Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Three weeks ago, I set up an incubator in Paul's class so that the students could enjoy the experience of watching eggs hatch. They should have started hatching on Monday, but they haven't started yet. Sometimes, it takes a few extra days. I hope they aren't duds because that would be really disappointing to the kids.

I created a handout for those who are taking chicks home, so I'll copy and paste it here (because it's late and I'm feeling lazy).


According to the experts, the chicks should be kept at 95 degrees during the first week, and the temperature should be dropped by five degrees per week until they are at room temperature.

Personally, I have never stuck a thermometer into the brooder. Neither, to my knowledge, does a mother hen know how to read one.

What you need is some kind of a container, a feeder, a waterer, some litter, and a heat source. People have spent hundreds on brooders, while others have had good success with a cardboard box or a bathtub with wood chips in the bottom.

We used a short bucket at first, then graduated to a 40 gallon stock tub (available at TSC in Cadillac). We cover the bottom with wood chips, and have used a variety of feeders and waterers. I prefer the hanging one gallon waterer and the small feeder, though the ones that screw on to the top of mayonnaise jars work well. The only problem with them is that it's easy to knock them over, and you need to keep adding blocks of wood under as the chicks grow.

The feed and water should be at about the height of the chicks' back. If it's any lower, they will kick litter into them. They'll do that even if it's properly adjusted, but at least that will minimize the problem.

We put chicken wire over the top of the tub, and set the lamps on the chicken wire. We use two lamps so that they won't be without a source of heat if one fails.

We adjust the temperature by looking at the chicks. If they are huddled in a miserable little mass, we use bigger bulbs or lay aluminum foil on the chicken wire. If they get as far as possible from the lamps, we let things cool down. In general, they feather out better and become hardier if you keep the temperature a little on the low side.

The chicks should be fed chick starter.

When the chicks are fully feathered and can handle the temperature (no problem since it'll be summer at that time), they can go outside.

You'll need a sturdy predator-proof coop. If you lock them in the coop and attached run for a few days, they'll adopt it as home and return to it. Once they do that, you can free-range them if you like.

The hens will start laying eggs some time in the fall. The roosters will start crowing somewhat before that. You will swear that someone is strangling them when they are first learning.

You can get some brooder and pen ideas by looking here: Down on the Farm

Two of the best chicken groups on yahoogroups are Chickens-101 and Dom_Bird.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006


Guineas are interesting birds. As Mary puts it, they fight dirty. On the other hand, they don't fight all that much among themselves. They run the other birds away from the food (with only temporary success), but they seldom get into knock-down drag-out fights with each other -- especially if they are free range birds.

Today, I saw one guinea seriously picking on another. She was pinned against the barn. I went up to them, but the aggressor didn't relent. I picked up the poor girl that was trying to hide, and found that she had a broken leg. The femur was broken just above the knee, and the lower leg and foot were just hanging limply and dangling. Other than that, the bird was still full of life.

I took the bird to Mary and discussed it with her. We considered setting and splinting the limb, but it hadn't worked for the rooster. In the case of Stripe, the joint just popped right back out. In the case of the guinea, I expect that it would break again.

I considered amputating below the break, but that would have been painful, and of dubious value. It's not like they make wheelchairs for poultry. She might be able to get along without a leg, but she would be vulnerable to predators. The real show-stopper was the process of cutting, though.

I also considered using the elasterator to band off the bad part of the leg. That would also be painful. Where would I band it? If I banded above the break, the bone would be sticking out when the rest of the leg dried up and fell off. If I banded below, I would have to pull out the live section of the broken off part of the femur. If I banded right at the break, the broken edges of the bone would break through the skin.

I hated to do it. I really did. It's one thing to do in a bird that is slated for the dinner table, but it's different when you just have to euthenize something. No good comes of it. It's just a waste. If you kill an animal for food, it brings food to the table. If you just bury it...

I shouldn't be so sentimental about it. It's not like this is a pet bird. The only reason I cold even come close to her is because she was injured.

But still, that girl was calm when I was holding her. I didn't ask for help because I figured that passing her to someone else would cause her unnecessary pain.

So, I picked up the ax. Then, I found two nails. I wasn't about to make the same mistake I made the last couple times I had to kill a bird.

I pounded the nails into the tree stump that we use as a chopping block. They are just far enough apart so that I can put a chicken or guinea neck between them, but the head won't slip between them.

She squawked and wasn't happy when I put her neck between the nails. The logical side of me knows that she was just upset about being handled that way, but it felt like she knew what was going to happen.

One quick chop, and it was over. I was pleased that didn't get clumsy and cause her extra pain. She had been through enough already.

Still, it can hardly be called neat. I dropped the ax and felt warm blood splattering on my left hand, wrist, and forearm. The headless body squawked and struggled. I dropped it, and it went an amazing distance. Chickens aren't nearly that energetic when they get their heads chopped off.

The head looked still alive for a few seconds. According to some experiments a French doctor did with guillotine victims, it may have been.

I really hate this.

I moped back to the house. Mary went to the garden and buried a barred rock hen that I had found in the manger earlier today. Then, she fed the dead guinea to the cats. They didn't eat much, so our boxer mix dog got the rest.

I guess the guinea wasn't wasted, after all.

But I'm still far from happy about the situation. I like those ornery noisy birds. They have personality.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

No excitement here

I guess I'll start with a blond joke. For some reason, Mary doesn't like blond jokes. I don't get it, seein's I'm the one who's blond. She has beautiful dark brown (almost black) hair with a hint of auburn.

My guess is that she considers blond jokes to be thinly disguised slams on women. Since such a thing would likely give her a head ache (probably just before bed time), I'll be very sure to state explicitly that the blond person in this story is male.

Anyhow, this blond man went to the local farm & fleet store to buy a chain saw. The salesman sold him one that he claimed would cut a cord of wood a day.

Well, the guy came back the next day just hopping mad. Try as he might, he just couldn't get more than a tenth of a cord or so.

The salesman, slick as he is, told this blond guy that he needs to practice. He gave the guy some pointers and sent him back out.

About a week later, he came back. He told a long sad story about how he got up before dawn every day and worked hard until the sun set. He refined his technique. He called his buddies and asked for advice. Still, the best he could do was a quarter of a cord in a very long day.

This puzzled the salesman. He picked up the saw and looked it over carefully. He pulled the starter cord and it fired up with a loud roar.

The blond guy jumped about three feed in the air and asked "What the heck is that?"

See, that wasn't that bad.

Actually, my sister claims that it's the bleach blonds that give us a bad reputation. It sounds like a good theory to me.

I have a programmer friend who dyes her blond hair brown. I guess that's called artificial intelligence The next time she has a problem with her programs, I'm going to suggest to her that her blond roots may be getting a bit too long.

Oh yah... what was I talking about?

Not much happening today. Just some routine farm building.

Actually, I was quite scattered today. Maybe that's because I didn't get much sleep last night. Of course, there are other days where I don't have such a handy excuse.

Still, I managed to start building the fence around the redneck strawberry pyramid and the redneck raised beds for the herb garden.

OK, so I managed to pound one pole in the ground before becoming distracted.

I took the egg collection doors off of the top nest box and replaced them with some old aluminum skirting that Mary picked up from someone who was moving their double wide. A scrounger after my own heart! I'm so proud of her. I suspect that my Uncle Dan is, too.

