Monday, July 31, 2006

Chicken Meat

The nice thing about the internet is that you can get into as many cliques as you want. Some people actually go way overboard. Of course, avoiding chat rooms is a good way to keep from wasting too much time.

A few years ago, I got invited to a Christian email list that's a spin-off from the list for Christian parents of ADD/ADHD kids. It's a really great list because of the loving fellowship and the total lack of strife and flames.

It also helps that we're all just a bit nuts. But hey, what do you expect from a list that's spun off of a list for ADHD parents.

Somehow, we got on the subject of animals and meat and how to turn live animals into dead meat... or something like that. It's common knowledge that factory farms are more like concentration camps than places designed to nurture life. Also, while most slaughter houses do a good job of killing the animals humanely, there are enough bad ones to give a certain animal rights terrorist organization plenty of ammunition for making a really bad video.

But we got past that. Someone made the mistake of asking exactly how the animals are killed. heh heh

Now, please understand that the apples don't fall too far from the tree. My kids managed to pick up the same sense of humor that I got from my dad. With some of Mary's sense of humor thrown in... well, they have their fun.

Since we all enjoyed Chicken Run, we call our meat chicken "pies". We don't talk about going out to the broiler pen or the cornish rock pen. We go to the pie pen and feed the pies. Paul likes to pick up one of those fat heavy things, pet it, and say "What a nice pie! You're going to be tasty!"

A little humor helps with the fact that we are raising those birds for our table. A few people had some bad experiences as kids -- eating a meal, then finding out that they were eating what they considered to be a pet. In some cases, it couldn't be helped. In others, it was rather insensitive of the parents.

But as for the pies... well, they are pretty generic and white. They are as about as smart as a stalk of celery, and have less personality. They reason we get them is because they grow so quickly, and because they have big breasts, and great thighs and legs. The wings are pretty good, too.

So, what did this stodgy conservative bunch of Christians think of that remark?

Well, they all tried really hard to come up with an appropriate reply, but most admitted that they couldn't think of anything that they would repeat. [snicker]

Hey, who says we can't have fun?

Of course, all this mayhem is going on at the same time that prayer requests are being made, and also when we are encouraging each other.

But on the local front, I actually did cook up some of those birds that I so gallantly slew this past Saturday. I cooked four thighs and drumsticks (I keep them attached), plus some mashed potatoes and peas. One of my dear children complained about the meal and wouldn't eat it (there was no gravy), so he ended up going to bed without eating much.

As for me, I had some home-made bread, and I might eat some peas. I'm not much of a fan of dark meat. I guess I'm more of a breast man.

So tomorrow, the rest of the chicken meat ought to be relaxed enough. It'll all go into the freezer. I put one drumstick/thigh in a small zip lock bag, and the huge breasts (gotta love those cornish cross birds) go into recycled cereal bags. The people who manufacture breakfast cereal like to put it in bags that you need a knife to break into, so I use them in situations where I need a really tough bag.

I started the dinner early, but we ended up eating it way late. Mary came home from seeing some patients, and picked us all up and took us to Lake Missaukee. She dropped us off and went to see her last patient for the day. By the time everyone was done, it was late. Most of us ate, anyhow. The picky often go hungry, though.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

lollipop, lollipop...

Stupid goats.

I went into the pen to dump and rinse the watering tub, and the goats decided that they wanted to lick my legs. Their favorite spot seems to be behind the knee. They licked my belly, too. [grumble, grumble]

Maybe it's because I was sweating all day, and they wanted the salt. It's not as if they didn't have a fifty pound salt and mineral block sitting in the barn. They can use that for a lollipop, not my thighs. (Sorry about the gross visual)

Enough grumbling. Or, maybe not.

Little meat boy (the castrated kid goat) kept getting out. I finally enlisted the help of my oldest son and went around putting branches in all the places where a goat might squeeze under the fence. I used the loppers to clean the side sticks off those dead branches that I hacked off with an ax before we built the fence.

(I was trying to impress Mary with how macho I looked swinging that ax, but she just yawned. I ended up getting a pole saw after that.)

Anyhow, I had to put up with Don's whining after be bumped into the electric fence. I guess I should have thanked him for testing it for me.

OK, what he was really grumpy about was the fact that I joked about it. I pointed out to him that he doesn't need to cry about it because the hurting has already stopped. Electric shocks stop hurting as soon as you let go. Believe me, I have experience in that area.

But we did get it done. Meat boy escaped a few times while we were working, which gave us a great opportunity to see exactly where he was escaping. That place has been blocked extra well.

He hasn't gotten out since then. Yay us. We managed to outwit a stupid animal.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Another three shower day

I know that you folks from the south won't be impressed, but it's up in the upper 80s right now. The humidity ensures that everyone gets drenched with sweat by just sitting around.

But who gets to sit around?

We put off doing the chickens last week, so they were still clucking and consuming food this morning. I was going to do all eight, but the heat beat out my ambition, and I just did four. It will probably work out better that way, anyhow. With the scraps of only four birds, the dogs, cats, and chickens will eat it up quickly. (Yes, chickens are cannibals.)

My computer is working well, at least. This five-year-old workhorse has been giving me trouble for quite some time. It has never liked the heat, and would freeze up on me if I played some computation-intensive game like half-life or gunman. This year, it was freezing up or rebooting or blacking out just because it felt like it. To say that I was getting frustrated would be an understatement.

I started a few weeks ago by cleaning off CPU's heat sink and making sure that the fan was working right. This helped. I found out later that the memory chips were dusty. I pulled them, washed them off, and reinstalled them. Getting rid of that insulative coat of dust helped. After that, I blew all the dust out of the computer that I could.

Still, it was acting up. It actually started to act like the old machines I used to repair did when the power supply was going. So, I pulled the power supply, opened it up, and blew it out. Dust went everywhere. It's a good thing I did that outside.

So now I can write without being paranoid about losing everything. I still save often, but that's just a good habit.

Meanwhile, on the farm, I finally got that one bail of hay that was keeping the garage door open used up. That just leaves seven in the garage and two outside. They were stacked and covered with a tarp, so I had to push the top one off and onto a palate. Of course, the cats wanted to wander around and see how much trouble they could cause. Luckily for them, nobody got crushed.

For those who aren't familiar with round bails, they are big (about 600 pounds) spiral-rolled mats of grass and/or clover. Imagine cutting down some grass, raking it into a roll perhaps four feet wide, compressing it, and then rolling that all up into big wheel. That's how they are made.

So, the first thing to do is to set it upright. Then, I unwind the bailing twine. Then, I unwind a little bit of hay and feed it to the hay burners. Then, more of it unrolls itself. Then, the cats climb all over it and knock more down. Then, the chickens scratch through it.

After that, half the hay is piled on the ground.

Of course, I was prepared for that. I just used the pitch fork (a gift from Mary, along with a nice ax) to pile it all on top of the bails that are safe and dry in the garage. (no, we don't park our car there. Does anyone?)

It threatened to rain today, so I had to cover everything up. Actually, just as soon as the first two chickens were dead and dangling from the tree, and my medical exam gloves were on, it started to sprinkle.

I didn't feel like pulling the gloves off, so I just went over and covered the hay in the garage and pulled the door half-way down. Then, I covered the unopened bail (I had covered it earlier, but part of the tarp blew off), and finally, I covered the bail that was unraveling.

About the time I got back to the chickens, that little bit of sprinkling stopped.

But anyhow, we have the pieces parts of four chickens resting in the refrigerator. They'll be washed again and frozen in three days -- after the rigor mortis leaves the meat and it is nice and tender again. Once that is done, I will have room in the refrigerator to do the last four birds. That'll just leave eight younger broilers that will be grown up in a month or so.

I was quite happy to be done with that job. I don't even like cutting up the whole birds that you get in the grocery store. Turning a live bird into meat is a yuckier job than that. I hope we have the cash to send the next batch to the Amish family that does birds for a couple bucks a piece.

