Is she or isn’t she???

The all-consuming question here on the farm revolves around Princess Ariel’s girth – is she or isn’t she pregnant? Sometimes when Abigail and I look at her, we think she’s about to pop out a kid right then and there. Other times, though, she just looks fat. I’ve read all the goat manuals describing the signs of pregnancy, but the problem with Ariel is sometimes she shows those signs, sometimes she doesn’t. If I was made out of money, I would bring her to the vet and get her an ultrasound. It would be so much easier if I could just throw social decency to the wind and ask, “So, when ya due?”

In other baby mama drama, Broody Mama finally cut the aprons strings on her chick. I saw it coming for days; the first thing I noticed was Broody Mama refusing to share any treats that rain down from the deck with her little one. In fact, she was actively running away with a half piece of toast hanging out of her mouth while her chick chased her, squalling for a bite. Tonight when I went to tuck all the chickens into bed, I ended up with the normal headcount of roosting chickens plus one. After re-counting a few more times with the same result, I realized Broody Mama had roosted up instead of sleeping in the old coop with her chick like she normally does. I found her chick sitting on top of a hay bale in the old coop, so I chased her into the new one. I couldn’t stand the idea of the chick facing her first night alone, especially since she  recently lost her two sisters to the owls, and besides, I want them all to roost together in one place. I hope Broody Mama decides to sit on another clutch of eggs, because I want more chicks!

I’m proud to report some headway in the various battles taking place here on the farm; I found out today the chickens have taken up my cause and are active rat hunters. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea, it’s not like we’re overrun with rats and need to find a piper with a quickness, it’s just that in my point of view, if you have even one rat, you have A Rat Problem. Between the chickens and the owls, the signs of infestation have greatly diminished. The flies are decreasing in number as well, thanks to the fly strips coating most every surface. I did discover a downside to using sticky fly paper, though, I mean apart from aesthetics. When I was gloating over my kills yesterday, I noticed I had accidentally trapped a ladybug – one of my favorite insects ever. Luckily I noticed her right after she had gotten stuck, because only a little bit of her shell was in the glue. I raced into the house and got a pair of tweezers, and I’m happy to report she was fine when I let her go in the greenhouse. I’m so happy the poor ladybug didn’t die, because it would be a shame to have to stop using the only sort of fly trap that seems to work.

Letters from the front line

Battle Fly rages on here at the farm. In fact, I think I should be paid to be a professional fly-killing product tester, because every single one currently on the market is now in my backyard. Sadly, the only one so far that really works is the sticky paper, which is coincidentally the most revolting of all the options. If you walk close to a particularly successful one, you can actually hear the flies screaming. The biggest down side so far is that no matter where I hang them, inevitably I’ll hear a loud, agitated squawking, and race outside to find a hen tearing around the yard with a fly-covered tacky strip stuck to her butt. The worst was when one adhered to Sean Paul’s long, beautiful tail. Of all the chickens we have, he and Marley are the only two that will chase you, so removing it was all kinds of fun.

But I’ve been up to much, much more than just eradicating insects this week. Gene and I officially kicked off the canning season by processing radishes and raspberries! He was much more excited about making raspberry jelly than he was about the prospect of pickled radishes, but I actually think the radishes are quite tasty. I think I’m in the minority in that opinion, though, because there were only like two recipes for pickled radishes on the entire Internet. After canning my radish crop, we went to Good Shepherd Farms in Poulsbo, where we picked 18 half-pints of the most beautiful raspberries I’ve ever seen. The best part of that particular U-Pick farm was the free-range chickens that wander through the rows of raspberry canes, eating all the berries that fall to the ground. Besides ours, I think those are the happiest chickens in the world. The jelly turned out amazing; this was our first attempt at raspberry jelly so we were pretty excited.

