Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Goldies Go Abroad, Or, 200 yards...

If you are one of the fans of the chickens, you know they haven't been able to range for several weeks in the back yard because the grapes are ripening and they cannot be trusted. Even though we've been moving the chicken tractor, and I put in a copy paper box lid in full of dirt for dust bathing, they still miss going out and about. So a couple weekends ago we tried an experiment, a field trip!
First steps out...
Investigating tasty weeds along the pond's edge.
We let them range for two hours. I sat in the shade and wrote in my journal.
Here they are investigating the little red barn...
Peeking around the tree...
Dumb dumb Goldie here got separated from the other three and called and called. I had to go over and lead her to the other Goldies mooching around the other side of the pond.
And here is a random picture of one of the smaller bullfrogs floating in the pond.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

At Home with Mr. Fox (and other wildlife)

These pictures were taken almost two weeks ago when I had the afternoon off from getting some dental work. Dental work is generally a bummer, but capturing these shots made it worth it. I was actually walking from the kitchen to the family room, when I saw the fox right by our bird feeding station. I think he was checking for some seed. I kept walking hoping he didn't notice me so I could get the camera out of the family room but when I came back he was gone. Molly however was pressed against the glass of the window, looking towards the field, so on a hunch I snuck out to the front porch and took these shots. I think he's so used to no one being around that I was able to get these. Also, thank the zoom lens. Here he is goofing off, being a a fox. the blurry picture of him is just to show you how close he was to the road, as a truck went past.
After several minutes of watching Mr. Fox, I reluctantly went back inside. I was going to do some yoga before going to work, but a thought kept nagging me, how could I get into something when another photo opportunity could present itself? So I did a little laundry, tidied up around the house, so I could still look out windows. Finally I got the camera and went on the front porch to check on him. My timing was impeccable, I got these shots through the glass of our front door. I'm posting all of these so you can see what his "gait" looks like.
So after he whipped around the left side of the house, I rushed back to the dining room thinking I would capture him high tailing back to the back field and fence line. I waited, and I waited. No fox. Where could he be? He could have double backed and crossed the road or he could have went back into the field or even cut across the neighbor's house. After about ten minutes, I went to the front porch and started walking quietly into the yard in front of the herb garden. For some reason I had this sense that he was on the south end of the house, maybe sunning himself in the dirt where we removed one of our garden boxes when we got the shed. It's a good thing I got the zoom, I got this shot of him, asleep under our propane tank without him knowing. Look at him in his afternoon napping spot!
Luckily, when I left for work a couple hours later, he had already vacated the spot so I didn't have to worry about him getting scared by the garage door opening. I also checked under the propane tank and realized that he's probably been using this tank as a nap spot for a while, as there are two circular depressions in the long grass. How could I have not noticed it before? My fox sense wasn't over yet. When I drove home that night I idly wondered if I might see the fox even though it was full dark and right before I pulled into the driveway he darted in front of the car and curled up in the ditch where our culvert is. My biggest fear for Mr. Fox at this point is that he will get hit by a car. He's been spotted at the corner our road and the busy state route. I haven't seen him since, but if I do and get a snap of him, you know I will post it here. I've been too busy to catch any decent humming bird pics. I need to just sit on the front porch at about 7:30 in the evening but am always caught up in doing something else. Ah well, I better get on it as they will start migrating around Labor Day. Speaking of migrating, we have 15 kildeer running around our yard. They are so great, I love the way the run, their cry, and their plump little bodies being scootered about by their legs. We didn't have any Kildeer nesting in our yard in the last two years which I don't get at all because of all the gravel for the lavender. I've spotted bluebirds in our birdbath, they'll be on their way out soon and I only see a few swallows here and there. Speaking of birds, I'll have a chicken post very soon.
And here's a couple midling deer pictures taken in low light as I was caring for the chickens.

Monday, August 13, 2012

It was 20 years ago this month...

