10.16.2010 One sick chick

Please forgive me.  I’ve named another chicken.  Her name is Sophie.  She’s beautiful. And she’s dead.  After a week of my inept attempts at keeping her alive, she finally breathed her last while sitting in my lap just a few minutes ago. But she had a great last day.  She got fed every two hours, went for a ride in the van, saw a soccer game and got petted by a couple of curious kids who thought she was some sort of rescued raptor. She sat in the garden and could hear the buzzing of the bees while I planted blueberry bushes and my husband and son worked on the coop.  Then she went down to the chicken pasture and visited her friends.  Just before dark, she came in and spent her last few hours in my lap.

The above photo was taken shortly before she died.  I think she was a silver penciled wyandotte.

This post is coming so soon after her demise because while she rested in my lap, I was surfing the web trying to figure out what was wrong with her and how to make her better.  As it turns out, I probably hastened her demise.  I found you’re not supposed to force feed liquids unless you’ve got a crop tube (whatever that is) to get the fluids down into their crop.  Otherwise, you’re probably shooting liquid right into the lungs and your chicken drowns on good intentions.

As to what brought her down initially, I still don’t know.  The few posts which describe similar symptoms usually include a diagnosis of worms and end with a wormer and a week of antibiotics in case it was something else.  Not a whole lot of avian vets out there and fewer still who deal with poultry.  Those who do are expensive with a captial E.

So what have I learned from this experience other than how to drown a chick?  Well, often during the week, when I paused in my chores to check in on Sophie, I found myself thinking, “How long do I let this go on?  Is the dollar value of the eggs she might lay if she survives equal or greater than the value of the time I’m investing in her to keep her alive? If she survives, how do I keep her from breeding?  I can’t allow whatever weakness this is pass on to future generations in my flock.”  That tells me I’m making the transition from suburbanite to farmer.  I don’t need pretty pampered pet chickens.  I need productive hens and tasty fryers.  If they do get a sniffle, they need to get over it quickly and get back to work with only a little extra care from me.

I also learned I need to feel my animals.  I do this with the horses already and am always listening for rumbly tummies (which is a good thing in horses).  The dog and cat get regular rubbings so I know their bodies pretty well.  But I need to learn what a healthy chicken and turkey feel like so I’ll know when something isn’t right, like the day I get an egg-bound hen.  I’ve avoided handling my poultry for two reasons: I don’t want to think of them as pets and when I start raising them to sell, there will be too many to make handling them all practical.  Still, as I held Sophie throughout the week, I came to know what she felt like and I could tell by feel when she took a turn for the worse. But she was sick when I first started handling her.  So tomorrow there will much laying on of hands in the chicken tractors.  That ought to be entertaining, if you listen closely you might even hear the cackles of protest.

10.14.2010 The Wall

It’s been a busy week already and it’s only Thursday. Monday, I noticed a lethargic hen in one of the tractors. She got up for the move but as soon as it was done, plopped herself back down again. Unusual. Then the farrier came, and while it doesn’t take a fellow who knows what he’s doing very long to trim and file two horses, it does take time to bring those horses in from the pasture and exercise them to burn off some steam. Don’t want them getting fresh with a good farrier. Those guys are hard to come buy.

Tuesday brought the “big move” for the poultry. Since we put them in the tractors on Labor Day, they have traversed the entire length of the pasture and it was time to turn them around and bring them back the other way. Not hard, really. If you’re a manly man. But I’m a middle aged woman who’s never been known for upper body strength and who’s struggled with carpal tunnel in recent years. I got it done and reset the still non-electrified electric netting. Ice and ibuprofen fixed the rest. My lethargic hen was neither improved nor worsening. She made the big move with the rest of her buddies and then sat down for a long rest. Throw in a doctor’s appointment, soccer practice and two teenagers who suddenly decided to talk to me for an extended period, and that rounded out my day.

I should mention that at nine weeks, my poultry are starting to get pretty bold and no longer seem to be scared of the big boots that bring the food and water. They peck at my boots, my hair, my jewelry which means they are no longer huddled in the corner when I’m in their pens. In fact, I think they just might be plotting their escape from the chicken tractors. Fat Albert’s little brother, Archie and the Burbon Reds, and one Buff Orpington cockerel – they are the ring leaders in their respective pens and it’s just a matter of time before they sneak out the door when I’m hanging up the waterer.

