Sunday, December 26, 2010

As the year ends...

2010 was a busy year for the Haggarty family. I didn't get a Christmas newsletter done to put in the cards I sent out this year, so thought I'd do a blog post to catch up with everything that has gone on during the year.

Allie is a junior in high school this 2010-11 year, and as always is thriving. She made the cut to compete in the Governor's Scholar Program of KY, but unfortunately did not win one of the three coveted spots. But her 28 on her ACT (the first time taking it since 7th grade) consoled her, and we're confident she'll find her niche at the college of her choice. She's been asked to be the Grant County 4-H Poultry Project Leader for this year, a job usually done by an adult, and she's quite looking forward to that. She's my staunch helper around the farm with chores, couldn't do it without her!

Colleen graduated from Williamstown High School this year, number 4 in her class, with a GPA of something over 4.0 (I am not sure how that works, don't ask.) We were pleased to have her paternal grandparents come down from Canada for her graduation, it's always wonderful to see Fred and Shirl. She enrolled in the University of Cincinnati in the fall, in the prestigious DAAP program (Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning), but to her and our dismay, became very ill in November with a combination of Mono and Strep. This caused her to miss so much school that she decided to withdraw from DAAP (it's one of those highly competitive programs where if you miss four weeks you might as well take the year over.) Happily, she was accepted at the University of Kentucky for the winter/spring semester, and is now enrolled there as an undeclared major freshman.

James is still happily employed at the Cincinnati Enquirer as Operations Manager. He loves his job, always something new to learn, a project to tackle, a new piece of equipment to research, it's just been a wonderful place to work and we're so glad he's there! He's reached 970 hours of horseback riding time in the American Quarter Horse Recreational Ride program, and we fully expect he'll hit 1,000 hours next year. He's working on doing a seminar this spring with the local Horse Council on orienteering on horseback, and is still the Grant County KEEP (Kentucky Equine Education Project) team leader.

Laura made a big leap this year, expanding her vintage postcard business. She purchased from her father the ephemera her mother spent over 40 years collecting, and has been working hard to do more than just sell the cards themselves, but to monetize the over 10,000 images. She started out with a Christmas card collection - cards made from reproductions of the vintage images from all over the world. That went well, and she's now working on catalogues for Valentine's Day cards, and will follow those with all the other major holidays. She's also working on a line of quilt fabric blocks (amazingly, you can print on fabric from an inkjet printer); bookmarks, and magnets, all with vintage images.

All the farm and house animals are doing well, although we were sad to lose our last house cat this summer, Miss Cleo now romps at the Rainbow Bridge with her friends Babe and Kitzel. But all the horses are still with us, even Buddy, who will be 31 on January 1st. Toby and his goat charges; Zoltan and Stanley still roam the east pasture; we still have about 100 chickens in large fowl and bantam (although we're just breeding Buckeyes now); the barn cats Frodo, Samwise, and their mother Starz keep the barn and fields rodent-free, and Ziva and McGee are our Canine Early Warning System, guarding the house at all times.

We wish all our friends and family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May the coming year bring you all peace, happiness, and joy.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Just to say thanks.

 Every year, a month or two before the annual class reunions my high school holds, a letter gets sent out asking for nominees for Alumnae of the Year. Over the years I’ve seen captains of industry, famous medical practitioners, amazing entrepreneurs, get nominated and win. And every year, I think to myself, what we really need is an award for all those who Just Show Up, every day, at some thankless job, do it well, and never get any recognition for it.

You all know someone who’d be eligible, chances are good you yourself might be such a one. But I want to go out of my way today, to thank all those who do those thankless jobs, because they deserve some recognition, perhaps even more so than those who win things like Alumnae of the Year.

