October 28, 2009

We lost another guinea the other night. Apparently, after they were already closed in to the pen for the night, something inspired them to escape the pen and they managed to fly out through some small gap in the netting to roost on the garden fence(six of the eight anyway). The next morning we were down to seven guineas. I suspect the culprit was the owl that has been hanging out in the edge of the woods lately. I was pretty bummed to learn that the pen was not the inescapable safe haven I imagined it to be and that it only took one night out in the wide open to suffer losses from predators. Because there was no carcass to deal with and I can't tell the guineas apart from each other, it was more like the guineas as a unit lost a little weight rather than a death in the family. At least we found out, albeit the hard way, that the pen could use some more security measures.

Here's a few photos I took from up in an old oak tree the other day while wandering about our property taking in the fall beauty.

"It's a hard knock life for us.."

October 21, 2009

Since I last posted, we've had a couple of heavy frosts. No more pretty nasturtiums for salads. The frosts have officially done in the few summer stragglers left in the garden, but the kale, broccoli, lettuce and other fall crops shrug it all off as soon as the sun hits them. Despite the chilly nights, we are enjoying some beautiful, balmy, blue sky days. I'm itching to go for a hike somewhere!

Just yesterday the lady bugs made their appearance, numbering in the thousands! The past few years have really made me hate ladybugs. It's like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, swarms of them, always managing to fly straight for your face, sometimes even biting. And that nasty lady bug smell! Even in the house you can't be free from them as they manage to find their way in through every crack and crevice. I remember naively making the comment a couple of weeks ago that it seemed we had missed the ladybug epidemic this year. I spoke too soon.

The outhouse is SOO close to being done. I was tempted to cross it off of our project list the other day, but if we do that we are likely to mentally cross it off as well and never finish tying up the loose ends. At the beginning of the year, the theory was to have the outhouse finished and available for use during pizza parties and summer gatherings, but... NEXT year. I can often associate with how Alice must have felt when she was in the world on the other side of the looking glass, where you have to run REALLY fast just to stay in one place! A whole spring and summer have flown by and it seemed sometimes like we hardly got a moments rest but somehow have very little to show for it. Then I look at all of the canned goods on my shelves and remember where much of the time went, and I'm satisfied.

October 17, 2009

Woodstove weather is here! It is time to relearn the fine art of keeping the fire going strong but small so as not to turn our shanty into a sauna, an act easier said than done. People often seem to worry that we won't stay warm in winter out here, but we are usually trying harder to not stay TOO warm. So, have no fear for us.

Despite having been through one frost already and with others soon to come, our garden is still bountiful. For lunch we had salads of fresh lettuce, spinach, basil, nasturtium leaves and flowers, ground cherries, snap peas and alpine strawberries. It was so pretty I had to take a picture.

We vegetarians are not the only ones experiencing a bounty of food right now. It is hunting season, which means that Lily and Wilson are enjoying a feast of fresh carcasses around the woods. They will disappear for hours at a time and then come waddling back and want to sleep it off by the fire. We learned our lesson the other night, however, when Lily about chased us out of the house with a bad case of carky butt. (Carky butt, a term coined by a friend of mine, can be defined as foul smelling intestinal gas due to gorging oneself on deer carcasses.) Until hunting season is over, the dogs will just have to be happy with a few extra blankets on the porch. On the bright side, I'm looking forward to lower pet food bills for the next few weeks.

October 14, 2009

You've Gotta Start Somewhere

The egg on the left is the first attempt at egg laying by one of our last young hens to start laying. All of the first eggs have been small, but this one is just precious. It is only barely the size of a half dollar, perfectly round and warty. The only one of our young hens yet to lay is Chickadena, and I'm beginning to wonder if she ever will. Not only that, I'm beginning to wonder if "she" is the appropriate gender label. Her tail and neck feathers are looking very roosterish, but there's been no signs of crowing or spurs developing. On the other hand, her body shape is very hen-like. She is definitely the loner of the flock and prefers to hang out with us (we've spoiled her). Secretly I think that she may be an asexual, genderless chicken who will probably never lay an egg or announce the rising of the sun...not that there's anything wrong with that.

