Friday, July 30, 2010

Missy the Missing Chicken

Well, we have established a routine.  If I get to the Moop in time, while still very light but at the first sign of dusk, Missy is there and I can lure her into the Moop with food.  If I am five minutes late, she is gone.

I don't know where she goes, although twice I have found her in a tree.  Last night I was a little late, so she spent the night out again.  This morning, I couldn't find her in the trees.  I have no idea where she was.  It is obvious that she finds a different place each night.  I am wondering if she is brooding chicks.  It's highly unlikely, since Campines are not a broody breed.  I will have to try to make a count throughout the day.  If she is consistently gone through the day, only there at feeding time, then she may in fact have a nest somewhere.

I am not even going to try to put her away for the next three weeks.  We will see if she shows up with kids in tow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


A picture is worth a thousand words . . .

Monday, July 26, 2010

Changing my mind

I said I was going to make a batch of Cheddar yesterday, but I'm making Cheddar again next Sunday, when I have a few friends (and serious foodies) coming over to learn how to make their own Cheddar, including building a cheap but effective cheese press.  So I decided to try Gruyere, the queen of the melting cheeses.

It requires much higher temperatures, I noticed, and the curds are stirred and held at 114ยบ, which is quite hot - in fact so hot that I could see the cheese beginning to melt in places.  Hmmmm, should have been warned!  Anyway, I followed the recipe faithfully, or at least I thought I did.  It said to warm the mold before adding the warm curds, wrapped in cheesecloth.  And it was a very short draining time.  That meant that the curds really didn't have a chance to cool off before the lid went down on the mold.  It was to be pressed at medium pressure for just an hour and then redressed before the final 12-hour press with a little added weight.

Redressing means that you take it out of the mold, unwrap the cheesecloth from the curds, which now form the block of cheese, flip the cheese so that what was the top is now the bottom, and wrap it in the cheesecloth again.  Then back into the mold.  Sometimes one does this several times, but for this cheese, at least in this recipe book, it was one flip and on to the final press.

HOWEVER, when I took it out of the mold, the cheese had melted into the cheesecloth, a little like bubble gum on your kid's new shirt.  Sigh . . .

Not one to give up easily, I just flipped the chunk of curds, now well knit together, without removing the cheesecloth, then smoothed the cheesecloth as best I could and popped it back into the mold.  It stayed there overnight. 

This morning I foolishly hoped that it would have shrunk and dried a bit and the cheesecloth would release.   It was better, but there was no way I was going to get that cheesecloth off without destroying half the wheel of cheese. 

What do you do when your kid gets gum on his new shirt?  Put it in the freezer!  So that's what I did, setting it in the chest freezer in the garage for about 20 minutes.  Voila! the cheesecloth came off fairly well, although it doesn't have the nice smooth surface I would have liked.  It got its 12-hour bath in brine, and I just took it out to put on the drying board for a few days before it goes into the cheese cave.  This is a washed rind type of cheese, no wax.  I am not pleased with the cracks I see - that's a great place for mold to form where I don't want it to.  The mold creates the rind and should just be on the exterior.  So I think this batch is not going to be my long aged Gruyere that I was planning on.

I sliced a bit off to see what it would taste like without aging, and I must say that it is quite fantastic.  But it will spoil quickly, will probably have to be eaten within a couple of weeks.  I'm having company Saturday night, and a house guest who will be here until Tuesday, so perhaps we will take care of it completely before the sun rises Wednesday morning. 

Restless night - where is No. 9?

Last night, I didn't get out to the Moop until dusk.  I usually go out while the light is still pretty strong, but late enough that the chickens have begun hanging around.  I fill their feeders and set them inside the Moop, and they hop in for their bedtime snack.  If there is a hen still out and about, this ritual brings her running back home.

Last night dusk took me by surprise.  Yes, the days are getting shorter, and it seems like it is happening in a hurry.  It was dark enough when I went out that they were already roosting, not interested in a snack.  I counted - only eight.

Buster was home, and Flopsy, the only hen I recognize because of her odd, floppy comb.  But somebody was missing, and she wasn't interested in the sound of the lid clanging on their feed bin.

Some might say it's only a chicken, but No. 9 was gone and it bothered me. All of this happens on my watch, and I feel responsible.  If I had come out a little sooner, I might have found her.  One of the girls does spend a lot of time by herself and often comes running at the last minute.  I'm not sure it is always the same hen, but I call her Missy.

