Thursday, December 24, 2009

Making friends.

On Solstice, we made treats for our local birds and put them out.

I've been saving these sunflower seed heads for months just for this purpose.

I like the way they look, but am not sure if the birds will brave the cats to explore them.

It's been blowing 50 - 60 mph here for the last three days, and it's been a steady wind. This morning dawned clear and still and the animals, both wild and domestic, are celebrating. It might be cold, but it's cold without wind. Oh, that makes a difference.

The snow is hard. The girls can walk on it without it breaking, and it even holds my weight most of the time.

Happy Holidays, readers. I hope you have a wonderful time with family.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The plot (and the pile of mice) thickens.

When I went to feed my chickens this morning, I noticed that they were staying out of a corner of the chicken coop that they usually went in. I went to check it out and found this.

Like a good blogger, I went right back to the house and grabbed my camera. After I took the picture, I moved to clean them up and found even more buried under the straw.

It's the strangest thing. Apart from a few on their backs, most look like they just went to sleep.

A few more facts to help in your sleuthing. Some of these facts are included because of questions I got via email.

1) While I found the bodies this morning, I may have just missed them yesterday, as I was feeding in a hurry because I was heading to town for my girls' gymnastic class; however, the bodies were not stiff.

2) Wednesday night was a New Moon and last night was nearly a New Moon - the waxing was not visible.*

3) The barn cats leave my chickens alone. Ghandi, our big gray cat, does sleep in there with them, but he's the laziest mouser you've ever seen (this was a long time ago - as soon as we got Aradia, the calico, he quit mousing), so that's out. While I have found the odd mouse pecked to death in my chicken coop, none of these mice were pecked.

4) Weather: We had temperatures below 0 F (so *really* cold C) all last week and a bit of snow - maybe six inches - on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. The temperature warmed up considerably during the day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The temperature did drop to past freezing at night, but not lower than 20 F, so not *that* cold, and certainly not colder than the mice were used to.

5) I have found no dead birds or other small animals - just mice and voles. And really, they were mostly mice, very few voles.

6) After the chicken coop find, I searched all of our outbuildings, the garage, and under the porch. Zip.

7) We are surrounded by organic farm land, so mass poisoning was not a likely possibility. I did entertain the thought that maybe our new neighbors poisoned rodents and our cat dragged them over, but with the new find in the chicken coop, especially given its distance from the neighbor's house, I ruled it out.

My husband's theory from yesterday was that with the warmer weather and the resulting snow melt, the mice were forced out of their holes and froze to death or were easy pickings for the cats. He's ruled this out now with the chicken coop find. Those mice certainly didn't freeze to death and the cats didn't even know they were there.

My theory is an alien one - just for Danni. Have you seen Serenity? (If you haven't, you must. But then you'll get hooked on the short lived Firefly series it was based off of. Even people who hate SciFi tend to love Firefly. You can see some episodes of Firefly on Hulu right now.) In Serenity, the government puts a chemical into the atmosphere that is supposed to make the citizens more peaceful. It simply drains their will to live and they lay down right there and die. So .... my alien theory for you is that the aliens are testing their compliance drug on the mice around my house. Why choose my house? Because I have a kick-ass mouser. If I hadn't found the mice in the chicken coop, they might have gotten away with it.

Anybody have any more ideas?

*Please note that any references to the book 'New Moon' or the 'Twilight' series may permanently alter my opinion of your good taste. You are free to leave theories that have to do with Hugh Jackman Wolverine.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Does your cat ever bring mice to your door?

This generally isn't an issue for us with our barn cats. They eat the mice they catch and occasionally, if their kittens are near the porch, bring the mice to the porch for their kittens. This morning, however, I walked out to chore and found that our best mouser had brought some mice to the front porch.

Now I've always known she was a good mouser. But now? If there were a competition for barn cats, I'd enter her in it.

I know. Gold medal.

Now, before you get all excited/stunned/disgusted about how many mice that is, I should tell you that that's a close-up shot of *one group* of her mice. Here's a long shot.

And that doesn't include all of the mice around the corner and on the lawn (the ones the dogs had hauled off to play with).

So does anyone have an explanation for this besides "You have an overachieving barn cat"?

Some pertinent facts to help in your guessing -
1) There were over 50 when I stopped counting.
2) There were no visible wounds on them - classic cat kills, apparently. (So they probably didn't try to attack the house in the middle of the night.)
3) The bodies weren't stiff, so they were all recent kills.

Have at it. Any ideas?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Skirt tutorial and updates.

First, I wanted to point you over to my other blog for a tutorial on how to make three-tiered skirts. Just in case you're interested.

