farming

A Random Series of Un/Fortunate Events

Last weekend, the clocks sprung forward an hour for Daylight Savings Time. Ever since, "springing" out of bed has been out of the question for me. I've felt tired all day, every day, and am really hoping that this weekend will help me make the final transition into the new schedule. The spring time change is always the worst for me, but seems worse than usual this year, not sure why. (Anyone else wish that the almighty "THEY" would pick one and stick to it, for-crying-out-loud?!)

Maybe the tiredness is accentuated because the weather simultaneously went from "warm and sunny" to "freeze-your-knackers-off and gloomy", which doesn't help at all.

Despite that, the week has plugged on at it's normal, relentless pace. The boys are in another round of swimming lessons for three days a week until the end of March. Unfortunately, it is in the morning this time around, which really messes up our school schedule on those days. By the time we get home, not only are we past their brains' peak operating times, but they are also tired from the swimming. Some days, my pokey middle child hasn't finished his "morning" subjects until 5 p.m.... or later. The other two are sometimes not far ahead of him. It can make for kind of a long day, not to mention that we are falling further and further behind in our "afternoon" subjects of history and science. Thank goodness we are not Alberta-government-aligned in those ones!

Last fall, I joined a ladies Bible study group to do a study on James by Beth Moore. We just finished it up this week (crammed an 8-week course into four months :-D), and I am so thankful for what I learned through it. It has helped me to become much more proactive in my faith, in the sense of not only seeing the need that surrounds me, but looking for ways that I can actually do something about it. It can still be frustrating to see so much wrong in the world and feel so inadequate for the task of making a difference--but I can still make a small difference. And the small things that I can do might just make a big difference in the life of somebody. We never know what long-term impact our small actions can make on the world, whether for good or for bad. The study also inspired my assignment for Week 2 of the songwriting course I am taking from Berklee professor Pat Pattison, which you can read about here.

Last weekend, I cajoled Jason into doing a renovation project that has been on the back-burner since moving into our current trailer. When we moved in, the linoleum throughout the house needed to be replaced. The addition was done before we even moved anything into it (by yours truly, I am proud to say), and at the same time as we purchase lino for that project we also bought laminate for the larger boys' bedroom to cover the disintegrating 35-year-old linoleum that was there. We got a great deal on the flooring through Spirit River Flooring (it really does cost less, there!), partly because we weren't being very picky about colour, partly because they had a sale on laminate at the time, and partly because the saleslady was very sympathetic to our situation of having to replace our home because of the mould issue, and did the best she could for us on the price.

Fortunately, when we purchased the first trailer, the previous owners had just put laminate into the smaller bedroom in that trailer, and they had three leftover boxes that they gave us. That bedroom is almost identical in size to the room Jude currently occupies, so we figured we would have more than enough laminate to do the floor in there without purchasing anymore, even if it meant lifting some out of the old trailer.

However, despite getting Noah's and Jabin's room done last spring, and having the best of intentions to get to Jude's "fairly soon," it didn't happen until this Sunday past. However, once we got started on the project, it only took a few hours to empty the room (including taking apart the bunk beds), lay the flooring, and move everything back in. Jude got to bed a little late, but since it was the first day of the time change, he probably wouldn't have fallen asleep earlier, anyway--night owl that he is. The three boxes of laminate were the perfect amount to cover the floor, so we didn't even have to lift the "used" stuff. :-)

It's nice to have that project out of the way. It seems that stuff like that doesn't happen in the summer, because it is way too hot indoors. Maybe we should look at getting a window-mounted air conditioner this summer, because frankly, I am kind of amazed we got through last July without my guitar cracking and without all of us turning into little pools of water and minerals in our beds.

At any rate, while Jason was cutting floorboards outside last Sunday, he let our Alaskan Malamute (who is now a 17-month-old "teenager," with all the grace of Goofy in a China shop, and the self-discipline of a two-year-old), Thunder, run free. During the warmer weather we were having last week, we had been tying him up to prevent untimely chicken deaths as we let the chickens out of the coop to enjoy the sun. The snow, at about three feet, is high enough that these excellent flyers don't feel that the run fence is a particular hindrance right now.

