Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.


Posted on | April 15, 2015 | 1 Comment

Occasionally, taking care of the farm is like walking hand in hand with a friend.  The connection is strong and comfortable and its overwhelming power is inexplicable.

Despite my worries over the late start of the greenhouse, the seedlings are flourishing.  They won’t all be ready to go in the garden by the last frost date in our area, which is today (which is also the tax date in case you need to stop reading this and go to the post office to postmark something).  But even the smallest ones should be big enough to put out the first week of May.  Which is fine since the smallest ones are the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs and they prefer warmer May temperatures anyway.  A couple weeks of temperatures in the 70’s-80 during the day and 60’s at night gave the seeds a jump start and even allowed me to just leave the greenhouse door open most of the time.  So the annoying task of opening the door or vents during warm daytime hours and closing them for chilly nights was limited to just a few days.  Apparently, a late start was exactly what was called for this year.

Since my gardening was stymied by waiting for the seedlings, I spent a day cleaning out the koi pond.  This is usually a gruesome task, worsened by bitter children assistants, therefore, it is usually delayed until it can’t be avoided any longer.  But with a sump pump borrowed from my dad I managed the task by myself in just a few hours.  The children assistants were only responsible for the slippery job of transferring the koi back to the clean pond by hand.  The koi cannot be put back by net (which is how I remove them) because the net invariably carries muck and mud back into the clean water.  The koi cannot be put back by hand by me because that involves an alarming amount of screaming, dropping, and cursing and, possibly, traumatic brain injury to dropped fish.  The children considered the fish transfer a fair trade for avoiding hauling buckets of disgusting water out of the pond by hand for an entire afternoon.

Oddly enough, the day after the pond was clean and fresh, the Venus fly trap turned brown and wilted in the kitchen window.  We rushed it to its summer location at the edge of the koi pond and those same 80 degree temperatures that were the speed-growing the seedlings in the greenhouse returned the Venus fly trap to it’s lush green existence in just a day.  So hand-feeding the Venus fly trap its meal worms is done until next winter.  (Let us all give thanks for small mercies.)

This is synchronicity, people.  It cannot be forced.  It cannot be faked.  It just happens.

But it gets better.

We headed off to a flock swap last weekend with one of the baby goats and a pair of Silver Laced Wyandotte chickens.  The Wyandotte pair came out of the chicks we ordered in October.  One of the “pullets” turned out to be a rooster and had to go.  Since no one ever wants to buy a rooster we decided to pair him with one of the Silver Laced Wyandotte hens and sell them together.  It was a long shot, but it was the first flock swap hosted by the local Tractor Supply and so we figured anything could happen.  We ran into a few good friends at the swap, including one that was….you are not going to believe this….looking for a rooster. And not just any rooster.  Specifically, a Silver Laced Wyandotte rooster.

Yep, my friend got up that Saturday morning and came to the flock swap with the slim hope of finding someone selling a nice, healthy, young Silver Laced Wyandotte rooster.  And there was one sitting in a crate next to my van, crowing away.  How is that possible?  Synchronicity, people.  Synchronicity.  I sold him the rooster and took my hen right back home.  Since I didn’t really want to sell her anyway.

But we didn’t sell the baby goat at the flock swap.  Nope.  Instead we met some people who wanted to buy 2 goats. So we all came back to the farm and sold them that baby goat plus the last remaining doeling of the season.  And then we dropped off the buckling with his new owner.  He already had a home to go to, but was just staying here until the doelings sold.  By afternoon all the goat kids from this season were sold and gone.  I was glad to see them go and the barn returned to the usual calm and quiet.  But I knew it would mean milking twice a day and the farm fridge overstocked with goat milk.

Good thing that we came in the house to find a phone message from a woman selling piglets.  We’d been looking for spring piglets for a couple months but last year’s bout of PEV resulted in a lot fewer pigs on the market.  This woman had 4 piglets left and those piglets cost exactly the amount of cash I had folded in my pocket from the sale of the goat kids.  Exact same amount. I figured those piglets would gobble up the extra goat milk so that we wouldn’t have to buy a lot of grain and we’d keep the farm fridge from overflowing.  So we went and picked up the piglets.  The Other Half was disappointed I didn’t successfully barter down the piglet price.  You don’t argue with synchronicity, people.  No arguing.

Once we had Wilbur, Jeff, Petunia, and Miss piggy set up in the old chicken pasture, turning over the compost pile, I spent some time carrying pitchforks of discarded hay out to the dog house.  The last batch of hay we bought was too weedy, even for the goats.  Every day, the goats, sheep, and pony left a large pile of rejected straw-like Johnson grass at the base of the hay gate.  Which would have been annoying.  Except that those weeds made excellent bedding in the new doghouse The Other Half built last fall.  Gradually the dirt floor was sinking beneath a soft, dry layer of hay that none of the ruminants were tempted to eat.  Nothing gets wasted, everything has its place, when synchronicity is at work on the farm.  And that soft bedding was needed for….well, you’ll find out soon enough.

