Friday, December 26, 2014

oh Christmas tree

The weather has been warm and windy, which on the one hand can be quite nice but even the little goat girls don't like to get their hair mussed.  Christmas is a quiet affair at My Happy Acres.  Everyone gets special treats.

Bits of apple, scratch, and a wee bit of salad with some fresh cranberries makes for happy chickies.

The goat girls were all gleefully dancing about their Christmas tree.  Of course for them the tree is less decoration and more supplementation to their already rich and varied diet.

This appears to be their favorite Christmas song:

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Thy leaves are so unchanging
With bright green leaves 
and cones to crunch
Our favorite snack and sometimes lunch
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Thy leaves are so unchanging!

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Such pleasure do you bring me!
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Such pleasure do you bring me!
For every year this Christmas tree,
Brings to us such joy and glee.
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Such pleasure do you bring me!

(with apologies, actual lyrics <here>) 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from My Happy Acres

Merry Christmas to all and wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Goats in the snow

A few postings back I mentioned that the goat girls weren't all that thrilled with walking in the cold, wet snow.  Even though they've been in and out for several weeks now, they still step slowly through.  If you listen carefully, you can hear them muttering to themselves as they gingerly put one foot before the other.
Each day when I put their snacks outside, I've been placing the hay barrel and Christmas tree snacks a little farther away from the barn.  The girls begrudgingly follow me out, are delighted with their reward.  Still not happy with standing in the snow, they'll pull hay out of the barrel just to stand on it.  The best happened yesterday afternoon when Fluffy dumped out the Christmas tree snack tray so that she could stand inside the tray and continue to eat the snacks spilled out onto the snow. 

The snow is beginning to melt and come off the buildings.  One has to be careful when working or walking beside one of these hazards.  A sudden avalanche can knock the wind out of you or worse.  When putting the girls outside during the day, we make a special effort to keep them away from the sides of the buildings.  A snow slide could easily kill one of them.
It's a little hard to see, but this wall of snow is what came off the roof Saturday afternoon.  Three feet deep, 30 feet long, and about 15 feet away from the side of the barn, the bulk of the snow came flying off to land out here with only a smaller amount landing closer.  Consider this: one square foot of wet snow can weigh as much as 21 lbs.  This single load weighs about a ton and a half.  No wonder buildings give way under their load!  (Read more here)  If you find yourself needing to clear away the snow, please be careful...and keep an eye out for what may be lurking above.

Friday, December 12, 2014

First Big Snow, white Christmas?

Remember when we looked forward to a snow day?  Since moving to My Happy Acres I decided to do my level best to remember those feelings and embrace them.  Whenever I wake up and find the world blanketed in a heavy layer of white, instead of dreading the work, I think about when I was little and helped shovel our driveway (which when you're little seems like it's nine miles long).  I would pretend to be building a giant snow fort or making a great wall or canyon.  I learned that if I cut the snow into blocks and stack them along the sides, I could grab them later for making snow men or forts.  Mom said that she thought what I was doing was a complete waste of effort but I had a plan.
This morning we woke up to at least 14" on the ground and some very interesting drifts to muddle through.  

'hmmmm. Can’t get out the door without clearing away the snow.' started my outing with shovel in hand.  (I paused, looked up and smiled.  The sun was just peaking out making everything all glittery.  how pretty it was.)
'hmmmm. Can’t get to the equipment barn without digging a path.'  (Did you know that the song, 'Low Bridge everybody down' makes a great shoveling song? )
'hmmmmm.  That’s a big drift against the barn door.'  (I opened the door and stepped inside to look back at the solid snow wall with the impression of the door on it.  You could see the layers of hard and soft snow, tiny flake and pelleted snow that came down last night.  Surprisingly the light twinkled through the lighter layers underneath the heavy wet blanket that lay on top.)
'hmmmm.  The snow is all the way up to the second rung of the steel gate.'  (Shovel in hand, I cleared away the drift amused by the little mouse trails that tubed their way along the length of the pipe.)
In the winter, instead of my trusty wagon, the dead sled or stag drag is used to tote stuff to and from the animal barn.  The snow shoes were pretty handy, making the trip to the animal gate a breeze rather than a trial.  Tromping along I thought about the writings of Jack London (a favorite author of mine when I was about 11 or 12).  I was a 49er making my way to the Yukon (although my trusty canine companion was still sacked out in his warm bed dreaming of bacon snacks).
The department of highways had done their usual fine job of keeping the road clear, although it did add an additional challenge by creating a high wall of snow to mount. 
'hmmmm. More snow against the animal gate and barn.'  (Good thing I gave myself an extra hour to take care of everybody this morning.  Snow was steadily cleared away while I noticed where the rabbits and perhaps an owl had left their impressions in the pasture snow.)
The little goat girls were excited to get outside.  A small patch was cleared from their barn door to allow them to have a clear place to lie in the sun.  They bounced about before racing back and forth between their paddock and play yard. 