I changed the design of the doors so that I can put them up so that they will stay up. That makes it easier to clean the nest boxes. Also, I need to scam the hinges for some other modifications that I'm making to the barn.

With so little real content, I guess I ought to tell you some old stories.

Back when I was stationed in Germany, I worked in the crypto vault repairing the machines. I could tell you more than that, but I would have to.... never mind. I'm not going to repeat that old saw.

Anyhow, I used to repair those machines that let you talk on the radio without being overheard by the enemy. Remember the scramblers from the James Bond movies?

One day, we were waiting by the entrance of the vault. We had repaired everything that needs to be repaired, inventoried all the classified equipment, and cleaned the shop. Heaven forbid that we get out a few minutes early. It is much better that we wait there by the big 28 volt power supply and leave at the proper time.

The power supply is a big monster that weighs over 100 pounds. Since it was an old piece of equipment even then, it used a selenium rectifier. Aside from efficiency issues, they have the interesting characteristic of venting poisonous gas when overloaded. They actually smell like a toxic fart. One blew when I was in training at Fort Gordon, and we had to evacuate the area.

So there I was, bored professional soldier that I was, goofing with a little capsule that I bought off of the German economy. It's a little glass ampule filled with some kind of a hydrogen sulfide solution, and is sold as a stink bomb.

Well, I just happened to drop it at the time. That got us out of there really quickly because the sergeant thought that the selenium stack had blown in the power supply. I really hadn't planned it that way. In fact, I don't even recall if I had dropped the stink bomb on purpose.

Doing it on purpose wouldn't have been a good idea, anyhow. The next day, we had to haul that monster up the stairs, on to a Jeep, and over to the electronics maintenance facility. They tested it and found nothing wrong with it, of course.

I didn't dare tell anyone about it back then. The people who hauled that big machine up the stairs might not have been amused. I might even have gotten into some kind of legal trouble. I trust it's well past the statute of limitations by now, though.

So fast forward for about twenty years to the early 21st century. I was mowing the lawn at my parents' cottage. I couldn't get the lawn tractor going, so I used the push mower. That thing was heavy! It was OK going down hill, but it was a real pain to push up the hill.

I was thinking "You know, this thing ought to have some kind of a power assist!"

Then, I took a better look at the mower and noticed a lever by the hand grip. I pulled the lever, and the power assist nearly took the thing out of my hands.

And I have an engineering degree.

The gratuitous photo of the day is Mary's Redneck Laser Sight.

That flashlight actually does a pretty good job of lighting up the sight picture. Her Ruger 10-22 now sports a genuine 4X scope and a real laser sight. The varmints that want to eat our chickens tend to come out after dark and skulk under low objects. The laser sight can be a real big help in those situations.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wether he likes it or not

Earlier this spring, Mary got conned into taking a couple of unweaned bucklings. Her plan was to use them for cart goats.

One of the eternal conundrums of farming dairy goats is what to do with the boys. You see, to get milk, you have to breed the goat. When you breed the goat, you get kids. Half of the kids are bucklings. The doelings can be kept or sold, but there isn't nearly as much demand for bucklings. One full-grown buck can handle several does (in practice, it probably averages out to a dozen or so, but bigger farms will have more does per buck, and smaller farms may have a buck for only three or four does.)

One solution is to dress them out like rabbits right at birth. I don't think that happens much -- probably because baby coats are just so dern cute.

Anyhow, most bucklings are wethered (castrated). You don't want to have an intact buck around if you don't need him. They stink, and have some habits that we humans find rather disgusting. Also, they can get aggressive during the rut.

So, out of a hundred kids born, you might end up with fifty does and three or four bucklings that will be sold as stud bucks. The forty-some remaining bucklings will need to be dealt with in some fashion. They should be wethered.

What do you do with a wether? Well, the lucky ones will become pampered pets. The unlucky ones will become ignored pets. Some are kept or even rented out as weed eaters. Goats are very effective at clearing out the underbrush. In fact, if I lived in the areas where invasive weeds are a problem, I would keep the wethers and rent them out to people who want to get rid of kudzu, multiflora roses, Himalayan blackberries, and the like. Here in Michigan, there are very few plants that will take over an area the way you see elsewhere.

Some will become 'buck buddies'. Goats are social animals, so they need companions. You don't generally want to run the bucks with the does because they can give the milk a 'bucky' taste, and will also breed with does that you don't necessarily want to breed at the time, or with that buck. So, the goats are kept in a pen with a wether.

Wethers can be trained to pull a cart or carry a pack. If I wanted to camp in a mountainous area, I would definitely want a few pack goats. They can literally go anywhere I can go (and then some), can carry about as much as I can long-term, and can eat whatever they find. Lamachas and Nubians are often used as beasts of burden because they are bigger breeds, and are very willing workers (if properly trained).

Finally, chevon (goat meat) is starting to catch on in this country. Elsewhere, it is as common as beef or pork. I understand it is somewhere between beef and venison (deer) in flavor. That is what will probably happen to our remaining buckling (the other little snot up and died -- probably because he kept getting into the chicken feed and ended up getting bloated.)

But, no matter what happens with meat boy (I renamed him), he needs to be wethered. He isn't the fine specimen of toggenburgness (is that a word?) that his daddy is, so he won't be used as a stud buck. One way or the other, he gets to join the un-nutted generation (which, I guess, is a dead end).

But there is still hope for him. If those who wanted to make a cart of pack goat out of him are serious about it, they can still start with the training process. If not, he can be placed right next to all the meat chickens in our freezer. That will cut our food bill considerably, and give us much healthier meat to eat.

So, how do you rob a goat of his family jewels? There are three main methods, and opinions vary. If the experts can't agree, how am I supposed to choose?

Well, what I did was to read their reasons, and go with that looked the best.

First of all, knocking out a goat is not practical. Even vets don't generally do it with ruminants (animals that chew their cud) because it tends to stop all the muscles that keep everything going, but the microbes in the rumen keep on churning out gas and stuff.

The most direct method is to slice off the bottom of the scrotum, pop the testicles out, and cut the cords. The wound is left open to drain. It heals soon enough, but is subject to infection in the mean time.

I guess pain killers can be given before hand, but we don't have any, and don't really want to get into that situation (doses can be tricky). Also, I don't feel like cutting on a live animal, so that method is out.

The second method is to use a burdizzo. A burdizzo is kind of like locking pliers, but the pieces that clamp together are narrow and flat. This device is used to crush the cord that supplies blood to the testicles. With a much-reduced blood supply, they wither and die. If you want to see the process, you can type "burdizzo" into your favorite search engine. Be careful, though, because the first hits will um... pertain to the non-livestock and unauthorized use of that castration device.

I decided to wimp out and use the simplest method; banding. Actually, it's the only method we have seen used around here.

We went to TSC (Tractor Supply Company) and bought an elasterator (another word to look up with caution). It has four little prongs that stretch out a very thick and sturdy rubber band. Once the band is stretched out, the scrotum and testicles are pushed through it, and it is released -- leaving the whole mess dangling without a blood supply.

In theory, the whole kit-n-kaboodle goes numb very quickly, then dies. Over the space of a few weeks, it dries out and falls off.

