Sunday, April 29, 2012

Natural Born Killers

There are so many ways to start out tonight.  For example:  I'll bet I'm the only person you know with a bowlful of chicken feet in the fridge.  Yes, I play with rooster testicles.  I now know what it feels like to pull the lungs out of a dead chicken.  Here's the best one:  I HAD FUN BUTCHERING CHICKENS.  (PETA advocates can just kiss my rear.)

As most of you know, it really started when I contacted Russell.  He was kind enough to agree to show me how to butcher, since I've never done it before today.  It turns out that he and his wife Jeanne are two of the most incredibly awesome people I've ever met.  So, I bought the meat birds.  I raised them.  Gack.  I was actually LONGING to kill them . . .their only redeeming quality is that they grow fast and make lots of meat. 

I actually woke up at 4 AM and thought "CRAP.  I left the feeder in there.  I'm supposed to starve them!!!"  I got up, put on a shirt and slippers, and took the feeder out, growling at myself the entire time.  I went back to sleep eventually--I think I beat myself over the head enough.  Well, the morning dawned bright and sunny.  No wait, that was yesterday.  Today dawned chilly and rainy.  I got chores done, but it looked like there was a pretty decent band of rain moving in.  I called Jeanne.

No, they didn't want to put it off for another hour.  They're tougher people than I am.  So, we tried to get things set up in the overhang of the barn.  Bless Russell for having a ready made wash table and bringing it.  Bless Jeanne for being the expert at scalding (and bringing rubber gloves so plucking was SOOOO easy!).  Bless both of them for being patient with a couple of beginners taking WAY longer than we should!  Thank goodness it quit raining fairly soon!

Even the kids helped.  Caitlin helped hold a chicken, Arthur was very interested in the guts, and they even tried to help peel chicken feet.  We only had one full crop, and one that had poo (yeah, it was my bad.  I nicked the intestine) but it only took about an hour and a half after setting up to process 16 birds.  For 2 beginners learning the ropes, I don't think that's bad.

To top it off, we had a great time together.  Not only did Scott and I get to do every stage--slitting throats, scalding, plucking, enviscerating--and learning TONS, we also got to spend time chatting with some really fascinating people.

So here you go--some pics from the fun today!

<<bleeding out in the killing cone

Scott plucking after the scald>>

  <<Russell showing us what to do

Yours truly getting ready to do my first solo.  Caitlin is watching, and that's Jeanne in the background.  I got rid of the gloves after the first bird or two--they got in the way.>>

<<Caitlin helping--holding one of the chooks ready to be slaughtered

Russell showing Scott the ropes and Jeanne's beautiful smile at the plucking tub>>

<<Finger puppets!!  (yes, I myself have been known to do this with squid heads on fishing trips.)

^^The aftermath:  gut buckets.  Upper left is feathers and heads, upper right is drained blood, bottom is intestines, lungs, etc.  and the liver I spoiled by breaking the gallbladder.

It was an amazing feeling today to look at Scott and say "I had FUN!"  I'm sure it had a lot to do with the amount of learning, but even more to do with spending some time with some really amazing people.  Thanks, Russell and Jeanne.  From all of us. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Newbies Are Here!

Remember how I said I was getting 8?  Well . . .

After some phone calls this morning, we were up and running.  Teresa got the shipment a couple of days ago, and was expecting the Faverolles to come in today.  We arranged to meet.  Of course, I also picked up some chicks to drop off to Keena on the way home, and a WHOLE BUNCH for Candace to meet me to pick up.  Just call me the chicken tractor.

In truth, I had forgotten that I arranged with Candace to get another Phoenix hen.  OK, no problem.  I have been saving my egg money (and asparagus money!) to fund my addiction.  I plugged in the brooder heat lamp this morning and it started to smoke.  NOT GOOD.  So, I unplugged it, went out to do chores (yeah, you try using a pitchfork in a lightning storm), waited for it to cool off, and cleaned it.  Problem solved.

Then there was getting my son ready for the drive to Wichita.  Have you ever noticed that kids never need to use the bathroom until you're 15 miles down the road?  Yeah.  Still, away we went.  I tried not to give the speed limit a compound fracture, but I was getting excited . . .and for good reason!

Not only was meeting Teresa in person really cool (she's a great lady and really arranged this whole thing, bless her!!), but I got to see some awesome chicken people again.  My son was even behaving well on the hours-long trip in the truck.  Of course, I got told about Spiderman a lot, and every train we passed was a momentous event . . .I'm glad that he had fun.
We got Keena her chicks while she was at work.  It was great meeting her coworkers.  Since she works for a greenhouse, I had to literally sit on my hands so I didn't haul the credit card out and buy everything.  Folks, if you're in Kansas, Kaw Valley has some awesome stuff.  I ALMOST left with a fountain, some succulents, and some black petunias, but apparently I'm getting better at saying NO to myself.

I had a blonde moment.  I took the wrong turn, or, didn't take the RIGHT turn.  I found myself 5 miles out in unfamiliar territory.  Gack.  I got turned around and eventually found the right road.  I hauled butt back to Marion, where I was to meet Candace.  Dangit, I hate being late.

