Where I live in the PNW, snow is rare. We can go years without anything but the lightest dusting…if we get anything at all. Today I woke up to about five inches of the white stuff, which was enough to get me a paid snow day off at work! As I write this now, it’s still snowing, and we’re up to about eight inches. Tomorrow, it’s supposed to start melting, and the temperatures are supposed to stay above freezing even at night, so this is basically the perfect kind of snow. It comes, it looks gorgeous, then it goes quietly away within a couple of days, without turning into crusted ice.
Dexter, my corgi was extremely excited. He loves snow. We took him a long walk, and he enjoyed every second…even though the snow cmpletely buried his legs.
What was strange though, is I let the cat, Bundy, out into his catio, thinking he’d avoid the snow…but he loved it too!
Predictably, the ducks were ok with it, and they looked mighty pretty out roaming about the garden.
The chickens were less impressed. They HATE snow. Absolutely hate it. They took one look and refused to come out of the coop…even though they normally can’t wait to escape the coop every morning.
Goosie (who assumes she is a chicken because she was raised by a chicken mom with chicken sisters) thought she’d hate it too. But once I shooed her out into it, she couldn’t figure out why the chickens were being so weird about it.
I was going to show you the new raised strawberry planter I made, but now it’s covered in snow, so you’ll have to wait. Though it doesn’t look like it at the moment, spring will be here very, very soon, and I am rushing to get ready. I have my tomato seedlings growing in the kitchen window, and tomorrow I’m starting more seeds. I made a 3D paper mockup of the new bantam coop I’m building, and am so eager to get started building the actual thing…but first priority are some other projects. Update on those in my next post, once this white stuff goes away.
Oh, and if I needed anymore proof of spring on the way? Watch this:
Wow. I can’t believe June went by so fast! This time of month is always crazy busy in the garden…and this garden was crazier than usual because I had so many new animals. Mom counted all the animals on the farm and asked me to guess how many we had. I think I guessed something like forty. The correct answer? SIXTY-TWO.
Sixty-two critters: chickens, ducks, quail, pigeons, rabbits, guinea pigs, plus one cat and one dog! Of course some of these are not going to be staying here forever. Some are being raised specially for meat (seven chickens have already gone into the freezer), and some are going elsewhere. Two of the black copper marans chicks, for example, have already gone to live with a friend of mine. And I have a few young roosters that will have to leave pretty soon. Anyone want some mottled cochin roos? They are super cute! Or how about a silkie roo?
I LOVE these mottled cochins. They are so adorable, and they are turning into sweeties. They will jump into my lap for a cuddle.
The Muscovy ducks are also proving to be a win for the farm. They are getting HUGE. Especially the drakes. They were always skittish as babies, but now they are realizing that I am the one with the food, and they are taming down enough to let me pet them. I will be keeping three: two hens and a drake. Since I only have two girls, there’s no difficult decision there. As for the drake, I’m pretty sure I’ll be keeping the black one. It’s funny, because that is specifically the one color I said I did not want. I wanted ones with lots of white on them, but either they are super hard to tell from ducklings what color they will be, or the breeder I got them from didn’t know how to tell. She gave me black ones, and chocolate ones, and solid blue ones…and one solitary chocolate and white. Oh well. I love them anyway! And they are already devoted bindweed eaters!
Mom and I roasted marshmellows and hotdogs in the garden Sunday.
Dexter approved wholeheartedly. Especially once we pulled out the hotdogs.
I have a weakness for watercolor art. Part of it is how wild and unpredictable it seems, to work with water. One of my friends, Colette Griffith, recently discovered she has a talent for watercolor, and has been making some gorgeous paintings. One of them is a custom portrait of my corgi, Dexter.
I gave her this photo of Dexter:
And she painted this portrait:
I think she truly captured him! (I particularly love how she did his paws…I’m a “paw person” and I always loved Dexter’s big corgi feet!) I’m definitely going to ask her to paint me another…as soon as I settle on which animal/photo.
Colette enjoys doing custom art, and she told me she’s currently doing several paintings of business storefronts. She does amazing architectural watercolors.
Her animals, as you’ve already seen with Dexter, are wonderful too.
