Farm Life Interlude: And then there were five

Remember for a chunk of time how this became barely a parenting blog and more a blog about very tame backyard farming? If not, here are a few samplings from that time:

Well, because I generally have the brain power for just one post a week, and because I’m pregnant again and therefore have a pretty easy framework for new material, I have neglected to talk much about our little menagerie for awhile. But I wanted to take a moment to memorialize a sad milestone in our farming adventure.

Last week, on a dark and stormy night, we lost a chicken.

Hera was a good chicken. She was about 17 weeks old, the only Buff Orpington in our little half-dozen flock. She was timid and sweet, she didn’t like to be pet but would eat out of my hand. She was getting big and nearing the time she’d start laying eggs. She had recently lost a bunch of tail feathers, making her look (to me, at least) the most dinosaur-like of all our chickens whenever she broke into a run.

Hera
Rest in peace, chickie.

I promised him I wouldn’t invoke the wrath of the Internet when telling this story, and I hope not to because he doesn’t deserve it: The Husband took a break from working on his laptop last Monday to lock the chickens in their coop for the night. (They free range all day and put themselves to bed at about 8:30.) He went out to check on them before the storm rolled in — even counted them all because they dogpile in their nesting boxes instead of roosting and are sometimes hard to see (need to figure that one out…) and then, unfortunately, went inside without remembering to close and latch the door to the chicken run.

In the night, something (fox? raccoon? coyote?) crept in and snatched up Hera. Whatever it was left behind a trail of bloody feathers and a rattled remaining flock. I think the thrashing, hours-long storm that struck was a stroke of luck because it probably kept away any later predators who would have taken advantage of the situation.

The Husband was beside himself with regret the next morning when I went to let the chickens out and found all but one emerging from under our porch. I felt sadder than I expected to, but not angry. For as absent-minded as I’ve been lately, it could have just as easily been me who forgot to latch the run.

Or, it could have been if I were ever awake late enough for it to be my job. The Husband has picked up so much slack since the pregnancy fatigue sunk in, including night chores for the animals, I feel bad that the responsibility has fallen almost solely on him.

Today, while walking around our pond with The Toddler before bedtime, I heard our dog crunch something (unusual, as she’s not a stick chewer) and found she had unearthed a chicken thigh bone with a few orange feathers stuck to it. Hera’s remains.

I can’t count how many chicken thigh bones I’ve discarded over the years without a second thought, but I picked up this one and brought it back to the porch.

Maybe it’s silly to bury a chicken, but that’s what we’re going to do.

She was a good egg.

 

Farm Life Interlude: And then there were five

No bees, green trees, baby knees

dogwoods
Dogwood in bloom

Last week, The Husband took off work and stayed home with The Toddler while my dad and I drove 100 miles to pic up two nuclear hives of bees (known in the bee worlds as “nucs”). This was the final of three additions to our little hobby farm, and while I was apprehensive about keeping them alive, I was also excited for honey and felt righteous about pressing ahead, because bees need all the help they can get these days.

Unfortunately, we arrived to find a handwritten note on the door and a few sheriff’s deputies collecting everyone’s names and phone numbers. Apparently the apiary had lost its load of bees, and instead of trying to notify all its (prepaid) customers, some of whom had driven from out of state, they left a short note. The deputies explained that the owner said she’d be issuing refunds in the next few weeks. (They had been called to the apiary by angry customers who arrived before us–it’s not a criminal matter until/unless the owner doesn’t refund us our money.)

I made a bunch of phone calls that afternoon trying to find another source for bees. My local beekeepers association and even the Ohio State Beekeepers Association were incredibly helpful and sympathetic, giving me lots of leads to chase. It’s very late in the season, though, and most other apiaries are sold out. The closest one I found was a 2 1/2 hour drive, which isn’t something I can do with The Toddler, and The Husband can’t take more time off work before the end of the school year. We decided we’ll wait until next year to try bees. It’s frustrating, because we spent close to $1,000 on all our hives and equipment (and no-show bees), but a small part of me is a little relieved we have a year to get the hang of chickens and goats before we add bees to the list. I just hope I get my money back!

In other news, spring has truly sprung around us. The flowers are blooming and the trees are leafing out, and our morning walks, though muddy, are so fun. It has been a wet spring, so we took advantage of our one warm, sunny day this weekend to cut the grass, and I spent a good hour or so pulling poison ivy up from around the garden beds surrounding our house. (I’m covered in poison ivy now, because I did a crap job covering up. Don’t be like me.) We’re continuing the tradition of accidentally neglecting our vegetable garden, but despite this, there are carrots and beets and greens sprouting. The Husband planted a bunch of new fruit trees, which he waters dutifully every evening.