Sum total it took about two hours to do what usually takes about 45 minutes to do.  By thinking about sweet memories and how beautiful the world can be made otherwise difficult work a more pleasant task.

A light dusting of snow has started again.  So are the joys of winter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Oh Christmas tree: goat style

There are a number of Christmas tree farms nearby.  One of our favorites is just up the road.  The Beckwith Christmas tree farm has a variety of Christmas trees available both fresh and fresh cut.  They also have the cutest caboose giftshop and warming booth I've ever seen.

Let's talk about the goats: we're very careful about what the girls get for treats.  There are so many things out there that may seem innocent enough, but can make a goat sick in a heartbeat.   Nuff said.  When we were offered wreath and tree trimmings, we were delighted.  After carefully inspecting for anything troublesome (none), choice morsels were selected, and brought out to the girls grazing in the pasture.
The babies had never seen or smelled these before.  Within five minutes of smelling then tossing boughs around, Jellybean decided that they were too tasty to just use for toys.  Yummy! 

After a good roll in the cuttings, the girls now have a lovely pine fresh scent.  Could be worse I suppose.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Black Friday madness

Stopping off at the mailbox on my way out to the barn Thursday morning, I found that the newspaper man had delivered his daily bundle.  After wrestling with the box for a few minutes, a giant wad of advertisements came bursting out like some kind of bazaar overgrown Christmas cracker. 
Pages of brightly colored promotions for electronic gizmos, TVs, telephones, video games, and happy gleeful children playing with the latest must have toy scattered everywhere.  As I quietly gathered them up, a soft snow began to fall.
 I could hear the little goat girls stirring awake.  Putting aside the melee of throw aways, I assessed the stalls and buckets before opening the door and leading the babies to the pasture.  When the winds are not blowing too hard, and snow is not too wet, and the mud is not too sticky, and the hay inside is not too soft and warm, any day can be a good day to go out and play.
There wasn't enough snow to get out the snowblowers, but one still needed to clear a wee bit of snow away from the fenceline.  Fortunately that meant that only a half mile needed to be shoveled, a quarter mile of fence: inside and out.  As I slowly moved around the paddock, the little goat girls followed along.  Softly bleating, they searched out tasty morsels of green browse peaking through the snow.  Sweet hay and warm water is aways available but can't be compared to pasture nibbles.
After everyone had had her 'good girl' pats, I circled back to pick up the papers I had left.  'Black Friday!  Save!  Buy Now!  More toys and trinkets!'  the cacophony clamored.  I turned back toward and listened to little Dorothy.  "Ma Maa" she whispered. 
This place has given me a sense of what is really important.  It's not who has more stuff, the biggest TV, the best team, or the fanciest car.  Let the madness pass, while you watch the babies play in the snow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First Snow

We had a few waves of sleety snow come blowing through around Halloween, but this last weekend saw some of the real stuff coming down.  Large, fluffy flakes blanketed the lawn and pastures overnight, much to the surprise of our little goat girls.
 As soon as I opened their stall that morning, all four came racing out, ready to go play in the pasture.  As soon as they saw the snow, without taking one step out, they came to an abrupt stop at the snowy line drawn at the door.  "what's this stuff?"  "I dunno.  Icky!  It's cold and it's WET"  Finally after 15 or so minutes, Jellybean ventured out.  After bouncing around for a short amount of time, the other girls finally took some tentative steps out toward the pasture.
 Once the girls arrived, they were like any kids playing in fresh snow.  They ran back and forth playing tag.  The goat house was too slippery to stand on top of but that didn't mean one couldn't jump up on it and slide off...or talk your sister into jumping up and falling off.
 Meanwhile out in Chickenland: the buckeyes decided that no amount of yummy scratch feed was going to get them out into that cold white stuff.  After venturing a couple of steps out, Peanut turned about and reported to the rest that the nice warm Buckeye manor was the place to stay.
 It's going to be a long time til Spring.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pullet eggs

The Americauna pullets are finally starting to lay.  Found these cute little blue beauties earlier this afternoon (Buckeye pullet egg for comparison).  They seemed a bit surprised to see an egg (wow!  look at this!  I had a little tummy ache, sat down to rest a minute, and look what happened!  I feel better now.  How 'bout some snacks?)

