Saturday, December 31, 2011


Today was our last Christmas gathering.  To my astonishment, it went well.  The ham got put in at the right time, none of the veranika  exploded, and there was more than plenty to eat.  I was a little chagrined at our budget for gifts, but hey, it's the time you spend.   (Martiya's hat cost $50 in time . . .LOL)

As always, my family outdid themselves.  TSC gift certificates, photos, books--all perfect.  The kiddos are still playing with their presents, which means they love them (the ones they don't like are broken after an hour).  Then on to one of the best parts of the day, which might just have to become a tradition.

Shooting.  My stepdad had loaned me a .22 rifle because he knows I'm stalking a raccoon and a possum.  We had talked about going target shooting before, but it never happened.  Well, today, it was gorgeous out, plus Scott (O wonderful man) had gotten me some bullets for Christmas.  We all went out to shoot cans by the pasture. 

Even the kids got to try, and learn some gun safety. 
oooo.  I look like a terrorist, what with the Tea Party hat and all.  Next time I'll wear my fatigues and REALLY look convincing.  Yes, I do own combat boots.  Here's my nephew Adam (sorry, Tiya--I don't see any of you!!  ARGH!  And for those of you who are wondering, Tiya is a naturally good shot!)

Here's Scott giving Caitlin lessons:

and, for a more peaceful take on the day:

Here is my lovely niece (fearless farm fraulein in training!) holding Beautiful Sweet.  Brave girl--she'd never held a chicken before and was a little creeped out at first, but she took to it like a chicken to scratch (big huge happy grins). 

I'm so glad that we had a beautiful day.  I'm doubly glad that everyone could come.  I'm triply glad that my niece and nephew might get to spend the weekend with us soon and TIE DYE!!!  Presents were the icing on the cake--I'm so glad that Tiya liked the hat I slaved over, Adam liked his generic Legos (you wouldn't believe how hard it is to find Legos that aren't meant to build ONE CERTAIN THING), and Becky and Stir were pretty OK with theirs too, or at least had the grace to appear so :) 

Losing Aunt Shirlee made me appreciate this day so much more.  You never know what's gonna happen when you step out the front door, let alone drive for an hour.  NEVER KNOW.  Family, I was SO glad to see you and talk to you all today.  I love all of you so dang much it hurts.  We've had our differences, but we're still FAMILY, and now we can be friends.  (Yes, Thornhills, you too!!!)  I did have to laugh when Tiya asked me how many pets I had.  "Inside or outside?"  I asked.  "Both!"  she said.  ha, I almost had to take off my shoes.

11 chickens (all with names and personalities), 2 horses, 5 outdoor cats (counting BOT), 2 dogs, 3 indoor cats . . .plus the 15 or so new chicks that are on their way next year.  Mom, Dad, this is ALL your fault.  You should have let me have something besides goldfish.  And a poodle.  And parakeets.  And finches.  And softbills.  And parrots.  I had to go out of my way to get a ferret, you horrible child abusers!  (just kidding--I love you anyway!!)

I hope you all had a day as wonderful as I did.  It was a great end to the old year, and may tomorrow and the new year be even better for all of us.  Happy New Year, folks.  Let's make the most of it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Momentous Occasion

Today is one for the history books, folks.  After three months, Beautiful Sweet the Silkie hen has laid me another egg!!!! OMG!!!!!  wanted to put a pic of her here, but taking half an hour is ridiculous.

She was doing so well when she first started laying.  We got about 4 a week.  Then she started getting picked on by the big girls and boys.  She lost a lot of feathers, and I was seriously considering removing her (yeah, you know me, dontcha) and making a house chicken out of her.  Where I had previously scorned chicken diapers, I was looking at patterns.  I was thinking about where I could possibly keep her so that the dogs and indoor cats wouldn't eat her.  But, I decided to give her some more time.

Sure enough, those feathers started to grow back.  She started venturing outside to scratch in the yard, and even pecked some of those big girls who tried to get her favorite greens.  Mind you, she weighs about 2 lbs.  The big girls weigh about 7.  So check this out:

The one on the upper left is Mary (Rhode Island Red).  Upper right is Hyacinth (Buff Orpington).  Beautiful Sweet's is at the bottom.  A little more than half the size of the others.  So who works harder for that egg? 

Plus, Beautiful Sweet lives up to her name.  She's the tamest, friendliest chicken out there.  I admit, I picked her up this morning (and when you weigh 2 lbs, having someone looming over you in a hoodie and work gloves could be scary!) to cuddle her and tell her thank you.  She takes well to having people hold her, so she's the official ambassa-chicken for our farm.  Her cute little button eyes, her fur-like feathers . . .too awesome. 

So let's go back to that egg.  There's a reason besides cuddling that I want more silkies.  My favorite part of the egg is the yolk (since I like mine sunny side up).  That lovely little ivory egg is mostly yolk.  I was stunned the first time I cracked one--there was almost no white.  LOVE IT!  Can't wait to use that special egg to make veranike for my family tomorrow.  For those of you who don't know what that is, it's dry cottage cheese (with an egg to bind it together), salt, and pepper, wrapped in a dough pocket.  First you boil it, then you fry it, then serve with sour cream gravy.  EXTREME numminess.

Have a great night (or day), folks.  We'll talk soon.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Mourning

I used to go on vacations with one of my "twin sisters."  One year, we went up to NW Colorado to visit her uncle and aunt, who raced the Quarter horses that my sis's family raised.  They were amazing folks and treated me like I was one of their own.

