Thursday, July 26, 2012

Forget the Village, I Need a Hen

When I opened the chicken hatch door, the hens and rooster scurried outside in search of the scratch grain I'd tossed on the ground. I walked into the hen house to fill the feeder and replace the water.

"Hey," I yelled upon seeing three week-old chicks but no hens.

For the past few weeks, three hens have insisted on sitting on eggs and mothering the three chicks. Just the previous evening, the three hens crowded into one nesting box with the three chicks. Now, no hens were in sight.

I don't know what happened outside after I yelled.

Maybe the hens played a game of paper-rock-scissors. Maybe they drew straws. Maybe there was some bullying and name-calling and pushing and shoving involved. Maybe one hen felt guilty.

All I know is that a minute later, a hen returned to the hen house, called the chicks to the feeder, and began showing them what to eat. When the rooster approached the chicks, the hen poofed her feathers and told him to back away from the chicks.

Last night, as the sun set, only the one hen gathered the chicks into the nesting box to sleep.

Apparently the other two hens decided they wanted nothing more to do with motherhood.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What They Remember

I gave up on horseback riding this week -- at least for the next month or so. With high temperatures, rock hard ground, and horse flies, riding is not fun. 

But, I didn't want to give up on the horses.

The Haflingers are social critters who like interacting with people.

So, I got out the clicker. It's been 18 months since I worked with them on the clicker. During those brief sessions on clicker training, I introduced them to the clicker and taught them to touch a target.

Would they remember that after all this time?


Lily, especially, loves the clicker. The mare is curious by nature... and loves treats. As soon as I clicked, she was offering behaviors to receive the reward.

Now, what to teach?

My first goal... Play Ball!

Planting for Fall

As I sifted the warm dirt through my hands, I thought of September. Would the days and nights be cooler by then?

It was 92 degrees last evening when I worked the soil and planted lettuce and spinach seeds. They should be ready for harvest some time in early September.

Just like planting lettuce in early April is an act of hope for warmer days, planting lettuce in late July is an act of hope for cooler weather.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Three Hens + Three Chicks = 1 Big Distraction

The three hens are done with the business of hatching eggs and are moving on to the job of raising chicks.

The three only managed to hatch out three chicks. I'm not sure if it was because they only had a few fertilized eggs, or, and I suspect this, that they were too busy stealing each others' nests and eggs that they weren't always sitting on all of the eggs.

But, they now have three chicks to raise. At feeding time, they were showing the chicks what to eat. They'd pick a piece of corn from the feeder, cluck to get a chick's attention, then drop the morsel in front of the chick.

The chicks scurried from hen to hen.

I took a break from my morning chores to watch this fascinating ritual. As the chicks grow older, the hens will catch the chicks moths and flies, and they'll show their brood how to scratch and search for food.

A hen uses quite the vocabulary to communicate with the chicks, and they seem to know what tones mean food and what means "danger, gather under me."

A gushing sound interrupted my viewing. Looking outside, I saw the sheep's water tank overflowing. Chick watching would have to wait.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lessons: The Voice inside my Head

After riding my first dressage test years ago, my instructor approached me and demanded, "Did you fail geometry in high school?"

Pausing for only a second, she continued, "You are supposed to ride 20 meter circles, not 10 meter circles."

My husband, a teacher, stared from a distance. "That was harsh," he later said.

When riding dressage tests after that, I heard that voice, and made sure my circles were 20 meters.

I thought of that moment this weekend when I was at sheepdog herding camp.

"Don't you dare miss those panels," my instructor said as I was directing Mickey, the Border collie, to drive the sheep through the gates. "Fight for every point."

We didn't miss a panel after that, and my handling improved as days went by.

A good instructor knows a student's capabilities and pushes them to achieve.

Below is a photo of the trial course where we were practicing this weekend.

Two years ago, I wasn't ready to try the creek crossing.

Last year, the bridge crossing seldom went smoothly. The pitter-patter of sheep hooves always excites the dog.

This year, I directed the dog from the other side of the creek. I did the creek crossing, and the Maltese cross (the snow fence contraption).

And I didn't dare miss those panels.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Three Moms

About three weeks ago, a hen insisted on making a nest on the floor of the chicken house.

When I noticed it, there were three eggs in the nest. On the next day, there were five.

Apparently another hen decided to contribute to the nest.

A week later, a second hen joined the nest-building fun. She stole a few eggs from the original nest to make her own.

More hens contributed eggs to the two nests.

Four days ago, a third hen joined the other two.

Yesterday afternoon, I found a chick when I entered the hen house.

I'm not sure who she belongs to.

I'm not sure she knows either.

I only hope that she has siblings (or cousins) and that all the hens will protect her.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Diversity in the Garden

When I returned from a four-day sheepdog herding clinic, I was anxious to check out my garden's progress.

Thanks to mulch and supplemental watering, my vine crops are looking good.

At each mound, I peaked under the leaves to check the plants' progress.

I found cucumbers and....

summer squash and.....

acorn squash and....

cantaloupe and ....

watermelon and....