It’s entirely possible my next request of her will be a chicken. Ellie, my favorite soul-mate chicken, already has one watercolor portrait of her…but what queen doesn’t need more than one official portrait?
If you would like Colette to do a watercolor for you (a pet, storefront, or childhood home, perhaps?) she is accepting commissions, and her prices are extremely reasonable. It depends on the subject and size, but mine of Dexter was only $20!
She is still working on settling up a website, but you can contact her at email@example.com
The plans to get Muscovy ducks is moving along. I called the farm I want to buy them from, and confirmed that they can ship to me. Actually, they can’t ship to me, because my city is too small for one-day shipping, but they can ship to the larger city right next to me, and I can go pick them up at the post office there. I think I’ll have them sent in May. The weather will be nice by then, so I can move them asap out of my house (ducklings are incredibly messy) and out into the grow-out coop.
Brand new on the agenda for this year is pigeons! I have this wonderful pen that has never really lived up to its potential. I’ve had quail in it, rabbits, and most recently, guinea pigs.
It’s wrapped in plastic right now because of the guinea pigs. None of these critters use the entire space, ground and upper flight areas, which is a shame. So I moved the pigs into a vacant quail coop that gives them ample floor room, freeing up this pen for pigeons. And I’m planning to wire over the rooftop garden, incorporating it into the cage as even more space for the birds.
I’ve long been interested in pigeons because I love pigeons, but I have a little hawk that lives in the field next door, and I’ve watched her take down the wild pigeons in my yard. While I definitely don’t begrudge her a dinner, I don’t want her dinner to be my animals, which has kept me from getting homing pigeons. The whole reason to have those is to let them fly free, which they couldn’t safely do in around my house. But recently, I stumbled across a website about utility pigeons – pigeons raised for eggs and meat. I had pigeon when I was in London, and really liked it, and I like the idea of having animals that are useful in several ways. Plus, pigeons helped many people make it through the Great Depression – and since we’re headed toward even worse times, another source of sustainable backyard protein is highly appealing to me.
These are king pigeons, the variety I would most likely get. They are extremely domesticated, calm, and gentle. They are heavy enough that they don’t really fly well at all, so being kept in a pen is preferred for them.
And how are the guinea pigs doing? When I first got them, all the American websites said you absolutely cannot keep them outside. The British websites were full of people doing exactly that. So of course, I went with the British way of doing things…with the knowledge I may have to bring them inside during the coldest parts of winter.
I haven’t had to do that. I wrapped their run in plastic both to warm it up slightly, and to protect from wind and rain, and they’ve been happy as two pigs can be. When I open the door, they come running for treats.
So yeah. These are definitely outside pigs now. I did, as I said above, moved them to a smaller pen, also winterized in plastic for the winter.
You can just barely see Freddie in there.
We’ve been having some decent days lately, and the past couple of weeks I’ve been out working in the garden. Last year, I moved one of the quail coops out of the garden, and where it used to be, I built a small wall out of mason blocks, and added a new garden bed behind it.
The wall both adds a bit of privacy and definition to the garden, and it also provides some protection for the mini fireplace in front.
I also moved a couple of cold frames behind the greenhouse, and put in a larger raised bed where the cold frames used to sit. It’s a prime “hot” area, and will be terrific for tomatoes.
All winter long, I’ve been dumping the rabbits litter boxes into the chicken’s compost area, and now I’ve started shoveling that out into my veggie gardens. It’s great stuff – even fresh, rabbit poo won’t burn plants, and this is partly composted and full of worms and other beneficial stuff.
Just about a month left, and I’ll be able to start planting! The garden is ready for spring. The trees are budding out, the roses are sprouting leaves, and the bluebells are green.
Now the race begins…which will happen first: spring or the rapture of the church? Hopefully the second, but at least if I’m stuck here on earth a little bit longer, I have ducklings to look forward to!
Meet Fiona. She is the new companion for our previous guinea pig, Freddie. Fiona is not AT ALL the type/color of pig I was looking for, but sometimes you just interact with an animal and know they are the one. She is more shy than Freddie, but equally sweet, and also likes to snuggle in against my neck, underneath my chin.
Freddie is still getting used to her. Last time I had them out together, Fiona was snuggling under my chin, and Freddie came alone and bulldozed/flipped her right out of the way and laid down in her place. Interloping pig! This is MY human!
