Sunday, April 8, 2012

Scary birds

A month ago we bought some new chicks to add to the seven hens we over-wintered.   We chose 8 for egg-laying and 6 for eating.  We had read about the Cornish Cross breed that grows very fast and can be eaten at 6 or 8 weeks.  They were all really cute and about the same size that first day.

Very soon, the Cornish Cross birds were eating crazy amounts and growing much faster than the others.  They developed large feet and just lay around eating and pooping.  The other birds were trying out their wings and running around full of life.   When the baby fluff wore off and the real feathers grew in, these big birds looked way more scraggly than the others.  They had large areas of pink skin with no feathers.  We thought they were being pecked, so we separated them.  It made no difference.

Then the first one got sick.  It just lay on the ground and let the others walk over it.  Ray brought her into the house and put her on a heating pad and gave her sips of water.  Suddenly, she puked everything up and died.  Now another one has died.  A friend said  their hearts give out with all the fast growth.  (Did I mention that they also stink very badly?)

These grotesque, pathetic creatures are the chickens that people buy in the store.  These poor creatures are why chicken meat is so cheap and so tender and so tasteless.  These birds are the result of years of experimenting to create a breed that will bring the most profit in the least time.  And, yes, we will eat them too, but we will never buy them again.  I feel really disgusted by the whole experience.  Especially thinking about the millions of these poor birds who have no pleasure in their short life.

 See the difference?

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Spring Surprise

The other day, I was looking out the window and I saw a strange little black animal following the goats around.  I thought it was the cat but it didn't act like a cat.  Suddenly I realized that it was a new-born goat!  It was trying to latch on to its mother but she kept walking around grazing on the grass.  The other goats were butting it out of the way.

 I grabbed my coat and shoes and went running out.  I saw the baby lying in a pile on the grass and I thought it had been killed.  However, it was just resting.  I picked her up and dragged the mother out of the field and put them in the goat shed together.  We put grain, molasses water and hay in there and locked them in together. 

After a few hours, we saw that the mother was nuzzling her baby and allowing her to drink.  It was very sweet.  She is a first time mom and we didn't even know if she was pregnant.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Almost lost the Dog named Bear

I took the dogs for a walk along the creek.  On the way back, Bear went down to the water for a swim.  There was decaying ice on the top.  I couldn't stop him but I figured he was smart enough to keep out of trouble.  Well, he didn't come back so I went to look.  There he was with his head and front paws on the ice and his back parts in the frozen slushy water.  He could not get a grip to come up.  What to do?  It was Saturday but I had seen a car by the silos.  I ran and knocked on the door.  The cleaning lady answered.  I asked for some plywood or something to throw out to him.  We ran around trying to find something. I thought Bear was already a goner.  Finally I found a piece of wood with ridges on it and carried it back to the creek.  I kept yelling, "Hang on, Bear!  I'm coming."

Then I had to crawl through the snow down to the creek.  I didn't see Bear where I had left him - just a hole in the ice.  But then I saw he had swum down a little further but still couldn't get out.  He was hanging on with his front paws looking at me.  He never whimpered or cried or made any noise.  I put the wood out to him but he was too weak to climb up.  I had to grab his collar and pull him onto the wood.  Fortunately he was pretty close to shore. 

What a relief to have him on the shore!  He was shaking with cold but pretty soon got his energy back and we went home.  I gave him a bucket of warm water to drink and he is back to normal.  I guess he must be like a polar bear, because he was in that freezing water for a good 20- 30 minutes and survived.  But the amazing thing to me is that he never made any sound, just expected me to get him out.  I'm so glad I could.

Monday, July 25, 2011

New Additions to the Family

Hello Family and friends;

Here's a little update about farm life.  We’ve had several new additions since I last wrote, so here is a brief introduction.

 The latest is a little puppy –Lab/Pit Bull/ Shar Pei mix.  We had been thinking we needed another dog for our dog Bear to train.  We didn’t know where to look, so I said a little prayer that a dog would come to us.  A few days later, I was at the farmer’s market in Rockford.  A van pulled up and a really nice family brought out a bunch of puppies that were for sale.  I had a great feeling that this puppy had a nice background and was well-loved and cared for.  One of the other vendors suggested the name Chumley and so he became, with Chum for short.  (I had sold about $36 worth at the market, paid $100 for the dog and then got a ticket for $124 for failing to stop at a stop sign in my hurry to take him home, so it was an expensive day.) 

