Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

One step forward and you know the rest.

Posted on | December 10, 2012 | 3 Comments

Daylight savings time isn’t the only thing that has sprung forward and fallen back.  Around here we haven’t just lost an hour of sunlight and been forced to climb on chairs, get out user manuals, or almost drive off the road trying to reset all the clocks in our homes and automobiles.  We just can’t seem to complete one chore without another one rising up in its place.  Something about that 23.5 degree tilt as we head into the winter solstice makes it a particularly slippery slope.  Just when you’re making some progress, you find yourself sliding back down.

For example, it has been time to rake the leaves for a while now.

So we finally got it done.  By “we” I mean Big, who happened to be out of pocket money, and therefore, susceptible to chore requests.  Raking really is a drag because the leaves are such a wonderful, carefree ground cover.  They look pretty, they make a lovely crunching sound when you walk on them, and, best of all, they mean you don’t have to mow anymore.  They even act as a protective layer between the bottom of your shoes and the dog poop that the kids never scoop.

But once the last leaf falls, the raking has to be done to protect the remaining pathetic blades of summer fescue.  Or else there’ll just be mud when we throw down the winter rye.  Well, more mud then there will already be in the ruts and runs the kids and dogs have made along their favorite pathways.  Or the steep slopes where the grass never grows.  Oh, to trade in the beautiful, crunchy leaves for the mud and new, delicate, sparse sprouts of rye in the few places where no one tramples them dead.  And the exposed dog poop.

Sure, the kids were thrilled with leaf pit at the end of the slide.

But now I have to wait for another kid to burn through their cash to in order to get the grass seed sown and lime thrown down.  Good thing I’ve got one going through a Pokemon craze.  At $3 per pack of cards it shouldn’t take long for Middle to be asking for a way to earn more money.  Who says addiction doesn’t pay off?

As well as getting the yard work done, we brought in fresh hay for the winter.  Hay rolls result in lots of excitement in the barn yard.  Because they are yummy, excellent for sitting on, and full of jumping fun.

Too bad the hay splinters and rashes on arms and legs from rolling them in are not quite as fun.  Not even half as fun.  Pretty much not fun at all.  Which is why we were alarmed to discover one of the rolls was moldy.  Maybe.  I’m not sure but the goats, the sheep, and even the fat pony refuse to eat it.  It feels kind of damp in the center.  I think.  And it smells moldy.  I guess.  I really am not sure what moldy hay is like.  It might just be more weedy and stemmy than usual.  There’s definitely a lot of seed heads in it because it shoots white dandelion-like fluff everywhere when you pull out tufts of hay.

So it has to be returned.  Or refunded.  Or replaced.  Or something that is bound to be complicated.  Will the farmer who sold it to me want the rest of the uneaten roll back?  And how will we do that since I already cut the strings on it?  Is this something I can handle or will The Other Half  need to be sent in—all glowering 6’4″ of him?  I’m not sure but I have a feeling this could go as badly as trying to return a gift to Target.  And everyone knows those people are receipt Nazis.  In any case, that moldy roll is standing inbetween me and the ability to cross “get more hay for winter” off my To Do list.  In addition to using up my time and money keeping the free access baking soda full in case the hay makes anyone sick to their stomach.

So I was thankful that at least the chickens were undertaking an egg comeback.

That was encouraging, especially since I almost killed them with whole corn.  I got a deal on some bags of whole corn and tossed it out for their feed one morning.  Since they love corn I was shocked to find a lot of it remaining when I went out for the evening feeding.  I gave some of the friendlier hens a little head scratch to see if they were feeling OK and discovered everyone had a crop full of whole, undigested corn.  Everyone.  Every single chicken.  Uh-oh.

I know there was time when all we kept was whole corn and tossed that out for our ducks right before processing time.  It was a good way to add a little fat to the very lean free range ducks and the chickens were always happy to participate in the corn fest.  The chickens can get whatever grit they need from the rocks in the driveway so they never had any problems with digestion.  I certainly never had a flock of chickens with crops so full of corn that they couldn’t eat another bite.  But it would be just like me to accidentally kill my girls with impacted crops just when they started laying eggs again.  This is what I mean about the slippery slope.  Why does the winter solstice hate me?

When we found everyone still alive the next morning, The Other Half went out for some bags of cracked corn and we mixed it with the whole corn to make it all more edible.  It’s worked out fine so we could stop worrying and wondering about chickens for a while.  Except for all the extra roosters.

I am keeping the silkie rooster so that I can breed him with my silkie hens.