"Missy, where have you been?" I say.  "Missy, why are you here all by yourself?" I call out when I see a lone hen on the other side of the house.  "Missy, go back with the others," I chide.

I went to the places I suspected she might be, calling "Here, Missy, time for bed!"  First the garden - one occasionally flies in but then seems incapable of flying out - then I checked the garage, then remembered the barn door was open and went out there.  No hen.  I locked up the Moop and went dejectedly to bed.

This morning I hoped to see a hen waiting at the Moop.  Nope, no Missy.  I opened the door, moved their feeders outside and started to walk over to the barn to take care of the chicks.  There she came, running across the yard!  Who knows where she spent the night, but Missy is fine and back with the flock.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A rainy soggy day

It's Sunday, and it's a day off!  I'm glad for the rain - we really needed it.  Some of the pastures were getting a bit crunchy.  I'm also glad because it is still misting off and on and it is an excuse to stay out of the gardens and flower beds.  There is a stack of books and magazines sitting on the coffee table by my sofa, and I am going to dig in today.

Making hard cheese includes a lot of downtime.  Leifschon is milking for me this morning, so I will bring the fresh milk into the house while it is still warm and get going on another batch of Cheddar.  There will be plenty of time to read between steps in the process.  This will be my third block of it.  I only hope that it tastes as good as it looks.  That three month cure time precludes knowing what I have wrought before making the next batch, but faint hearts never won fair ladies, nor fair gentlemen.  So here I go!

Tiny, the little chick that has spent some quality time in the house, is doing pretty well out in the barn.  She is there 24/7 now.  Each time I go out there, I fear what I will find.  She escaped her pen the other day, was on the outside, a sure recipe for death, but the big chicks had left her alone by some miracle.  I have no idea why.  None of her litter mates bother her either.  This is highly unusual.  The nature of the chicken is to pick on the small and helpless until they are dead.  She is only half the size of the smallest of her litter mates, and a third or a fourth of the largest.  She is pretty good at staying out of their way, and she is always first at the food trough.  I have made sure there is plenty of room at the trough so that she doesn't have to fight for space.  I sure hope she makes it.

The bull calf born to Lucy (we call him Luther) is leaving us today, I think.  A couple from Chesterton are supposed to be here around noon to pick him up.  If they don't show, another farmer is interested in him for breeding stock.  I am glad that he is finding a home.

It looks like Rosy will be freshening soon, and JP may just be with calf.  We thought she was empty and would have to be culled from the herd.  She has been a pet of mine, and I for one would not eat one bite of her.  On the other hand, she has always irritated Kathy, JP being part Normandy and pretty headstrong.  Kathy said that she will enjoy every bite!

Well, I'm heading to the sofa with a cup of coffee, and plan to start on that pile of books.  Hope you are having a satisfying and relaxing day as well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chicken tales

Tiny is back out with the other chickens.  I have been bringing her in the house during the day, when the chicks are more active and of course more apt to run over her.  This is especially true while in the box for the little ones, a box which is really getting too small for nine chicks that are a month old today.

I got the brainstorm to build a small pen inside the big pen this morning, using a post and chicken wire, and attaching it to the perimeter fence of the existing pen.  It would provide more light, they would be able to see the other chickens, and of course the air flow would be much better.  So that is how I spent the first hour of my day.  Tiny seems to be doing pretty well inside it.  They just needed more room.  The bigger chicks are not picking on her, and with more room, they are not running over her accidentally.  But it bears watching.

I also opened the barn doors, which I have been reluctant to do because of the raccoons around here.  But it needed airing, and I wanted the chicks to get some real sunlight, not just the light from an incandescent bulb over their pen.

Last thing I did was to pick some clover and spread it out on the floor of the big pen and the little pen inside the big pen.  Oh, do they love that!  It was fun to watch them.  Some of them grabbed the biggest piece they could find and ran off into a corner by themselves.  Others stayed right on the pile of clover and pecked away at it.  They ALL loved it!  So there is another task to add to my morning routine - get them their greens!

After taking care of my chicken chores, I ran uptown to arrange for the repair of my wood chipper.  We need it to chop up small branches and larger weeds before putting them in my new (well, it's old, but new to me) composter.  The carburetor needs rebuilding.  Mr. Foster will be out to pick it up on Sunday.  Hopefully it will not cost too much, but it is worth nothing to me now.  I am hoping for a bill around $50.  We will see how good a guesser I am.

