Say Goodnight Gracie

img_2394Another lesson learned the hard way – you need to test the electronet fencing often. Although I was checking the fence line on a periodic basis for debris buildup (the coop is in a heavily wooded area and the girls like to kick stuff up around the edges), I hadn’t been checking the strength of the charge very often. Unfortunately one of my poor little chickens had to suffer a coyote attack to remind me.

I had just come in the house (the dog ran in with me) when we heard the chicken’s calls of distress. I opened the door and Magpie bolted out. By the time I got my boots on I could hear Magpie in hot pursuit of the predator in the woods – well beyond her radio collar range. When she is amped up like that she doesn’t feel the shock as she crosses the perimeter.

I found five of our twelve birds in the woods and quickly shooed four of them back into the pen with our rooster Jose’ and the rest of the girls. The fifth one was deep in the understory and wasn’t coming out. It was Gracie, one of my Buff Orpington/Barnevelder crosses.

I eventually flushed her out and that’s when I saw why she wouldn’t come out. Her whole side was ripped apart. I got the rest of the birds into the coop and locked up and  took Gracie into the house to assess and clean her wound. Holding her in one arm, wrapped in a towel while I ran up and down the stairs wrestling around to the first aid supplies and an infirmary put together was another painful reminder that even though it had been four years since we had had an injured chicken, I really need to keep these things on hand for just such an emergency. Gracie was a trooper (more likely she was in shock).

Once I had Gracie set up, I went back out to see what the hell it was that happened. The fence was in tact, so how did five hens get out and one seriously injured? I got out the voltage meter and could barely get a pulse. The recently purchased replacement energizer was plugged in and blinking, so what the heck? I walked the perimeter of the line closely inspecting it and found at least ten different sections that were chewed almost through on the forest side of their run.

I also found the scene of the crime – Gracie’s feathers were everywhere along a path in and next to the electronet fence, then in the woods on the edge of the yard, then back into the yard and ending in one of my raised beds where I could clearly see it was a coyote. I could also see this was where Magpie met up with the coyote and chased it into the woods. Magpie had saved Gracie. Good dog Magpie. Bad human L.  Magpie is supposed to be outside guarding her chickens but I indulged her and let her come in with me for a bit. After all, I thought the chickens were protected by the electronet fencing…

Someone mentioned it was whelping season and so the coyotes were getting more aggressive. With the weakened charge in the fence nothing stopped this coyote from jumping in, grabbing a chicken and jumping out. The other hens I found in the woods must have been startled by the intrusion and flew over the fence.

Of course we were out of the fence mending materials that came with the electronet. I then remembered I had used it up after Magpie chewed the unplugged fence to bits when she was just a pup, so I had to run out for more. With no stores nearby that carry that stuff I had to improvise with M’s help via text. The hard lessons were starting to pile up around my head.

I bought a spool of thin copper wire and tightly wound it around each frayed part of the fence. Voila! Back up to 8000+ volts.

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Back in to check on my patient, I discovered that my quickie infirmary was not going to work well. I had placed Gracie in a pet carrier with some straw, food and water. In order to tend to her wounds I’d have to reach in and drag her out and that was just not going to do. I ended up having to take out the eight screws that held it together so I could lift her out without touching her wounds.

Luckily we have a spare bathroom not used very often. I filled the tub with straw for bedding leaving space at one end for her food, water and grit. I put a lamp in there so I could dim the lights in the evening and the morning as the vanity lights are pretty bright.

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When M came home he gently pulled her ripped and torn skin back over her exposed flesh as best he could while I held her and then we tacked the skin in several spots with super glue. She had two deep puncture wounds from the coyotes teeth and a section of exposed flesh in those areas we couldn’t get the skin back over. I cleansed her wounds and treated them with Vetracyn twice a day (BTW – the spray gel works really well for this sort of thing). We tried bandaging her with a variety of materials over the next week, but she pulled everything off.