So, I grabbed meat boy, did the band thing, and tossed his fuzzy butt back into the pen. It didn't seem to bother him in the least.

But a little later, when Mary was singing to her horse and feeding her, she told me that he was laying around and complaining.

So, I grabbed him again and looked him over. Everything seemed to be OK. Still, he walked kind of bow-legged and complained. I wanted to say "Quit complaining, you big wimp!", but I think I would complain if someone did that to me.

The bands that came with the elasterator look fine, but I grabbed a band out of the other package and banded him again. If one band won't do the job, maybe two will.

It didn't change things much at first, but he seemed to get better after a little while. By the next day, he was fine. The scrotum is now soft and floppy and dangly. When I squeeze it, he doesn't notice. So, everything appears to be working fine.

By the way, removing the band was not an option. Once it has been in place for a while, the flesh that was cut off from the body has started to die. Restoring circulation to that area could cause serious problems because any bacteria that gets into the dead tissue would be carried to the rest of the body.

So anyhow, Meat Boy has been wethered -- whether he likes it or not.

Gratuitous image of the day:

Paul is riding Sarah.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Happy anniversary to us!

Yep, Mary has put up with me for fifteen years now.

Before we were married, I told her "Stick with me, kid. We'll have adventures!" So far, we haven't been lacking in that area.

Actually, our anniversary was yesterday. I started to write this post then, but it got to be too late. You see, after church, we spent the day shoveling poop.

Actually, I used the little tiller to chew up and mix up the year's accumulation of litter and manure. Then, we shoveled it out and are using it to make a red neck strawberry pyramid, and will also be using it to make red neck raised beds in the garden.

But I'll write about that some other time. Today, I am going to write about how we managed to get together. What's even more important is how we managed to stay together, but that's a much bigger and more difficult subject. It will definitely come up some time soon.

Once upon a time, I worked for a software development company called System Solvers, Limited. They wrote custom software, modified the software from another company, and sold two different software products that they wrote themselves. One of my first jobs was to modify and upgrade a product known as dSalon.

Yah, I know it's kind of a geeky name for a beauty salon management package, but that's what it was called. The "d" part was stuck on the front like the "i" is stuck on the front of some Apple products. The "d" is there because it was written in a database language. Get it? "d" For Database?

Yah, I know. Geeky. But hey, I already told you that.

Anyhow, after I finished the job, the sales manager talked the owners of the company into doing something new and fantastic. They all decided to write a manual that can be read and comprehended by a normal human being (whatever that is).

They knew that I had worked as a technical writer, but they decided to hire someone else anyhow. They ended up hiring Madeline, for which I am eternally grateful.

In the process of writing the manual, Madeline and I spent quite a bit of time together. I explained the intent of the software, she ran it, then she wrote it up. I read the manual to make sure that covered what it was supposed to cover. I don't remember if she found any errors in the process of testing the software, but I would guess that she must have. It was a pretty big package.

After we got to know each other, and after she found out that I was single and looking, she told me about one of her best friends from high school. Mary wasn't really looking at the time, but she agreed to a date.

So, we met via a blind date.

I rang her doorbell (actually, an obnoxious buzzer), and was met by a big, black Doberman mix named Sheba. Mary gave me a dog biscuit that I could use to bribe her mutt. I guess Mary decided that I must be OK because her dog liked me.

We went to a corner booth in a place called The Eatery (I know... very creative and original) and took a couple hours to get to know each other.

When we tried to set up the next date, Mary told me that she had volunteered to help at the South Oakland Shelter -- a roving homeless shelter that her church was sponsoring that week. Not to be deterred easily, I volunteered to help right along side her.

The next weekend, we went on the kind of date that I like. I took her canoing to Proud Lake, which is North-West of Detroit. I provided the transportation, canoe, paddles, life vests, snorkeling gear, and lunch (macaroni salad, snacks, etc.)

I can't say that I planned it that way, but a happy side-effect of a date on the lake is that I got to see Mary in a swimsuit.

While out on the water, I decided to toss a pretzel to the Canadian gees and their goslings. I kept tossing them closer and closer to the canoe, until I finally got them to take the pretzels out of my hand. Then, I put a pretzel between my lips and let the goose take it. I don't know if Mary was impressed or not.

We went to the bridge dam, where the lake empties into the head waters of the Huron River. There is an area where the water is somewhere between bellybutton and chest deep -- just perfect for learning how to snorkel.

I put on my mask and snorkel and showed Mary how to lay face-down and breathe through the snorkel, and how to clear the snorkel when it fills with water.

She tried it, but panicked. She later told me that she now has a whole new understanding of the patients who have to breathe through a tube.

I picked her up and held her as she caught her breath and relaxed. Who was I to complain about having to hold on to this wet girl in a swimsuit?

(And no, I didn't plan it that way.)

That was just the first of many adventures. They weren't always fun, but they were definitely adventures.

Now, Mary's perspective:

We met on a blind date set up by an old high school friend of Mary's who was working with Ray at the time. Within three weeks, we went on our first camping trip together accompanied by Sheba, Mary's dog, and a group of folks from St. James church. We dated for three years before we were married in 1994.

Fifteen years, three sons, and a few dogs (and other assorted animals) later, we are still together. I guess we take seriously that stuff in the vows about "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health," because we've been through a little of all that stuff and the grief that goes along with it.

Today, after church we spent the rest of the day working on our homemade strawberry pyramid. Let's hope the berries grow in it as well as the ones in the fancy pyramids you see in the seed catalogs. Tonight, we get a little couple time together now that the kids are in bed. Dr. Tim would be happy with that, I think. See, even though we're still together we still had some bumpy spots along the way. Life can be like that. It's part of the adventures.

The gratuitous image of the day is a big black beaver.

OK, it's Lucy, our Labrador Retriever. During the nine months that we lived at my parents' cottage, that dog was in the lake just about every day. About the only thing that kept her out was the ice -- and she even fell through that once.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What a weekend...

Don went to Fifth Grade Camp this past Thursday. One of the adult volunteers at the school really enjoys spending time with Don, and was going to take him to camp, but he had to work. That left it up to me.

Most kids go by themselves, but Don needs an adult to help him handle the confusion and to generally give him confidence. They suggested a non family member so that Don would be more focused on the camp, rather than letting the standard family dynamics change how he acts. After all, we everyone acts differently among their peer group than with their parents.

I was fine with that because a group camp where I know practically no one is quite a bit out of my own comfort zone. Also, I have plenty to do right here at home.

So it wasn't with the best of attitude that I undertook this venture. I let Mary know that, too, but she said that I have to go... the big meanie!

To add to the confusion, she got called into work the night before. I was tired that evening, as well as being in a bad mood. Don was fussing about getting things ready. I just wasn't up to packing for someone else. I grabbed a few things I knew that we would need (film camera, new [cheap] digital camera, flashlights, etc.), and went to bed.

The next morning, I got all the boys off to the bus stop.

Actually, I got up early, took a shower, and helped Mary get them off to the bus stop. Mary had come home early so that she could help.

Don was easy to get up. I told him that he could stay home, or he could get up and go to fifth grade camp, and that if he missed the bus... well, there are a few chores that need to be done around here. Motivation is a wonderful thing, eh?