I don't remember buying, nor planting, the rabbit plant.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When the Heat Wave Ends

When the 11-day stretch of 90 and 100-degree ends, I:

Clean the horse stalls and paddocks,

Move more hay to the livestock barn,

Mow the weeds,

Discover the cucumbers, melons and squash that are growing (along with the weeds) in the garden,

Ride the horses (and am pleasantly surprised that they didn't backslide during their two-week break),

Take the dogs on long walks through hay fields, and marvel at the alfalfa that has grown in the heat,

Wean the ram lambs from their mamas,

and sit on the crunchy, dry grass,

and pet the cat until a moth draws him away,

and watch the ram lambs, who at 110-days old, look more like rams now, as they eat and cry for their mothers in the adjacent paddock.

It is one of the saddest sounds I know.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Mysterious Cow

"Have you seen the cow?" the farmer asks as the spouse and I are sitting on the back porch eating dinner.

The farmer tells how when he was mowing hay in the nearby hay field, he saw cow patties in a corner. A day later, when they were baling hay near dusk, a black Angus cow, with horns, emerged from the fence row and began grazing. A farmhand tried to corral her, but she wanted nothing of that.

"I don't know who she belongs to," the farmer says, ticking off who has cows in the area. None have horned cattle.

On a few evenings, I've looked toward the corner of that hay field, but I've never seen a stray cow.

This morning, when the heat wave finally broke, I took the dogs on a walk around the hay fields and pond. Near the pond, I found a fairly new cow patty. Walking the edge of the pond, I found fairly fresh cow tracks. But I never saw a cow.

I assume the cow is still living on its own. It's found a source of food and water.

I wonder if I should report a "found" cow. But, I have no description -- other than it produces cow patties and has cloven hooves.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hot Summer Days Then and Now

This week I longed for the bookmobile of my youth. That mobile library visited our road every few weeks during the summer months. The date and time was always noted on the calendar.

During its visit, I stocked up on a half dozen or more books that I'd read on hot, summer afternoons. Our house had no air conditioning, but a finished basement was the perfect place for reading. I read dozens of biographies, horse stories, fiction and mysteries during those summers.

The library called and notified that a book I'd had on hold finally came in this week. The library is 11 miles away, and I have trouble justifying a trip to town just to pick up a book, and it's simply too hot for a bike ride. If only the bookmobile was making a visit, I thought.

I finally picked up the book today. As the temperatures climbed past 100 degrees for the second day in a row, I longed for a finished basement.

Our old farmhouse doesn't have air conditioning, and, so I found myself sitting on a chair, ceiling fan above me and fan in front of me, reading the afternoon away.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sitting on the Back Porch with My Mother

"Sit here," I say, pointing to the spot on the picnic bench next to me. "That way you can see the farm while you drink your morning coffee."

It was seven in the morning, and the animals were finishing up their breakfasts.

The two ram lambs head butt in the sheep paddock.

"Looks like those two are having a disagreement," she says.

"Ram lambs," I say.

In the young chicken yards, two cockerels are puffing their neck feathers and charging each other.

"Those two are going at it," she comments.

It's that time of year when the ram lambs and ewe lambs are still mixed with the flocks, with the pullets and cockerels live together. Later this month, when their four months old and not quite old enough to breed, the ram lambs will be separated from the flock. The cockerels will be separated in the fall.

I sip my coffee. Looking at my gangley youngsters, I comment, "It's the junior high years on the farm."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Power Outages: Water

When the morning thunderstorm hit, I was sitting in the recliner, in the almost-dark room, contemplating how to keep two horses, two dozen sheep, two dozen hens, dogs and cats hydrated.

We'd lost power the previous afternoon, and when the power goes, so does the well pump.

Thunder rumbled, and three Border collies leaped into my lap to join me in my thoughts.

A pond about a half-mile away could provide water. It's a slow, sweat-inducing process, filling and lifting buckets of water, one by one, from the pond, to a tub in the back of a pickup truck. But, being that the power outage was widespread, it seemed like the easiest solution.

Rains came, and the border collies snuggled closer.


I shoved the Border collies outside and gathered buckets. Then, placing one underneath the downspout, I began collecting rainwater.

The storm was short-lived. But in those 15 minutes, I was able to collect enough water for animal use for a day.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Power Outages: June vs. January

As I lie awake in bed,
waiting for daylight,
waiting for the buzz of fans, the chime of driveway alarms, the lights that signal the return of electrical power,
wondering how long the food in the refrigerator will stay cold,
figuring out who we know with freezer space, with a generator,
calculating how many gallons of water two horses, two dozen sheep, cats, dogs, humans drink when it is 90 degrees outside,
determining when would be the last possible minute that I could bake a cake for my mother's 70th birthday,
I also consider the best time of year for a power outage.

Our longest time without power was five days -- and that was in January years ago.

As temperatures hovered around 30 degrees, we didn't worry much about food spoilage, and we relied on the wood-burning stove for warmth, and the livestock needed so much less water each day in January than they do in the June heat.

But the hours of daylight are short in January, giving me time to ponder about more than just birthday cakes and power outages.