Many of you already know that I was very active in 4-H for the full ten years I was eligible. I joined 4-H in the third grade and started out with rabbits. I raised dutch and californians (as pictured below). Rabbits were fun because they weren't huge, and I could raise several at once and plan bloodlines. The first year project is two rabbits but by the 6th year I was taking 10 rabbits, a brood pair, a meat pen and 4 individual rabbits and a single fryer. In the early years there was enough space in the rabbit barn for everyone's projects and room left over for the 4-H clubs to sleep over night after the rabbit sale (and that is a post all on its own) but by the time I was in junior high rabbit projects had swelled in popularity (city kids could raise them in the garage or backyard) that many of the specialty projects like meat pen had to be brought the day of the show because there wasn't room in the barn anymore. Specialty projects include: Meat Pen = three commercial breed (meat rabbits) of uniform weight and size not to exceed five pounds. Three rabbits weighting 4.5 pounds will beat a meat pen where they weigh 4.5, 5, and 4.25 pounds. I won reserve champion meat pen a couple times. Single Fryer = one commercial breed rabbit not exceeding 5 pounds...I could never nab this one. Brood Pair = One buck and doe pair not to exceed twelve months of age. This was hands down my favorite specialty project. I won champ brood pair like, three times. The secret is breeding for them early, so they are born in October before the fair. You're going for the "old married couple" look in rabbits, as pictured below. This is me in 1992. Here is one of my "old married" brood pairs. This was probably a champion as Dr. Stowe, our neighbor and dentist is pictured as the sponsor buying the champion pair. Dr. Stowe bought many of my projects over the years and continues to support fair projects every year. Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you, that's me wearing the tiara and sash of 1992 Champaign County fair Rabbit Queen. Yes, I still have them...packed away somewhere. Eric Duncan was Rabbit King that year. We got our pictures in the paper many times as we had to pose with all the champions and reserve champs etc.
BUT I also got my picture in the front page of the Urbana Daily Citizen. On Thursday we were running the rabbit barbeque fundraiser and one of the photographers came by and was like "hey, if you take a big bit of a rabbit sandwich, I'll put your picture in the paper." And I, being media savvy years before acquiring my English/Communications degree, said "I've been in the paper 12 times already, put it on the front page." On Friday there I was on the front page, in mid bite of a rabbit barbeque sandwich...shameless I know. Mebbe next year for fair I'll dig that out of the vault. The picture below is me with two juvenile californian bunnies that we hand fed that same summer. One day in June I found them outside of the kindling cages (extra large cafes for does and their babies) but because I was breeding for meat pen and single fryer, I had like 6 kindling cages with nest boxes. None of us still have any idea how these guys with hardly any fur got out of their cages. Their eyes were still closed and everything. The problem was, if I put them in the wrong nest box, the doe would suss out the intruders and quite possible, stomp on the whole nest. Unwilling sacrifice a whole litter, we tried out hand at hand raising them.
It actually worked! We couldn't find a bottle small enough and ended up feeding them a similac mixture that we put in shallow spoons and then soaked bread in. First we kept them in a box with a heating pad on low then moved them to a little cage. Because we handled them so much, they were extra affectionate and fun. Do you see those plaques in the upper right hand corner with the records on them? We went to a rabbit show in Nashville Tennessee one year and I won best of breed and best opposite sex and boy that was a fun weekend, we never ate so well at a rabbit show. We even kept the rabbits in the hotel room that weekend, but that too, could be another blog post. I had other 4-H projects too like photography and Veterinary Science (that was a new project all the middle schoolers did and it was HARD. I remember us all grumbling about it and I didn't take the second year. I also took creative writing in high school and went to the state fair, but never placed. And I took a few cows. Here I am in the sale ring with my Limousine/Angus cross Hershey. He weighed in at 1030 lbs AND won his class (a fairly large one) this was pretty exciting for us because we weren't big time beef cattle farmers, it was more my Dad's hobby and for us to raise such a quality calf, we kinda came out of nowhere that year. I also took an angus heifer that year, who acted as company for Hershey in the barn. She wasn't nearly so fun, as she had a habit of jumping when she got startled and I'd find myself on the opposite side of the yard when leading her around. Dad always wanted me to let go of the rope when she jumped but every time she landed I'd land on my feet so I held on. I also took a jersey dairy heifer in the sixth grade named (not creatively) Buttermilk. Showing her at the fair is also another blog post.
As you can see, I could go on forever about 4-H and rabbits, and maybe I'll write some more about it later. 4-H was a tremendous, tremendous, influencing agent in my life. One of the great things about 4-H is that a young person's interests can go in many directions, there are more