No surprise, it's been cold here. Seven degrees Fahrenheit yesterday morning, minus three degrees this morning. And wind that'll blow you away. It makes it miserable for the kids to go outside at all, even to get to the car. Without the wind, it would be bearable, but this wind - it even makes the adults cower inside.

Right before this cold spell hit, we got the goats set up with their shelter, which they only leave to get a drink or a bite to eat. I get to bond with them once a day while we all stand shivering around their grain pails. We also put plywood up around the inside of the shed I'm using for the chickens. The walls were full of cracks and holes and I didn't want my chickens living with that through the winter. Now it's very snug. When I'm done feeding calves and am feeding the chickens, I'll hang out in the shed a few extra minutes to get the courage to run back to the house. The temperature change is surprising between the outside and the inside.

This morning I gave my chickens hot oatmeal as a treat. They enjoyed it almost as much as I enjoyed carrying a steaming pan out there.

We saw this yesterday when we were driving home from the store -

Made me think of my Arizona dwelling sister and her smug attitude every time we talk on the phone from December through March. ;)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Looking at it through her eyes.

I was organizing pictures tonight and came across these pictures that Hannah took a few months ago.

We'd been out working with the horses and I asked her to put my camera around her neck and hold onto it. When I unloaded the card that night, these were on it.

That's me off in the distance in the arena - putting some time on Daisy before we rode together.

This is after I started ponying her on Princess. You can see Ains' boot in front of my leg where she was riding.

A close-up. "So I could remember her scratching place when we came in the house."

Cygnus trotting beside us.

Oh, dear. That's too be expected, I suppose.

This one, however ... this one took more effort and planning.

This was taken as I was tying the pony to the trailer. I look just about as tired as I felt.

It's interesting, and sometimes surprising, to see what kids think is important enough to take pictures of. This time? Not so surprising. Mother, pony, puppy, and butts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Duck Duck Goose.

I was walking out to feed the calves one evening a few weeks ago and found this little lady floundering across our garden with a broken wing.

It's not broken at the shoulder, so I looked around online for help. I already knew, from an experience over the summer with an owl with a broken wing, that there are no wildlife rehabilitation places around here (though plenty of my husband's friends who hunt said they could 'take it off my hands') and that vets in this area would tell me to wring its neck, so I was on my own with this.

I waded through all of the 'Take it to the vet' and 'Are you nuts? You're not *qualified* to take care of a duck' answers that had been given to others who had asked the same question online and finally found a website that helped.

Hannah and I wrapped her up and made her a comfortable home in a rabbit hutch in a shed. My biggest worry was that she would succumb to captivity despair, but after two days she started quacking softly to us, and now she yells when she hears us outside the shed. If I could, I'd move her cage in with my chickens, but I'm not sure there aren't avian diseases that cross over there - still checking on that.

She still needs six more weeks in the bandage. After that, if her wing appears to be healed and there's no danger to the chickens, I'll stick her in the chicken coop to strengthen her wings, and let her leave from there. I'm not letting the girls hold her a lot, so I'm hoping that when we are able to release her, she's not too tamed down. Not that I'd mind a duck hanging around.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cold days are here to stay.

No more of this.

This calf hutch that they got to play in for a few days is out in the goat pen for winter shelter and I have to admit that I'm really glad. That's not something they can play in without me being right there watching because of the danger of a leg getting caught in the door. Not real likely to happen with Hannah, but the two youngest don't have the ability yet to grasp the danger.

They're fun to watch in it, though. Like hamsters in a wheel. Their favorite thing is to have one person run fast and make them slide, so it was especially fun for them when they could talk me into turning it for them.

It doesn't appear that we'll get any more warm (in the range of 50-60 degrees) days until late spring from here on out.

Bring on the snow!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Collecting flower seeds.

Today we finished collecting flower seeds from our butterfly garden.

The last ones to come in were the marigold seeds which are fun all the way around - the seed heads snap off easily (and there are *so* many), the seeds pop out easy (and, good heaves, there are *so* many), and you're left with a pile of empty seed pods left for crafting. Very fun.

We also collected some wildflower seeds and the last of the calendula.

We harvested our sunflower seeds right before our freak snow storm. We collected about one-quarter of the seed heads and left the rest for the birds. Since the garden's right outside our window, we've gotten to watch some really funny seed eating antics, none of which I seem to be able to capture on film.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's now fall.

The snow is gone and the weather's nice for playing...

when the wind's not 40 miles per hour.

Wind around here means tree branches for my goats. Since they're on a nice grass and clover pasture, they love it when they get browse dragged to them.

Our fully fenced front yard means that I don't always have to drag branches to them. I shut all of the gates and let them clean up our leaves while the kids ride bikes in the driveway.

It's easier than raking.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Pumpkin Patch.

That's the name of our local pumpkin patch. They don't have to be inventive - the owners are 70 years old.

