More Rain!

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On top of January’s once-in-10-years rainfall accumulation, we got more than ten mm of rain a day in February until the 8th when the sun finally shone.  Our muddy valley is sopping, dripping wet. Keeping the barnyard crew comfortable (and thus healthy and thriving) is currently a very hard slog.

The farrier came last week and to our relief pronounced the equines’ feet to be in pretty good shape, better than most he’s seen recently. Lots of horses in our area are up to their fetlocks in mud and nowhere dry to stand. 😕

Luckily our hoofed creatures have a dry barn floor, as well as a high spot here and there in the paddocks to take refuge on. We’re hoping it will dry up enough that we can get the tractor in the paddocks to scrape the worst areas…but the rain keeps falling.  Maybe later this week, fingers crossed.

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We ALL enjoyed Saturday’s sunshine, and the sky (!) somehow a richer shade of blue than I remember. Washed clean I guess. Sunday morning we were back to steel-grey heavens, with a little sun in the afternoon.

Even my fully roofed chicken pens are soggy. I can’t count the number of mud-filled wheelbarrows I have sledged over squishy fields to dump on the poo pile. It’s sure a good workout!

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I’ve learned some tricks since those first few winters, when I literally had streams running through my chicken pens. All summer long I throw heaps of veggie garden thinnings etc. in the pens, giving the birds their own private compost pile nirvana while building up the ground litter. By winter, this high ground deflects the surface water run-off around the pens instead of through them. When the chickens track in enough water that the ground gets muddy, (it has to rain a LOT for this to happen) I can use my trusty Restore pitchfork to pry up and remove the top couple of inches of mud throughout the whole pen, revealing fairly dry soil underneath.  This year, I’ve already had to do this two or three times in each pen. I will have to stop soon though, the ground height is dropping, with actual puddles seeping up in a couple spots. Time to change strategy and start deploying pallets over the worst areas to keep my girls out of the muck.

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The dust baths are stocked full of dry peat moss and wood ash from the fireplace. The chickens LOVE it, more so in this weather of course. The ladies’ public baths are crowded! Some birds need a bit more care, developing pendulous mud balls on their chests that need clipping out, or rinsing if it’s warm enough and they can run around to dry. I have never, in all my years keeping chickens, had the pendulous-mud ball issue before. It just goes to show that there’s always something new with chickens.

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This weekend, I can feel spring just around the corner. The osoberry is beginning to flower, and the alder catkins are swelling. Soon they will be dropping everywhere, detonating on impact in little yelllow puffs of smoke, and my poor DH will be sniffling and closing windows.
Of course the winter-flowering hellebore and snowdrops have been blooming for a while now. I wonder if we will get another dump of snow before old man winter is finished with us? These last few years, snow in February has been a thing here. I guess we’ll find out soon enough!
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Rain!

We close out January 2020 with [drum roll please] 262.6 mm of rainfall. Looking back ten years, a total surpassed only by Nov 2009’s 274.6!
And our little creek glorying in her power this morning, her raison d’être never more clear, roaring with joy as she ferries her precious cargo away, away, down to the Salish Sea.

A Donkey’s Nightmare

We keep Roxy and Maria as companions for our old horse George. He likes the company. If we pasture him away from his donkeys, he charges around and has a fit.

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We can’t keep them together though, George is too much of a bully for that. It’s one of those ‘can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em situations’ for old George. He has always been the dominant horse in the herd, compelled to assert himself,  and the donkeys are just no match for him, they’re too little! But he loves them. ❤️

When we put George out to graze, we always put the donkeys in the next field to his. The donks, being much smarter than a horse and fully able to get through most of our summer fencing, wisely stay wherever they are put. They embrace their role. Even though they have each other, and so don’t need George, they seem to know that the old grouch needs them.

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When the fields are too soft in our muddy valley, the three equines share a large paddock with drainage, split down the middle with electric fencing, a big walkout stall on each side. The stalls, deep and open to the east, are both winter morning sun traps and shadowy summer retreats. Whoever designed our barn knew what they were doing.

Its a good set up, but once in a while, as per normal when one keeps animals, something goes wrong. And something did, last week, as I discovered when I went out one morning to feed.

