Monday, October 31, 2011

2nd Annual Hug a Sheep Day

Last Saturday, Sara at Equinox Farm opened her home to one and all for the 2nd Annual Hug a Sheep Day.   All of us who love sheep, love farms, love fiber and spinning/weaving/knitting/felting were in heaven!   

A few sheep were chosen to allow visitors some up-close-and-personal time by the barn.   

Marcel and Graham meeting some little visitors 

 Some of the Adventure Chickens, not too interested in making friends, until......they discovered they like cookies too!


(Keebler) "Sheesh! You'd think they would understand by now that I am not a sheep, and should not be in this pen with these .......animals." 

Lila Lamby - last Spring's bottle lamb, still little, but growing up too fast!!   By the smile, she seems to enjoy the attention.  

Shermy - everyone's best long as you have cookies!
(really he's still friendly, even if you don't have cookies - just substitute cheek scratches)   

The unsinkable Renny - the object of everyone's admiration.   A year ago Sara rescued her - more than half dead from owner neglect/abuse and a severe predator attack.   That she survived leaves everyone shaking their heads in amazement, but she doesn't even have scars or a limp.  Unbelievable.  Apart from all that, she is a really beautiful sheep, with a thick, healthy fleece and a lovely head.   She seems to be at least partly Shetland - she has a short, little undocked tail, and her earset looks Shetland-ish.  Most of all, she has a forever home, where she is loved, well cared for, and surrounded by friends.

The rest of the flock was outstanding in their field. (couldn't resist) 

A lot of the sheep in Sara's mixed flock are Jacobs.  I only know a couple of them by name.  Boudreaux (the big 'brown' sheep in the center above) surprised me.  He was eager to get his share of treats last year, but this year he looked me over, then thought better of it ......"'Nah, it's a grass kinda day."   

Enjoying the lush grass - sprung up from rains earlier in the week.   

 We got a fascinating display of good-dog Hank taking care of his flock.  Mid-way through the event, we heard rifle shots.  Pretty close actually.  Hunters on the farm next door.  Hank looked laid-back, but really was on high alert, taking his responsibility seriously.   Every time the flock wandered across the dry creek, he would cross over and bring them back - closer to the barn, where they would be safer. 

Sara told me he does not like the horses, but one time they got looped into the crowd.  Darn!   

Over and over, Hank was not having anyone running willy-nilly over the fields....not with guns going off! 

1....2.....3....4......Yep! All there.  I suppose that horse can stay, so long as he doesn't mess with my sheep!

What a wonderful day!  Any day spent in the country, with animals - especially sheep - is my idea of a great day!   

Thank you Sara!!  Thank you friends at Equinox Farm!  

It can't happen here......

......And it didn't.  This time.

But it could.  3 million people without power in the Northeast - and the power won't be back on for days.   How many were prepared?

This is the time of year that like the squirrels, we think about preparing for winter.   Some of us ''put by" garden produce - either grown in our own gardens, or purchased - locally, I hope.   We winterize our homes in various ways, but being prepared for the unusual weather event is a lifestyle, a year-round attitude.  How well we in this area know how hard - and how often - an ice storm can disrupt our normal lives.

This is today's blog post by a blog-friend who lives in upstate NY, and is coping very well with the results of the "freak" snow storm in the Northeast over the past few days:

As her blog indicates, she has also written a book, Just in Case, an excellent primer for starting and maintaining a lifestyle of 'Preparedness' in your home.

I'm just sayin'..........

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Autumn soup recipe and other things.....