After that stinky job, I took a shower and caught up on some reading and writing. I'm about to start working on my short story again. I got a lot done yesterday, but it appears that the scope of the story is getting bigger. I added a new character, and I'm afraid that I'm not being very nice to her. She's a nice girl, too. She deserves a happy ending.

(But I wouldn't want to spoil the story by telling you what happens. moooa ha ha ha! [snicker] [chortle])

Gratuitous pictures of the day:

I picked up an old television and salvaged some parts from it. The back turned out to be a good shelter box for the cats. Of course, since it's dark and cozy, and has nice soft stuffing inside, the chickens like to sit there and lay eggs. That little cat on the right didn't want to move, so the chicken just sat on him.

Goats are naturally ornery critters. There is perfectly good hay right next to her, but she has to stick her neck through the fence and reach as far as she can for someone else's hay. (This was taken at the fair last year)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I was lazy today, so I pulled something out of the archives. I hope it doesn't sound too morbid. I guess I need to get on to brighter subjects.

I reduced the file size on a couple of portraits, and intended on putting one on the header of my blog. I don't see where it goes, though. Some nerd, eh? I guess I'll have to look around for the correct place to load it.

Anyhow, I have one picture of the whole family, and one that does a good job at capturing the boys. (I was making faces at them when the photographer took the picture).

(Next time, we're going to borrow a pitch fork from the garden department to use as a prop. Maybe we ought to bring some hay bales in and sit on them.)

OK, time for some grumbling. I found out how to send my updates via email, but blogspot does some processing that adds stuff to my html. It chopped the story up and made it look like one of those emails that has been forwarded way too many times, and also displayed the link code to the pictures instead of embedding it. And then, it tacked on the suffix that the virus scanner likes to put on all the emails.

Oh well... I have a few ideas I'll try tomorrow. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the story and pictures, and don't find too many speling errirs. [snicker]

Life and death on the farm

(I wrote this last year)

When you take care of animals, you get to experience a part of life that most only hear about.

This morning, as I was cooking breakfast, my oldest son called to me and showed me the rabbit that he had caught. It was one of the gray rabbits that had escaped, and likes to be free range rabbits, thank you very much. This one, however, let him walk up and pick him up. Very strange.

So, I told him to take the rabbit to his mom so they could put it into the pen. Mary, noticed that the rabbit was rather lacking in energy, put it into a dog cage that we use as a 'rabbit tractor' in a grassy shaded area.

I went to see the rabbit later, and suggested that if the rabbit isn't feeling well, that we should lower the waterer so he can get to it easier.

Unfortunately, the rabbit was laying on its side. It didn't look like it was going to be getting up.

So, I told Mary that we aren't doing it any favors by letting it lay there and suffer. If we wanted to force-feed it water, we might be able to save it. It's doubtful, though. I asked her to take the rabbit over to the place where we had cut down some cotton wood trees that were dying, and interfering with the growth of a nice maple tree.

When I met her there with the ax and hatchet, Mary told me that the rabbit felt like it was going into convulsions. I took it and tried laying it on the stump and, sure enough, it was quivering. Best get this done quickly.

The stump wasn't big enough for the purpose, so I laid the rabbit on the downed trunk of the tree. One quick chop with the ax took its head off very cleanly. No big drama -- the head fell to the ground, and that was it.

I had to stand there for a second, though. I have no problems with the idea of killing an animal, and am very pragmatic about the situation. Still, actually doing the job is a solemn occasion. I don't take it lightly. It's not something I like to do, but something that I need to do. If I have to take a few deep breaths before going on to the next thing, so be it.

We had already piled up a bunch of sticks and used the hot fire to burn up a white plymouth rock hen that Mary had found dead in the run (probably a hawk). Mary stood there with the two pieces of rabbit while my oldest son and I collected some dead pine branches that I had cut from the trees.

I cut them up and piled them on the coals, Mary laid the rabbit on the highest part of the pyre, and the rabbit (along with any pathogen that might have killed it) was burned up.

And so life goes on.

Later in the day, I heard some peeping in the young chicken pen. They weren't the usual chirps from baby chicks, but a different sound.

Keets! The keets weren't scheduled to hatch until tomorrow, but some obviously have. I called to the kids and we went out to the pen, expecting to catch a glimpse of the keets under the broody hen.

But let me back up a bit here.

We have three guinea fowl -- one hen and two cocks.

A couple months ago, I found an egg laying in the path that goes around the run. So, miss guinea is laying, but isn't letting us know where the eggs are.

Later, I found her nest with five guinea eggs and a collection of chicken eggs. I took the chicken eggs and left the guinea eggs.

Eventually, she laid an even dozen.

In the mean time, one of the white rock hens had gone broody. That is, she was sitting on eggs, and getting all grouchy and puffed up at anyone who dared to try to steal her babies. I did anyhow, and left her with a bunch of plastic eggs...

Until one day, about four weeks ago, I made her a little nest in a plastic dog house (like a dogloo) that was inside the young chicken pen. I collected all the guinea eggs and replaced them with golf balls (in an attempt to fool the guinea; but it didn't work). I put the eggs into the nest I made in the dog house, installed the hen, blocked the door, and let her stew over the situation overnight.

The next morning, she demonstrated her independence by moving the eggs to another part of the dog house. She sat on them just as tight as you please, though.

And so it has been for the last four weeks. She would get off the nest once a day to eat, drink, and leave a big blop somewhere in the pen, and go back to setting.

Tomorrow was supposed to be the due date, but I heard the peeping today. I ran up to the pen and saw the young chickens picking on a keet. The mother hen was sitting tight on the eggs. She wasn't going to abandon her post for the one wayward guinea keet.

So, I rushed in there and rescued the poor little baby. Just then, my wife came home, so I sent the kids to call her over.

Meanwhile, I went and found three more keets outside the dog house.

A mother hen has a characteristic cluck that she uses to call her babies. It works really well with real chickens, but the guineas don't have the instinct to recognize the clucking. It'll be interesting to see if they learn it.

I put the four keets back in front of the hen, and they happily went under her. Those instincts, at least, are working fine.

A hen will happily hatch and raise whatever you set under her, so there were no worries on that account. She can't help it if the guineas want to commit suicide, though.

So, I got a piece of mobile home skirting that Mary had collected from someone's junk and used it to block the door of the dog house. It covers the bottom half of the opening so that the keets can't get out, but the hen can. I also put one of those waterers that use a quart mayonnaise jar into the dog house. Tomorrow, I'll be putting in some turkey starter. Guineas need the extra protein, and it won't hurt the poor emaciated broody cluck (who had to set for an extra week to hatch guineas) to have some extra protein.

While I was at it, I peeked under the momma hen. It looks like most of the eggs have hatched already. Already, the hen has done a much better job than that incubator we bought earlier this year. When it comes to hatching eggs, it's hard to beat a broody cluck with a mere machine.

And so there we have it -- a day on the farm where one animal cashes in its chips, and a bunch of new babies are born.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Meat birds are still there

The meat chickens have had a stay of execution. I was going to process them this morning, but we decided to let them fatten up for a while longer. Besides, we didn't feel like it.

Those who aren't used to killing their own food may be put off by our flippant attitude. I guess you could consider it to be dark humor. I don't consider it so because they are animals, not people. Dead baby jokes and the like are dark humor.

When you get a bunch of us in a group, like on the various poultry and livestock news groups, things can get interesting. For instance, my recommended prescription for a mean rooster is to trim his beak -- back somewhere behind the ears.

Another person was wondering how to stop a rooster from crowing. I guess there is a type of surgery that will do the trick, but it's expensive and dangerous to the rooster. Nobody has found a vet that would do it.

Someone else suggested that there might be something that you could put on the bird's neck to stop him from crowing. "Yah, it's called a killing cone" quipped someone.