Another first on the farm this week was an owl sighting! A mated pair of owls, to be exact. I’ve heard the owls every summer since we moved here four years ago, but until now we’ve never actually seen them. Owls are one of my favorite animals ever, so imagine how conflicted I felt when I realized they were responsible for eating 8 of our newest chickens. The chicks are still fairly small, so now as soon as I hear the first owl cry, I run outside and chase everybody into the coop for the night. They are aren’t happy about going to bed so early, but my assumption that owls only hunt at night has proven to be disastrously wrong. So if they decide to start hunting at 7 pm, then the curfew begins, at least until the chicks get too fat to carry off. Which should be in another few days, at the rate they’re growing.

Aren’t they cute?

Gene spotted the first owl, perched on a post directly over the duck’s area. I’ve never put the ducks to bed so fast in my life. Since then, we’ve seen the owls lurking in the trees inside the pasture, and even roosted on a lawn chair! Unfortunately I don’t have a camera that can take pictures at night, so we’re going to have to borrow Abigail’s Game Cam again. I’m not going to do anything to discourage the owls, since they are aiding immensely in the other war waging on the farm – Battle Rat.

What’s next, locusts?

Way cuter than a fly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the last one you will ever hear complaining about the weather being too hot. But the 80 degree temps seem to have caused an explosion in the fly population. Anybody that’s ever visited our house already knows I have an aversion to all things fly related. The minute one gains entry, I’ll break off a conversation, leave the dinner table, etc. to chase it around with a large net liberated from its usual perch on the fish tank. The fish net makes a great snaring tool – you can just swipe them right out of the air, then step on the net, or hit it with a book, depending on the level of violence you wish to rain down upon the unfortunate flies. Any fly inside our house has an approximately three-minute life expectancy, the countdown for which starts the minute I lay eyes upon it.

I would rather have a million of these than one fly.

Outside it’s a different story – no matter where I look, I see flies cavorting, or resting, or dating. I went to the hardware store yesterday to peruse the pest-control options, and was disappointed to find they don’t have any sort of incendiary, fly-seeking, carpet-bomb type solutions. I was tempted to go for the Raid fogger, but after reading the warning label (which includes the admonishment to under no circumstances breathe said fog in, but how do you avoid an aerosol mist?) I decided I didn’t want to run the risk of the chickens eating the flies which dropped dead onto the ground. I avoided the “fly baits” for similar reasons, since unless the little bait bits hang suspended in mid-air, there’s a good chance the critters will eat them as well. They had a spray which kills flies on contact, which I seriously considered, but ran into the same problem – the chickens can get to pretty much any place the flies land, which means they’re absorbing poison through their feet. Plus it will only work if you spray EVERYWHERE the flies land, and they seem to like resting on my strawberry plants, along with a million other areas, so coating our surroundings in poison didn’t seem like the way to go.

Would you rather see flies forever adhered to sticky paper?
Didn’t think so.

I ended up with those long strips of sticky fly paper, which I promptly festooned around our yard. It looks like I was trying to decorate for a party, but bought the most hideously disgusting streamers they had. So far they seem to be working; I love waving at the flies in the chicken coop, fanning the swarm towards their sticky demise. One of the articles on fly control I read suggested buying “beneficial” predators such as mud dauber wasps in bulk, then releasing them in the yard to hunt the flies, but that reminded me too much of Australia and the cane toads – we all know how that one turned out.

Ahhh, the smells of summer

Now that summer is finally, finally here, I’ve spent most of my time outside. The last few days have been filled with weeding, both the main garden and the raised beds lining the driveway. Most of the time I love pulling weeds, both because it’s one of the few things I can do without making annoying modifications for my broken wrists, and because the results are both immediate and obvious. But my love affair with weeding sours when it comes to weeding the driveway.  When we first moved in, it was a nice gravel pathway. Over the years, however, it’s devolved into an expanse of flat dirt punctuated by areas the lawn is actively trying to reclaim. There’s a few pockets of gravel here and there, and the rest is weeds. Not just any weeds, either – these weeds have taproots extending into the southern hemisphere, which is the only way I can account for their waterless existence. The only other explanation involves a dandelion dating the air fern that’s lived in my bookcase for 15 years, then spawning all over the driveway, but that seems unlikely.

