Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Thanksgiving Heron

I saw him before the dogs. In the early light, he was a grey mass nestled near the briars.

Though the dogs hadn't spotted him, he decided it was best to take flight. The great blue heron has to make that decision faster than most birds. His big body, with the gangling legs, long neck and pointed beak, just doesn't lift airborne as quickly as other fowl.

The Border collies, busy in their mouse hunting game, didn't notice until he was 20 feet in the air. They showed little interest in the great bird as he circled the area. Clearly, he didn't want to leave his pond.

I don't recall seeing the great herons when I was growing up in the 1970s. But, when horseback riding in the 1990s with my birder friend, I began to notice these prehistoric-looking birds.

"They bring good luck," she said, and we always delighted in spotting one on the way to endurance riding competitions. That would certainly mean we'd have a good horseback ride.

The great blue heron is no longer rare in Ohio. Though, my breath still catches when I spot one. I've seen this guy a lot this year, as he enjoys fishing in the pond that I pass when walking the dogs.

On this Thanksgiving morning, the pond already had patches of ice from the first cold spell of the season. Soon, this heron would be moving on in search of unfrozen water.

And so I lingered, watching the bird, reflecting on the joys I've associated with the heron over the years, and treasuring the joy of spotting him on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Optimist and the Realist in the Chicken House

This photo was taken  months ago, back when the hens were laying eggs.

They aren't doing that these days. The half-dozen pullets aren't quite old enough for egg production. The older hens' egg production usually tapers when the daylight hours dwindle.

This year they decided to call it quits in late October.

But I am the optimist. Each day I check the nesting boxes for an egg. Not finding one, I search other places in the chicken house and yard.

I have yet to find an egg. But I keep searching.

I am also a realist. When egg production waned in October, I began rationing eggs. I have not bought eggs in a store since we began raising chickens about 15 years ago. So, I'm determined to make those eggs in the refrigerator last until the hens begin laying again -- hopefully in January.

I've stopped giving away eggs. I've stopped eating eggs for breakfast.

Now, I find myself making cooking decisions based on egg requirements. So it's pancakes (1 egg) instead of waffles (2 eggs), and snickerdoodles (2 eggs) instead of brownies (4 eggs).

As for Christmas baking, I haven't decided how I'm going to approach that. This may be the year that I make caramel and fudge.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Pie Pumpkin from Kentucky

Mickey, the Border collie, won a pie pumpkin at the sheepdog trial in Kentucky last weekend.

It looked pretty sitting in the basket, but the grower promised the pumpkins were quite tasty. I don't know what I'll make, but I've promised Mickey a taste.

Today, I cut the pumpkin in half and separated the seeds and the pulp. While roasting the seeds, I went to the hen house and offered the pulp to the chickens.

They were delighted to have something so colorful and fresh and tasty in November.

Then, I returned to the house and discovered that Dewey Kitty didn't care much for the pumpkin. But that basket.....

You Don't Know...

Ian, the shepherd's son, was sitting in class when the teacher gave him a math story problem.

"If you have 20 sheep in the pasture and five find a hole in the fence and go through it, how many sheep are left in the pasture?"

"None," he answered.

"Fifteen," the teacher said, adding, "You don't understand math."

"You don't understand sheep," he said.

I thought of this story this week when a herd of horses got out of their pasture, resulting in numerous traffic accidents and several horses being killed on the road.

As an animal owner, this is one of my biggest fears. While I take steps to have secure fencing, it's never a guarantee. A gate could be left open, a fence could be cut, a spooked animal could go through or over it.

The comments that I heard about the loose horses story this week were almost as distressing.

The news reporter called them "these things" (they are animals) and commented that these "are full-grown horses, not ponies. They could do some damage." Ponies which can weigh 600-1,000 pounds -- considerably more than deer -- could also do some damage.

Then I heard comments like:
Why would all 39 horses leave the pasture?
They must have been abused.
They must have been starving.
Why did they run so many miles from home?

I felt like Ian, the boy in the story, trying to explain herd dynamics and flight response. And I was again reminded how far most of the population is from agriculture and understanding livestock.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chicken Bling

The young pullets are sporting blue leg bands now. The bands are thin and stylish and sparkle in the morning light.

I identify each flock year by the leg band color. The 2012 hens wear green; the 2011 hens wear red; and two sneaky 2010 hens sport yellow. When I merge flocks in the winter, I use the leg bands to help me identify the hen's age. When culling the flock in late summer, I select the older ones for market.

In the past, I've used the thicker, heavier numbered bands.

The numbers also help me identify individual chickens. So instead of just being named, The Escape Artist or the Broody Hen, I can call a hen Escape Artist Yellow 58 or Red Broody Girl 23.

But those leg bands now cost almost a dollar each -- too much to spend on chicken bling.

So I ordered the thin, non-numbered bands.

The young hens love them.

In the morning, they are the first ones out of the hen house, strutting and showing off their bands.

The old hens choose to sleep for another half hour or so. They are in no hurry to show off their chunky bracelets, faded and dirty after years of wear.