Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hand Crafted Bales, Man.

Do you remember the little white chicks that hatched here, back in June?  Aren't they pretty birds now?  Two handsome roosters like their pappa, Poncho, and two graceful hens.  This kind of hen starts laying eggs early, so I expect they may be laying eggs somewhere I haven't found yet.  I'm glad to have some more of the white leghorn hens in the flock, since their mother and aunts are past their most productive years.  The roosters are free to a good home, if you know of anyone who wants a white leghorn rooster.  

I paused the other day to take a picture of our hay baling equipment after Brandon finished baling the giant piles I raked up.  The pull behind trail mower is what Brandon uses to cut the grass.  The big green rake with an old tarp (and our muscles) is our hay collection system.  The baler box that Brandon built is still working like a charm.  It's quiet and meditative work to make the bales.

And here, amidst all the barn detritus, is our collection of hand made hale bales!  Not bad, right?  I estimate that we have at least twenty-five bales of hay.  You can see that the hay on the bottom of the stack, from our earlier efforts, has dried to a different color than the most recent hay, which is the greener bales on the top.  Brandon and I really enjoy our hay making experiment.  We think it's funny to tell people about what we are doing and see what kind of reaction we get.  Real farmers can barely contain their eye rolls!  

When I told my horse owning friend about how we were making our own hay, he explained that I could buy hay good enough for a donkey for a couple of bucks per bale, and if we bought the big round bales, it would be even cheaper.  Yes, but these are hand crafted bales, man.  My donkey gets home grown, organic, hand mixed, yuppie hay, that's been sun dried and hand turned, then baled to a size specifically to suit my arm strength.  Hay baled with love, even!  I'm sure this kind of hay would be very expensive, because if I were to sell you one of my bales, I would want more than a couple of dollars!     

The pear tree lost about a third of it's crown early this year, when a giant branch broke off.   The trunk is more hole that not, and has ants.  Brandon started talking about cutting it down before it falls on the house.  I don't even like to think about it.  It's been dropping pears all summer, but they were so small I kept waiting for the pears to grow as big as the past two years before I admitted that this year's pears are small ones, and it's time to harvest.  

The summer's experimental gardens taught me a lot about what the garden soil is capable of, and what type of insect pests are going to be the biggest challenges.  I think the best thing I can do for my future gardening self is to add as much organic matter to the clay soil as I can.  I raked up an entire load of rotten pears and dumped it for the chickens, who are fenced in the garden now.  I think I'll keep them there through the winter, which should give everything a good chicken poo fertilizer.  Now that Rufus is here, it won't be long before I'll have the garden coated in organic matter.  

The chickens might be locked in the garden, but they have self serve sunflowers, corn, and grain sorghum.  

They've already eaten most of the sunflowers and corn, and are just beginning to work on the sorghum seeds.  

What did we produce at our little farm this year?  Several things I tried didn't work out (pumpkins and peas) or I didn't follow through with (I never harvested the rhubarb, potatoes, buckwheat, or kale).  But the chicken food crops did well (sunflowers, grain sorghum, corn).  We had enough tomatoes from five plants that we ate our fill and had some to spare. We got to eat three melons, which is a first for us.  The basil never thrived, but the zinnias did.  The thyme plants disappeared entirely.   I got enough green beans to save the seeds for next year, plus those I ate raw.  We picked wild blackberries for cobblers, and now we have pears and apples.  With these things, a freezer full of chicken we raised here, and more eggs than we can eat, I'm pretty satisfied with the growing season, but I'm looking forward to the next one too! 

We Got Goals

I finally finished reading the Donkey Companion.  Among other things, I now know how to milk a donkey.  Well, in theory any way.  Did you know that donkeys can live for forty years!  Rufus is only a year old.  I can imagine myself at seventy-eight, out by the barn getting donkey kisses and picking burs from Rufus's ear hair.  If donkeys are like people, his ear hair will be extra wild by then, right?  If his hooves need trimmed every two months for the next forty years, then we better make friends with a farrier or learn to do it ourselves. 

While I've been reading about how to care for a donkey, Rufus has been learning about new and exciting things - like his red ball.  If you watch the video above, of Rufus playing with his ball (at least I think he's playing), you will likely be very bored and wonder when he's going to do something more interesting than stomp his front feet in the general direction of the ball.  Spoiler alert - he touches it with is nose!  It's kind of cute in the last scene when he gives me kisses, but otherwise, after a few seconds, you get the gist.  

Not only has Rufus learned about his ball, he is also learning about having a leash tied to his halter.  We don't have any trouble putting on or taking off the halter now, so I started introducing the leash.  Once he was cool with having it near him, and then on him, I clipped it to his chin.  