Years ago, Uncle Terrell died doing just what he would have wanted to:  getting a horse ready to race.  Recently, even though Facebook can really peeve me, thankfully I got back in touch with Aunt Shirlee.  Not only was she one of the most warm-hearted people you could meet, she knew her dogs, and she knew her horses.  She was a literal fountain of knowledge. 

Not only could she give me horse advice, but she was always there for a supportive comment or suggestion, and heck, she was just fun to talk to!  She was a very talented artist as well--I can still see the rodeo posters she drew hanging up at Mom & Dad II's house. 

A few days ago, I got word on FB that she and her dogs had been missing since December 22.  At a loss for what to do, I called my mom and asked her to activate her church prayer chain.  She did me one better--she even called the 700 Club, so now we had a nation praying for Aunt Shirlee.  A glimmer of hope came when one of her dogs made it back to her son's house.

This morning, the aerial searches found her in her truck, with her loyal Border Collie at her side.  Unfortunately, she didn't make it.  I don't have many more details than that yet, but at least her family has started to get some closure. 

You will be sorely missed, Aunt Shirlee.  You'll always have a very special place in my heart.  I want to grow up to be like you--kind, giving, talented, smart, and beautiful.  Ride Free.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stitch N Bitch

I spent a lot of time knitting today.  I mean A LOT.  So, you might understand my great angst when my needle slipped out half of the row when I was over halfway done with the hat.  Yes, Lorrie, I hear you.  Pick up the stitches!  Ummmm, I'm using fuzzy boucle and eyelash yarn--2 strands.  SOOOO not within my area of expertise.  Ribbit, Ribbit, Ribbit.  (Frogging is unravelling your project for you non-yarn folks.)  At least I was watching The Hunt For Red October so I had Sean Connery's numminess to gaze upon while I demolished a day's work.

Yep folks, I can knit, and I can crochet.  I don't do either one very well.  Basic skills yes, fancy stuff (like straight edges) no.  I think if I tried to make one of those fancy shawls or afghans, my brain might implode.  I'm sure my aunt Darlene (who used to run a yarn shop when I was a little kid) and Lorrie (one of my twin sisters who DOES run a yarn shop--check out Oh Yarn It in McPherson cos she's got some AWESOME stuff) are cringing right now.

Luckily I do better with critters.  My lovely horses are fuzzy in their winter coats, and it's always a joy to hear them nicker when I come close.  If you haven't had a horse nicker at you, you're seriously missing something.  Even hearing Stewie chuckling to the hens about nummy greens I just picked for them warms my heart.  Now that I think about it, his chuckle and a horse's nicker sound a lot alike. 

And imagine a day spent knitting.  Sitting in the sun, with Nami (the Sheltie/Aussie Shep mix) snoring on my foot, Riley (our Great Dane) lolling on the other couch, and Twinkie nestled up next to my leg.  Twinkie is the ULTIMATE lap cat--she adores snuggling, but she was contented today to curl up next to my leg (not bothering the knitting needles or the sparkly yarn!!!!!) and chill.  Yeah, even with all the frogginess, it was a good day. 

We took Twinkie into the vet to get her booster shots today, and the kiddos got an extra special experience.  They asked me if I could come in a little later because Doc was assisting a cow in labor.  Of course!  Well, when we got there, the calf had been born moments before.  The little guy was still all wet and still had the chain around his hind hooves where they'd had to pull him out.  No wonder mama cow was having trouble!  The kiddos got to see the techs dry off the calf, and see him raise his head for the first time.  They were hoping to see him again, but by the time Twinkie had had her shots, mama and baby were loaded up on the trailer, ready to go home.  GAWD, I wish I'd been on my feet that soon after having a baby!  Of course, there were many questions about the blood on the calf and the chains, but I think I explained them well enough without going into detail about the birds and the bees.  When I told the kids about how they had blood on them too when they were born, everything else was cake.

I've always thought it, but now I know it.  Farm kids learn about the important things (namely:  life and death and bodily fluids) sooner than city kids.  Miracles of birth don't always have a happy ending.  That doesn't mean they're any less of a miracle.  Each egg we crack open (and yeah, I'm pretty sure they're fertilized!!!  Stewie gets AROUND!) is a miracle--not just for the potential to hatch a new chick, but for the amazing nutrients we get from it.  My horses are miracles--we got them both for free, but they like us as much as we like them, and they're willing and smart, not to mention gorgeous.  Our dogs are miracles.  Both of them rescued, but in a warm, loving, forever home.  Even Twinkie--if you've read her story, she's a miracle in and of herself.  The grownup chookies can always make me feel better by hanging out in their coop.  Having Stewie look out for me and defend me is pretty cool.  (He's a Rhode Island Red roo, well known for being one of the most aggressive out there.)

Each day seems hard, but when you look back and try to find beauty, you will. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Sometimes people just amaze me.  And not in a good way. 

Reading a newspost about a "school" that uses shock therapy on autistic kids.  Here's the link:

That's AFTER hearing about the autistic kid that got shut in a duffelbag:

I know, I know, next to those, my adventures in "publishing" seem trivial.  But get this:  to get published, first, I have to find someone to read my work.  Easy, you think.  NOT.  So many only want agented representations, or specify "no animal dialog."  Then, I get to wait anywhere from a month to 6 months to even have them say that they want to read my story (after I've spent time and postage on a cover letter and query, plus outline).  Even if I do make that cut, they want me to send my manuscript at my own expense . . .and if they don't like it, not only will they kindly shred it for me, they won't even have the courtesy to email me and tell me "no thanks."  I'll just be kept hanging for a year or so. 

