Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.


Posted on | June 4, 2014 | 2 Comments

So The Other Half got up, put the dogs out to go to the bathroom, made lunches, signed permission slips for all the movies that the kids will be watching instead of doing school work during the last week of school, put some kids on the bus, drove some kids to school, let the dogs back in so they could begin their morning nap on the couch, and filled and started the dishwasher.  Which meant that when I finally rolled out of bed at 8:15 am (O.M.G. 8:15 am!!!!) the house was quiet and most of the chores were done.

I stood downstairs for a minute, baffled.  I was well-rested, the kids were gone, the kitchen was clean, and I had 10 hours until I had to go to work.  What in the world was I going to do with myself???  Luckily Big had left the last of his chocolate Easter bunny on the counter so I settled in for some nibbles as I planned the rest of my day.

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Loose Chickens.

Posted on | May 31, 2014 | 4 Comments

There’s a lot of debate regarding free range chicken.  Technically, the government considers “free range” to mean that the birds have access to the outdoors.  But it doesn’t actually mean they spend any time out there or that it’s more than a gravel yard.  Most people (as opposed to the government) consider “free range” to mean chickens that are allowed to roam around a natural area, foraging for some of their food and choosing their favorite place for a dust bath.  Although, with the rise of egg mobiles and portable electric netting, lots of chickens are rotating through fields and woodlands in movable pens.  Which some people consider to be “pastured” chickens instead of free range.   Of course, there are also “cage free” hens.  That simply means keeping chickens in a facility without cages.  No limits on crowding and no guarantee of sunlight or open ground, just no cages.  There’s “humanely raised” chickens—-a definition that is totally up for grabs.  Or there’s Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved—-with documented standards.  Very documented.  Like so-long-I-only-managed-to-read-the-first-30-pages-before-I-lost-interest documented.

Around here the chickens are fenced out of areas instead of inside them.  They are fenced out of the landscaping in the front yard.

No swimming in the pond, ladies.

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Open Season.

Posted on | May 16, 2014 | 2 Comments

You might realize summer is approaching when the hummingbirds arrive at the feeders.

Or when the broccoli and greens have to be harvested every day to keep them from bolting.

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The Wisdom of the Wheelbarrow.

Posted on | April 27, 2014 | 6 Comments

Large jobs require large amounts of procrastination.  But this spring, when the deep litter in the barn reached the same level as the top of the water trough, I couldn’t put off cleaning it out any longer.  By the same token, if I wanted to make a fourth raised bed in the garden I needed to get loads of compost down there before it was actually time to plant.  So I decided to combine the miserable jobs of cleaning out the barn and hauling compost to the garden by simply carrying load after load of dirty bedding straight down to the garden where it could compost in place.  Lazy but effective.

Yet if the task ahead seemed daunting (6 months worth of hay and poop in the barn!) and the labor seemed wearisome (why is the only spot of full sun for the garden 960 feet from the compost pile?), the wheelbarrow was more than a match.  Supported by the elemental forces of  the fulcrum, it is a powerful tool.  Sustained by centuries of use for both the menial….

and the majestic task….

it is a conventional tool with extraordinary uses. Read more


Posted on | April 20, 2014 | 1 Comment

When we moved out to this piece of property it was almost all wooded.  Walking to the pond with infants or toddlers was like choosing between a quick death by cedar tree spike to the chest or slow expiration by entrapment in inescapable underbrush.  Not to mention heart-stopping encounters with spider webs (if the web is on your face, where is the spider?) and humiliating strip-down tick checks on the deck before reentering the house.  So one of my first landscaping plans was to make a clear path to the pond and back.

And every day while the children napped, I stumbled around in the woods—-trimming branches, rolling fallen trees, cutting back briars, moving rocks—-until I created a meandering pathway.  I simply piled the brush on the sides of the path because there was no way I was hauling it all up to the house and it would still be 12 years before Big was old enough to be FireMaster and in charge of burning anything and everything that we could fit into the fire pit.

Also, I imagined the brush piles would be excellent habitat for the local population of adorable critters.  I pictured birds and bunnies, chipmunks and field mice, safely ensconced in the piles and nibbling back the undergrowth for me.  I pictured me and the kids strolling through the picturesque woods and communing with nature.  Let’s be honest.  I pictured this:

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All Good Things.

Posted on | April 10, 2014 | 4 Comments

All good things must come to an end.  Although in March I try to hold on them for as long as possible.  March is my birthday month and, accordingly, I celebrate all month long.  There is much discussion in our household about why I an entitled to a month long birthday celebration.  Honestly, I don’t understand the controversy.

