine or structure. We didn’t open our pool, haven’t really sat outside around the firepit or in the screen-room like we usually do, and it feels like we have hardly done any other summer activities.

One of my excuses for letting farm things get out of control has been this. I've spent inordinate amounts of time practicing all the cool things I learned at the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp in Kansas in July. Basically, I've been picking strings instead of beans...

One of my excuses for letting farm things get out of control has been this. I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time practicing all the cool things I learned at the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp in Kansas in July. Basically, I’ve been picking strings instead of beans…

So yeah, yeah, you don’t really care too much why my summer has been weird and crazy and totally disorganized. The point is, it has been. This spring I worked really hard to clear all the weeds out of the paths in the garden, and by now, guess what… yes, of course, there are weeds starting to take over the paths again in spite of a generous layer of mulch. And there are weeds in the raspberries. And I didn’t get my apples thinned and bagged. And there’s a too-big pile of chicken dookie under the roosts in the henhouse. And you know what? It’s not the end of the world! I’m still getting peas. I have lots of ripe blueberries and raspberries. My tomatoes and cukes are starting to come in. My pullets are almost big enough to take off their chick grower rations and put into the henhouse. Things are still moving along.

There may be a pile of chicken poo in the corner, but they haven’t boycotted me yet. The girls are still happy and they’re still giving us eggs. I’ll scoop the corner eventually. It doesn’t stink yet. LOL!

Sometimes, especially when we’re tired — especially when we’ve had two or three not-perfect years in a row we want to throw in the towel. But to be honest, when is it ever a “perfect” year? There’s no such thing. Granted, a couple years where things get way out of control may be a sign for us to cut back a little. Maybe don’t plant as much next year. Just do your favorites. Maybe just peppers, beans, and strawberries. Or whatever. Or maybe decide not to raise your own pork next year. Or hire someone to cut your firewood instead of doing it yourself. Scaling back is okay. That’s not quitting, that’s reality. Joe Perfect over the fence there, with his immaculate gardens, doesn’t really have a life. He does nothing but weed and start the next batch of seedlings. So give yourself a break and just ease your way into taking control again in five- and ten-minute increments. I always promise myself I’m going to go out to pick some fruit or veggies, and I’ll just spend five minutes pulling the worst of the weeds. I always get sucked into it and get more done than I planned. But if I don’t … so what!!! I got five minutes of the worst weeds pulled, and I’ll do five more minutes the next time I get out there.

Instead of getting down on yourself for not doing everything you wanted to do perfectly, pat yourself on the back for taking steps toward living your dream! It’s a journey, an experience, not a destination. It’s about spending time with your hands in the dirt, the joy of producing some of your own food, and the pleasure of creating a life that you love.

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Ducks on the Loose!

The Khaki Campbells are cleaning out the strawberry beds – a favorite slug hangout!

Better watch out when those ducks are on the loose!  Slugs and bugs beware!  They think nothing of eating most any creepy crawly.  That’s what makes them so valuable in the garden!

As we’ve been cleaning up the garden this fall, we’ve been putting the ducks in when we can so they will clean up some of the gnarly pests that I don’t like to have in my garden … caterpillars, slugs, salamanders, and big, ugly spiders.  I do realize the spiders are useful.  But it’s a little disconcerting to put your hand down into the strawberry patch and have a big, fat Mama Spider run across it.  Living in the woods, we have plenty of Wolf spiders.

Khaki Campbell hen (left) and drake (right).

There are certain times of year you may be able to put your ducks into the garden during production, but not if you have salad greens – which I’ve discovered they love (the hard way) – or small berries, such as strawberries.  They’ll eat those, too!  But since this is my first year with ducks, I’m keeping it limited to fall and spring – and I have my spinach well covered so they can’t get at it!  🙂

 

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Farm Spotlight: Benson

Benson.

Benson is our English Setter.  He loves to pile up with the kids, and it’s obvious he’s always thought of himself as “just one of the puppies.”  Never mind that my children are *not* puppies.

While the photo above is a handsome picture of Benson, it’s not really accurate.  He rarely looks noble and unconcerned.  He goes from “I’m really tired, do I really need to pry my eyes open, sit up and say hello?” to “Oh, boy!  What are we doing!  Let’s go!”  to “Hmm… is that a little snack for me in your hand?  No?  Well did you drop something on the floor for me?”