Whoah.  It's like having a snake attached to your face, I'm sure.  I let him drag it around inside his pen, and he stepped on it a few times.  If I hold onto it I can get him to take a few steps as I lead, but when he feels the pressure on his face, he holds his ground.   

Now that I've finished reading his manual, I know what our goals are.  The book is full of fun donkey stuff, like cart pulling and competitions, but from what I can tell, the most important thing is that he be able to be tied to the fence without freaking out, allow his hooves to be trimmed, his body touched, and to take medicine for worms.  He also needs to be castrated, poor fella.  The book is full of warnings about how unpredictable an un-castrated male donkey can be.  Like most things, I've been given conflicting advise.  One very experienced horse person told me not to have him castrated until he was over two years old.  The book says it should be done as soon as possible, even as early as six months.  Since it would be good to wait until there aren't any flies to land on the wound, Rufus and I are working toward a goal of being able to be tied, wormed, and handled by late fall or winter, so the vet can work with him for the surgery.  

Rufus and I are getting to be good friends.  He's very cuddly, and wants me to hold his face and neck and give him hugs and scratches.  We keep our lessons with the halter and leash very brief so we don't get impatient or bored.  Our newest game is to pull the cart through the pasture and collect donkey manure for the garden.  Thank you, Rufus! 

Rufus says, Blech!  This game is gross!

Wendigo doesn't think it's a gross game at all, but she must not have taste buds.  In the past week she has eaten donkey dung, a rotten egg, a snake skeleton, and a giant shed snake skin that was in the root cellar.  The snake skin was at least four feet long, and she gobbled it up like spaghetti!  Doh!

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Even when I don't think we are playing, Wendigo thinks we are.  She loves to play carry the hose or bucket as we fill water bowls, and playing at raking hay is her most recent joy.  Playing round up the chickens is fun at breakfast, and she's getting pretty good at catching the grains out of the air as I pitch them for the chickens, although chickens don't seem to enjoy games as much as puppies.  

Rufus gets in the spirit of play.  He makes me a little nervous since his version of play seems to involve lots of stomping of feet.  When the dogs and I take a walk with him around the fence, sometimes we run as fast as we can on the downhill part, and he runs with us.  At least I think he's running with us, and not running at us!  I lifted Wendigo into my arms recently while we were taking our walk, and Rufus got so excited by this that he turned and kicked the fence with both back feet!  That's the first time I've seen him doing the classic double barrel donkey kick.  With a little help from me, he and Wendigo even figured out how to play tug of war!  

In a match between a young miniature donkey and great Pyrenees puppy, who do you think will win this game?  

Just look at all that mowed grass that we get to rake up for hay!  Wendigo was pumped.  My shoulders are going to look pumped after all the raking I've been doing.  

Newt enjoys the hay raking game too, and sneaks between the piles playing avoid the puppy.

Tag!  You're it!  

As I drove out of the driveway yesterday on my way to work, I took this photo of Brandon and Wendigo already busy fluffing the hay so it could dry and I could collect it when I got home.

Wendigo and I raked all the little hay piles onto tarps yesterday, and tugged them to the barn.  Hay can be really heavy!  We folded the tarps over the hay at night, to keep off the dew, and this morning spread the hay and fluffed it again so it can dry in the sun some more.  It smells wonderful, like green tea and summer time.  Brandon has plans to bale this hay, but I've been thinking that we need a place to just pile it out of the weather.  Something big, and open on the inside.  Something like a hay barn! Duh!

The three little chicks made their first foray out of the chicken coop yesterday.  As it got dark, two of them were struggling to find their way back inside, since they have to go up to go in, and I couldn't stand to watch them as they peeped and cried for their mother, so I scooped them up and put them inside.  The mamma was not happy about my assistance.  

