Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Critter Care

12:48 AM
The barn has been quite a busy place lately with some 30+ chickens, 16 ducks, 4 geese, 2 quail, 1 llama and 2 horses.  Most of the older chickens are going through molt, which means they don't lay eggs while they do it (too stressful) and the younger ones haven't started laying yet (but several should).  The only productive hens are the Barnevelders, and there are only four of them.  They each lay maybe 3 eggs a week if I'm lucky, so I maybe get a dozen or so.  I have two older hens who are still laying every other day or every two or three days.  Today, I got an extra green egg which shows that one of the other Easter Eggers have started laying again.  That's good, because I've actually resorted to some storebought eggs.

Out of the first seven chicks hatched in July, five are pullets and two are cockerels.  The batch of four  after have at least one cockerel.  The last batch is two cockerels and two pullets.  The lone Olive Egger is too young to tell, but I'm hoping for a pullet.  Most of the cockerels will go to freezer camp, but there is one out of the third batch I'm keeping because he's so beautiful.  I'll keep the Olive Egger too, regardless of sex.

Ducks lay seasonally, so there aren't any duck eggs currently.  Come spring and summer, I have a feeling I'll be inundated with duck eggs.  I have at least 9 female ducks, which means plenty of eggs, but duck eggs are highly seasonal.  I'm right now trying to decide who stays and who goes to freezer camp.  I have 2 Rouen or Mallard drakes, 2 Cayuga Drakes and 2 or 3 mixed drakes.  I love the mixed drakes because one is a Blue Swedish/Khaki Campbell cross and is blue.  The other one is a Cayuga mix.  So, I'm really tempted to put one of the Rouens and one of the Cayugas into freezer camp, and then make a decision after that. 

The geese also lay seasonally.  My Toulouse and African pair, Louise and Eequa, are marginal parents at best, so when they lay, I'll gather the eggs and probably incubate them myself.  The two Chinese Brown geese are too alike to determine if they're a male and female pair, but I have a hunch they might be.

Lately, the weather has been warm enough (above freezing) to keep the water liquid in the waterers.  It's tough to keep them all in water when it dips below freezing.  What I usually have to do is use heaters to heat the horses' trough, the llama's and ducks' water, and I have an outdoor heating pad that I put the Barnevelders' water on.  I end up moving frozen waterers onto the Barnevelders' pad and refilling the waterers with water from the horses' trough.  Those that don't have heat end up getting the ice chipped out of them.  It takes quite a bit, but they're all glad when they have water

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Recycling, Freecycling and Hard Times

12:50 AM
The most amazing thing about Montana is the overwhelming lack of greed here.  I say that in all sincerity because most people around here are not rich.  More often than not, if someone has something you can use, they'll give it to you rather than bother with putting it up for sale to squeeze every last dime out of it.

Yard sales and garage sales still exist, sure, but often if they can't sell it, they put it in a bin and mark it "free."  Freecycle and Craigslist are very popular areas.  I've been able to get things like an entertainment center, animal cages, scales for making soap, and other useful items there.  At the same time, I've been able to give away stuff, too, like an older refrigerator, and a non-working freezer (they used the freezer for animal food). 

The latest stuff I gave away was a metal chest (not that sturdy, but intact), a coffee table, and some old phones.  The first couple who took the metal chest were from just outside my town and they felt they could do something with it.  The coffee table and the phones went to a family nearby who had moved into the area a couple of years ago and needed more furniture. 

The man was butchering an elk leg when I brought the furniture by.  It seems his buddy got and elk and he didn't (getting elk was rare this year) and his buddy gave him an haunch.   We chatted about the problems with the low elk population and also the problems with pine beetle and another bug that feeds on the spruce needles, stressing the trees (he does aerial observations for the forest service).  Unfortunately, we've had a share of pine beetles.

Today I checked out some animal cages at a store that after being in business for more than 35 years is closing due to the economy.  I will most likely use the cages for the quail once they have babies.  It's sad seeing an independent store close because times are tough.  The owner and I talked awhile and I saw that she had one of the books I wrote, so I signed it.  She wanted to keep it but was honest in the fact that she might have to sell it and so didn't want it inscribed.  Yep, hard times.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blue Scale Quail, Bored Horses and Freezing Temperatures

9:04 PM
Ducks and Geese around the watering hole
Well, it was going to happen.  We got our first real cold snap of the season and all the water froze with the birds except those under heat lamps and on top of the heat mat.  Sid the llama's water is fine as is the duck's water because those are heated buckets.  The horses' water is fine too because we have a heater.