When Mary drove them to the bus stop (they were still late getting out of the house), I got a few things together. Then, I had to go out and check on the babies.

What I found didn't improve my mood.

Instead of locking them securely into the dog house, I used the board as an awning and left the waterer out there. During the night, some of the birds had gotten out and froze to death. I pushed the little dead bodies aside, put the checked for survivors outside the house, and securely locked them in. I told Mary about it on the way to school.

More confusion at the school. Mary stayed in the office because one of the students had managed to bump his face and knock two teeth clean out of his head. They eventually ended up driving him up to Traverse City so that the doctors could put his teeth back in.

But I got on the crowded bus with a bunch of noisy kids and too much gear (I can't function well with noise).

We made it to camp in one piece. The bus driver only had to stop a couple of times and call one kid to the front because he just couldn't keep his butt in the seat.

After some confusion, we managed to stake out one of the four bunk beds in our assigned cabin. Don slept on top so I wouldn't have to drag myself up the ladder. I got a pack of paper from the adult group so I could find Don't assigned group and see what his schedule looked like.

His first activity was capture the flag. I really expected that he would opt out, but he played well. He guarded the flag and had a great time. When he played floor hockey, he was the goalie. He does well when he has a well-defined function. He is creative in many ways, but there are other times when he really needs a well-defined role to function. I can relate, believe me.

He didn't want to go to the bb gun range. He was fussing about the noise, so I told him that the bb guns are air powered, and don't make much noise. He was OK with it, then.

Don doesn't want to shoot a real gun because it's too noisy. For all his pride in wearing my old field jacket (with our name on one side, and "U. S. Army" on the other side), he isn't likely to join because he really doesn't want to handle the weapons.

He did really well with the bb gun, though. He hit some targets and popped a balloon, which is really good for a first timer (and also really good for those old guns that are supplied by the camp).

Don wasn't too interested in riding the horses. I dragged him over there anyhow. He rode with the second batch of kids, and enjoyed himself. We might get him on Sarah yet. I'm not going to push it, but I hope he does because horses are really good therapy.

Did I mention that it was yucky rainy that day. Some kids were unprepared, and one of the adult volunteers ended up loaning one girl his jacket. Other than that, it didn't put a damper on things at all.

Well, there was one other thing. The kids were getting blown all over the lake when they were canoing and using the peddle boats.

Actually, they weren't being blown all over the lake. They were being blown all down to one end.

One pair of kids couldn't make it back. A couple adults went down there to help them get off of the shore, but it was a no-go. At that point, I asked for a paddle and a life vest. I went down to the canoe and hopped in (they were going to just pull it out and leave it at the beach, I think.) I kneeled in front of the seat to get it out into the lake, then tried to sit in the back seat.

Actually, I tried sitting in the front seat backward because the front seat is closer to the center of the canoe. I generally do that when canoing alone.

But that left the front end out of the water and the wind whipped me around and pointed me in the wrong direction.

So I kneeled on the wet bottom of the canoe and paddled it upwind to the livery area. It wasn't that far (it's a small lake), but it was kind of rough going.

That evening, everyone was tired. That didn't stop the normal boy type conversations in the cabin, though.

Of course, staying in an all male cabin has its advantages. For instance, you don't have to worry about putting the seat down.

Some of the boys had to run into the bathroom and shut the door in order to change clothes. I commented that if that bothered them, they were in for a bit of a shock when they hit the locker rooms in middle school next year.

The next day was much more laid back. There were only two activities. Don's first was Nukem (not Duke Nukem). It's sort of like volley ball, except you throw the ball over the net, and if they don't catch it on the other side, one person is side-lined. If they do catch it, they get a person back.

The final activity was canoing. Don wanted me to canoe with him (and I would have enjoyed it), but I figured he needed to be more independent. Also, I wanted him to canoe with the other kids.

He had never canoed from the back before, and he had never paddled much. He took to it like he was born to canoe, though. A lot of people commented on how well he did. He ended up canoing with three other people. The girl he started with wanted to use a peddle boat just as soon as one became available.

All in all, I am really pleased with how well things worked out. Don did very well -- not a single melt-down, and only a couple rough spots (like when they told him that all the canoes had to come out of the water). He participated, and he interacted well with his peers.

He met a few people from the other elementary schools, and will be seeing them all in the middle school. (One of the purposes of Fifth Grade Camp is to allow the students that were going to the three elementary schools to get to know each other before converging on the middle school.)

So after we cleaned up, packed up, and rode home, I got to rest all weekend, right?

Not on your life!

We went straight from the school to Cadillac so that Mary could pick up her new glasses and I could turn in my bi-focals for repair. The lines between the reading and regular glasses didn't match up. It turned out that they could fix it right there.

I picked up the photos from the Special Olympics and some other things. Some of the pictures came out very well, but some didn't. There were some problems with some of the Special Olympics pictures. I don't know if it was me, the lens, the camera, or the processing. I may be able to salvage some of the images. Some are actually really good images -- except they are somewhat blurry.

I also found out that we lost five of the six Indian Runner ducks. We also ended up losing half of the meat chickens. We went to the feed mill to see if anyone had failed to pick up their animals (we got extras that way one year). He told us that he will making another order in June, so we ordered another dozen meat birds and another six ducks. Meanwhile, we have two leghorn babies with the duck to keep him company. He had been alone, and was very unhappy.

I was not happy about the fact that I couldn't be there to get everything in order and salvage as much as possible out of the disaster. Mary did a good job, however. She even ended up using the blow dryer to pull a couple chilled chicks back from the verge. Those are tough little birds, for sure!

So, we have the 100 gallon stock watering tub, and the little four gallon tub in the living room. Mary had set it up as best as she could. This evening, I pulled the hay out and Mary replaced it with wood shavings. I found the sticks I had set up last year for hanging the feeder and waterer. The waterer is hanging in there now, but I still have the jar feeder instead of the trough feeder because they are small enough to get into the trough feeder and poop in their food (not that they mind eating it after that). I also found the chicken wire that I use for a top, and another lamp for heating.

But we got chickens in the house again. Blah.

Another lesson learned, I guess. We were asking two broody hens to keep 32 chickens and six ducks warm in this cold rainy weather. Next time I give babies to broody hens, I'm limiting it to a dozen birds per hen. I know that they can handle that because I have seen it a few times.

Today, I had to put the tractor wagon together. The spray grease didn't work (it came with the house), so I poked a hole in the can and kind of smeared it on the axle. Then, the little tiller leaked and didn't want to start. I finally got it started (still leaking like a sieve) and started tilling up the litter (hay well mixed with chicken, goat, and horse poop). I changed the oil in the lawn tractor, but it didn't want to start. We'll probably get it going tomorrow.

We are making one of those strawberry pyramids, but we're making the redneck trailer trash version. (Hey, we already have a beat-up Jeep XJ sitting up on old tires right by the driveway.) We have an old wading pool with a hole in the bottom, so we filled it with sand. We laid a ring of tires around the edge (on top of the sand), and will be putting sand inside that circle. One tire will fit on top of that. We will also lay some tires around the edge. All of the tires will be filled with a good mixture of well-mixed and well-composted litter, and will receive a single strawberry plant. Later in the summer, they will get runners and reproduce. next year, we'll have a decent patch. They are Ozark Beauty plants, which I believe are ever bearing. I still want to make a large patch of Dunlops. Those are what we always grew at my parents' place, and are the best I have ever tasted.