By Wednesday, the news is rain coming in Wednesday night into Thursday. Great! I’ve got one more field that needs mowing, and six blueberry plants arriving today that need planting. The lethargic hen can no longer get up for the morning move. All of which means, I won’t be stringing the wire for the chicken pasture today. I brought the hen into the barn, put her in the old guinea pig cage, force fed her some yogurt and applesauce. By the way, chickens really don’t appreciate being force fed. Then came the whole ordeal of taking the tiller off the tractor and putting the bush hog on. I finally had to ask my neighbor how to connect the PTO. Found out I could manually turn the PTO shaft on the tractor so the grooves line up with the attachment. (Well, who knew? Maybe I should read the instruction manuals.)

A quick trip into town to diesel for the tractor and some nice stinky cat food to feed the hen. My books say high protein cat food only when chick is sick and not eating and then only small amounts. Only problem was, no amount of force feeding was going to include cat food if the hen had her way. And she did. Back to applesauce and yogurt.

I cranked up the tractor at 4:00 and stopped only when I ran low on fuel, that was around 7:30. Didn’t finish the pasture. Too tired and too dark. Once I got the tractor back to the barn and turned it off, I learned another important lesson: when mowing tall grass that produces large amounts of fluffy seed pods, stop every 30 minutes or so and clear the fluff off the tractor. Man did that puppy get hot!

The rain started sometime over night and by 7 am we had nearly two inches in the gauge, so no mowing today. Instead I moved the chickens and turkeys, fed the horses and force fed my sick hen, who is still hanging in there but generally not loving life much at all. I went back into the house to grab some breakfast for me and the dog around 10:30. That was my big mistake. Should have just worked hungry. Instead, I sat down and woke nearly five hours later when my oldest got home from school. Even after that hugely long nap, the body is telling me it is not done sleeping. I have hit a wall.

So here it is, Thursday night, and I have yet to accomplish the two things I was planning to do this week. Farm paperwork and the wire on the chicken pasture. I am trying to be a farmer and office manager, a mother, a housewife and a wife and I don’t feel like I’m doing any of it very well. In trying to do it all, I’ve created a situation where none of us are eating well. I’m not getting enough sleep. (Neither is the rest of my family, but that their choice, not mine.) Don’t get me wrong. I’m not whining. I just don’t have the system worked out yet. On the up side, my friends and neighbors are quick to remark how much we’ve gotten done around the place even if I can’t see it. They kids are doing well in school and nobody’s sick. So it’s just a matter of fine tuning and getting used to living at the whims of the weather.

10.11.2010 Thursday’s last hurrah and a few words about farm odors.

So, Friday rolled around and it was fairly a humdrum day with the livestock. I even opened up the beehives briefly without any mishaps. I had nice dull little post ready to go into the blog about how the trouble monkeys had moved on. But deep down, I knew,Thursday hadn’t quite finished yet.

A loose battery cable made a “hold-your-breath-and-hope-it-starts” adventure of getting the kids to their Saturday appointments. My daughter’s SAT test started 15 minutes later than it should have and ended 30 minutes later that it was supposed to, making my son miss the first half of his soccer game. Later, the minivan went toe-to-hoof with a deer. (Both survived to boast of their luck.) The daughter had to do one of those “emergency dismounts” when her horse refused a jump cause the mare is PMSing. Some fella thought traveling down the highway the wrong way would be entertaining. A fire in a power substation in a downtown Richmond skyscraper disrupted life for a lot of people. Fights at school. Computer systems crashing. Mayhem and chaos! It was everywhere. Not just me. But I think it’s over, for now.

Today’s lesson, class, concerns goats. I don’t have goats. And today, I learned why I probably won’t ever have goats. My neighbor has a pair of them and her young billy goat is just coming into his must, if that is the proper phrase. To put it succinctly, that billy goat stinks. And being inquisitive and friendly, he loves to share his stink by rubbing it all over you. Lordy, lordy, how it does get on your clothes and work its way into your skin! Though the stink doesn’t rank up there with skunk, it is a mighty powerful thing and is certainly enough to make dining unpleasant if you fail to remove the stink before dinner.