Well, not fine exactly.  The horses decided to break the water trough.  (Second broken one).  We had one more spare and then, if they bust that we've got to buy a steel one.  Someone told us to use the plastic troughs and that has been a huge mistake.  A friend of mine told me I had bored horses, and given the size of the pen, not a huge surprise.  We're going to have to figure out how to expand in the spring.  How, I don't know. 

My friend recommended a horse ball and hanging plastic bottles so the horses can nudge them.  I got them a Jolly Ball and they seem indifferent.  Today, I hung two plastic bottle so they can nudge them.  I may have to put out a treat ball so they can whack those around too.

Lastly, I've been playing with the idea of getting quail.  There are a number of good reasons for this: 1.  Quail takes a short time to mature and within less than 2 months, you have a bird that lays eggs.  2.  Their eggs are expensive and quite a delicacy.  3.  They taste good.  And 4.  They don't need a lot of room.

The problem with purchasing quail is that you either have to order them by the dozens and pay a lot for the birds and shipping, or you get eggs mailorder and hope they hatch.  I don't mind hatching eggs, but my little incubator can only do about 12 or so at a time.  When someone is offering more than 50 eggs, it gets silly.  So, when I saw someone in Missoula selling pheasants that might have blue scale quail, I decided to check them out.

Blue Scale Quail
Blue scale quail are native to the American Southwest, going north as far as Colorado and as south as Mexico.  The fellow who had them had exotic pheasants that were amazing and impressive.  But the quail-- oh my.  I bought a breeding pair for a lot less than I would to buy one online and have them shipped. 

They're skittish little things.  Right now, I'm keeping them in a crate, but I will probably figure out a nice pen for them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Midnight Visitors

12:15 AM
A few nights ago, I was getting ready for bed around midnight and I noticed the outside security light was on.  As I looked down, I saw a young muley buck with just knobs for antlers grazing in the snow.  He was joined by a doe, two other youngsters, presumably does, another youngster and two adult does.  It seems they walked across my front yard, under my porch awning or up the driveway, and then up the stairs on the hill to go up.  I guessed that there was at least 7 deer in the herd.

A few days later, my husband noticed that they had made beds right on our front lawn and spent at least some of the night.

Oh if they only knew that three of their buddies were cooling their heels in my freezer!  Lucky for them, it was dark and we had maxed out our deer tags.

Sadly, our elk hunting had to be called off due to colds -- first my husband, and now me.  Oh well, three deer is still a good hunt.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving Countdown

4:57 PM
Thanksgiving means cranberry chutney, fruitcake that non-fruitcake people like, and brining turkeys.  I pulled out the turkey yesterday from the freezer, unwrapped it, put it in a huge bag and stuffed it in a cooler full of water.  I then stuck that cooler out in the garage.  It hit about 10F last night, and I was worried I'd have a turkey-cicle, but I didn't, thankfully.  So, I dumped the water, added more, and left it to thaw.  With a 35 lb turkey, it's a major undertaking.

I try not to stress about that as there really is not much I can do.  If worse came to worst, I guess there's always an emergency run to a store or thawing the breast/legs of the other bird I cut up.  My mom would peg the anxiety meter on Thanksgiving which always made the holiday stressful.  Which is too bad because I think it needs to be a day of enjoying family and friends.  If that means takeout turkey, then so be it.

Yesterday was COLD and so I had to check on the livestock.  The major problem is keeping fresh water for all the birds.  I have a heater for the horses' troughs, Sid's bucket, the ducks' bucket, and heat lamps over the various chicks and their waterers, but it doesn't fix everything.  I literally dug out the mat heater that had sat under compressed  wood shavings and got it started.  Hopefully it still works and will heat up the water to melt the ice.  Otherwise, I may have to buy some waterer heaters.

Made the chutney yesterday.  I took a recipe off the web and modified it sufficiently to make it mine.  It's awesome.  Last night I soaked the dried fruit in rum and today baked the fruitcake.  I have a recipe in my King Arthur cookbook that is similar to this one, but it allows you to put in 6 cups of your preferred fruit.  In my case it was pineapple, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, and raisins.

