Thursday, November 22, 2012

Blue Slate turkey in full display

It's been weeks since I've been able to capture my toms strutting in full display.

The mornings I hauled my camera down to the chicken yard, no strutting.

The mornings I forgot, lots of strutting.

But this weekend I happened to have my camera with me when they started their dominance dance.

I love watching them dance.

Gypsy Farmgirl tom turkeys in full display

The first sign of the dance is the lifting of all of the tom's feathers along his back and fanning out his tail.

This maneuver appears to magically double his size.

The fanned out tail is tipped towards the object of his attention (sometimes the other tom, sometimes the girls, sometimes me).

In addition to the feather lift, he drops his wings until the tips drag along the ground. 

tom snooed elongated for display strut

Tipping his chin down, his head, usually pale white and light blue, flushes to a deeper blue.  His pink wattle and caruncles flush to a darker red and his snood elongates, nearly covering his upper bill.

{Don't you love turkey lingo?}

He circles his object of attention (usually the other tom) and as they circle, he keeps his tail feathers tilted.

The dance may last a few seconds or several minutes. 

No blood, no violence, just a fashion show and dance off.

We could all learn something about resolving our differences peacefully if we would take our cues from the turkey.

Here's a very short video of one of my tom's strutting.  

Happy Thanksgiving ~

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Guineafowl - rather suspiciously Seuss-looking

That is the only explanation I can come up with for the ridiculous character that is the Guineafowl. 

Here's how I think it happened.  This was waaaayyy before Dr. Seuss was born, so obviously his spirit was hanging out with God as God was creating the creatures of the earth.

Dr. Seuss:  "Hey God, what's shakin'?  You've been awfully busy this week, I see you created an entire planet!"

God:  "Yo, Theodore, nice to see you!  I'm glad you're here - Yeah, I've been burning the candle at both ends with this new project, and I'm getting exhausted coming up with all these new creatures to inhabit the Earth.  I need to take a tea break.  You wanna take over for a minute?"

Dr. Seuss:  "Sure.  Let me handle this one.  What are we creating?"

God:  "Some kind of ground-nesting, seed and insect-eating bird for Africa."

Dr. Seuss:  "No problem, I'm on it.  Go enjoy your tea."

*** 15 minutes pass... but who knows what a "minute" was before there were man-made clocks? ***

Male Guineafowl at Gypsy Farmgirl's farm

God: "Hey there Theodore... how's the creation coming along?"

Dr. Seuss:  "Fine, just fine.  Came up with a dandy this time I think!"

God: "Polka dots.  Nice touch."

Dr. Seuss:  "Thanks!  Took me awhile to figure out how to apply that layer, so that's why they're necks are a different pattern."

Whachu lookin' at, Willis?

God: "Um... what are those things on its face?"

Dr. Seuss:  "Wattles.  Duh.  I thought you knew everything?"

God:  "Oh, right, of course.  And... why is it bald? With a crest?"

Dr. Seuss:  "That's its helmet.  So that it looks tough.  This is Africa, right?  Gotta be a tough bird to live there."

Guineafowl on the coop roof being LOUD


Dr. Seuss: "Oh, well, that's the sound they make whenever they're startled, happy, sad, bored or roosting."

God:  "Yeah... well, I better get back at it.  Thanks for your, um, help today."

Dr. Seuss:  "No worries, Mate.  Call me anytime. I have a great idea for a Zinniga-Zanniga tree!"

Cheers -

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hello, cutie!

Boy meets girl.

Boy flirts with girl.

Boys, girls, what next?

Girl flirts with boy.

Boy shows off to impress girl.

Boo shows off for the ladies

Girl 5 months pregnant decides flirting is all boy will get.

Boy disappointed.

Monet walks away

Electric net fences remain intact and in place.

Cheers -

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grace & Brigid watching Kali

There is something incredibly meditative about sitting with farm critters.

Whether it's helping my girls into a new paddock (they were fascinated here watching Kali), bringing the boys alfalfa pellet treats, sitting down for a rest after scooping poo and having a cat crawl into my lap, or sitting in the chicken yard with a Tom turkey sleeping on my knee, it is one of the few places I can get "out" of my head/thoughts and into the present moment.

Boo & Monet enjoy the Zenset

Time slows and often, stops.

I don't worry about work, the house, the farm.

Could turkeys really be any more adorable??

