Blog Archive

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Monday holiday threw me off and I forgot to post the peeps' eight-week update.


Luckily for me, they haven't yet figured out how to get onto the computer to check my blog updates.


I have momentous news to report this week...

Between C-baby, myself and a kindly neighbor with a riding lawnmower, we finished taming the last of the unmown parts of the jungle!!!  (and yes, I kow that wasn't a real word. that's OK).

Happy dance! 


All of the chickie babies now have names!  In the top photo above, from left to right (and excluding those still in the coop), we have:

Dale, of the Chip & Dale Duo (Ameraucana)  So named because they looked like a pair of striped chipmunks when they were itty bitty babies.  Since they've grown up a bit, however, Chip turned white and silver and is looking more and more rooster-ish, whereas Dale is remaining her quiet and sweet rust-colored, pullet-looking self.  Chip doesn't come out of the coop very much, so I don't have many pictures of him/her, but you can see him/her strutting his/her stuff in the photo below.

Back to the top photo now.

Ruby, the Rhode Island Red. She's the leader of the house, that one. Little Miss Sassy Pants. She is also the friendliest of the reds, and will let me hold her from time to time.  As long as I don't tell the other chickens. She has a reputation to uphold, you know.

Goose, of the Maverick & Goose duo (Silver-Laced Wyandottes) (the chicken closest to the coop). Yes, these are hens. But they just seemed to need these cool movie-star names, to match their beautiful black and white fancy feathers.  Maverick can be seen in the second photo above, the one closer to the camera.

Reba, another RIR.  Much shyer than Ruby. Still strikingly beautiful.

Bea, of the Bea & Rue Duo (Gold Stars).  She is very sweet, likes to be held and is often right around me when I'm doing chores. The Gold Star names, the last ones we came up with, came from two of the actresses that played on the Golden Girls.  Gold Star chickens... Golden Girls... get it??  Just wait, it gets better...

Little Miss Sunshine, a Buff Orpington (on C-baby's leg).  Sunny is THE friendliest of ALL of the chickens.  When she sees me coming she literally comes running to greet me. If you've never seen a chicken running straight at you, please do me a favor and get to a home that has chickens.  It is comical! The other buff, pictured below, we named Shia LeBeouf.  As in "shy," "buff."  She is both, too.  But still famous.  Get it? 

Little chicken humor there.  Or is it Chicken Little humor? 


Thelma & Louise (we think they're Barred Rocks, although they looked much different than our other barred rock when they were all younger). Thelma is my other friendliest chicken, along with Sunny. These two are always the last to go back into the coop when it's time to close them in for the night. If they were toddlers, they'd be the ones saying, "Just one more book mama, pleeaassseee???"

Rue (the other Gold Star) - sweet like the other Gold Star.  I can pick either of them up even outside of the coop, and they are the first ones to settle down and relax on a lap.

Rosie, the third Rhode Island Red

Dixie, a Barred Rock. Dixie...Chick.  She's on the second photo, sitting on C-baby's boot.  She's our tiniest bird, even smaller than our bantam Silkie, but she is a sweetie. She often sits on our boots, or a knee if I'm inside the coop with them. She's finally growing in the feathers on her lower back, which got pecked out a lot when she was younger. She has a very loud chirp and I can always tell when she's nearby.

And of course, saving the best for last, our little Silkie, Frikin.  I love this little guy.  I'm not sure but we've been calling it a "he" ever since he came home. We don't actually know yet if this is a pullet or cockerel.  But in our minds, it's a "he."  Despite his diminutive size, he is not the bottom of the pecking order.  Mostly because he is fast! I have a hard time catching him, and when I do, he fights me with all of the two ounces of his being. I have this idea that if I just hold him once/day and he sees I mean him no harm, he'll get a little less wary.  8 weeks and no luck yet.  But still I try.

So, there's my little flock, all fifteen of them.  We have a nice ritual around sunset. I go out to the coop and let them out one last time, just as the sun is starting to set.  They run around like crazy, then just after sundown, race back into the coop and start clamoring for the best spots on the roost, piling on top of each other in the process and peeping like crazy. 