The wound after one week

The wound after a little over a week and it looks one thousand times better than it did

From the time of the attack Gracie never stopped eating, her eyes were bright, her comb and wattle continued to stay a vibrant red, and her poops were healthy. We were very hopeful she would survive but M was prepared to put her down if it started to look bad. After a few days of positive progress, I started to take her out to the pen daily for supervised visits with her peeps while I did my chicken chores. If any of them looked like they wanted to start picking on her or pecking at her wounds I just brought her back into the house. She did try to dust bathe once splitting the wound open and filling it with dirt, but I washed her down in the sink, cleaned the wound up and she seemed to do ok.

After a week she started to come out of the bathroom and hang out with us, the two cats and Magpie. The cats were a little concerned at first, especially Harlie who was pretty worried I was going to love that chicken more than her. After a while they were eating snacks together – well, more like Harlie wanted to take Gracie’s snacks away. Gracie seemed to tolerate Harlie and not get freaked out. Magpie was also a little confused about having a chicken in the house at first, but she quickly adapted and gave Gracie her space.

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After two weeks, the wound was healing nicely and feathers were starting to grow back. Her puncture wounds were slowly healing from the inside. Our neighbor is a wildlife rehabilitator and came by to check Gracie’s progress. She thought the wound was healing well and that Gracie looked healthy. Whew – at least we were successful in mitigating the damage. We just need to improve our safety precaution skills.

I decided Gracie was ready to get back with the flock full time. I sprayed the exposed area with that blue stuff to camouflage her wound and left her in the pen all day.

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Since no one tried pecking her wounds I left her to spend the night with her peeps.

Good night Gracie…

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Posted in Chickens | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Time to Go to Bed

It has been a while since working on at the farm felt like an act of actual farming. Now that we have a fenced area and easy access to water we wanted to get it into production as quickly as possible. L has been sprouting trees from seeds and prunings we have both been collecting and they need a place to grow unmolested by our deer friends. She also has gobs of seeds from previous plantings and the “flowers” in seed form I gave her last Valentine’s Day.

Nursery Beds
Mirroring the cistern the circle ran into our big compost pile… so a lot of the back fill needed to be done by hand. L needs to ice her back today. The cages at the bottom of the garden got pulled and we are looking forward to our big fruit tree order coming in the next few weeks.

Waterlogged alder goes in the bottom of the shallow trench.  This is sort of a instant-mini-hugel bed. They need to be deep enough for small tree tap roots . The wet logs should help keep the soil moist during our dry summers.

We have no shortage of windfall alder at the farm slowly decaying on the forest floor and giving back it’s wealth of nutrients. I adore the smell of rotting alder but sometimes the logs and big branches get in the way, so I push them together in piles to use for just this kind of reuse.

Masonry string using the cistern as the center point made easy circle making.  You might see the board with our nail in the center over the cistern. The next outer circle will be an arbor for kiwis with raspberries on the inside. This photo is pointing south, so we will have made a little sun trap. The two center beds with tall asparagus and artichokes will provide shade from the western sun on the eastern bed, the nursery. We may need to add a little shade cloth on our nursery during the summer to help mitigate sunburn. The western bed is slated for hot weather plants like tomatoes and peppers for now. We’ll “observate” to see how things work over the next season and iterate.

When it is all done the path will wander past the cistern and pass under the big kiwi arbor. (Can’t see it? It is in my head still, big as life.) It should look nice and have a pleasant “reveal” as we walk through to the lower gardens.

Liberal sprinklings of chicken manure. This will be slow to combine with the carbon… but should work eventually. The sod we separated goes leaf side down next. More nitrogen and organic matter for our little plants.

Then we back filled and dressed the whole thing with a few inches of compost.

At the end of the weekend we had two big beds put together.

Mycorrhiza
While I was out scouting for wood I also ran into this interesting fungus. When I first saw it I thought it was hoar frost. When I sent my pic to Facebook friends one person figured it out… The rare and elusive Ice Flower or Cotton Candy Ice. It was everywhere on the forest floor. This little guy is about 6 inches long. Mycorrhiza are so important to healthy trees so I’m happy to bring a little of our forest into contact our plantings.

Next week, transplanting trees, moving raspberries, and staking our the kiwi arbor. I like having a plan, (thanks to L.), and I like how the space is starting to dictate how we use it. Organically.