Jason was keeping an eye on him, but it doesn't take long for this speedy dog to be on top of any little thing that he thinks might entertain him, which was the case with one unfortunate hen who strayed outside the run. Jason interfered before she died, but since Thunder had been tossing her around like a football, she lost all but one scraggly little tail feather, nearly all the feathers on her back, and several square inches of hide, as well.

So, needless to say, "Rosie" (as we have now dubbed her) has been spending the last several days in the house in a large plastic storage tub that doubles as a brooder for small batches of chicks. She is past the critical stage--she didn't go into shock and die, and after several bouts with hydrogen peroxide and colloidal silver, the wounds have closed up and appear uninfected--and yesterday, she even started walking around in her little tub, eating stuff, and clucking gently at us when we checked on her. If it weren't for the missing flesh at a most inopportune location as far as roosterly "affection" is concerned, I'd actually send her back out today. As it is, I'm wondering, How long will it take for a chicken's hide to grow back?! I guess we'll see. The poor thing will have to be in "solitary" for another day or two, at least.

Well, you're pretty much caught up, and that's enough rambling for one post. Happy Thursday, friends!

The End Draweth Nigh...

Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night.
— Hal Borland

I can't believe summer is almost over. There are way too many things still on my "to-do" list for that to be allowed.

For most of yesterday, and the rest of today, I have been/will be planning out my homeschool year. Of course, I have a general idea what I'm doing, having picked topics--now I just need to decide what we're doing when, and what activities will go along with it. It is fun, and exciting, and I know that if I plan it now, the year will go much better.

This year, for the first time since we were in Arkansas, I will have all three boys home. I am really looking forward to it, especially to maintaining the "we-know-how-to-play-together" dynamic that took most of the summer to achieve. (Of course, as I was typing that, I heard Jabin start wailing because of something Jude did. Figures.)

Seriously, though, I noticed a real change in the dynamics around here from July to now. It was like a year in school, mostly with children his own age, made Jude forget how to play with his brothers. His self-admitted favourite thing to do in June was to pester them. IT WAS DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!

It took several weeks, but what I was hoping would happen was finally realized--Jude and his brothers seemed to re-equalize their dynamic.

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Then, last week when we had a couple of rainy days, I realized that they had been creatively finding things to do all week, and mostly getting along in their play. They had built stuff, played dress-up, played outside, and were uncomplaining about the limited "screen time" I allowed them.

YAAAAAAAAAY!!!!

Anyway, despite my typical "the-summer-is-almost-over-and-the-projects-are-still-undone" panic, we have been knocking a few things off of Ye Olde To-Do Liste, some more "for fun" than others.

The weekend before last, I made a wreath I've had the supplies for for over a year. The little wooden "preserve" jars with the "Fruits of the Spirit" on them were actually a garland that I got in a garage sale. The hemp twine holding them together kept breaking, and I had no good place for it in the new trailer, besides. So, "a- repurposing we will go." Add a wreath, ribbon, and decorative potpourri, plus a few silk flowers, and Voila!

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(My one peeve with it is that the last fruit [dangling below the bow] is spelled "Self-Contrl." Made in China, anyone?...)

Also, it no longer hangs over the mirror. I didn't like it there. :-)

Last fall, we switched out the diesel heater that was originally warming our addition (and went through ginormous amounts of fuel) for a wood stove that was a gift from my mom and Mike. Jason built a tiled base and wall-cover heat shield (technical term? Dunno.) from tile that was given to us by our friends the Mundts and also the Stanleys from some of their leftovers. We got very creative in making a symmetrical pattern with what we had, and it turned out pretty good. Unfortunately, it was already late enough in the year that we could not actually remove the stove long enough to mortar and grout the ones on the base, as the addition would be too cold without the stove running for it to cure properly. So, in the last week, Jason has been tackling that project. He mortared down the base tiles, and got almost everything grouted before running out of grout! We are hopeful that he will be able to match the colour, but just in case he can't, he left symmetrical sections of tile ungrouted to make it look a little less "unplanned." :-)

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Since the rest of the room is full of items that would normally be filling up the area in this photo (like the wood stove!), you can see that I am using this convenient flat surface to sort out my textbooks at the moment.