A killing cone is an inverted cone with a hole in the bottom. You slip the meat bird upside-down in the cone so that his head is sticking out the bottom. Then, you use pruning shears or something like that to do the job. The bird is held in a perfect position for bleeding out.

Of course, there are a number of people on those groups who can't stand the thought of eating an animal that they knew. If you didn't grow up with the reality of killing your own food, that's a very understandable attitude.

But it isn't necessarily easy for the more experienced people, either. It's not something that can be taken lightly by most people. I did it for the first time in a couple decades just two years ago. After killing the bird, I had to go sit down and relax. It was a very solemn occasion.

On the other hand, it wasn't a big deal last week. I just got the job done as humanely as possible. Once he could feel no more pain, it was just meat that needed to be separated from the guts and feathers. It's a yucky job, but medical exam gloves help a lot.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Animal Antics

We are having a two shower day today. It's not miserable, but it's warm enough that another shower will definitely make the night go better.

The hay-munching varmints got out today. My suspicion is that someone didn't close the door properly. In any case, they were trimming our lawn (weeds, really) and having a good time.

My plan was to go to the food bins, put some horse chow (looks like rabbit pellets) in her bucket, and lead her in.

Lo, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray. I really should have known better, anyhow.

As soon as they saw me walking over to the food containers, they came running. Soon, there were two fat does, a little wether, and a horse all in that narrow strip of land between the barn and some bushes.

And they were all pushy.

The goats wouldn't keep their big faces out of the food bin (actually a trash bin), and I ended up losing the tin can that we use as a scoop. I still managed to get some food into the bucket so I could continue with my evil plan.

But first, I had to grab the mostly empty bag of horse chow. Otherwise, whoever stays behind will devour it.

Then, I had to start walking around the garage to the goat and horse enterence. Of course, all four animals were intent on putting their big noses into that bucket. And, they didn't care if I could walk or now. The goats can be pushed out of the way with a little effort, but there is no way to move a thousand or more pounds of horse unless she cooperates. Of course, she is a very cooperative horse, fortunately.

After some maneuvering, I managed to lead them all into the barn. I then had to hold the bucket high and keep the goats out. It's Sarah's food, after all.

Now, they are happily munching on some hay.


A few days ago, I was walking up the driveway and saw the cats looking at a frog sitting in the dry sand. I don't know how it got there, but I figured it wouldn't survive for long if it started to dry out.

So, I took it home and tried to figure out what to do with it. I ended up tossing it into that wading pool that the ducks like to splash around in. It disappeared later, so I don't know if the ducks ate it, or if it went out into the woods.

So today, Paul found a frog. The frog did fine in the pond. Paul and Gabe watched it swim around. Then, for some reason, Paul took it over to Wilma Waddleduck. She promptly snapped it up, which upset Gabe quite a bit. Luckily, he got over it. I guess he had wanted to keep the frog as a pet.

Today's gratuitous pictures of the day is a bunch of animals lounging around in the barnyard. It was one of the earlier warm and dry days this spring. As soon as the damp soil turns to dry soil, everyone has to roll around in it or take a dust bath.

Nope, nobody is injured, sick, or otherwise in distress. They are all blissfully lounging in the dirt.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Four shower days

The dog days of summer are finally here. We had a few hot days in June, but July is when they really start. Last Saturday, it approached 100 degrees F.

Generally, there are one shower days, and two shower days. The first shower in the morning is a given. I feel gunky all day if I don't shower in the morning. Some may say that it's an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), but I call it good hygiene If it's hot enough during the day to make me bust out in a sweat, then it's a two shower day. There's no way I'm going to lay my sweaty body in the bed. (Mary probably appreciates that.)

Well, Saturday was a four shower day. That's not totally due to the heat. If I get particularly gunky, I'll shower off in the middle of the day. If I have to go someplace that requires that I put more clothes on, I'll shower. In this case, it was both.

I already treated you with a reasonably complete description of the process of turning live birds into tasty meat. I mentioned that it's standard practice to carry chickens by dangling them by their feet. It tends to relax them -- most of the time. If they aren't used to such treatment, they generally start by flapping and trying to right themselves. Also, they sometimes look relaxed, but suddenly get a wild hair and start flapping again.

So, as one bird was in the process of draining of blood, he got a wild hair and started flapping. After that, I would have probably made quite the picture -- splattered with blood and holding a knife.

But I got the job done without too much more mess. It helps that I used medical exam gloves when disassembling the carcass.

So shower two came after that.

Then, we went to Cadillac to deliver some eggs (our one steady egg customer had come out of surgery a couple days before, so we used that as an excuse to drive to town.) After that, we went to Mitchell State Park. It's right on Lake Mitchell, of course. It has a nice little beach with nice water. Unfortunately, it's just a bit murky, and the motor boats knock loose enough sea weed to give us the fun of dodging the stuff. Some people really get weirded out when they run into the stuff.

I generally take a shower after exerting myself, but the swim doesn't count. Even with the slightly murky water, we were all clean and cool enough afterwards. Still, it was warm enough at the end of the day that I felt like I needed shower number three before crawling into bed. By then, the night was cool (it rarely gets hot here at night). Shower number four came a couple hours after that.

But anyhow, enough about personal hygiene There are more interesting things going on around here. All of those sickly tomatoes that we planted died, so we bought two healthy plants at Wal-Mart today. I put them in as soon as we got home. We won't be canning many tomatoes, but at least we'll have some BLTs, Chicken Polmodoro (or however it's spelled), and stuff like that. Other than that, the garden is pretty much a bust this year.

The mother hens sat on the eggs for a little while longer, and are now leading three little peeps around. With two mother hens taking care of three babies, they are very well-tended babies. I wish I knew what happened to the other twenty-one eggs. We should have gotten at least twenty chicks out of that batch.

I tried snapping some pictures, but the old clucks tended to stay between us and the babies. I guess I'll have to try again later to get some better pictures. Meanwhile, I'll give you what we got.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

More Horse Play

Mary's haflinger horse Sarah was touted as being calm and well-mannered; and she is. That doesn't stop her from trying to have her own way on occasion. Horses learn very quickly how to take advantage of a situation, and how to get out of doing what they were supposed to do.

We still haven't really ridden her. We saddled her up a few times and led her around with Paul on her back, but we don't know if she can carry Mary or not. We're pretty sure that she can't carry my 290 pound bulk.

You may recall that the person at TSC had sold Mary the biggest girth strap available because haflingers are so stocky. Unfortunately, it ended up being too big, which made for a loose saddle. If the saddle starts to slide, there isn't much you can do to stay on.

So Mary went to Mustang Sally's tack and feed shop and got a smaller girth strap. This one fits.

Mary was outside trying to heave the saddle onto Sarah's back, but she was stepping sideways to avoid it. The little snot knows what she's supposed to do, but she'll try to get out of it if she can.

So, I went out and held Sarah while Mary saddled her. She wanted to scoot away on me, but I was firm and I stood where she was going to scoot.

When dealing with smaller animals (like goats), you can pretty much use physical strength to tell them who is boss.

If I attach a lead to the goat's collar, call her, and walk off, she has to follow or get dragged. She soon finds it less stressful to just go along with it.

Horses, on the other hand, can not be strong-armed. Controlling a horse is much more dependent on attitude and relationship. A good horse person commands respect from the horse, and is seen as a benevolent herd leader. A mediocre to poor horse person will try to use intimidation, but a good horse person love the animal and is a partner.

I won't call myself an expert horseman, or even a mediocre one. Still, I'm working in that direction. I try to exude a calm confidence around Sarah, and I let her know what I want.

So, I stood next to her and held her halter. Mary lifted the saddle from the other side. Sarah wanted to scoot over, but I was there firmly telling her that she couldn't do that,

Mary got the saddle on her, so we attached the girth strap and tightened it up.

The next thing we need to work on is Sarah's tendency to dance or spook a bit. This last time, Paul didn't fall off (tighter girth strap helped). He chose to get off later, though. I hope he waited a while before doing that, but I wasn't there.