Monday, October 27, 2014

What to do with all those apples

This has been a really good year for apples.  Not too hot.  Not too cold.  Not too wet.  Not too dry.  Pest management was minimal.  Trees grew strong and healthy.  This is the kind of year that orchardists and tree managers look forward to.

So what to do with all those apples:
Before immediately making pies, what kind of apple are you comtemplating?  Put simply, some apples are better suited to cooking than others.  Braeburn, for example, makes a wonderful apple butter.  As this apple cooks, it easily breaks apart creating a delicious sauce and, with a little effort, makes a lovely apple butter.
Other apples such as Fuji or Jonagold hold their shape making them perfect for pies or baked apples.  When peeling and prepping pie filling, don't worry if you get a little carried away.  After making the first pie, put just enough filling for another in a press and seal (Ziplock type) freezer bag.  After removing the air, lay the sealed bag in foil pie tin, and freeze.  The pie filling will freeze in the shape of the pie tin.  When ready to use, remove the pie tin shaped filling and place in a prepared pin pan, covering with pie dough, finishing normally.   Easy-peasie.

Another good idea is a nice alternative to snack chips: dried apples.  Peel and slice the apples about 1/4" thick, then soak for about 2 minutes in a citric acid solution (2 T citric acid to 1 quart water).  Available at most health food stores, citric acid is a nice alternative to sulfur and will keep the fruit from turning dark while adding Vitamin C.  Place treated slices in the dehydrator for about 10 hours (135 F degrees).   I like dried apples crisp and slightly tart, so this is perfect.  When ready, place the apple slices into a air tight container and seal.
As you're enjoying these, remember: as good as these are, whether you are eating an apple straight off the tree or nibbling at them one slice at a time: ten apple slices can equal an entire apple.  Moderation is the clue.  (I know: no fun.)

For ideas and more info: read here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Too cute

Dropped by a friend's barn earlier today.  Last weekend her does were having babies.  She's now knee deep in bouncy kids.
Have you ever seen anything more adorable than those sweet little faces?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Buckeyes on the move, part 2

The good news is that at the end of the day, the Buckeyes did indeed go home to the chicken tractor.  The next morning it became clear that we were going to have to put a wee bit of plastic chicken wire across the bottom of the back gate to discourage our little wanderers from coming into the main yard.  Aside from digging up flower beds, rearranging bark mulch, and coming up on the deck to peck at the patio window (which drove the dog nuts) it was entertaining to see them running about.
Hey!  I can see Mom in there!
The Buckeyes are feeling like big chickies, willing to brave the world and go exploring.  On the upside that means that they don't tend to over graze the area where the tractor is parked.  On the down side is that sometimes they get lost and need mom to guide them home again.  Much to the amusement of our neighbor, when I spotted the gang heading for the goat barn, I walked over to Bucky and Rudy to ask where they were going.
After a bit of fluffing and stomping of feet (that's rooster for 'We're in charge here'), the girls gathered together and slowly followed me back within eye sight of the tractor.  It was funny to watch everyone drop her head and run for the house.  Guess that 500 foot adventure was enough.  Today, everyone seems content to stay well within eye sight of home.
There was a little surprise waiting for us this morning at Buckeye manor.  That wee little egg on the left, which is about half the size of a normal hen's egg, is a pullet egg.  When young hens start laying they produce very small eggs.  The buckeyes are of age to start laying so we're expecting to find more of these soft tan nuggets.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Buckeyes on the move