They are going to be moving into the garden roof coop outdoor soon – which will be their summer quarters. Lots of room to run and play! As a first step toward that, we moved my mom’s pet rabbits out of that coop and into a brand new pen of their own.
Both sections of the top lift up, for ease of cleaning, and it has an access door on the front for feeding and litter box cleaning.
I really enjoy designing and building these things – and this time it was easier than ever because I had my mom do the parts I hate, like cutting and nailing the wire to the frame (hey, this pen IS for her bunnies!)
My rabbits are settling into their life as colony rabbits. I have two does together, and although they are sisters, they did have some issues at first – particularly through their first pregnancies…when they turned into hormonal rage monsters.
The only damage was little hair-pulling and chasing and growling – but now, even though both of them are pregnant, they are perfectly sweet with each other, enjoying grooming sessions and long cuddles in their litter box. Seems like they just needed to get their dominance issues worked out.
At almost nine weeks, I just moved Thistle’s last litter of kits into my separate grow-out pen. It is so cute to see two does and a passel of babies all happily living together. Love, love, love the colony system of rabbit raising! Both does are currently pregnant for the last litter of the year, so it will be fun to see TWO litters playing together in the Bunny Barn!
And speaking of rabbits, thanks to them, I am able to eat meals that are entirely home-grown in my backyard urban farm: meat, veggies, and herbs – the only things on this plate that I didn’t grow are the salt, butter, and soy sauce!
Let’s talk about the rabbits first. I wish I would have gotten meat rabbits years ago – they are fantastic! Such easy care, especially in a colony system, and I am discovering more uses for them besides meat. Sorrel, my buck, is such a tame sweetie, and his favorite food in the world is hedge bindweed…luckily enough, hedge bindweed is the greatest evil in my garden. I’ve taken to penning him outside in a bindweed-infested area, and letting him take care of the problem. This is pre-bunny:
This is post-bunny (I removed the chair, once it was freed from its chains):
In this pic, I’ve actually enlarged the area over to the left, so he can start cleaning the bindweed out of the compost/bucket storage area. He loves it! It’s amazing how quickly one bunny can make bindweed disappear! And for those of you who might have seen bindweed on the list of plants poisonous to rabbits, never fear. After turning the internet upside down and hearing from a vet with knowledge of bindweed, it turns out that there are two different varieties of bindweed: hedge and field. Field bindweed is the poisonous one. I have hedge bindweed, and it’s supposedly edible even to humans. I tasted a leaf, and while I was expecting it to be bitter, it was actually good. I’m still a little leery of eating it myself, however! It just seems…wrong.
We’ve had about five rabbit meals now, and each was terrific. I’m super impressed with how tender and good it is, and from six 5lb rabbits, I’ll be able to get around 19 meals for the two of us, counting things like liver and broth from the bones. I’ve heard you can even make rabbit bacon…I really want to try that!
In other critter news, the snowflake bobwhite quail pair has moved from one coop into another. They used to be in the ‘display coop’ in the center of my garden, but it’s really not a great cage for a flighty bird like bobwhites – too difficult to clean when I have to worry about them spooking and flying out. I put them into a slightly larger coop in the chicken garden.
I’ve noticed that quail and chicken like to be in company with other; the chickens hang out around the cage and the quail like to watch them. Plus, the quail like to eat the fermented grain I feed the chickens, and in two days they’ve already learned what it means when I call the chickens to dinner, and they’ve started demanding their own share. Since they are so close, it’s easy to throw a little into their cage! They’ve also started building a nest. It would be nice if they decided to start a family – but they did try last year, with no success. The male has a slight leg deformity, and I wonder if perhaps he’s unable to mate her properly.
The other reason I wanted to move the quail out of the display coop is because it’s difficult to wrap in plastic during the winter to keep out the wind and rain. The new plan is to keep part-time critters inside it, ones who will occupy it only during the summer, and in the winter will be moved inside. Specifically, a pair of guinea pigs!
I was not intending to immediately get the pigs, but I sort of accidentally-on-purpose wandered by the rodent section of a pet store, and they had this little girl.
