14 November, 2014

Welcome, noisy pest control

This past summer we added two new varieties of critter to the Manor of Mixed Blessings: rabbits and guinea hens. The idea behind the rabbits was a more reliable supply of meat than poultry, and the idea behind guinea hens was improved insect pest control, but sometimes it doesn´t really work so we hire a local pest control expert to do the job perfect. New residents quickly learn that rodent control Tampa is necessary when living in Florida, and having a reliable company to handle an infestation is crucial.

People will tell you that guinea hens are noisy, not nearly as bright as chickens, and prone to strange panics. When my guinea fowl were younger, I was quite smug because they were quiet and relatively well-behaved residents of the Manor. Clearly, either my guinea fowl or my husbandry skills were superior.

Gentle Reader, nature will make liars of us all, and smugness is unbecoming in a farmer. The guineas hit maturity and the summer began to shift to fall and oh dear.

The first crisis for the guineas was that leaves began falling from the trees. Every time the wind blew and leaves cascaded down, the peaceful air of the Manor was disrupted by the alarmed shrieks of guineas, who would immediately bolt for cover. The chickens usually went with them, I guess on some sort of general Poultry Solidarity Principle.

Just when the guinea flock became accustomed to falling leaves, temperatures got cold enough that I shifted to my cool-weather hat and coveralls. This was the occasion for more alarm, because evidently recognizing people no matter what they’re wearing is not a guinea strong suit. The chickens seem to have no problem with it, but guineas? No, not them.

They’ve also had severe problems learning where the door is on the run they sleep in. When we go out in the morning to let them free range, there’s often at least one or two (this is an improvement, previously it was the whole flock) who will relentlessly beat their heads against the wire trying to get out of the pen. The pen they entered through the door they now cannot locate. The strange disappearance of the door provokes more piercing calls of alarm, because when you’re a guinea being separated from the flock is the Worst Thing Ever.

The Second Worst Thing Ever is to not have a black chicken to follow around. I’m not even sure what that’s about; it’s just that they’ve latched onto “black chicken” as their savior. There are three of them in the flock, and the guineas get incredibly distressed if they can’t find one to follow around. It’s a mystery.

They haven’t been all bad, though. They eliminated an infestation of Japanese Beetles in the corn patch, have eliminated poultry losses to aerial predators, and the one that Sid the Wonder Dog killed when it decided to play in the dog fence was freakin delicious. At this point I’m severely tempted to buy a batch of French Guineas, which have been bred for meat production, to stick in the freezer in lieu of spare roosters.

23 January, 2014

Dealing with Unexpected Thanksgiving Guests

I almost forgot to tell y’all this story. On Thanksgiving Day the husband and I went out to do the chores in the morning and discovered two black vultures had locked themselves in our chicken pen.

The chicken pen is normally left open at all times so that the poultry who sleep there can get in and out to free range at will. The day before Thanksgiving had been cold and drizzly, and we’d tossed some leftovers into the pen so the chickens and guinea fowl could get a good meal and stay dry. Among the leftovers was a chicken carcass, which is probably why we ended up with a pair of vultures.

They were beautiful and by far the calmest of the birds who have gotten trapped in our chicken pen. Once a juvenile Coopers Hawk got in there and couldn’t get out because our three game roosters were taking turns beating the crap out of him. Another time a crow got in and then, despite the vaunted intelligence of corvids, couldn’t figure out how to go out the door he’d just come in. Both the hawk and the crow were upset and panicking, although admittedly the poor hawk had reason to panic what with the roosters trying to kill him.

The vultures on the other hand were very mellow. They didn’t get upset until we got within about eight feet of them. The rest of the time they hung out, preening and exploring and pecking things. We opened the door for them and left them to it, and they continued to hang out on the ground right next to the open door. They preened, they took dust baths, they pecked at the empty feeder. I was starting to feel guilty because here it was Thanksgiving and they’d been locked in all night and might be hungry, so I found them the rib cage of a rabbit carcass we’d roasted and tossed it in to them. They thought food delivery was pretty good.