You see, animals have short memories with some things. Any trainer will tell you that you must correct bad behavior within about five seconds, or not at all. If you wait longer than that, the animal will have no idea what you're upset about.

I use that to my advantage with the goats. Vanessa is particularly adept at getting out. She's sneaky and stubborn, and she'll dance just out of your reach and laugh at you. Then, when you aren't looking (or are too far away to do anything about it), she will tip the feed cans (garbage cans) and get into the grain.

But, what I do is put about an inch of corn into a can and shake it. She sees it, and really wants it, but she is cautious because she doesn't want to get caught.

So, I hold the can out for her. She comes and munches on it. I let her munch for a while, then I carefully grab her collar. That way, she associates the rattling can of corn with eating, not with being grabbed.

Then, I take her back to the barn and let her eat more of the corn once she is inside.

Today, Mary decided to wash the horse. The trouble is, the horse spooked. She doesn't like water dripping down her back.

But, she's a good girl. I was able to grab each side of her halter and look her in the face while Mary was pouring water on her. She didn't like it, and struggled a bit, but she didn't panic or try hard to get away.

I had Mary stop as soon as she got the soap rinsed off because I didn't want Sarah to hate the experience and become uncontrollable the next time she sees Mary with the buckets and stuff.

It's a slow process, but we're getting there. It won't be all that long before we are able to handle the horse pretty well.

Feathery on the Outside, Meaty on the Inside

Saturday's task: turn a bunch of feathered eating machines into food for the family.

Actually, I was thinking of titling this one "Poopy on the Outside, Meaty on the Inside". Appetizing, eh?

The trouble is, we had quite a bit of rain recently. That caused the ground in the pen to get muddy and poopy. Since meat chickens are heavy and spend a lot of time sitting on their fronts, and poop sticks better than dirt, they all had poopy feathers on the front -- especially near their tails.

Well, we're not eating the feathers, or even the skin. Some people eat just about everything, including the feet. We know where those feet have been, though.

Anyhow, a couple days ago, we caught all of the larger meat chickens and put them into the adjacent pen. That pen isn't very secure. Chickens often crawl under the wire. The meat birds are too big, though.

So, we put the meat birds in there, tossed whole corn on the ground, and set up a big watering trough. It took them a while to figure out that they could eat whole corn, but they eventually (actually very quickly) got hungry enough to eat it. We now have corn-fed birds.

The night before, we didn't feed them. It's easier to clean them with an empty crop. Also, since they are supposed to have no food available for twelve to sixteen hours out of every twenty-four, it didn't cause them any undue hardship.

Since nobody asked, we didn't take any pictures. There are pictures of the process somewhere on the internet, so you can look it up if you are curious. Or, you can arrange to come here for the next batch and share in the fun first-hand.

If you join any chicken group, you'll eventually be treated to a discussion about how to dispatch the birds. The old classic method is to use a hatchet and a chopping block. This has the advantage of being quick, but there is every indication that the head lives for a good 20-40 seconds after it is severed. I have seen them gasping for air and blinking. I guess there is enough oxygen in the blood to last a little while.

There are people who break the birds' necks, but that has the disadvantage of killing them before they are bled out. I like my meat to be well-bled, so I have never tried that method.

The best method, in my humble opinion, is to use an extremely sharp knife to slit the chicken's throat. If the knife is sharp enough, there will be little pain (anyone who has been cut by a really sharp knife knows that it takes a while for the pain to register, while a dull or serrated knife is very painful).

In any case, you want a calm chicken. Some people administer hooch to the bird before dispatching him. I haven't tried that one, but I understand it works well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ramble, Mumble, Pontificate

I'll start with the obligatory farm stuff.

It seems that our two pekin ducks are broody. Yep, both Walter and Wilma Waddleduck have a nest. Wilma is sitting on it, and Walter is guarding her.

Unfortunately, the only thing under her is a rock. The dog kept eating her eggs before we could collect them. We had a bunch before, but they were all too old and the yolk was stuck to one side. I put the one relatively fresh one that we had managed to collect under her, but it disappeared. I'm tempted to stick some chicken or guinea eggs under her.

But they really are a cute couple. They have always been inseparable, but they have taken it to ridiculous lengths.

Before, if you caught one, the other may or may not hang around. Once they were reunited, they would act so happy to see each other.

Now, if someone approaches the nest, Walter gets between the potential marauder and his hunny. If someone picks Wilma up, Walter will follow him wherever he goes; or rather, he will follow Wilma.

In my previous entry, I had mentioned that it's time to process the broiler chickens. The fact that they are eating like horses is just one reason. The other is that they do very badly in the hot weather. Even in cool weather, if you pick one up, it feels hot. Those birds have unbelievable metabolisms -- and appetites. They were, after all, bred to grow fast and put on lots of breast muscle. Their legs and thighs also get big, but that's probably as much for support as for anything else.

So, rather than let them suffer in the heat, they are going to be processed this weekend. That'll cut our feed bill, too.

If you process them at the right time, you get nice, lean meat. If you let them get too big, you end up with a really thick layer of fat over most of the body. That happened to the broiler rooster and hen that were part of the original four chickens that we had. We were going to keep them as breeding stock and pets, but the hen got injured by the overly randy rooster, and the rooster ended up killing at least one other pullet by trying to mate with her. We ended up mercy-killing the hen. Once we started to process her, we found that she was injured a whole lot more than we had thought. We felt bad about what she had gone through. Never again will we let a broiler bird get too old.

A few people have tried to keep them as pets. With care, you might be able to get them to live for a year or more. You have to practically starve the poor thing, though. They really love to eat. In fact, they aren't interest in much else. Some people think that they are really sweet birds, but it's my impression that they have the brains of a head of cabbage. They aren't too bright, so they sit around and let you pick them up or do whatever you want. In fact, once they get bigger, running away may just take more effort than it's worth. I might be wrong in my assessment, but that's definitely my impression of those birds.

Mary just came in and told me that we have another broody hen in the garage. She left her with the half dozen or so eggs that she has managed to collect. I guess I need to install her into the broody pen that I had set up for the broody that's raising the youngest meat birds.

I was going to pontificate more than this, but I think I have rambled almost enough. I have a couple of photos, though.

This is one of those magic mushrooms that some people use to catch flies, and others use to get high. I don't recall the name, but I remember enough to know that I shouldn't eat it.

OK... just looked it up in google. I typed in "fly mushroom" and found that it is a Fly Agaric Mushroom (Amanita Muscaria). There, now I get to sound smart by quoting the genus and species.

It actually has two alkaloids that provide the various effects observed. The one will get you high and short-circuit your fear mechanism. You become fearless, and therefore prone to do stupid things. Some people (like the Vikings) used to use this effect when going to war. Nothing like turning all your soldiers into berserkers!

The other alkaloid makes you sick. Different samples of the mushrooms have differing amounts of the two toxins... I mean alkaloids. If you find one with lots of the high-making juice, but little of the sick-making juice, you have a valuable find (to some people, anyhow)

Another interesting fact is that the sick-making alkaloid is detoxified by the liver, while the kidneys remove the high-making alkaloid. That means that you can get high without getting sick if you feed some of the mushrooms to your best friend or your horse or dog, then drink the urine.

OK, so it would make me sick, but you get my drift.

By the way, I got all of the above information from the web when I was doing some research on this fungus. That means that you can take it with a grain of salt (or two).

But anyhow, the stuff grows all over our property in the fall. I wish there was some practical use for the stuff (besides catching flies). And no, I don't consider getting high to be a practical use.

heh. I just read on wikipedia that it can be detoxified by parboiling it. Then, it can be used as food.

I don't think I'll bet on it.

On the southern end of Raymond Road (250th ave) is a landmark (according to the DeLorme Map and Gazetteer) called "Raymond's Corner". I thought it would be amusing to lean against the sign.

OK, so it wasn't all that amusing.