And I am keeping the Brahma rooster, Hawkeye, because I like his feathery legs.  And his huge size.  And his friendliness.

But the 6 other roosters need to be butchered.  Plus the 2 Cornish crosses that were given to us by a child whose class did a unit on incubation and embryology.  Only after the chicks hatched and were given to the students, did someone discover they were meat chickens, not laying hens.  Farm instruction is spotty at best in the public schools.

The mornings are definitely cool enough for butchering.  Which means they’re also cool enough for snuggling under the covers and sleeping late.  So we’re at a bit of a crossroads.  I’m not sure exactly what will happen this year, but in previous winters it has taken one of the extra roosters jumping me during the morning feeding to get me to separate them all from the flock and brave the frosty dawn to set up the butchering table.  Which explains that old saying, “spurred into action.”

We also took the trees and bushes that we had been protecting on the deck throughout the summer heat and drought and finally got them into the ground.  But now they need to be caged and covered with deer netting.  The fruit trees, too.  Hunting season ends in a few weeks which means the deer won’t be afraid to show their faces anymore.  They’ll be combing the property, morning and night, flaunting their escape from death and gobbling up landscaping treats in vengeance for their fallen comrades.  Like this guy.

Plus the road crews are still clear cutting around the power lines in preparation for ice and storms.  I don’t know how it goes where you live, but those crews have screwed up depth perception in my state.  Their idea of a 15 foot right of way next to the power lines seems to include pretty much anything with branches within sight distance.  And putting flagging tape on something is like daring them to reach it with their side mower.  Trust me, I’ve lost a bucket of milk or two when I had to throw it down in a mad dash down the driveway to stop an approaching roadside brusher.  Which is why we don’t cry over spilled milk.  Because milk is a lot easier to replace than Grandma Jackie’s rose bush or my Bloom-A-Thon pink double azalea.

I thought I had finally found some completion when I went down to the garden to check the fall crops.  I planted late this year (October!!) but when I lifted the frost cover I found the lettuce and greens were luscious enough to cause salivation.

And when I turned over the frost-killed potato patch, only expecting a few final spuds for the season, I was rewarded with an overflowing sweatshirt of taters.

Funny how I couldn’t grow potatoes for years and now my potato patch just gives and gives and gives.  Which makes me wonder why potato varieties have names like Yukon Gold or Russet when clearly they should be named Perseverance or Delayed Gratification.

I should have stopped with my potatoes and headed up to the house.  Because it was a shame when I thinned the radishes and discovered there was an entire slug colony living there, nibbling my harvest.

Which means I am forced to engage a garden pest.  In December.  As far as I’m concerned the entire point of a fall garden is not having to deal with garden pests.  Seek and destroy seems like such a contradictory message in the season of peace and hope.  But so be it, slugs.  I guess we’ll find out if you really can trap slugs with dishes of beer.  And whether or not chickens will get drunk from consuming dishes filled with slugs and beer.  ‘Cause what else would you do with trapped slugs other than put them out for the chickens to eat?

It seems like there’s no getting ahead as long as we’re tilted away from the sun.  Just sliding around in mud and grass seed, trying to keep the barn animals alive (at least until we’re ready for them to be otherwise), harvesting what we can from the garden, and avoiding the dog poop when possible.  Although I have high hopes for the drunk chicken thing.  That seems like it should be good for a laugh.  Or end in disaster.  There’s no telling this time of year.  It’s like that old saying, “May you live in interesting times.”  Which is also a Chinese curse.  These are interesting times, people, interesting times.


3 Responses to “One step forward and you know the rest.”

  1. Rose
    December 10th, 2012 @ 8:04 am

    I use all my moldy bales of hay for bedding and mulch. I actually get a little excited when one is not good enough to use as feed because I always need more bedding and mulch. The farmer we get our hay from is good about taking our word and giving a discount on new bales if we get moldys in our delivery. So don’t be sad about the bad bale. It will come in handy for so many non-feed projects!

  2. sherry
    December 11th, 2012 @ 4:40 am

    I’m glad that you posted a picture of your Brahma rooster. I have a rooster that looks like that and I was wondering what kind it was. It was also free to us through someone who hatched them at school.

  3. Jill
    December 11th, 2012 @ 7:53 am

    If you slip over here with a trailer, I’m sure we could spare a roll or two before our farmer returns.. I don’t know how you load those 1K rolls tho… It’ll take more than me and the kitties.. lol

    Yes, a job is never done that doesn’t create at least one in its wake. What’s the deal with that? Sleeping in late or staying up late to read a great book is never rewarded!!

    Nice read, Stevie! Happy December!

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