And don't even get me started on the ones who won't accept simultaneous submissions (sending to more than one publisher at once).  HUH?  You want me to hang around waiting for your sorry butts to take 6 MONTHS to read my less than 500 word children's book till you decide not to call me?  That's lost money, folks.  If you don't want to deal, get out of the trading post.

Then there's the agents, rights, royalties, etc. to think about.  My head hurts.  Here I am, brain the size of a planet (thanks, Marvin) and you basically want me to pay you to pay me?  RIIIIIGHT.  Then there are the publishers that want to know how I'll market the book THAT THEY WANT TO BUY FROM ME.  Excuse me.  You bought 90% of the rights and you STILL want ME to do the legwork?  I don't think so.  I'm making peanuts off this.  YOU market.  And if you want me to do signings, fine . . .but you're paying for the gas.

Probably just because I'm so contrary, I'm gonna keep trying.  And, in the meantime, dear friends, I will have my stories printed up in very simple format with simple illustrations so y'all can meet my flock.  I was so glad that Caitlin liked the stories I read to her, since she's about the age range I want to market to (just young enough to have her egg-buying parents read to her, but old enough to sound out some of the words by herself).  She even said that her classmates would like to hear my stories!  WOOHOO!

I was even crushed by the mailman.  We got our new copy of the rural directory today.  You know, the one that shows you all the townships and plats, plus who owns them.  I was so excited to see us in there . . .and we WEREN'T.  Harry's name was still on the map.  We didn't even make the phone number page.  Come on, we signed the papers, changed our licenses, registered to vote . . .phooey.  If they don't get it right next year, I'm gonna crawl up someone's posterior with CLEATS on.  On second thought, I'll just sic Stewie on them.  He ought to have some pretty decent spurs by next year.

One of the people who hasn't disappointed me today is my neighbor JD.  We finally got to hang out (thanks for coming over!) and I think we'll get along just fine.  He even made my German gene kick in--you know, the one that says YOU MUST FEED PEOPLE!  so I hope he'll grace our dinner table now and then.  The kids did OK today (I don't think I lost any more enamel off my teeth) and we had Grandma Martha's noodle soup for supper.  YUMMO.  I can't wait till we can make it with our own home raised chickens.  Y'all keep your fingers crossed for me when it comes killing time . . .and I'll wait till I'm having a bad day to make it easier! :D 

Monday, December 26, 2011


I mentioned Twinkie yesterday, so I thought y'all might like to hear the rest of her story. She's a VERY lucky kitty.  She was born just after we got back from Winfield last year.  Her mom (Skimp) was a dumped cat out here on the farm.  After Skimp's last kitten from her last litter disappeared, Scott decided that we would start handling all new kittens that are born out here.

Sure enough, Skimp and BOT (Big Orange Tom) presented us with another litter.  One grey spotted tabby boy (Speck), one mackerel tabby boy (Swoosh), another golden/grey mackerel tabby (later named Stevie because he had an eye infection that always stuck his eyes shut), and this little calico girl who I originally called Cleopatra because of her eyeliner.  One day, Skimp (mama kitty) disappeared.  We've had barn cats go missing before, but they usually turn back up.  She didn't.  SO, here are these 4 kittens.  Luckily they could all eat solid food.

The first to go was Speck.  Caitlin found him dead of no apparent cause when she got off the bus in the afternoon (mind you, I'd been out to visit the chickens less than an hour before).  His buddy Swoosh was never seen again.  It was starting to get chilly at night, and I worried about predators, so I started bringing Stevie and Cleo into the screen porch at night.  Poor Stevie had such a bad eye infection that if I didn't wipe his eyes every hour or so, they'd goo shut. 

One morning, I went out to check on them and Stevie was dead.  We gave him a dignified burial (like Speck), and I got down to the serious business of worrying about Cleo.  Now, mind you, we have other barn cats.  Claire, Callie, Jack, and Dolly, plus BOT.  I kept forgetting "Cleo."  So, my wonderful daughter suggested that we rename her.  "To what?"  I asked.  "Twinkletoes!" she said, and it stuck.  So, Twinkie it was (not the least reason for which is that I have a weakness for Twinkies). 

Then it started to get REALLY cold at night.  This little one didn't have the wonderful thick fur that the grownups had--she just had kitty fuzz.  So I talked Scott into letting me bring her into the mud room and leaving a heater on for her at night.  At that point, she still got to go outside during the daytime when it was dry.  We had debated bringing her in as a new housecat, but resisted somewhat.  THEN INFECTION HIT.

I made an appointment to get her shots, but ended up going in a day early--her nose started running and it seemed like there was blood coming out.  After visiting the vet (and spending over twice as much as I'd planned to), the decision was made.  She'd be my Christmas present. 

Even on the meds, her infection got worse.  I had to wipe her nose every hour, if not more.  She was so clogged up that she stopped eating for a week, losing half her (already small) body weight.  I really had doubts as to whether she was going to make it.  Through it all, she was so tiny, so cuddly (and still actively seeking cuddling), and so clever for using the litter box that she really won my heart.  In desperation, I started adding chicken broth to her water just so she could get some nutrients back in her.  I offered soft food, canned food, anything to tempt her to eat just a little bit. 

Amazing was the day when I finally heard her crunching food. At that point, I was still wiping her nose every 2-3 hours. I was reluctant to bring her in because our 2 other cats (Rowan and Ruaidh) are older, and we at this point really can't afford that many vet bills, but dangit, Twinkie pulled through and made it inside on Christmas day. Here's her with my dad:

We're not out of the woods yet (she's still just a little sniffly and one of her eyes wants to run) but the improvement over a month ago is unbelieveable.  Probably due to all the medication--shooting lysine down her throat--and nose-wiping, not to mention needing company, I think that she thinks she's a person.  She is the ULTIMATE snuggle kitty.  I'm so glad that she's a tough little girl and made it this far.  (we'll have more vet bills soon, but thanks to our parents, they're covered.)

Lots of animals aren't as fortunate.  I'm really honored to know a fine young lady (yep, Alexis, this is you!).  All she wanted this Christmas is for folks to donate to their local animal shelter.  She's really young yet, but she has a great heart.  Please, if you can, donate to your local shelter or rescue . . .and please let me know about it so I can pass it on to Alexis. 

I'm also currently trying to piece together a horse rescue.  A friend of mine notified me about 9 horses needing homes.  They were abandoned and severely malnourished.  (there were 14 originally but 5 have died).  The remaining horses have been vetted and have gained some weight, but need LOTS of TLC.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE contact me if you can take any or know someone who can.

Please never take your animals for granted.  Yep, I've worked in rescue.  Yep, I know there are some you can't save, and some you shouldn't.  But for every one of those, there are many that will make great additions to any home.  I'll leave you with a picture of Twinkie in her chosen favorite spot :) 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bells on Discombobulation Ring

Here's hoping you all had a merry and safe Christmas.  As for me, I'm breathing a sigh of relief that it's (almost) over.  Just one last family gathering to go, and I've got a week to prepare for that.

It's been a heck of a last 2 days.  Yesterday, we were going to the in-laws.  Yep, I do have great in-laws.  But I overslept.  So, had to rush through chores, rush through a shower, rush rush rush.  I hate that.  Everything hurt, especially my elbow, which I screwed up by mis-catching a rather large piece of firewood.  I was also trying to make sure we had everything (turns out we forgot my granddaughter's present.  ACK.)  Needless to say, the day did NOT start out on a good note.

It did get better, thank goodness.  Then home to finish wrapping the last of the gifts.  It's amazing how much I forgot that I'd gotten for the kids.  I remembered that I'd gotten Scott a t-shirt (Real Men Drive Tractors) and promptly spent the next hour ransacking the house for it.  I finally gave up.  Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that I'd used it to pad another one of his presents that was already wrapped.  Sheesh.

So, after staying up way too late last night, the kids mercifully woke us at 7:30.  Turns out I had also forgotten about one of Caitlin's presents.  Sounds like I need a brain transplant already, doesn't it?  Presents went well--Santa forgot about the drench bit, but I did get the gun cleaning kit I wanted, plus got to bring Twinkie the orphaned kitten inside!  I'm pretty sure the kids and Scott were happy with theirs too.  It felt rather nice not to have to rush chores, but my elbow didn't thank me at all for dragging the hose out to water the horses.  Yep, the hose I keep coiled in the basement so it doesn't freeze shut.  Fun Fun Fun.

Then my dad, mom, and stepdad came for lunch.  We had a nice easy meal of Buhler sausage (and if you're from Kansas, it's THE BEST), fried potatoes, peas, and swiebach.  Sounds peaceful, right?  WRONG.  Several times today I swore that if I heard "Shana" or "mommy" again, I'd scream.  I can only do 5 things at once, people!  6 is too many!  As if that weren't good enough, Arthur got in serious trouble during the meal for cursing IN FRONT OF HIS GRANDPARENTS.  AAAAAAARGH.  Then I had to multitask between reading the Childrens Writers source guide and explaining YET AGAIN what I want in a chicken tractor.  (And no, Mother, the butterfly books you really think I should write are not going to happen until AFTER the chicken books are written.  No, Dad, I do not want to use caricatures or cartoons in my books.  Yes, John, I know Twinkie's nose is still a little runny.  Kids, you've had enough candy.  I mean it.  Where did I put WHAT, Scott?)

So I think I've earned the night off. All of you have too. So enjoy it, and Merry Christmas 2011. (Stewie and Hyacinth say Merry Christmas too!)

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's All In Who You Know

Every day, we go round the table at supper and each of us says something we're thankful for.  I don't say it every day, but I think it more than once--I am SO thankful for good friends and neighbors. 

When we moved out here, we knew a few people in Marion, but not many.  Diana, a much loved adopted member of the family, ended up moving to take another job.  Harry and Margie . . .well, we bought their house.  They had to move.  None of the Taylors live here anymore.  Even Grandma Dorothy moved from the Marion nursing home to Hillsboro.  But, well, turns out that friends turn up everywhere.

When we first met our neighbors (at an apple cider pressing event before we bought the place), we knew we'd like them.  Little did I know how much.  When they came over bearing housewarming gifts (Barb is an amazing baker!), they informed us that there were CONDITIONS to being their neighbors.  With some trepidation, I asked what those might be.  "We WILL bring you food," said Barb.  "And you're not required to bring food back.  Also, if you do not ask us to watch your kids, we WILL be offended."  Sounded pretty easy to me!  Since then, we've swapped recipes, numerous goodies, plus they look out for our critters while we're gone.  The kids walk right into their house (which causes me much consternation!) but Barb always makes them welcome.  Ralph even took the time to copy pages from a book of his dad's about aging a horse by the teeth.  We'll go into more about them in a bit.

Then one day while Lorrie was over, dutifully admiring my chicks, a strange car pulled up.  Colleen introduced herself, and while we talked, we discovered that we had almost an uncanny amount in common.  Since then, she's been very generous with advice about chickens, cuttings of plants, and just fun to talk and text with.  I also can't wait to go walleye fishing with her.  Here's hoping we can!

Through Diana, I met Pam.  She usually organizes a dog walk plus being president of the Marion Pride committee.  When I offered to host the dog walk at our trails here on the farm, she told me "oh, we'd already been planning to come out for Easter!"  FUNNY.  Heck, I went to a Pride meeting to try to change some things about the farmers' market, and found myself on the committee too!  It's always great fun, and you get to meet more great people. 

Like David.  He's a terrific photographer and journalist for our local paper, as well as being a pretty swell guy.  Thanks to him, Scott made the front page, with a full color photo.  As if that wasn't good enough, David took pains to accurately quote us (unlike the other guy that said I kicked my husband out of bed in the heat) and wrote a wonderful article.  In that same article was . . .

JD.  Turns out he heats with wood too and seems pretty cool.  I added him on FB cos Barb said I'd like him.  I feel rather remiss though--we've lived here for this long, he lives just down the road, and I've never met him face to face!  That shall be remedied in the coming week.  At least he honks at me if I'm out feeding when he drives by :D  Now I just have to convince him to let me borrow his bike . . . .

And then there's Nicole F.  Granted, she's not from Marion, but she might just be a sister.  Imagine meeting such a cool person on a swap site just because I wanted another brooder cage!  Don't worry, Amy and Lorrie--if she has the brain, she'll take good care of it. 

And then there are all of my old friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin (sometimes literally!) and all of my wonderful family.  Folks, treasure each other.  Even people you meet on the Internet can add such wonderful new dimensions to your lives.  I've gotten reacquainted with classmates who seem to have gotten niftier since high school.  I've met some awesome dog and horse people.  Even if you disagree with someone, hey, at least they made you THINK. 

Back to Barb and Ralph.  Last night, Barb called and asked if the kids were still up.  I said yes.  She said "shut your dogs away and I'll be over in 3 minutes.  You'll understand when I get there."  ohhhh-kay?  She was right.  I did understand.
The dogs would have gone nuts (not in a good way!)  But the kids LOVED it.  They brought thoughtful gifts for all of us.  Truly awesome neighbors.  Now, let's see.  What should the Fearless Farm Frau give them for Christmas? 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Peace on earth, and goodwill towards critters

MY KIDS ARE DRIVING ME NUTS.  Today is Caitlin's first day of Christmas break, and they've already been in trouble most of the day.  From spilled Chex mix in the living room, to pillows strewn on the floor (let's see now, for the FIFTH time), 3 crying spells because somebody played too rough, and a potty accident . . .I'm ready for a dose of peace. 

It's snowing like crazy, and the wind is howling.  So where do I go?  To the barn and coop, of course.  My lovely horses have turned the area around the feeder into a muddy bog, but at least I have wellies and warm socks.  Snuggling with my ladies (somehow they seem to know when I need them most, and let me hang all over them) always makes me feel better.  Few things lift the spirit like warm horse breath in your ear. 

Hm, you've all met the chickens, but you haven't met my ladies yet.  Aurora is my lead mare.  She's a 14 year old black 3/4 Arab out of great lines.  She took a while to settle in, but she's bonded to me.  Gee, I wonder why.  We've got the same personality (both bitches!) and we're both pretty good looking.  She looks better when she runs though--I just look like an idiot.  Aces is my 5 YO dapple grey 1/2 Arab.  She's out of some pretty nifty lines too--her sire was the most gorgeous black and white paint I've ever seen.  She seems to vacillate between thinking she's a dog (she'll follow you anywhere) and a pig (she loves to nose the hay out of the feed bumper, the knothead!).  Like I said before, they seem to know when I need some TLC.  I'll go out and call them, and find a warm horsey body on either side of me to lean on. 

Of course, it's not always that lovely.  About a month ago, we were getting ready to go in for parent/teacher conferences.  Just as I was heading out the door to take the kids to our wonderful neighbors (Barb and Ralph--you'll hear more about them too!), I saw Aurora with her head under the fence.  I went out to shoo her back in, and she stood up.  So did the fence.  I went to get a halter and leadrope.  As soon as she saw them, she took off running.  ARGH.  So, not only are we going to be late to conference, I'm gonna have to catch a black horse at dusk.  FUN CITY.  I shoved the halter at Scott (thank GOD for him!) and told him to try to keep her in sight.  Then I went back to the barn to grab a bucket of oats, back to the house to find some way to contact the teacher, and back down to the pen to make sure Aces was still in and wouldn't get out during the shenanigans.

Luckily, Barb had seen Aces tearing by on the road.  She hollered to Ralph (who I sometimes refer to as Saint Ralph) who promptly fired up his Rhino and pursued my errant mare.  By the time I walked my sorry self over the railroad tracks, Scott was nowhere to be seen, and it was getting dark.  Suddenly, I see headlights weaving erratically over a field (from a mile away).  Sure enough, it was Ralph, herding Aurora across the field.  I beg the pardon of the farmer that owns it, but I don't think we tore it up that bad.  As soon as she was close enough to hear the oats rattling, she came right over.  Since Scott had the halter, I ended up leading her home with the oats.  Every now and then, Ralph got a little close with the Rhino and she'd startle (and my thoughts are "pleasedon'tboltpleasedon'tboltbecauseyou'rebehindmeandIdon'twannagettrampled!) but we ended up coming back to the barn, got her in the fence (good thing we have a good gate setup that I could close Aces off with but still leave open for Aurora!) and heaved a sigh of relief, because Scott had made it home too.

And here's a testament to good neighbors.  If it wouldn't have been for Ralph, I don't know if I would have ever seen her again.  If it weren't for Barb coming over and snagging the kids, lord only knows what they would have gotten up to.  We were an hour late to conferences, but we made it, thanks to our awesome neighbors.  As I was falling all over myself thanking them (and even bought Ralph a case of his favorite brew), he said "aw hell, that's the most fun I've had all month!"  Can't beat that with a stick now, can ya?

So then to the coop.  Ah, the chicken opera.  Watching who's boss and who's not, hearing the hens' soft clucking (and Cow's obnoxious crow).  Finding a fresh egg that's still warm--and on a day like this, that's even more awesome than ever.  Beautiful Sweet peeps by my feet,  and Jack the Cat-ken is purring and rubbing my ankles.  There's Good Queen Bess, finding the last of the fresh greens I picked for them from the hoophouse this morning.  Stewie chuckles at me, doing his odd head bob (think blonde "I dunno").  Trouble's hiding out behind the roosts--good on him for turning that litter for me.

The laundry is in, now I can sit and knit with my dogs and cats indoors.  Indeed, peace on earth and goodwill towards critters.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Multitudinous Rants

So I went to the big city (Wichita) today.  Had a few last minute presents to pick up.  And I hear this ad for Spangles (or, as Renee says it, Shpanglesh) extolling the virtues of their new "select premium chicken strips" taken from only tenderloins of chicken.  Of course, being the crazy chicken lady, I got to thinking.

Spangles is a pretty much local fast food chain.  They think they pride themselves on quality, but I've gotten sick on their food more than once.  So, Renee, why don't you use more LOCAL food?  Why not use LOCALLY raised chickens?  And why only the tenderloin?  Who or what gets to use the rest of the chicken?

Again, I have the guru (Mr. Ussery) in mind when I say this.  His explanation of what happens to the excess cockerels (young roosters) at some hatcheries really made me think.  As he puts it, "cockerels are as much in demand as ants at a picnic", especially to backyard raisers.  So, whenever you place your pullet only order, you're responsible for that many male chicks being killed (since eggs hatch in a ratio of roughly 50/50) in a number of different ways, ranging from gas to grinders.  So, Renee, what happens to the rest of the chicken?  Why pay premium prices for substandard meat that has to be shipped in from God knows where?  Why not talk to local farmers and promote something like ORGANIC chicken strips?

My other rant for today involves Wichita and drivers therein.  Could there possibly be a worse-designed intersection than Kellogg and Rock?  I think not, and mind you, I've driven a lot of places.  I think I lost half of my teeth today from grinding and gritting my jaw.  All those tax dollars spent on inconvenient, incomprehensible exits.  Bleah.  Good thing I don't live there anymore.

I could start ranting about women.  I really want to.  So, I'm going to because this is my blog.  Some of the "fairer" sex really give the rest of us a bad name.  SERIOUSLY.  If you're so jealous that you need to know where your man is every minute, you really need to examine YOURSELF.  Especially if you're not taking care of your man at home.  I can be a control freak, but I know better than to try and control a man.  It ain't fun, it ain't pretty, and it hurts you both.  And ya know what, ladies?  Men and women CAN be friends.

I'm also sick of the stereotyping.  Just because I'm a woman means I have to have my hair and nails done and buy all kinds of expensive makeup, purses and shoes?  HOOEY.  I don't think I have a purse that matches any of my shoes (most of which are work boots).  I buy cheap makeup because, frankly, I just don't wear it more than a day a week.  I could care less about brand names for the most part (with the exception of my Ariat boots, which I LIVE in and LOVE 6 months of the year).  It's not the brand, but the quality and comfort.  I actually do remember now the last time I had my hair cut (about a month ago) but that was the first time I've darkened the door of a salon in almost 10 years.  My nails (the ones that aren't split, chipped, or cracked) are cut as short as I can get em.  If my hair or makeup don't work within 5 minutes, I give up.  Maybe if more people concentrated on what matters instead of how they look, the world would be a better place.

On the upside, there were lots of positives today.  Finally, the Christmas shopping is DONE.  (now I just have to knit hats!)  Got to see some good friends who were nice enough to refinish my stepdad's pistol for him.  4 eggs today--not stellar, but decent for winter.  And, while we got enough rain the other day for a moderate flood, the horses weren't up to their butts in water.  As a matter of fact, it helped with our logjam by moving most of the big trees to where we can get to them easier. 

And, I think I brightened a few days.  I always try to make a point of complimenting at least one stranger a day (because it makes me feel good when someone does it to me!).  The lady with the sparkly necklace, the lady with the embroidered jacket, and the guy that held the door for me (plus the aforementioned 2 great guys who I love to talk to and hang out with because they're not only great sources of info, but I know that they've got my back).  So yeah, I've got plenty to rant about, but I have even more to be thankful for.  Seems like a good balance to me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oh There Are Chickens In The Trees . . .

There used to be a song on Sesame Street about chickens in trees.  Lo and behold, chickens do like trees.  I bundled up and headed out to look for eggs today, to find Trouble outside all by himself (the rest of the chooks stayed inside), in the snow, IN A TREE. 