The white case in the far back right is a beginner Japanese course. Jude decided he would rather learn Japanese than French this year. I told him I was game--it is a useful language to know, and I will learn it with him. Should be fun. Also, we are hoping to be able to put the boys in karate this year, so it will complement that nicely. (In most karate dojos, the students need to learn basic Japanese terms anyway, such as counting. I still remember how to count to, uh, ten! Also, I can say "I did it!", but that's from watching Heroes. :-D)

The plastic bag over the stovepipe has a bit of creosote that fell down into it, plus some water from the rain--not sure why that is, since we re-shingled the addition this spring, and Jason just re-tarred everything. Musta missed something. Anyway, last night a moth flew down the chimney (Forest Tent Moth--only about a million of those around here right now) and got caught in the bag. It can't seem to find it's way up again, and the flapping against the plastic is freakin' me out...

One more exciting bit of news. Last Tuesday, we got 40 chicks from a mongrel used-to-be-purebred-heritage-breed flock of chickens. They are meant to replenish my own decimated flock. (If you don't remember what happened, my dog did it.) They will be pretty little going into the winter, and we won't know for sure which ones are roosters until around February. However, I'm hoping that they manage to keep each other warm this winter and we can actually start getting a decent number of eggs again by spring. Right now, they are just li'l cute balls of multi-coloured fluff!

Anyway, I should go feed my kiddos some lunch, then keep working on "school."

Happy Tuesday, friends!

Calling Beowulf

Further developments: the coyotes (or whatever they are) have started laying siege to the small "chick" tractor.

I know, because the Rubbermaid Roughneck container containing their food, which I keep snugged up to the side of the tractor to prevent the tarp from flying around, was not only flipped on its side, but the lid was off and the food spilled out. Further inspection revealed several tooth-mark punctures in the lid.

The tire used for tarp-anchor on the other side was also flipped over.

The huge, 6 cu. ft. bag of pine shavings that was also being used as tarp ballast/dog digging deterrent had been dragged several feet away, with puncture marks in numerous places through the plastic. (The bag weighs around 50 pounds or more, would be my guess.)

And the outer layer of poultry wire on the "front" of the chicken tractor was completely mangled. The inner layer was stretched, but had managed to hold.

So, that's why Sunshine was barking last night... Every time I stuck my head outside into the dark (we have no outside light right now) I could not hear any kerfuffle, so I figured she must have been barking at the fireflies. (Yes, fireflies. In my thirty-something years as an Alberta girl, that is the first time I have seen fireflies here.)

Tonight's plan: "Tether the dogs close enough to the chicken coops to actually fulfill their purpose as guard dogs, but not so close that they can molest the poultry themselves."

We'll see how it works. My only fear now is that I may find a mangled dog in the morning instead of a mangled coop. I'm not really sure what made all those teeth marks, after all.

By the way, that "tie the dead chicken around the dog's neck" thing? I'm giving up on that. It never works. They only eat the chicken. Lesson learned? I think not.

Epic Fail

Since I am only in my second year of chicken farming, and the monetary investment into the project far outweighs the benefits received from it, when I have a loss, I feel it. Not just in my pocketbook--I am still attached to the darn critters, because they are my responsibility.

Now granted, I no longer weep when I find a dead chick from confusing causes in amongst the healthy ones--an event that, thankfully, has been rare this year. And the only deaths of adult birds that I weep at are the ones I inflict myself.

In fact, I am emotionally hardened enough already that I don't really cry when the deaths are inflicted by another sentient being, either. But not so hardened as to feel nothing. Oh, no--there are definitely other emotions evoked.

Like anger.

This week has seen some serious losses to my flock. The flock that we spend money, time, and effort on so that WE can have the benefit of our labours, not some random passing coyote who realizes that these dumb, domesticated birds are much easier hunting than the other prey he might find in the trees.

I should have 20 adult birds. I only have 12. The numbers have been dwindling at the rate of about one a day.

Jason has been working on digging the post holes for a permanent, enclosed, fortified-against-wildlife chicken run, but it is slow going in our gravel-pit of a yard. Also, he is away on a work trip this week, so hasn't been able to take advantage of the ground softened by rain, and I have been too busy to do the same.

We can't get that thing finished fast enough. I managed to get a "temp" enclosure of orange snow fence and electric-fence-posts up around the coop the other night (the soft ground certainly helped with this project). It has, so far, mostly managed to fulfill its purpose of keeping the chickens inside, out of the trees where they are "sitting ducks", so to speak. At only three feet tall, the soft plastic wasn't animal-proof by any stretch, but I hoped it might be a deterrent for the coyote.

Nope. Two more today. I could see the remains of their struggle right on the border of the fence, little feathers scattered about as an enraging reminder that something else was profiting at my expense... and probably laughing at me, too.

You know, I know Roald Dahl has us all sympathizing with a chicken-stealing fox in his classic story, but in my heart, I am really with Boggus, Bunce, and Bean. Those darn foxes, coyotes, and other critters have no right to the fruits of my labour!!

However, despite the staggering losses to my adult flock, my chicks have been okay so far, as they are always completely enclosed in our other, smaller chicken tractor, within which they are warmed by a heat lamp, protected from the wind, and get to see fresh grass about once a day. When we first got the chicks, Sunshine (our golden retriever) proved that although she seemed to have overcome her need to chase adult chickens around, she had just as keen of an interest in these new little appetizers as Koda had with last year's newbies--at four days old, she managed to dig a hole under the chicken tractor and extract at least one chick before Jason caught her in the act, little brown body still in her mouth.

Koda had been spending a lot of time kennelled, unless we were outside, since he has a tendency to wander off to the neighbours' to visit his buddies if left alone outside for longer than ten minutes. However, Sunshine had been free to wander around (ideally, protecting the yard from thieving coyotes). Since that incident, they have both been on detention.

We make an effort to make sure the dogs get several hours of exercise a day, which is usually pretty easy. When we are outside doing our yard work in the evenings, we let them out, and they exercise each other. However, with the rain for the last several days, I haven't been outside that much at night. Since Koda seems to have been doing better (not running off), and Sunshine had seemed to be less interested in the chicks now that they are a little older, I thought I would just let them run around tonight and keep an eye on them. So, every now and then, I would look out the window and see Koda running around. It should have set off an alarm bell that Sunshine was not there wrestling with him. But it didn't--after all, she isn't the one who runs off.

When I went out to "put them to bed," I was very thankful it wasn't raining.

Because I got to fix holes in my little chicken tractor's poultry wire (she went through two layers!)

And Sunshine gets to spend the night with a dead chick around her neck. I don't know if she got more--the hole which she also dug in the ground under the rear edge (and dragged one through, I'm sure--the holes in the wire didn't seem big enough for her to get through, and the chicks were more interested in staying at the opposite end under the heat lamp) was certainly big enough!

Sunshine had an epic fail tonight. I'm just thankful that it wasn't quite as epic as Koda's--as far as I can tell, she only got a few, (a lot less than 40!) and maybe only the one I caught her with. It's really hard to count seventy-five portable little chicks!

Why do we have dogs again?

(On a more positive note--Koda seems to have either learned from last spring's experience, or has grown past that stage, as he has not attempted poultricide this year.)

Spring Chickens

Hey! Boys...

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Open your peepers!

Peepers opened!

After initially thinking I would not get any chicks this spring, because I thought I might be travelling a lot (among other reasons), I changed my mind. However, I have made a few changes already from what I did last year to make it a little easier and more feasible for me. Learning is a wonderful thing!

First off: raise broilers for meat birds (as opposed to dual-purpose). That way, you can butcher in August--much better use of time and money per bird. Nicer meat. And none of this "having to feed them through the winter" nonsense.

So, we have 50 fluffy yellow little Cornish Giant chicks running around in the brooder. You'd never know they will be ready to butcher in only 8 weeks, would you? (The 25 auburn chicks are Rhode Island Reds. I will keep the hens for layers and butcher all but one of the roosters.)

Day-old peepers!

Secondly: Brood them in the chicken tractor. This idea was thanks to Robin B., my friend and local mentor in all things farming. She's not my only mentor, but I have leaned heavily on her as I have made my fledgling attempts at gardening (she grew up here and knows what grows best) and chicken farming, and we have also swapped ideas on homeschooling and diet. She said that her and her husband have found that if you just cover the chicken tractor with a tarp to keep the draughts out, and make sure the heat lamps keep it warm enough, the chicks do fine, and you don't have to worry about splay-leggedness or other issues that arise when brooding them in small confined spaces in wood chips. (Yay! I don't have to clean a brooder box every three days or listen to chirping, hungry chicks dragging me out of bed in the wee hours of the morning!)

Holding Chicks

I am also revving up to get my garden in this weekend, or at least most of it. I have been struggling with where to put the flowers I've started. I was going to make a flower bed right in front of the trailer, but now that we're moving the trailer, that's not going to work! So tonight, I looked out across my yard and surveyed the options. My eye espied the pile of straw bales no longer being used to insulate a coop, and I had the inspiration to try straw bale gardening this year! That way, it is only temporary, and I can move my flower bed back in front of the trailer in a year or two (where I'd really like it to be.) I'm so excited, now, and can't wait to get started!

Plus, the high-nitrogen composted chicken manure from the winter will give my new straw bale garden a great start--I was wondering where I was going to use that! :-)

Happy Spring, friends!

Oh, the Places I've Gone!

Okay, I haven't been that many places over the last few weeks, but I have been extremely busy--as usual, lots to blog about and no time to do it in. So, I will try to recap:

School

- We have been going strong for three weeks now, and have got to do such fun things as making the colour wheel out of frosting, hitting up the library, painting a giant sun on butcher paper, and doing a field trip to the Telus World of Science. Jabin comes home from kindergarten every day talking about a new friend, and enjoys his "home days", too. So far, so good.

Family

- We spent last weekend in S.L., the official reason being to attend my cousin Riley's wedding reception. It was great, but also a perfect excuse for a "mini family reunion" with my brother and dad. Logan had not been to Canada for almost exactly two years, as he was waiting for his Green Card paperwork to come through, which it finally did about a month ago. Thankfully, we have all managed to travel his direction a few times during the interim--well, all of us except Jason. We had a great weekend of hanging out, playing board games, and laughing--a LOT. I love my family.

"Farming"

- On the Labour Day weekend, our friends B. & L. came out to educate us on the ways of butchering a chicken. L. has plenty of experience from her childhood days on a farm. I had two roosters whose doom awaited them--one for the demo, and one for practice. I'll spare you the grisly details, but considering the fact that I used to have my friend Amanda do all the actual dissecting when we were in Biology together, I'd say I did pretty good. I only felt queasy once, and that was when my attempts at neck-breaking only stressed out my poor boy instead of achieving the "quick demise" I was going for. We ended up using the axe. Anyway, on Monday they looked like this:

And on Wednesday night, one of them looked like this:

(The other one is still in the freezer.)

Kinda scrawny, I know, but there were just too many roosters for my "girls", so they had to go.

I don't quite have the whole garden in, yet, but I managed to save the last of my potatoes from the ravages of my chickens today--the "turkeys" were digging them up and eating them! I still have two of my five raised beds to empty, but I'm not in a hurry to dig up my carrots--they'll keep much better in the ground, for now.

I'm sure there is much more that could be said, but my clock just informed me that the party's over, folks--it's after midnight. I need to get my rest, so Teacher Mommy will be reasonable tomorrow. I'll try not to stay away so long, this time!