On our daily walks, The Toddler mucks around on his boots, blowing dandelion fuzz and collecting gravel from our driveway and carrying sticks. He’d live outside if we let him. It’s unbelievable how quickly he’s growing, in every way. He is tall and sturdy on his feet. He can run and play ring-around-the-rosy and nod his head when I arrive at his chosen option for snack. He wiggles his butt to music and shriekingly chases the pets and puts all the toilet paper rolls away when we come home from shopping. He knows the words for lots of things but prefers to imitate their sounds than to name them: nay, moo, meow, choo choo!

Yesterday, my friend and her sister came over with her sister’s new baby, who is two months old. It felt like 100 years ago that my kid was that small. The Toddler hasn’t been around a baby that young, and I was curious to see how he reacted. I wasn’t disappointed — he was over the moon. He kept bringing up toys and trying to hand them to the baby. He patted his knee, rubbed his belly, held his hand. He wanted to sit right next to him, and even got his baby doll out to hold in imitation of the baby’s mom.

It almost killed me, it was so cute.

Good thing The Toddler is 95% a joy during the day, because we have concluded he is going through a precocious “18 month” sleep regression (he’s 16.5 months, but close enough), as he literally will. not. go. to. sleep. unless someone is in the room with him, and has been waking 2-5 times a night. We had about four blissful sleeps through the night before this struck. Please, please come back.

So that’s been the past couple of weeks. Oh, to update you from the last post– the bunny died the following morning, to my mild dismay but not to my surprise. Also that evening, our dishwasher died. I’m waiting on delivery as I write for the new one, so most of my time the past 1.5 weeks has been spent washing dishes by hand–that is, when I’m not helping The Toddler down from a dining room chair or picking up the dry cat food he has scooped and scattered across the pantry.

The Husband built the goats a new, wooden day shelter that they have not yet attempted to scale, but which, I daresay, can handle the weight of a goat or two. Good man.

No bees, green trees, baby knees

I stepped in it.

Let’s just get into it. It’s spring here on the “farm,” and despite all very filtered (in more ways than one) #farmlife Instagram posts, things can get a little nuts and aren’t always beautiful.

Today was the morning after The Toddler decided he prefers to sleep if I’m lying on the floor next to his crib touching him. And today was also Day 3 of my desperate attempt to back myself off the way-too-much coffee habit I’ve found myself underneath again. So I was already at a disadvantage when naptime finally hit. I’d been kinda disengaged from everything all morning–going through the motions, slowly.

By 7 a.m., I had gotten the goats out with The Toddler on my back (and he is getting heavy!), and I kept him up there to feed and water the chicks and throw in a load of laundry. We puttered around the house all morning, me halfheartedly vacuuming and making my bed to try to feel somewhat productive because I just didn’t have the energy to invent or execute an errand to run. I played with The Toddler here and there, but definitely wasn’t particularly fun today. I also barely acknowledged my poor dog or the cats.

It was one of those “I can’t even” mornings. I thought about climbing into bed for a quick snooze once The Toddler went down. I loaded up my laptop and answered a few work emails before I heard the cats meowing at the back door to be let in.

The cats rushed past my legs, and there in front of the door was a little black creature. At first I thought it was a dead mole — not uncommon. But it looked weird: hairless, not mole-shaped, and definitely breathing. I sighed, shut the door and sent my husband a message. He suggested I mercy kill whatever it was, and as sorry as I felt for myself for having to squash a half-alive rodent, I agreed. So I grabbed an empty bread bag and a handful of tissues and braced myself to buck up and do a mercy kill.

When I opened the door again, though, I realized what I was seeing: A newborn baby rabbit.

Shit. I’m going to have to mercy kill a BABY, I thought, almost indulging in a little cry, as I lifted it with a tissued hand.

But then it rolled over, showing off a fat pink belly with just a couple little scratches, and nuzzled my hand. My maternal skinlessness was activated.