So we have lots of gardening to do. I managed to till a little of the poop in the coop, but by no means all of it. I need to finish that and haul it to the garden, where it will be put into tires that are laid artfully upon the ground (red neck raised beds). Mary had planted flowers over the grave of our faithful goat Spot and her dearly deceased doeling, so I'll put a square of tires around that and plant them with veggies. Maybe I'll plant some carrots and feed them to the surviving goats. Or, maybe I'll eat them myself -- after washing the coop scrapings off of them.

I posted three photos, but I am still going to post a gratuitous photo of the day. After all, the above three aren't gratuitous. They actually have something to do with the story.

Besides, I have to prove to myself that I still know how to focus a camera [grumble, grumble].

So, the gratuitous photo of the day is a bunch of crocuses that my mother planted at the cottage. I took it just a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

How to pick up chicks...

Preparation is the key. I mean, once you have done the pickup, you have to know what to do once you get them home. It also helps to have a good backup plan.

Being a procrastinator, I started with the preparations this morning. I pulled the 100 gallon stock watering tub out of the garage, dumped last year's chick litter, some cat doodee, and other assorted stuff out of it, and washed it down really well with the hose. I left it leaning upside-down against a tree to dry out.

People brood chicks in a variety of containers. Some make a special brooder with a wire mesh bottom, thermostatically controlled heaters, red lights (to reduce pecking), automatic waterers and feeders, and all kinds of high-tech stuff. Others use a cardboard box with wood shavings on the bottom, and set it on the coffee table in the living room. Still others use a bathtub.

We like to use stock watering tubs because they are waterproof and dust proof. They are also sturdy enough to keep the cats out.

We put a few inches of pine shavings on the bottom to absorb the moisture. Then, we use sticks across the top to suspend a feeder and a waterer. Both are raised to the level of the backs of the chicks, and are raised every few days as the chicks grow. On top of the whole thing, we put chicken wire, then a couple utility type lamps with aluminum shades. Those lamps keep the chicks warm. We use two so that they won't be totally out of heat if one burns out. Sometimes, we add aluminum foil to reflect the heat back down. We end up putting the foil on at night, and removing it during the day.

You are supposed to keep the chicks at about 95 degrees, and reduce it by five degrees every week until they are old enough to be out on their own.

So Mary and I went to the feed store today to pick up our order. We had ordered two dozen broiler chicks, half a dozen gray leghorn pullets, and half a dozen Indian Runner ducks. Kevin, the owner of the Le Roy Milling Company and Garden Supply store, threw in an extra couple broilers for free. You just gotta love small town family-owned businesses. His dad was there today helping out. Some day, his son will take over the business.

Anyhow, we brought the chicks and ducklings home and proceeded with plan A.

There are a couple broody buff orpington hens that have been trying to make babies all spring. Of course, since it's difficult to keep track of which eggs are being incubated, and which are supposed to be eaten, we have simply been taking all the eggs and putting up with their grouchy pecking and growling. Two days ago, I stuffed them both into a doghouse with a bunch of hay (and some plastic Easter eggs) on the bottom, and feed and water inside. I opened it yesterday and one of them abandoned her post and ended up trying to set eggs in the manger. I stuffed her back in last night and blocked the entrance.

So here we come from the feed store with a bunch of unhappy and loudly chirping chickens -- not to mention some unhappily peeping ducks. I took them out to the broody house, removed the plastic eggs (the hens didn't like them anyhow) and stuffed them all in. The hens were quite overwhelmed. The chicks were still peeping unhappily, but some got a clue and started burrowing into the hens' feathers.

Well, I didn't know how well it would work out. It's not a matter of fooling the hens as much as it's a matter of triggering the mothering instinct. I just shut them all in and left. I came back in a couple minutes and stuffed a duck and chick back in because they had made it past the blockade. After securing things better, I left.

A few minutes later, I went back. I heard nothing but the soft clucking that a mother hen makes when she's content. Success!

Later, I heard the plaintive cheeping of one chick. Its leg had gotten pinned under a stiff stalk of hay. I freed it and gave it back to its adoptive mother.

So far, so good. Two mother hens, 32 chicks, and six ducks all seem to be happy. I'm happy, too, because I don't have to fuss with the brooder. The hen does a better job of it, anyhow.

I'll let them settle in for a few hours, then rearrange the food and water so that the chicks can get at it easily. All I have to do beyond that is to make sure that everyone has a good supply of food and water. The hens even protect the babies from our predatory mommy cat.

Our gratuitous photo of the day is one of last year's mother hens with her chicks. I'll get some picture of this year's brood once everyone is settled in.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

New Toy

Happy Mothers' Day! (Did you call your mommy?)

We had a nice Mothers' Day service at church. He admonished us fathers to support our wives, of course. On Fathers' day, he'll do the same thing. At least, that's what he tells us one of the fathers at a previous church he pastored complained about.

A few days ago, I bought a cheap digital camera just so I could grab pictures for quick publication in the blog. I didn't want to be stuck having to wait for development. Unfortunately, the camera was just too lousy to use. The pictures literally looked like they were taken through the bottom of a coke bottle.

The next day, Don bought an even cheaper camera.

Today, we took them both back and used the money (plus a little more) to get a nice 4.1 megapixel camera. It isn't as nice as my 35mm SLRs, but it is pretty good. The next step is to get that Canon digital Rebel that I have been lusting after, but this one will be great for grabbing shots around the farm, and for Don and Mary to use for whatever they want without having to worry about the technical details of photography.

Once I get the real camera with zoom, full control of exposure, and all that stuff, I'll write up an illustrated set of articles on how to make the most of your camera. Meanwhile, I'll just give you the gratuitous picture of the day. It is a shot of Don with his kitten Gregory. I cropped and reduced it to make it fit and to clean up some of the blur. You can get away with a lot when you have a tiny lens, but it would still be a whole lot nicer if I could focus the thing.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Banana Flips and Narnia

Mary and I have slightly different philosophies when it comes to cooking. I like making things from scratch, and she's more of a 'Hamburger Helper' type girl. I like to have more control over what we eat, and she just wants to get the job done and get dinner on the table.

The good thing is that I do most of the cooking. The bad thing is that she does most of the shopping. Between all of this, we generally get something put on the table.

A couple days ago, Mary got some instant vanilla pudding, a pre-made graham cracker crust, and some bananas. So, she made up the pudding, layered it in with sliced bananas, and used some kind of non-dairy whipped topping to top it all off. Viola! Banana cream pie!

Unfortunately, she set it precariously in the refrigerator to chill. Later, she miscalculated a bit and flipped it out onto the floor.

At this point, I'll mention that she tells me that her middle initial of "K" does not stand for "Grace".

Anyhow, she picked it up and put the part that didn't touch the floor back into the pie pan. We were going to call it "Banana Surprise", but later decided that her new creation was a "Banana Flip".

Once that fiasco was done, we went to the kids' school to watch a movie. They show a movie to the kids after school about once a month. This month, they showed Narnia. I believe it's the new one.

I really love the books, and found that the series that was filmed by the BBC did a very good job of following the books. The newer version took a few liberties. I guess that isn't unusual in the movie industry.