I have explained to the kids that their lifestyle of free housekeeping, a personal chef, and chauffeur service means pretty much everyday is their birthday.  The Other Half is one of those bizarre people that actually wants the day to pass without a lot of recognition or ceremony.  I don’t understand those people, but who am I to argue?  Especially when I can use that time to plan my own festivities.

This March I started early with a Day of Practice at a beautiful nearby community retreat center.  On March 1st me and 4 of my friends gathered with others for 6 hours of mindfulness and mediation.  (Of course I invited my friends.  All public events can be hijacked to serve my birthday purposes during Birthday Month.  Just because it’s your retreat center doesn’t mean I can’t make it into my birthday celebration.  Just watch me.)

There was some controversy about this, too.  One of my friends called The Other Half ahead of time.

“I’m not sure she knows what she’s getting into,” she told him.  “Does she know there’s no talking?  No talking!’”

The Other Half was nonplussed.  He had no idea what a Day of Practice was or that I had any plans to attend such an event.  Generally, he has no idea what I am up to on the days that he is at work.  Which makes for an eventful dinner discussion when he arrives home for the evening.  I believe this is called “adding spice to your marriage” and it is highly recommended by marital therapists.

For the record, I am quite capable of sitting still and being quiet.  When I’m reading.  Or sleeping. Or….., um….huh.  That might be it.  I’d say I’m quiet when I’m working in the barn and garden, but really, there’s always someone following me around to talk to.

In any case, we had an incredibly lovely spring day….

and the meditation included both yoga and mindful walking in the relaxing practice space.

There was also “aimless wandering” around the bucolic property.

Plus, we only had to sit completely still and focused for a maximum of 20 minutes at a time.  So I had an enjoyable and relaxing day despite the large amount of silence and the “essential speech only” lunch.  (Shudder.  I’m pretty sure it is “essential” to the discuss the delicious cookies and the seasoning in the carrot soup with your friends during lunch.  Also, that silent lunch is just supposed to be for the bad kids misbehaving in the cafeteria.)  Besides, I might have cheated a little bit by chatting with some friends during the aimless wandering. But that was also “essential”.  Because as one of my friends pointed out gently, as we exited the practice room,

“Are you OK?  I can actually feel you not talking.”

It’s so lovely to have that friends that really get you.

After all that mindfulness, it was important to check back in with the busyness and boisterous reality of everyday life.  So when a friend invited me to her theatre group’s fundraising event at a local bar I made sure I was there to check it out.  Remember every event is really about me during the Birthday Month.  We noshed on Mexican food, sampled a few spirits,

and then went to pick her daughter up from dance class.  Because you can run from your chauffeur duties during Birthday Month but you really can’t hide.  Sigh.

Soon after that it was time for the peak of Birthday Month revelry.  The annual and much-anticipated Beach Weekend.

For moms only.  No kids, no husbands.  No finding the empty roll of toilet paper still on the holder.  Just sun, sand,….

and an oceanfront hut tub.

Oh, and massages for all.  Plus, a day at the nail salon.

Even at the beach they were celebrating my birthday.

Or St. Patrick’s Day.  Same difference.

Regardless, there was funnel cake and even a petting zoo.  Best hijacked-event-for-my-birthday ever.

Of course, it wasn’t all about the parties.  There were lots of awesome gifts during the month.

I got these socks from a friend at the mediation retreat.  Which I immediately wanted to put on and wear around the practice room.  Except it seemed a little off-message.

The kids got me an American beauty berry bush which I requested because I must, must, must have those branches of berries to add to winter wreaths and Christmas decor.

I bought myself an emergency digital television with a gift card from my brother.  So that we’re never stuck without local news during an emergency again.  As long as we all sit quietly and listen to it.  Because we’re sure as heck not going to be able to see anything on the 3.5″ screen.

There were intangibles, too.  My parents watched the kids for me on the Day of Practice.  And took me to breakfast at my favorite diner on my birthday.  Because the free range eggs at my house are good, but they don’t come with cheese and hashbrowns all folded into a scrumptious omelet with pancakes on the side.  I don’t know why the people at Grill Worx don’t realize that pancakes are a whole other breakfast, not a side item, but please, nobody tell them!

The next day the schools were canceled due to inclement weather.  Since the roads were completely clear (go figure), we spent the day at the mall.  The kids spent their Christmas gift cards at the stores and I used my Red Robin gift card to buy us all lunch afterwards.  Which means we successfully traded in a cold drizzly day at home, with the kids begging to play Wii, for a day of shopping and lunch.  Without even spending a dime.  Oh, is there no end to Birthday Month goodness???!!!