In all fairness, from what I’ve read about billy goats, it’s not a permanent affliction. Rather it’s related directly to the rutting season. In addition to the musky scent glands on their heads, billy goats pee on themselves during this special time of the year to make themselves irresistible to the ladies. What a way to celebrate a holiday, huh?

Before we moved to the country, I’d been around horses and cows enough to know I didn’t find their odors offensive. Sheep are pretty rank. Learned that at a sheep dairy a couple of years ago. I also knew, mostly from camping in Arkansas when I was in college, that the big commercial chicken houses have a really foul odor about them. Truthfully, my chickens do make a stink, but it’s a little one, as I relocate them every day. Pastured chicken stink is not pleasant like horse stink, but it’s quite bearable. And unlike goats, chickens don’t rub their stink all over you when you step into their pen.

Point is, being around livestock means being around stink. Some of those stinks are harder to get used to than others. I don’t know that I could get used to billy goat, but they are awfully cute and really adorable. But whew! It’s been hours and the memory of the smell is still stuck in the back of my throat. . . . yet, goats are rumored to eat the poison ivy that so torments my husband. Okay, maybe just a couple of nanny goats . . . next year.

10.7.2010 Just Another Manic Thursday

Anyone who knows me for very long soon discovers my opinion of Thursday. Thursday, Thor’s Day, the day the lightning strikes out of the blue. Like Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I never quite got the hang of Thursdays. Sometimes, Thursday packs such a wallop that it ramps up on Wednesday and continues for a 72 hours or more. Confused? Well, let me explain.

Yesterday, I ran out of gas on my way to the gas station. Less than a quarter of a mile from the gas station. In the truck. The diesel truck. Despite the fact the fuel gage said I had more than an eighth of a tank and the low fuel light never came on. In case you didn’t know, the thing about diesel engines is, if you run them completely dry, you have to bleed the air out of the fuel lines before the engine will start again. That takes a tow truck and mechanic with tools and know-how. Probably a blessing in disguise. I’ve be meaning to take the truck in for service to get the cricket removed from the air conditioner and more importantly, have the tranny checked. Now it’ll finally get done.

When I got home from that adventure, I managed to wrap a soaker hose around the tiller when I was running the tractor over the pumpkin patch, turning in all the debris. No tools required to fix, but a good half hour spent trying to unwind the hose from the tines.

This morning I nearly burned down the house when I forgot I had set water on to boil to make some hooch for the bees. Luckily, my senior moment passed before all the water had boiled off and the pot had melted.

Then, my neighbors’ horses and goats got loose and decided to go talk to God. We rounded them up at the church across the street. In her rush to meet the pastor, the mare fell on the road and got some pretty nasty abrasions. Scary stuff, and it really drove home the need to put in the “just in case” gate across the driveway sooner rather than later. That way if the animals do get out of a pasture, they can’t get off the property. (Provided the just in case gate is shut.)

After all that excitement, I decided it was probably tempting fate to do anything remotely dangerous for the rest of the day. Maybe if I keep it to dull, boring house work, the trouble monkeys will move on and Thursday can finish being Thursday somewhere else.

10.5.2010 Let’s Talk Turkey

It was a pretty quiet day on the farm – feed the animals, clear some of the fence line, grocery shopping and soccer practice. The thing which really stuck out today was the turkeys. We’ve had them now for a little over 7 weeks and they are 8 weeks old. Baby chickens are sort of cute. Baby turkeys – not so much. Now however, my little turkeys are looking pretty gosh darn awful. They’ve started shedding the feathers on their head and are looking like, well, I don’t know how to describe them. A bunch of old men desperately needing hair transplants? Football fans with too much team spirit coupled with too much liquor? Velociraptors in training? TSA agents? Just plain creepy? Here’s Archie. You decide.

Archie, Black Spanish Turkey Chick at 8 weeks

Now, lest you think I’m getting too attached to my chicks, only a few have names. Fat Albert you’ve already met. So let me tell you about Archie.