I just sit.

I recently found out it is as good for your health as you've no doubt already intuited it is.

Mojo practicing Grounding

But I don't need a book or website to tell me that this is something I need to do on a very regular basis in order to feel happy and sane.

I already know it.

And I hope you know it, too.

Zoey recommends Leo Babauta's book, The Power of Less

Oh, and Zoey says she practices Zen by reading Leo Babauta's book, The Power of Less.

Good choice in reading, Zoey.  That explains a lot. 

I'm a day late, but participating in this week's You Capture photo blog hop.  Please join me there.
Cheers -

Saturday, November 10, 2012

in the old oak tree

There is a Zen saying, "Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water."

I don't claim to be enlightened, but I do know one thing - I carried a lot of water this summer.

And now, wood cutting season has officially begun.

working on the big oak

Last weekend, with the help of our friends, we began dismantling a big oak that came down on the property last summer.

With the few daylight hours we had to work with, we managed to get two pickup loads cut and brought up to the house.

working the big oak

That was enough for these non-wood-carrying muscles to deal with.

After that we celebrated by eating pizzas and watching a movie, sending the kids into the bedroom to watch their own movie.

hauling wood

The day was exhausting.

And lovely, with perfect, nearly 70-degree weather and sunshine.

a rock, a hill, sunshine.  what more could a kid ask for?

In November!

I only hope the weather holds out a bit longer as we continue the process of downing the big oak.

a little imagination makes a tree a house, a hillside a castle

So that all winter long I can feel grateful for the extra warmth this supplemental heat will provide.

Because as much as I love the Midwest, and farming, and doing chores...

helmet head

I hate being cold.

Cheers - 
Gypsy Farmgirl hauls wood

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hello Mootiful!

I decided to go for a walk in that slim evening hour before everything gets way too dark, way too early.

I hadn't been in the back pasture for awhile.  I wanted to see if there was anything new to see.

Spoiler alert - the next photo is not pretty.  

When I rounded the corner where the 10-acre hay field ends and the ridge drops down to rolling wild grassland I stopped in my tracks at this new sight.

It's not that I've never run across a deer kill before.

I just haven't run across one so close to my grazing alpacas before.

And although the kill was fresh enough that the head still had intact eyeballs, the rest was picked clean as a whistle.  Even most of the hair was gone.

It kind of creeped me out.  And then I wondered if anybody I knew wanted the antlers.

{I left them there, in case you're wondering.}

With that pleasant vision behind me I headed into the lower part of the back pastures, down where the small spring-fed creek runs across the lowest corner.

I noticed the neighbors cows grazing as usual on the other side of the perimeter fence.  I had seen them over there all summer.  I even accidentally waved to one once.  From a distance it looked like a man in black with a white cap.  Turns out it was a cow's rump.


Time for a little Meet & Greet

I stopped and watched the biggest cow at the fence - a Holstein from the looks of it.

She Moo'ed to me.  I shouted back, "Hello Cow!"

I'm not sure what the proper cow-greeting-etiquette actually is.

I kept on my walk but the cow stayed at the fence watching me.

She Moo'd again.

This was odd. 

They had always ignored me before.

Could you be more adorable?

"What the hay," I thought, maybe I should saunter over and say "hello" in person.

So I did, expecting the cow to turn and run away at any moment.

She didn't.

All the other cows that had been grazing nearby also came jogging over to the fence line.

The big one, a Holstein I guessed, was scratching its head on the fence post.  She took front and center, the other smaller steers hanging to her sides and rear.

Shy little steers

I put out one hand, tentatively.

I think she could have completely grabbed my wrist with her tongue if I had let her.

Then she proceeded to slime me with snot and saliva all up one arm and down the other.  I had to hold onto my stocking cap to keep her from taking that, too.

Afterwards I felt like I had just had one bath and needed another.

Trying to keep my hand away from her snot and saliva I scratched her cheeks and under her jaw and around her ears.

She kept trying to eat my hand.

I got a few sniffs and licks from the smaller cows, but she was commanding all the attention.

There was one shy mostly white one in particular that I just wanted to take home with me and cuddle up in the sheep shed.

Hello sweet shy thing... please come home with me.

{I left him there, in case you're wondering.}

Did you know cows at this time of year are fuzzy?

