Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Place Your Bets.

Posted on | June 22, 2014 | 3 Comments

A full house is almost impossible around here.  One of the kids is always missing—sports, sleepovers, birthday parties, camp, play dates, any excuse to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  Sometimes we’ve got one pair.  Occasionally we’ve got three of a kind.  Sometimes we’re busted.

In the beginning it was disorienting to count heads and come up with fewer than 4.  My heart would pound and my breath would catch as I’d realize that not only had I finally lost one, but I had no idea what the missing child was wearing.  No idea.  Not even a haphazard guess.  What kind of a mother couldn’t describe to police what her child was wearing before he or she wandered off in the Food Lion???  (Besides a mother that makes them dress themselves, wash their own laundry, and put it away in their drawers and closets on their own.  And should I admit those facts to the police?  Is it even legal to make kids do their own laundry nowadays?)

Even worse, what if the stress made me stumble over his or her birth date like I do in front of the pharmacist after a bout of illness in the kids??  People, it’s confusing to have some children that are born 2 years apart and some that have birth years that are back to back.  (Anyway, who’s fabricating stories in the CVS to get illegal pink eye medicine??)  God help me if the police asked me when I last had all 4 kids together.  Surely we all arrived in the car together.  Right?  I mean, probably.  Maybe.  Um,….were they all in the car when we got here??

Eventually my brain would override my panic and I’d remember that the missing child was at a bowling birthday party or swimming at the neighbor’s house or staying after school for practice.  As the kids grew I even got accustomed to the absences.  Lately it’s unusual to have all the kids together.  I’ve become resigned to it.  I figured the days of all 4 of them trooping through the house, battling over board games, rushing in and outside, building forts, and playing tag through the yard and the woods were almost finished.  Maybe even over.

My parents did not yield so easily.  They weren’t about to fold.  No, they were ready to call against baseball games and sleepovers.  They were ready to raise  the stakes.  And for the past 2 weekends we’ve had all 4 kids together.  All in one place.  All day long.  That’s right, people.

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This Is Why.

Posted on | June 18, 2014 | 3 Comments

The other day we came home to find the sheep and the goats wandering down the driveway.


We put them up without a lot of hassle.  As a matter of fact I didn’t realize the real problem until the next day.

Because there’s a ton of lush grass in the front yard to graze.

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They’re heeeeere.

Posted on | June 12, 2014 | 1 Comment

No.  Not them.


That’s right.  Summer squash is here.  Zucchini, cocozelle, patty pan, white bush, straight neck, and crookneck. Read more

Good Job.

Posted on | June 11, 2014 | 5 Comments

I suspect we have a predator in the hen house.  Last week one of my chickens limped her way to the feed room for breakfast.  Upon examination she did not have any visible injuries, no bleeding, no lacerations, but her leg appeared pulled out of the joint.  She recovered.  A few days later I found a dead chicken laying in the pasture.  She also did not appear to have any visible wounds but I thought her neck was broken.  Both chickens were part of Michael’s harem.

As the less dominant rooster in the flock Michael often roosts on some old pallets in the buck pen with a small group of his hens rather than fight for a spot on the roosts in the chicken barn.  The injury and death was very discouraging. Read more

Size Matters.

Posted on | June 5, 2014 | 4 Comments

I realize there are instructions on seed packets and information on the plastic plant stakes in veggie transplant trays.  But, really, who pays attention to that stuff?  The seeds are getting sown in whatever manner that they fall from my hand.  I’m not mixing them with sand (from where??) or putting them in a salt shaker or drilling individual holes with a stick.  I will cover shallow seeds with a toss of dirt from the shovel or push large seeds in with a  fingertip.  That’s about all the personal attention any seedlings get from this farmer.

After all, why do I need to sow the seeds in perfectly spaced rows?  I consider thinning seed beds that were oversown as a feed supplement to the animals in the barnyard.  The fat pony would never touch a large, dried up carrot or mealy over-sized radish when she was raised on tiny, sweet mini-carrots and spicy bits of radish roots.  Even we are accustomed to the delicate and fresh shoots of new seedlings.  Who wants a well-formed but boring head of lettuce when you can nosh on delicious snippets of loose leaf bibb and buttercrunch?

It’s the same thing with vegetable transplants.  The squash plants are going into the squash bed in the manner in which they will all fit.  Ditto the tomatoes, the peppers, the eggplant, etc.  Because is the writer of the plant stake going to come and add 3 feet to my raised bed to get the correct spacing?  No, he’s not. And until he arrives to haul down 2 wheelbarrows full of compost to add 3 feet to the row, the plants are just going to make due with the room available.

Besides, some of the seeds don’t germinate and some of the transplants die.  That’s Nature’s way of making appropriate spacing in the garden.  Who am I to argue with Mother Nature?  Not to mention that I’m bound to step in a soft, newly sprouted seed bed at least once while backing in the wheelbarrow or carrying a bale of straw or driving in a garden stake.  And even though I garden in flip flops, they are size 10 flip flops.  Size 10 takes out a lot of little seeds.  And if the transplants are a little too close for the plants to grow comfortably, try dragging the garden hose over them when you’re watering.  Severely crushed plants will wither and die and some will get torn out by the roots.  At the very least, limbs will get cracked off, ensuring no single plant branches out and takes up too much room.  This is called “pruning”  and all the professionals do it.  Probably.  Maybe.  Eh. Read more


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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