But it was enjoyable -- for all that I couldn't hear it very well.

And on that note, I'll leave you with a gratuitous photo of the day that I took at the fair a couple years ago. It in no way has anything to do with my opinion of the new movie, or Mary's Banana Flip.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Special Olympics

I was really wondering how to write about this. Most stories about the Special Olympics contain lots of syrupy platitudes about the human dignity of the participants, the selfless volunteers, the chance to excel, and all that stuff. That is all there, but it's all pretty much been said before.

On the other hand, people like to joke about it. We admire the athletes who train vigorously for years so that they can be at their peak performance for that once every four years opportunity to excel, but we often tell jokes about 'the riders of the little school bus'.

The fact is, there is a political party in America that styles itself as the champion of the down-trodden and the victims of misfortune. They are the party of compassion. They have invented the concept of 'politically correct', lest someone say something that would offend someone else.

Still, this party, this paragon of compassion, could not resist the opportunity to put in a good dig this past presidential election. They said that voting for their opponent was like running in the Special Olympics because if you win, you're still a retard.

Well, my son did win, but he is no retard. I don't put a whole lot of stock into IQ tests, but his was tested at about 135 or so (which makes me want to put some stock into those tests).

Donald has Asperger's, which is a mild form of autism. This makes life a challenge for him -- a challenge that I can understand very well. Most of us have the tools that we need to get along socially hard-wired into our brains. In the case of someone with Autism, those social instincts just don't work very well. This leaves the child open to soul-crushing ridicule and taunting in school. I thank God for the hard work of the people at the Pine River school district, because they are sparing my oldest son a lot of the damage that was done to me at that age.

There are other issues related to autism -- tics, the tendency to obsess over the interest of the day, and a number of other things. Add that to ADHD and Atypical Bipolar, and life can be difficult.

But the Special Olympics is there for people who have difficulties that the rest of us can barely understand, and would rather not think about.

A few days ago, Don's picture appeared in the local Cadillac paper. He was recruited to be the flag bearer for the starting ceremonies. The drill team that was there from the American Legion was very kind and helpful. Being the center of attention in that kind of a situation was very difficult for Don, but he made it through. His mom and I are very proud of him.

Don was in three events, which seems to be the standard. His first was the fifty meter dash.

He has never fancied himself as an athlete, but he ran well. He shaved a little off of his best time.

We spent a lot of time in the grassy area inside the track. The participants, volunteers, teachers, and parents all hung around in that area. Some went to the craft tables or the face painting table. Soon, Don's name was called for the 100 meter dash.

In the few minutes before that, an adult who looks to be in his 30s, but couldn't be over 26 (the maximum age of the participants) um... expressed his enthusiasm for running the race.

Don was rather intimidated by this guy's enthusiasm and age. He is tall, has a bushy gray mustache, and has a strong wiry build (except for a slight beer gut). He talked about how he was going to run the race to win, but didn't forget to encourage the others. This last fact speaks well of his maturity, as well of the training he has received. I mean, he wasn't nearly as obnoxious as some of the professional boxers I have seen -- and he has every excuse.

But Don was sure he was going to lose. He couldn't see himself beating this guy. To be honest, I didn't see him beating this guy. That isn't the point, though. The point is to run the race as best as you can.

So, before Don got to the starting blocks, I stationed myself part of the way down the track and preset my focus on a mark in Don's lane.

The starting gun went off, and Don took off like a shot. I think he was surprised to find himself ahead of the older guy, and that urged him on. I snapped a single picture as he passed the mark, and turned to watch as he took first place. You could tell that the older guy was disappointed, but he took it well. That spoke quite well of his maturity -- maturity that seems to be missing in some of the professional athletes I have seen.

But Don... Don got a really good boost to his self-confidence from this one. I hope he remembers this for a very long time. In fact, I think I'll make sure that he remembers it by using it as an example of how he excel and win even when he feels like he can't. With some motivation, he was able to shave two seconds off of his best time.

Mary's viewpoint:

As a High School Student, I helped out at Special Olympics with the National Honor Society. I also spent 3-4 years working as the nurse coordinator for the multi-handicap clinic at Children's Hospital of Michigan. I know how hard those kids try sometimes. It never occurred to me during those times that one day I would be the parent of a child who would qualify as a participant in the Special Olympics.

Well, Life is a journey that can take you to some unexpected places. I remember when Don was eight years old, the cub scout troop was marching in the Memorial Day Parade in Ferndale. I put in formation with the rest of the scouts. Then I told Don to listen to the Scoutmaster and do whatever he said to do. I thought moms and siblings were not supposed to march along with the scouts and leaders, at least they never did when I was a girl scout. I then went to stake out a spot to watch along the parade route. Turned out that I could have marched right along with the rest of Pack 1221 and was probably supposed to. I just didn't know that. Don did just fine that time, just like he did yesterday. But in both instances it was a real triumph for this otherwise intelligent boy to get through what can be nervewracking scary situations for him, without me standing right by his side. So much so that I start to cry when I think about them even now when they're all over. Yeah, I know. Some day I'll look back and wonder what the big deal was anyway.

Just remember that Special Olympics athletes really are special. It takes someone special to be able to run the 50 meter dash when they are blind and have to totally trust their coach. Or do the softball throw when your arms are weak from cerebral palsy. Or the running long jump when you have Autism or Down's Syndrome.

Hydrological Engineering.

Rain! Lots of rain. Well, not as much as California enjoyed a month or so ago, but it was a nice, long drencher.

Fortunately for us, Michigan is well endowed with a good watershed system. The rain that comes down doesn't take all that long to get to the Great Lakes. From there, it goes over Niagara falls, through the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and finally to the Atlantic Ocean. I just had to do a little digging to expedite those rain drops that were falling upon our driveway on their way.

There is a seasonal creek running through the front of our property, under the driveway, across a couple more driveways, under Eight Mile Road, through a field, and eventually to the Pine River. (From there, it merges into the Manistee River, and ends up in Lake Michigan).

Unfortunately, our driveway is on a slant. The lowest point is right at the culvert. Water runs from the road on one side, and from our property and the neighbor's property on the other side, merges into quite the stream, and washes sand into the basin on the up-stream side of the culvert. Twice last year, I had to do some serious digging (by hand) to find the culvert and excavate it. I also had to take the little Jeep to a rock pile on our property, collect a total of a couple tons of stones, and put them into the part of the driveway that was washed out. Then, I had to cover the rocks with the sand/stone mixture that's in the driveway.

Not fun. Not fun at all. In fact, I hurt the tendon or the attachment point of my bicep, and it stayed that way for quite some time. Any time I worked it a little too much, it would get sore again. It's just within the last couple weeks that I could dig very much without hurting myself. In fact, I was rather surprised to realize that, after digging Spot's grave, my left elbow didn't hurt. Ah, the joys of entering your 40s.

So, I took a look at things as I drove to the bus stop to pick up Gabe. (No, I didn't feel like walking a quarter of a mile in the pouring rain, thank you very much).