You may recall that I put two dozen eggs under a white rock and a buff orpington. That was about three weeks ago.

Well, the blessed event has occurred!

I was beginning to wonder about our eggs after the total failure of the incubator to produce chicks. Most likely, the temperature was off or something like that. Incubators are a fine thing, but it's hard to beat the good 'ol mark 1 broody cluck when it comes to hatching eggs. After all, she and her ancestors have been at it for thousands of years. With 24 eggs under the hens, we can reasonably expect twenty chicks, ten of which should be pullets (baby hens).

The mother hens will set on the eggs for a couple days until all that are going to hatch are hatched. Then, they will lead the little ones out to get food and water. Woe be unto anyone who tries to bother the babies. I have seen a mother hen chase away a full-grown cat who's normally a very good mouser, and who has feasted on baby chicks (much to my sorrow -- but that's another story).

So, no brooder fortified with chicken wire, no heat lamps, no careful attention to temperature, no stirring and replacing of litter. Just two mother hens and a gaggle of chicks.

My boys can't resist temptation. They like to reach under the momma hen and hold the chicks. They're fortunate that our chickens are quite tolerant of humans messing with the babies. They generally won't peck humans.

Paul brought a chick right into the house (even though he wasn't supposed to). Later, he helped me take some pictures. The first batch didn't turn out. The flash was too bright, and the ones I took without a flash were too dark. The lesson learned here is to buy digital cameras from companies that are used to making cameras. Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and the like have lots of experience dealing with difficult exposures, focus issues, and things like that. Electronics companies can make a camera that does a good job in ideal situations, but the camera companies have years of experience dealing with the more difficult shots.

Anyhow, not being one to give up easily, I tried a few tricks. I backed up a bit to make less contrast between the outside light and the flash-lit interior. That worked only marginally. I put the camera right in the shelter with the hens to encourage the camera to open the lens a bit, and got decent results. A little manipulation in the photo editor made possible the pictures that you see here.

(I still like my SLR better)

I'll be able to get some better shots after the mothers bring the babies out.

Baby chicks don't need to be fed or watered for about three days. They live off of their yolk sack until then. Meanwhile, the mother stays on the nest to hatch the rest of the eggs.

If I remember (or get reminded), I'll get more pictures once the hens bring their babies out into the world. Meanwhile, I need to make a ramp to the box so that the chicks can get back in.


In other news, some of the broiler chicks are big enough to process. I would generally let them grow a bit more, but they are eating food at a ferocious rate, and we are really short on money (serious financial melt-down -- any prayers in that direction are much appreciated).

So, they have a date with the freezer this coming Saturday. I'll be doing the job myself (with some help from my beautiful assistant) to save the two bucks a bird we would normally spend. We're using the easiest method, though. I'll just skin the bird (after dispatching it, of course) and remove the breast, legs, thighs, and wings. I had saved backs and necks from previous birds, but recent experimentation has proven to us that there is little usable meat on them. The dogs will enjoy those parts much more than we will.

We're probably going to do about a dozen chickens -- just the biggest ones. The smaller ones will grow some more and be done in a couple weeks. The youngest broilers will take another month or more to get up to size.

There are some leghorns included in the picture. They are considerably smaller.

So, does anyone want me to take pictures of the processing? (Actually, I'll have to have someone else take the pictures because my hands will be goopy.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Modified story

Most people thought that the original version of this story was funny, but a few didn't like the part about the duck a l'orange. Just for fun, I modified the story. You can guess who prompted the change.


The Happy Dirty Ducks get a Bath

Once upon a time, there were four eggs. Those eggs were sitting in an incubator in a big hatchery.

After sitting in the hot, humid incubator for a long time, the eggs started to rock and peep. They would rock and rock, then they would stop for a while because they were tired.

But soon, they were rocking again. The little eggs started to crack. Then, a little beak appeared on one egg. There was a bump on the top of the beak. This is called the egg tooth, and it helps the little duckling get out of his egg.

Little beaks appeared on the other eggs, too. They rocked and struggled and struggled and rocked and went peep! peep! peep!

Finally, the little ducklings broke out of their eggs and flopped down on the wire screen of the incubator. The little yellow ducklings were wet and exhausted.

After a little while, they dried out. Then, a huge monster grabbed them and put them into a dark box with a bunch of other ducks.

They rode for a long, long time, until finally, another monster opened the top of the box and put them all into a big tub at the farm store.

In that big tub, they ate and drank, but couldn't swim in the water. They wanted to swim, but the best they could do is get water all over the place. The dirty ducks worked really hard to get water all over the place. When the silly monsters took out all their nice, soggy wood chips and put in yucky dry ones, the dirty little ducks pooped on them and splashed more water.

Soon, nice farmer Laura came by with her three boys. The three boys said "Hey Mom! I want a duckling!"

Nice farmer Laura said "Sure! Peking ducks lay really good eggs."

So the four dirty little ducks were stuffed into another dark box for a long, long time.

Then nice farmer Laura opened up the box and put the ducks into a little red tub. He had the same yucky dry wood chips on the floor, and a big warm bright lamp.

But the little ducks grew, and got too big for the tub.

So, nice farmer Laura put them in a big gray tub. It had more of the yucky dry wood chips in it. The dirty little ducks tried and tried to splash water on the dry wood shavings, but nice farmer Laura had put the duck waterer in a bowl on a strainer, so the dirty little ducks couldn't do much more than splash water into the bottom of the bowl, where they couldn't get at it.

Nice farmer Laura had to keep filling the duck waterer. She would fill it, and the dirty little ducks would splash it all into the dish, then be out of water. After a while, they would start to complain. When nice farmer Laura talked to them, they started peeping excitedly because they were sure that she was going to give them more water to splash and maybe even drink.

But most of it still ended up in the bottom of the dish.

Then the ducks got bigger and stronger, so they could splash the water farther. They also ate more food and made more poop. Soon, nice farmer Laura was putting down new wood shavings every day.

Then, it got a little warmer outside. Nice farmer Laura took some ducks outside to see if they liked it. Nice farmer Laura wants the ducks to be happy because happy ducks lay better eggs.

The dirty little ducks followed nice farmer Laura because they didn't know what else to do. They followed her right into the hen house, complaining all the way. This upset the whole hen house. Buck buck buckACK! the hens yelled.

Finally, nice farmer Laura gathered the chickens' eggs and lead the dirty little ducks back to the house. She put them back in their soggy little tub, and gave them food and water. This made them happy. Happy ducks lay better eggs.

Later, nice farmer Laura dug a hole in the rabbit pen and put the top of his boys' plastic sandbox in the hole. She filled the hole up with water. Then, she got the dirty little ducks and put them in the pen.

As soon as one of them saw the water, they all ran to it as fast as they could. They hopped into the cold water and went peep! peep! peep!

But these were happy peeps.

Nice farmer Laura wanted to make sure the ducks could get out of the water, so she chased them. They complained at her and got out. But, when she walked away, the ducks went back to the water. They didn't even bother with the dish of food that nice farmer Laura had left for them.

"These dirty little ducks are happy," said nice farmer Laura. "That is good, because they'll lay better eggs when they're happy."

The End

The gratuitous picture of the day is one that I shot when we were living at the cottage. I had a hard time finding a good one out of that batch because, it would seem, there is a light leak in the old camera that I'm using. I really like the old cameras, so I guess I'll have to fix the light leak. It shouldn't be that difficult.

(And no, I don't plan on using duct tape!)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Happy Dirty Ducks get a Bath

Once upon a time, there were four eggs. Those eggs were sitting in an incubator in a big hatchery.

After sitting in the hot, humid incubator for a long time, the eggs started to rock and peep. They would rock and rock, then they would stop for a while because they were tired.

But soon, they were rocking again. The little eggs started to crack. Then, a little beak appeared on one egg. There was a bump on the top of the beak. This is called the egg tooth, and it helps the little duckling get out of his egg.