Long story short, it’s in a shoebox with a heating pad and the Internet research I’ve done up to this point has revealed the following information:

  1. It is illegal to try to rehabilitate injured wild animals in Ohio without a permit. (Sounds insane, but makes sense, I guess — wouldn’t want crazy animal lovers “rescuing” perfectly healthy babies/injured coyotes or whatever as an excuse to keep them as pets.)
  2. Baby rabbits are really, really, really hard to keep alive. One major reason is because they won’t get the right gut bacteria to survive without their mother’s milk (wahhhhh #breastfeeding), and one way to remedy this is to feed it a little rabbit poop from a healthy rabbit. I don’t exactly have the resources to fulfill this need.
  3. My cat knows exactly where the rabbit is. He also knows where its nest was, though he won’t tell me. I know this because he also tore apart one of the baby’s siblings all over my sidewalk, driving home the point that nature is a cold, cold son of a gun.

I left a message with a permitted rehab person and hope that either he calls me back and I can hand off the little bun to someone who knows what they’re doing, or that it will die at least peacefully and warm without too much suffering. (I am doing my best to feed it with kitten formula and wipe its tiny butt to get it to poop. I’m not going to starve it while I wait for a callback or fate.)

The Husband eventually made it home and I told him all about the bunny, and its dead sibling, and the subsequent live snake the cat left at the door today (sigh), and how just minutes before he had gotten home, our poor neglected dog ran away to my parents’ house while I walked her and gave the goats a hay refill. I figured that was enough craziness for the day.

So I was cutting the tip off a kitten bottle nipple with a razor blade while The Husband got The Toddler’s pajamas on, preparing to feed the bunny, when he yelled, “Reanna, you have to go outside right now! Cudi is on the roof of the hut!”

The “hut” is a temporary rain shelter, tarp over wire. We bought it when there was still snow on the ground last month and we needed something quick, but it’s a dog kennel. It is not meant to hold a goat’s weight (and honestly was pretty tall? Like, not something I expected them to be able to scale???)

I ran out the front door in my socks, razor blade still in hand because I was afraid of dropping it in the house. I set the blade on the porch and pulled my socks off as I ran to the goat pen, shouting, “Kid Cudi, no!!” as sternly as I could. He was unmoved, if seemingly a little annoyed that he was starting to sink.

It quickly became clear I was going to have to wade into the wet straw, mud and goat shit and get him down. Another opportunity to buck up and deal with #farmlife, I thought with mixed dismay and amusement, as I grabbed the fence to unlatch it…

…forgetting I was barefoot, standing in wet mud, grabbing a powered electric fence.

The Husband’s squeals of laughter weren’t cruel, but they were distracting.

I shook off my near electrocution and pressed in, trying to avoid obvious piles of goat pellets as I made my way to the goat on the roof. He sunk one side of the roof before hopping off. I sighed with relief and turned to leave. Heard from the window as I approached the fence, “He’s doing it again!”

Back through the goat shit, quick as I could, in time to watch him sink the whole roof. He managed to get out without help or injury, but I had to circle the hut and pull off the tarp because he obviously wanted to get right back up.

So that’s how I found myself nursing The Toddler before bed with probably a little goat shit on my feet.

It's #nationalfarmanimalday! Kid Cudi says *hayyyy* #kidcudi #kidcudithegoat #goatsofinstagram

A post shared by Reanna (@arkayokay) on

Guess that’s what happens when you jump into hobby farming with both feet.

I stepped in it.

Cooped up with kids (and life is sweet)

Good morning, Internet! As I’ve alluded… we’re going through some exciting additions to TLMB household and I’m thinking of shifting gears to a more hobby farm/parenting blog… workshopping the title, which I hope will make sense to you soon as it is basically one clever turn of phrase after another.

Cooped up

I have been up since 3 a.m. with inexplicable insomnia. Except it’s not really inexplicable… If I’m being honest, it’s a shadow of the sleeplessness I felt waiting for The Baby to arrive, fed in equal parts by sheer excitement and my obsessive need to plan. Because, my friends, in two short days I will be welcoming six new babies into my house.

Fluffy little chicken babies.

dominique_chicken
Dominique chicken By gunthercox (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Yes, The Husband and I are taking the leap into hobby farming with a half dozen chicks, who will, if luck prevails, provide us abundant eggs and entertainment.

I’ve trawled chicken blogs, researched breeds, assembled a brood box (though I still have to finish the second one and build a “chunnel” today), bought feed and bedding and heat lamps. We thought about building a coop, but after careful reflection on our carpentry skills and less than ample free time, we decided to buy a ready-made one that is now waiting for us at Tractor Supply to see if we can get our old yellow truck started to pick it up. (Note: A Subaru Impreza hatchback is not large enough to transport an 8 chicken-sized coop, even unassembled.)