I barely glanced at George as I walked by him on my way to heave the barn door open. I registered that he was grouchy, but put it down to the sopping wet weather we’d had all week. I paid more attention when he charged into his stall and pivoted to toss his head at me, ears pricked well forward, plainly trying to get my attention.

That’s when I saw the snarl of electric fence wire spread across the stall mat, and somehow attached to George’s behind! He stood there facing me, one hind leg convulsively hovering in mid air, giving me a desperate look.

I quickly turned and pulled the plug, cutting power to the fence, then grabbed the hay bale scissors, turned back and flipped the gate latch open, stepping into the stall. I couldn’t see yet exactly how the wire was joined to the horse, but I could see one main string, so I snipped it as close as I could safely get to George’s hindquarters. He was still just standing there, lifting and lowering that one leg and gazing at me earnestly. Asking urgently for help to get this monster snake thing off his back legs. Did I mention that George is terrified of snakes?

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Now, I wasn’t going to just head for his tail and rummage around back there, not with him so antsy. I have in the past occasionally forgotten that George is a thousand pound prey animal with a relatively small brain, and paid the price in bruises. So I haltered him and ‘tied’ him (quick release), then having established that modicum of control, moved around back to investigate.

The wire was twisted in his tail, and threaded THROUGH the winter blanket straps that cross between his legs and up towards his belly, clipping the back half of his blanket on. How the hell did he do that? It seems an impossibility, but somehow he had. And he’d been running around, for who knows how long, all over the paddock, with an electric fence chasing him. Poor George.

With my scissors I had him freed in a jiffy, slipped his halter off and then realized! The donkeys! In all the kerfuffle, I had completely forgotten about the donkeys. I looked over their way, to see two sad little donks huddled in the corner of their paddock, looking quite shaken. Poor things. How long had they been trapped in the same enclosure as their upset next door neighbour, and he threatening them with that fence that bites?

I got the electric fence restrung as quick as I could, to give the donkeys respite, and then was finally able to feed the three equines and get on with the rest of my chores. George settled down immediately, munching away contentedly in his stall, but not the poor traumatized donkeys. They would not go near that stall, that horse or their hay!

He must have cornered them in there at some point. I did the best I could to reassure them, talking to them encouragingly as I filled waterers and feeders and let out birds. Eventually brave Roxy tiptoed into the stall and snatched a mouthful, retreating outside to chew. And then another. Soon she was spending more time inside than out, settling down to eat breakfast. It took Maria longer, but as I finished up and headed back towards the house, I saw she had dared to grab her first couple mouthfuls. I knew her fear would fade from there.

What a nightmare it all must have been for the poor donkeys. Clumsy George had not only done it to himself, he’d made them collateral damage. Oh George, you are such an oaf sometimes.

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Butter Press Lore

Our local curio shop posted some lovely old butter presses online just before Christmas. A transparent attempt to snare unwary butter-making customers, and it worked. Oh my, I thought, I need one of these! I make butter! I could have pretty butter!

So I sent my husband the link and voila, Christmas morning brought me the most adorable little vintage butter press. And a gift receipt, plus a gift card from the shop, in case I wanted another, or wanted to trade this one for a pricier. He had all the bases covered. ❤️

With visions of pretty butter pats sliding around on the hot pancakes I generally make with my leftover buttermilk dancing in my head, I pulled it out this evening, gave it a good scrub, and packed it with freshly made butter. The internet said to put it in the fridge and pop it out when chilled, which I did.

The results were not exactly as expected. So then I tried packing it and then un-moulding immediately. Nope, that doesn’t work either.

I will have to figure this out. There has to be a trick to it. Back to the internet I go, to search out some butter press lore.

LoreAccumulated knowledge or beliefs held by a group about a subject, especially when passed from generation to generation by oral tradition.

What an age we live in, where someone like me no longer possesses the lore that my homesteading great grandma a hundred years ago did, with regard to pressing butter. Yet I can still lay my hands on this lore, using a World Wide Web of freely available information, literally at my fingertips.

We are truly living through an information revolution. Just this evening, I have explored elderberries, their medicinal uses, propagation, growing and harvest; I have read how to make paneer, and ghee; I have learned about pulverizing the bones and scraps left over from making bone broth and dehydrating the resulting “pate” for dog treats; I have given a woman 4000 miles away my tips for making raisins; and I have shared a link to the comprehensive animal feed analysis online encyclopedia “Feedipedia” with a group of farmers wondering how best to feed their livestock spent brewer’s grain.

How many laborious hours at the library, in conversation and via correspondence would all this knowledge-sharing have taken me in the past? Hours and hours, if not days and days. It’s unprecedented in history, our access to knowledge. Such a gift. What will we do with it? Will it set us free? Will it enrich our global society? Maybe. Enlightenment is a good thing, right?

Time will tell, and in the meantime, I’m just going to figure out this butter thing…

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Priorities, Obligations, and Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

I took the last couple weeks off work; a much needed break from a role that can be quite intense at times. I love my work, but some days, most days actually, it feels like I just sit down in the morning, plunge in, and when I finally come up for air another day has sped by. Gone forever.

Home offices are lovely, but there are no water cooler conversations or coffee moments with co-workers to break up the day. So I am grateful for the barnyard crew who leave me no choice but to head outside around noon to hand out lunch and free / pen various groups. My barnyard obligations force me to break entirely, for a good ten minutes, from my screens and documents and email and meetings.

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In my late fifties now and aspiring to some form of “semi-retirement”, part way through 2019 I started booking Wednesdays off. So far it’s been great but doesn’t always work. Although my amazing team works hard to deflect, and my calendar is blocked from all-but-urgent meetings, I often end up with an hour or two’s work to do anyway. Priorities. Obligations. Self-imposed, of course.

This year though, I’m starting things off right, with no work and all play, which for me translates to getting a bunch of personal projects done. I am my father’s daughter, and have inherited his “industrious” gene. Yesterday, while organizing my office closet, I rediscovered a bundle of silk embroidery thread packets that I had gotten sometime last year at the thrift store. Two bundles actually, one all creamy shades of white and the other a riot of intense jewel tones, picked up because I saw the word ‘silk’, brought home and tucked away in anticipation of magical stitchery projects to come, some day when time would permit.

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A little tattered at the ends from being stored who-knows-where for many, many years, but still hanging in there, the paper skein holders date from 1894 to 1903. And when I unfold and carefully press one open, the silk inside is pristine, shiny, vibrant.

They “cost no more than Poor Silks – so why not use them?” asserts one of the ads, offers and instructions filling every corner of the considerable real estate on the forty inch long papers. Why not indeed? I bet the copywriter who penned those words had little idea that in the year 2020, a future customer would read them and reflect “yes, quality and here’s proof, 125 years and still going strong.”

Who bought them, I wonder? Based on the available information, it would have been a contemporary of my great or even great great grandmother’s. Someone who dressed in full length gowns with leg-o-mutton sleeves, at least until the turn of the century.

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This embroidery silk has far outlived not only its purchaser’s priorities and obligations, but her as well! 

This is a good reminder; time pauses for no one. I am back to work tomorrow, with all its myriad joys and frustrations. I shall take care to ensure I stay true to my priorities, as I carefully delegate away my obligations and thereby gain the time to embroider my retirement projects with vintage silk thread.

And make up for the sobriety of my youth, with, say for example, this lovely purple.

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Liza Saves the Day

Liza Saves the Day

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Late last night while peacefully practicing yoga,  Resident Gardener became aware of a new voice blending into her music. Glancing up, she saw Liza vibrating at the door. Understanding instantly, she dove for the doorknob, flung open the tiny house door, and urged “Go get ‘em Liza!!”

Liza was off like a shot, silently beelining at top speed through the dark to the coops. RG wasn’t far behind, pausing only to push her feet into her boots and grab her headlamp (that truly indispensable piece of wintertime barnyard equipment). They found the cream legbar pen door slightly ajar, nervously manned by a excited young rooster while his three terrified hens hid at the back.

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Earlier that evening, I had apparently neglected to latch the door firmly. An opportunistic predator, out testing latches at midnight like a prowler trying car doors, had discovered, no doubt to its great delight, an unlatched door behind which slept four tasty hens and a plump rooster. The birds had woken, loudly protesting the attempted kidnapping, and this had alerted Liza.

With zero insight into how many legbars were supposed to be in that pen, and me fast asleep at the big house, RG looked around, trying to figure out if any birds were missing. Meanwhile Liza, way ahead as usual, drew RG’s attention to the trail of feathers leading across the winter field towards the road and the wildlife corridor that runs alongside – aka ‘Raccoon Alley’.

Understanding now that at least one bird was out, RG latched the pen door, then followed the trail, which petered out. They hunted around fruitlessly for a bit, then gave up and headed inside. It seemed that some lucky raccoon family would be enjoying legbar for dinner that evening.

A while later, the chicken racket started up again, and again RG and Liza bounded outside, to find nothing new amiss. The coops were all shut up tight, and the missing hen was still nowhere to be found. RG speculated to herself that the noise must have been the poor hen’s last hurrah, coming from somewhere down Raccoon Alley.

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At bedtime, as RG was peeing the puppy before kennelling him for the night, she caught a small red eye reflected in her headlamp light, up in the tall grass behind the barn, where (generally speaking) small red eyes do not typically lurk. Yup, it was the missing hen, still in one piece and vainly trying to hide. Putting the puppy inside to free both her hands, and grabbing the chicken net from its hook by the main coop, RG caught the hen, who, for the third time that evening, protested loudly. “Hey silly hen” RG admonished, “shush up now, this really is your best case scenario.”

I’ll say! If not for Liza and her handler, this chicken story could have had a very different ending, with at least one hen and possibly the entire legbar breeding group taken out at the very start of breeding season. Phew! Disaster averted!

This has been a good reminder. I will have to be more careful. The many predators that call our valley home have families to feed too. They will take advantage of my complacency every time.

Thank goodness for Liza, the best livestock guardian dog ever. Hopefully one day puppy Arrow will be as good at his work.

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Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

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Solstice yesterday, and today’s gentle daylight promises to stick around a little longer. Slowly, inexorably, over the next six months, my much loved cool, silvery grey world will brighten, quicken, surge, harden, crack. The light, waxing insistently, will demand more and more attention, lavishing its deceptive friendly warmth (careful, it can sting!) until by June it reaches zenith. And grateful homage will be duly paid by all manner of chlorophyll-fed life, gathering up the energy that will sustain them through another year.

Then, as if raging against its own dimming, the light will turn on us, browning and burning the thirsty earth even as it reddens the tomatoes and sweetens the melons. And we will eagerly await the fall rains.

Northern human tribes have celebrated the winter solstice for eons, and I am quite aware that my feelings of loss at this time are not widely shared. “How can November be your favourite month!?!” my sister asks, faint disgust tinging her voice. It’s a good question, to which I don’t have the answer.

I am a morning person. I enjoy all the four seasons (although I must work diligently to appreciate summer). Yet I have always been more comfortable in the dark than in the daylight. My favourite childhood summer memories involve playing tag and riding bikes through long dusky purple evenings, streetlights switching on, hoping that Mom would forget to call us in until well after dark. And when I was ten, after our family moved out of the city to the streetlight-free countryside, feeling comforted by the friendly black night keeping me snug and safe. This was where I belonged. When I grew up and got my first city apartment, it was the light I couldn’t stand, not the noise. I got back out to the country as quick as I could.

Once my children were of the age to enjoy bedtime stories, Janice May Udry’s The Moon Jumpers, a simple story involving children playing after dark on a summer evening and joyfully illustrated by Maurice Sendak, was my absolute favourite. I know it by heart. We also enjoyed many ‘night walks’, roaming the neighbourhood well after dark. Did I pass on my love of the dark? I don’t know, you’d have to ask my children.

But there’s nothing to be done, it’s all out of my control, so I shall simply indulge myself with a little solstice sadness, and resolve to savour my dim grey days and dark black nights, before light chases them away for another year.

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Water Line!

Yay, the winter water line is in! Frozen water lines are only an issue for a few short weeks each year here in our coastal muddy valley, so this low priority project has been years coming. Water on tap in the barnyard in all weather. What luxury!