A few hours later, however, their idyll came to an end when our flock of guinea fowl discovered them and ran them out of the pen. Six guinea fowl are, apparently, able to terrify two young vultures into submission. Who knew?

6 June, 2013

This year, people, this year.

Inside the last month I’ve felt kind of like we were The House Of Death. My rehab project goat Chism didn’t make it — the vet thought he was too far gone by the time he got to me for me to actually save, and I wound up having to have him put down. Then we lost Barachiel, our big black long-tailed Sumatra rooster, and yesterday we lost Captain Crooked Toes, our ginger-red standard Old English Game rooster.

Chism’s death was a blow, and I’m still grieving him. He deserved better, and it hurts hugely that I wasn’t able to save him. I ended up having to take him to Tidewater Trail Animal Hospital since the goat vet couldn’t make it out here for a couple days when I called. Dr. Andi sent him on his way with love and kindness while I scratched his special very itchy spots on his face. They’re normally dog and cat vets, but came through for me in a big way on this one and I can never say enough about their professionalism and compassion and wonderfulness.

Barachiel and Captain Crooked Toes were smaller blows, but still. They weren’t even on the list of “Roosters I Would Like To Drop Dead And/Or Put In The Freezer In Plastic Bags”. They were both gorgeous, but more to the point they were not only gentle with their hens but valiant in the flock’s defense. Both of them have gone up against hawks who were trying to prey on the flock, pitting their rooster selves against predators designed for killing while the hens got away. The only bright spot is that the standard Old English Game hen just hatched five chicks, and two of them look to be children of Captain Crooked Toes while one looks to be from Barachiel, so provided the little fluffballs make it to maturity we haven’t lost their genetics entirely.

Death is a part of agriculture as old as the first human being ever to domesticate an animal, but for me at least it’s never an easy part. Even a rooster destined for the fridge is an individual who deserves care and compassion, and every death deserves to be honored. Especially when it’s a death for my benefit, for that matter. But being human it’s hard not to get attached at least a little bit, and these three deaths were all so wasteful.

10 May, 2013

Busy bee watch the world go by

I did my first hive inspection since releasing my queen bee from her little cage yesterday, and am happy to report that the hive is thriving! There was brood in all stages of development from eggs to larvae to pupae to capped, there were cells of stored pollen, and best of all the bees had drawn at least some comb on all eight of the bars I’d started them on. I gave them two more bars to work on, a new jar of sugar syrup, and opened up another entrance to the hive so the foragers would have an easier time getting in and out.

Establishing the hive has been a fit of drama in and of itself. I got my first package of bees this spring from Virginia Bee Supply, one of two local apiaries, after doing my internet research and finding nothing but good reviews. I picked the package up at the end of March, brought it home, went to install it in the hive and…the queen was dead.

A beehive cannot live without a queen. In a normal hive if something happens to her, the workers will make an emergency replacement if they have brood of the right age to turn into a queen cell. But a package of bees doesn’t have any brood, it’s just 3 pounds of loose bees who have to start from scratch. With no queen, they’re basically a headless body and doomed to die.

So I called immediately and let Virginia Bee Supply know that my queen was dead. They told me to wait 3-5 days because there was probably a queen loose in the package. Weather conspired to make me wait a week, and when I opened the hive all I Found was dead bees. I sent them an e-mail to explain that to them, and they told me to combine the remaining bees with another hive. No good, I didn’t have another hive. Anyway, what I had paid for was 3 pounds of bees and a live queen. Not, y’know, 3 pounds of dead bees who just didn’t know it yet. I sent them another e-mail and suggested that the appropriate thing to do at this point would be to refund my money.

And then I didn’t hear from them for two weeks. At which point I e-mailed them again because what I had left was six bees clinging morosely to the inside of the hive. I recapped our previous correspondence and again requested a refund. This time they got back to me and said of course they’d refund me, since they hadn’t heard from me since the initial call to say the queen was dead, they assumed everything was fine.

Insert sound of record screech. Wait, what? I had the e-mail right there in front of me where I explained that I didn’t have another hive and would like a refund please. You know, the one they ignored. Right. Anyway, I got my refund out of them about a month after receiving a box of dead bees flying. Meanwhile I had ordered another package from Pigeon Mountain Trading Company.