OK, so it's not the best picture, but we had fun crowing at each other with the flakes falling on us.  Trouble is an Ameraucana roo, and the lowest in the boys' pecking order.  Even the bantam hens give him a hard time.  He was supposed to be a pullet (the reason some of you haven't gotten any green eggs yet!) and always seems to find himself on the wrong side of the fence (sometimes literally).  Ah well, I guess this bodes well for next year's pullets--at least I know they'll be tough!  He was even eating snow when I first saw him. 

As always, I'm excited for next year's batch of chicks.  I'm going to try some exotic breeds--Jersey Giants for their docility, size, and egg size, Black Copper Marans for extra-dark brown eggs, Barnevelders for laying ability and hardiness, and Silver Laced Wyandottes for laying and hardiness (and the Barnevelder and Wyandottes should be eye candy too!).  Plus some Ameraucana pullets (for green eggs) and either Black Stars or Gold Comets (simply because they're laying machines!).  I'd love to get some Salmon Faverolles but it seems like all the small order places are sold out.

Then there's the broiler project.  I'm going to pick up 5 Cornish Cross broilers just to make sure I can kill and process them . . .then, if that works, I'm going to invest in Freedom Rangers (also known as Label Rouge) and possibly Rainbows.  They take a little longer than Cornish Xs to mature, but taste better, forage better, and are hardier.  And they're prettier.  Just so happens that a friend of mine makes feather jewelry, and I think she'd love these! 

Looks like I need more coops and/or chicken tractors.  I'm gonna make these birds pay off one way or another.  I'm still working on the childrens' books (and have gotten a great response so far!) and spend WAY too much time on the phone either talking to publishers or finding out where to get cheap business cards.  Then there's the plans for the chicken tractors.  Yep, I hear ya.  "What's a chicken tractor?"

At its most basic, a chicken tractor is a mobile coop.  When used properly, those chickens can forage for their own food (greens, worms, bugs, etc) PLUS till your garden up for you AND fertilize it.  Some great books about it are:  Chicken Tractor by Andy Lee, The Small Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery, and Day Range Poultry (again by Andy Lee).  I'm trying to come up with my ideal design and measurements--I've read about every book I can get my hands on about it, but none of them is exactly what I want.  And, if you get to know me . . .I'm not usually a control freak, but there some things that I'm a Nazi about.  I want my tractor the way I want it, and I don't want to have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for it.  Humbug.

On a slightly more negative note, those of you that are considering getting your own backyard cluckers would do well to steer away from Chickens magazine (put out by Hobby Farms).  I paid $6 for that sucker (cos on first perusal, seemed to be some neat stuff in there) and found it to be one of the biggest wastes of paper on the planet.  Plenty of great pics of chickens, but ONLY ONE picture (of Cornish cross chicks, pic supplied by Ideal Poultry) had the breed labeled on it--the rest were from Shutterstock.  There was even a pic of a chookie with the worst scaly leg mites I've ever seen (again from Shutterstock).  It truly makes me wonder if these people have ever had chickens.  You'll be better off spending your money on Backyard Poultry (which features FACTS and healthy chickens . . .and you'll usually see which breed!). 

OK, always end positive.  I would sincerely like to thank Harvey Ussery and Don Schrider for their articles about open air coops (BYP, Oct/Nov 2011).  Since I don't have electricity out to the coop (and not NEARLY enough extension cords!), I was worried how the chookies would do this winter.  SERIOUSLY worried.  Because everything I read told me to insulate and heat the coop and shut it up tight.  Harvey and Don, you are right.  Even here in hardiness zone 5, I leave the windows (and the door, if the wind isn't blowing precipitation in) open 24/7.  You see, VENTILATION is the key to healthiness.  If you let that moisture from chookie breaths and manure get trapped, they'll not only get frostbite, but respiratory illnesses.  Stewie, my lead roo, has a magnificent single comb.  So far we've had about two dozen nights below freezing--several below 20--and his comb and wattles are as majestic as ever. 

I'm also using a deep litter system.  "what?  you don't clean your coop every week?"  you gasp.  NOPE.  I haven't cleaned my coop (except for knocking poo off the roosts) for 6 months.  I have family and friends save their fall leaves for me, and save the remnants of the horses' bales.  About every other week, I go dump a fresh bag in the coop and run.  Those leaves absorb the nitrogen from the droppings and give the chookies something to scratch in on days like today, plus they'll make excellent compost for later.  If I get it right, they'll start composting INSIDE the coop, creating additional heat and food sources for the chooks.  "What about the smell?"  you're saying.  "What smell?"  I reply.  The only thing you'll smell in my coop is dry leaves, and cedar chips when I refresh the nest boxes.  Don't believe me?  Come see for yourself.  Even my mom (who was raised with chickens) is amazed.

So, I'm a chicken brain today.  Wish me luck--I always need it!

Monday, December 19, 2011

I don't wanna . . .but I'm gonna.

I've had to repeat that mantra many times today.  It's been chilly (40 degrees or so), with rain all day.  As I write this, it's sleeting.  But the critters are still relying on yours truly.  Good thing the chickens don't seem to mind seeing me in a slicker and wellies.  The horses are less equananimous.  They always give me funny looks when my slicker flaps in the driving wind.  Ah well, at least they have something to eat.