Another addition is a little goat called Poppy.  He is a wether, so can’t be milked or bred.  We like goat meat, but the lady Ray bought him from insisted that he promise never to kill and eat him.  Ray bought him anyway because he loves his goats. We did kill our turkeys, which was very traumatic.  Ray had fallen in love with them as babies and had them sleeping on his chest on the sofa.  However, they were nice and fat and were only going to get tougher if we waited, so it was done. The cat that we got for free turned out to be a wonderful cat and a fantastic mouser, but she got pregnant almost immediately.  We don’t want an inside cat, so we set her up in the barn in a modified dog house.  However, she decided that it would be safer having her babies in the attic above Ray’s shop.  So there was no chance to socialize the kittens and the three boys were on their way to becoming wild tomcats.

  We absolutely had to tame them.  It has involved a bowl of milk every afternoon with me slowly getting closer and closer and talking to them.  Now I can pet them and even pick them up without getting scratched and clawed.  So now we can actually catch them in order to give them away! Then there are the chickens who are doing very well.  They have all started laying now, and we have three that lay beautiful blue eggs.  At first the eggs were very small and there was a lot of surprised cackling and complaining as they worked hard to push them out.  It becomes easier after a while.  We have one rooster now but our neighbours have extra roosters if we want them.  We do, but it means re-fencing the goat area so that they can stay apart from the other, very possessive rooster. Lastly, we have the bees. 

We are up to five hives now, having lost two over the winter, but catching a swarm and dividing a hive brings us back to where we want it.  Generally they are very passive and friendly, but for some reason, I got chased out of the garden three times yesterday while trying to pick raspberries.  It’s usually one kamekaze bee that comes at you with a high-pitched buzz and will not back off.  The first time, the bee was trying to sting my eye but got my lip instead.  I escaped the next two attacks and finally put on my bee suit and finished picking. So we have lots of responsibilities now and lots of creatures depending on us.  We chose this life and are very content but I figure it’s okay to complain once in a while.
So you're all caught up.  It's super hot today and a good day for staying inside and writing.

Love to all.  Ray and Fern.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Priceless Honey

As everyone who lives in the West knows, this has been a long, cold, wet, miserable Spring.  There was not a single blossom until the middle of May, so the bees had had nothing to eat since last September (except what we fed them).

Finally we have been rewarded with warm weather and lots of beautiful flowers.  The bees have been going crazy.  The queen lays about 5000 eggs a day and, at that rate, they begin to run out of room and sometimes decide to go looking for new quarters.  We caught a swarm from our neighbours but might have lost a swarm or two from our own bees that we didn’t notice.

The other part of this story is that our little hamlet is being torn apart with the unilateral decision taken by our town council to fog the town for mosquitoes (another result of the long wet Spring).  At the last town council meeting, many of us went down to try to change their minds.  There were 3 beekeeper families, an organic farmer, a woman who has acute sensitivity to chemicals and had a stroke last time they sprayed, families with asthmatic children, and others who didn’t appreciate not being consulted.  We all made our case and suggested alternatives to spraying but it made no difference.  I was stunned.  They said it was up to us to protect our bees by covering them on the evening of each weekly spray and the poor stroke-prone woman should just stay indoors.

So, once it was clear the spraying would happen, we decided to harvest the honey without delay.  Last Friday was the day.  Once we started tasting the honey as it was flying out of the frames, we knew we had something special.  Actually, it’s probably the best honey I’ve ever tasted.  It’s very flowery and fragrant.  We only got 35 pounds from the three hives that seemed to be ready for harvesting and I am determined not to let it all slip through my fingers too soon.  We have so many friends, relatives, neighbours and co-workers who want our honey.