He thinks he’s pretty clever, but he’s just a little bit dumb… the way I like them!  I never wanted a dog that was smarter than I am – and I love his enthusiasm.  He’s game for anything!

As much as I like the horses, chickens, and ducks, Benson is the heart, and the cats are the soul at Aspendale Farm.

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Pet Med Reminders and Horsemanship Clinic Info

 

Would you like help remembering when to give you dog his heartworm medication, or apply your cat’s topical flea preventative?  RemindMyPet.com is a cool site that automatically emails you on the appropriate day for giving medications.  You can even add a photo of your pet to its profile, or have your reminder texted to your phone.  I’m hoping they’ll quickly add horses to their list of pets for reminders, as worming on a regular schedule can be hard to maintain!

 

On another note, the Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio was well worth it this year.  I’m afraid I was rather limited in the number of clinicians I watched.  Last year I made it to several different clinicians, but I was engrossed by two this year …  Jec Ballou (www.jecballou.com) whose focus was on Equine Fitness – wow!  What fascinating information.  Cecily and I bought her book by the same name and have been absorbed by it.  I appreciate her approach, which focuses on true overall body care rather than slapping bandages on the problem spots.

 

The other clinician I couldn’t stay away from was Larry Whitesell, a classically trained gaited horse trainer.  It was hard not to let him rub me the wrong way a little bit as he disagreed with my very favorite trainer, Clinton Anderson, on some aspects of training, but to be fair and honest, Whitesell has some very good, very important information.  When I compare Whitesell’s work to CA’s Gaited Horses DVD series, and stand back and look objectively at it, I can see that they are both cutting down the same tree, just from somewhat different angles, and I think Whitesell is using a more powerful chainsaw in a way.  Both trainers understand and teach that horses gait the best when they are collected – that is, when their hind legs are underneath themselves and they are properly balanced.

 

Where Anderson might improve his understanding of all horses is in their need to not be thrown off-balance by their rider.  If Whitesell is correct, and I think his assertion about balance is correct, horses are very put out by having their rider pulling them off balance by poor riding … leaning in on a circle, leaning back, just leaning in general.  Imagine if you walked around an amusement park all day long with a companion who kept pushing or pulling you off balance at odd intervals all throughout the day.  If it was me, I would certainly avoid hanging out with that person if they refused to stop it!  LOL!  How can that person (or horse, really), relax, trust their rider, and respond appropriately with the constant irritation and anxiety from either being thrown off balance or anticipating it?  So learning to correctly balance ourselves as riders will measurably increase our horse’s comfort, trust, and ability to balance himself.  To collect, however, he must be taught, as it is not a natural movement, yet it is necessary for him to do so to carry a rider properly.

 

For gaited horse enthusiasts, once balanced and collected, the horse will naturally offer a gait.  The more relaxed and balanced he is, the better his gait.  Anderson asserts it is collection only, and he does get a proper gait out of a collected horse.  But I think the horse and rider team will progress much more rapidly once proper balance is achieved.

 

The other point I appreciate in all of Whitesell’s teaching is riding with your seat.  It’s a concept I’ve heard and never been trained in.  I know classical riding trainers try to teach their students to ride this way, but everything I’ve heard makes it seem very complicated, with all these positions and cues you have to remember.  However,  I can see it is extremely simple, and if nothing else, for the sheer joy of communicating gently with my horse, I’m determined to practice it with Saxton.  It is this:  If you ski, you know that, as you go downhill, if you want to turn right, you turn your body to the right, not your skis.  You’ll fall over if you try to turn your skis to the right.  If you turn your body, though, and face the direction you want to go, your skis will follow.  It is precisely the same in riding.  You turn your upper body, at the pelvis, in the direction you want to go, and the horse will follow.  It’s not even something the horse must learn, he just does.  I was amazed to see this demonstrated repeatedly.  In the process of turning, your legs automatically go into the correct classical riding position.  Your outside leg goes back and the outside thigh comes into contact with the horse while your weight shifts very slightly.  You don’t look far to the inside, but rather, just where you want the horse to turn in the next 2-3 steps.  I won’t explain it any more than that.  The information was simple and valuable.

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Farm Update

It was 12-degrees here this morning when we went down to feed the horses and scoop.  There is no denying that autumn is here to stay.  We may not even have an Indian Summer.

