KJ and LemonNow that I’m lucky enough to be a full-time farmer, I see all kinds of beautiful, sweet, and cute things on a regular basis. (Don’t get me wrong though, I see my fair share of things that make me shudder, too). Perhaps the most endearing one that never fails to make me smile is when King Julian picks a girlfriend. King Julian used to date Little Mama for years, until Little Mama went to the Big Farm in the Sky courtesy of a coyote. He stayed single for a long time, stockpiling his affections until the next Mrs. Right came along. And she did, in the form of Lemoncello, who goes by Lemon for short. I go outside all the time to find him chilling on top of Lemon, who seems content to let him use her as a chair. They snuggle constantly, and he stands guard while she lays her daily egg. It’s absolutely one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, and he’s definitely the most chivalrous rooster on the planet.

Cinnabun has also proved to be an extremely affectionate mama, and never strays far from the Bunny Ranch when I let her out to stretch her legs and eat some delicious grass and weeds. Her babies are so used to me now that they come up and sit on my wheat thinshands when I put them inside their room. There are three jet black kits, three brown ones, and one steel gray. They run the size gamut from tiny little toy bunny to a big old hulking behemoth, whom I’ve creatively dubbed Hulk. Although they sleep most of the day, they never fail to come tumbling out from the nesting box when I put out the nightly salad and Wheat Thins. It’s never too early to start their love affair with snack crackers, and boy do they gobble them up.

Speaking of things that gobble other things, we had yet another predator invasion this morning, this time by way of raccoon. I got up as usual around 5:30, looking like the IMG_6916walking dead as I shambled outside to do the morning chores and passing Gene at the kitchen table, who was getting ready to go to bed after just getting home from work. As I was coming back into the house after preparing the critters to meet the day, I noticed the ducks were staring at something. It’s never good when ducks stare, which we’ve learned the hard way. Poor Gene got to end his day by running outside and shooting the raccoon who was stalking the herd. Gene’s lucky, he doesn’t even have to stop and put on plaid Nordstrom’s muck boots or a Swamp People t-shirt to look like he means business. He’s developed an aura of quiet menace that scares predators without having to resort to fashion accessories. I’ve tried to practice my menacing look, but people just end up telling me they’ve made great strides in water-soluble fiber products and I should look into it.

I don’t like to brag, but they call me The Minkanator


Since no one wants to see a picture of a gut pile, here’s another ferocious predator to look at.

This afternoon started out like any other as I made my way across the pasture to muck out the duck pond. The breeze was blowing lightly, and the sun sparkled on the surface of the water, or at least it would have if the surface wasn’t carpeted with an inch of green algae. As I drew closer, I was startled by a flash of brown sliding into the open door of the Duck Mansion. Sure enough, the mink peeked outside and stared at me. A hush fell over the pasture as two predators eyed each other; I could see fear creep into his eyes as he took in my Swamp People t-shirt, the jeans I had rolled up into redneck capris, and my designer red plaid Nordstrom’s muck boots. He knew one of us wasn’t leaving the pond alive, and my boots were made for walking. The silence was shattered by my battle cry of, “Gene, there’s a miiiiiiiiiiink!” and he disappeared under the gap between the pond liner and the ground. Remembering that Gene had already left for work, I ran for my gun with all the grace of a herd of elephants racing for the last peanut. The resulting noise ensured the mink stayed under the pond until I got back. I circled the pond, looking through the scope, and within moments his furry little head poked up and I took the shot, even though my backdrop was the pond liner. I figured the pond could take one for the team, and sure enough, I hit both the mink and the liner. Unfortunately the mink disappeared back underneath the pond, and as I began emptying it out bucket by bucket it jumped up and limped underneath some nearby brambles. I couldn’t find its body, but I’m confident it was a kill shot based on the pile of yuck it left underneath the pond liner. It’s the kind of yuck a mink needs to live, so I didn’t mind cleaning it up a bit.

stoliOf course, killing one mink only means we get a bit of a reprieve from predation since our land used to be a mink farm back in the day. I’m glad we finished reinforcing all the various critter bedrooms, and now Cinnabun and her brood can frolic in peace in the remodeled Bunny Ranch. Gene also had to spend his Father’s Day weekend in the garage, quickly building an addition to what I now refer to as Broodopolis. Originally, Broodopolis was one big box with a removable divider, so the ducks were in one half and the turkeys and new chicks were in the other half. I went outside early Saturday morning to see Dimsworth picking up a chick by the foot and spinning it around in a circle, exactly like a big brother playing airplane with a child. Unfortunately, Dimsworth seemed to delight in letting go just as he had built up speed, sending the poor chick careening across the box. Gene added on another compartment to the brooding box, and I moved the ducks into it, thus freeing up a separate compartment for the turkeys. They seem fairly happy even though it’s just the two of them; I put in lots of logs for vertical climbing space, and they seem content to climb and perch. I think they miss having little chicks to pick on, though, since they seem to chase each other around a lot.