First thing Tuesday morning, The Baby, my brother and I will head over to Grace Brothers Nursery to pick up the girls (which, despite its lackluster website is a great small business… and while we’re now closer to the North Royalton location I highly recommend anyone on the West side of Cleveland check out their urban farm shop on W. 65th.)

We’ll get some combination of the following breeds, selected for their temperament, hardiness, size, egg production and status (as available) as heritage/threatened breeds:

  • Golden Buffs (apparently a.k.a. Golden Comets or Red sexlinks, I think). This is a hybrid bird, and the sexlink means that female chicks are one color while males are another. They are bred to lay a lot of eggs.
  • Buff Orpingtons. These are extremely common, extremely big/puffy, and known in chicken circles as the “golden retriever of chickens” for their friendly, easygoing demeanor.
  • Dominiques. This is the breed I’m most excited about, as they are among the oldest American breeds, developed by some of the first European settlers to North America. Their barred black and white feathers provide camouflage against predators, they are extremely active foragers, very cold hardy and friendly. They’re also medium sized, I think about on-par with the Golden Buffs.
  • Silver-Laced Wyandottes. These are probably the showiest of our selection… check out those feathers. They’re big like the buff orpingtons and cold hardy, too. Perusing the chicken forums, I suspect these might have the greatest potential to be less friendly, but they’re still considered pretty easygoing and docile.

The chicks will spend about 6-8 weeks indoors getting bigger and growing feathers before they move out to their coop. I’m excited to see how The Toddler takes to them! (Don’t panic: No small children or dogs or cats will be left unattended with the flock. Handwashing precautions and kissing bans will be in place to prevent salmonella.)

So that’s the news in chickens.

With kids.

We still just have the one human kid (15 months old now. How?!) But in a week, we’ll be adding three literal kids to the family. Goat kids.

The Husband and I found three Nigerian Dwarf wethers (neutered males) available for sale from a lovely woman who lives in deep Amish Country, about an hour and a half south of us. We went to “interview” them a couple weeks ago and decided we had found the pets/weed eaters for us. They’re actually almost a year old, so maybe not kids much longer, but they’re super cute!

nigerdwarfgoat
Nigerian Dwarf goats. Ours have different coloring, but you get the idea. Cute! HoppingRabbit34 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
No, we’re not doing dairy goats. I know we’re already teetering on “more than we can handle” territory and can’t imagine keeping up with milking, let alone having to breed regularly and deal with newborn kids. And no, despite our jokes and hypothetical talks last summer when this crazy idea first crossed our minds, we’re not raising them for meat. They’re going to eat all our poison ivy and wild roses and enjoy the sunshine and sleep in the barn.

What I’m most nervous about with goat ownership is parasite/worm control. There is definitely a learning curve, but the woman selling the goats has already been really helpful in sharing resources, and we’ve been doing a lot of research and reading on our own. There’s no greater teacher than experience, though, right?

So on Saturday, we’ll go get our little herd. Today we will be setting up the electric fence and finishing setting up their barn stall and outdoor shelter to keep them out of the rain. And finding a mouse-proof place to keep the goat pellets we bought that isn’t the dining room.

More on goats as the story develops.

And life is sweet.

beekeeper

Our smallest new charges will arrive by the thousands in April. This is the piece of the hobby farm pie I’m most nervous about, as it seems you need an advanced degree to keep up with all the maintenance and disease prevention, but we’re going to start beekeeping.

We’ve been taking classes with the Medina Beekeepers Association over the past month, learning about bee anatomy and hive dynamics and mites and pollen and honey. While it will be really nice to have fresh honey if it works out, I feel a moral duty to at least try to take on this task, as honey bees continue to die out and be threatened by insecticides and pesticides and mites.

I don’t have much more to say about beekeeping yet because I still have so much to figure out, but by late April we’ll have the hives installed, and if the weather conditions are right, we might be able to harvest a little honey by the end of the season.

So there you have it. Our little homestead is taking shape, and my days of reading books and folding laundry and freelancing will also be days of sweeping a coop, trimming hooves and checking hives. It’s going to be a big change for our family, and thus a big shift in topic matter for the blog. I hope you don’t mind. Stick around–if for nothing else than the many, many pictures of baby chickens I’ll inevitably post in the coming weeks.

 

 

Cooped up with kids (and life is sweet)