Although it's only mid-October, it's time to think about where the Buckeyes will be spending the Winter.  To make it easier to get to them and the Americaunas in Chickenland, the tractor has been moved to be closer to the back gate.  On the one hand, when the snow is blowing, this will make it easier to take care of everyone at once.  On the other hand, because the chicken door now faces the main house's back yard, a whole new world has openned up to Bucky and company.
Just because a closed gate is between the tractor and the backyard, doesn't mean one can't squeeze under it.  From there, all bets are off.  There's a few remaining blackberries on the wild brambles.  There are grapes that haven't been harvested.  There are bugs, lots of bugs, hiding down in the nice thick lawn.
Oh, yes.  Did I mention that the old chick house had been repurposed for a dog house?
Bucky and Rudy make sure the girls are safe, keeping an eye out for curious puppies or strangers.
It's going to be interesting to see if everyone goes back to tractor at the end of the day, or if the pup will have room mates this evening...
looks like it's been repainted.  wow! it's really clean in there!  Are you sure this is our old place?  I don't remember there being a porch.  shouldn't there be hay in here?  It kinda smells like puppy...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Just take the picture

Thought I would share this with you for a moment:  anyone who has a family, knows how hard it is to get everyone in the picture looking good.  Just as the picture is about to snap someone is going to tug, push, or put a finger some place you don't want saved for history.  Taking pictures about the farm is no different.
Look!  A helicopter!
Just as you think everyone is lined up and looking good, a distraction appears.
Is that a bunny?  I think I saw a bunny!  I don't know, bunnies are kinda scary.  Did that bucket just move?
and, of course, there are other distractions:
OW!  don't pull my tail!
It's not just getting the kids lined up, sometimes the photographer has an issue.  Such as backing into a hole.
Let's not forget the little show offs, that want to be in every picture and have mom's undivided attention:
Look Mom!  Look how high I am!  Wanna see me jump off?  Are you looking?  Mom? MMAAAAA!
One of the nice things about digital cameras is that one can take lots of pictures and immediately see, who's been good and who's been busy.  Just keep snapping and maybe by the end of the day, you too will have one or two to share...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Portable fences and graze rotations

To keep the goats healthy and reduce the need to worm them, aside from periodic Famacha exams, every five to seven days the girls are migrated to a new pasture.  On the surface this seems simple enough: select an area where they haven't grazed in a month or two, set up the portable fence, move the girls into the new space.  Easy-peasie.
So it doesn't turn into a goat rodeo, fence moving is best done when curious noses have gone to bed.  "Whacha doing?  What's that?  I wanna help!  Hey this fence isn't hot!  Look at me!  WEEEEEEEE!"  No, we're not going there.
Electric fences serve two purposes: keeping the bad stuff out (think: coyotes, dogs, and deer) and keep the good stuff in (goats, chickens).  Touch an electric fence and you learn very quickly what not to do.  Unfortunately doesn't mean that I've only been zapped once (try carrying a rolled up fence and bump into the live one: that's a sensation one doesn't readily forget).
Although we have permanent fencing around the pasture, for ease of rotation, mowing, and maintenance the temporary electronet type fencing works best for the internal paddocks.
Before the season, we did an estimate of how much pasture the girls would need and how to subdivide the area to best suit those needs.  As a work in progress, there are times that we are much more successful at this than others.
"You know you could utilize your pasture much more effectively if your fence lines were straighter."   This is a comment that one probably wants to keep to ones self, especially after ones neighbor has spent the better part of the morning trying to put the fence line in.  Why does it take so long?  Rocks.
One could spend weeks clearing a pasture of rock yet lurking just a few inches below the soil will be a stony foe.  Nothing makes a better rock divining rod than a temporary fence post.  The step on prong makes it easy to install and remove provided that the way it clear.  Minutes turn to hours as one positions, steps, then repositions and tries again.  One of the advantages to doing this task after a rain is that the rocks and soil are more forgiving and will gently yield to pressure.  Dryer days, though more pleasant to be outside, have the potential to add a challenge.  Like everything else on the farm: move slow and steady; don't get in a hurry; take your time; don't forget to breathe.
When its all said and done, moving the fence can be a meditative moment.  One is outside.  You feel the sun and wind.   You hear the birds and animals.  The repetition while installing it can be very relaxing.
 And those cute little busy noses, coming out to play.  It's a good feeling to know everyone is safe.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Getting ready for Winter