Originally, I ordered twenty turkey chicks. The hatchery sent 22, but two did not survive the trip through the mail. On Friday, August 13, I installed exactly 20 chicks into the brood stall we’d made up in the barn. They were kept separated from the 50 chickens that had arrived the day before. From the very start, the Burbon Red chicks were the boldest and most inquisitive. (I also received some Black Spanish, Standard Bronze and a few Whites in the assortment.) The Burbons were also a bunch of bullies. They pecked at the others without mercy, even killing a some of their roommates.  Apparently, eyeballs and bits of poo hanging onto bum feathers look mighty tasty if you’re a chick.  To this day, my White turkey walks around the world to the left because she’s blind in one eye, pecked too hard by her broodmates.

Then came the rat. I had to spend a couple of nights in the barn to figure out what was taking my chicks in the night. After three nights in a lawn chair, armed with a flash light and a paintball gun, I had either managed to scare the rat off permanently or the rat was taken by the large black snake that lives behind the barn. (No shots fired.) However, between cannibalism and the rat, I was down to 11 turkeys and 48 or so chickens by the end of the first week. Pretty discouraging.

Maybe it was the heat as they went through the mail system that weakened them.  Maybe it was bad breeding.  Probably it was bad animal husbandry on my part.  Chickens seem to do okay on their own. Turkeys, however, definitely need a mother hen to tell them what to eat, where to poop and to slap them around when they don’t mind their manners, but mostly to defend them from predators and other turkeys.  Barring mother hens, turkey chicks need constant supervision until they are about 10 days old.

By the end of that first week, I had pulled two of the Burbon Reds out of the main group and penned them separately which earned them the name “The Timeout Twins.” These two were forever pecking at the other turkey chicks and doing major damage. I figure the rat took two turkeys, the Timeout Twins took out the other seven. My daughter managed to salvage one of their victims, a Black Spanish, before he was too far gone. She brought him into the house, we set him up in the old guinea pig cage and I dubbed him Archie. Archie Bunker because he was forever complaining, presumably about “those stinking Burbons.” For a while, he was by himself, then he was joined by a chick who’d suffered the same sort of attack (Basically, they’d had their bums pecked out.) The chick didn’t make it. So we brought in the other surviving Black Spanish to keep Archie company. Naturally, I called her Edith. They both had a lot to say.

All in all, Archie spent two weeks with us before I deemed him fit enough to return to the flock. This episode stunted his growth and he’s the smallest of the lot, even now. (Though he seems to be making up the difference.) He is completely unafraid of our dog, Moose, and gets right in her face when she comes close to the turkey pen. As for his opinion of me, I don’t think he’s ever quite forgiven me for giving him a bath and no amount of yogurt will make us square.

Black Spanish, Burbon Reds and especially the Standard Bronzes were once the mainstay turkey breeds in the United States, but fell out of favor when the Broad Breasted Whites met large agribusiness in the 1960’s. The heritage breeds are now making a comeback due to their superior taste and a growing number of farmers and consumers who appreciate them. You’ll pay quite a premium to place them on your Thanksgiving table because raising them to market weight can take anywhere from 24 to 30 weeks, compared to 18 weeks for the white commercial breed. Mine will be only 13 weeks old this Thanksgiving. My current plan is to put some of them in the freezer around Christmas, saving only a few as breeding stock. At this stage, I’m just trying to figure out which are best suited to our climate, which are the easiest to manage, which tastes best, and most importantly, can I raise and sell them profitably.

10.3.2010 Good News and Bad

A big part of this transition from suburbia to farm living is getting used to the unexpected things that crop up. No book prepares you for all of them. This morning for example, I pulled up two of my peanut plants just to see how many peanuts there were under there and to see how they tasted. The news was good. 77 pods on the first, and 93 on the second, and my book said well cultivated peanut plants will yield around fifty. Whoohoo! Success!

Now, I have to say, I could get into this peanut farming thing. Just stick them in the ground in June and walk away until after the first frost. Peanuts are vigorous plants that crowd out weeds, (even the Bermuda grass had a hard time invading the peanut patch.) They weren’t troubled by any bugs at all. They lift right out of the soil at harvest, and with a couple of good shakes require very little cleaning. Dried, they’ll store for a year or more without refrigeration. This is definitely my kind of food plant. And incidentally, when raw, they actually do taste just like raw English peas.

