Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Old Year/Happy New Year

2009 was the best year ever, full of many long-held dreams come true. I sort of hate for it to be over, yet I eagerly anticipate the new adventures to come.

Due to recent internet connectivity difficulties and the hectic-ness of the season, I have not blogged much this month. One of my New Year's resolutions will be to get back on track with my blog... starting tomorrow.

Here's hoping your 2009 left you with may warm memories and that 2010 brings you joy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ready, Set...Snow!!!

Our house all lit up for Christmas--as it looked last night.
Same view tonight, as the snowstorm hit. We are forecast to get 24 to 36 inches of snow between tonight and Saturday. The wind is howling and large snow drifts have already blown across the driveway.

Rog and Cadence got home safely from town about half an hour ago, only to get stuck in a drift in the driveway. Rog has snow-blown the car free and tucked it in the garage. We may have a snowbound holiday! We are prepared: yummy Christmas dinner ingredients, a couple bottles of wine, a stack of movies and books from the library, and extra supplies of pet and livestock food. Tonight I added a couple more wild bird feeders and filled up all the feeders to help the birds get through the impending storm.
The geese and ducks are shut in the barn, insulated from the cold wind in a strawbale enclosure.
The chickens are nestled together on their roosts inside the coop. The small Americaunas who ordinarily don't socialize with the big Buff Orpingtons willingly snuggle up to them on cold nights.
This afternoon I re-glazed and re-inserted a window we discovered had fallen out of the west wall of the loafing shed yesterday. It's an embarrassingly home-handyman-type repair, but at least it will prevent the blizzard from blasting in on the cows. Not that they would even notice the snow--as long as they have plenty of tasty hay to munch, they seem to be content.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Hen

The most delightful, darling surprise came in the mail Saturday: A tiny felted Christmas ornament made by Katie, from the wool of one of her sheep.

Katie is a fellow small-scale farmer/blogger from Maryland. We read each other's blogs, and when she got her incubator I sent her several eggs my hens had laid via priority mail. Unfortunately, none of the Minnesota eggs hatched, but she was so sweet to send this little handmade treasure in appreciation anyway. It has a place of honor, front and center on our Christmas tree. If you are smitten with this chicken, you might be able to purchase one for yourself at her Etsy shop.

When I started this blog as a sort of journal of our farm adventures, I never dreamed it would lead to so many new friendships. I wish a very heartfelt Merry Christmas to my blogging and blog-reading friends.

Red Light District

At night the chicken coop glows scarlet and casts red onto the snow, thanks to the bulb we leave on during cold winter nights to keep the chickens warm.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


This morning Rog photographed me heading out to water the cows in my stylin' farm attire.

Atop my head, keeping my ears warm is a fleece headband. Love that hairstyle! At least it won't leave me with traditional flat, hat-hair. Mushroom-shaped hair is the cutting edge!

The green quilted jacket is a recent acquisition from my all-time favorite apparel shop, Salvation Army Thrift Store. Of all the assorted farm jackets we have acquired, this is everybody's (except Rog's) favorite winter chore attire--it is warm and spacious enough for movement, yet not bulky. It has knitted cuffs and collar to keep the wind and snow from blowing in, and a hood for when it is really cold. It is quite long, keeping my thighs warm even if I am not wearing long underwear beneath my jeans and it can by tied snug at the bottom against blizzardly blasts. Best of all, it has huge pockets -- perfect for holding tools, cow treats and gathered eggs (as long as you don't forget you put them in there).

My gloves are thermofill-lined red-twill-and-suede work gloves. They perform pretty well, allowing one to pull the twine off the bale of hay or straw and still keep hands reasonably warm. If snowblowing, substitute fur-lined deer-skin chopper mittens and add a face-mask or scarf.

The footwear is one of the very few items of clothing I have purchased new in the past three years--"Muck" brand chore boots. They are absolutely awesome--surprisingly comfortable and breathable to wear in summer, yet extremely warm in winter. You can just step into them - no tedious lacing or zipping. They fit closely around your pant legs at the top so snow doesn't get inside (invaluable!) If wearing them for a dirty chore, like mucking out the pig yard or the cow barn, you can power-wash them off afterwards and they look and smell as good as new. They were pricey, but worth every penny, and should last for years.

I'd love to see a real farmer fashion show someday.

Cocoa's Quarry

When I found Cocoa devouring a large rabbit a couple days ago I was mildly surprised. Not surprised that she would eat one if she caught it, but surprised that she could catch one at all. The dogs love to chase rabbits but the rabbits are much wilier and faster than they are--they have only ever managed to catch a baby rabbit once last summer, and never an adult rabbit.

But when we found Cocoa eating rabbits head-first three days in a row, we knew there was no way she had caught them. The fact that the rabbits were beheaded was the clue--our great horned owls must be back! Last summer we lost a couple dozen chickens to the owl, who only consumed the heads. It is a bit gruesome, but next summer our garden will probably fare better for the owls having reduced the rabbit population a bit, and if Cocoa is munching on the carcasses, at least they are not going to waste and leaving evidence of rabbit murders all over the farm.

Yep, late last night when I went out to close the barn door I could hear the owl hooting.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yesterday morning dawned sunny and clear, but it just started off on the wrong foot for me. Our snowblower never did start after the storm (despite hours of coaxing) and we had to shovel out our long driveway. So, Rog and I got up early to take the snowblower over to our neighbor's house. He's a retired farmer who fixes lawnmowers and small engines in his garage. It was still very cold. When I went to put on my chore jacket, the pocket was curiously wet...I put my hand in to discover it was full of broken eggs I had gathered the day before, tucked in my pocket, and forgotten. Yuck! I emptied out the egg mess, threw that jacket in the laundry, grabbed another jacket, and zipped up to my chin, catching my neck in the zipper. Ouch!

The snowblower weighs a ton. There is no way we could lift it onto the bed of the pickup, especially since our backs were already complaining from all the shoveling the previous two days. Rog had the clever idea of making a ramp with several long 2x4s and we would roll the snowblower up into the truck. It seemed like a sort of dangerous plan to me - I could envision the snowblower slipping off the boards and flattening one of us- but it actually worked great. We drove a half mile down the road and dropped off the snowblower (rolling it back down our makeshift ramp), then returned home and I headed out to do the chores while Rog went in to get ready for work.

Despite having heaters, ALL of the animals' water containers had frozen solid. Even my fancy thermo-hose was frozen. I guess it was just too cold for the technology. So, I hauled the poultry water dispensers in the house, rinsed them with hot water to melt the ice, and filled them with fresh, lukewarm water to help warm the chickens and geese up a bit from the inside. Then I hauled many 5-gallon buckets of hot water to the loafing shed and dumped into the cows' water tank to melt that block of ice.

Hauling big buckets of water through deep snow is not fun. After the first couple trips I remembered the little plastic toboggans I had purchased at a garage sale last summer. The kids had teased me about those sleds then, but they turned out to be invaluable for this chore. Using a toboggan I can haul two 5-gallon buckets of water across the deep snow smoothly (no sloshing) and effortlessly.
Today was sunny and much warmer. Or at least 20 degrees F feels comparatively balmy after windy, below-zero temps. The geese and udcks seemed very happy to bask in the sun and stretch their wings after being confined the past three days in the dark barn.
It's amazing how they can walk barefoot through the snow and they don't seem to be bothered by cold feet!
The orange cat has grown a very thick, fuzzy coat, perfect for this weather. He loves to romp through the deep snow, challenge the geese, race straight up trees, and entertain us as we shovel and do the chores.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Blast o' Winter

We are in the midst of a blizzard. Wind is blowing at 35 mph with gusts of 50 mph and overnight we got about a foot of snow (hard to tell exactly because it is drifted in mounds, not evenly distributed.) Snow is still falling (blasting, really) in a sideways manner--we are forecast to get 16 or more inches by this afternoon. I have always loved storms like this -especially when I can be inside, drinking tea, watching the weather, but now I have more to worry about --the animals being cold...or the power going out...their water freezing...and what about the poor bees?
We had a couple days' notice that this storm was coming, so plenty of time to prepare. We fired up the snowblower and got the wovel out of the garage rafters. I stocked up on groceries, holiday baking ingredients, and big bags of seed and lots of suet for the wild birds braving the cold. As the storm was picking up yesterday I discovered my camera was not working--so had to make an icy trip back to town. It turned out that the memory card was messed up -an easy replacement, allowing me to document our first big winter storm of the year.
On Monday I got a load of hay, straw and corn. Cadence and I constructed a better strawbale shelter within the barn for the geese and ducks. Ordinarily they seem to enjoy being out in the snow, but we decided to close them inside today. I doubt they could navigate the deep drifts very well (but it might be entertaining to watch them try).
The chickens are closed inside the coop today. I debated about whether to turn on an infrared heat lamp last night or not (there seem to be contradictory theories about whether it is necessary or not), but ultimately I decided to do it. It's still on this morning and the chickens seem to be basking under its warmth, so I am glad I turned it on. I hope they don't become too wimpy!
The coop is fairly tight, especially since we replaced the broken window sashes last fall, but it isn't insulated. On some nicer day I should install the leftover scraps of insulation from the granary between the studs of the coop, at least on the windiest west side.
The cows and two chickens who refused to go in the coop are hanging out in the loafing shed today. The south side is open to the weather, but I closed the double door on the north side to shut out the arctic wind. There is a deep layer of straw on the floor. Inside, out of the wind, with the bodyheat of the three cows it is considerably warmer than outside. I did have to break a crust of ice on their water this morning, despite having a stock tank heater, though.