People like:

-          The volunteer fireman who soothes a frightened teenager at the scene of an auto accident.
-          The worker at the local food bank who gives of her own time and energy to help those in need.
-          The lawyer who goes out of his way to work many more than the required pro bono cases per year.
-          The school bus driver who’s up at the crack of dawn dealing with yelling, unruly kids every day and who never loses her temper.
-          The girl behind the counter at the Dunkin’ Donuts who is cheerful and smiles at everyone, even if they’re grumpy when they pick up their coffee and corn muffin.
-          The ER nurse who, even after 30-odd years of having seen just about it all, still cares for each patient as if they were the first and only one there.
-          The parent at home at 4 am with a toddler who has been sick from both ends all over himself and his bed, keeping it all together and cleaning it up while comforting the child.
-          The snow plow driver who works through the night and into the next day, to ensure the roads are safe for people to drive on.
-          The single adult child who moves in with an aging parent to ensure that his siblings can sleep through the night knowing their parent is in good hands.
-          The garbage truck drivers, the ditch diggers, the guys who fix the electric lines in the huge ice storm, going for days without sleep so the power can come back on sooner.
-          The farmer who wipes the sweat out of his eyes with his sleeve as he works the field in high summer, ensuring we have food to eat.
-          The teacher who spends hours of her own time and money from her own pocket with students in trouble to ensure they get what they need to learn.
-          The state troopers and police officers who every day put their lives on the line to make sure we’re able to be safe in our homes and our kids can get to school without fear.
-          And the soldiers, please, let’s not ever forget the soldiers! Those who, every day, devote their lives to the ideals we sometimes take for granted, and for which all too often they make the ultimate sacrifice.

So just this once, for all of those listed above, and all those like them, I’d like to offer up this simple “Thanks!” For everyone who gets up in the morning and puts one foot in front of the other to be of service to the rest of us, our most humble thanks. And may God bless you!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Guinea Fowl

Pearl Guinea Fowl
When we moved to our farm Kentucky in '03, one of the things I was sure I wanted to get was guineas. As a child growing up I would often visit my mother's family in East Liverpool, Ohio where the family has a gentlemans farm. My grandfather was particularly fond of horses and poultry (as was his father), but by the time I was older had sold most of his birds except the guineas and several mean geese.

I adored the guineas, for their ugly charm and their amazing noise. (The mean geese are worth their own story one day.) My grandmother used to say the sounds they made reminded her of a rusty gate hinge (those are the quiet noises, they make very loud ones too!) But I wanted some, if only to remind my of my grandparents, and the summer of '04 found me looking for guineas of my own.

We found a breeder in Indiana who had some for sale, and drove over there to pick up some young birds (called keets.) We brought them home, and set them up in a chicken tractor to get used to being here. Guineas have to be penned in a new place for at least four to six weeks before you allow them to roam, or they just take off.

Once we set them loose, they adjusted to free ranging and became a constant source of amusement. Guineas are not the smartest creature on the planet, and we joke that they share one brain amongst the entire group, which is why you often see them chasing each other about, for hours at a time!

Our farm has considerable road frontage, and behind our own 45 acres is another 102 which is mostly pasture and woods like ours. Across the road is our neighbor John, who has a dog named Darla. So where did the guineas decide to roam? Not behind the house, where there was freedom and safety aplenty. No. They decided to cross the road, and go play in Darlas' yard. Darla, being a dog after all, decided she found them very tasty indeed, and I could hardly be mad at her for eating them, as they were in her yard!

In the process of their daily jaunt across the road, one day several of the guineas were hit by a car and killed. The girls and I saw their bodies as we were returning from school, and I pulled into the top of the drive and got out to pick up and dispose of the bodies.

Behind us had been a pickup truck with a local hunter driving (we could tell he hunted because he had dog boxes in the back.) He pulled into the drive behind me and got out, and asked "Are those yours?"

"Yes" I replied quizzically.

"What are you going to do with them?" He asked.

"Um, I'm going to throw them away." I responded.

There was a long silence, me standing holding the dead guineas, him looking and them and then back at me. Finally it hit me.

"Do you want them?" I asked.

"Well, they sure do make good eating" he replied, "can I see them please?"

I handed the dead bodies over. Now, this was essentially road kill, right? I know people eat guineas, and their meat is actually a delicacy. But I've never eaten road kill, and wasn't going to start with birds I considered pets.

The hunter said "Yes, I'd like them if you're not going to eat them, they're in ok shape."

I told him he was welcome to them, and he drove off with the dead guineas in his truck. I shook my head, and continued down to the house, smiling to myself, and explaining to the girls what had happened.