I have continued to freeze and can peppers and tomatoes.  We’ve brought in squashes and parsley, too.  There is still some basil that needs drying.  We’d better get to that soon.  I’m so chirked up about the peppers and tomatoes.  I’ve grown upward of $60 worth of red peppers – and that doesn’t count another $7-8 worth of green peppers.  We let most of them turn red, as a red pepper is worth more in the market, and we use more red than green.  I’ve diced up the greens and frozen them to add to meatloaf, goulash and a scant few other dishes I use them in.  I guess all told my garden (for the first time ever) has produced a very, very respectable amount of produce – roughly:

Strawberries, fresh – $15

Strawberry Jam – $25

Snap Peas – $15

Shallots – $20

Carrots and onions – $5

Potatoes -$4

Fresh tomatoes – $100

Canned diced tomatoes – $10

Salsa – $30

Peppers, Red – $60

Peppers, Green – $10

Cooking herbs – $5

Hot Peppers – $2 (most went into salsa)

I shan’t count the raspberries, blueberries, or elderberries, nor the corn, as they were negligible.  The garlic was all dug up by the hens and the asparagus wasn’t big enough to harvest at all.  The orchard produced nothing, as it was frosted in the spring, which killed the blossoms.  We did wildcraft a dollar or two of hazelnuts, which was an exceptional surprise.  I do not know why, but I am terrible at growing lettuce and spinach, and haven’t produced an edible crop yet!

The farrier is coming this afternoon.  Lacy’s hooves hardly look as if they need trimming, so I’ll have to let Tucker decide if he’ll trim or not, but we won’t be putting shoes back on Spur.  She has hardly needed them this summer, and I don’t expect to be out where she’ll need them before winter sets in.

Our good rooster, Eddie, killed a Rhode Island Red pullet early this afternoon.  JJ has put him down – much to my chagrin.  I don’t like to be without a rooster, but neither of the men care a lick for roosters, so I guess I am outvoted now.  We’ll be having chicken quesadillas or fajitas for dinner from the pullet.  I hate to lose a pullet, but at least we’ll get some benefit from her.

As the year winds down and we head into the cold season, we’ve begun making preparations.  While we still have to put the garden to bed (and I still haven’t taken care of my strawberry beds!), we’ve laid the stall mats down in the horse barn and dug in most of the timbers at the open ends of the stalls, with dirt sloping down and out away from the stalls to drain meltwater off.  We usually have a huge problem with flooded stalls from meltwater, and sometimes even from just rainwater.  But this should take care of it.

I didn’t get my garlic ordered and Johnny’s is all out.  So I’ll be buying store garlic again to interplant with the raspberries, and will have to call down to the greenhouse south of us and see if they have any garlic in right now.  Otherwise I’ll be out of luck, I guess.

Planning is difficult without knowing yet whether we’ll be moving the garden, but I guess I have to plan something!

That is the update.  Now you know what’s been going on.  I’ve only just gotten my gumption back from being so worn out this late summer.  But it feels so good to be back!  It’s just not natural for me to sit around with no motivation to work on anything, especially with winter preparations piling up to be done!  Happy Fall, Ya’ll!

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Filed under Farm, Garden and Orchard, Horses, Poultry and Other Animals, The Country Kitchen

I Love the Cows

Photo by Ree Drummond

The Cow

Robert Louis Stevenson

The friendly cow all red and white,
I love with all my heart:
She gives me cream with all her might,
To eat with apple tart.
She wanders lowing here and there,
And yet she cannot stray,
All in the pleasant open air,
The pleasant light of day;
And blown by all the winds that pass
And wet with all the showers,
She walks among the meadow grass
And eats the meadow flowers.


I love this poem, and I love this photo by Ree Drummond of http://thepioneerwoman.com. I have been educating myself about photography, and about mastering the art of using my own Canon Powershot A590 with all its cool functions.  The photography tutorials (and recipes and ranch life stories) at Ree’s site are fun and informative.  And she blogged a great love story about how she met and married her rancher husband, whom she affectionately calls “Marlboro Man.”  Don’t start reading that unless you have three hours to blow, because it’s a page-turner!  I totally blew off my twice-monthly shopping excursion to “town” one day because I got sucked into it!

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Chicken?

There are certainly disadvantages to embracing the rural lifestyle as an adult.  When you grow up on a farm you gather skills and knowledge over the course of your lifetime, often learning from those who have done the same thing, possibly for generations.  On the other hand, perhaps having to learn as you go may allow you to embrace newer, better ways of doing things.