I waited anxiously for a ship notice from them, and never got one…but one morning while the neighbor was working on my truck and my CRV was still dead, I got a call from the post office saying that there was a box of bees waiting for me. Wait, what? So I called the neighbor and got him to hurry on my truck and went and got my bees a couple hours later, much to the relief of the postal worker. He was pretty sure the three hitchhikers on the outside of the package meant that the bees were escaping, despite my reassurances.

That second package arrived hale and healthy and ready to go, with a marked queen in her little cage. She was significantly larger than the dead queen in the first package was, for that matter. And her colony is thriving, working away at filling up the hive with comb and brood and food. They’re building beautiful straight comb on the top bars just like they’re supposed to, almost as if they’ve read the same books on top bar beekeeping that I have.

It’s fascinating to just stand outside the hive and watch them work, really. You can get quite close and they do not partiularly care; once you get to about three feet out a guard bee will bonk you with her head to warn you off but otherwise they are too focused on gathering pollen and nectar to bother a quiet human who just wants to stand and watch the foragers zoom in and out.

At any rate, Virginia Bee Supply may be a great place to get hives, and even a great place to get bees if everything happens like it’s supposed to, but my experience suggests they’re rather useless when something goes wrong. Bees from Pigeon Mountain are great, and they have good prices on things like protective gear, but don’t send shipping notices when mailing you three pounds of stinging insects who will make your post office personnel very, very nervous. Hopefully this will be the last time I need to buy a package, though. I don’t intend to go into professional beekeeping, after all, and would like to top out at 2-3 hives. I hope to be able to establish those hives by splitting my original hive, since these are such lovely, peaceful, productive bees. I’ve also contemplated ordering a queen from hardy survivor stock that a localish apiary sells when it’s time to split the hive.

13 December, 2012

Moving Right Along

Math final on Saturday and then I’m done until the beginning of January, when I start my last semester at my friendly little community college. Then I have to make some decisions about things like big scary four year universities. Aie!

Beauty and her surprise baby continue to do well despite cold temps; she’s a very attentive and thoughtful mother. The other chickens are all irate because they’re locked up, but the hawks just will not leave them alone. I think it’s the influx of transient winter hawks crowding the ecosystem around here, and the chickens may therefore be locked up until they move on in the spring. Just the other morning, Daniel spotted the sharp-shinned hawk who’d been terrorizing our chickens standing next to the grow-out pen, window shopping. It let him get to within ten feet before flapping lazily off.

There’s not a terrible lot of exciting news, really. We’re chugging along, prepping garden beds and caring for goats and chickens and waiting for spring!

26 November, 2012

Well that was exciting.

Yesterday was the monthly Total Goat Stall Renovation, which involves removing approximately 60 cubic feet of used bedding from the goat stalls and moving it to the compost heap. During all this activity we noticed a hawk calling repeatedly — it was pretty unusual, since in our experience they’ll call once or twice and then shut up, presumably for fear of attracting crows.

At any rate, we finished up and went back inside and I happened to glance out the back window while taking my boots off just in time to see a hawk swoop in. I immediately pulled my boots back on and ran outside to find the hawk on the ground with a 12 week old Speckled Sussex pullet pinned. Feeling that the life of a pullet was worth more than my dignity, I ran straight at it yelling obscenities, at which point the hawk took off and the pullet scooted into a hollow log.

As the hawk hit the trees finally the crows saw it and began their usual raptor persecution routine, FINALLY. I dumped the pullet out of the hollow log and checked her over, she was totally fine. Lost a few feathers but no serious injuries, evidently the hawk hadn’t hit her with any of its talons and hadn’t had a chance to get its beak on her.

The chickens are now on lockdown for an undetermined period of time. This morning when we came out not just the adult hawk but a juvenile were sitting in the oak trees, patiently waiting for us to let their breakfast out. Hahaha, hawks, joke is on you. There’s two little hens who don’t sleep in the pens that are in danger, but the rest of the flock is safely locked up for now and I’m thinking of setting out feeding stations with all kinds of snacks preferred by crows.