Arthur was dozing, as I wished I could, but we made it in time.  The hen she brought me took my breath away.  OK, so Maki the Magnificent is a Silver Duckwing Yokohama roo, and Sushi the Sweet is a white Phoenix pullet.  I had been dithering about names for the new girl, but as soon as I saw her, I knew what her name had to be.  She's Miso.  Her feathers really look like a bowl of miso soup that I get at my favorite Japanese restaurant (Hana, in Wichita).  She is STUNNING.  She's a golden Phoenix.  Maki immediately started dancing for her.  She bloodied her comb a little bit on the trip in, but Maki is such a gentleman that he's ignoring it.  (mind you, I've checked in on them several times tonight.)  And Candace even did me one better.  She was talking about Phoenix chicks.  I figured why not?  What's a couple more?  Hey, it's a different bloodline which is good.  Sure, I was willing to pay a couple bucks for 2 of them.  This nifty lady and her hubby decided to give me 2 chicks (which will probably be white) for FREE.  If I could hug her, I would.

I feel like a pro at getting chicks settled in now.  Dip their beaks in the waterer and wait till they swallow some.  Paper towels over bedding.  Food scattered.  Even though I know that some are a little older, they should all come out to the same size.  So, with chicken math, I "started" with 8 and came home with 10.  It must be the mileage.  Still, it's fun to watch the bitty babies do laps around the brooder . . .I put in some fresh greens and they'd all chase the one that got the best tidbit.  Then they'd start again! 

I'll bet you're wanting to see pictures.  Luckily for you, I have some.  The red light is the brooder lamp, and some are a little fuzzy.

Chickies getting sleepy

Salmon Faverolle chick (with dye from the hatchery)

Ancona chick

That's all you get for tonight.  I WILL inundate you with more (and higher-quality) pics as they grow.  For anyone wondering, the "teenagers" out in the tractor are doing great.  I've had to do some creative tarp work, but they're alive and kicking!

Here she is, Miss Miso.  This pic REALLY doesn't do her justice.  She's very alert and active, her feathers shine in the sunlight, and she's already started laying eggs for me.  LOVE!!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicken Camp Out

Well, I can't believe it, but I'm letting the kids camp out.  They're only 5 1/2 weeks old.  I sure hope they do OK and that nothing tries to eat them.  I did have to scare a hawk off earlier today.

They were getting WAY too crowded in the brooder.  Scott built me a chicken tractor with the intent of putting the Cornish meat birds in it, but with the layer chicks needing more space NOW and getting ready to slaughter the meaters next weekend, we thought we'd let the layers have the space.  After all, the Cornish only walk about 6 inches at a time anyway.  I can hold my nose for one more week.

I've been getting the babies used to being outside during the day, but this is the first night.  I'm a little worried.  OK, I'm a LOT worried.  I know that there's a raccoon under the barn, and the coyotes have been coming awfully close lately.  I got paranoid enough that I wrapped extra wire around the whole shebang.  I put bricks all around the screens on top.  Now the only worry (hopefully) is the snakes.  I haven't seen one big enough to take on one of these chicks, but there are always some you don't see.  ARGH!!

I'd post a picture here, but my camera is refusing to either flash or focus through 2 layers of fence!

On a much happier note, I got a present tonight!  From strangers!  Turns out that a few weeks ago, a couple of guys asked for permission (from Scott) to hunt some turkeys on our land.  Of course, he said yes, but the turkey must have heard and promptly disappeared.  They asked him if they needed to pay us and he said "oh, just bring my wife some feathers."

So imagine my surprise when the dogs sounded off after dark.  There were strange people here.  As it goes, they didn't get their turkey on our land, but they remembered that I wanted feathers.  So they gave me an ENTIRE turkey tail--bones and all!  How absolutely awesome is that?  I know I go on at length about good neighbors, but you really can't appreciate people like that enough.

I confess, I did tell them that if they wanted coyote, that we have some that are coming way too close.  Wonderful people that they are, they asked if I wanted the tails!  With regret, I said no.  I don't have the time to cure them. 

It seems to be part of the magic of this place that even a badly begun day can turn into a good day.  I miss my delivery pizza and convenient Chinese take-away, but I wouldn't trade this for the world.

Notes To Self

Sometimes, getting used to living in an entirely different world, there are certain things that are REALLY important to remember.  Here are a few of mine.

Before you stab that pitchfork into the ground, be sure your foot isn't under your target stab zone.

If you've stabbed yourself in the foot before, wearing flipflops to fork hay for the horses PROBABLY isn't a good idea. 

Wearing flipflops around hay WILL make your feet itch.  The itch will travel at will around your body, making you think you're infested with ticks at random inopportune moments.  While your gyrations and facial expressions may be entertaining to your family, they aren't fun for you.

Wearing ankle bracelets (or toe rings) in the chicken coop is a very bad idea, unless you want to get hurt.

Always carry a shovel in your vehicle.  Even if it's not winter (and you get yourself stuck in a drift), a shovel comes in very handy.  If you're not digging something, you can clong someone over the head with it.

Whenever you're running late, count on the fact that every single animal you own will need both feed and water refilled right then.  So what if you just filled the big waterer or forked extra hay?  By the time you're ready to leave, they'll need more.  Hopefully yours are closer together than mine. 

When you keep a chicken brooder in your mud room, every last thing in said room is going to be coated with feather dust.  Including the cobwebs you keep meaning to clean out.  At least now you might remember to clean them up.

If your windshield is dirty, count on being out of washer fluid.  Stockpile that stuff.  (My truck is now a lovely two-tone shaded from limestone-powder-white on the bottom to maroon on top.  I just can't bring myself to spend the time or money to wash it, since I know it'll look just the same in about 2 days.  The bird and bug splats on my windshield, however, bother me.)