A farm of many fortresses

In the last week, there’s been many changes here at the farm. After the repeated minkings (that sounds so much more pleasant than “attacks”), I increased Gene’s to do list significantly. To date, the Bunny Ranch has been overhauled with hardware cloth, traps have been baited, burrows have been gassed, and the garage brooding facility was rebuilt. Sadly, brooding boxwhat I thought was the one secure location on our property was infiltrated — apparently our super mink broke into the truck, stole the garage opener, then helped himself to two poor little ducklings. Gene and his oldest son built me a brand new brooding box, complete with two snug covers and a divider. Since it was so much bigger than the first box, I felt compelled to go the feed store and fill it with two turkey poults (Dimsworth and Hawthorne, since they are the type of turkeys the Pilgrims ate), two new chicks, and two more large, white Pekin ducks (Stoli and Seagram). I’m headed to the feed store tomorrow to stock up on more chicks, since their new shipment came in tonight and I bought their last two when I picked up the turkeys and ducks. Just in case I don’t get there in time and they sell out fast, I also put 24 eggs in the incubator. Half are to replace what Abby lost during her latest minking, the other half are for me.

In other big news, Sunday was Shearing Day here at the farm! This time, Shy opted for a proper alpaca cut, with his tail left bushy (to hide that disconcerting rear view of his), shy and wooland a high and tight fade on top. He was much calmer this time around, which was nice. We also discovered he’s gained quite a bit of weight since he’s been with us, and has filled out nicely. Woolimina also got a shear. Catching her turned into quite the rodeo, in the most literal sense. Thirty minutes into the chase, I looked at Elizabeth the shearer, who was watching while politely trying not to laugh, and asked if most people had this part taken care of prior to her arrival. Gene’s son was finally able to snatch her by the wool and wrangle her outside the pen, where she then got her shear on. When we put Shy and Woolimina back in the pen, introductions had to be made all over again when the goats reacted like they’d never seen them before.

I think the shearing festivities were a good distraction for Daisy, who was pretty daisy milkingunhappy because Abigail had taken little Leonidas down to her place where the other boy goats live the night prior. Leo was becoming besotted with grumpy old Ursula, who to everyone’s surprise started to actually welcome his advances. Without Leo there to nurse, Daisy’s udder began rapidly filling up, and I added “milking the goat” to my list of daily chores. Since Daisy had never been milked before, nor was she accustomed to being restrained in the stanchion Gene devised, milking turned into a bit of a battle. Since I’m in no shape to restrain a full-sized, annoyed milking goat, Gene added leg restraints to the stanchion, and I wedged a stick under her horns so she can’t turn her head and pull it through the frame. Now that both she and I have a few milkings under our collective belts, she’s calmed down quite a bit. Gene’s daughter turned out to be an expert milker right off the bat, while I took a few days to catch up to her output. Since I don’t have much dexterity in hands anymore, I have to milk one side with two hands. It looks pretty weird, but it puts milk in the bucket. She gives just less than a quart a day, and I’ve already made my first batch of cheese! It resembles nothing like what you would buy in the store, but I’m thinking that’s because it’s not processed at all. It tastes amazing spread on toasted French bread, and tonight I’m topping a turkey burger with it.

I really enjoy milking Daisy, now that she’s calmed down. She’s really warm, and I basically have to sit right up under her so I listen to her breathe while I milk. Milking her baby bunreminds me of bottle feeding all of Claire’s baby bunnies last year, and how grateful I am that Cinnabun and her babies are doing well. Their eyes should open any day, and once we reinforce the floor, Cinnabun and her brood can come down and play in safety during the day. For now I love looking inside the nesting box and seeing how much bigger the moving pile is getting.

Enough with the minks already!!!!

In the last two weeks, we have lost three broody mamas and eighteen chicks to that evil, horrible mink. The last time he struck, he had the audacity to eat my remaining two mamas and their ten chicks on my birthday. Not how I wanted to start what I consider a national holiday. Just last night, the mink trotted down to Abigail’s farm and ate three chicks and five laying hens. Apparently it’s some kind of levitating super mink, because the day he killed Condi and her brood Gene reinforced everything. He just finished building an ingenious box trap, baited with raw chicken innards, and put it outside where we think it lives. Game on, mink.

My biggest fear is that the mink will find a way inside the Bunny Ranch, where Cinnabun just had her kits. She had ten of them, but two of them didn’t make it from the IMG_8233start. She gave me no warning of the impending births at all, since I checked on her the night before she had them and she hadn’t started making a nest yet. Rabbits pull out their fur to make a comfy, cozy area for the kits, usually 24 hours before they arrive. Cinnabun, however, did it about three hours before. When I checked in her box, I could see the fur and figured I had about a day to prepare. Then I took a closer look, and discovered the nest was moving about enthusiastically. The wee buns are really cute – they’re in that stage where they look like miniature, hairless hippos. I would take a picture of them, but she gets pretty upset when I even think about reaching in there. Harvey, on the other hand, seems much more annoyed at being separated from his girlfriend. He spends most of his time guarding the Ranch, from his strategic spot underneath the wheelbarrow parked outside it.

IMG_8375In other baby critter news, my chicken sitting on duck eggs experiment had a successful conclusion. Four of the duck eggs hatched, although one poor duckling died a bit later. But three of them made it, and have happily adopted Lucky as a surrogate father. Lucky was pretty lonely for the three days he was by himself, but he perked up as soon as I put the three new ducklings in with him. They all cuddled up immediately in a big pile, and then after a few minutes he showed them where the pool was and they got their first swim. Oddly enough, the bunnies and the ducks made their appearance on the same day as the mink massacre, so things continue to balance out here on the farm. As much as I appreciate the inner workings of Mother Nature, I wouldn’t mind the odds being stacked in my favor for once.