Young guineas stuck on the roof.
To this day, we still haven't eaten one of our guineas, I just can't bring myself to do so. We have eaten a number of our chickens, but the guineas just have too much sentimental value to me to try. Whenever I look at them, I feel my grandfather smiling down at me from heaven, laughing at their antics. So from us at least, they're safe. From Darla, well, when it comes to her, they're on their own.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ch-ch-ch changes...

My oldest goes off to college this fall, and it will mean changes on many levels for us all. She'll be attending the DAAP (Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning) school at the University of Cincinnati to study graphic design (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree it seems.)

Aside from the usual emptying-of-the-nest issues all families and parents face when kids go off to school, those of us who live on farms also have to deal with losing our chore helpers when our fledglings spread their wings and fly out into the world.

This has made me reassess just how many chickens I need here on the farm, and how many breeds I will want to work with. When breeding purebred chickens you need at least one pen, if not many, for each breed. Ideally you have several breeding pens and maintain several separate lines for each breed. And each pen needs to be chored individually, of course.

Losing half my chore force to the wider world means cutting back. In the past we've worked with many breeds of chickens: Leghorns (Brown and White), Ameraucanas, Marans, Orpingtons, Dominiques, Silkies, Dutch Bantams, Cochins, Olive Eggers (a strain of which I created myself, known as the Charlottes, from the Six Feet Under characters Charlotte Light and Charlotte Dark), and of course, Buckeyes.

As of this fall, we'll be down to just one breed, Buckeyes in large fowl and bantam. It's an odd thing to contemplate, but must be done. I work from home doing several part-time jobs as well as the farm gig, and with just my younger daughter to help with chicken chores (DH does the horse chores), there's just no getting around the need to reduce our numbers.

At our highest numbers we likely had about 200 birds (not including chicks that were hatched and shipped to others.) That's a lot of birds to chore, especially when they are in many separate pens. My goal is to get things thinned down to about three pens, and a couple of smaller cages.

I had my eyes opened to this requirement last summer. DD#1 was away at an art seminar for two weeks. During that time, DH and DD#2 went back to Ohio where my family has a farm. They took the truck and two of the horses with them, and I stayed home with all the critters. Doing chores all by myself for the first time made me appreciate my husband even more than I do (he stays home and does chores when the girls and I go out of town.) It also made me realize that 3 hours of chores every day just wasn't going to fit into my work schedule (that's how long it took to feed and water everything twice a day.)

So sadly, I'm selling the last of my Dutch bantams. I love them dearly, but their temperaments do not allow me to keep them in a large flock the way I can with the Buckeyes (the males fight too much.) I've found homes for many of them, and know I can place the rest well with people who will appreciate them. But it's hard to give them up.

This fall will be bittersweet on several levels and while much will change, the rhythms of farm life reassure me that much will remain the same. As Bowie said in that song from all those years ago:

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same.

As I turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer means extra males

Summer usually finds us with a plethora of young chickens, many of whom will not stay here forever. With poultry, a good ratio is about one male to every ten females. However, Mother Nature doesn't let us hatch them that way, more's the pity. Often the ratio hatched is about 50/50, sometimes more one way, sometimes more the other.

The problem begins when all the teen-aged roosters (which we term cockerels in the poultry world) start to have their hormones kick in. They get randy. They get obnoxious. They get over-eager and make pests of themselves to the females. And too many of them can actually gang up on a poor female and in their stupid exuberance, kill one. So they have to be thinned out.

I had a long call yesterday from a woman who had purchased chicks from me earlier this spring. She was in the midst of deciding which males to cull, and needed help. (Culling can mean any number of things, but bottom line, it means remove from the breeding pens.) She wanted to know how she was supposed to determine which young males to keep, and which to cull.

We went over a number of areas to look at, aided in part by the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection, which lists the various characteristics of the various breeds. There are specific traits that should be adhered to, and following the Standard is always the first place to start.

But reading about characteristics and applying that info can be two different things. And the best way to learn how to do so is to have an old-timer teach you first hand. But not all of us are lucky enough to have such mentors available, so we turn to others and the Internet for info.