When you have something so precious, the only thing to do is give it away rather than sell it.  Last Saturday at the farmer’s market, I offered all of my customers a spoonful of honey so they would know what great honey tastes like. Some of the other people who will get honey: the family that gave us their excess hens and roosters, the lady who gave us exercise balls when she heard of Ray’s back pain, my friend who was the first one in this town to offer me her friendship,  our pastor who let us put a hive on his property, a young farmer who worked long hours to take care of our hay, a neighbour who noticed Ray’s tractor stuck in the muddy field and tactfully offered to pull it out, and others who have been so sweet to us.  How nice it is to have something beautiful to give in return, to surprise people who didn’t expect anything for their kindnesses.  What a lovely way to participate in this little community.  We are grateful.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Baby Chicks

Hello family and friends;

I hope everyone has survived the winter. We feel like we have endured and are finally coming into more daylight, fewer icy roads, fewer armloads of pellets for the stove, warmer temperatures, more walks and, inevitably, more work coming up. Ray got good use out of the new snow blower this winter. We were grateful for studded tires several times. We are happy that winter knows when it's not welcome anymore and finally it will give way to spring (I hope).

So, Ray is lying on the sofa with two baby turkeys on his chest and a heating pad on top. Why? I think it's just an excuse to rest his sore back but he says they were cold. The three of them look pretty cute, sleeping peacefully. The thirteen baby chicks under the heat lamp on the dining room table also seem to have gone to sleep. At least the incessant cheeping has stopped.

Yesterday we bought these babies and they are so cute! We have 6 different kinds of chickens and two turkeys, also different kinds. We hope to get different colours of eggs and maybe also some delicious meat in the fall. We have certainly enjoyed the chickens we butchered last fall (though the killing and cleaning was pretty awful). The two roosters survived the winter but the white one got frost bite on his comb and wattles. The edges are very black instead of red, but otherwise he seems happy.

We think we lost one of our five bee hives. Probably starved and/or froze to death. Actually we are fine with that because we have too many hives. Last year, two turned into 5, not counting the two swarms we couldn't catch. So, if 5 turn into 12 or so, it's just too much to handle. We would like to keep it at about 5 hives and sell any above that.

For the past five weeks, we have been boarding 8 female goats for some neighbours, on top of the three boys we still keep for other neighbours and the one Nigerian dwarf buck that Ray found from Craig's List that is ours. So 12 goats eat a lot and poop a lot and require a lot of unfrozen water. I am going to hire a strong teenager to clean out the sheds and put all this good manure on the garden. We are done with all this back-breaking labour! Paying kids who want to work makes pretty good sense.

So that is an update from the farm. Still hoping to see as many of you as possible out here sometime.

Bye for now.

Love, Fern and Ray.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A little story about a cat

As you know, we are besieged by voles and mice, though Ray's persistence seems to have eradicated the ones in the house. We had put the word out that we are looking for a mouser. Bear had already killed the resident cat who lived here when we arrived and he killed a second one who wandered in and tried to set up residence. We knew we would have to carefully introduce him to the idea that the cat would be a valuable part of the family.

Well, our mother and daughter neighbours up the road called on Thursday and said that a friend of theirs was looking for a home for a cat. Apparently a very good mouser who doesn't mind mostly living in the barn and not being a pet. We said sure. I went to Tekoa and bought cat food. We set up a kitty litter station and figured we would keep the cat in our back porch for a few days until Bear got used to the idea of co-existing with a cat (the way he figured out that chickens were off-limits for his hunting instincts).

I was expecting a scraggly, half-wild cat, but Mia is a very pretty tabby who smells nice and lets people pet her. She seemed to like the place immediately and explored all the corners and got a whiff of mice hiding in the cracks.. I picked her up and took her for a walk around the property so she would know where she was. When we got close to Bear, she stiffened and dug her claws into my (thick) jacket and hissed at him. Bear was unfazed, just his usual friendly self. I thought everything went well.

This morning (Saturday), I heard the phone ringing at 7:00 a.m. I was awake but lounging around in bed. I wondered what crisis was prompting someone to call that early on Saturday morning! It was my neighbour being very apologetic. She said that the cat's owner had neglected to tell her children that Mia was going to a new home. Apparently they were inconsolable and would we mind terribly if they came and got the cat back, the sooner the better. So by 8:00 a.m. our cat was gone, after being here only 16 hours. I'm actually quite sad because she was a delightful cat and I understand why the children were upset.

So it wasn't Bear after all. I guess we'll have to try again later, as there is plenty of food for a good mouser.