Now, to plan out the rest of the meal and also get the critters fed tonight, as well as plow the road.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hunting, Elk, Deer and Mountain Lions

8:13 PM
One nice thing about Montana is its long hunting season.  It gives people who live here the chance to fill their tags, and their freezers.  For us, it meant going after a whitetail doe to fill my husband's doe tag and look for bull elk to fill our elk tags.

If you've never hunted, you're probably thinking it's easy.  It's not.  For years we'd go out hunting in Colorado and come home with nothing.  Not because we were lousy hunters, but because the game in Colorado was so pressured.  Here in Montana, the game isn't as pressured, but they can still be pretty cagey.

Most of our hunting had originally been blind dumb luck.  Now, we're familiar with certain areas and patterns the deer take, so we can put ourselves in the place where the animals are and hopefully bring home a deer.  Even so, it's still guesswork.  For example, we know that certain deer take certain trails at certain times of the day.  But even this isn't perfect, and we could find nothing in the same location.

We had filled our antlered deer tags, but my husband had an antlerless tag for whitetail.  Tough when you live in an area populated by two different deer species.  Whitetail are smaller deer with antlers that branch upward from a single beam.  They have smaller ears and tails that flip up like a white flag when startled or alarmed.  Mule deer have large ears, white butts and ropey tails.  Our whitetails tend to be red; our muleys are usually gray.  Now imagine, if you would, trying to identify the sex and species of deer from several hundred yards away in low light conditions.

So, we were getting ready to hunt our way out as the noon hour approached and I saw three whitetail does standing looking at us in a place where we usually see mule deer.  My husband took several shots and somehow managed to put all rounds in the same deer.  They all were lethal shots but the deer was just tough.  She managed to keep going even with a femoral and carotid artery hit.  She proved to be very fat-- the fattest deer I've ever seen.  Even the tanner mentioned how fat she was.

One of the surprising things this year has been seeing mountain lion tracks all over the place.  We've seen lots of coyote tracks -- they seem to be following the roads, but seldom mountain lions.  I've seen at least three distinct sized tracks in different areas.  The cats are definitely huge here, and definitely hunting.

We now have three deer in the freezer which is better than no deer in the freezer.  Now, onto hunt elk!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sure the earth moved, but around here, how could you tell?

10:00 PM
Today we had a 4.2 magnitude earthquake.  I'd like to say that something amazing happened such as books falling off the shelf or feeling something odd.  Heck, I figured my animals should've acted weird (well, weirder than normal).

Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.

No, I'm not looking for a major shaking, but when a 4.2 magnitude quake feels less than a Malamute thumping down the stairs or the train rumbling through the valley, you've got to wonder.  I mean, the news folks came out to my town and interviewed people.  Almost all said "didn't feel a thing."  Oh sure, there was one woman who claimed she felt it in her rocking chair and her fish tank had a minor tsunami, but my dogs, cats, chickens, geese, ducks, horses and llama said nothing.  Which pretty much made it a non-event.

I suspect that there was no earthquake.  I think it was Thor the Malamute in a play session.  Shakes the entire house.  And it makes far more sense to me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hunting, Mule Deer and Tamaracks

10:26 AM
Hunting season always starts on the Saturday when MileHiCon occurs, so I have to forgo the first day and a good portion of the second day of the hunt.  If you're a hunter, you know this is a bit disastrous as the animals are less stressed on the first day and then get more stressed after being shot at.  Luckily, here in Montana the rifle season is five weeks long, so you can take your time to fill your tag.

Most people here in Montana hunt for meat, and we're no exception.  Sure, you get those trophy hunters and whatnot, but it's illegal to waste meat and so any meat that isn't consumed goes to the food bank.  So, if you're looking for a big trophy buck, you have to eat it or donate it. 

So, I wasn't surprised when my husband got his first deer on the first day of the season.  He thought it was a doe (he had a whitetail doe tag and an either species tag for buck) and discovered it was a legal spiker (horns are straight without any branches) buck,so filled his buck tag. Spike bucks are yearlings, so they aren't as big as an older buck and aren't sexually mature, so they aren't full of testosterone, which makes meat "gamey" and tough if you believe the old timers.