Little beaks appeared on the other eggs, too. They rocked and struggled and struggled and rocked and went peep! peep! peep!

Finally, the little ducklings broke out of their eggs and flopped down on the wire screen of the incubator. The little yellow ducklings were wet and exhausted.

After a little while, they dried out. Then, a huge monster grabbed them and put them into a dark box with a bunch of other ducks.

They rode for a long, long time, until finally, another monster opened the top of the box and put them all into a big tub at the farm store.

In that big tub, they ate and drank, but couldn't swim in the water. They wanted to swim, but the best they could do is get water all over the place. The dirty ducks worked really hard to get water all over the place. When the silly monsters took out all their nice, soggy wood chips and put in yucky dry ones, the dirty little ducks pooped oin them and splashed more water.

Soon, mean farmer Ray came by with his three boys. The three boys said "Hey Dad! I want a duckling!"

Mean farmer Ray said "Sure! Peking ducks make really good duck a l'orange."

So the four dirty little ducks were stuffed into another dark box for a long, long time.

Then mean farmer Ray opened up the box and put the ducks into a little red tub. He had the same yucky dry wood chips on the floor, and a big warm bright lamp.

But the little ducks grew, and got too big for the tub.

So, mean farmer Ray put them in a big gray tub. It had more of the yucky dry wood chips in it. The dirty little ducks tried and tried to splash water on the dry wood shavings, but mean farmer Ray had put the duck waterer in a bowl on a strainer, so the dirty little ducks couldn't do much more than splash water into the bottom of the bowl, where they couldn't get at it.

Mean farmer Ray had to keep filling the duck waterer. He would fill it, and the dirty little ducks would splash it all into the dish, then be out of water. After a while, they would start to complain. When mean farmer Ray talked to them, they started peeping excitedly because they were sure that he was going to give them more water to splash and maybe even drink.

But most of it still ended up in the bottom of the dish.

Then the ducks got bigger and stronger, so they could splash the water farther. They also ate more food and made more poop. Soon, mean farmer Ray was putting down new wood shavings every day.

Then, it got a little warmer outside. Mean farmer Ray took some ducks outside to see if they liked it. Mean farmer Ray wants the ducks to be happy because happy ducks make better duck a l'orange.

The dirty little ducks followed mean farmer Ray because they didn't know what else to do. They followed him right into the hen house, complaining all the way. This upset the whole hen house. Buck buck buckACK! the hens yelled.

Finally, mean farmer Ray gathered the chickens' eggs and lead the dirty little ducks back to the house. He put them back in their soggy little tub, and gave them food and water. This made them happy. Happy ducks make better duck a l'orange.

Later, mean farmer Ray dug a hole in the rabbit pen and put the top of his boys' plastic sandbox in the hole. He filled the hole up with water. Then, he got the dirty little ducks and put them in the pen.

As soon as one of them saw the water, they all ran to it as fast as they could. They hopped into the cold water and went peep! peep! peep!

But these were happy peeps.

Mean farmer Ray wanted to make sure the ducks could get out of the water, so he chased them. They complained at him and got out. But, when he walked away, the ducks went back to the water. They didn't even bother with the dish of food that mean farmer Ray had left for them.

"These dirty little ducks are happy," said mean farmer Ray. "That is good, because they'll make better duck a l'orange when they're happy."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Just for fun...

Just for fun, I wrote some childrens' stories. I have three more of them, if anyone is interested.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the bunny one that I based on a couple rabbits that we used to have.

Nose-n-Toes and Nibble-Ear

When Nose-n-Toes was born, his mother immediately knew that he was Nose-n-Toes because he was pure black, except for his snow white toes and a teenie tiny little white dot on his nose.

When Nibble-Ear was born, his mother didn't know what to call him. The bunny with no name was pure black, just like his brothers and sisters.

But the rabbit with no name was not a rabbit to be ignored or forgotten. He was always getting into trouble because he was adventurous.

But every time his mother sat down to try to think of a name for her little bunny, one of his brothers or sisters would need something and mother rabbit would be off to handle it.

Nose-n-Toes and the rabbit with no name used to go for long walks in the woods and hide in the safe, cozy briar patch that was right next to farmer Joe's big hay field.

Every day, they would eat the tender clover at the edge of the field, and dart under the briar patch if they saw a fox or a hawk.

Soon, they had eaten all the tender clover that was close to the briar patch. The rabbit with no name said that he would rather get eaten by a hawk than live a life with lousy food and no adventure.

So the rabbit with no name went out into farmer Joe's hay field and brought back some nice, tender clover. Nose-n-Toes appreciated the nice, tender clover, but he didn't like it when his best friend went out into the field.

But the rabbit with no name went out farther and farther every day as the patch of eaten clover got bigger and bigger. Nose-n-Toes always went with the rabbit with no name to the edge of the field, but didn't go out into the field. Instead, he stood guard, and yelled whenever he saw a fox or a hawk. When the rabbit with no name heard Nose-n-Toes squeal, he would run and hide in the tall hay.

One day, farmer Joe cut all the hay and laid it out to dry so he could bail it. This made Nose-n-Toes sad, but his friend wasn't worried. The nice, tender clover was shorter, but there was still plenty to eat close to the ground.

The rabbit with no name was out in the field, when suddenly the hawk appeared! Nose-n-Toes let out a squeal, but his friend with no name had no place to hide.

Down, down, down dove the hawk. The rabbit to the briar patch just as fast as his bouncy legs would take him. He was almost there when suddenly the hawk spread his talons and was on him.

The rabbit with no name let out a squeal of pain as only a rabbit can. Nose-n-Toes ducked back into the briar patch and cried, sure that he would never see his friend again.

But the rabbit with no name had jumped up just as he felt the wind from the hawk's wings brush his fur. The hawk tried catch the rabbit, but only got a little piece of his right ear.

Nose-n-Toes was very happy to see his friend again. He looked at his best friend with a little chunk bit out of his ear and said, "If your mom won't name you, I'll just call you Nibble-Ear!"

And so that's how he came to be known as Nibble-Ear.

Nose-n-Toes figured that Nibble-Ear had learned his lesson and would never go out into the hay field again.

And Nibble-Ear had learned his lesson.

The next day, when he went out into the field, he was extra careful and stayed closer to the briar patch. After all, he would rather lose his other ear than live a boring life and eat lousy food.

Nose-n-Toes and Nibble-Ear are best friends.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Vacation near home

We used to vacation in this area before we moved here. Now that we're here all the time, it's all too easy to get caught up in day-to-day living and forget what we have here.

I remember coming up on canoe and camping trips. We camped at Kestlewoods a couple times. Now, it's just half an hour's drive from here. I'm still used to thinking of it as a far away place where I might go once or twice a year.

A couple weeks ago, we decided to drive over to the Hodenpile dam pond and swim. It was a nice drive, and we enjoyed going through the woods. The kids got a bit impatient, though.

We didn't find any public swimming areas, so we drove on down the river. No, we didn't actually drive down the Manistee river. We took took M-55 west to Manistee, Michigan. It's a nice little town nestled around the lake that's at the mouth of the Manistee river. From there, we went to Orchard Beach state park.

Swimming in a river can be fun, but you have to take great care when you're watching the kids. The current can take you downstream quickly, and it would be easy for a kid to panic in the undertow or get pinned against a log jam.

Swimming in an inland lake is OK, too. The main problem is that most inland lakes are just a little bit less than clear. Some are downright murky, but most of the ones around here are relatively clear.

Swimming in a great lake pretty much beats all. Just the scenery is worth the price of admission. The lake itself is generally very clear. If you're lucky, it'll be warm. That depends largely on which lake, the time of the year, and whether you're at a point or in a bay.

This time, we weren't all that lucky. The kids went in and swam around, but I was more inclined to just wade a bit to cool off. The water hasn't warmed up much yet.