News Flash:  I've had 100 watt incandescent bulbs last much longer than those new twirly things that are supposed to save so much energy and last longer.  Besides, I don't have to call HazMat when I break one of the old ones.  Incandescents are also good for providing gentle heat to growing or sick animals. 

Weeds can be your friends.  Sometimes.  The chickens love to eat them.  It's a crying shame that they grow faster than they can be eaten and that so many of them are poison hemlock.

There is no such thing as too many tomatoes.  (If you need ideas, I'll be happy to supply you.  If you're in my area and giving them away, I'll take all of them, red or green.)

Swiss Chard is a terrific substitute for lettuce or Bok Choi.

Those tappings and scrapings you hear are not intruders.  You do not have to load your pistol.  They're June Bugs.  Stop jumping every time.
Fresh eggs are IMPORTANT.  Feel sorry for all of those people who have never had really fresh ones and had to eat the ones they bought at the supermarket.

Look out when anyone mows your ditch.  After all, the rock you found embedded in your barn (narrowly missing your chickens and horses) wouldn't look as cool if it was embedded in your head.

Go fishing.  Go fishing.  Go fishing.  Walleye season might not be over yet.  (special note:  get license first.)

You now have enough animals.  Stop already.  2 dogs, 3 house cats, 4 barn cats (one has 3 kittens), 10 adult chickens, 14 immature chickens, 8 more chicks on the way, 17 meat chickens, plus 2 rabbits . . .just stop there.  At least until next year.  THEN you can get ducks.  And meat rabbits.  And maybe some of those Sebastopol geese.  We're not going to count the guineas.

Your kids are old enough to do chores.  Start them.  Especially since you don't have a dishwasher.

Get your family to visit more.  Get Cousin Pat up on his bike (and organize a Siemens cousin reunion).  Get Cousin Al (and of course, Cousin Vickie--maybe even Jon and Cody!) to come down and fish--and teach you more Lakota.  Talk to your other cousins that you haven't seen in years.  Remember how important family is.  Mitakuye Oyasin.

The farm & art market will go FINE.  RELAX AND BREATHE.  This ain't no lemonade stand.  It's better.

Pick up the dog poos.  You know you're tired of stepping around the one that's on the way to the coop.

Get bigger waterers for the chickens.  Summer is coming and you really don't want to tote water that often, do you? 

At least you got that weather radio.  Finally, you listened.  Now if you were just smart enough to get it to broadcast an alarm without having to run the dang thing all the time, you'd be onto something.

Remember to do something extra special for your neighbors.  Remember that party you talked about last year?  DO IT.

Make the calls you're supposed to make.  You're wasting time.

Folks, these mostly pertain to me.  I hope you find some of them funny or helpful.  This is my "to do" list . . .in addition to daily chores, watching the kids, doing dishes, doing laundry, making meals, keeping the house in a relative state of non-filth, and fulfilling my writing obligations.  There are days when I literally don't know where to start.  Everything needs doing, and it needs doing NOW.  There are days when I feel so discombobulated that I can barely figure out what leg to put in my pants first.  Hopefully you never have that feeling.  If you do, you know what a daunting task it is to make a "do" list. 

I hope that everyone can find at least a little humor in every situation--laughter (no matter how short or quiet) truly IS the best medicine.  I'd love to hear your "to do" lists too!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Queen is dead. Long Live the Queen.

You've all heard about how I got started with chickens.  I really resisted naming them (since I figured we might eat them sooner or later), but they DID get named.  You can see pics of all of them if you scroll back through older posts.

Stewie the Rhode Island Red rooster that I fully intended to make into stew.  My husband saved him by liking him.  Yeah, I'm a softie.

Trouble the Easter Egger roo who keeps trying to attack me (and who Stewie is very good at protecting me from).

Cow the Bantam Sultan.  SIMPLY ANNOYING.

But then there were my layer girls.  After all, they're doing all this work, so they had to have names.  My Buff Orpingtons are named for sisters from the British sitcom "Keeping Up Appearances."  Hyacinth is a wonderful layer, Violet does OK, and Daisy is starting to come into her own.

My Rhode Island Reds are named for queens.  It all started because the Reds were the first to lay . . .and the first of the Reds to lay was christened Bess (for Queen Elizabeth I, "Good Queen Bess").  The other two are Vicky (for Queen Victoria . . .but since I have a friend who's named Victoria, it seemed a little inappropriate to name a chicken after her) and Mary (Queen Mary Tudor).  Mary's nickname was Bloody Mary since she once pecked me hard enough to draw blood.

I had never raised chickens to adulthood before this last year.  I had started some chicks, but that's a long story for another day.  The first chicken I watched on the nest was Bess, and the first fresh, warm egg that I've ever held in my hand was hers. 

She was beautiful, glossy red with a comb big enough to flop over to one side--rather like a stylish milliner's hat.  Her feathers might have looked a little tattered, but that's the sign of a good laying hen--they put more energy into eggs than feathers.  She had a very distinctive cackle after she laid an egg, and she did that often.  Very rare was the day that Bess didn't lay, even in winter.  I got to know and love her distinctive eggs.

Folks, I found her dead this morning.  At first I thought that she might have been eggbound (when they're unable to pass an egg) because of some swelling near her vent.  Then, thinking back on where I found her, I think that one of the roosts must have shifted in the night and pinned her to the wall.  Neither option is a pleasant one to think about.

Bess got a dignified burial out in the pasture.  I felt bad when I tamped down the earth over her.  Heck, I felt bad enough when I found her dead!  How could I let that happen?  I guess I still have way more to learn.  I'm sorry it had to happen at Bess' expense.