21 November, 2012

The herd shrinks in preparation for spring growth

I can’t believe Thanksgiving is tomorrow. We’ll be heading down to see my parents, and Frankie and First will be riding along to go to their new home. With Josie off being bred in preparation for her move to Wisconsin, that takes the herd down from 12 to 9 goats. Once Sophie is a little older I’ll probably also offer her for sale, but for right now I’m interested in seeing how she looks as she grows up, so she’ll hang out for a while.

In other news, there’s not a lot of other news! Finals week is approaching at school, I’m making soap like a fiend, and Daniel is working a part-time job to help keep us all fed.

How are you, gentle reader?

12 November, 2012

Patience is not my strong suit

So yesterday I worked like a bugger to get the shop ready to open, and then just couldn’t wait until Tuesday to open it. So as of this morning you may visit Holy Goats Emporium for your soap and lotion needs. As a thank you to my faithful readers, use the code BLOG10 to take 10% off your order!

31 October, 2012

That was a close one.

We’re all fine here at the Manor post-Sandy. The goats were a little grumpy about having to spend 2 days indoors, but they got over it with the massive application of piles and piles and piles of tasty hay, and also love. Things are getting back to normal now.

The other reason I missed Monday’s posting (and queueing one up for this morning!) is that I have been busy busy busy with my splendiferous, fabulous new project.

I wasn’t going to tell y’all about it until it actually happened, but I find that I am getting way too excited to keep it to myself, so I will make you be excited with me: on November 13, I’ll be opening an Etsy shop with all kinds of home-made goodness — soaps and lotions using milk from my gracious, generous, giving goat ladies. All of the products are handmade right here at the Manor, from scratch. Daniel would probably prefer that I stop doing it in his kitchen, but y’all will have to buy a LOT of stuff to build me a soap studio, so for now he has to deal. The shop name “Mixed Blessings” was taken, so if you would like soaps and lotions made using milk from happy goats, you’ll be buying from the Holy Goats Emporium, shop name Holy Goats.

I didn’t start out to be sacrilegious, but then I realized that the phrase “Chickens, dogs, and holy goats” has exactly the same rhythm as “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” and I was sold. I dropped the first two, though, since neither chickens nor dogs are involved in the lotions and soaps.

There won’t be a terribly large range at first, but I’m looking to expand as I find out what sells, and of course there will be a discount code for the grand opening just for you who are my faithful blog readers (Hi Dad!).

I jest, I know for a fact that there’s more than my Dad out there reading. What’s hilarious is that the Best Mother Ever is not, in fact, a regular reader, and thus gets all her blog news from my Dad if I don’t remember to call her and tell her first.

So there you go, gentle readers. We survived the storm and now you know what’s been keeping me hopping like a frog on a hot griddle, besides trying to compare the bets credit for bet365, I just love gambling way too much.

How are you?

26 October, 2012

A non-goat post!

I know, I know, a shocker! We’re nearly caught up on goats but I thought y’all might like a break. Besides, there are critters other than goats running around here, after all!

And recently we’ve discovered that we’ve been spending way too much money on dog toys. On a whim, we gave Zille an empty 2L soda with the cap on. She loved it and had a great time with it and finally crushed it into a flat mangled thing sort of reminiscent of modern sculpture, so we gave her another one. Only this time, we filled it with water first.

Gentle readers, I do wish I’d gotten video. She had the best time with that thing, and her favorite thing to do was to grab it with her front paws and shove it backwards, sending it shooting through her back legs so she could spin around, growling fiercely, and do it all over again. She did that for hours. She finally punctured it after a day or so and crushed it into the same mess as her first bottle, so we gave her another one. That one didn’t last quite so long, but she has to wait for me to finish this bottle of ginger ale before she gets another one.

As each bottle becomes a crushed and no-longer-fun mess of chewed plastic, she takes them over to a spot she’s designated for piles of things that are no longer any fun and leaves them there. At least she’s being neat about it, right?

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