I thought our run was finally over and everything was getting out of synch when all that sun and heat made the spring crops in the garden start to bolt.  I spent a day cutting the spinach almost all the way back to the ground to stop it from blooming, but I knew it was lost cause if the warmth continued.  I also figured I had missed the small window of opportunity for tossing out grass seed in the front and back yard.  If the grass seed doesn’t go out before May, it doesn’t stand a chance.  Unless you water it and fertilize it and baby it.  Um, no thanks.

The day after I cut back the spinach, the rain started.  The temperatures dropped into the 60’s and the 7 day forecast showed rain showers for the next week.  I laughed out loud when I saw it.  As soon as the morning barn chores were over, I gathered up some scraps of welded wire fencing, the wire clippers, and some zip ties.  I planned to catch the the rooster and clip his wings to keep him from leading the hens into the front yard by flying over the fence.  The welded wire was to seal up any other small holes the chickens might squeeze through.  Then I could spread grass seed.  I grabbed a barn sweatshirt out of the dryer in case I got chilly.  By the time I had finished the back yard and started throwing seed in the front, the the spotty showers turned into a steady drizzle.  Good thing the sweatshirt I grabbed was my red one.  The one with the hoodie to protect my delicate hairstyle from the rain (hah!).  The only sweatshirt that I own with a hoodie.  And it just happened to be the sweatshirt I pulled out of the dryer, without even looking.  I know, right?

Synchronicity.  No one knows whens it’s coming.  Never can tell when it’s gonna end.  Ride it, people.  Ride it as far as it goes…..

Wait for it. Wait for it….

Posted on | March 18, 2015 | No Comments

I can’t wait any longer.  I really can’t.  Even though the 15 day forecast (Hah! Like they can predict the weather 15 days in advance!) is still calling for nights in the 30’s.  Even worse, a lot of the days are predicted to be cloudy or overcast.  Which means the passive solar heat in my greenhouse will be more passive and less heat.  But it’s the end of March!  End of March!  The summer transplants need 6 weeks of growing before they are set out in the garden.  Around here I can usually plant tomato, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, and squash seeds in the greenhouse in mid-February and put my plants in the garden at the end of March with a floating row cover to protect against a light frost.  But it’s already end of March!!  Did I mention end of March?!

None of the preferred lunar calendar planting days in March match up with planting weather.  The Farmers Almanac calls for continued cool and rain throughout March.  I should wait for April.  I cannot wait for April.  I cannot.

I tried to satisfy my planting urges by pruning the collards and the brussels sprouts.  I should pull up the brussels sprouts because the remaining sprouts have gotten moldy or leafy and conventional wisdom says the plants won’t regrow fresh sprouts if trimmed back to the main stem.  However, many of the plants became top heavy, leaned onto their sides, and wherever the sprouts touched the ground, they grew roots, and appear to be growing new plants.  Who am I to mess with a plant trying to defy conventional wisdom?

Read more

Rock Bottom.

Posted on | February 28, 2015 | 2 Comments

Well, the massive forced housecleaning killed a day.  And put an end to the sibling bickering for 8 hours.  Because nothing unites children like a common enemy: Mom.  Which was fine.  Since I ended up with clean windows and sills, sparkling bathrooms, fresh sheets on every bed in the house, and every last picture frame and knick knack dusted.  I’m not saying that I didn’t have to send them back 3 4 8 a few times to do the job right.  Or that I didn’t have to go behind them and touch up some of it.  But once the chores were finished, there was blessed quiet for the rest of the day.  Amen.

Then the snow arrived and sibling rivalry was left behind in the excitement, alliances were again forged in the creative process, friendships rekindled over the snow fire pit.  But with the power out, the wet laundry piled up, slushy mud spread across the floors, dirty dishes filled the sink, and electronic appliances lost their charge.  The generator roared into life and The Other Half alternated between yelling at us for opening the fridge door (letting the cold out) and yelling at us for opening the front door without immediately closing it behind us (letting the cold in).  I made lots of loud heavy sighs as wet boots traipsed through the family room and loud angry tsk tsk’s whenever I found a melted pile of muddy water upstairs in the den or on the staircase.

Roads were snowy, then cleared, then icy, then cleared, then snow was forecast again.  And school was delayed.  Then canceled.  Then make-up days were scheduled.  Then canceled.

Oh mah gawd. Read more


Posted on | February 27, 2015 | 3 Comments

I love the big barn.  Unlike most barns, it originally housed up to 300 ducks at a time.  So it was built with a wooden frame and only enclosed with hardware cloth.  Ducks are messy and smelly and the best way to keep their living conditions sanitary is to allow lots of sunlight and fresh air.