Based on advice from our neighbor, I boiled this first batch in salted water. Boiled peanuts. Well, what can I say? You can’t eat just one, but you probably won’t get much past five before your body’s salt-o-meter starts screaming for you to put down the sodium and back away. Maybe you could eat more if you serve them up with beer on a hot day. That was the serving suggestion in the recipe, along with eating out of doors so you could spit the shells anywhere you pleased. However, today was quite cool and I had to drive, so no beer for me. I still have plenty of plants in the ground, so I’ll definitely have to give it another try. Wonder if you could “boil” them in the crock pot?

And then, there’s the unexpected bad news. We lost a chicken today and I don’t know why. All the chicks were fine at the morning feeding. But by evening, when I went to check their water, one was quite dead. She wasn’t stone cold yet and still had a bit of warmth in her, so whatever happened to her happened in the hour before nightfall. Her bum had been pecked out a bit, but I think the rest of the chicks did that after she died. Archie, a turkey, recovered from worse wounds back in when we first got the chicks. Without any obvious life threatening body trauma to have caused her death, I spent all night wondering what had caused it. Contaminated feed? Noxious insect? Disease? Or just bad genes? I’ll never know because these chickens have proven expensive enough already. Not paying for an autopsy. She was a Rhode Island Red, I think, and I’ve got more just like her. We’ll just have to wait and cross our fingers that no more drop.

Finally, there was the unexpectedness of the temperature. When you work outside all summer in 100º heat, this sudden dip into the 60’s feels really cold! The cool weather prompted my daughter to ask if I was excited about our first winter on the farm. No, dear, not really. Winter will bring whole new set of problems and a whole new set of expenses, and a whole lot of things I don’t expect.

10.2.2010 RAIN!!!!

In case you missed it on the news, we had a giant storm mosey its way up the eastern seaboard this week. It rolled in Tuesday night and didn’t fully exit the area until Friday after noon. Eleven inches of rain and for the most part it came down slow and steady all week. Not much visible runoff, a credit to the former owner who grew grass really well. The ground sucked up an awful lot of moisture. By the time the gusty winds of the remnant tropical storm Nicole arrived Friday, the ground was thoroughly saturated and the wind was enough to knock down one of the dead trees in the weedy pasture. Saved us the trouble of trying to bring it down ourselves, but, naturally it landed on the fence. So yeah, more work. My husband cut up the trunk today, but it will be a while before the ground is firm enough to drag out the pieces with the tractor. And wouldn’t you know, now that we have the generator, the power didn’t go out a single time.

The chickens and turkeys weathered the storm very well. The tractors kept them and their feed dry, mostly. The horses did their best to look pathetic as they huddled under a cedar tree during the heaviest of rains, but neither Venus nor Ophelia really took me seriously when I invited them into the barn for feedings. Made me catch them every morning. On Wednesday, I started shooting syringes full of applesauce into their mouths to make today’s worming a little easier. That worked like a charm. A couple of days of the good stuff, one day of the bad stuff, followed by a couple more days of good stuff. Don’t remember where I read that little tip, but it’s worth keeping.

Aside from the morning feedings, I was pretty much confined to the house all week by the rain so I planned my orchard. It’s a lot more complicated than you would think. Aside from making sure you have enough room to plant everything you want to plant, you also have to worry about bloom times and cross-pollination needs, and spreading the harvest over several months. Then there’s general hardiness and disease resistance to consider. Add in several hundred cultivars, each available on different rootstocks, the controversy of amending the soil or not, and the controversy regarding fall vs spring planting and you’ll want to tear out your hair. Four solid days I worked on this project and I still haven’t ordered a single plant.

To pick any tree variety for planting, I always start at Edible Landscapes. (Eat-it.com) They are about 85 miles northeast of our farm, higher in elevation with colder, snowier winters and very slightly cooler summers. Edible Landscapes is not far from Monticello and America’s second most famous apple grower, Thomas Jefferson. That naturally led me to the top ten varieties from taste tests at Monticello. Then I brought in the recommended home starter orchard from Old Virginia Apples. Their list gave me varieties which mature from June to November and produce a broad range of eating, cider, cooking apples, and good keepers. Then it was simply a matter of reading commentary on each variety and making substitutions based on heat tolerance, pollination needs, disease resistance and root stock. Then the process started all over again with pears, then plums, cherries, peaches, blueberries and blackberries. Holy Fruitcake, Batman!