I was gone from the farm for about an hour.  When I got back, as I drove up my lane to the house, I saw a dead raccoon on the side of the lane closest to the barn, where the chicks are.  You go, Tashi!  Yes, that killer instinct of hers can come in very handy.  Hopefully she will become a true protector of the chickens.  And hopefully the word will get around in the raccoon community that it is much healthier for them if they stay away.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Campines are weird

This morning when I opened up the Moop, there were two eggs in one of the nests.  It was 6:30 a.m. The eggs were not warm.  I shut them up as it was getting dark last night.  Chickens are not supposed to be laying eggs at night! 

Later today I went out to check again, found a pigeon-sized egg, plus three more normal eggs in a nest.  When I stepped out of the Moop, there was another in a shallow depression on the ground.

These chickens cost a lot more than "regular" chickens, because they are rare.  They are rare, all right, very rare indeed!  I have never been so puzzled, frustrated and enamored of any animal in my life!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The pecking order has led to The Chicken Shuffle

This year's chicks have been on the move.  They started out in the greenhouse, but the Buckeyes didn't do well in there.  Last year I raised the Campines in the greenhouse, no problem, and they seemed to be able to stand it this year as well.  But I lost four Buckeyes to the heat.

I lay awake worrying about the heat after the fourth death, wondering what to do with them, and at 3 a.m., I got up and moved them to a spare bedroom in the lower level of my house.  I slept soundly the rest of the night.

But they were dirty - the dust they raise is unbelievable.  And the smell, in spite of my best efforts, was not good.

I thought about moving them to my screen porch, but I worried about how I would get them off the porch and into their pen when they got bigger.  Again, a middle of the night brainstorm led to my moving them to the atrium, a little more removed from my living area.

I lost ten chicks in the first 24 hours, thanks to shipping during a holiday week when the mail was moving at a snail's pace.  So the hatchery replaced them, but not until three weeks had passed.  The "pecking order" is no joke.  Big chicks will kill (and eat) little chicks, so I had to isolate the smaller ones.  And one of them was very definitely a runt.  I named her Tiny.  Within a week, she was only half the size of the largest of these later chicks.  They lived in their own box, at the other end of the atrium.

Did I mention the smell?  It was getting to me, and the final straw was finding fleas.  They had to go - but where?

I was standing in the barn and thought, "There is a lot of space in that hay mow."  It's on the ground floor, not a raised mow, so Allen and I set to work and built a 15' x 15' cage with 7' walls.  After Allen left, I put deer netting over the top and put a new, big box inside the pen for the little chicks, including Tiny.

The little ones were very easy to move, but the bigger ones gave me a merry chase, all 33 of them - especially the Campines!  I grabbed and stuffed six at a time into a cat carrier and hauled them to their new digs.  I noticed that the last two loads were nearly all Campines, which just goes to show you which breed is the the most skittish.

I really thought I had everything covered.  Allen and I are going to start on the new pen tomorrow, where they will go when they are ready to start living in the Moop at night, with the big girls and Buster.  Alas, there was a hitch in the plans today.  When I got home from doing some shopping this afternoon, Tiny was laid out, obviously run over by the other chicks, and near death.  I scooped her up and brought her to the atrium, where she is residing in a plastic laundry basket.  She is up and around, but very lonesome.  I've brought her in a couple of times to sit on my lap, and she makes such sweet little whistling sounds.  She is not at all like the Campines.  She is a typical Buckeye - very affectionate and willing to be handled.

However, what am I going to do now?  I tried taking the two biggest of the smaller chicks out of the box to make more room in the box, but the bigger chicks immediately started pecking at them.  In addition, I noticed the bigger chicks were flying into and out of the box where the smaller chicks are living.  So I put deer netting over the top of the box and hoped for the best.  I've been out there several times just to make sure none of them get caught up in the netting, and so far so good.

I am going to take Tiny back out to the barn tonight.  I really don't need another chick in the house.  That would make four separate chicken abodes to take care of.  Too much!

This is not the way to simplify my life.  These chickens may not be more work than the cows, but they are considerably more grief.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lucy's new calf!

Lucy had a bull calf today.  I could see that she was beginning labor when I left for the market.  Leifschon was still there finishing up milking.  I ran back to the barn to tell her about it and asked her to check on Lucy when she left.

Leifschon sent me the following pictures.

My free time

What am I doing with the 30 plus hours per week that are freed up since Leifschon is milking in the mornings and Allen is here 20 hours instead of five?