As I've said here before, I love soup!  Today seemed a good day to simmer up a pot full, so I tried an old recipe, new to me.  Scotch broth is traditionally made with lamb.    As much as I would like to support local sheep breeders, lamb is prohibitively expensive, and I could only find 'luxury' cuts - whole legs, frenched chops, 1.5 inch thick but still tiny loin chops, selling for double digits.   This dish is a simple 'peasant' dish and definitely needs a 'cheap' cut - with bones.  Bone-in meat is needed to make a broth properly.  That was also hard to find.  Beef short ribs now have no ribs (!!!) according to the butcher at Kroger.   I finally found a cross-cut slice of beef shank with a nice big bone to use.   

sorry for the dark photo - flash washed out the image so you could see even less

1-2 Tbs. Olive oil
1 lb   lamb or beef, shoulder, shank or other cut with bones. 
3 sm - med turnips
3 large carrots
2 stalks celery 
2-3 cloves garlic  
1/2 to 1 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 cup pearled barley
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

In a 3-quart pot, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.  When hot, add meat whole, and brown on both sides.  Add water to fill pot about half-way.  Cover tightly, simmer until meat is tender.  Remove meat from pot, and when cool enough to handle, remove any fat and gristle, returning bite-sized pieces of meat to the pot. 

Peel and dice turnip, carrots and celery.  Add to broth and meat.  Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and barley.   Simmer, tightly covered, for 1 hour, or until barley and vegetables are tender. Add water as needed. Adjust seasonings, and serve.

  • Even after browning the meat before cooking, the broth looked a little pale to me, so I added 2 beef bullion cubes.  
  • 3/4 cup of barley is plenty.  I might cut it back to 1/2 cup.
  • This is a thick, stew-like dish, especially with the amount of barley that is called for.  Cut back barley or increase water if you want it soupier.
  • I didn't see a lot of fat on my broth, so I didn't feel the need to skim the fat before I added the remaining ingredients.     
I had this for supper tonight with some crusty bread - I thought it was very good.

Other news around the homestead:  
The breeder I got my Orpingtons from asked me to post current photos on Backyard Chickens so she could see how they are developing, so I thought I would post them here too.

This is "Whatsit," - at least that's what I've been calling 'it' until now.  The breeder said she thinks it is a rooster.  It looks like one but is quiet, and not bothering the girls.  'Good thing, because I have no prospects right now for re-homing him.    

And this is Grace - aka Gracie, Gracie-Lou.....  she is significantly smaller than the other one and very sweet.  In some ways it's nice having a 'pair' in case I wanted to breed for more.  I would have to convince folks here that bantams are great.   For some reason, even the urban chicken-keepers in CLUCK all keep large fowl, and are leery of bantams.   I don't know why.  They are very sweet, and their eggs compare favorably in size with large bird's eggs.

Holly's back is much better, and she seems to be moving OK now, but......  (I'm such a bad mom)   She has never used the resting board I put in the cage for her. I didn't notice she was always laying - not only in one spot because her back hurt to move, but in a spot with lots of wool stuck to the wire.    Since she would pee where she lay, the wool was saturated ......and now she not only has sore hocks, but the wool is all burned off, and she's got a large raw ulcer on each leg!  I feel awful.   I stuck her in the sink and washed her well, then bandaged each foot after coating it thickly with neosporin.   After a short time, scabs formed on each foot, and I started giving her a 'blankie' to lay on - and keep the wounds dry, since she won't leave the bandages alone.  I change it every 2 or 3 days, when I see urine stains on it.  

Her personality has changed during all this.  She lets me take her out of her cage with no fuss, let me bathe, treat and bandage her multiple times, and likes nothing better now than to cuddle with me.   I think she would sleep with me if I let her.  No biting, no growling, no lunging with teeth bared........who are you and what have you done with Holly?

Speaking of sleeping with me, the first cold night we had this week (I haven't turned the furnace on yet) I had all 4 cats in bed with me all night- even Michu!!  It was funny, but they were snuggled so tight I couldn't move!