Meet Winnifred (also known as Piggo). I’ve had a number of guinea pigs during my life, and while most of them were nice, I’ve NEVER met a pig like this one. From the first instant she met us, she loved us. She snuggles under our chins and purrs and chatters happily the whole time we’re holding her. When she’s tired, she falls over on her side on my chest with her little legs stretched out and takes a nap. She likes Bundy, our cat, and isn’t frightened by our extremely excited corgi – even when he can’t contain himself and jumps or scratches at her cage.
Now I’m keeping a look-out for a friend for her. I’d like one of the wire-haired ‘teddy bear’ type, but we’ll have to see what shows up.
Lastly, I tried the old cucumber trick on my cat. If you’re not aware of this, go to YouTube, and search for cats and cucumbers. It is hysterical. Unfortunately, Bundy did not have quite the same reaction:
And I’ll end this blog with a couple of cat-in-a-box photos, because if there is one thing on earth Bundy is obsessed with, it’s boxes. When a package comes, he’s often trying to force his way into the box at one end, while I’m cutting open the other. This particular box…well, it was a bit of a tight fit.
And first off, let me reassure those of you who know her….no, Ellie hasn’t died. In fact, she is in perfect health. But she is a miracle hen in more ways than one, and it’s time to tell her whole story.
Ellie came to me about eight years ago, via a mail order delivery that went wrong in so many ways. Several of the chicks died, but Ellie was one of the lucky ones that made it.
She was a teeny, tiny little Welsummer, who I thought was a rooster for a long time because of her super long legs and demanding voice. She used to stand on top of her water bottle and call for me to come pick her up. She knew, even before I did, how special our relationship was.
A few animals are just like that. Some people call them ‘heart animals’, those special one-of-a-kind beasties that touch you and connect with you in a way other animals haven’t. Ellie is definitely my heart animal.
She put up with my costuming (although she was extremely leery of Captain Jack) and she quickly learned how to make a beeline for the back kitchen door whenever I let her out into the yard. She knows where all the good treats are!
She has perfect trust of me, and she’s the only chicken I’ve ever entirely trusted as well. I know she won’t try to peck my face, and before she jumps up in my lap, she makes a special point of pooping first – friends don’t poop on friends!
Her one flaw is her insane jealousy – she doesn’t want to share me with the other hens. If I hold one of the other girls, she turns her back on me, and walks away, sadly.
And then she stands in a corner, looking back over at me until I relent and put the other chicken down and pick her up instead.
She has me trained, a peck on my knees means I should sit, so she can sit in my lap. A peck on my shoes means I should take her on a walk around the yard. I’m not even making this stuff up. None of my other chickens are remotely like her. They are sweet girls, but Ellie is special in so many ways.
When she was a little over a year old, she began to suffer from vent prolapses. I don’t recommend googling this unless you have a strong stomach. The pictures aren’t pretty, and most chickens don’t survive unless they have a very mild case of it. Ellie’s case, while not horrific as some, was incessant. It was happening continually, for months, every time she pooped or laid an egg. She was a very, very good girl, and would let me help her, and I got very skilled at returning chicken internal parts up where they belonged, but I was in constant fear and dread. I knew if this continued, one day she would either prolapse so badly that she couldn’t be saved, or one of the other chickens would peck her so badly that she got an infection and died. Part of the time, she was sleeping in a crate in my bedroom to protect her from the other girls’ pecking…but that wasn’t good, either. Hens need to be with other hens, and a hen separated too long from her flock can lose her pecking order status in the flock and become an outcast. I got a few months respite during the winter when she stopped laying…and I hoped the rest would let her heal, but the following spring/summer, she was back to where she was before, only worse.
I couldn’t bear it. I was spending hours, nearly every day, researching prolapses on the internet, calling vets, trying to find some solution, and the whole time I just felt this endless, oppressive dread pressing down on me. I seriously thought I was going to have to either put her down, or else I’d come out to the coop some day and find her a bloody, ripped-apart mess. I’ve had lots of animals I’ve loved and cared for, but none of them have ever torn my heart apart like this little hen.