Ducklings returning to the barn, wet and dirty from a swim in the pond

Even then it’s a challenge.

Ducks "gargle" with their food in their water trough. Enough said.

Read more

According To Plan.

Posted on | February 21, 2015 | 3 Comments

The Great Backyard Bird Count was a bust.  Sure, the blue jay arrived to hit up the the peanuts.

But most of the little birds were absent because a mockingbird arrived, too.  And that mockingbird spent all his time guarding the feeders, swooping on any bird that attempted to get to the seed.

Read more

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Posted on | February 5, 2015 | 3 Comments

Well, I’m not really sure.

Oh, the usual suspects are here.  Cardinals, sparrows,  juncos, titmouse (Titmouses? Titmice?  Why are tits even involved in this bird’s name?), finches, chickadees, wrens, and mourning doves.

We have several types of woodpeckers that visit our area.  We see a giant pileated woodpecker in the woods but never eating birdseed or suet.

Adult male

Read more


Posted on | February 1, 2015 | 5 Comments

So I was at the local elementary school for Middle’s basketball practice.  When I went to the use the bathroom I discovered that kids are still writing on the bathroom stall doors.  Take that, social media!  The pen is still mightier than the smartphone.

But even more enjoyable than the triumph of old school graffiti over cyber-insults was the content of the comment:

“Ms. J—– is stuped!”

I laughed out loud.  Ms. J—– was probably making some poor kid double up on her spelling words.  Obviously, for good reason.

Although I did consider some kid testing out her skills of ironic humor.  Kids are more sophisticated nowadays.  Don’t think “Ms. J—– is stuped” qualifies as irony?  Well, The Oatmeal thinks it does, so there.

But the following week I was back at the elementary school for another occasion.  And I realized those words might have been written for an entirely different reason. Read more

I’m Cold.

Posted on | January 30, 2015 | 3 Comments

Winter arrived and it got cold.  Because that’s how that works.  I realize many of you live in areas of the country with much colder winter temperatures than we have here.  But I’ve heard that living in the South makes our blood thinner, so that we are more susceptible to cold.  I’ve also heard that we are just a bunch of weenies.  Hard to say for sure, but since this winter the schools decided to open 2 hours late due to temperatures in the 20’s it might be the latter.  In our defense, there was a wind chill.  Wind chill means it feels colder than it actually is because we are too inexperienced to cover the exposed surfaces of our skin.  I think.  Probably.  Maybe.

Luckily, we replaced our old leaky, broken, wood stove in November so we were prepared for the 20 degree nights.  Sort of.

The old wood stove was made of cast iron, which heated the house through radiant heat.  I mean, I didn’t know it was called radiant heat.  That was something I probably knew in fourth grade but forgot because I had to make room in my brain for the difference between igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic rock.  Which I forgot in order to learn the roles of apical bud, petiole, and node.  Which I forgot in order to understand the life cycle of a frog.  Which I still remember because the kids raise tadpoles on the deck almost very summer.  Sometimes the tadpoles grow up and hop out and sometimes the birds notice the aquarium and help themselves to a froglet buffet.

Anyway. Read more


Posted on | January 26, 2015 | 1 Comment

It’s still raining.  Which is better than all the snow they are forecasting for up north.  So I won’t complain.  Especially since The Other Half and Middle scrubbed the bathrooms this weekend, leaving me with just the usual vacuum and mop for today.  Obviously I won’t get to cutting back the asparagus ferns, weeding the creeping phlox, or cleaning under Harvey’s bunny cage on the deck.  Not in the pouring rain.  Good thing my house is loaded with unfinished projects.

I had 2 bags of carded fleece that I was saving to make these felted owls from Woolbuddy. Although I want to make mine with mostly natural colors and just a few bright touches.

Read more

Three Sunny Days.

Posted on | January 23, 2015 | 4 Comments

Day One:  Are You Kidding Me?

I was shocked when I saw the sun.

But I wasn’t going to stand around waiting for it to disappear.  As soon as the morning cleaning was done, I hit the garden.  For weeks I haven’t made it to garden before dark.  Instead I show up with a flashlight, rummaging under the frost covers for kale, spinach, green onions, broccoli, or chard.  You know, all the ingredients I meant to pick before the sun set and before I started making dinner, but that I forgot until the olive oil was already sizzling in the pan, the soup was simmering and needed a bit of green to freshen it up, or I needed a side dish that didn’t come out of a box with a packet of powdered cheese.  Blindly cutting greens in the freezing dark is not really so bad.  Touching the slugs that you can’t see in the dark is bad.  Very bad. Read more

keep looking »