There is so much to be done on the farm to get ready for Winter.  Aside from making sure that all the snow removal equipment is tuned up and ready, fences need to be checked and animal housing needs to have a good going over to ensure that everything is ship-shape.
While DH takes care of that end of the business, the garden needs to be readied for winter and all the birds and animals will also need to be checked.
Chickenland has looked like a giant pillow fight has taken place.  The girls molt twice a year, more heavily in fall than spring.  This leaves some looking a bit disheveled (does anyone ever look "sheveled"?).  We make sure that they get a balanced diet with a little extra protein (yummy! meal worms!) mix in.  Scratch feed is also increased a wee bit to ensure those tummies stay warm over night.
who you callin' scruffy?
To ensure that the chicken houses are warm, extra straw is laid down, forming a nice cushy floor to hold in the heat or provide a snuggly area to wiggle down into.  The hay works just like a down comforter: the air spaces in the down or straw slow the heat dissipation.  This makes those little burrows nice and warm when the winter winds blow outside.
Most of the day, Saturday, was spent clearing out the animal barn.  Once the paddock is clean of old straw, layers of stall treatment, wood shavings, and new straw are put it.  This lays down the beginnings of a deep bed which will help keep the girls warm in the winter.  Boers are cold hardy provided that one allows them to get plenty of pasture time while the seasons change.  While they don't stay outside in the cold rain (who likes to get wet and chilled?), they do go out to play while things are dry. 
 Everyone seems happy despite the chill in the air.  Winter is coming.  Another new adventure.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Harvest time 2014

Patiently we watched and waited.  Every few days, we walked the orchard, monitoring the baby trees for signs of growth and possible pests.  With sharpened tools, we selectively pruned, gently spreading limbs to uncross and grow healthy.  First year fruits were removed to allow the baby trees to put their energy into growing strong.  This year we allowed some of the little trees to produce fruit.
Gala, Fuji, and Cortlands were very productive, resulting in large, lovely apples, beckoning to be eaten straight off the tree.  The Honey Crisp trees produced apples, however perhaps need another year or two to mature before they will be a marketable size.
Helper puppy guarding the pick sack

As far as I'm concerned, they were all perfect size for making apple butter and, above all,
mmmmmmmmmm, pie...
apple pie.  If you're looking for some good recipes to use your apples in, < click here>.  Remember, keep it simple.  Enjoy a fresh fall apple today!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

At home with the Buckeyes

I'm happy to report that the Buckeyes finally settled into the new chicken tractor.  By placing their food and water inside the tractor, encouraged them to go inside it to explore.  Once they had determined that it was a safe place, it only took a few more days before they started spending the night there.
Sidebar: the chicks had been taught to go to bed at the words: 'Bed-bye'.  In the beginning it didn't occur to me that 'Bed-bye' to the chicks would mean for them to go to bed in their chick house.  They made this association clear to me the first night when all were in bed in the big house except one.  I said, 'Bed-bye' and they all came flooding out of the house to stand by the chick house door, waiting for me to open it up.  Sorry, kids.  My bad.
A day or two after that, after tucking them in for the night in the tractor, we moved the chick house out to repurpose it for other things.
I'm now wondering how long is it going to take before they start using their roost at night.  Currently, when they go to bed, they nest up together like they did when they were chicks: in a tight chicken nest in a corner of the house.  All in good time, I guess.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Monarch butterfly count 2014

Several years ago while walking in the pasture, I was impressed by the number of butterflies that welled up as I softly passed.  Black and Tiger Swallowtails, Black and Red Admirals, Viceroys and Monarchs all swirled up like flower petals or Autumn leaves stirred by an unseen wind.  Last year I noticed significantly fewer butterflies (cold, wet Spring followed by a cool wet Summer).  This year, I decided to actually count the numbers I was seeing.
 Up until today, the counts rested at five (5) Monarch, three (3) Tiger Swallowtail, one (1) Black Swallowtail, one (1) Black Admiral, and one (1) Red Admiral.  I guess the Monarch migration has finally reached our area because as of 11am, I've counted six different Monarch butterflies.  I don't try to capture or tag them.  Sometimes it's just nice to watch and wonder.
This other butterfly is a Viceroy.  They look a lot like Monarchs however are smaller, don't migrate, and have a slightly different wing pattern from the Monarch.  Watch for and take care of these little flowers of the air.  To learn more <click here>.