The next several days while I was back from MileHiCon, we searched for my buck and my husband's doe.  We also looked for elk.  First day, we saw nothing.  Second day, we were tired and hunted around the house and up into state land.  We also tried an area we knew there were mule deer but they were cagey.

Third day, we decided to walk a trail we had seen plenty of tracks and poop.  Before we walked it, we looked into another area and I spied some mule deer about a mile away with my binoculars.  We raced over to see them crossing the road and found that they were all does and not huntable.  So, we went to the trail and walked.

Right now, Montana is gorgeous.  The tamaracks are in full color and the ground foliage is a brilliant red.  After a while, it became obvious that my boots had shrunk and were squeezing my feet.  So, I gimped along after more than an hour's walk and hobbled back into the jeep without anything.

Mule deer
That late afternoon, we decided to go back to the cagey mule deer.  We've tracked these deer last year and got a buck there before, so we drove to the area to find that the deer were already in the spot we expected.  They weren't as cagey and I suspect few people know their trails other than me and my husband.  So, when we saw a young forked buck, I shot and we had a big, fat mule deer.

We brought the deer home and dressed him out.  Heavy boy, despite being about two years or so.  The good news is that herd is so big and so healthy that it's unlikely losing a young buck will affect it and we'll be able to harvest more deer from that same herd for years, because they have the same pattern.  (Deer aren't bright).  My husband thinks he saw a bigger buck in the group, but he was so cagey, I suspect he got behind a tree.  It was tough as it was to shoot the one we got because he too was dodging among the does and even got behind some deadfall for a bit. 

So, that's our second buck.  Now to find a whitetail doe and some elk.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Carnival Squash, Giant Kohlrabi and Dragon's Tongue

12:39 AM
One of the most awesome things about living in Montana is being introduced to odd and heirloom  vegetables.  I wasn't a real big vegi person when I moved to Montana, but the food here is so amazing, that you have to take risks.

One is Dragon's Tongue beans.  If you've never had these beans, you're missing out.  I tried planting them this year, but the grasshoppers ravaged them.  Dragon's Tongue are purple spotted beans that lose their spots or stripes when cooked.  They're tasty and worth searching them out.  I found one person at the Farmer's Market who sold them.  So, I bought a pack, blanched and froze them. 

Another odd plant is Kohlrabi.  A relative of the cabbage, these plants are peeled and cut up.  They taste like cabbage, but are delicious sauteed in olive oil and garlic.

My other surprise was finding something odd called a Carnival Squash.  No, I have not tried it yet, but I may just do so now that I have one.  They're a colorful type of winter squash that sometimes is incorrectly called a variety of acorn squash.  I'll tell you about cooking it when I do get it cooked.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Homemade Tomato Sauce

12:38 AM
It's unlikely you'll ever make homemade tomato sauce, unless you get quite a few overly ripe tomatoes that need processing fast.  I've lucked into a bunch of vegetables, so in order to preserve them, I'm doing a lot of freezing.  I have a bunch of tomatoes that I had to do something with quickly, so I decided to make tomato sauce.

The first time I made homemade tomato sauce, I thought the recommendation to simply use a peeler on the skins was a good idea.  Wrong.

Tomato skins don't peel easily.  That's why if you're making tomato sauce, you should blanch the tomatoes first.  My mom blanched vegetables before freezing them, but I never understood the mechanism or why it was done.  With tomatoes, it's used to remove the skins.  So, I set a huge pot of salted water to boil and put the tomatoes in until I saw the skins crack (about a minute).  I removed them with a slotted spoon and in some cases dunked them in cold water and then peeled them.  I found quickly that the Roma tomatoes peeled much easier than the beefsteaks (something to think about!).  I put them in a pot with chopped garlic (about 5 large cloves), extra virgin olive oil, and a handful of fresh basil in a pot to simmer for 2-3 hours.  I used a potato smasher to crush the tomatoes and let them cook down.  Now, the recipe I read said to core the tomatoes and remove the seeds.  Hmm, yes, I could have, but didn't remove the seeds.  If I wanted to, I could have put them in a food processor and blended until smooth.

Obviously, I like having chunky sauce, so I opted to keep it that way.  I ladled the sauce after it cooled into containers and put them in the freezer.  This sauce makes an awesome pizza sauce and can be used in just about anything that needs tomatoes or tomato sauce in it.