 

Posted in Compost, Construction, Farming, Gardening, Homesteading, Permaculture, Sustainability, Water Management | Tagged | 6 Comments

House Bound

I hurt my back lifting heavy fence posts the first weekend in December and was in pretty excruciating pain for a while. Unfortunately M had just left for Kansas for a week to attend his step-father’s funeral and to help his brother square things away when the pain started. I couldn’t sit down or lie down so there was no sleeping let alone getting into the truck and driving myself to the doctor.

I have a bad habit of grinning and bearing it but after five days of no sleep and constantly shuffling around the house 24 hours a day in a stupor I clenched my teeth, fought back the tears and drove myself to the doctor. I took the prescription meds although I really hate them, but at least they knocked me out enough to sleep an hour at a time before the pain would wake me again. M came home a few days later – thank goodness. He is an excellent caretaker when I am sick or injured and I was even more grateful to have him home than usual.

The timing of my injury and M’s Kansas trip made for a very low key Christmas with regard to “preparations” but surprisingly it turned out to be quite lovely – in fact we both have dubbed it our favorite Christmas together so far. It was also the first day my pain was manageable so I could relax and enjoy it. Thank goodness our larder was full of good things to eat and drink, and since Santa shops early there were still plenty of presents under our makeshift Christmas tree.

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Stocking stuffers are our favorites and tend to be food oriented. It’s a good thing since there wasn’t much done in the holiday baking department this year.

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With all of the time spent at home recovering but not being able to sit or lie down for very long, I had to find ways to keep myself busy.

I finished a sweater I’ve been picking up and putting down for quite a long time for M. I worked on it while standing at the dining table. The cats decided the sweater needed a little more texture and so did a little “weaving” in of their own every time I walked out of the room.

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He cleans up pretty well, doesn’t he?

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I knit a couple of hats using leftover yarn from other projects. I leaned against the kitchen counter to knit and read my patterns from my laptop perched on top of the toaster oven. My usual monochromatic tendencies seemed to have been affected by the pain meds…

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When M came back from Kansas we made bacon, sausage and braunschweiger

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with a very attentive audience

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With the Foodsaver Santa brought us I vacuum packed it all and decided to organize the freezer.

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I made new spice containers and organized the cabinets.

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I started some apple/ginger sauerkraut with my new fermentation kit. I have a large crock I usually do this in but really like having the ability to do small batches in mason jars.  This way I can experiment with flavors and not feel obligated to eat 4 gallons of something that turned out to not be my new favorite thing. The large jar contains orange peels, rosemary and vinegar – I’m steeping it for about a month to make my own citrus cleaner concentrate thanks to my new favorite book The Hands On Home written by Erica Strauss (thank you Santa!) who also has a great blog M and I both follow Northwest Edible Life. I HIGHLY recommend both even if you aren’t in the northwest. She is HI-larious and seriously makes home-keeping fun!

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Being the bartender in our house and a life-long passion for making “concoctions”, I gave M a gift bag for Christmas with all of the ingredients he needed to make his own tonic water – another great idea from nwedible.  It turned out super delicious and well worth doing if you are a Gin & Tonic fan, which we are thanks to a local organic distiller here on the island for turning us into gin fans. One sip at a pork butchery workshop and spirits tasting was all it took to convert us.

M replaced the section of rope the kitties had shredded to pieces on the scratch post he made them when they were kittens about 8 years ago. He also recovered their hideaway with fleece.  Siena is quite content to hang out in there and watch the birds eat from the feeder he got them for Christmas.

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Despite the painful start to our holiday season, it turned out pretty well in the end. We spent some relaxing time together, made and enjoyed delicious food and libations, as well as checked a bunch of things off of our home “to do” list.

Posted in Charcuterie, Cooking, Homesteading, Larder, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Partners

We took the weekend to scout locations for kiwi and to complete some fence details for our crew. After the logistics were complete we set to work chipping and preparing our timber chestnut plot for enclosure and mulching to slow down the canary grass. 

 

 
Up to now we let the grass grow tall as it seems to protect the little trees from sunburn and encouraged them to grow straight from the competition. Now under cardboard and wood chips it should break down and give nutrients to the soil. We added jingle bells to the trees in hopes that it will spook the deer until we return to finish the job and enclose the little area with a bit of fence. Trees require long term thinking.