After I see that they're all safely tucked in and have done a head count (or beak count?) at least twice, I shut the coop door and clip the carabiner into the small hole to lock it. I test the electric wire with the back of my finger to make sure it's still hot, then bid them all good-night and one or two "stay-warm-tonights."

Next I make my way over to the barn where I say good-night to the boys and shut the gate to the yard where the boys have been grazing all day, making sure they are all safe and sound inside the pasture (which is enclosed with split rail and fortified with electric wire).

After checking both the coop and pasture, it's then time for me to head back inside for the night, hoping the weather isn't going to be too bad and that all the animals in my care will have a safe and sound night.

What's your favorite nighttime ritual?  Leave me a note - I'd love to hear!

Sleep well.

(And stay warm!)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I woke up this morning with a panicky feeling that I had way too much to do and not enough time/energy/money to get things done.

I felt like a bee who had just been released into a new pasture of blooming wildflowers, and it was my (and only my!) responsibility to collect all the pollen from every single flower in the pasture.

It didn't help my mood when my favorite daughter cancelled her commitment to chauffeur my husband (who just had knee surgery yesterday) to one of his appointments today, which meant taking 2-3 hours out of my (already busy) day to drive him back and forth.

My list of "To-Do's" seemed even more insurmountable after that.  Not just the everyday things that need doing.  The messy house, the unsorted mail, the several months of checkbook entering and balancing.

Bigger things, like how to get our boys sheared with Papa Bear's knee out of commission. How to get Brigid sheared and moved to another farm in WI when we don't own a van or trailer.

And then, the Big Big things facing us - finding farmland in WI to purchase. Figuring out the best way to put in utilities. (Off-grid or grid-tied?  Well or cistern or both?  Wind?  Solar?)  Finding a builder to make us a recycled/re-purposed home (like this grain bin home - drool!).  What to do with all our animals when we leave the mainland US next winter.  How to turn my writing into a side-income stream.  How to run a more profitable farm business.

Every hour of every day, a constant stream of things I have yet to learn/do/be bombards me, some days nearly driving me crazy.

A quote flutters by in my gerbil-wheel mind, and I latch onto it, trying to find some bit of peace:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing
left to add,
but when there is nothing left to remove.
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

For a long time, I have been adding things to my life, in an effort to follow my joy and enrich my life. A lot of (enjoyable) things. Alpacas being one of them (which entails a huge learning curve regarding the business & marketing side of it). And this spring, chickens. And finding a farm. And writing. And photography. And fiber arts. And hoopdance. And and and...

There are a lot of beautiful flowers in  my pasture at the moment.  Like that solitary bee, I cannot extract all of the pollen that's available, all by myself.  I will have to let some of it go.  I will have to choose which flower to pursue.

I laughed to my husband on our way to his appointment today, an affirmation that I have been using for the past two months, "I accept myself unconditionally," struck me as the perfect template for anything that's getting my head into a bumble.  "I accept my lawn unconditionally (tall grass & dandelions and all!)."  "I accept my cluttered dining room table unconditionally."  "I accept my chaotic life unconditionally."  "I accept  not knowing exactly where I will be living this summer unconditionally."

Somehow, these images, these affirmations, help stop the constant buzzing in my head.  

At the arboretum on Monday, I was enthralled by their collection of tulips blooming in every color imaginable.

Suddenly it occurred to me that it might be fun to try to take some shots from a different perspective altogether - from beneath the flowers.

I couldn't look through the viewfinder for this method - I just had to hold the camera where I thought I might get a decent shot and trust that something good would turn out.

A lesson for life, I'd say.  Even when you can't see, or control, exactly what's in the viewfinder, if you keep doing the work and trust the process, something good will certainly come out in the end.

And when you find yourself in a buzz over all the details, all the flowers yet to be tended, the undone chores and To Do's, focus on the most important flower in front of you and...