Until next time - from all of us - at Wren Cottage.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Weird chicken behavior - updated

A couple of days ago, I looked over at Dolley in her coop/cage.  She (I'm insisting she is a she) was carefully searching through her pine-shaving litter until she found a piece she liked, then she would pick it up, turn her head around and..........carefully place it on her back.  (:-/ ???)   She did it over and over - probably 40 times while I watched her.   Since she's shaped like a bowling ball, her pile would slide off about every third piece of shaving, but she kept at it .......until she caught me watching her.  Then she gave me an indignant look, and  walked away.

What kinds of weird stuff do your animals do?

She IS a girl!!  Dolley laid her first egg today.  No photo, because it looks eggs-actly like Abigail's in size and color.   What a good girl!   WHEW!         

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Beginning to put the garden to bed

I pulled up the San Marzano tomato plants this morning.  Once I got the main crop in during the summer, the plants grew a second flush, but they never did ripen - even in hot weather. There were lots of green tomatoes on them, full-sized ones in full sun for weeks, they just wouldn't get ripe.  Out they came.  I picked all the green tomatoes off, and composted the plants.  Compost has become nearly as important a 'crop' as anything else I grow. I found a few red  and ripening ones, a few past their prime to feed to the chickens, and maybe 20 pounds of green ones.  

I will probably make the green-tomato salsa I linked to a post or two back, because it can be canned.   I found about a dozen ripe, or nearly-so 'German Pink' tomatoes to enjoy now, and left the plants in the ground for a while longer. These did very well in their protected place last year.  It was only after a heavy frost that the foliage died and revealed even more tomatoes. 

This is just two plants!

After some research, I have found this is a 'vineing' variety.  Simple stakes are useless, and cages aren't much better.  They will just continue to grow taller until killed by frost.  I have thrown the vines over the fence (8 feet tall) and they have still grown another two or more feet on the other side.   The neighbor has been told anything growing on his side is his.  Lessons learned this year:  Get the seedlings started inside and in the ground much earlier so I can enjoy the tomatoes in the summer instead of fall! 

I pulled the hot pepper plants too, mostly because I'm tired of messing with them.  I got another couple of dozen jalapenos and almost that many green cayennes. Green or not, they are still hot, and will dry just fine in the dehydrator.  I got a warning tingle on my hands as I cut up the plants to put in the compost pile.  Apparently even the leaves and stems are hot too - no wonder the insects leave them alone!  I know I got well over 100 jalapenos off two plants and probably half that of cayennes off one plant.  I wish everything I grew was so prolific! 
My fall garden has been more failure than success, but I am not discouraged.   Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in containers started off much better than the ones in the ground, but then were eaten to pieces by cabbage worms.  I didn't plant any companion plants with them, because I didn't think they would grow so late in the year.  The ones in the ground are catching up now, and have little-to-no insect damage, being planted with radishes!  I may get Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving after all.   Overall this year, I did see a positive difference in outcomes with companion planting.

I am in love with French Breakfast Radishes!  I planted 3 varieties of radish this fall and all are doing well in the ground (they didn't like pots) but the French are the fastest to mature.  I looked it up, and the French eat them raw, dipped in soft butter with salt.  I tried it, but the butter on a raw veg seemed superfluous, so I just eat them the American way, raw with salt only.  They are mild and have a great 'root vegetable' taste, unlike regular varieties, which seem more like a garnish or accent.  I want to plant lots early in the Spring, and in the ground, not pots. 
  • Turnips are still promising in the pots.  It remains to be seen if they continue to grow through frosts so I can get some baby turnips before a heavy freeze does them in.  I'm in it only for the roots.  The greens go to the chickens and rabbits, or the compost.    
  • Two varieties of kale planted from seed are coming up fine, but will probably have to be eaten in the baby stage. 
  • The Bok Choy grew to seedlings, then stopped.  Didn't die, just simply didn't grow any more.  I will try again in the Spring - to be harvested at 'baby size.' and steamed or sauteed with other vegetables. 
  • The eggplant have grown fine this fall and have very healthy foliage and blooms, but will not have enough time to set and ripen fruit before frost.  Go back to pots next year - they did fine there. Add companion flowers and herbs. 
 More lessons learned:  Concentrate on what I can grow that will produce the most in the least space or fewest plants.  As mentioned before, squash are out.  Even if I could overcome insects and disease, they are simply too big for my small space. Ditto on the pole beans.  Instead of saving space by growing UP, the plants were just huge, with few beans.  I'm going back to bush beans next year.    