Unfortunately, there was water pooling right at the culvert, and it seemed to be draining. Bummer. That means that I have to send Gabe into the house, grab a shovel, and walk down about a tenth of a mile of driveway to the culvert. On the way, I cleaned out the two cuts that are on the property side of the culvert. They were actually working very well -- dumping lots of water down into the pasture. The one cut in the right tire track on the road side of the culvert was working well, too. The problem was that there was now water coming down the left tire track. I had to make a cut across to the tire track, pile up a little berm, and get the water guided to the other side and out the cut. Then, I filled in the hole that the water had dug over the culvert.

The culvert is flowing well, so the sand that got washed in ought to run right through and out. Now I can stay inside and enjoy listening to the rain while my boots dry out.

Gratuitous photo of the day:

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Alas, poor Spot

It was a really long day yesterday.

Since Spot wasn't in good shape, Mary decided to let the new baby goat stay in the house overnight, so she could feed it milk every few hours.

Alas, the poor girl didn't make it. Mary was holding this little goat when she breathed her last. In fact, Mary was checking her heart, and then she couldn't find the beat. There was really nothing she could do. We figure that the baby goat died of sepsis (an infection that progresses throughout the body). My suspicion is that the yellow stuff around the boy baby was bacterial growth, and that the little girl breathed some of it in.

We wanted to bury everyone right away, but we had other commitments. I had to process, sort, and clean the eggs (not necessarily in that order). I selected the best and the cleanest to go into the incubator. Since eggs are laid with a coating called the 'bloom', it is best to not wash the eggs that you incubate. Some people advocate not washing the eggs at all, except maybe just before use. Theoretically, they should last longer with the bloom intact. In reality, eggs have been stored for ten years or more and still eaten later. Ours are often stored at room temperature for a week or two, and we have never had a problem. I know of people who store them for weeks at room temperature. Eggs are designed to sit under a hot hen for three weeks without spoiling, so they last very well.

Anyhow, I had three days' worth of eggs sitting in the collection buckets ready for processing.

No, we don't use cute little wicker baskets and skip out to collect the eggs. We generally use a coffee can with a hand full of hay aon the bottom. And anyhow, I would look lousy in a skirt, and I would probably hurt myself if I tried to prance or skip.

So I counted the eggs for each day and entered the data in a text file (I like to keep track of productivity). Then, I took the best eggs and put them into the automatic egg turner. The rest were washed. The ones that were cracked or stained went to some empty egg cartons next to the stove for our use. The rest; the ones that are clean, unstained, and uncracked, were put into egg cartons. Two dozen were set aside for some of Mary's co-workers who wanted to buy them. Another carton of 18 was set aside for a lady who is hosting a family (of 9, IIRC) because the shelter is overloaded or something like that. The rest went to the food pantry.

It took a little searching to get everything together. Not much, though, because I had put the incubator and egg turner in the garage on some nifty shelves that I made last year. I just had to find the windows for the top of the incubator.

But it was worth it. Paul's second grade teacher was thrilled when I offered to lend her the stuff to hatch eggs in class. The kids were thrilled when we brought everything there. They were also curious about all the different colored eggs. We had some duck eggs (which will take an extra week to hatch), along with white (Leghorn) eggs, blue and green (Americauna mutt or "Easter Egger") eggs, and the standard brown (Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpington, White Rock, Barred Rock, Isa Brown, Black Sex Link, Black Australorp) eggs.

So we delivered the eggs to the food pantry, dropped the incubator off at school, and got home just in time to meet the school bus at the Bristol Store and pick up our youngest boy. We drove home, and I had Mary distract Gabe while I picked up the dead baby goat and snuck it around the other side of the van and to the garden.

Then I dug a hole. It was a big hole because it had to hold an adult goat. I sincerely hope that our horse doesn't die any time soon! It didn't really seem like it, but I calculated later that the dirt I moved weighed several tons.

OK, so 'calculate' is overstating it a bit. I moved maybe two cubic meters of dirt. A cubic meter of water weighs a metric ton (2,205 pounds, or about 1.1 tons), and dirt is considerably heavier than water (or it would float).

But I got it dug (with a little help from my favorite kitty -- who insisted on climbing me). Then, I went inside to eat so I wouldn't end up with the jitters from hypoglycemia. I never used to have that problem (though my parents do). Now, I have to take better care of myself lest I break down or something.

After eating and relaxing a bit, I had to tackle the problem of dragging that heavy goat through the fence (remember, there is a cliff at the entrance of the barn), up hill, across the lawn and driveway, and into the garden.

I did that by tying a rope around her neck, and making a loop that I could put around my waist. Now, I know how a mule feels.

Interestingly enough, the horse went over to check things out when I started moving the dead goat. She had to sniff Spot and look things over. I never really expected that kind of behavior from an animal.

When Spot was sick and couldn't get up, the horse used her head to try to help Spot up. It was actually quite touching. For one thing, I didn't think that she had any great affection for the goats. For another, it really looks like something you would expect more from a human than from an animal.

But I finally got that poor girl under the fence, up the hill, over to the garden, and into her final resting place. She is sharing the grave with her daughter.

Mary was working on the computer when I went back into the house. She was surprised that I had moved the goat by myself because she expected that it would take the both of us to do the job. I figured it was easier to do it myself than to coordinate the efforts.

I asked her if she wanted to pay her final respects to Spot and the baby, so she and Gabe went out to the garden. Mary ended up covering her up. I haven't been out to the garden since then.

So far this year, we have planted way too many animals and not enough plants.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


It really looks like Spot isn't going to make it. She is moaning, and occasionally trying to pass the afterbirth. We don't know how much she has passed already, since the chickens quickly clean up anything bloody that hits the ground.

We put her on a tarp and dragged her to a more sheltered area. Mary covered her with a blanket and left the kid with her. If she survives the night, we will be surprised. Mary says that when you work at a hospital, you learn that death has a characteristic smell.

We have been taking water, hay, and grain to her. At first, she greedily drank the water. Now, she just sips at it. She only nibbles at the hay and eats a little grain.

Mary is out there right now trying to milk some colostrum out for the baby. The baby won't nurse on her mom. It might be the smell of death, or it might simply be the fact that Spot isn't standing up. Instinct tells the baby to look up for food, and she does exactly that when we are standing next to her.

So... tomorrow will tell. Tomorrow is going to start out busy, too. I have to get the incubator out of the garage, select some eggs for it, and take it to Paul's second grade class. The other eggs need to be cleaned and taken to the food pantry. I'm too tired to do that tonight, so it's all going to be crammed into the beginning of the day tomorrow.

Whew! What a morning!

Some way to start our second anniversary, eh? (We have been in our new home for two years now.)

You see, I was going down into the pen to fish something out of the watering trough when...

But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this story. (to borrow a line from Captain Underpants)

A few days ago, I happened to be looking down the hill to a nice, fertile area where raspberries grow. The guineas were pitching a fit, but that isn't unusual. They were down there in the wild raspberry patch squawking away. It looked like our big yellow neutered tomcat was toying with them. He generally doesn't do that, but the other cats have been known to lunge at the birds just to watch them squawk. The birds, of course, have been known to lay a well-aimed peck on the cats. Ah, sibling rivalry...

But then I saw that it was no cat. It was a coyote! Those animals have been around, but they generally avoid coming too close to our house (though they like to root through the garbage at the neighbor's place).

By the time anyone was able to get the .22, he was long gone. We'll be watching for him, though! Later on, Mary went through the back woods to look at some predator sign that she had seen before (fur from a killed animal, predator scat, etc.)

