Fall has arrived… and it’s still August!

Our porch is now monarch free! I actually miss walking past the habitat every day and watching the caterpillars busily munching, but it was a great feeling to watch the last monarch flutter over to the zinnias to dry his wings. Although it quickly turned to panic 45 minutes later when a freak rainstorm blew through and I had to round him up and put him back on the porch until it stopped.

I’m very excited for the next monarch season! Since Gene kept muttering about how much space the habitat took up on the porch, I’ve been drawing up plans for a screened in monarch palace/refuge that will be freestanding in the yard. I’m envisioning an aviary about the size and shape of a few gym lockers, and it’s going to be awesome. I’m sure Gene can’t wait to build it, and have his porch back to normal.

It’s just as well the monarchs have moved on, because I’ve got a new full time job – keeping the hummingbird feeders filled. They are preparing for their fall migration, and drink sugar water at roughly the same rate beer disappears at a frat party. At dusk, 9 of them will swarm around the one by the living room window, all vying for a drinking spot.

We have another feeder right outside the office window, but that one has been claimed by Pong. Named for the ping pong ball he closely resembles, Pong refuses to share.

Sometimes he’ll lurk just around the corner, then ram rival birds off it as soon as they perch. But usually he’ll just sit all day on the rope holding the feeder up and watch me type. We finally bought two feeders for the front yard, so hopefully that will help ensure everyone gets their fill of sugary goodness.

In other bird news – the chickens have started laying! We’re only getting two eggs a day so far, but it’s a start! I’ve taken to keeping them in their enclosure until mid afternoon, then unleashing them for a romp around the yard. That way they’ll get used to laying in the coop, and be safe from predators most of the day.

We unfortunately lost one to an owl; they were all hanging out in their favorite shady spot, and I came out to give them their scratch grains treat. As I was walking up to the woodline, I saw a gray shape flap way up into the trees. My first thought was “Wow, she’s flying pretty good for a chicken.” And then I saw what had happened, sigh. But I’d still rather have them be happy and ranging than safe and cooped up all the time.

The pigs, on the other hand, don’t seem to mind their pasture one bit. They’ve got their pool, a nice clean barn to stay in at night, and all their favorite napping spots. Quite frequently I’ll go out to feed them, and as I get close to the barn I can hear them snoring in the sunshine, in a happy hog pile.

With 80 acres to choose from… you have to go there?

I’ve discovered one downside to having a roving herd of chickens happily roaming the property. Despite having 80 acres to wander, they all seem to end up crammed in my dahlia bed. The one spot of decorative landscaping I’ve poured all my efforts into is being treated like the salad bar at Old Country Buffet.

Sigh. This is why I can’t have anything nice.

I can’t possibly kick them out – they look and sound so happy. The raised bed is packed with a ton of sunflowers and dahlias, so it’s impossible to see them in there. But when I walk past it and hear all the delighted clucks and contented coos, it’s impossible to be mad.

We’ve recently started letting the goats wander outside their pasture, and guess where Cocoa invariably makes a beeline for?

Unlike the chickens, she actually does leave a swath of destruction in her wake, which I discovered the hard way after watching her trying to inhale a 3-foot tall sunflower in the time it took me to get from the gate I’d just opened to grabbing her collar. Then she did her best to mow down a baby sunflower while I was hauling her back to greener pastures.

The pigs also got to check out the yard, although it was wholly unintentional. The latch on the barn is a bit sticky, so when I heard it “thunk”, I mistakenly thought it had latched. About 30 minutes later I was online working when Gene looked out the window and announced the presence of two gleefully rampaging hogs. While they didn’t eat the sunflowers, they did come close to trampling a few.

We let them explore for a bit, but when they started heading into the dense underbrush in the wood line it was time to get them back to their pasture. Easier than said than done. As far as the piggies were concerned, it was game on. We tried everything, from rounding them up with the riding mower (moderately successful) to chasing after them with a long lead MacGyvered into a lasso (less successful) until we finally got them cornered in the pole barn and shut the door.

Never have you heard so much grunting, which quickly turned into indignant pig squawks when Chief Big Ham finally blundered into the loop I’d created and I was able to fashion it into a harness. Gene pulled him into their fenced off area, with Porkahantas following close behind to make sure nothing bad was going to happen to her brother. He kicked up such a fuss that it took a bowlful of treats and 3 buckets of fresh water in his pool to console him. He had a snack then curled up in the cool water for a nap, and all was forgiven.

In other news, another monarch hatched out! Plus we’ve got two more chrysalises on the porch, which should open in another few days. Gene and I were over at our friend’s house yesterday where the milkweed came from, and I was searching under the leaves to see if there was a second wave of eggs yet. I stumbled across the biggest tree frog I’d ever seen, a fat fellow just a bit smaller than the palm of my hand. Gene said he got that big from eating all the monarchs as they hatched, which I guess is a good survival strategy even if it does make me shudder.