Good Queen Bess, you will be sorely missed. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Star Maps and Little Yellow Brothers

OK, so tonight is the Lyrid meteor shower.  It's a weekend night, so I thought I'd let the kids stay up late and see if we could spot some shooting stars.  Easy, right?  Just jump online, find a star map to show me the constellation (Lyra) to look for, head out, and enjoy the show.

If you've never seen a star map, try looking one up.  Here's the one I used from

Growing up in Kansas, it was drilled in at a very early age:  Never Eat Sour Wheat (NESW, moving clockwise).  You might notice that on this map, it looks like Never Wheat Sour Eat.  It's backwards.  Scott assures me that it makes sense if you're laying on your back, but dangit, if I'm looking for Lyra in the northeast, I'm standing up.  Facing north, northeast is slightly to my right (East).  I don't want to have to lay on my back collecting bugs to get the dang thing to make sense.

At least I know how to find the North Star (Polaris) and can pretty much extrapolate from there.  One of my favorite constellations is Orion.  I don't know why, but I always find that seeing him in the sky makes me happy.  I got a great chance to see him tonight before he goes away for the summer.

Photo from

As I've mentioned, we live next to a train track.  The whistle always sets off the local coyotes.  Of course, I'm on heightened alert because I'm trying to move chickens outside to tractors (and don't have electric fence yet).  Ralph put some birdshot into one the other night that was--I kid you not--10 feet from his house.  Ummm . . .my chickens aren't that close to MINE.  By Golly, I'm not going to lose these chickens.  So tonight when I heard the train and heard those 'yotes on the other side of my horse pen, I sucked it up, loaded the pistol, and headed out.

I've always agreed with the Native American belief that it's bad luck to kill a coyote.  They are are little yellow brothers, and I admire their talents for survival.  However, they can survive just fine without eating my chickens.  Heck, if they'd eat the durn skunks and possums, I'd kiss them. 

So there I was, in the dark.  I had my headlight on, looking for eye flashes.  I had live rounds, my safety was off (with finger outside the trigger guard) and I hung out for a while listening for the 'yotes.  About the only thing I heard was the bugs.  I did manage to set Barb & Ralph's dog Hope to barking, but she quit when I let her know it was just me. 

I think I'm glad that I didn't have to take a shot.  Still, little brothers, you are SO not going to mess with my chickens.  Or my horses.  Or my dogs.  Or my barn cats.  Since my kids aren't out when you're active, I'll give you a miss on that, little brothers.  Still, I'll protect MY babies.  You aren't one of them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chicken Math

Granted, math has never been my strong point.  I can add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  Basic algebra and geometry are within my grasp, but I really dislike having to use them.  Thank goodness Scott does our bills and builds things for me.

Chicken math is an entirely different thing.  You get your chickens.  You figure out who lays and who doesn't (or who you can slaughter).  You keep half an eye on how much you spend for feed.  You go out and pick fresh greens every day to help your chooks be healthier, and hopefully cut the feed bill a little bit. 

You find out that your friends really like your chickens' eggs.  Your friends' friends like them too.  Pretty soon, you can't keep up with the demand.  YOU NEED MORE CHICKENS.

So you do what I did--look for the hardiest, best layers.  You also hope they'll be eye candy because hey, if you're going out to do chores, you want to see pretty!  You find most of the breeds you want.  You get them, then do some legwork and find the rest.  All of a sudden, your flock has grown from 11 to 13 (because you just HAD to have those Yokohama/Phoenixes) to 27 because of your new layer chicks . . .but don't forget the extra meat birds that bring your grand total to 44.  You know that those 17 meat birds are going to be in the freezer in the next few weeks, and it's a good thing since you have 8 more layer chicks coming into the brooder and you need to get the layers into a tractor to make some room. 

Let's not forget the breeding projects--Swedish Flowers and Cream Legbars.  They'll each have to have their own pens and I'll have to really keep an eye on bloodlines.  Then I'll have to learn about how to ship eggs in the mail.  GACK.

See, it's chicken math.  It's rather like tomato math--you know that you can never have too many tomatoes.  From the demand, I'm thinking I almost can't have too many chickens.  No, I'm not going to raise them in industrial conditions--they'll either have runs or be in chicken tractors, ranging over the yard and garden.  It's still just flabbergasting how many chickens you can amass and still want MORE.  My only problem now is how to keep them contained and safe from predators.  I really don't relish the idea of going out to find a bloody heap of feathers . . .or 2, or 4 . . .you get the idea.

Some people collect cats.  Some people collect dogs.  While I'm not in favor of animal hoarding, I AM the crazy chicken lady.  If I can get more coops built, I'll get more chickens.  They're pretty, they're funny, and they give me terrific eggs and meat.  (Cat Ladies can't say that!!!)  Try doing some chicken math of your own and let me know how many you end up with!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sharing a Brain

Photo from Have a Good Belly Laugh on Facebook

Is this not just about the coolest thing you've ever seen?  My knitting talent doesn't quite stretch that far, but luckily I have a sister who DOES have the appropriate talent.  I think I'll have to commission her to make me one.

See folks, I have at least 2 twin sisters.  Sure, we're separated by different parents, different birthdates, and sometimes a few thousand miles, but we're sisters.  And here's the best part:  we share a brain.

It all started when I met Amy in grade school.  Not only was she a really neat kid to hang around (I still remember our flights of fantasy about "diamond horses" in grade school), her folks had actual, living, breathing horses.  You should know by now that I'm a horse addict.  Her folks are really cool too--they took me on vacation with them.  I still call them Mom II and Dad II.  Even then, Amy and I had fun telling people that we were sisters.  I'm tall and blonde, Amy is a little shorter than I am and has gorgeous black hair.  Those vacations are the stuff of legend.  I could tell you about all the little fun bits but I think I'm going to keep you hanging for a while.

We've been best friends for almost 30 years now.  About 15 years ago (isn't it amazing how you can lose track of time?), she told me that we had another sister that she'd met at Wichita State.  Amy said "either you'll love each other or you'll kill each other."  Well, it's a good thing we didn't kill each other.

My second twin is Lorrie.  Lorrie was born in the Azores to a military family.  Of course we hit it off--we had archaeology in common, and soon found many more ways to interact, including belly dancing.  I can honestly say that I have never had the urge to kill either Lorrie or Amy.  It's probably because we share a brain.

I know, I know.  You're screwing up your face right now (quit it, it'll stick that way!) and shaking your head.  Each of us has our own special talents, and they're not limited to any one of us.  We're all creative--Amy loves art (but is still very practical) and does well at whatever she sets her mind and hands to.  She used to blow me out of the water when we took a jewelry making class together.  Lorrie took a big leap of faith and started her dream--she runs a yarn shop and teaches classes--and from what I've heard, is not only having great fun, but making an impact.  She has an incredible talent when it comes to anything having to do with yarn and needles.  Me?  I'm not where I thought I'd be 15 years ago, but I have 2 beautiful kids (that have extra doting aunties!), the farm I always wanted, and have found my niche as a writer.

Still, you all know the feeling when you have one of those "stupid" days.  You know, those days when you just can't do anything right.  Well, I figure that on those days, one of my twins must have needed the brain more than I did.  That's OK.  We've tried to figure out how to warn each other when we'll need the brain, and it seems to work.  Some days we get caught off guard, but it's all good.  It all gets laughed off as "somebody else must have the brain today!" 

I hope that you're all as fortunate as I am to share a brain.  Amy and Lorrie, I wouldn't ever want to be without you.  (Ernest and Judy, and you too, Kesslers, Cliftons, and Smiths.  I love you and appreciate you too!)  Family isn't limited by blood.  It's defined by heart. 

(And Lorrie, you simply MUST make us these hats.  Talk about a picture!!! :D)

Friday, April 13, 2012

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night . . .

Well, OK, it isn't stormy YET, but it will be.  We're receiving dire predictions of severe weather all day, with a pretty good sized area (around where I live) having a 70% chance of tornadoes.

Of course, since I live in Kansas, I'll probably rush out to see if I can see it.  It's rather thrilling to see storms build up during the day--you wouldn't believe how fast they can build and move.  At night, it's another matter.  It's kind of like camping out in a tent without a campfire in bear country . . .and you just realized you opened jerky for a midnight snack.  You can't see them coming.  We live far enough out of town that we only hear the sirens when it's absolutely calm and we're outside.  I don't plan to sleep outside tonight.

"Why not get a weather radio?"  you're probably asking.  Well, because whenever I see them we either don't need one or I'm on a budget that week.  Somehow a weather radio fund keeps slipping my mind as well.  So I guess you don't pays your money, you takes your chances!

I've always been fascinated by storms though.  Let me share a little bit of Kansas weather with you!

Photo courtesy of Lisa Pierce
This is one of the storms building up today.

Photo from
This one went through Wichita in 2008

Photo from
Lightning over Kansas City in 2010

Photo from
Lawrence in 2011

But it's not all like this.  Sure, it gives us some excitement, but we usually get to see this:

photo from

or this:

Photo from

Come on out and visit sometime!  After all, people pay big money for those stormchaser tours.  I get to live it for free!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Learning About Plants

My mom always had loads of houseplants when I grew up.  She says she had even gotten rid of most of them when she was pregnant because she couldn't stand the smell of the soil.  (Don't you laugh at my mama!)  We had a garden out back with a few tomato plants, usually a bell pepper or two, sometimes some cucumbers.  As soon as I was old enough, I got to help water the garden.

One fine year, I got to start planting my own flower garden.  Mom would take me to the store and let me pick out all the marigolds, petunias, and snapdragons that my little heart desired.  I got to plan where they'd go and plant them all myself.  I remember the little wire fence that I put around my garden with fondness. 

I kind of dropped out of gardening for a while until I met my husband.  Scott has the ORIGINAL green thumb.  Soon we were expanding the garden at our city house from a few raised beds to a 20 foot square.  Then we bit the bullet and just fenced in that corner of the yard so we could enlarge the garden even more and keep the dogs out.  It was a far cry from the half-dozen tomato plants I remembered growing up--one year we had 20.  There was a blackberry bramble (courtesy of one dog who chewed up the wands and they sprouted where they lay) which choked out the strawberry patch, okra, peppers of various size and heat, lettuce, gooseberries, rhubarb . . .such a bounty.

If you could see the size of the gardens (yes, plural) out here, you'd understand why we tend to go a little overboard.  And by overboard, we're trying to raise double what we did in town, at least.  There IS no such thing as too many tomatoes.  Fresh peas, onions, carrots, potatoes . . .and the best part, the asparagus bed. 

Of course, with this cornucopia surrounding us, come weeds.  Most of them I can identify, but last year I really was thankful for the Internet.  Internet and weeds?  Huh?  I know, I hear you.

