Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Love Spring!

This is my favorite time of the year, bar none. I love the sunny days with their cool breezes (my mom used to call these days "Portuguese weather", as it reminded her of when she went to Portugal as a teen.) I love being able to go outside and not be drenched in sweat after ten minutes of work. I love the forsythia as it blooms, the daffodils and narcissus and tulips and iris flowers. I love the smell of the lilac bushes blooming, the sounds of birds nesting, the sight of baby calves and goats gamboling across the pastures. Love it love it love it.

I'm not so wild about the regular rain that makes the grass grow faster than I can mow it, nor the way the barn tends to flood (we're planning a major barn renovation in about a month), nor the sudden wild windstorms that can scream through and rip shingles off the roof. But for the most part, Spring is my favorite season. I wish it would last for six months, and we'd go straight through to fall, skipping summer here in KY altogether.

I don't care for summer here. Too bloody hot, sticky, humid. I hate the flies: the houseflies; the horseflies (omg when they bite they take out a chunk!); the deerflies (I am very allergic to them and when bitten swell up like the Elephant man on the afflicted limb); the Japanese Beetles; the bugs in general. I don't care for bugs. Summer is not my favorite time. Give me a long, extended spring. Let the hay grow like crazy, let's get three cuttings or more this year. Let it be Spring. Ahhhh......

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Earthquakes in the heartland!

Yesterday was an interesting day. We started out with an earthquake at 5:38 am. I was sleeping deeply, and awoke to the sound of the mirror on my dressing banging against the wall. Being the sort who is a bit groggy until after a cuppa, my initial paranoid thought was that we were under attack (interesting to note how strongly the 911 attacks affected my subconscious.) Then I thought about thunder, but when I looked outside I could see stars, which meant there was no thunderstorm (clouds would be required, natch.) I then listened to see if there was a suite of gravel trucks on the road (several of our neighbors work hauling gravel in huge dump trucks and will sometimes travel together on a job.) Nope. No trucks in sight or earshot. But the dog was agitated, so I got up to investigate further.

DH was already out watching the local news, and it confirmed my conclusion, earthquake! Seems over in IL (although they initially thought IN) there was a 5.4 quake. The local news stations were all atwitter about it, it's all they carried for the morning (at least, for what I watched of it, I don't watch tv during the day.) Later that morning as I was sitting here at the computer working, I felt the aftershock. First in my feet, as the house trembled, then I noticed my computer monitor wiggling and doing the Hootchie Kootchie! I shouted, and the dogs began to bark. I logged onto my favorite local chat site www.cincymoms.com and checked in with the gang, sure enough, another quake! Smaller this time, only 4.8, but big enough to be felt all the way over here in the Bluegrass. Yeehaw!

I emailed my BFF (former college roommate and friend for life) in Los Angeles, and she, being rather used to them by now, commiserated. She's originally a New Yorker born and bred, and says it took some time to become as blasé about them as her neighbors. I also read that there have been a number of quakes off the coast of Oregon in the past few weeks which scientists have been monitoring, but are not sure what the activity means. But for us here in the heartland, it was a novel and exciting occurrence, we just don't get earthquakes around here very often!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

All the Grass That's Fit to Eat

Pasture management is crucial to anyone with livestock. Our horses rely on it, as do the goats, and to a lesser extent, even the chickens. And it's been one of our biggest learning curves since moving to Kentucky from Minnesota. In MN we didn't have access to pasture, per se. The place where we kept our horses (hi Cynthia) was mostly trees, on land typical of the Duluth area. There just aren't the rolling fields of grass there that folks are lucky enough to have other places. At that time we boarded our horses with friends, the Niemela family (John, Cynthia, and their two children.)

John and Cynthia had to have all the hay they used shipped in from southern MN, and it weren't cheap! She paid as much as $45 a round bale then, and I'm sure it must be higher now, five years later. When we arrived in KY, we had about 30 of our 45 acres in grassland, but very little was fenced in for horses. The previous owners had made a deal with a local guy to have him hay it in exchange for him keeping the hay (they had no animals, if you can believe, so had no use for it.) That first year we kept the same bargain, only we worked it so that we got half the hay and our neighbor kept the other half.

That first summer James spent every free moment putting in t-posts so that we could string electric fencing. Bless his heart (as they say here in The South), he put at least 8 acres under fence that first summer. The rest we had hayed, and wound up with about 30 bales for the winter, which was just about right. Round bales typically weigh about a ton, give or take, depending on size and moisture content. I remember many years ago, when we were living in Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), we had a friend fly in from New York to visit and do some consulting. On the way into town from the airport we passed fields of hay and rape seed. Brad looked out over the fields, which had been hayed recently, and asked "What the heck are those wheat balls for?" Ahh, city boys...

We've been here five years next month, and are still learning about managing the pasture. It needs to be mowed regularly so the weeds won't overtake it. It will need to be limed either this year or next, to keep the Ph balance proper for good grass production. And for some reason this past year, we've had a bunch of cedar trees crop up, as have a number of other people in the area. I don't know the scientific reason, but my gut tells me it's related to the drought we had last year, something about dryness and the environment that particular species of tree needs to thrive.