Last night, as I lay in bed completely physically exhausted, I ran through a list of all the things I did yesterday, trying to figure out why my body was so tired.  No wonder!  Here's my list: 
  1. Morning chores (unleash the chickens, top off chicken water bowls, feed chickens, feed cats, scoop litter box, feed dogs, dress myself, eat delicious breakfast that Brandon cooked- whew!)
  2. Go to work (thank goodness for some down time, right?), gas up the car on the way.    
  3. Go to co-op during lunch for shampoo and vitamins (plus about fifty dollars worth of stuff I didn't know I needed).  
  4. Make the dreaded trip to the grocery store after work, but it had to be done, because we were out of butter and coffee, which is no way to live.   
  5. After work chores (unload groceries, greet dogs and cats, clean donkey water bowl, fish kids toys out of the pool skimmer, top off pool water, check on baby chickens, collect eggs, take towels off the clothes line that have been hanging there all week -we must like our towels extra dry!). 
  6. Rub essential oils on the donkey (I love that I can say that) and work on halter training
  7. Walk dogs and donkey.  Work on leash training Wendigo.  Work on my patience. 
  8. Rake hay, pull giant tarp full of hay (and a giant puppy) to barn yard.  This is why my body was so tired!
  9. Drink a beer and stare at my beautiful hay pile sparkling in the sunset.  
  10. Wipe down kitchen.  
  11. Cook dinner (onions and peppers with ground beef in marinara with some weird green pasta made of vegetables).  
  12. Catch baby chickens and put them in the coop, lock coop door.
  13. Do yoga
  14. Eat dinner and watch a show with Brandon, who got home way too late so we were both starving.  
  15. Feed cats, feed dogs, put Wendigo in kennel/chicken coop.
  16. Go to bed and wonder why I was so tired.
  17. Sleep like a log, and open eyes before the alarm clock!  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rufus, Dressed in Rags

Lately, every time I get in the swimming pool, I think it's the last time for the season.  The water feels so cold when I first get in!  But my nieces and nephew don't even hesitate.  And their advice about how to warm up is good - once I'm in, I just have to jump up and down, and up and down, and then kick my legs like a maniac, and then I warm right up.  The secret is to be constantly in motion.  My youngest niece was in the pool before ten in the morning, on a rainy day even!  Brrrr....

I was excited to introduce Rufus to the kids this weekend.  When he saw them approach the fence for the first time, he took off for the other side of the pasture, and I had to coax back him to the fence with treats.  

It didn't take him long to figure out that having kid visitors is like being offered a buffet of treats.  He couldn't chew fast enough to keep them satisfied!  We tried to coax him to eat pieces of pears, but he wouldn't even try them.  He's not a very adventuresome eater.  So far he has rejected pear, apple, and watermelon.  He let me pry his lips apart so we could see his teeth and everyone laughed at how much they look like dentures.  

The kids were as amazed as I am at how delicately he can nibble sweet feed from a hand.  His fuzzy lips can extract a single kernel from between your fingers without really touching you.  It feels funny, but nice, like donkey kisses.  

Yesterday, Rufus let me put his halter on, and didn't even flinch.  He even let me take it back off again later.  We're making progress!  I've started rubbing some essential oil fly repellent (Flicks brand) on him with a rag.  It comes with a spray bottle, but he hasn't decided to trust anything that makes a scary spraying noise just yet.  This natural fly spray works pretty good, although flies still land on his eyelids, and I don't want to get any of the oil in his eyes.  He lets me rub him all over though, and I can even pick up his feet for a few seconds.  

Rufus, look what I have.  It's an old towel.  Don't looks so worried, I promise, it's clean.

He was mortified that I would put such a old and holey rag across his back, and take pictures of him wearing it!  Poor donkey, he's dressed in rags.

After I draped it across his back, he walked away and spent a few moments looking over each shoulder at it, and smelling it.  I thought for sure he would pull it off with his teeth.  I would have.

He was more interested in my phone than the rag on his back.  Every time I take a picture, my phone makes a clicking noise, like a real camera.  I think it's funny to watch his ears rotate to the camera each time.  What is that noise?

He never did take the rag off of his back.  Actually, I think he started to like it.  Maybe a little too much (wink).  

Donkey ears in the sunset.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

It Looks Like Fall While I Rake Hay

We have three new chicks, hatched right here at home, under one of the pretty orange buff Orpington hens!  This buff mamma was determined to make her nest in the nest box in the coop, which meant that the other hens squeezed in the box with her every day and laid their eggs beside her.  Each day I had to move the moody hen off the eggs, pick out the unmarked ones, and leave the ten eggs I marked with a permanent marker for her to keep warm.  Some days she would have so many eggs beneath her that the marked ones would be near the edge of her body, and I worried that they were ruined.  Some of her eggs were broken, most likely due to tussles for space with other hens, and she didn't always seem to understand that the eggs were supposed to be under her body, so I was surprised that she was able to get any to hatch at all.  She did pretty good for her first time.   

When I tried to take a picture of the chicks yesterday, she charged me with wings spread wide, and all I got was this picture of her feathers with a tiny black chick running for cover behind her.  I'm glad to know she has a strong motherly instinct to protect her chicks.  Now that I have two hens willing to go broody, I know it won't be long before the flock returns to the pre-fox attack numbers.  