The breed club for which I am Secretary/Treasurer, the American Buckeye Poultry Club, has a copy of the breed standard for Buckeyes (the breed we are focusing on here at the farm now.) If you're a member of the club, you can read it here. If you're not a member, you can always check your Standard (and if you don't own a Standard, get one!)

Another organization, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, has published a step by step process by which you can assess young birds for good meat qualities and rates of growth, see it here.

Between the two, one can usually figure out which males to keep, and which need to go. We sometimes butcher our own extra males, as Buckeyes make great meat birds. Sometimes we sell some of the extras to a friend who has a market for them in a larger city nearby (yellow-skinned birds appeal to certain ethnic markets it seems.) But one way or another we winnow the numbers down. Right now we have three adult males who preside over a pen of about twenty five adult females, along with about nine young males and twenty or so young females. More than ideal, but they all get along well, and don't overbreed the hens, so they're ok for now.

Later in the summer I may rotate out the oldest male, or put him in a pen with some of his great-granddaughters, to linebreed for some reinforcement of his excellent qualities. For now, the remaining "extra" cockerels have the run of the pen, and are living life pretty large. They have more than half an acre to roam, bugs to chase and eat, and cool shade under the big oak and ash trees. Live doesn't get much better for a chicken these days. Come fall, things may change, but for now, Life is Good.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snow, snow, snow, enought with the bloody snow already!

Ok, I am just SO OVER snow. I know, I'm from the north. I know I've blogged about the snow before. But now we're about to get another 3-10 inches (no one knows for sure how many), and I'm pretty much ready to stick needles in my eyes.

My older daughter is due to graduate from HS this year, and at the rate we're going it will be July before she's out! ((sigh))

How about this little clipper just slip right on by us this time, what do you say, Oh Weather Gods? Please?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Heritage Chickens: Buckeyes

Over the last four years or so, we've grown to just adore Buckeye chickens, for a variety of reasons. There is the emotional connection: I am from Ohio, and on my grandparent's farm in front of their house is a large Buckeye tree. My grandfather used to carry Buckeye seeds with him always, when my mom and aunt were sorting through his clothes after his death, they found a Buckeye in almost every pocket of every jacket and coat. So the idea of a chicken called a Buckeye was immediately appealing to me.

We got our first Buckeyes from my friend Matt John of Shady Lane Poultry, back in '06. Getting them was actually a mistake, they had slipped in with a batch of chicks Matt had hatched for our 4-H group, and when he saw them and mentioned it, I snatched them up for us and took them home. We started out with only four birds, one cockerel and three pullets. We liked them from the start, they grew fast and were very vigorous.

The following year we got some more chicks from Matt, as I wasn't set up to hatch eggs from that pen at that time. I had a couple of different breeds in it, all of which day-ranged together, so had no way to ensure the eggs would be purebred. But as time went on, we grew to like the breed more and more. And last year we decided they would be the only large fowl breed we'd work with, as they had everything we liked: gentle temperament, healthy, pea comb (which prevents frostbite), good dual-purpose qualities, good layers of eggs, and the extra cockerels dress out well for meat.

So last year we hatched a bunch of chicks, and the response has been astounding. This year I have a ton of orders for chicks, and have been shipping a boatload of hatching eggs. I am even about to order a new digital incubator and setter, to ensure I can get really good hatches from everything I set.

Of course, there's also the breed club we started for the Buckeyes. In the fall of '07, we took Buckeyes to the Ohio National poultry show (our very favorite show.) Colleen and Allie won BB with their cock bird, (James says they did even better, I need to go back and check the coop tags to be sure.) Colleen asked me if she'd get points for the win (breed clubs award points to their members for show results, and at the end of the year the person with the most points is awarded a prize of some sort.)

However, at that time there was no breed club for Buckeyes. When I told Colleen that, she insisted we start one, so the following March I started a Yahoo Group for Buckeyes, to gauge the level of interest in the breed, and was surprised at how quickly it took off! I knew I wanted to make it a real club; with elected officers and bylaws and the like. At as of the summer of '09, we're all set. The American Buckeye Poultry Club was officially registered as a 501(c)3 non-profit, and has grown quickly.