But you can bet that we'll be paying more attention to the guineas now! They are famous for squawking up a storm whenever something disturbs them. The only problem is that it's generally hard to tell what set them off.

A couple days later, I went to a friend's house and managed to pick up a tick. I scraped the thing off, squeezed the bite to get some of the fluid out, and put a drop of bleach on it to kill anything that might be there. I might be paranoid, but I'll do what I can to avoid Lyme disease.

We don't have ticks at our place. Guineas are famous for eating them. Good guineas! That, in itself, earns them their keep.

So, a couple nights ago, I was outside investigating a guinea alarm. Nope, no critters this time. Our alpha rooster Stripe was sitting just outside the coop along with one of his hens.

This rooster is one of the original four (that we brought over with us), and is Gabe's rooster. He has produced quite a few offspring for us.

But, he was just sitting out there with that one hen.

Lately, he has been getting battered. It's hard when you're the top roo. He had a knock-down drag-out fight with Little Red, who used to be the second in command (it's hard to tell now that the rooster population has exploded). He seems to be the top roo, but he has to defend that position, and the guinea cocks are relentless at picking on him. Poor guy.

But his luck seems to have run out. I picked him up and noticed that his right leg was sticking out at a weird angle. I took him inside and let Mary look at him. The leg wasn't broken, it was just out of joint. Mary managed to pop it in, so we wrapped him and set him in the barn.

By the next day, he was out of the wrap and somewhat mobile -- though limping. Unfortunately, the rest of the birds wouldn't leave him alone. By the end of the day, the joint was back out, and he was in bad shape.

So, I handed him to Mary and got the ax. I have done in chickens before, but it's a bummer to have to do in an animal that's somewhere between being livestock and being a pet.

I chased the kids away, but they managed to come back just in time to see me do the deed. Gabe took it rather hard, but he's OK now. The part that I didn't like was the fact that he flinched (they do that), so I ended up chopping of his comb and upper beak. I hate it when that happens, though not as much as the bird does, I am sure. We did it again and got the job done this time. But the head was still gasping for a few seconds.

I really prefer a killing cone and a nice, sharp knife. It's a whole lot easier to do a good job with a minimum of suffering. The problem is, it would have really hurt his leg to use that method.

I dug a hole to bury this guy, but I didn't bury him just then. The cats had run out of food that day, and we couldn't get any more until the next day. So, I slit the skin open at his breast and let the all-too-eager cats eat their fill. The next day, the dog found the carcass and started dragging it around. Alas, our faithful Labrador Lucy has a large lump, and may not last much longer. She's happy and healthy now, but you never know...

Anyhow, back to the original story.

I walked down into the pen to dump out the watering trough because our one silkie hen had managed to fall into it and drown herself. That's a real bummer. She was a nice little hen.

I looked over at our pregnant goat and she let out a loud bawl (more like a moan). She had something sticking out of her butt.

I went over there and, sure enough, she was giving birth. The kid was stuck, though. They had been that way for a long time. I could tell because the kid's head was starting to dry out. It was still alive, though -- but only just barely. I tried pulling him out, but he was stuck. He just wasn't coming.

Mary was still in the house reading to the (human) kids, so I called to Don and had him call her out. She was still in her scrubs from working last night.

So Mary came out and we tried some more. Or, rather, Mary tried. She's the one that got all that icky gooky slimy goop all over herself.

She ended up reaching up inside poor old Spot and trying to maneuver things. She felt a second kid, which surprised us. Most first time births are singles.

So, she pushed the second kid back up in and did considerable maneuvering to try to get this first one out. He was simply being presented wrong. Goats (and horses and cows and sheep) are supposed to come out front feet first with the head between the front knees -- kind of like they're diving. This kid had his feet back, and probably bent.

But Mary finally got one shoulder out, then the second. It didn't get easy after that, though. He was a big boy, and had to be pulled all the way out. His cord was collapsed and white so any oxygen he was getting was through his own feeble breathing. His body looked floppy and deflated. Mary suctioned his nose and mouth, and tried to get him breathing again, but to no avail. He didn't make it. We're still confused by the fact that all the mucus around him was yellow in color -- sort of like egg yolk.

The second one came easily. Mary pulled her head out because she was making noise in there. She gave one bawl, so obviously, she managed to get some air in her lungs. We left her with just her head sticking out while Mary tried to revive her big brother. He would have been quite the strapping lad if he had made it.

The little doe was cold, so I got a towel for Mary. I watched mother and kid for a while, but finally carried the little doeling in because she felt cool to the touch. Mary showered her off with warm water and dried her. She is now quite perky and doing well.

Spot (mom), on the other hand, has had a rough time. I delivered a bucket of water to her, then some grain, then some hay. We had problems with the other animals wanting her food. I was afraid that the horse would step on her.

The person who sold Spot to us is a midwife. Mary called her pager, and we got a call back soon enough. She suggested that we milk some colostrum out of Spot and give it to the baby. We ended up getting all too little, so we poured some goat milk in from the refrigerator and give it to the baby. She sucked it down readily.

Meanwhile, I mixed some molasses and water to give Spot an energy boost. While we were there, Spot tried to pass the afterbirth. It really looked like her uterus had prolapsed, so I called Deb again. It ended up being the placenta. What a relief! I had visions of having to take the .22 out there and put our doe out of her misery. As it turns out, you can save a doe that has a prolapsed uterus by carefully cleaning and disinfecting it, and pushing it back up inside.

Whew! We have one new goat, and I had to enlarge Stripe's grave to handle two more animals. Today, we welcomed a healthy little doeling into the world, and buried her brother, our little silkie hen, and the remains of Gabe's rooster.

I just hope Spot makes it.


I have been getting quite a collection of image files on my computer. (No, not from those types of sites.) The trouble is, I'm not really happy with the 'View as Web Page' option. The thumbnail option isn't much better.

So, I started to write some crude Foxpro programs that gather data from the directory and use it to make an HTML* file. This makes it a whole lot easier to look through the pictures.

Since many of them have dates embedded in the file name, I decided to write the program so that it will parse out the date, grab the suffix and prefix (the part of the file name before and after the date information), and either display that under the picture or use it to make multiple HTML files. All off the directories had different formats and I wanted them displayed differently, so each had a custom program.

After copying and customizing the same program time after time, I finally decided to pull them all together and write one master program that will do it all. I just set some flags (preferences) at the top of the program, run it, and I get the HTML files that I want.

* HTML means Hyper Text Markup Language. Web pages are written in HTML. It consists of regular text with tags that tell the web browser what to do with the text, how to format it, where to get the images, and other information. As I write this, I am writing HTML code by hand because I'm too lazy to bring up an HTML editor.

Happy Birthday! Happy Anniversary!

Dan, my youngest brother, turns 39 today. (I don't know how long he plans to stay 39)

Also, two years ago today, we closed on the purchase of our new home. We joked about driving a U-haul to the closing, but we settled for driving our mini van full of all the stuff we needed to get moved in and sleep here that night. Getting the rest of the stuff moved has been a longer process. Getting it all put away... well, that hasn't occurred yet. We have been upgrading the facilities, though. We have done minor things like putting switches and outlets on the mercury light poles, and bigger things like building a shelter and pen for the animals.