For now, our pastures are doing well. We have three right now, and James is always tinkering with the portable electric, opening up small add-on paddocks to the larger pastures, enabling the horses to get at grass that otherwise would go untouched. So far this spring we've had some good rain (almost too much!) and I am hopeful we'll get at least two if not four cuttings of hay this year. The rain makes it hard to get out there an mow the lawn (which has gotten quite high!) but I guess that's a topic for another day.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting ready for my NPIP inspection

This past week has been just crazy (heck, this past month has been crazy!) I had my NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Plan) inspection yesterday, and spent days getting ready. And this on top of all the other craziness that goes on in springtime, and I'm just about beat. I am taking today off, (well, sort of) and some of tomorrow too. I have a new computer to install and I want to be able to focus on that, which invariably takes at least twice as long as you think it will.

I wound up deciding not to go to the show this weekend. There was just too much going on, and I wasn't able to wash birds last weekend. As well, DH was deathly ill with the flu (he's still hacking a bit this week) and I had the inspection coming up. I knew I had made the right decision when I felt a sense of relief after canceling the hotel reservation.

Now all I have to do this weekend is get things tidied up, clean out some brooder boxes, and move some more birds (I swear, I feel like I spend my life moving birds from one place to another, rather like laundry!) Then I can focus on getting the new computer set up and running (my old one is ten years old, it's time and then some.) And I might even take an hour or two off to read a book or something! ((grin))

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Yes, we do give our chickens baths!

Gads, another big gap between postings. As I said, spring hits us hard here on the farm, I think I've been working 12 hour days for the last three weeks, with no break!

Today I will be washing birds for a show next weekend. That's right, for those of you who don't own show poultry, before we take birds to a show we actually give them baths!

Here's an article I wrote last year about preparing for a show:

- About two weeks before the show (or as early as one month before if you are seeing feather degradation) check your birds for mites. (This is something you should be doing on a regular basis anyway, about every month or so.) If they show signs, de-mite them with either your powder of choice, or Ivermectin (we use Ivermectin, as it both de-worms and de-mites, see this link for more info: http://www.shilala.homestead.com/ivomec.html )

- About two weeks before the show, have your state NPIP tester come and test your birds. Some shows will let you test as you arrive, but then you may have bloodstains on your neatly washed birds, better to do them beforehand.

- About a week before, clean out all pens/coops/cages in which your birds live. Re-bed deeply with clean shavings.

- About a week before, if you have cages, put the birds into them to get them used to being caged. Practice taking the birds in and out of the cage (always headfirst!) so that it is comfortable with the process. Treats help with this. A piece of wood as a perch helps the birds get used to being caged. Leave them in there for several days (with food and water, of course!) then wash them.

- About seven to five days before the show, wash your birds. Assemble the following tools:

- Three pails or large buckets

- One large towel per bird

- Dog nail clippers

- Dog nail file

- An old toothbrush

- An old washcloth or other rag

- Blood stop powder, or cayenne powder (in case you nick a quick)

- Carriers deeply bedded with clean shavings

- Hair dryer (if it's cool outside)

- Dish soap (better to use something like Ivory than Dawn, which strips too much oil from the feathers)

- Apple cider vinegar

- Bluing (only use if you have white birds, and not too much!)

Fill the buckets with warm but not too hot water. Put some ACV into the second bucket (not too much, just enough to cut the soap) and if you are washing white birds, several drops of bluing into the third. Gently lower the bird into the first bucket (but do not cover the head), swishing it up and down to get the feathers wet. Put some soap into your hand and gently brush it onto the bird, stroking in the direction of the feathers, not against the grain. Work the soap in, paying attention to the vent area and the toes. Be careful with soap around the eyes, best to just use a washcloth to wipe the head area. Use the toothbrush to scrub the toes and legs, get all the crud off of them.

Transfer the bird to the second bucket, swishing up and down to get the soap off. Then put into the third bucket for a final rinse. Wrap the bird in a towel, leaving the head and feet sticking out. Sit with it on your lap (you will get wet) and gently trim toes and beak (no judge likes to be scratched.) Use the file on the beak to remove sharp edges and refine the look. Wipe around eyes again with the towel. Using the warm (not hot) setting on the blow dryer, dry the chicken so that it is almost dry (you won't get it all the way dry.) Place it into the crate with shavings in a warm, non-drafty place to finish drying (this may take several hours.) We find we can do between three and six birds per day effectively (run out of crates!) Once the bird is completely dry, return it either to the cage or its clean pen.)

To take to the show:

- Your NPIP form, and health certificates if needed.

- Food and water for all your birds. It sometimes helps them to drink if you start adding ACV to their water several weeks before the show, so if you run out of your own water you can add some ACV to the water at the show and the birds will recognize the taste.

- Extra shavings, just in case (if you have room.)

- Some Vaseline, for putting around eyes and beaks to make them shine (not too much!)

- Some folks use Pink Spray, or Show Sheen to spray their birds with, I find it tends to attract dust (and I don't care for the smell.) You decide.

- Paper towels, you never know if you'll need some.

- Baby wipes to remove any last minute stains.

Once the birds are dry, you're ready to pop them in the travel crates, and off you go!
So that's how we do it. At some point I'll make a video of the process, it's pretty funny to watch.