I was so excited when I saw the flattish white heads of flowers.  That's got to be Queen Anne's Lace, I thought.  I'd heard that the seeds are a natural birth control.  Well, since I don't need that anymore, I thought hey, these folks are selling it online.  They've got to get their seeds from somewhere, right?  Why not me?  So I promptly embarked on a campaign to educate myself on when and how to gather the seeds.

It's a really good thing I did.  It turns out that what we have in an incredible (and annoying) abundance out here is poison hemlock.  It looks a lot like QAL, but it gets way taller and has purple on the stems.  Yep, that sounded like ours.  I was crushed.  It's a good thing I didn't try to sell the seeds--people would have died.  Still, I wish that I'd collected them . . .because we have 3 times as much of the nasty stuff than we did last year.  When I pick greens for the chickens, I have to double check to make sure there's no hemlock in that patch.

You can cut it down.  It grows back.  You could spray it . . .but we can't because we're pesticide free.  I'm thinking really hard about seeing if Ralph's weed dragon would help wipe it out.

photo from

It's literally everywhere.  Sure, it looks pretty.  I just wish the raccoons, possums, and skunks would develop a taste for it.  I sure haven't.  So steer clear of this, folks.  I'd rather you die laughing!

Growing Up

This one isn't mostly about the farm, although things are growing nicely.  The lettuce is all up, the potatoes and peas are up, some tomatoes are planted, and the asparagus is going nuts (at least when it's warmer).

My daughter came to me last week and asked if she could get her ears pierced.  Mind you, I'm pierced and tattooed too, but it should be for a better reason than "everybody else is doing it."  When I asked her why, she said "to make my ears prettier, mom!"  There was nothing in there about "everybody else is doing it" or the like.  When I told her that her ears were already beautiful, she said "but I want them to be sparkly!"

Ok, that hit a weak point.  I have a major weak point for sparkly.  Maybe it's the belly dance thing.  Still, my little girl wanted sparkly ears, and I thought I could make that happen.

Barb mentioned that she did ear piercing long ago.  Hmmm, I thought.  Cait's birthday is coming up soon, and I'll bet she'd love that as a present.  I dispatched Scott to get studs on his trip to the big city.  He couldn't find the right ones AND the brakes were going out on the truck.  GACK.

Long story short, Barb made us an appointment with her friend in Hillsboro.  I'd kept it secret till tonight since this is part of her birthday present, as well as a reward for being well-behaved at school.  I'd mention it, but told her nothing but that she'd get her surprise on Wednesday.  She kept asking for her surprise after getting off the bus tonight.  Finally, I pulled her up in my lap and whispered in her ear that she was going tonight to get her ears pierced.

Her face lit up brighter than a halogen spotlight.  She gasped "mom!"  Of course then, she was wondering what kind of earrings she'd have.  Hearts?  Stars?  Flowers?  I told her we'd have to wait and see.  I gave her a little prep course in what to expect, and she seemed OK with it.  She wanted to make sure she could sit on my lap, hold my hands tightly, and have me hold her close.  Of course, when I told her we were taking Barb out to dinner, she wanted to look fancy.  We found a sparkly shirt (and convinced her to wear it over her jeans).  We did her hair--I actually broke out a curling iron that I don't think I've used in 10 years.  She got glittery lipstick.  She was READY.

Barb came to pick us up.  We got to the salon and all was good--Caitlin picked (after MUCH deliberation) a pair of "diamond" studs with gold prongs that look like stars.  She almost went for the hearts.  She started to squirm a little bit when the lady marked her ears to be sure the earrings went in right, but that was OK. 

She was good until the first stud went in, then the tears came.  Still, Barb was there to help calm her down and tell her to relax.  The second stud went in.  Caitlin got candy.  TOO COOL.  By the time we crossed the street to the Mexican restaurant, she was tossing her head and acting like her usual princess self . . .if not more so.  Even tonight, she was following directions and rotating her studs and acting surprised that they didn't hurt any more!  That's my tough farm girl!

So here she is, my little sweetie with holes in her head :D

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Meat Factory

OK, I got really enthused.  I can raise my own chicken to eat that isn't preserved in funky chemicals or washed in its own filth.  SWEEEET.  I read so many books about it that my brain just about ruptured.  Better flavor, healthier meat . . .what's not to love?  I even tracked down a guy from one of the books (Thanks, Russell!) who was willing to teach me to butcher a chicken, since I've never done it before.

Imagine my delight when I went into my nearest Tractor Supply thinking that the slightly older Cornish Rock meat birds were on sale for half price.  I thought I'd pick up 5 or 6 (since Russell's payment for teaching me is a few of them!).  The lady gave me a thoughtful look and asked if I'd take all 18 of them for 50 cents each.  (They were $1.99 to start with!)  Of course I did.

I brought these relatively innocuous (and relatively unfeathered) birds home and installed them in a refrigerator box in the screen porch, since we didn't have a tractor built yet.  Was I ever in for a rude awakening.

I'm used to dual-purpose birds.  You know, the ones that move around, scratch, peck, grow feathers, the whole chicken thing.  Instead, I got freaks.  These things eat, poop, sleep, and drink . . .oh wait.  I got that wrong.  They poop, eat, sleep, and drink and that's about it.  They walk about 6 inches and just plop down. 

You know what an advocate I am of deep litter.  Well, in this case, even with ventilation, it's NASTY.  I put down litter twice a day and within hours, they have it packed down, pooped on, and covered with wasted food.  Heck, they're too dumb to even eat the fresh greens I pick for them.  Even Beautiful Sweet has her foster babies trained to eat greens already.  These things can't be bothered to move for them, unless they're on the way to the waterer.  Even then, they trample them.  They don't even scratch in the litter.