I have a new flower bed planted under the tree by the barn.  The old flower bed was a mess!  There are several new perennials doing their thing, and they'll be back year after year.  I'm going to look for some more annual bedding plants at the market tomorrow to tuck between them, but if I don't find any, I am just happy that the flower bed is no longer a mass of quack grass.

There are petunias in the flower bed in front of the atrium now.  It is overflowing with wild flowers, and some of them are getting out of hand, but they are better than weeds.  The tithonia and zinnias that were planted in early June are blooming, along with purple coneflower and three different kinds of bright yellow flowers - black eyed Susans, coreopsis and a third wild and shaggy one that I'm not sure of.  It really needs to be contained.  I got a couple of new perennials to tuck in that bed as well - low growing Iceplant, that appears to be some kind of succulent and will do well in my sandy, dry soil, and Crocosmia, a taller plant with brilliant red flowers that will enjoy the sun in that flower bed.  I have no idea how fast they will spread, but it is time for something new.

I went to a friend's house to drum last night.  Never did pick up my drum.  Instead a few of us sat outside on the deck and enjoyed the evening, chatting about this and that.  No knot in my stomach worrying about what was left undone in order to steal a couple of hours to be with friends.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The dumpster is finally out of here - filled to overflowing!  Now to get the iron mongers back here to finish picking up pieces of corrugated roofing, a couple of rolls of rusty barbed wire, and to cut apart the old Ford Econo-Line van that is rusting in my woods.  No one sees it but me and the deer hunters, but it will be good to have it gone.

My life is very nearly in order.  Well, sort of.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Daring to plan for pleasure . . .

It has been months of drudgery. I'm sure you are sick of my complaining about how hard I am working.  But at last, the rough season is behind me here on the farm.

With Liefschon, Allen and Androo's help, I find that my days do not consist entirely of what MUST be done.  There is some time each day to pursue tasks that are going to make me feel better.  Like cleaning out the freezer in the garage -- I had no idea that I had so much grass fed beef in there!  Or sweeping all of the floors in the living area of my house.  Usually, the only time I can go barefoot sans grit underfoot, thanks to my sandy soil, is right after Allen has cleaned.  A simple pleasure, but one very much enjoyed.  I took the time to put on a pair of earrings this morning, and I made sure that my shorts and tank top matched.  It has been awhile since I have cared.

My flower beds, oh, my poor flower beds.  Some  never got planted, and aside from some straggly perennials struggling valiantly with the weeds, there was nothing left to save.   I had Allen go through the worst of them with the weed whip. So now I am eying them and thinking, "There are a few remaining bags of potting soil.  I think I will try a recovery program on a few of them.  Flowers would be nice."

"Flowers would be nice" was not in my vocabulary over the past few months, and it is good to hear myself uttering that phrase with pleasure, not frustration or reminding myself it is just wishful thinking.

And perhaps there will be a few more entries here.  And the pictures will get uploaded.  And I will figure out how to upload some movies.

I'm going to take a nap.  :)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lots of new stuff happening . . .

AIR CONDITIONING THE MILK ROOM. . . We have been experiencing particularly hot weather this year, hot and humid!  The milk room houses a commercial cooler plus two refrigerators.  It is unbearable in there, and on a very hot day, we cannot get the milk cool enough fast enough, IMHO.  I have not noticed any degradation in the milk, and we have not had any complaints from shareholders, but I don't want to wait until the complaints roll in to do something about it.

Moving around a large vent fan and judicious opening and closing of doors has kept the temperature pretty close to where I want it, but we are on the ragged edge some days.  After much investigation of the pros and cons of several options, I bought a portable air conditioner / heater, which is basically a heat pump on wheels.  It's good enough for that size room, and installation is far less costly than putting in a "regular" heat pump.

I just made my first stab at getting it set up, and there are a few small details that will have to be ironed out.  But I turned it on, and it is putting out plenty of cold air!

THE DUMPSTER . . . I have been filling the 8 cu. yd. dumpster to overflowing.  It was supposed to be picked up on Monday.  Here it is Friday, and it is still here.  But that's okay.  I seem to find something or other to throw in there a couple of times a day.  There are still some small corners that aren't totally stuffed.

The place looks so much better.  I can get my car AND the golf cart into the garage now.  All of my canning jars and canning equipment are lined up on shelving that was holding all manner of junk (now in the dumpster).  Garden tools went to the greenhouse or the barn.  Two screen tents went to friends.  Bits and pieces of projects that will never come to fruition are now lying in the dumpster.