As you can see in the photo, the wind has kindly blown snow clear of the door of the loafing shed. The chicken coop and norht side barn doors were also blown clear, so even though I had to traipse through thigh-deep drifts, I didn't have to shovel to open them when I fed the critters this morning. Sweet.
However, we will have to shovel out the door on the front of the barn. Our ill-conceived placement of the rabbit hutch must have caused that drift.

The trusty wovel is waiting and Rog is already firing up the snowblower, so I guess I have to go remove snow now. Seems to me like a losing battle to clear snow when it's still falling and blowing like crazy, but Rog's theory is that if you don't clear away 3-foot snowdrifts now, they will be 6-foot drifts later. Plus, he probably just wants to play in the snow.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I just had my first "Oh, duh!" moment of the day. I discovered that this time of year if you don't collect eggs quickly enough, they freeze solid. Also, the hens avoid using the nesting boxes with frozen eggs in them. Who'd want to sit on an ice cube?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Snow-Dusted Cows

Winter may have finally arrived today. We got enough snow to cover the ground and make the roads slick. The cows look like they have been dusted with confectioners sugar.

The cows really like a strict schedule. Here they are eagerly waiting for their 5 p.m. appetizer. I give them a scoop of dried corn both morning and evening before I fill their hayfeeders and they really feel entitled to that treat, mooing grouchily if I am late. Now that there isn't really anything to graze in the pasture they consume about one bale of hay among them per day. That is precisely what the farmer who sold me the hay guesstimated they would eat. At that rate, we still need to get about 100 more bales to get through the winter.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mysterious Weasel-Cat

On Halloween we rescued a young, tortoiseshell feral cat that Nutmeg caught in the woods. We have been slowly domesticating her.

At first she was terrified and cringed in the corner of the large pet crate we put her in, but after a month of yummy cat food, warm, safe shelter, antibiotics to get rid of her respiratory infection, and plenty of handling she was starting to act almost like a normal housecat. While I was working she would jump up onto my lap and purr, or attack the cursor on my computer screen. She wrestled around with our big orange, fuzzy cat and learned how to play, batting a toy mouse around the room. In the morning when she wanted breakfast she would rub against my hand, purring. But she was still extremely skittish, and if there was any commotion or a new person entered the rooom, she would race back to the corner under my desk, slinking low to the ground like a weasel, which is what we have been calling her.

I say "was" because several days ago she went missing. I had begun leaving her crate door open so she could go in and out at will to explore a bit if she dared, and one morning she was nowhere to be found. She did not come for food all day. We searched for her everywhere, every cupboard and closet and nook and cranny, upstairs and down and in the basement. I waited quietly in each room, hoping to hear a rustle that gave her away.

We couldn't imagine how she could possibly have gotten outside--or that she would want to--but after three days with no sign of her, I feared she must have either somehow gotten out or must be injured or trapped somewhere in our house and we might not find her in time. It has been totally baffling and worrisome.

Then last night in the middle of the night Sara heard a scampering on the stairs and realized it was Weasel. She ran down and caught her and closed her in the office with food and water and her crate.

A bit later, Sara got up again to check on her and when she opened the door, Weasel shot out and disappeared into the dark house. She had eaten, drunk water and used her litter box, but did not respond to Sara's calling. We have searched for her all over again today and simply cannot figure out where she is hiding. So much for domestication.

When (if) we find her again, I guess we will have to confine her and start all over again taming her. I hope we can get her to relax--it seems pretty pointless and a bit creepy to have a cat living in your house that you never see.