Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.


Posted on | July 8, 2011 | 3 Comments

I am known for my brilliant plans.  My brilliant follow-through, not so much.  Which isn’t for lack of trying on my part.  I put forth incredible effort.  It’s just that Circumstances always get in the way.  I hate Circumstances.

This year, my brilliant plan was to keep guineas in the garden to eat all the bugs.  Guineas had almost eliminated the ticks on the property and I was hoping that, with a little encouragement, they would declare war on the squash bugs that decimate our crops every summer.  The encouragement involved an 8 foot fence around the garden and the clipping of their wings before we locked them inside that fence.  So maybe entrapment is a better word.  But what’s a little semantics on the farm?

The first Circumstance that got in my way was determining guinea gender.  I wanted 2 females and 1 male in the garden.  Unfortunately, male guineas do not declare themselves as clearly as, say, male goats.  Male goats have extra appendages visible from the rear and, even if you were blind, routinely urinate on themselves so that you can smell a male coming from about 3 miles away.  Which I thought was odd until I had male children.  Who come as close to urinating on themselves as they can get away with in polite society.  At least I assume that is what they are trying to do in the bathroom that results in urine on the toilet seat, under the toilet seat, and around the base of the toilet.  But anyway…

I had to settle for putting 3 guineas in the garden and watching to see what happened.  1 of the guineas settled in the mulch pile and proceeded to have a lovely dust bath.  The other 2 promptly began shoving each other against the fence, pulling each other’s helmets (the fleshy protrusions on top of their heads) and shouting, “You talkin’ to me?  You talkin’ to ME?”  Which resolved the gender issue.  One of the shouters had to go and was replaced by another guinea who was quite pleased with the bathing going on at the mulch pile and even proceeded to preen by the zinnias.  Success!  2 females and 1 male.  All in all, it went a lot smoother than I expected.

Especially since the male guinea remaining in the garden had a feather pulled loose and sticking up on his back from all the fighting.  This enabled us to distinguish him from the females and we promptly named him “Spike.”  You know, for the spiky feather on his back.

I know it’s not very creative.  But you try naming the 2,000,000 animals who have been born here and see when you run out of distinctive, endearing, and original names.  It’s a good thing my children were born before the farm really got going or they would have ended up being called “Baldy,” “Pointy Head,” “Chubby Cheeks,” and “Are You Kidding Me” (which is what my family thought Little’s name was for a long time anyway).

In any case, my brilliant plan was working brilliantly.  Do you know what this is?

It’s a zucchini plant without a single squash bug on it.

And this is a cantaloupe vine that lived long enough to produce cantaloupes.

We may actually get watermelons off this vine.

There’s not a single beetle on these tomatoes.

And the cucumbers look beautiful!

How I loved Spike and his ladies.  I took pictures of them foraging for bugs in the beans.

Scouring the okra.

Patrolling the melons.

I admit it.  I was guinea paparazzi.  And when one of the ladies decided to make a nest and prepared to hatch out more squash bug-eating babies, I was ecstatic.  You go, girl!

I’m not saying I overreacted when the second female started her nest.  But there might have been party hats involved.

Oh, we were on our way to a pest free garden!  The amounts of vegetables that would be produced!  There would be canning!  Freezing!  Farmers Markets!  Never again would I stagger down to the garden with a sprayer filled with Castille Peppermint Soap.  No more sprinkling of DE—which guaranteed that a thunderstorm would spring up and wash it all away.  No more trying to scrape squash bug eggs off leaves without simultaneously destroying the plant.  No ordering praying mantises (manti?) or floating row covers.  No more pureeing pests in the blender with water and then pouring the mixture at the base of plants (This last measure was recommended in a gardening book as an effective means of deterring bugs on your plants.  I have no idea why.  Did it smell funny?  Did it act as a barrier?  Did the bugs recognize pieces of Aunt Martha’s thorax and run away screaming in terror?).  The days of desperate measures and futile acts to protect the garden’s produce were over.

Too bad that while I was busy celebrating, Circumstances was busy creeping up behind me.  Because broody guineas spend about 22 hours a day on their nests.  Which means for 22 hours a day, Spike is the only guinea on pest patrol.  And as it turns out, Spike prefers to patrol the perimeters of the fence line, hoping someone will toss another couple of libidinous females his way.

He paces this way…

and that way.

Sometimes he just stands there.

Kind of makes me think that the ladies were doing the bug-eating work the entire time.  Spike was just a poser.  A figurehead.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he started peeing on himself any day now.

Now the zucchini looks like this:

And the cucumber looks like this:

I expect it will get worse.

Of course, I could put some of my free ranging guineas in the garden.  But I rely on them for tick protection in the barn yard.  I can’t use chemicals to repel ticks on the dairy goats because if I wanted poisoned milk I would just buy it from the store.  Besides, I’m sure Spike’s randy ways would ensure that those females would quickly be setting on nests, too.

I could remove Spike and replace him with another female guinea.  Unfortunately, the last time I confined 4 females hens together in an attempt to avoid broodiness, 1 began taking on the role of the rooster.  She would mount the other females, direct them to food, and even tried her vocal chords at crowing.  Which didn’t stop broodiness in the other hens.  It just meant they started trying to hatch infertile eggs.  Oh, Circumstances had a good laugh at that one!

For right now I am a bit stumped.  I have settled for hoping the vegetables make it until the keets hatch in a couple weeks.  Once those baby guineas are on the ground there will be a lot of bug eating going on.  I hope.  Sit-and-wait is not my most brilliant plan, but it has panned out on occasion.  Besides, Circumstances has moved on to creating trouble in the barnyard.  This time it has conspired with Heat to make pregnant Carmen so miserable that she lays around looking like she’s dead most of the day.  Which makes me rush off the deck or jump out of the car as I pull up the driveway to ensure everything is OK.  So I stay pretty busy.  Poor Carmen.  Darn Circumstances!


3 Responses to “Circumstances.”

  1. Lisa D
    July 9th, 2011 @ 5:24 am

    I gotta get me some guineas!

  2. Liz (Vic Aust.)
    July 9th, 2011 @ 10:52 pm

    Yes dad used to have them but his flock was large and noisy but the eggs were very nice. Not sure we have these bugs here. Certainly have had no trouble with cucumbers or marrow. Tomatoes were ok too. Wonder how the LGD (livestock guardian dogs) would react. They were fine with geese and chooks (hens)I guess they will learn. Must watch out for circumstances 🙂

  3. Dave Stewart
    July 12th, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

    Well written piece. Enjoyed it. Thanks.

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