Our schedules have been more than full lately.  Brandon's teaching and university involvement is in full swing, and he is displaying his art in simultaneous shows, which is always challenging.  He gets home late nearly every day, but still found time to mow some of our overgrown fields.  It's hard to tell in the photo above, but I raked this field by hand, to fluff the cut grass so it would dry for hay.  By the time I was done, my shoulder muscles were burning. What do ya know, I have shoulder muscles!  

I've been involved in some intense field work for my job, the kind that involves hiking in steep terrain, while trying, in vain, to defend against the thousands (I'm not exaggerating) of seed ticks that were impossible to avoid.  I'm itchy because of the many tick bites, although I didn't get feasted on as hard as some of my coworkers.  One of the guys I was working with got a spider bite on his cheek!  It's the kind of work that I normally enjoy - challenging physically and mentally, as the topography is steep and we must use maps and GPS devises to navigate.  Unfortunately, the heat and the ticks made it hard to appreciate the views and the wildlife.   

After work yesterday, I took care of my normal outdoor chores - cleaning and refilling water buckets, adding some fresh bedding to the chicken coops, pool maintenance, visiting with my animal friends, and gazing at the garden.  The garden needs more attention than gazing, but I just ate green beans and tomatoes off the vine, and picked the tiny melons that were buried in the weeds.  

The sun was low in the sky, and I was so tempted to retreat to the cool interior of the house, and do something novel, like cook a real meal, but I also wanted to bring in the hay that I had taken the time to rake into little fluffy mounds the day before.  With Rufus overseeing the process from his fence, and Wendigo getting in the way helping, it wasn't long before we had raked all the hay onto a big tarp, and pulled the giant bundle to the barn.  Do you think Rufus was so interested in this chore because he looks forward to eating all that hay this winter?

The garden looks like fall.  Oranges and reds and purples.  Even the green beans are pretty bunches of dangling purple pods.  

She sunflowers have turned brown, and their heads are nodding.  Little birds feast on the sunflower seeds.  

The giant mound of dirt that was generated by the pool excavation now supports a nice stand of grain sorghum.  The buckwheat plants are dying back.  One giant sunflower stands at the top of the mound. 

The head on this sunflower is nearly a foot and half across, and because the plant is growing from the top of the mound, it seems like the tallest sunflower plant in the world!

After raking hay and admiring the grain crops, Puck and I went inside, only to find a tiny little snake under the dining room table!  I believe it is a eastern milk snake, or maybe a baby black rat snake.  It was small enough that I think it could have come under the back door, which has a good sized gap.  It was a pretty little snake, and let me hold it and take it's picture before I put it outside again.  I told Brandon there was a snake in the house, and this morning he said he only woke up once in the night to find himself searching for snakes in the bed while he was sleep walking.  Just once? Not bad!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Handsome Rufus Wears a Halter

There's no time to blog any more, because I have a new friend!  The dogs and I like to spread some grain around for the chickens, and Rufus and I sip our tasty beverages and watch the chickens scratch while we hang out.  

There's a gap in the fence near my chair that he can stick his head through so he can get his forehead scratched.  Or, we all take a walk around the field, with Rufus on the inside of the fence and the dogs and I on the outside.  Rufus acts like he would like for Puck to come in the fence so he could kick him in the head again.  They are not yet best friends.  

He likes Wendigo much better, but sometimes paws the ground with his feet like he wants to play.  Or maybe he wants to kick her in the head too.  I'm afraid to find out!  He likes me well enough, and brays really loud when I come home from work, but still gets nervous when I'm inside the fence with him.  We're working on it though.  Since donkeys can live for twenty years, I figure we've got plenty of time to get comfortable with each other.  

The vegetation is so tall in his pasture, and he is so small, that sometimes it takes me a while to find him.  Can you find the donkey in the picture?  Where's Rufus? 

Next summer I want to try some electric fencing and rotate his grazing, but for now he has the entire half acre.  I can see trails through the vegetation - he seems to stick to his paths.  

I never see or smell any donkey droppings near the barn or gates.  I finally found his bathroom, which is at the bottom corner of the field.  He piles his droppings in a tidy mound, which will be very handy for collecting for the garden.  What a good donkey!

Hey Rufus, let me put this halter on your head.  Hold still...

Wait, don't run away and hide, I didn't get a picture of you with the halter!

Come on Rufus, it's been hours, just let me see how it looks.  I promise to take it right off. 

I finally had to bribe him with some sweet feed, but he wouldn't let me touch him even to take the halter off.  I had to get Brandon to do it from over the fence.  Doesn't he look handsome though?  

I don't think he likes it!
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