This is where we get our squash every year - my husband loves squash - because they have so many different kinds.

Last year he tried the Sweetmeat and loved it, so we're getting more of those this year in addition to his favorite spaghetti squash.

I always grab pie pumpkins also, and the girls get decorative squashes and pumpkins.

And, yes, we always need the wheelbarrows.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Doing what we can outside.

It's cold, and it's snowy, and we're keeping guests entertained.

Gray makes it easy.

Yesterday was pony and horse riding. Today was a long four-wheeler ride in the desert.

Matt laughed at me for bringing blankets and extra hats.

Andrew, one of our little guests, was frustrated at having to put on as many warm clothes as I told him he'd need. "But we're going in the DESERT," he said. "Deserts are HOT." So I took along an extra blanket for him too.

The 'unnecessary' blankets and hats all ended up getting used, thank you very much.

It's nice to be able to find ways to fend off cabin fever - especially when you're stuck in the cabin months earlier than you should be.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

That ain't good.

It's the beginning of October, so I've been trying to get everything settled for the winter.

Yesterday we were going to get hutches for the goat pasture for the winter when they would need the shelter from the snow. But the snow wouldn't be here for at least two more months, so we put it off to do today. This happened last night.

Yeah. That.

The girls love it - in small doses.

I caught this expression on Hannah's face.

That's pretty much how I feel about this weather.

A nearby dairy (the same one we got our stock tank swimming pool from and would be getting the hutches from) had a breeding mishap and was expecting a lot of half Holstein-half Brahma calves to be born starting next week. My husband wanted to buy some, so we were going to set up a calf-raising area today also. More than enough time to get ready before the calves got here.

But the low-pressure storm front affected the momma cows and there were three babies born last night, so today we had to go pick them up if we wanted them.

So today we are the owners of two male and one female half Holstein-half Brahma calves. Cute, long-eared little buggers.

They're living in our horse trailer bedded down with straw until this freak storm passes by.

The storm also affected my sunflowers and flax seeds that I had drying outside. Since there was no rain in the forecast, I left them out. Bad move. *sigh*

Hopefully we'll be back to fall soon.

Friday, September 25, 2009

An afternoon in the gardens.

Rambling post ahead. This year has been a surprisingly gratifying one in our gardens.

Surprising in the vegetable gardens because due to our late move, I couldn't plant much and much of what I did plant was planted late. Our corn won't mature on time (not that that stops my kids from snacking on it).

Does anyone have a recipe or use for immature corn? You know, besides goat feed?

Our peppers and tomatoes have been producing like mad (though the tomatoes are taking a long time to ripen) which is so very satisfying.

At our other place, only thirty minutes east of here, I could never get tomatoes or peppers to fruit, even with a longer season, so obviously I'm *thrilled* at the production possibilities here.

Just look at this pepper plant. It's a type called 'Holy Mole' and it's like a tree. Right next to it are my little shrub like (and high producing also) habaneros.

We found another minor case of smut.

Fascinating stuff.

A reality check on how many rodents we have out here even with all of our barn cats.

And the cycle of life. The necessity of life forms that assist in decomposition.

Speaking of assisting in decomposition ...

Well, that last one was a fresh kill.

The surprise in our flower garden has been the joy we've gotten from it and the enthusiastic plans we're making for the next year. We expected it to be interesting and fun, but we've kind of gotten addicted to our flowers. Blame it on the zinnias and sunflowers.

Though the sunflowers are beginning to die.

I'm still finding living ones in the oddest places.

My poor catnip plant keeps sending up shoots in a vain attempt at survival.

Vain because of this addict.

Even a wire cage won't keep her out.

Our zinnias are out of control, producing such abundant, gorgeous flowers that my daughter has decided to become a flower seller like Eliza Doolittle. To keep her from wandering the streets saying "Buy a flower off a poor miss?", we've started to talk about other ways she could sell flowers next year. So while we'll probably have several rows of zinnias interspersed in our vegetable garden next year, this year she's content with wandering our smaller zinnia patch with scissors and a basket singing "All I want is a room somewhere".

And we've been getting the butterflies we wanted to get.

Does anyone know what these plants are? I'm hoping the one in the second picture is calendula. All were given to me unmarked.

Then there's the nematocidal marigolds.

If you plant these, be aware - they're a bush. A big, spreading bush. They're lovely, really, but the plant is huge.

We started harvesting our flax today.

My girl's in a poncho because she was cold. In 80 degree heat.

Then she got tired.

Our neighboring farm is chopping their fields of feed corn this week, so my husband took the kids out into the fields to explore before the sky high corn is gone.

It was a good lesson in the difference between sweet corn and feed corn. No comparison. The feed corn is hard, slightly bitter stuff.

And that was our afternoon in our gardens.