I looked up while gathering deadfall limbs and prunings to see L chipping at a steady pace. After weeks of back pain she is doing better but I don’t trust her stoicism. I said “let me get that” twenty or more times. I’m over protective, my brother calls it “mama bear”.

Having a partner who wants the same goals is amazing. I feel lucky. Seeing her chipping away gave me a rush of love, appreciation, and a feeling that this farm could have easily been a one sided venture where one of us wanted it more than the other and the other was just going along with it all.

The list is slowly getting checked off. The line items that take multiple weekends to finish stare back at me in protest, or is it defiance? There’s that gate to be built and I need to figure out how to make a circle…  not because it is necessary but because it will please her.

Posted in Farming, Forest Management, Sustainability, Tree Care | 2 Comments

My Beautiful Organizatrix 

We made a few chalkboards. I’m not a fan of white boards since they stink, there’s a lot of plastic that goes in the trash, and they eventually become unerasable.

We hung them up, then I came home to this.



The scraps of molding I had laying around worked out well, and now meal planning seems quicker. We do a fair amount of planning nearly everything at the dinner table.

Food and love are deeply intertwined here. That list… Yeah it’s fuel… But it’s a lot of love too.

Posted in Larder, Sustainability | 5 Comments

Fencing 

Sometimes it is better to hire out some projects to get forward motion. Trading dollars for time is something I always have trouble with. I could do this!  L is always pointing out, while I am not doing this something else is getting done. As the saying goes, get it done cheap, fast, or well. Pick two.

L was laid up with sciatica from lifting fence posts while treating them with our natural wood preservative so I came down solo. We had a little snow which turned the two hour trip into four and I showed up just before dusk. Folks who live here seem to lose their minds when there are a few flakes on the ground.

When I got to the farm I dutifully consulted my list of tasks and finished coating the remaining posts. Next on the list was oil changes for the tractor and truck. I started with the truck since it was still warm. Using a headlamp and doing this when of you are knackered is a bad idea. I drained the transmission fluid by accident. When I realized my mistake I broke into a cold sweat. Luckily I was using a new drain pan and with a little creativity managed to refill the tranny.

Project done I hit the sack after 11.

The next morning our fence crew showed up bright and early and we staked the boundary together. I picked the best looking posts for high traffic areas and brought them out from the barn.

The post pattern took some creative spacing to work out the correct order. I started learning some Spanish along the way. Chico, grande, chico, grande… Short, tall, short, tall…


 

This line will be the most prominent. There is also a tractor sized gate on the back side of the fence out of sight.

Juan is the boss in the front center, Juan two is on the far left, Filemon is second from the left and Chimo is the new guy on the right.

In Mexico the tradition is to make tamales for Christmas. Lunch was warm and delicious.

All the while I kept L up to date with goings on and she kept things moving from afar.

I didn’t kiss Juan per my instructions, but I managed to bring home a big bag of tamales for L.

Day two the gravel was delivered for the area between the barn and the proposed home site recently backfilled after the septic installation. Most of the gravel had to be spread by hand as the dirt was too saturated from the deluge of rain we’ve been having and the tractor sank into it.


Once this dries it will be as hard as concrete and will shed water well. I left it about an inch proud anticipating compaction. This will be one of the highest traffic areas on the farm so it needs to be done right.

I like shoveling gravel better than sticky clay, it is a superior core workout. 😉

Posted in Construction, Farming, Gardening, Homesteading, Preparing the land | Tagged | 2 Comments

Ditchery-Doo

After a full year of ditch wrangling we’ve finally closed up the last trench. This short run is a stub for our future home, it carries water, power, and telephone. 

It was chilly work. I had on thermals, jeans, a sweater, a vest, quilted overalls, and two pairs of socks. When I switched from conduit assembly to shoveling layers came off quickly. Those same layers make bathroom breaks a bit of a puzzle!

I backfilled in the waning light with an icy fog  creeping down the hill.  Between you and me, I compacted the last bit with a victory “ditch jig”.

  

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments