Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sleeping in the hen house

Actually, it was a raccoon.  Joey just came home from work and found him sleeping in the hen's nesting box inside the coop.  Luckily, the last two hens are still o.k.

I just talked to a woman in the library whose sister lost 27 chickens to raccoons.  I texted Joey and he said he heard the same story at the hardware store.

I thought summer was the season of bounty and coons should have no reason to be hungry.  But apparently the drought has prevented the berries that raccoons eat from growing.  And raccoons have been in everyone's garbage, gardens, and hen houses.  The other day, Joey opened the garage door and one the size of Jip, our australian shepherd, stumbled out.

You know how in movies, whenever something sad happens, it rains?  Well today it poured.  So hopefully the sheep pasture will start growing, the sweet corn will rise above the weeds, and the raccoons will stop eating my chickens.

Sad Morning

It was a fox.

He came back again last night.  He dug through the chunks of cement we put up yesterday.

Joey found the rooster dead in the neighbor's yard.

Georgia is gone.

I laid in bed and cried this morning when Joey woke me up to tell me.

We have two hens left.

Georgia in the garden

Georgia driving the tractor

Joey and Georgia after moving to our new house

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hen House Raiders

Things are not looking too good at our little farm right now.  A combination of hot days, weeks without rain, and long hours at our regular jobs has been a recipe for near-disaster.  Our sheep pasture looks like the dust bowl of 1936, our sweet corn field is more weeds than sweet corn, and last night, three of our hens were killed and dragged away, probably by raccoons.

When I took Jip out this morning for his little walk around the yard I noticed quite a few feathers in the grass outside the wire chicken run.  Fearing the worst, I put him back in the house and went to investigate.  Sure enough, there was one rooster and four hens.  Three were gone, with nothing but feathers left in their place.

There was no blood on the ground, just the feathers on the ground near two gaps along the bottom of the chicken run.  I checked over the chickens that were left and none looked injured.  Luckily, our plucky little favorite, Georgia, was unharmed.

We've had Georgia since the summer of 2009, right after we graduated from college and moved back in with our parents in the Chicago suburbs.  We picked her and her sisters up in a cheeping cardboard box at our city post office and raised her in my parent's backyard pottery shed.  She then moved to the suburban vegetable farm where we worked together and then made the four-hour move to our little house in the country.  Since then, she's lived with three different roosters, and many other hens.  This is the second hen house raid she has survived.

Last weekend, I was counting in my head all of the animals we own and take care of, from sheep, chickens, rabbits, and dogs.  We were responsible for 25 lives besides our own.  And now we have three less.  I feel terrible that we didn't even hear anything amiss.  We didn't even know they were gone until I found the feathers left behind.  I hated to call Joey at work and tell him about the hens.

I'm pretty sure it was raccoons because some of the contents of the compost pile were pulled out of the fenced-in structure.  Tonight, Joey and I will have to work on fortifying the chicken coop.  I started piling chunks of broken cement from a short sidewalk Joey tore up around the base of the chicken run before work this morning.  We'll also have to figure out a way to make our compost heap less attractive to raccoons.

There's a lot about farming that makes you feel awfully guilty.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Woodpile Part II

Last Friday evening, when Joey and I got home from work, the cat in the woodpile was still there.  She had drank all of the water I had set out for her in the morning, but she hadn't moved.  I asked Joey to start pulling the woodpile apart to see if she was stuck.

After pulling some wood aside, we could see that she had somehow tangled herself in some mesh chicken netting that had been sitting on top of the pile.  So Joey put on his work gloves and I got some scissors.  The cat was pretty scared and was hissing at Joey.  It didn't look sick or injured, just mad that it was stuck.  So I grabbed a towel and some oven mitts and Joey was able to wrap her in the towel so she couldn't move (or bite him) while he cut the mesh she had tangled herself in.  Once she was wrapped in the towel and Joey was cutting her free, I think she realized we were trying to help and became more calm.  After cutting the last of the mesh, he looked her over to check for injuries and then let her go.  She ran without looking back.

I saw her this weekend, sitting in a neighbor's front yard with some other cats, looking perfectly happy.  We felt good that we were able to rescue her, but guilty that she had got caught in mesh we had thrown on our woodpile.  We never thought about anything getting stuck in it.  It is now in the garage.  We don't want to repeat that experience again.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Woodpile

I was a little late to work this morning.  Only a few minutes, really.  Let me tell you why.

This morning, when I was taking Daisy on her morning walk around the yard, we walked past the woodpile next to the garage.  I have been thinking about snakes in my yard ever since I almost stepped on one at my parent's house last weekend.  Me and snakes are like Indiana Jones and snakes: we hate 'em.  The give me the heebie jeebies.  So I was paying close attention to the wood pile, just to make sure I didn't see any of them basking in the morning sunshine.  I didn't see any snakes, but a pair of green eyes flashed back at me from under some wooden boards.

Daisy didn't even notice the creature, but I didn't want her to scare it, so I yanked her leash away quickly and took her inside.  It was a small brown cat and only it's head was peeking out from it's hiding place.  I took Jip out for his walk and avoided the wood pile so he wouldn't disturb the little cat.  I wondered if maybe she had gone in there to have kittens.

After I got dressed, (I walk my dogs in my pajamas, usually tucked into my farm boots...scared of snakes, remember?)  I went out to hang some laundry on the line and feed the rabbit.  Right before I left, I checked to see if the cat was still there.  I didn't want to disturb her in case she had kittens so I snuck up quietly and peeked at her.  She stared straight into my eyes and didn't move.  I'm not sure how long she has been there and I was afraid of disturbing her.  It's supposed to be around 90 degrees out today and there is no shade on the pile of wood so, even though I was running late, I ran back inside to make her a little dish of water.  I put it right next to her head and she didn't move.

I really hope she isn't stuck.  Joey and I will have to check on her tonight when we get home from work.  I don't know if she belongs to anyone in the neighborhood since there's so many cats wandering around.  I hope she's ok.  I'll let you know.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Monday, Tuesday

Yesterday was a total Monday.  Overflowing book drop box.  Stuck my hand in and was covered in peanut butter.  What did I say about eating and library books, kids?!

Dropped my car off at the Ford dealership Sunday night, still have not heard anything.  Sounds like another week without a car.  And getting up early to drive Joey to work.

Electrical work going on at my house.  New floors at the library.  Summer Reading Program preparations still underway.  "Reading is So Delicious!"  I've pulled out every children's book that has food, cooking, and eating and hung a giant pizza cut-out.  It makes me hungry to look at it.

Joey prepared all the wool for washing last weekend.  Now we just have to get started washing, drying, picking, carding, and labeling to get it ready for sale.  We are going to try playing around with some dyes for the wool that is not perfectly white.  I actually read about dyeing with Kool-Aid so we bought some packets last night at the market.  Should be fun...and smell good too.  At least better than the wet sheep smell that will be soaking in my bathtub.

Looks like another busy week...the kids out here are out of school and in the library now!

Friday, May 18, 2012

May Snapshots

Yay! 200 posts!  And now for the pictures of this crazy month of May:

Rhubarb and fresh brown eggs.  Made a delicious strawberry rhubarb crumble.  Yum.

Peonies in bloom.  So gorgeous.

Washing wool in the bathtub...even Jip got in the action.  This is Patrick the Border Leicester's wool.

Straight out of a horror movie...the lagoon of soaking wool.  Makes the bathroom smell like a wet sheep.  And yes, this was a Saturday night.  Wash some wool, go to the bar smelling like sheep, small town Saturday night.  Still marveling that this is our life. :)

Drying wool outside on a makeshift drying rack (really a sleeping cot frame from IKEA)

Joey does this to the dog as well. 

Hi baby face.

Rain barrel

Peas blossoming, snap peas soon!

Talk to you soon...gotta share our new drum carder!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Busy Bee

Hi folks!  Sorry it's been a while.  It's been so lovely outside, I have been bouncing around like a spring lamb from one thing to the next.  Since I last wrote, a whole weekend has passed, a BUSY week at the library, and now it is almost the weekend again!  I have been thriving on sunshine these past couple weeks, and so have our gardens!  I keep meaning to take pictures to show the progress of our peas, potatoes, and broccoli.  The little lambs have been growing like weeds.  The weeds have been growing like weeds.  And I have gotten totally behind!

Here are a couple things that have been going on in the last couple days:
-My friend Anna and I had a yard sale last Saturday
-I talked to my long-lost friend Karyn in California for about an hour and a half last weekend
-I dropped off everything we didn't sell at the yard sale at the Goodwill
-I went to the grocery store for a gallon of milk and ended up buying 2 bags of cookies, a carton of cookies and cream ice cream, a pint of strawberries, and an angel food cake (noticed how I restrained myself and didn't buy whipped cream)
-Joey sheared one and a half sheep (Molly was left with underbelly wool and wool pants on all four legs)
-We took the rest of the sheep to a shearer a few towns over (he cleaned up poor Molly)
-The sheep are naked
-Joey set up a rain barrel
-Joey and I washed wool in the bathtub
-We have been picking wool when we watch Netflix
-We ordered a drum carder to card the wool into batts (those things aren't cheap! Thanks Mom for the loan!)
-Our family friend, Larry is visiting and working on re-wiring the electricity in our house and updating all the reallly old fuses
-Larry parked his camper in our yard, we are those kind of neighbors, the kind with a trailer in their yard
-Our drum carder arrived yesterday!
-The local school got out this week and the kids have been swarming the library
-I have 2 weeks to finish up work on the Summer Reading Program, Preschool Story Times, and setting up our e-reader myself.
-And probably a ton of other things that I can't remember, so let's just say I've been busy :)

This is my 199th my next one better be a good one!  Pictures, I promise!  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cottage Industry

I'm sitting on my bed on this warm May evening, ceiling fan spinning overhead, dog panting next to me, books spread around me with titles such as Turning Wool into a Cottage Industry, Respect the Spindle, In Sheep's Clothing, and Hand-Dyeing Yarn and Fleece.  I can hear the sound of a tractor outside, Joey is starting to plant our sweet corn.

This is the year that we are going to start making some profits from this little homestead.  At least we hope... We have invested in $250 worth of sweet corn, jack-o-lanterns, pie pumpkins, gourds, and organic popcorn seeds to plant in our two acre field.  The other acre is in pasture for the sheep, which is our next endeavor: selling our merino wool.

It is definitely a learning process, and it's going to take a long time for me to learn to spin, but we are determined to process as much of the wool ourselves because it is very expensive to send it out to be commercially washed, carded and spun.  I don't have a lot of access to anyone willing to teach me hand-spinning (unless I pay for classes that are about 3 hours away) so I'm going about it the only way I know how: read everything I can and then try it myself.  The vast majority of everything we do on this homestead follows that exact same series of events.  Our copy of Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep is pretty battered and a stack of gardening books and Mother Earth News magazines is towering on the back of my toilet right now.   I always learn best when I have the guidance of someone to show me how it's done, but I can always turn back to books.

And so I've requested some more books through inter-library loan.  And I think I'm going to check out YouTube for hand-spinning videos.  Hopefully sometime soon I'll have some beautiful merino wool on my Etsy site, at the farmer's market, and possibly a local yarn store!

Some of our washed merino wool, ready for picking, carding, and spinning!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Preschoolers in the library

Oh my, is there anything cuter than a class of preschoolers?  Yes, preschoolers in rain boots.

I just had a class of 17 preschool students in the library for a field trip and they totally made me melt.  One of the things I start my field trip presentations with is the question, "What else can you find in this library besides books?"

And the answers I got from the preschoolers today were, "Books," "You can read books," and "I want to go home and see my mama."  So I guess that question was a little too much for them.  But they were pretty happy when I showed them where to find the Curious George and Thomas the Tank Engine books.

They got excited when I showed them all the dinosaur books, told them stories about a dog running loose in the library and about the person who dropped a library book in the toilet (which has become a good teaching experience) and talked about all the things you shouldn't put in the book drop box.

So even though it has rained for 3 days straight and my car is not working (because of the rain...gotta take it in and see what's going on), there's nothing that can bring a little sunshine to your day like 30 minutes with four-year-olds in little rain boots.