I thought I had had that point driven home while breastfeeding my 2 kiddos.  Yep, every 3 hours . . .I don't wanna, but I'm gonna.  Night or day.  Hot or cold.  Whether I'm in the middle of doing something else or not.  And heck, just being a mom--I'm sick, but I've still gotta feed my family and they need clean clothes to put on.  But it's amazing how much I didn't get it.  Suiting up (literally) depending on the weather to haul my sorry butt out to the barns to feed (and check for eggs) up to 5 times a day demands real dedication.  Indoor mommying is MUCH easier than outdoor mommying.

And ya know, dedication is pretty rare these days.  Most members of the upcoming generation (and many of my generation, I'm sorry to say) don't have the "I'm gonna" gene.  If it's not convenient, if they're not "entitled,"  or simply because they're supporting a half-assed cause that they haven't had any experience with . . .they've lost the "I'm gonna."  They've lost the ground-level connection with themselves, others, and the land.  Few things drive that home better than close contact with your FAMILY (not your facebook friends), the animals or children in your care, and just plain work ethic. 

It has been my privelege to know an amazing young man.  Despite severe asthma, he competed in mountain bike races (AND WON!).  He's become an amazing artist.  He's definitely got the "I'm gonna" gene.  (Yes, Oli, I mean you!)  Another friend suffered a gunshot wound to the spine and is paralyzed from the waist down.  He's still making his living and raising his daughter.  (Gonna Gene).  A best friend of mine left a well paying job and is busting her butt to make her dream work--a yarn store.  Farmers every day get out that gonna gene--no matter what the weather's like, they're gonna get out there and feed YOU. 

I'll end for tonight with a quote (maybe a paraphrase?) from Gladiator:  "Sometimes I get to do the things I want to do.  The rest of the time I do what I HAVE to."  Guess what, kids?  Those sometimes come a lot less than you want them to.  But hey, when you've done what you HAVE to, you can enjoy it more when you get to do what you WANT to.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On the first day of Christmas . . .

Come on, sing it with me.  On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . a subscription to Backyard Poultry.  Stop laughing!  It's one of the things I really wanted!

Seems farm life has really changed the rest of my Christmas list as well.  Not that I ever was one to ask for the most ungodly expensive purse or shoes (since hey, all I need is a bag to carry my crap and boots to do chores in!), but when you start asking your family for chicken books, drench bits, and killing cones, you know you've become a farmer.  (I'll spring the request for slaughtering knives on em next year!) 

Other ways to know you're a farmer include:  being able to tie down a tarp over a round bale with baling twine while wearing work gloves in the rain, taking any and all surplus from your neighbor's garden (say, a few wheelbarrow loads of green tomatoes) and preserving it because "you never know when you'll need it", and seeing manure not as a nuisance, but a way of life.  And maybe the most telling of all:  the more of your Christmas shopping you can do at Tractor Supply, the happier you are.  I'm sure Scott would have more to add to this list, but he'll have to get his own blog.

I wouldn't trade that for all the purses, cute shoes, or whatever is currently all the rage (I wouldn't know and I don't care!).  We've been out here a full year now, and we got just what we wanted.  Living out at Plum & Nearly (Plum out of town and Nearly in the country!), we don't wake up to constant wheel noise or sirens.  I can look out my front window with my cuppa and see my horses.  I've gotten to see a hen lay an egg, and glory in the sight of Stewie the Roo letting loose with a crow on a frosty morning--and the vapor coming out his beak.  Forking hay has become a Zen experience.  And the best part?  We have a great gathering place for family. 

And now that the Christmas tree is up (after 5, count em, FIVE attempts at lighting), there's snow in the forecast, and we have plenty of wood for the furnace, bring on Christmas.  I know it'll be a very merry one (especially if Santa brings me that drench bit and killing cone!)

Friday, December 16, 2011

OMG first text, now blog.

What's become of me?  I've always been (to borrow Gene Logsdon's title) a contrary farmer that has lived in cities.  I resisted text, then I gave in.  Now, it seems, I've given in to blogging.  Here's hoping you all like it. 

It's been a busy year on the farm (tomorrow will mark the 1 year anniversary of when we bought our 19 acres with house and outbuildings).  I have so many things to tell about that it'll make your head spin, but I'll save those for slow days! 

Today has been about average.  At least it's warm for December.  I'm still trying to get my chicken operation off the ground and have spent most of the day on the phone (today the issue is business cards).  Yep, if you know me, you know I have chickens and LOVE them.  Currently I have Bess, Mary, and Vicky (the Rhode Island Red hens); Hyacinth, Violet, and Daisy (the Buff Orpington hens), Spiderman (barred Cochin Bantam hen . . .my son named her!!), Beautiful Sweet (black Bearded Silkie, my daughter named her, and it fits!), Stewie (RIR roo), Trouble (Ameraucana roo), and Cow (Bantam Sultan roo).  All of them will be featured characters in the children's books I'm writing.

Since it's winter, egg production has dropped, and that's a problem.  Also a problem is dealing with the state to get licensed to sell eggs.  Good thing Scott got the large bottle of ibuprofen.  He'll need it too--he knows I just dropped a big chunk of change on fancy chickens for next year and I'm not done yet.  I'd like to expand my flock by 15 (more than double) next year.  And silly me, I'm even going to go for broke . . .raising my own Freedom Ranger broilers to provide us with meat.  Yeah, I'm the crazy chicken lady. 

So buckle in.  It's gonna be a funny ride . . .even if it takes me QUITE a while to laugh about it.  Oh, and Peter--this one's for you.