After watching them for awhile and trying my best to capture the shy one on "film" (saying "on digital" just doesn't have the same ring, does it?) I decided I needed to continue my walk.  It gets dark pretty darn fast these days.

I backed away from the fenceline snapping more photos as I went and then I realized...

Mama cow was a HE.


Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl says, "Hello Moo-tiful!"

I'm trying a Blog Hop today, linking up with Tayet at Farmlife At Its Best.  I hope you'll click over to see the other farm-y folks who've participated this week.

Farm Life at its Best

Sunday, November 4, 2012

#14 ram in the back of Old Yeller

The last of our lambs went to market last weekend, which marks the end of our 6-month experiment with raising meat lambs.

But not the end of raising sheep.  I absolutely loved raising sheep.  Despite months and months of foot-rot problems.  Despite weed-wacking a new paddock fence line every other day. Despite temps hovering in the 90's for weeks on end while we hand-carried hundreds of pounds of water by buckets every day.

It's not really a question of "if" we'll have more sheep.  It's basically a question of "when."

Wild Woolies - Katadin hair sheep

I visited a vegetable farmer last week with a handful of bred Katadin ewes for sale.  I was tempted to toss them all in the back of my 'burb, except for the fact that we don't have any interior paddocks set up at The Little Farm that are sheep-proof, and these Katadins were a bit wild.

Wild as in, when the farmer when to snag one of the ewes to take a look at her foot, she jumped past me over my shoulder!

And he mentioned they have a way of jumping over his electric net fences if they get spooked.


Because that's all we have for interior fencing right now, electric net fences.

So I think I'll have to wait on adding any Katadins to my permanent flock.

But that won't stop me from investigating all the other cool breeds I'm interested in. Like Icelandic.  And Shetland.  And Soay.  And Karakul.  And Old Norwegian Sheep.  Although they've not yet been imported into the US.


But back to my girls.

Brigid grazing the non-existent garden

After dropping the lambs off at the processor, we swung by The Big Farm and picked up our girls.


This is the first time since I've owned Brigid (almost 5 years now) that she has lived on my property with me

And her beautiful daughter Grace is here, too.  Both of them are bred to a handsome true-black herdsire named Midnight Man from our friends at The Big Farm.

Aspendance Valiant's Grace

The boys got loose on Saturday and managed to find their way over to the girls' paddock.  But we were onto them and caught them at the fence line, before they could attempt any Hanky-Panky.

(And besides that, Boo was just gelded on Friday, so his Panky days are numbered).

It's good to have all my critters home.


I should rest a bit before adding any more to our menagerie, shouldn't I?


Cheers -

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Horses and buggies at the Little Farm auction in May, 2012
As I pulled into the gravel driveway next to the large, well-kept white farmhouse, I spied four boys I guessed were between the ages of 4 and 7 lingering near the open door of a big red barn.

I got out of the Suburban and headed towards the group, all eyes watching me closely.  All four boys were dressed alike in dark pants and bright blue/green shirts nearly obscured by dark coats. 

I was already enjoying myself, and we hadn't even exchanged a word yet.

"I'm here about some rabbits," I began tentatively, not sure how much of the farm's business I would be able to discuss with the youngsters if their father wasn't home. 

We had pretty much negotiated the entire purchase of our flock of lambs last spring from a different farmer's young son, so it was entirely possible these youngsters would be able to assist me today despite their age. 

At the very least, they probably knew as much or more about raising rabbits as their father - it was, I guessed, one of their regular chores.

"Yup, they're back there," the oldest one answered me, indicating the barn behind him. 

"Is David here?" I inquired.  I knew when I pulled in it was about 5:15pm.  David had told me a few days earlier that he would be home from his "outside" job around 5:00pm.

"Nope, not yet, he'll be home around 5:00," offered the same boy.  I guessed he was perhaps the oldest of the brothers, and seemed quite comfortable talking to me, while his siblings all hung back wordlessly, brown eyes staring wide at me.

"Well, it was just after five when I pulled in," I offered, wondering if the boy wasn't aware of the time.  Perhaps in his tender youth he was yet blissfully unaware of watching the clock.

"Yeah, 5:00 YOUR time!" he retorted with a sparkle in his eyes and a big grin.

"Ha - you've got me there!" I responded, laughing and following the group of boys through the big barn and across a barnyard to another building. 