We've been lucky to have the support of Jeannette Beranger of the ALBC, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy:
and some of the top/longtime breeders of Buckeyes: Duane Urch, John Brown, and Bob Rhodes are all members and support the club. The increase in interest in the breed has been helped along by a wonderful article written by Christine Heinrichs in BackYard Poultry Magazine, which can be seen here.

But even without the rise in popularity of this bird, we'd still love them. They're friendly, personable birds. They get along with each other and humans well, and we think are just the best all-around farmstead bird there is. The ability to show them and market them is just the icing on the cake. And at the end of the day, I know my grandfather would be pleased as punch at the whole idea of his granddaughter raising birds named after his favorite tree.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Slogging through the mud

Winter in Kentucky is very different from most of the winters I've known in my life. I grew up in the North: born and raised in Cleveland, have lived as far north as Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Duluth, MN. I don't mind snow, I really don't. When you have horses, snow in the pasture actually packs down and is relatively easy for them to walk on. It certainly beats the mud wallows we get here in KY.

Winter in the Bluegrass region of KY where we live means cold rain and mud. Not attractive, not pleasant, and certainly harder to deal with than snow. The horse pastures turn into boot-sucking swamps, and don't even think about going out there without high rubber boots! Even the lawn gets squishy, some days when I walk outside the soil is so saturated it's like walking on a sponge, even to the sound.

Mud is pervasive in the winter. It's tracked into the house by the humans and the dogs. Because our soil here is mostly clay, it's big sticky clumps of mud; on feet, on paws, everywhere it seems. I despair over keeping it out of the house, I've given up on the living room carpet, at some point we'll just rip it out and put in hardwood. And not being a Martha Stewart even on my best days, it quite overtakes me at times. I'd far rather be cleaning chicken pens than vacuuming.

The worst by far is the freezing rain. When it comes, I know a power outage is not far off. Some years it's not so bad, only a few hours. Others, the power can be off for days or a week at a time. We have heaters and a generator, but it's still an annoyance. It makes me put off setting eggs for chicks, as I worry the power will go out and I'll lose an entire incubator of eggs to cold. Last year we had a huge ice storm in early February, I guess if we make it to Valentine's Day I'll feel better about things. But for now such storms loom over my mental state, and make me put off hatching when I really should get on with it already.

Ah winter. Wish we had more snow here, certainly. It would be so much better than the all-pervasive goo.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snow storm in KY

I'm a bad blogger. I've been so busy with the farm and work that I haven't posted here in months! But today is a slower day, due mostly to the big snowstorm (bearing in mind that "big" is a relative term.)

Here in KY a "big" snowstorm is anything over two inches. Now, I've lived in the north most of my adult life. I grew up in Cleveland (noted for its lake effect snow); went to college in Syracuse, NY; lived for five years in New Hampshire; then six years in Sasaktoon, Sask. (western Canada); two years in Janesville, WI; then five years in Duluth, MN before moving here. So I will admit to being a snow snob.

The real problem with snow in rural northern KY is that there just isn't the snow removal equipment to deal with it. So roads get slick and icy, people aren't used to driving in it, and accidents happen.

So my general plan during snowstorms here is to hunker down and ride it out. We have a cistern, so should the power go out (which it has done in previous years), we can always haul water to the animals from it. We don't have a wood stove yet, it's on our list of Things To Get Someday, but we have a good kerosene heater and a big generator, and between those and a lot of oil lamps we make it through.

Normally it's not snowstorms but ice storms that are the worst for this area. Last Feb we had a horrid ice storm which took power out for some folks for as long as ten days. We were very lucky and only lost power for about four hours at the very end (I figure they took the grid down to fix it.) Ice does terrible damage to trees and plants, snow is not so hard on things.

As I look out the window of my office I can see the horses out in the south pasture with their butts to the wind, snow accumulating on their backs. They won't go into shelter in this sort of weather, it's freezing rain that is hard on them. As long as they have plenty of hay (we feed round bales in the pastures) they are fine in the snow. And it's easier to walk on than mud, that's for sure!

Frankly, I'd rather have two feet of snow than an inch of ice any day. Snow will pack down and the horses and people can walk through it pretty easily, and it actually insulates the chicken hoop houses to keep them warm. And being a northerner at heart, I love a pretty white snow field, makes me feel content.

Stay warm and safe out there everyone...