My garden space is not suitable for 'floating row covers,' which are needed to garden well in seriously cold weather - to keep things going after frost and freezes to get full-sized plants and veggies.  The plants need to be grown in - uh - rows to use those. Mine are grown in clumps, more like the square-foot-gardening style. If I had started with rectangular raised beds, it might be different, but my garden stared out as a very big, deep English 'herbatious border' - stylish a the time - that evolved (degenerated?) into my small oval planting plot studded with shrubs and flowering plants, some large, some small.

Chicken update:
I'm going out on a limb and naming one of the Orpington chicks.   I have been calling her Gracie, after   

Grace Coolidge  

Gracie is a cute name that seems to fit the chick, but I confess I don't know much about the real Grace Coolidge, except that she loved animals of all kinds :-)   I chose that name not so much because of admiration for the lady, but because of this fabulous portrait.  It, along with one of  Edith Roosevelt  are among my favorite First Lady portraits.  (Yes Edith, TRs wife, although Eleanor's portrait is very innovative) 

And here she is - little Gracie herself - trying to get away while I try to take her picture.  She is very shy, and hides behind Abigail much of the time. I'm still working on winning her over. I got her on my lap the other night, and after a minute she decided she liked it, and started to trill.  She has no comb or wattles to speak of ......and I hope it stays that way.   

On the other hand, look what Dolley has grown in the last month!  

A very impressive set of comb and wattles (comb looks even bigger on the other side where her feathers are flatter)  Even her earlobes are bigger.  She had smaller wattles and comb before, but I could literally see them getting bigger every day.  This change roughly coincides with putting no-name chick in with her.  I don't know if it's a hormonal thing, or if she is really a he!!!   If that's the way it turns out, I'm going to be very upset!!!    These aren't the only indicators of gender.  She hasn't started to crow or try to mount any of the other chickens - but then she's not laying any eggs, about 8 months old!  That's not unheard of, according to what I read on Backyard Chicken Forum - especially this year, there's been a lot of that.  I don't use organic feed.....I wonder what GMO stuff they might be putting in there, and if it's having an effect on our livestock?   Sigh.......if Dolley 'turns into' a rooster, as long as there continues to be no crowing - she's staying.  I'm much too bonded now.

Here is little no-name below.  I'm still waffling nearly daily on this one - does have a pretty big comb, has wattles, but small, pale unless excited, not displaying obvious roo behavior, like crowing or mounting other birds.  It is much more outgoing than Gracie.  Not really brave though, in fact, if I try to pick it up, or it gets upset about something, it does it's best "henny penny / the-sky-is-falling" imitation.  It's hysterical - both the chick's attitude, and my amusement.  Abigail wants nothing to do with it anymore, poor thing, but it's getting bonded to Dolley.    

The chicks are 9 weeks old today, and are nearly the same size as the older chickens.  If you consider Dolley is mostly feathers, no-name probably is the same size. It's amazing how fast they grow.

Holly-bunny (who would not let me take her picture, because she is partially plucked and not looking her best) gave me a scare this week, when it seemed as though some of her legs were partially paralyzed!   After giving her a thorough going-over and watching her move, I think she has hurt her back somehow, but not seriously.  This is not uncommon in rabbits, due to the length of their spine and the extreme power of their back legs.  They can actually break their own back while playing, and die.  Holly is gradually getting better, and while not being her usual snotty-diva self, she has not relinquished her "Princess" title, and is relishing all the extra attention.   

 Those are the updates from Wren Cottage .....