DH dug a trench using his own invention clamped on the end of his tractor arm thingy. Then RG took over, putting the final touches on the narrow trench, running and insulating the line then burying it, installing the tap and building it a snug insulated box for shelter.

Now it’s over to me to pick up some quick release hose connections. When a cold snap threatens, the plan is to detach the main feed, drain the water from the hose ends, close up the box and in the frosty morning hopefully find a working tap in the barnyard, right where it is needed.

This will be so much better than hauling heavy sloshing buckets of water all the way from the house! I love labour-saving barnyard devices. They leave more time for pure enjoyment.

Coffee with Silkies

Saturday morning. I slip out the back door and wander down our quietly drizzly muddy valley, hot cup of coffee in hand, to spend a bit of quality time with my silkies.

I know of no better way to really see my birds with clarity, to judge confirmation, health and temperament, than by just sitting in the pen in my lawn chair, spending time visiting. Watching chicken TV.

I carry a scoop of hen scratch, and the birds know it. Standoffish at first, within minutes they are crowding me hopefully, expectantly. I make them work for it, screw up their courage and take it straight from my hand. Tiny Chicken thinks first of her silkie children, as big as her now, as she uses her beak to scoop seeds out of my hand onto the ground where her chicks can peck them up quick before the other birds get there. Opportunistic feeders, chickens are. Every bird for itself and no holds barred, they will steal a bite straight out of another’s mouth with absolutely no compunction. Not the momma birds though, like mommas everywhere, they think first of their offspring.

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My showgirl cockerels are shaping up nicely. Mr. Black in particular is quite the gentleman. Tall and proud, as handsome as can be, he provides me an escort whenever I enter the pen. If I reach for a flock member, he attempts to intervene, but never aggressively. “Excuse me,” he indicates by positioning his body between me and my goal, “I believe my girls do not wish for you to touch them. Please desist.” I respond in kind, gently but firmly moving him aside.

Today he ate from my hand. It is good that he understands I am the creature from whom good things flow, but I won’t make a pet of him. Too often, once the hormones get raging, ‘pet’ roosters decide their humans are to be dominated and bred like any other hen, flogged for disobedience. Mutual respect is my goal. Partnership in flock guardianship, and me at the top of the pecking order, not him.

Should he, or any other rooster, attempt violence, I decline to enter into battle as some would recommend. Violence begats violence, in chickens as in people. There are always better ways. Instead, I’ll scoop him up, tuck him under my arm, and take him with me as I perambulate around the barnyard, seeing to this and that. Rendered completely helpless, in front of the whole flock no less, the humiliation is generally more than enough of a deterrent to change testosterone-fuelled attitudes, at least for a while. Sometimes the lesson must be repeated a few times. More rarely a rooster will fail to learn the necessary respect. These boys go on a one way trip to freezer camp.

This year’s silkies are shaping up nicely. I’m looking forward to next year’s breeding pens and brooding and hatching and egg selling. Bringing the happiness of healthy silkie babies to excited new silkie owners everywhere. It’s so much fun.

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Autumn Leaves

846E8DA0-25C2-4465-8FCA-56317AA65FFCThe weather has been wonderful so far this fall, cool and sunny, perfect for producing great drifts of sun dried leaves. The drier the better. Each year I gather as many as I can store and put them under cover; less moisture extends their shelf life. Leaves are so useful and the chickens enjoy them so much.

A thick layer gets spread across the entire silkie pen, it does a fine job of keeping the mud at bay even after the rains start. In the main coops, I’ll dump a tote full over the fresh wood shavings after I clean each week for as long as they last, for feathered tidbit-hunters to avidly scratch and peck through. Woe betide any little bugs who have made their homes in those leaves.

Momma Barred Rock vacated her room at the hen hotel yesterday, taking her seven children, now ten or so weeks old, back to live with the flock. Good timing Momma! That gives me a good sized leaf storage room for this year. It can hold many wheelbarrow loads, there are four in there now and still a ton of space.

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Of all the things we grow here in our muddy valley, the autumn leaf crop is one of my favourites. Looks gorgeous through spring and summer, and more so when it “ripens”. Zero effort to tend all year long, no seeding or weeding or slug war or watering or deer fencing required. Heck, leaves are even easier to grow than garlic!

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