One afternoon, though, I was sitting with her in my lap, and I was praying over her as I often did, and God answered me. I heard a voice, as absolutely clear and audible and separate from myself as it’s possible for a voice to be, and the voice said: “Stop being afraid.” And instantly – instantly – all the fear and dread I’d been living with for months just lifted away and was completely gone. Absolutely vanished. Then the voice said: “You don’t have to worry anymore. She will not have this again.”
And I believed. There was not the slightest doubt in my mind. From that second on, I knew Ellie would never have a prolapse again. And she hasn’t. Not for seven years. Seven years, from that very instant when God cared enough to reach down and heal her. And not onlyheal her, but actually speak to me. Because He knew, that if He didn’t explain to me what had happened, I’d still be fearful every time she started laying eggs in the Spring; I’d be constantly worried it would start happening again. He spoke to me, because He didn’t want me to have that dread in my life. He just wanted me to be able to enjoy my summers with my chicken.
This is our God. He is a God who still works miracles, and He is a God who not only cares about the sparrows, but also about one little chicken.
The rabbits are moved into their new hutch/run, and they are so happy. Happy, happy rabbits.
Daisy and Dandelion.
I filmed a brief video hoping to catch them romping, but of course they didn’t romp on cue. I’m told that a few minutes after I left, they were tearing around in circles, chasing each other.
They have piles of raspberry, blackberry, and apple prunings to eat.
And a tub of dirt to dig in, if they wish. And hopefully, if they wish, they will contain their digging to this tub.
So far, they haven’t dug at all. The tub is just to sit and look cute in.
They are excellent at looking cute.
The summer kitchen progress is moving right alone…but so far, it’s all prep work. There is a lot of prep work. I dug out all the gravel from the former duck yard, and half of it went as a foundation to the meat rabbit pen, and half went to the summer kitchen. Gravel drains well, and is nice underfoot. The part you see in the back, is where the summer kitchen will be.
To the left, the bamboo screen needed to come down and be replaced. It was meant to cover a decrepid rotting fence – but the neighbor has since built a new one, but rather than removing the old one, he just moved his new one inside his property line. So I took down the bamboo, and tore out the old fence myself. It made a mess.
It made a BIG mess. Old rotten wood and rubbish everywhere.
Now that the fence is down, though, I gained about half a foot of space, and some firewood, since we’ll cut up the old fence boards to burn. I’m also putting the bamboo back up again, since the neighbor’s new fence is too low and too gap-y for my taste. I don’t feel private or content on my property if I have to see the neighbor’s yard all the time.
Also, I had a brainstorm. One thing our garden is lacking are quality shaded places to sit. See this potting bench? In summer, the honeysuckle tree shades it, and it’s the coolest part of the yard. And I never use it to pot anything; it’s purely decorative.
Decorative when it’s not full of winter mess and junk, that is. But I’m going to take it out, and put in a lovely arbor there. And the potting bench, if it will fit, will become part of the summer kitchen counter. All it needs is a new top; the base is still really solid.
Inside the house, mom’s been doing a lot of crocheting. Dexter and Bundy help.
I meant to do a regular update on the Rufus-Sided Towee eggs that were laid in my clematis, but as usual, time got away from me. So here is the story of the eggs, all at once.
So ugly they are ADORABLE. Resisted the urge to cuddle them, but I do occasionally give them a pet on their little fluffy mohawks. At a few days old, their eyes are closed, and they can’t distinguish me from their parents. Anytime I approach the nest, they start begging for dinner.
A few days older still, and their eyes open. Now they know I’m not their mama, and they tend to give me the closed mouth stare of disgust.
Occasionally, when they’re really, really hungry, they still try to talk me into a little treat on the side. (There are still three in the nest, though – one is just hiding in this shot.)
And a surprisingly short time later, they were ready to leave the nest. I happened to go out and visit just in time to see it happen.
They still can’t properly fly – which freaked me out big time when I saw them fluttering and flapping around at the base of the clematis. I actually tried to put them back in the nest, thinking they’d jumped out prematurely. But they weren’t having any of that! After googling it, I discovered that several varieties of birds (Towhees among them) actually do leave the nest before they can fly. It certainly didn’t slow them down any. Just a few minutes after I took this last picture, all three were gone with their parents, over the back fence and into the field behind us. I hope they survived. It must be hard, to leave the nest before you can fly!