Several years ago, Mary and I drove up along the north coast of the upper peninsula of Michigan. We stopped at a bay in Lake Superior, and ended up swimming instead of just splashing around. The water was very warm -- something that you don't find much in Lake Superior.

It is said that Lake Superior comes in two temperatures -- the temperature of liquid ice, and the temperature of solid ice. In the earlier case, however, Mary and I swam in a shallow bay that had been warming in the sun all summer.

But this time, Lake Michigan didn't have time to warm up. We still had fun, though. The kids splashed around and didn't seem to be bothered by the cold water.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chickies and Duckies

This past Tuesday, we picked up our last batch of chickens and ducks for the year. We wouldn't have ordered more ducks if the previous batch had survived. The combination of cold weather, a lousy mommy hen, and having to go to fifth grade camp conspired together to kill off a bunch of our babies. One Indian Runner duck out of six survived, and about half of the meat chickens survived. All of the leghorns (egg-layers) survived, though.

But I'll back up a bit.

Maybe a week before the chicks were due, I collected the two broody hens that have been trying to hatch eggs in the manger and put them into Lucky Lollie the collie's old dog house.

Whoops... I forgot to mention that the chicken-eating varmint, Lucky, died a couple weeks ago. No, I didn't have anything to do with it. She appears to have died of old age. She has been laid to rest in our garden, and there are flowers growing on her grave.

So, her pen has been put back to use as a chicken pen. All of the chickens (and one surviving duck) from the previous batch have been installed into the pen. I have a hanging feeder and waterer, along with a deep dish of water so that the duck can clean her beak. Ducks like to dip their beaks about up to their eyeballs and clean all the snot and dirt out.

So, everyone has been installed and seems to like the pen better than that big brooder. The broiler chicks are getting big, and could be processed into 'Cornish Hens' right now. Some are even too big for that.

So, next time you see a 'Rock Cornish Hen' in the grocery store, know that it's probably a Cornish Rock chicken (maybe a rooster) that's maybe a month old.

The broilers are big and fat, but the little leghorn pullets can still fit through the wires. I really need to get some twistie ties and hook chicken wire to the lower part of the pen.

Here is a picture of Paul and Gabe with a leghorn, a meat chicken, and an indian runner duck. They are all the same age.

Paul (on the left) has a leghorn and a meat chicken. Gabe (on the right) has the half-grown indian runner duck.

The duck is running around happily, but I'm sure that she'll be happier with more ducks. Right now, she's the odd bird out. She's too big for anyone to pick on, though.

I tossed some hay into the old doghouse and put two dozen eggs in the middle. Then, I grabbed the two broody hens out of the goat manger (a buff orpington and a white rock) and tossed their fluffy tails in there. I locked them in for a day (blockaded the door), then let them out. They are now happily stuck like glue to their eggs. They're essentially sharing a nest, and will also share the chicks. It isn't uncommon at all for birds to do that. I'll be sure to get some good pictures once they hatch.

But Tuesday, we went and picked up another dozen broiler chicks, plus six Indian Runner ducks. I have always wanted Indian Runner ducks. What's not to like about an animated bowling pin? Seriously, they have a long body, and they run around with their bodies in an upright position.

The first thing I did was to get an old dog cage and put it in the pen. I put some hay in it, put a tarp over it, and installed yet another broody that had been trying to hatch eggs in the nest boxes. I stuck all the broiler chicks under her. She seems to have accepted them but isn't doting on them like a mother hen should. It might be because the broilers have probably had lots of instincts bred out of them -- including the ones that allow a chick to respond to its mother. They kind of wander the pen separately. I blame it more on the chicks than the hen because buff orpingtons are supposed to make very good mothers.

They seem to all be doing better now, as you can see.

Anyhow, I had locked them into the dog crate the first night and the next day. I let them out yesterday, and they mostly all made it back last night. I had to help a couple babies get into the cage and under mommy. I just checked them now and they are all in the cage. They aren't under the cluck, though. I think it's too cold for them to be out from under the hen, but they must have a different opinion.

Now, the ducks were a different story.

I put a black australorp hen on some duck eggs quite a while back. They disappeared, but the dumb cluck just kept sitting on the bare nest.

So, when the chicks and ducks arrived, I moved the dog house she was using as a broody house into the chicken pen. I put some food and water in it, installed the baby ducks, and blocked it off. We kept an eye on everything until it started to rain. Actually, the rain didn't deter us as much as the hail.

As soon as the hail ended, Paul went out to check on things. He came back broken-hearted with a limp duck in his hands. The hen had pecked it to death.

I went out and found another baby duck that was almost gone. I was trying to decide whether to try to save it (its skull was exposed) or kill it when it died on its own. So, I had to dig another grave in the garden.

That leaves us with four Indian Runners and a Rouen duck that someone else had failed to pick up.

I really wanted to throw that hen as hard as I could against a tree. What a lousy mommy! Instead, I just tossed her out of the pen and had Paul collect the surviving (and mostly unhurt) ducklings and put them into a box for now. Meanwhile, I prepared the brooder. It's still out in the garage because Mary suggested that we put them into that same little red bucket that we have used since we started raising poultry. They will soon outgrow it, though, and end up in the bigger brooder. I have to make sure that the bigger brooder is cat-proof before putting them in.

So there we are... six leghorn pullets and about a dozen fat little broilers in the pen. Another dozen broiler chicks are under a buff orpington hen right now. The black australorp that I had tossed out of the pen is back in -- installed upon a batch of guinea eggs (she probably won't hatch them, either, but I'll give her a chance). The ducks are here in the living room peeping. Soon, they will be big enough to go out and run around. Meanwhile, the kids are doing their best to turn them into pets. I hope they succeed.


I had started writing this a few days ago, but decided to post it after I got some more pictures.

A few things have happened since then. The saddest thing is that I suggested to Paul and Gabe that they toss the old water out of the little wading pool that the ducks use and refill it. Then, I asked them to get me so that we could let the baby ducks try their webbed feet.

The part they forgot about is "get me". Also, they thought that the ducks would like a bubble bath, so they added soap.

The end result is that three ducks drowned. I'm not sure how, with the kids right there. I suspect that they put three in, then went to get the others. Meanwhile, the soap in the water caused the natural oil to go away, and soaked the feathers. I was really bummed, and the kids were heart-broken. A lesson learned, for sure.

So, we have the original two Pekin ducks (big white things named Walter and Wilma Waddleduck), the half-grown indian runner duck, the baby indian runner duck, and the baby rouen duck. That'll have to do for now. I guess there's always next year.

Meanwhile, the two babies do seem to be rather tame. They have imprinted on us humans.

As I have mentioned before, the meat chickens grow a whole lot faster than the egg laying breeds -- especially the leghorn.

Here is Paul with the old pekin drake -- Walter Waddleduck.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth!

I hope all of my fellow Americans had a wonderful Independence Day holiday. And for everyone else... I hope you had a pleasant fourth of July, too.

We had a nice picnic at my parents' cottage with my parents, and my brother Dave and his family.

Don had discovered canoing in Fifth Grade camp. Now, he has discovered kayaking. So has Paul (who is eight).

Someone had brought two kayaks to the men's retreat last week end. Dave asked him if he could leave them there for a couple weeks, and he generously agreed. He left a relatively long yellow lake canoe (with a keel), and a shorter blue slalom canoe.

Mary managed to get into the slalom canoe and was happily wandering about the lake. She says that it has a mind of its own as soon as you stop paddling. It doesn't coast straight at all.

So, she came back to shore. That thing wasn't under control much at all -- though she did actually manage to hit the broad side of the lake.

I helped her get it to the dock, then got her to the wider area (it's a floating dock), so that she could get out without the our combined weights sinking the dock (it doesn't take much more than my weight alone in the narrower section.

That little kayak is tight. It has a couple bumps to hold your legs down near the front of the hole that you're supposed to squeeze into.

So, I tried to hold her and the canoe steady so that she could push herself up with her hands. You can't bend your knees, so that is essentially the only way of going about it.