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Grapes Are Coming On

When I went down to water the chickens this morning, the grapes looked so fresh in the light I though I'd snap a few shots. Andrew didn't thin the concord grapes out and we have a ton of them. I have plans for them in a few weeks...
Here are some of the white wine grapes, turning from green to that beige/champagne color.
And, here is a goldie, dusting herself in dirt I put in a copy paper box lid...they have every luxury...except going out of the tractor...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Updates, Updates

Three new posts below, chickens are the last post. Don't forget you can sign up to have posts delivered to an email of your choice! I don't do anything with them, heck I can't even figure out how to see who has signed up...

Bluebirds are kinda aggressive...

So a few weeks ago, I was checking on one of our bluebird boxes that had a second clutch of bluebirds. I knew they were getting close to leaving and wanted to see if I could get some pictures. The first picture is the parents who briefly landed on the fence to take a break from hassling me. One of the blue birds poked his head our of the nest box and while I was trying to get the zoom nest to focus, he shot right out of the box and proceeded to zip around yard. In the second picture he's the one on the right. Later in the afternoon I found a bluebird fledge in our garage, all turned around from his travels. Luckily, he landed underneath Andrew's work table and I was able to grab him and point him in the right direction. Without further mishap (that I'm aware of) all the babies left the nest box in the next 24 hours. With as much bird activity going on this summer, I wish I had gotten more pictures. The blue bird baby wasn't the only one I managed to help out. In June we had a baby chickadee clutching the screen of our back porch door. The cats were going nuts trying to get at him. I went around and gently cupped him and then he flew off, landing on our gutter. He was a perfect miniature of a chickadee, no juvenile plumage like his blue bird and robin friends.

Frozen Treats on Parade

Baking has taken a back seat to frozen treat experimenting. There have been lots of great books floating in through the library. Here is what I've been working on. First, a blueberry custard based ice cream that Andrew and I made last year. We use the sauce recipe from Jeni's and the custard base from Alton Brown's Good Eats, the early years.
And here is the finished scoop...
I made homemade fudge-sicles from they tasted great but for some reason I couldn't get them out and had to spoon them out. But they were so simple to make and so good, it's a small glitch.
I just got a new book at the library that looks promising.
And I used cucumbers and mint from the garden to make cucumber mint sorbet. It is surprisingly tasty, even though in this picture it looks like mashed potatoes and chives.
I have strawberry balsamic popsicles in the freezer now so stay tuned.

Chickens on House Arrest

We've been busy out here on the property, and settling back into a rhythm that doesn't involve constant watering. For over two weeks, the chickens haven't been let out to range because the call of ripening concord grapes has just been too much for them. A couple weeks ago I could still let them out for very supervised range, as seen below. The posts to the left mark out where I would let them range, right by our compost area where the grapes Andrew planted this spring are about two feet tall.
Below is that pricey chicken treat that they will do anything for. This is what I had to throw down in thrifty handfuls to keep the chickens out of the grapes. There are sunflower seeds, peanuts, grains, raisins, and dried carrots and tomato pieces...they always pick out the peanuts first.
It's still important that they do their dust roll (as pictured below) so I'll be putting in a pan with loose dirt in their tractor extension soon.
And here is one of the goldies in mid scratch, probably looking for some of the pricey bribe chicken treat that may have been missed.
I can't let them out around the house anymore until the grapes are harvested. They are just grape crazy. This is unfortunate for them because the grapes are 6 to 8 weeks away from harvest. However, Andrew is planning some more permanent husbandry (a pen and additional coop for a couple meat chickens next year) and I am planning a crazy scheme in the mean time so stay tuned. I'll leave you with this picture, taken the night of the last "exercise" period the goldies had, and yes, this bit of rain missed us too.