On the random occasions when school was in session I also caught a few breaks.  For example, Little was Johnny Appleseed in the annual Wax Museum.  Johnny Appleseed!  After years of borrowing or building astronaut costumes, hunting for acceptable cowboy attire, or tracking down prairie dresses, I was rewarded with the simplest get up of all: a flannel shirt, rolled up jeans, an apple, and a pot for his head.  I had all of those things on hand, in the house, with about 3 minutes of preparation the night before Wax Museum.  And now that Little is done, we’ll never have to do Wax Museum again.  Happy Birthday to me!

To wrap up the Birthday Month we all went to one of my favorite places on March 31st.  The zoo.

Which all means that for me, March came in like a lamb….

and went out like a lion.

Just about right.

All in all, it was a good run.  Too bad all the good times are over until next year.

Or are they?

Kids bowl free. April 1st.

Choose-your-own-filling at the new doughnut shop in town. April 2nd.

A day trip to the beach. April 4th.

Milked Out.

Posted on | March 30, 2014 | 4 Comments

So we’ve been busy picking up sticks around here.

And milking.

Mostly milking.

Usually I only have 2 does in milk at a time.  Milk from 1 large doe (a Nubian or a Toggenburg) and 1 Nigerian dwarf can easily meet all the dairy needs of our family of 6.  Plus provide extra milk for any spring bottle babies and the pigs and the garden.  But last fall I bred all 4 of my does.  Kind of because I thought it was a good idea.  Kind of because I sold my only 2 does in milk and we had to go 4 months without any fresh goat milk so we were jonesing for it.  Kind of because I retired a couple goats last year and my goat barn felt like it needed to have a million goat kids to feel full again.  Kind of because when I went outside and found a doe with her head stuck in the fence of the buck pen it was easier (and quieter) to just let a buck out to service her than to lock her up with separate feed and water in the back pen for a few days until her heat passed.  Kind of because I assumed at least 1 or 2 of the does wouldn’t actually get pregnant but would pretend to be pregnant by not having a second heat and get really fat and lazy and only 155 days after “being bred” would I realize she wasn’t actually pregnant and I’d have to breed her in the spring for a fall kidding.  At least 1 goat does that to me every year.  But not this year. Read more


Posted on | March 19, 2014 | 9 Comments

I still remember that forecast.  Since it was already sleeting outside I figured we needed to know what else was coming.  As I was setting the table for dinner, the meteorologist on television calmly assured me that we would only have a light glaze of ice.  As a matter of fact, she stated it would be no more than 1/10 of an inch.  She expected slippery spots on raised surfaces in the morning but, otherwise, not much impact.

I sighed.  The kids cheered.  We all knew that if there was even one icy patch somewhere in the entire county, then the schools would open on a late delay schedule, 2 hours after the usual start time.  And in North Carolina, “late delay” is synonymous for “we might even decide to close for the entire day if we feel like it so as soon as you get up start checking the news and internet for updates and remember to pee as fast as possible because the closing announcement will probably come during the 2.5 seconds that you are in the bathroom but it will definitely come after you have everyone dressed, lunches packed, and teeth brushed, and way too much coffee in your system to go back to sleep.”

Anyway, it was after that 5:30pm weather forecast that we made our first mistake. Read more

In The Beginning.

Posted on | March 4, 2014 | 1 Comment

In the beginning God said, “Let there be light.”  And from that day forward every gardener turned her face to the sun.  Waiting for winter’s gray skies to turn blue.

For the days to lengthen and the sun to fill the greenhouse with warmth and light.  So that she can fill it with seeds.

For the soil to warm in the raised beds.  While her hands itched to dig in that dirt.

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And The Gold Goes To….

Posted on | February 15, 2014 | 2 Comments

There has been a leadership problem since Brianna left the farm.  As Queen Bee, Brianna was in charge of all aspects of the goat herd.  She was especially important during kidding season.  I always put her in the kidding barn with does having their first kids.  I knew Brianna would make sure all the babies made it out of the amniotic sac.  She would ensure all babies were up, clean, on their feet, and seeking for their mother’s teat.  She never left babies in the cold and she raised a racket when a baby was separated or stuck somewhere in the barn.  At the sound of a baby’s cries, she always stopped what she was doing to investigate, even if the mother calmly and cluelessly continued napping or eating hay.  She didn’t tolerate kid abuse from anyone in the barnyard—not ponies, not livestock guardian dogs, not sheep, not even other does.  Any critter that started chasing or harassing a goat kid, whether it was Brianna’s kid or not, was met with a rock hard head butt from the Queen Bee.

I expected a battle for the throne from the other does when Brianna left the farm in December.

Um, no. Read more

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