After peeling the skins, I put them in the bird bag and fed them to my chickens along with the other leftovers.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hatching Chicks

12:18 AM
It's a day early, but already my incubator is full of peeping.  My latest batch of chicks are hatching, which is good, because I've needed to replace my current layers.  Despite everything I've read about chickens living 8 to 15 years, I've come to the conclusion that most chickens don't live that long due to the fact that they're birds.  The slowdown in egg production starts at a year and continues in a downward spiral until they're pretty much just eating feed and not providing anything.

I saw a graph that shows most chickens' laying decreases 40% after two years.  That's huge.  That means, if you were used to getting 5-6 eggs a week, you can expect to get only 3-4.  And that number continues to drop.  I lost a number of birds due to odd problems such as congenital problems and injury, so I've been forced to hatch out a number of chicks.  Right now, I have 7 six week olds and 5 three week olds.  If all chicks hatch that I expect will hatch (I have one egg that I'm sure is a dud), I'll have 6 new chicks.

These chicks will make the bulk of my flock for next year.  Already I can see two chicks in the six week olds are roosters (sigh), and that will affect the total number I keep.  I have plenty of roosters, so unless I'm attached to them, they'll end up in freezer camp.

The chicks are mutts, being mixed breeds of my chickens.  I have a Buff Orpington, 2 Barred Rocks, 2 Rhode Island Reds, 1 Easter Eggers (EE) (I have 5 total, but 4 are in another pen), 1 Blue Marans, and 1 Black Sex Link.  The roosters in that pen are 1 Barred Rock, 1 Cuckoo Marans, and 1 EE.  It's pretty funny, but one of the non-Easter Egger eggs hatched a chick that had characteristic EE muffs on its cheeks.  That means my EE rooster, who runs away from everyone, has been busy with the ladies.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Riding Horses

11:42 PM
Well, well, well.  The day finally arrived where we brought the horses over to a training stable for a bit of riding.  Since we hadn't been on either horse, and seeing that I had not seen Scarlet in action, I figured the safest thing was to have a pro ride Scarlet and tell us what she knew or didn't.

The good news is that Scarlet is more or less harmless.  She's a follower trail horse that has not been fully trained.  Rein commands leave her puzzled, but she understands leg commands.  The trainer said she felt like Scarlet had been a kid's horse.  She know whoa really well and is more likely to be slow than fast.  Which is good because my husband is a novice rider. 

Scarlet is out of shape, too.  Basically, by the time the trainer, I and my husband rode her, she was lathered up and sweaty.   She needs working, which is fine.

Next, I put a hackamore on Rocket and climbed on board.  A hackamore wasn't the right choice as she felt like she had her head and insisted on trotting and cantering.  I had a snaffle bit put on and we tried again, and boy was Rocket a star.  I was in complete control, learning her sensitive reactions and taking her around barrels and to just about everywhere.  This horse is amazing.  She'd do darn near anything I asked, which means she's that good.  She a joy to ride. 

By the end, I felt as though the ride had come to an end too soon.  My star, Rocket, did wonderfully.  The trainers even commented how wonderful the horses looked and how good we had done.  Yep, I was feeling really good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scarlet and Rocket

12:03 PM
Well, we took the plunge and became horse owners this past summer.  After looking long and hard at various options for getting horses, I decided to adopt horses from a horse rescue here in Montana.  The rescue's name is Horse Haven Rescue and they have some of the most delightful people there.  I highly recommend them.  I chose to adopt rather than buy or look for a free horse (there are plenty in the paper), because I believe that there are plenty of wonderful animals out there going to slaughter (yes, people eat horses in Canada, never mind that the horses are treated with medications that should not go into food animals) and any horse I adopt is going to give another animal a chance.

We wanted horses for riding into the back country and for hunting.  The two horses we adopted were one from north of us named Scarlet and a horse from a very decent situation named Rocket.   Neither horses are particularly tall (about 14.3 hands). 

Scarlet is a half Morgan and half Quarter horse mare.  She's sorrel in color, which I think is more or less a fancy term for red.  The situation was pretty odd where the man who owned her lost his pasture because the family who let him board his horses were foreclosed on (this is the story I heard).  He had five horses.  One was a very green mare about 4 years old.  One was a huge thoroughbred about 17 years old with some severe back hoof problems -- either foundered or had ringbone.  One was a mare that was very beautiful, but Alpha (11 years),  and a 30 year old mare.  Then, there was Scarlet at 15 years. 