Blessings -

Monday, May 23, 2011

The peeps are 7 weeks old today.  And I am celebrating my birthday, too. Twenty-something.  Or thirty, I forget.  I seriously could not remember how old I was today when I woke up.  I tried to do the math in my head then gave up. 

Luckily C-baby reminded me.  Thanks hunny.

I'd rather think about the chickie babies and about how they're almost halfway to the age of starting to lay eggs.

Beautiful eggs, mostly brown, but with two Ameraucana and one Silkie, we should also have some big and tiny blue eggs in the mix.  Unless Frickin is a boy.  Then, no tiny blue eggs. We won't know for awhile yet.

Whenever I'm feeling crabby, or just low of sorts, a trip out to the chicken coop hoop house is the best way to brighten my day. Or even when I'm feelin' spiffy, goin' to the coop certainly makes the day even better.

I open up the coop door and all sorts of chicken-busy-ness ensues. It's difficult to capture since the chicks are always moving, and I'm still shooting with my itty bitty Canon SD1000 Elph P&S.

Don't get me wrong, I love this little camera (that C-baby gave me) and I've taken 15,900 or so odd pictures with it to date.  It's my default camera of choice, being that it fits into my pants or jacket pocket slickety-slick.

It's just not the best in capturing motion, or maybe I just don't know how to use it for that purpose. So with my busy chickies, I get a lot of these shots...

which always makes me think of the phrase, "What's Up? Chicken butt!"

Hahaha.  Just a little second-grade humor for you, to celebrate our big day.

“We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

- George Bernard Shaw

And yes, I know the grass is still way too long (see the line above between the mowed strip and the unmowed)... we bought a used lawnmower last week, shoved it into the back seat of my '95 Geo Prizm/Redneck Pickup Truck and hauled it home. I mowed for hours both Saturday and Sunday, between cloud bursts, and still  there is more to do!

I'm beginning to think I just might need a few more grazing lawn-mowers this summer!

Oh, and if you're having trouble leaving a comment, please send me an e-mail, address is below the Search Posts field. I'm trying to figure out if Blogger is stopping people from leaving comments if they don't have a Gmail or Google sign-in.  Thanks much!

Friday, May 20, 2011

We had a great plan on Tuesday.  We had extra hands coming to help us shear, brand new equipment, and a sedative for our big boy to ease handling during this stressful procedure.

Shearing was to begin around 6:45pm.  Around 3:00pm, everything started going wrong.

The vet's office, which I had confirmed the previous day would supply one dose of a sedative for our big guy, hadn't yet filled the order because the vet had not left the order for the staff when he left that morning, and they told me he probably wouldn't be back until after business hours - too late to be of use.

My daughter called to back out of coming over to help, because she had an invitation to go out to dinner. 

And the other set of extra hands I had arranged was not responding to my e-mails to confirm his arrival.

Panic was starting to set in.  There was no way Papa Bear and I would be able to shear just by ourselves. It takes three people minimum - five is even better. 

It looked like the evening of shearing was going to have to be cancelled.

Then things started looking up again.  The vet's office called that the order had been filled.  My daughter changed her plans (again) and said she would come.  And I got confirmation from my extra set of hands that he was still coming.


So PB and I got the boys into a catch pen and haltered up, and I held Honeywiese while PB gave him the injection. 

I went back into the house to grab some supplies and when I looked out the kitchen windows I noticed PB on the ground clutching his knee.  I figured he had toppled over while setting up the winch on the 4-wheeler, which we would be using as an anchor to tie one set of leg ropes to (one of the pasture posts being the other tie-out anchor). 

I grabbed my supply tote and headed back outside.  PB was still on the ground obviously in pain.  He explained that he had been in a crouch and had started to fall backwards, so he jumped up to catch himself and threw his knee out of alignment.  He was unable to straighten it and pop it back into place. 

My extra hands arrived, and we had a hobbled hubby and a drugged alpaca in the catch pen. 

I figured PB's knee would pop back into place eventually and we would all be merrily on our way (like it had the last time it went out).  So I asked him to direct us as we set up the leg ropes and tarp, and I led Honeywiese over to the newly arranged shearing station.