That green spot in the upper left? The driveway.

At any rate, it took me several days to weed around the raised beds lining the driveway, and even with that amount of time I’m still not completely done. I decided to line everything with hay, and if you look closely you can see the exact moment when I said, “F this” and started covering the weeds with straw. Back in the day, when we just had the two goats, you could look at our house from the road and you’d never know there was a farm back there. These days, not so much…. by the time September rolls around we’ll have a full-on pumpkin patch running down the driveway. Not that our yard doesn’t look nice — no one driving by would assume we blow money on a team of landscapers, but our grass isn’t long enough to house a herd of velociraptors, either. I mow once a week, but even that’s not enough to mollify our neighbor. He’s the one that mows twice a day. Who does that? How much can grass grow in six hours? I keep expecting to see him profiled on that show Strange Addictions, puttering along on his riding mower, repeating, “too long too long too long” over and over again. He’s none too pleased with our newest residents, the three pigs, either. I’m not going to say that they’re going to inspire the next generation of Glade plug-ins, but still, we live in the country. You have to drive to the next town over to find a stoplight, and 75% of the people around us have, at a minimum, a flock of chickens. (You can guess which percentage he’s in). He’ll start most of our over-the-fence, we-have-to-talk-because-we’re-watering-plants-in-the-same-area awkward conversations by mentioning the smell. I’m tempted to tell him that I keep sprinkling baking soda in their pen, but it’s not my fault that the odor-absorption claims on the box are wildly exaggerated, and until I can afford a magic anti-stink wand, they’re just gonna have to perfume the air.

Speaking of emitting record-breaking stenches, I’m still amazed by how much ducks smell. Perhaps it’s because of the heat, but if I don’t change the shavings in their nesting box every few days their odor rivals that of the pigs. And that’s saying something. They’re still the happiest ducks on the planet, though, and the five new ones are old enough to start dating each other. I’m thinking they’re trying to determine which ducks will end up as mated pairs, because the back pasture is starting to resemble an episode of the Bachelor.

The latest batch of brooding box chickens have adapted well to the great outdoors. They don’t wander far from the coop, but they seem to be happy. The Blue Cochins, the ones with feathers all over their legs, want soooo badly to get into my garden. Every time I open the gate to put the hose in, they stampede toward the crops. They’re smart enough to break into five directions, too, so at a minimum four get in while I’m chasing one. They look like giant puffballs, kind of like Tribbles with legs. Broody Mama’s chicks are getting bigger, but they’re sure not getting less strange looking. They just have odd proportions, even for chickens. As they get older, the two white ones are developing a most unfortunate brown streak down their chests. I’m going to name them after sororities, I think, because it totally looks like they couldn’t hold their beers.

Did you remember to get milk?

So the other day Gene and his daughter  went to Safeway to pick up a few things for the holiday weekend, like milk, bread, and hamburger buns. They came home with all the ingredients for a fabulous 4th of July BBQ, and a tiny fuzzy kitten. It turns out no one, not even Gene, is immune to the magnetic, crowd-drawing cuteness of a box of free kittens. According to his daughter, the competition to snag a meowing ball of fuzz was so fierce she had to stick her hand in the box and grab whatever she could. She ended up choosing well – Charlie made herself at home the instant she was carried across the threshold. Her tiny presence seems to have kicked in Ceri’s maternal instincts, and it’s amazing how gentle a 75-pound German Shepherd can be with a 4-week-old kitty. Charlie doesn’t return the favor though – all of us are sporting scratches of various depths and lengths all up and down our arms and legs, and occasionally faces. Charlie’s favorite game involves leaping at you from three feet away, then scampering up your clothes to perch on your shoulder like a crazed parrot.