I did spend an hour in the barn potting up all the plants I got last Saturday at Viette Nursery’s propagation class. A Viette special daylily, a couple of irises, two very rare poppies, purple heart, shasta daisy, achillea, and some other stuff I don’t recall at the moment. I have yet to plant the seeds of the blackberry lilly, as there’s been no time to prepare a bed. One of these days, I’m really going to enjoy having a greenhouse, but that project will have to wait.

Bow hunting season started today, which means in a couple of weeks the hunters will be out with their guns and their dogs. Gotta get that fence electrified! Finishing the hen house is also becoming a priority as the plywood floor we laid down this summer is not holding up well to the sudden wet. More rain coming in tomorrow night. It’s a welcome thing, this rain. At least the laundry is getting done in a more timely manner.

9.25.2010 Cock-a-doodle-what?

Somehow it was just appropriate. While feeding the chicks this morning I heard a new noise but it took a few moments for me to realize what I was hearing. One of my chicks was trying to crow! I traced the sound to the pen with the black feathered chickens (they are roughly sorted by plumage: shades of brown or black). I peeked in close so I could see which chick was being so bold. Should have known. The big fat ugly chick that I call Fat Albert. When we first got the chicks I wasn’t even sure he was a chicken. He’s so goose like in all his features save his beak and feet. But sure enough. Albert was crowing! Not very manly yet, and he didn’t conjugate his verbs properly, but he is only seven weeks old. Very cool!

Albert at 8 weeks of age

Albert at 8 weeks of age

The turkey pen and one of the chicken tractors got pulled over piles of horse poo this morning. This was a first. The chickens looked at their pile of dung suspiciously and gave it a lot of room in case it proved hostile. The turkeys, on the other hand, dove right in and wallowed in it like Scrooge McDuck in a vault of gold. Rolling and rubbing it all over themselves. If I could figure a way of keeping the turkeys safe from predators and still let them free range around the farm, I wouldn’t have to drag my pastures. Ever. Something to ponder and ask the old timers about.

After a short workout in the round pen with each of the horses, I got cleaned up and ready to go on my outing. I have been planning this for over a year. A plant propagation class at Viette Nursery in Fisherville, VA. You pay a small fee and a radio nurseryman conducts a two hour seminar on how to propagate plants and then you dig in and bring home a couple hundred dollars worth of divisions. What a deal, huh? My friend Tammy went with me and it was a pretty awesome day. The nursery is just beautiful tucked on a broad hillside in the Shenandoah Valley. Visiting there really made me question my plan to plant my fruit orchard in neat little rows. This man had apple trees everywhere, but they were nestled into long curving beds filled with so many other lovely plants. Not something I’d want to graze horses or cattle through, but just beautiful nonetheless.

Viette Nursery, Fisherville, VA

The nursery too was abuzz with expectation of the rain which is supposed to come in Sunday night and Monday. All week, the news of possible rain has spread and the country people I know, plant people and animal people alike, are all in motion. Finishing projects and getting fields ready to receive the rejuvenating fall rains. It’s an excitement you won’t find in the city or suburbs. It’s people living on the whims of Mother Nature. She’s punished us with heat and drought and now it seems she might finally relent. It may seem a crazy, but I confess I find it all a little thrilling. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, farm people aren’t just talking about the coming week of rain. They speak of early frosts and a very cold winter ahead. I wonder if they are right? I reckon if I have to learn how to take animals through a tough winter first, all the rest of the winters won’t seem so bad.

When your day begins with a young rooster’s first crow it’s bound to be a special day and it was, from start to finish. Even my son’s soccer team won their game.

9.23.2010 The Great Virginia Dust Bowl of 2010

Another learning experience today. Several actually. Today, I finished jury rigging the gaps in the fence around the hayfield and moved the horses out of the chicken pasture. Then, after my weekly trip to keep Tractor Supply in business, I ran the Bushhog over the chicken pasture, cutting mostly the foxtail grass the horses wouldn’t eat. Gonna have to do something about all the poo piles; don’t have enough poultry to let them do the job. Hmm. Sounds like I need another attachment for the tractor. I remember reading somewhere I could drag the pastures with a weighted length of chain link fence to disperse the manure, but that’s a project for another day.