October 06, 2009

Free As A Bird!!

We took the plunge yesterday and released all the birds after about 6 days of confinement. It was mid-afternoon before the guineas had ventured more than 20 feet from the pen. They move as a cluster, so close you can hardly tell where one bird ends and another one starts. At least a couple of times an hour they would get spooked by something, undetectable to human eyes, and then proceed into a flurry of squawking and running which seemed only to further spook them. All together, though, they seemed to be greatly enjoying their new found freedom. The moment of truth came at dusk when I went to close the chicken pen for the night. Peering through the window with the head lamp on, I saw eight little guineas lined up like sardines on one roost!! Looks like a success.

This morning when I was serving up some scrambled eggs for breakfast, Joe commented on how pale they were. I had noticed the same thing, but it was only then that I realized these eggs were collected at the end of the chickens' confinement. I had heard that the goodies chickens find while free ranging give eggs that rich orangey color, and this was our first real proof of that. After only six days of being restricted to a commercial diet, their eggs were starting to look like any old grocery store egg. And our wallets are also happy to see the chickens free ranging again because they went through a LOT of feed while penned up, way more than they do when they are foraging for themselves.

Lily is doing great, so great she's convinced she should be allowed to go on adventures again. We've held strong though and been limiting her exercise to leash only. She returns to the vet tomorrow to have the tube removed from her face. I've been tempted to take pictures, but don't worry, I still haven't. :)

October 02, 2009

They say bad things happen in threes. If I consolidate both dead guineas into one incident, then I think we've reached (if not exceeded) our limit in the past couple of weeks. First it was the mysterious disappearance of one of our young hens, just barely beginning her egg laying career. Then came the guinea murder and mutilation. Last, but certainly not least, has been the bizarre incident of Lily's swollen head. Upon returning from our camping trip last weekend, we noticed that Lily had a golf ball sized lump on her right cheek. She seemed normal enough otherwise, so the dismembered guinea took up our immediate attention. Lily had been through a similar situation once before when her leg swelled up from what we could only assume was an insect sting as there was no other sign of injury. That time the swelling had gone away on its own and we assumed the same would happen this time. We were wrong. Rather than go down, the swelling continued, slowly at first, until Lily's face had doubled in size! After a trip to the vet this morning, Lily now has a tube sticking out of the side of her face and is on antibiotics. She is about the saddest sight you've ever seen. Don't worry; I didn't take any pictures.

Whereas Lily will be spending the next few days in a crate, the guineas are finally out of one. Their introduction into the chicken pen has gone quite well. In addition to expanding the size of the chicken house to provide more roost space, we also built some new nest boxes to accommodate the recent increase in laying hens. The chickens and the guineas are on lockdown in the pen for about a week so the guineas can fully imprint the pen/house as "the place to be" and the chicks can develop the habit of laying their eggs in the coop, rather than under the pickup truck as they have been. To the guineas, the pen is practically total freedom. They are beside themselves with excitement, stretching their wings, hopping from roost to roost, etc. The chickens, who are used to free ranging and following their heart's desires, are not exactly happy with the setup. According to the author of one chicken keeping book I read, to say a chicken can be bored is "unnecessarily anthropomorphic". Well, I never was one to shy away from anthropomorphizing, and that guy has obviously never spent more than 30 seconds at a time observing a chicken. My chickens are bored to tears. Tensions are flaring and insults are quickly passed down the pecking order. Poor Chickadena, the very bottom of the chicken totem pole, has no one to take it out on but the guineas, and they are too fast to catch. I am tempted to grant a pardon and turn everyone loose tomorrow, but the longer we can hold out, the less chance the guineas will choose to go feral as soon as they taste true freedom.

On an un-animal side note, here's a couple of the sweet potatoes I harvested from my boss' farm. Too bad we just missed the state fair.