Getting used to a new addition isn’t unique to just the indoor critters – a few days ago we put the brooding box chickens out into the big coop. Like last time, we snuck them out at night, hoping to fool the sleeping chickens into thinking they’ve been there the whole time. For the most part it worked. The only downside was the 16 new arrivals tend to mill around on the ground, which has prevented the older chickens from using the brand new nesting boxes Gene installed in the coop. They are bumped out from the wall, since we needed all the square footage possible to house the new arrivals. I finally figured out where they were depositing eggs, which of course was in the most inconvenient spot imaginable – underneath the lower deck as far back as they could get. Since my egg sales pay for their food, you’d think they’d be more considerate about where they lay them. Since crawling under a deck isn’t in my job description, I decided I needed to do what I always said I wouldn’t – fence them in. It wasn’t just the inaccessible eggs though, it was the fact that five or six of them routinely jump over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Given a chicken’s ability to utterly destroy landscaping in under five minutes, and the fact that the neighbors hire a landscaping crew to come weekly, I feel somewhat compelled to chase them back to our side of the fence whenever I notice they’re missing. The last straw was when I looked up after a particularly grueling (and up to that point unsuccessful) chicken chase and noticed the other neighbor staring at me while he swept his driveway. I don’t know if he was staring at the squawking, cavorting chickens or the fact that I was wearing flannel pajamas and knee high muck boots at eleven in the morning, but that was the moment I decided to fence them in. Some things are best kept contained to my yard.

How can it be July already?

Sorry it’s been almost a month between posts… it’s the busy season here on the farm!

Lots of changes have happened in the last month, some good, some bad. In sad news, poor Thanksgiving made the transition to the Big Farm in the Sky. Despite doing well on his new diet, his legs finally gave out and Gene had to put him down. I miss him more than I thought I would, especially when I take my camera into the goat pasture. He used to sneak up behind me and then sit on my feet while I photographed the goats. He’ll be missed. Except for the whole pecking at my kneecaps thing. I’m not going to miss that at all. Christmas was lonely at first, but she bonded with the flock of ducks and seems quite content now. They all cuddle underneath the goats’ sunning platform in a huge feathered pile. She has continued Thanksgiving’s tradition of sneaking up on me, but she’ll settle down right behind my feet, ensuring that I trip over her if I back up.

The ducks, particularly Jack and Daniels, the Jumbo Pekins, are fat and happy. In fact, Jack has difficulty getting out of the pool since he’s got so much girth to haul around. Jumbo Pekins are one of the largest, if not the largest, duck breeds. I put their swim ladder back in the pond, and he’s quite content.  The five new ducks should start laying eggs any day now, at least the girls. I discovered just the other day that at least one of the Indian Runners is a boy; he turned their blue plastic wading pool into an episode of Ducks Gone Wild during their evening swim. He’s not specific either, he got to home base with two of the Indian Runners and one of the rescue ducks before Jack finally kicked him out of the pool.

The baby chicks still look decidedly reptilian – it’s fairly unsettling. One of them has a poof of feathers on her head that looks like those ridiculous baby bows new moms put on infants. I’m really, really curious to see what they’re going to grow into, because they have freakishly long wings and huge eyes for their body size. Broody Mama has been an excellent first time mother; now that the weather’s nice she trots them all over the yard, teaching them to hunt for bugs and other treats in the grass. She has also taught them that whenever I come out and stand on the deck, the odds of it raining treats are extremely good, and now the three chicks join the stampede to see what I’m going to throw them.

In goat news, we think that Ariel might be pregnant! It’s notoriously hard to tell when Pygmy goats have one in the proverbial oven, because as a general rule they’re a fat breed to begin with. Her belly seems slung low, though, as opposed to sticking out to either side, so we’re hoping she’s got one on the way. If she is pregnant, she’s due in early August, since Jack and Sam were here in March. That gives Gene just enough time to build the nursery addition to the goat shed. And if she’s not really pregnant, we’ll have space to put one of the many, many baby goats currently available on craigslist. Either way we win!