He was of course referring to 5:00 "English" time, that is, time driven by man-made clocks and imposed by our rigid 8-5, time-clock-punching culture.

5:00 Amish time was a whole different barnyard.

In the second building we entered I spotted two long rows of rabbit cages, their inhabitants planting soft noses against the mesh, no doubt inquiring as to the whereabouts of their dinners.

White rabbits with black ears and noses, white rabbits, even a cinnamon colored buck and a dark black doe, all New Zealand whites, the boy informed me.

I wasn't sure how many questions I should ask the boys, but as I walked along the cages the eldest followed close behind me, pointing out items of interest such as the baby bunnies in nesting boxes lined with their doe's fur, bodies so tiny entire litters would have fit in the palms of my two hands.

I asked if they were born with their eyes shut and he told me they were, adding the most fun time was when they came out of their boxes at about 4 weeks old and started hopping around.

The boy didn't know how many his father wanted sell and I didn't ask for a price.

Stalling for time, I asked if I could meet their Holstein calves who were licking up the last traces of their dinner from a trough across the barn.

They agreed and we all made our way over there.  One of the silent younger siblings decided to do some showing off and jumped into the feed trough walking back and forth in front of me as I offered my hand to the calves.

The calves were curious and delightful, trying to suck my fingers.  If I had been ready for a milk cow I might have asked the boys "how much?" for the nearly all-white one.

But I'm not ready for a cow.


"Mama's coming," I was informed, and through the big barn I saw a short, slender figure leading a horse with one hand and holding an infant in the other.  Behind her trailed two more children, both girls, none of which could have been more than three years old.  She tied her horse to a stall and continued in our direction, asking if I'd been here long.

"Not too long," I reassured her.

We stepped back outside the barn to chat.  After scolding her boys for still being in their school clothes, she sent them off for chores and started talking about the rabbit business. She was very curious about how many rabbits I would buy and where I would sell them.

As I listened to her talk and answered her questions, I couldn't help but admire the view.

Their farm was perched along a ridge top with a view of rolling hills for miles.

The sun was about to set and had dropped below the cloud line, illuminating a pair of Belgium draft horses with an almost magical light.  Her oldest son had already explained to me the pair of horses was getting old and would soon need to be replaced.  But in the slanting evening sun he looked perfectly strong and beautiful.

Just then a one-horse cart came wheeling into the driveway. We all stepped off the road as David maneuvered his cart and horse to a stop.

"Sorry I'm late!" he yelled cheerfully, dismounting from the cart, grinning like his oldest son, but sporting a surprisingly bright red beard and looking ten years younger than me.

"Did you like what you saw?" he inquired.  I told him I was just in the "looking" stage right now, hadn't even measured the space the cages would need to go.  How many was he looking to sell?

He reiterated his wife's sentiments about wanting to keep them but not having buyers for them at present.  "No use butchering them if someone else could use them," he said to me.

He told me they had been large rabbit producers in Pennsylvania, at one time having more than 1100 rabbits under their care.  They wanted to raise rabbits here, too, but the only market they knew of had dried up.  He loved raising them he said, and his smile and sparkling eyes confirmed the truth of what he said.

David's wife then asked me, "You've never tried rabbit?" 

"No, not yet, but I'd like to," I added, trying not to sound too city-ish.  "How do you like to prepare them?"

David interjected that she liked to prepare them in the pressure cooker, then fry them.  "They're very good," they both assured me again.

I asked them how they liked their turkeys -  I could see several large white ones strutting around their yard near the house, could just make out their familiar trilling voices.

They told me they really enjoyed raising the birds, though they've been "fighting" lately - displaying their plumage at each other. My males did that on occasion also - though I'd hardly call it "fighting."

The sun slipped further towards the horizon, and I told them I'd need to get back in touch with them after I conferred with my husband tonight.  It was time to get home and do my own evening chores.

We said our good-byes and I walked back towards my vehicle, watching their oldest boy pull a wagon-load of firewood up the hill towards their house.
It is no surprise to me why people - farmers and non-farmers, English and Amish - are drawn to the idyllic images of the farm.

Red barns, bawling calves, mooing cows, plodding draft horses, scratching chickens, gobbling turkeys on the loose.

It may still be one of the hardest ways to make a living, and often the most heart-breaking, but I would have to say, so far at least, it is also the most enjoyable enterprise I have ever attempted.

Cheers -

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