She managed to get one leg out, and was maneuvering to get the rest of the way out when she took an unscheduled swim. We had an audience, of course.

So, it was my turn.

The first thing I did was to go up to the van and change into my swimming suit. Mary went up there to get dry clothes and her swimsuit (to put on under the dry clothes). I gave her one of the extra pair of shorts that I brought, and also the shirt off my back.

Everyone suggested that I try the longer and more stable kayak. I informed them all that I have been wanting to try a slalom kayak for years, and I was going to go for it, doggone it!

So, I went back down and positioned the little blue slalom kayak partially on shore for stability.

There was no way I was going to fit into that thing.

[grumble, grumble]

So, I got into the longer one. I fit OK, but I couldn't bend my knees enough and it was uncomfortable. By the time I was done, my legs were going to sleep.

But it was a nice ride.

I found that when I stop paddling, it wants to continue to veer. I tried a little body English, but it didn't seem to work.

It didn't take long to get the hang of it. There are some black stripes on the paddle that help me keep it properly centered. That gives even power and makes it easier to paddle straight. Just paddling on one side will send you slowly in the opposite direction. Giving it an extra long stroke, so that you are actually paddling sideways at the end of the stroke, will turn you rather quickly. I suspect that it would make you go in circles in the slalom kayak, but I didn't get a chance to find out [grumble].

I also found that I could get the thing up to hull speed (the maximum speed before a boat will either plane or drag itself under the water) without too much trouble. Putting the paddles straight down next to the kayak at each stroke allows you to give it lots of power without causing it to wobble with each stroke.

So, I really like kayaks. I just need to find one that has enough room for me to cross my legs.

Meanwhile, Don and Paul had a blast with both of them. Paul was off shore a bit going around in circles on purpose. Then, he would paddle around a bit and come back.

Paul and Gabe (age 5) also did a lot of swimming. They wore themselves out, so we had no trouble sending them to bed.

In the middle of all of this, Dave and I gave Dad a little help with the construction of his new home. It's their vacation home now, but Dad and Mom will be moving up here when they retire. Theoretically, that should be this coming November, but Dad plans on staying on for a couple extra years. I guess he loves the place or something. We'll see what happens next summer when he comes up here on the weekends, knowing that he can spend all of his time up here if he wants.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Pastoral Scenes and Bratty Animals

Yesterday, Mary decided to graze the animals a lot. It definitely saves on hay -- a minor expense when dealing with goats, but a bigger deal with horses. Besides, we're running out. We're going to need to get about fifteen round bales to last us a full year. Things will get better once I get some good pasture land fenced in. Meanwhile, Mary takes them around on a lead. She likes to hang out with her horse.

It would appear that Sarah (the horse) has adopted the goats as her babies. That means that she puts up with more stuff than she would otherwise.

My suggestion to Mary yesterday morning was to grab the long rope and tie a goat to each end. Then, tie the middle to a tree. Finally, she should come back for Sarah and take her out on the longe line.

The next thing I saw, she was herding four animals around, and the goats kept going under the horse and getting her wrapped up with rope. [sigh]

A bit later, I had Paul take the baby ducks out to the pen. They hang around a bit, but then squeeze out between the wires. I really need to attach chicken wire to the bottom of the fence.

Interestingly enough, the run out and follow whatever human they happen to see. It would appear that they have imprinted on us. That's good, since we got them for pets.

While that was going on, I dug the hammocks out of the bottom of the camp box and put them up. I never did get to lay in them for more than a minute or two.

But, the whole family was out there, either petting cats or ducks, or maybe goofing around in the chicken pen. They blockaded the part of the fence where the ducks like to escape, but the ducks still would occasionally escape and make a bee line to the nearest human, peeping away.

Then, Mary brought the horse and the goats to that part of the yard. The little wether was untethered, but he followed everyone else. The big does didn't really need to be tethered, either. They just hung around the horse, who was busily munching grass. Horses go for the low stuff, and prefer grass. Goats like to reach up, so they were climbing whatever they could to get the leaves off the maple and elm trees. Goats love to just grab a nibble here or there, not taking much of any one thing. They like trees, bushes, and weeds.

That's where I decided that we were making quite the pastoral scene.

But the hooves were long overdue, so Mary got the hoof trimming supplies and we went at it.

If you look in all the goat literature, they show some nice, calm farm lady standing next to a goat, who is patiently waiting there while she gets her hooves trimmed.

Yah, right. Maybe in some other life time.

First of all, standing next to a struggling goat and bending over isn't exactly good for your back. We have been through all of this before, and have tried the prescribed method. We generally ended up sitting on the front porch with the protesting goat on her side while one person held the animal and the other person did the trimming.

This time, we sat side-by-side in a couple of those plastic lawn chairs. I held a foot up while Mary trimmed. Don stood on the other side with his body against the goat so she couldn't slip away sideways. Using this method, we got the job done with a minimum of fussing and complaining.

But Meat Boy, the little wether, was too short for this method, so I just set him on my lap upside-down while Mary did the job. He complained a bit, but then decided to lay there and chew his cud. Then, little cud-breath wanted to give me a kiss. What is it with these goats, anyhow?

Today, I decided to take down that pen (a wire dog crate) that we had hanging in the shelter area. Sure enough, everyone has to see what I am doing. I must have tasty legs, because those varmints (the goats) just had to lick me behind the knee. Did you know that goat tongues are rough like cat tongues? Then, they worked at untying my boot laces.

But I got the cage down and proceeded to drag it out. I got to the door, and they were waiting for me to open it wide so that I could get the cage out.

The little snots!

I snuck out and grabbed a few flakes of hay. I tossed them over the cage and let everyone have a good much. Then, with the goats and the horse distracted, I pulled the cage out. It is now next to the chick pen with the ducks in it. They will spend most of their time there until they get too big to sneak out of the big pen. Meanwhile, they'll get plenty of attention from the kids.

But Mary likes to take her horse around on a lead for grazing. She was doing that a couple days ago just before dinner. Since she was cooking that day, she handed the horse over to me. That leaves me talking nice to this large animal as she mows our lawn for us. She particularly likes timothy hay.

It had been raining on and off that day, and it decided to go a bit 'on' just then. Big fat drops, too. I tugged the horse over to some fresh grass and hid under a tree.

Anyhow, after a bit of this, I was saved by the dinner bell.

So, I took Sarah to the shelter and led her through. But that snotty little wether ran out between the horse's legs.

I closed the door and took off after the wether. I knew exactly where he was going. He headed straight for the other side of the barn so that he could get into the storage area, sneak under the nest boxes, and get at the chicken food.

As usual, the goats decided to lean against the door. Apparently, it hadn't latched properly, because it sprung open. The goats ran out and proceeded to much on the shrubbery. The horse came out and looked at me as if to say "Ha ha ha! I'm loose!". Then, she ran straight through the woods to the front pasture. She knew exactly where she was going.

I ran to the house and told Mary what happened, then I ran over and grabbed the wether out of the chicken feeding trough. I unceremoniously dumped him over the fence and ran to the other side to get the does. Liberty was distracted, so she was easy to grab. I shoved her fuzzy butt into the pen and went for Vanessa. She artfully dodged so that I couldn't grab her collar. I grabbed her tail instead. She complained vigorously, but that gave me time to grab her collar and send her to the pen.

Then, I ran around the other side again and threw a couple cans of horse food (some kind of pellet with sweet feed mixed in) into the feed bucket and headed to the front pasture -- just in time to see Mary come back with the horse. Sarah didn't try to dodge at all. She let Mary walk up and put the rope on to her halter. Mary said that she blew into the horse's nose because that's how you tell a horse that you're its buddy. (No, I'm not making this stuff up.)

So that was fun. I wonder what kind of chaos is going to happen next.

The gratuitous photo of the day is Don't cat Moo. (When you have twenty cats, you start to run out of names.)