It is freeing.  I feel lighter.  And I am reminded of it every time I go out the back door.  :)

PAPERWORK . . . I had not balanced my checkbook or posted the charges from either of my credit card bills since March.  That's right, March!  That is when the greenhouse started cranking up and my life was no longer my own.  In April the calves started arriving, and in May the garden went into overdrive.

Over the last two days, everything is posted and balanced.  One month's bank statement was off by $4, and I just chalked it up as a bank charge and forgot about finding it.  On the other hand, there was an $800 deposit for which I cannot find any paperwork.  I have no idea what it is, and I don't care!  It's just a gift, hey?

I still have to do some filing, but I now know exactly how much money I have (or don't have) and so feel pretty relaxed about that.

BUGS . . . I posted a picture of my potatoes coming up and said soon it would be a sea of green.  But that was not to be.  The bugs ate the leaves, and then most of the stems.  And when the potatoes were gone, they destroyed about half of my 200 heirloom tomato plants, some already heavy with fruit.  It was very depressing.

We hand-picked bugs for days, one of the organic requirements before using certain allowed bug killers.  Neem oil was useless.  The bugs took it in and asked what was for dessert.  So after five days of picking (Androo squished them; I ran them through my garbage disposal), I used the strongest bug killer allowed by the National Organic Standards.  I found one bug a day later, four the following day, and Androo found a few while he was filling in blanks yet again with the few remaining tomato plants from the greenhouse.  Today, I found no bugs.

A friend bought seed potatoes from me, and he didn't have room to plant all of them.  He had started a bunch of plants from the myriad eyes in Peruvian Purple potatoes, and he brought me several plants.  I took them down to the garden and started digging to get them planted.  I found new potatoes!  I can't believe it - underneath those absolutely dead plants, I am finding many, many potatoes!!  I am leaving some that are obviously taking root, because they will grow up again.  So I will be digging "new" potatoes in October!  Or shall I label them "recycled" potatoes?  LOL

Well, I'm going to sit down with the instruction manual now to figure out how to upload the pics from my new camera.  I have some great shots to share with you, including some of the baby swallows in the nest over my front door.  They are flying now, venturing to the garage roof and then back to their nest.  They are so cute!  And the new camera takes videos.  Perhaps you will see them in flight . . .

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

And now there are eight . . . WITH UPDATE!

Something is getting the chickens.  I've lost another.  Now there are just Buster the rooster and seven hens.  It makes me sad.

Next week, Allen and I are going to start working on a large pen for the remaining chickens.  Just too many wild critters around here to let them range free.

UPDATE:  I just went out to let the remaining eight chickens out of the Moop, and when I started to run up the garage door, I heard a loud clucking!  Well, well, well, Miss Number Nine spent the night in the garage!  Such joy I felt to see her!!  This is a very happy day!!!

More later on the 42 new chicks from this year - with pics.  I'm giving up on finding the camera I lost a few months ago and purchasing a new one today.  Hopefully I will be able to get some good pics of the baby swallows in a nest over my front door.  The old camera just can't get them.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Good-bye, little bull . . .

 Buttercup's bull calf left us tonight.  He was bought by a little girl for a 4-H project, and he is going to get to be back on the teat!  Her mom has a cow that has enough milk to take care of two calves, so when her cow freshens, she buys another calf to raise with the new one of her own.  She bought a bull calf from us last year and brought pics to show him off.  She called again this year to see if we had another bull calf, and of course we do.

This is a really good place for him.  He will get a lot of attention from the kids, and he will also get to nurse again.  No more blue plastic pails with black nipples - he will get the real thing!!

I was sorry to see him go.  We usually sell our calves when they are about three days old, but Junior is a month old, and of course I have gotten very fond of him.  He has also gotten quite big!  We could not get the halter on him.  It took five of us to corner him in the nurse pen, and when he tried to break out, I tackled him.  Both of us ended up on the ground, me with my arms locked around him so that he couldn't get away.  It was an interesting event.

I have always said that if I had played a professional sport, it would have been football.  I am even more convinced of that tonight.  There was a great deal of satisfaction in being the one who tackled him and brought him to the ground.  Everyone gathered around asking, "Are you all right?  Are you hurt?"

Obviously the answer was yes, I'm all right, and no, I'm not hurt.  I was lying on the ground grinning from ear to ear.