So I was worried that I wouldn't be able to kill them.  I think now that it'll be a pleasure.  Luckily Scott almost has their outdoor pen ready--maybe some airflow will help.  I can only imagine what a commercial chicken house is like--mine still have room to move, as if they wanted to.  ICK.  At least they're not on hormones or medications.  Next time, I'll get something better suited to foraging that might actually have some personality.

Here are some pics to give you an idea:

When we first brought them home a month ago.  Granted, I have big hands, but . . .

And here they are tonight, a little over a month since we got them at 1-2 weeks old. 

Vanity rears its ugly head.  I don't care that I'm not wearing makeup, but I don't have a double chin.

These goobers are 5x as big as my layer chicks that I got the same week as day old babies (they're about 2 weeks apart in growth)  So, keeping meat birds isn't for the faint of heart (or nose).  At least my family will have home-raised chicken to eat.  I might even have the ovaries to try again.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chicks Day Out

Thanks for being patient, folks.  I've been feeling poorly the last couple of days.  Today dawned clear, warm, and bright, and I was feeling better.  Soooo, it's time for the chicks' first day outside.

OMG what do we do NOW?

Ginger ventures out

I had to dump them out of the box, but they figured out that it was fun being out!

So I sure hope it stays warm and dry for a while.  The little chooks really enjoyed their time outside today.  Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Farm Fresh

Folks, I just ate a strawberry.  My darling husband bought some at the store (since ours aren't producing yet).  Nothing against him, but that was one of the most tasteless things I've ever eaten.  Rather like a store-bought tomato in winter.  It looked like a big luscious strawberry but it sure as heck didn't taste like one.

Maybe I'm spoiled.  I'm used to fresh produce.  After all, tonight I made a dynamite dinner of bacon-wrapped roasted fresh asparagus with balsamic vinegar.  The taste blew me away.  Even roasted, it was crisp and tasted so GREEN that my tastebuds did the happy dance. 

There's nothing like fresh-picked spinach either.  Store-bought just can't even come close.   The "toothiness", the green taste . . .and the NUTRIENTS that just can't be beat.  I've even developed a taste for chard and spinach salad.  Chard tastes green too--just what we need for coming out of the winter blahs.  Yeah, it's a little tougher than lettuce or spinach, but for me that really isn't an issue.  I like texture in my meal.

Then we get to my favorite subject, fresh eggs.  Eating an egg that was laid the same day you eat it is an amazing experience.  Forget what you get from the store--they're watery, washed in chlorine, old, and pale.  Truly fresh eggs stand up on a firm white and (thanks to me picking greens for my chookies) have glorious orange yolks, not washed-out yellow.  They're high in GOOD cholestorol and have way more vitamins and Omega-3s than store-bought to boot.  After you have a fresh-laid (un-chlorinated) egg, you'll never buy from the store again.  I still swear that the secret to my fried chicken is that I double-batter the pieces using fresh brown eggs, then flour and repeat.  They fry up much lighter and tastier.

I'm picking asparagus like crazy.  I'm eating it like crazy too!  Now that it's cooled off, we're getting about 2 lbs a day, but when it warms back up, I expect to be closer to 4 lbs.  The raspberries are starting to bud, and I'm planting blueberries.  Even though it's cloudy and cool (I feel like a mushroom!) growing conditions are great. 

Folks, make it a practice:  eat local, buy local, eat seasonal.  You can preserve veggies in a lot of ways, but if we all eat local, we can make a dent in the GMO market (that thinks it's taking over the world).   

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter Bunnies

Well, I sure hope you're comfortable and have a cold drink with you.  This is yet another long story.

One of my husband's coworkers asked a while back if we wanted 2 chicks and a baby bunny after he was done with his photo shoot.  Well, I thought, more laying hens is good, right?  How in the heck I'd fit them into the middle of the brooding cycle was beyond me, but I knew I'd figure something out.  After all, I only have 14 chicks in the brooder who need to move outside (before the other 8-10 get here), plus 17 Cornish meat birds that REALLY need to get out of my screen porch and stink up my yard instead.  I've got cages, I've got lamps, sure, this could work.

Scott was surprisingly permissive about the rabbit.  If you'd have seen his face after I got all these chickens, you'd understand just how surprising that is.  He's not upset . . .but like I said before:  he's the gardener, I'm the critter person.  I really don't think he understands just how bad my chicken fever is.

Well, today we found out that the photo shoot had fallen through.  No chicks, no bunny.  Actually the no chicks was rather a relief.  (even though I did have serious pangs when I went in to get feed today and all baby chicks were marked down to 50 cents!)  I didn't really want to make ANOTHER setup--we need to get the chicken tractors made now and put those little gems to work!  The no bunny part though . . .

It was my fault.  I mentioned to the kids that we were going to get a bunny.  I even showed them the old Bugs Bunny clip with the Abominable Snowman.  You know how it goes:  "Just what I always wanted!  My very own bunny rabbit!  I will hug him and stroke him and pet him and pat him and call him George."  To say they were excited was like saying that the Pope is a little bit Catholic.  So now what was I going to do now that there was going to be no rabbit?