If you've ever seen a sheep being sheared, you probably have a picture in your head of how this process works.  Forget that image.

Shearing alpacas is nothing like shearing sheep.  A sheep, with its relatively short legs and neck, can be plopped on its behind where it will sit rather meekly throughout the entire procedure.  Even if it were possible to park an alpaca on its butt, its long limbs and neck would make it impossible to shear this way.  Not that it would sit there meekly as you tried, either.

Alpacas get tied out - front legs one direction and back legs the opposite.  If you're fortunate enough to have a tilting shearing table, the animal is led up next to the table, which has a clam-shell like clamp with a pad on it that is closed on the alpaca, then the table is tilted up with the animal clamped onto it.  The legs are tied out then the clamp/pad is lifted off and the shearing can begin at a comfortable hip-level.

If you're not fortunate to have one of these tables (which run well over a grand), you have to shear on the ground.  PB and I had never shorn on the ground before. We had both assisted shearers in the past, many times over the past four years actually, mostly holding animals during the procedure and watching.  PB got to shear 8 animals last year and I sheared one this year.  So, a lot of assisting but not much actual hands-on shearing time.

No problem - PB is really good at things like this and I was certain he'd remember the drill as soon as he got his shears into the fleece.

Except for the bum knee.  We were all set up to go and had lowered Honeywiese to the ground, but PB was still in extreme pain.  If we were going to get him sheared, I would have to do it.  I, who have ever only shorn one animal before.  Yikes.

I started and the first few blows went fine.  Then the shears started tugging at the fleece instead of gliding through it.  There was something wrong with the tension on the shears.  We fiddled around a bit, had to take the comb and cutter off, pull fiber out from behind the comb, readjust the tension, and tried again.  A little better, but still tugging and not gliding.

We struggled through the rest of that side (adjusting tension many times) then rolled Honeywiese over to his other side.  Our friend Bobby of Autumn Moon Alpaca Ranch offered to shear the other side.  This was great, as my arm was getting pretty fatigued and I was getting really frustrated by the shears still not working correctly.

Somehow despite the shears still not cutting properly, we got all the fleece off of poor Honeywiese, whom I was so thankful was handling the procedure just as sweet as could be. 

The sun was setting when we finished, and we decided not to shear the other two.

Later that night after our help all went home, I took PB in to the Emergency Room at the closest hospital. They sent him home around midnight with a knee immobilizer and an appointment for an MRI on Wednesday.

Today he had a follow-up visit with an Orthopedic surgeon.  PB is scheduled for knee surgery next Tuesday, to repair a tear in his left meniscus in his right knee. They said the injury existed for awhile, along with a torn ACL.  Depending on what they find in the joint, he'll either walk out of the hospital on Tues., or have to be off his leg completely for six weeks.

I'm not sure when we'll get to shear again.  We may have some very fuzzy lawnmowers for awhile yet.

Life in the farm-lane doesn't always go as planned.  Have you had an unpredictable obstacle to overcome lately?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It has been crazy busy here the past month and a half.  I had the honor of doing a TV interview on behalf of the MN Alpaca Expo,  showed Grace at the MN Expo and Madison show, brought home 15 chicks (laying hens), built a chicken coop hoop house, drove to WI twice to look at land for sale, drove to Kinney Valley Alpacas in Ontario, WI to learn how to shear, and celebrated my daughter's birthday.

As if that weren't enough, tonight we're shearing our three boys, tomorrow, three boys for another farm, and next week we're celebrating my birthday.  29th I think it is. Yep. 


No wonder my grass is growing faster than, well, I don't have a good metaphor for growing fast.  Teeth on a shark?

At first the lawn was pretty sparse, and I thought my fuzzy lawnmowers could keep up.  And then we left for most of the weekends in April and May, meaning they were confined to pasture a lot, and suddenly, I have a hay field instead of a lawn.

I'm afraid to let my peeps out of the coop - I think they might get lost in all that grass.