JJ won the 4-H Poultry Judges Choice Award with his Silver Penciled Rock rooster "Hans."

But in our case, although I’ve lived twice with chickens briefly as a child, now I’ve had to get used to the idea that chickens don’t lay eggs indefinitely.  They’re either pets or they’re part of the profitability of a farm.  It’s a decision you have to make.

Going into the Summer School Chicken Project in 2007, I wasn’t sure we’d want to have chickens indefinitely.  So we chose dual purpose birds. We could raise them for eight weeks for the learning experience of it, then process them and put them in the freezer.  On the other hand, if we really liked having chickens around the place, we would process the cockerels (young roosters) and save the pullets (young hens) for egg-laying.

We all loved the chicken project.  I decided to keep the pullets and process the cockerels, which was laughable.  I was sure that it would be no trick to go out and do like the old farm wives did.  You just grab a chicken, put it under your arm and as you’re walking back to the house to pluck it, you just wring its neck with your free hand.  I picked up my first unsuspecting cockerel and winced as I grabbed his head in my hand and twisted.  He looked up at me and went, “gobble, gobble, gobble?”

I know.  Chickens aren’t supposed to gobble.  They cluck.  But apparently when they’re puzzled they gobble in an inquisitive voice.  At least this one did.  Uhm.  Why was he looking at me?  He was supposed to be dead.  I must have done it wrong.  So hesitantly, I tried again.  No, he just gobbled again and wondered what on earth I had in mind.  Arrgh.  This was not working.

I was going to have to try something a little more gory.  I’d read in one of my chicken books that you can hang them upside down by their feet and they’ll get kind of sleepy and sort of unable to move around a whole lot.  Then you kill them by poking a knife up into the roof of their mouth and twist it to kind of scramble their brains.  Bleh.  Not looking forward to that at all. But wringing his neck hadn’t worked.

I felt sorry for cockerel #1, so I grabbed a different one and tied a string around his feet.  Taking him over to a tree I looped the string around it and stood there with my knife.  Although he occasionally flapped a wing, he really just kind of hung there quietly.  Two or three times I braced myself and pointed my knife at his mouth.  This method might work, but I was beginning to doubt that I was as brave as I’d thought.   I realized there was a better way to do this.

Returning the chicken to his pen, I went in the house and called my farming friend Laura for the phone number of the guy she’d used to process her chickens.  So I paid $2.50 per cockerel and didn’t have to have any more conversations with the chickens about what I was too chicken to do to them.

Violet is a Buff Japanese bantam hen. If you could describe a hen as lady-like, Violet would fit that description!

But now we have a dozen hens of varying ages, including Tookhees, our very favorite hen As a chick, Tookhees would fall asleep while standing up and would slowly bend over until her head rested on the ground, where she would continue to snooze, while all the other chickens would lie down and huddle up together to sleep.

The majority of laying flock owners keep their chickens one year and raise a new batch each year.  Egg production is highest the first year, and you can really make the chickens pay for themselves by selling surplus eggs.  With our dozen hens, we sell enough eggs in the summer to pay for the chicken feed throughout much of the year, plus we have eggs for the family to eat all year long.  But by their second year production starts falling off, and certainly by the third year production is quite a bit less.  Tookhees and Greta are in their third year, and all the other hens are in their second year.

So now the rubber meets the road.  We really enjoy our chickens.  Every one has a name, We knew naming the hens was a dangerous practice.  But we’re getting only enough eggs now to feed the family, and only during the spring and summer months.  The winter was pretty lean.  I bought eggs a few times.  Next winter will only be worse.  So it’s time to replace the flock.

I have promised the children each can keep one hen.  And I enjoy having a variety of breeds, so we will order a new batch of various breeds of chicks that will give us, ultimately, a dozen layers, four of whom will be old and not contribute much but their personalities.

I really love McMurray Hatchery (http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com).  Their quality and variety are unmatched in my opinion.  The only drawback is that the minimum order is 25 chicks.  That means we either find someone locally to split the order or we make up the balance by getting the remaining chicks as meat birds.  I’ve been intending to raise more meat birds, so I suppose that is the way we will go.   I hope you’ll check out their site.  Even if you’re not in the market for chickens right now, the pictures and information are delightful!

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