I find a rabbit.  Of course.  I get on the farm animal swap page where I've seen rabbits posted before.  I had been thinking we'd end up with a Californian or New Zealand (good meat rabbits, you know) but the more I thought, the more I thought that probably wasn't a good idea.  After all, we can't have George stew after he becomes a pet.  So then I thought--this is a good way to have the kids start doing chores.  Still, I'm going to have to be the one to make sure that they DO them.  I'm going to get a rabbit that I like.  Something small, something cute, something friendly.

I've always liked Lops.  Looking for them I found a lady selling Dwarf Hotots (among other small breeds).  I'd never heard of them, so I googled them and found this:

Photo from

Then I found out that they're great with children and enjoy affection.  They max out at 3 lbs and only eat 1/4 cup of pellets a day.  PERFECT!  I called the lady.  Now mind you, I've had lots of different pets, but I've never had rabbits.  She was awesome in giving me information and a great chat. 

Turns out she had 3 spoken for, but 2 left.  One had an eye injury.  She was asking $30 each.  From free to $30 is quite a jump, but after talking a bit, she offered to throw the baby with the eye injury in for free.  I committed.  After all, this way each of the kids has one and when they're out there, they'll have a buddy to talk to, even if they're in different cages.  See, they're too young to sex yet.  I don't want to breed brother to sister, so I'll have to stay on top of it.  So, wish me luck.  I apparently have SOME because Scott didn't kill me when I told him.

Here's a pic of one of our bunnies-to-be to give you warm fuzzy feelings!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Quivering with Antici . . . . .pation!

For those of you who have seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show, you'll know how to pronounce that last word in the title.  You've gotta love Tim Curry/Frank N Furter in that movie.  He's a genius.

So, I'm quivering.  Beautiful Sweet is sitting on 3 Phoenix eggs that are due to hatch tonight or tomorrow.  Actually, I'm going to stop writing for a minute and go candle the eggs.  Go get a drink and I'll be right back.  (Yes, this is payback for all the times I had to wait for you to quit laughing!)


OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!  They're HATCHING!!!  WOW!  I've never seen a chick hatch out, folks, at least before tonight.  All three eggs were pipped, and when I went back to check, there was one little teeny tiny wet chick under Beautiful Sweet the surrogate mama.  Both of the other eggs are showing progress and peeping while still in their shells.  OH MY GOSH!!!  I actually went to wake up my daughter since "her" chicken was sitting on those eggs to hatch.  She was even more amazed than I am. 

For those of you that don't have chickens, a broody hen is an amazing thing to behold.  She goes from active to almost zombie-like.  She sets that nest and only moves from it once a day to eat, drink, and poop.  She has the most fixed expression (both face and body) that you've ever seen.  She knows she's got a job to do, and by GOD, she's going to do it.  Luckily Beautiful Sweet and I are buddies, so she doesn't peck me when I scootch her off the nest, but broodies are notorious for defending their babies against all comers. 

I'm so proud of her!!  She's been setting eggs for over a month now with very little care for her own well-being.  She's there for those babies and that's it.  I know she'll be a good mama to our new chicks.  Sushi might have laid the eggs, but Beautiful Sweet is definitely the mom. 

So please join me in welcoming Wasabi, Nori, and Sake into the world.  (Daddy's name is Maki, Mama's name is Sushi, and Beautiful Sweet is a Japanese Silkie.)  May they live long, happy, healthy lives.

The first egg to pip

Itty Bitty Wet Baby Chick! 
(Don't worry, I put Beautiful Sweet back on the nest within seconds)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Can You Hear Me (Growing) Now?

After the heat and drought last year, I was really hoping for a bumper crop this year.  It looks, at least so far, like I'm going to get my wish. 

When we moved out here, I heard that Harry and Margie were getting over 100 lbs of asparagus a year.  Folks, that's a LOT of asparagus.  I was really disappointed when, after tallying up our last year's yield, we only got 75 lbs.  This year, we might actually outpace them.

Not only did my wonderful hubby buy me (and plant for me too!) some 2 year old purple asparagus crowns, he's got the watering system figured out AND fertilized with horse manure.  We had a few fronds come up a few days ago.  I picked them and ate them as I walked since they were so tiny.

The other day we got a few keepers.  Barb and Ralph (our sainted neighbors) said that we could have theirs too.  Still, it's early in the season, right?  There won't be much.  YEAH RIGHT. 

The first few days, we averaged close to a pound a day.  Today, however, we came pretty dang close to 5 pounds.  And that's with me not picking anything under 6 inches tall.  We've already filled a huge tupperware bucket in the fridge and the season's just starting.  I swear I can hear the stalks growing.  It's kind of a quiet thing, but you can hear them straining out of the earth.

So, it's not easy peeing green, LOL.  What we don't sell fresh, we'll pickle (and if you've never had pickled asparagus, you're missing something!), freeze, or dehydrate.  Dehydrated asparagus is an awesome addition to soups or stews, and still tastes great on its own.  I sure am glad that we've taught the kids to love their veggies. 

Meanwhile, the potatoes are coming up nicely.  The carrots, lettuce (leaf and romaine), and onions are doing great.  I think some radishes, beets, and peas are making their presence known.  After even a mild winter, it sure does feel good being surrounded by an ocean of green leaves and blossoms. 

The chickens are outdoing themselves.  Every single hen laid today, with the exception of Beautiful Sweet the Silkie who is sitting on some Phoenix eggs.  I love to go hang out with them and "egg" them on, haha. 

I love spring.  The smell of lilacs perfumes my house.  My chickies are happy.  My horses are finding more of their own forage.  The kids can go out and play until they wear themselves out (without driving me nuts in the house).  Here's to a bumper crop year!