In the immediate future is a couple of days of intense heat and then . . . RAIN! Which means it’s time to finally renovate the weedy pasture. That also means I had to take the Bushhog off the tractor and put the tiller on. It was fairly easy when the salesman showed me how to do it two weeks ago when he dropped off the tractor. Whole different animal when there was no one around to show me how it was done. Could have read the manual I suppose, but really, how hard could it be? Only four connections. Luckily for me, by the time I got to this delicate piece of surgery, my husband was home. Between the two of us, we got it done. Lot of grease on the hands from the PTO, but we did succeed. Eventually.

Then I just had to try it out. I headed for the riding ring battling that intellect of mine the whole short drive from the barn to the ring. I knew better. Due to the lack of rain, I’ve been avoiding this particular job since I got the tractor two weeks ago. The ring is a concrete like mix of imported sand over native clay held together with weeds and wire grass. And that wee bit of rain we got last night, evaporated before the sun came up this morning. In a nut shell, I stirred up an awful lot of dust and quit after four passes down the length of the ring. My tractor is not Kubota orange anymore. It’s Virginia red clay orange. So was I. I won’t be surprised to find my house is orange in the morning light. Lesson learned. When the intellect speaks that loudly, it’s best to listen, no matter how much fun the new toy promises.

9.22.2010 A pretty good day down on the farm

9.22.2010

No doubt, this farm is learning experience. Before we moved I knew intellectually I needed a steady water supply and good fencing to run a farm. But it’s taken a few set backs for me to appreciate a really good fence and a reliable water supply.

Regarding the fence: We have five pastures on this farm and every one of them has a gap in the fencing of some sort. I had been keeping the horses in the most secure of the five which is also the only pasture with access to trees for shade. It’s also the weediest of the five pastures. Last week, some plant, I don’t know which one, started giving Venus hives. After three days of mysterious bumps and swellings and a runny nose, I figured I needed to get her on better pasture. The next most secure pasture is where the chickens and turkeys are currently hanging out, so I roped over the gaps in the fence moved the horses in there. My thought at the time was it would only take me a couple of days to set up the electric fencing and maybe, just maybe, the horses would respect a temporary fence.

I cordoned off 1/8 of an acre with electric wire, but didn’t give it a charge. I put the horses in after their evening feeding. To my surprise they were still within their little paddock come morning. After their workout, I went to move the temporary fence and discovered poo piles outside of their little 1/8 acre patch. They’d gone wandering in the night but, having a sense of humor, and always willing to pull my chain, both Ophelia and Venus, looked perfectly innocent.

By the end of the next day, I’d given up on trying to contain my pushy, clever mares until I had some serious voltage. I just crossed my fingers and hoped they’d leave the chickens alone while I tried to get the electric fence thing figured out. Yesterday, I went out to find the chicken fence down and one of the chicken tractors all katywhompered. No harm done to the chickens, can’t say the same for the non-electrified electric net around the the chickens.

Regarding the water: The only source of water on the farm is the well. If the power goes out, the only water we have is what’s in the toilets and the pressure tank. Not enough for the livestock. In our four and a half months here, we’ve lost power a couple of times. Luckily, never for more than a couple of hours. Still, those outages drove the point home. As a side note, not having power when you’re trying to brood chicks could be problematic if the weather is cool. Bottom line, I’ve either got to have power or a pond and mother hens.

Which brings me to today. It was just nasty hot and humid, but I was hopeful as I headed out to the pastures to start the day. The guys on the weather blogs I read were pretty darn sure we’d be getting rain. The pastures are pretty crispy and several times today I felt sure I was going to start a grass fire as I worked to clear the fence lines. But if I’m going to electrify the fences I can’t have weeds, tree limbs and long grass interfering with the current.

About mid morning my neighbor stopped by with a tractor warming gift. A linchpin! Miriam says I always need extras because I’ll always be losing them. She’s so thoughtful. We chatted over the fence for a long time. She was kind enough to let me show off my poultry (always glad to visit the babies) before we both went back to the chores du jour. Then, oh happy day, the gas company guys finally showed up with the generator I ordered a month ago! And, those weather geeks came through too. We actually got a wee bit of rain. Pretty good day down on the farm.