Why is it the theme song from Little House on the Prairie always pops into my head whenever I see someone running through long grass?

That happens to everyone, right?

Never mind. 

So tonight, we're shearing the boys. 

And this weekend, I'm buying a lawnmower and shearing the grass. 

And maybe I can even have Papa Bear cut my hair while we're in this "make it shorter" phase.

The End.

What's on your Must Do list this week?  Do you have a lawnmower to sell us?

Monday, May 16, 2011

A momentus day for the peeps - they got to explore outside of their coop for awhile today! (Supervised of course).

A bit timid at first, nobody wanted to venture beyond the coop door threshold...

but after the brave ones ventured out, nearly all the chickens came outside at least for a bit.

All except for Frickin. Frickin wanted nothing to do with freedom and new grass. 

Or maybe it was the big scary human lying on her belly just outside the coop that made him think twice.

That didn't seem to deter this pullet (as yet unidentified name and breed). She climbed over my back and was happily perching on my shoe as I was twisting around trying to snap a shot without being able to look through the viewfinder.

I have a handful of hens who will always climb up in my hand (or on my back apparently!). I can't imagine how this will work when they are full-grown chickens!

All the chickens nearly disappeared in the tall grass.  Let me just say I am not at fault for all of this grass.  I blame all the snow this winter.  And all the rain this spring. And the fact that my boys are not keeping up with their mowing duties.

While we're focused on this picture, first, can you spot the chickens?  I know, they're barely visible in all this grass!  Secondly, check out the new axel on the wheelbarrow. When we bought this baby last fall, the wheels were very close together, and I found I could not navigate very easily across the bumpy terrain that is my lawn & pasture.  Sweetie put in a new axel which spread out the wheels, and now I feel like an AWD machine!

Thanks sweetie!

But back to chickens.  And grass. And boys.  And lawnmowers... anyone got a mower I could borrow?

What's growing in your neck of the woods this month?

Hard to believe my C-baby is twenty-one-years-old today.



At 3:45pm.

Twenty one years ago she entered this world, sunny side up (that's "posterior," for those of you in the medical field), because she just couldn't wait to see her mama's face.

Or vice versa.

14 hours of back labor.




She did manage to sleep for the first 48 hours of her life after that.  In the hospital.  Awaking just in time for my mother to drive us three hours away to Buffalo (MN).

Multiple stops for a screaming baby and poopy diaper later, we arrived, exhausted, at my folks' house in Buffalo.  Bless my mother's heart for getting us there in once piece after all of that drama.

From that day on, she slept precisely 12 minutes total until she reached the age of eight months, when she decided that maybe just maybe she could learn how to sleep for realz.

She's been making up for those eight months ever since I think.

Infancy aside, she really was an easy-keeper.  If she were a squash, she'd be a spaghetti squash - still as good when you pull it out of the cellar in January as it was the day you put it in there in October.

I know you're not a squash sweetie, it's just a metaphor. 

Her first word was "hi."  I should have known this was a fore-shadowing, miss socialite extraordinaire.

Her first tooth was cut at age 8 months.  Her second tooth, at twelve months.  Which meant 4 months of snaggle-tooth grins.

But those snaggly-toothed grins were so, utterly adorable.

She grinned and said "hi" to everyone.  EVERYONE.  Probably explains how she could accrue 750 FB friends in 6 years while I have maybe 70.  All related to me.

As a toddler, she loved taking care of the "babies," any child at the day care younger than her.  She still loves babies. As a teenager she was already the Baby Whisperer.  Where was she when I needed a Baby Whisperer? 

Oh yeah, she was still a (screaming) baby.

But then she learned how to sleep and life was good.

We've had a heckuva ride, her and I (and Papa Bear, too). I'm working on getting those memories written down, before they all escape into the far recesses of my grey matter.

So that one day when she's rocking her own newborn baby, she can open up her book and begin... 'Once upon a time, a little girl was born sunny-side up..."

Happy Birthday sweetie. 

All my love & smootchies.

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