In other news, I had a great hatch rate from my last batch of shipped coturnix quail eggs – out of 12, 8 hatched.
They are mostly grown up now, and are outside in the newest coop. This is a terrible picture, and I still need to put on the roofing material, but here’s a shot of it.
It is divided down the middle by a removable screen, so I can either have two cages, or one big one. At the time of this picture, I had my older pair (Loki and Sweetie) in one side, and their son in the other. He was a solitary hatch, so he’s really happy now that the new quails are big enough that they can all be together in one pen with him.
Here’s a close up of his side:
And here’s the pair in theirs.
Speaking of the cages, everyone asks why I spray paint the wire black. The reason is simple: it makes the visibility SO much clearer. I painted one side, then took a pic, just so you can see the difference.
Totally worth the couple minutes it takes to paint!
Bobwhite quail video (with surprise guest appearance by Goldie!)
I had a chicken go missing the other day. It was right before I had to leave for work, so I was running around the entire property (inside and outside of the chicken yard) calling her and offering treats. Nothing. Not so much as a single lost feather. I asked my favorite hen, Ellie, where Booty was, and Ellie marched into the coop and stood there, cackling.
But Booty wasn’t in the coop, was she? I checked behind all the storage bins and buckets, in case she got somehow stuck. No sign of her. I was sincerely thinking she was gone, but if a predator found her, I wanted to know, so I could take precautions for the rest of the girls. I took one last tour around the yard, and when I finished, Ellie was still standing inside the coop.
“She’s not in there, Ellie,” I said. “I looked.”
Ellie stared at me, with what can only be described as a ‘humans are soooo stupid’ kind of expression. Might I add, that while Ellie was standing in the coop, and I was running around the yard looking, the other chickens were busy eating all the treats I had thrown around trying to call Booty? It was really strange that Ellie was just standing there, and not eating the treats herself. Really, really strange.
Could Booty possibly be in here somewhere? Was there any possible place I hadn’t looked? There wasn’t…unless…yes. The crates we use as nest boxes are slightly raised off the ground, and Booty IS a little hen. Could she have crawled underneath? I lifted up one of the nest boxes, and there was Booty, caught in the process of laying a stealthy egg…or two…or six.
And obviously one of the other hens had managed to squeeze under there too.
Ellie gave me one last ‘took you long enough’ glance, then stalked out of the coop to see if any of the treats were left.
We’ve been looking for a young, black, shorthair male cat for a couple of years now, but the right one was never at the shelters. A few days ago, we were at the gas station, when a truck pulled up at the next pump.
“Hey – do you want a cat???”
We look over, he’s offering a black, shorthair male kitten.
“Yes, please!” Clearly, he’s our cat. And he’s perfect. Sweet as anything, with the most gentle paws I’ve never seen on a kitten. But he’s also not shy or afraid – from the instant we brought him home. He’s not fazed by old cat’s dislike of him, nor by corgi Dexter’s intense, crazy adoration. We literally could not have been given a more wonderful addition to our family. The only thing he needs to learn is to stay off the kitchen counters!
The little frizzle cochins are also super sweet – the most friendly chicks raised by a broody hen that I’ve ever seen. They like to be cuddled, and when I bring out the camera? They pose. I must have taken fifty pictures of the little fluffly butts yesterday.
Broody mama Boudica is still stunned by how floofy her children are….
Besides playing with all the new babies, we got in a third load of free wood chips, and have been busy spreading them out in the garden. We finally mulched over the whole of the kiwi/grape vineyard – going all chips, instead of grass. Less to mow! This the area where I’ll be building the newest quail coop – just out of frame, behind the blue chairs. Also out of frame, on the opposite side, is our beehive. It’s still doing splendidly, and this part of garden will be a relaxing area to sit and watch the bees and the quail. If we ever have time to relax…
P.S. The logs in the photo above will be going inside the quail coop once it’s built. Quail like things to stand on. Tiny little birds need to feel like Rulers of Their Domain!
While gardening, I discovered a bird’s nest in my clematis.
It turns out that the male rufus sided towee who has been drawn to my garden because of the wood chips, has attracted a mate! The nest is only a couple of feet off the ground, so I’ll be taking pictures of the babies regularly once they hatch!