Scarlet's hooves were overgrown and she was very sore on them.  When we got the farrier out here, he remarked she had a hoof ball injury and might or might not have problems.  The vet we had evaluate her said basically she had been injured in the hip at one time and didn't extend her leg all the way.  Exercise would improve that.  Then, he mentioned that she might have arthritis in the back pastern because of the hoof ball injury.  So, she might need bute occasionally. 

She is lactating.  The vet says its a hormonal thing and she may need some supplement if her hair doesn't grow right.  According to the former owner, she had one foal (stillborn) but hasn't been bred since.  

I've put her and Rocket on joint medication and have been working them on the ground.  This week we may be riding them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Raising Chicks

12:03 PM
After so many failed attempts at incubating eggs, I bought a Brinsea Mini Advanced on recommendation of a friend.  The Brinsea is damn near fool-proof and I hatched out two batches of chicks (7 and 6) without much fuss.  One died a day later after the second hatch from unknown causes, but I think I can say the incubator is a success.

After losing 4 birds to various weird things, I popped more eggs in the incubator.  They're due to hatch in about 10 days.  Candled them all last night.  I suspect I have a blood ring on one, but rather than dump it, I'll hang onto it through hatch.  All the rest look good and viable.  I could even see movement, which was way cool.  If all come out except the one I'm thinking won't, it'll be 6 chicks this time.

Because I'm hatching in a Brinsea Mini, I have to pull the chicks out, or they'll never dry.  (Gets WAY too humid and crowded).  So far, hasn't affected hatches yet. 

Yesterday, I went to the local recycling home store to buy a "bunny prison" -- their term, not mine!  It is a pen that is 5 ft long by about 2 ft deep and 28 inches tall and only cost me $10.   It has a top that opens with hinges so you can feed, water, and play with the animals.  I moved the 6 week old chicks into that.  They're doing really well in it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Alarm Llama

1:07 PM
About a month ago, I had to figure out what to with all my ducks (I have eight) and two goslings.  When it became obvious that the inside pen was too small, I put them out with the two adult female ducks and the three chickens and rooster in Sid's pen.  At first, I thought the ducklings would get terrorized by the other fowl, but to my surprise,  the two female ducks, named Millie and Tillie, took to the ducklings well.  They shooed the chickens away from the ducklings and even bit one of the chickens for going after the ducklings.

Sid suddenly had a passel of ducks, chickens and goslings to watch.  Oddly enough, he's taken his job really seriously.   He lets the ducklings and goslings eat from his hay and his grain and is very careful where he steps.

Today, we heard what sounded like a horse neighing.  To our surprise, Sid was making that noise that could only be describe as an alarm bark.  He had rounded the birds behind him next to the barn and kept them in a tight circle to his back and he stopped and alarmed looking out over the forest. 

Neither I nor my husband have ever heard Sid make this noise, so we both decided this was serious and came over to investigate.  We never saw what he was going on about, but we did see bear scat the week before on our property and saw a black bear cub on the state lands. So, a bear might be enough to cause Sid to alert.

So, now I know what a llama alarm bark sounds like.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Vegan Approval, Cold Frames and Surprises

11:01 PM
It's kind of funny to talk about vegan-ism, especially since I am an unrepentant carnivore and hunter.  My neighbor and friend is a vegan, and while she doesn't eat meat, she isn't preachy and I don't give her grief.  Even so, she will eat eggs if she knows how the chickens are cared for and whether they are given a good home.  She will readily eat my chickens' eggs and we will often talk about the critters and how to improve their habitat.  One of the headaches I have is how to free range them without having them become meals for the local fauna.  We've been talking about building a tractor for the chickens so some of them can get sunshine, bugs and grass.

She came over the other day and picked up a load of chicken poo mixed with llama poo for her garden.  Good stuff!  We told her she could have as much as she wants.

Cold Frame
Taking her cue, I started working on the rest of my garden and used the composted chicken poo.  Right now, I have my vegetables in cold frames, which are very handy, given the colder weather we've been having.  I want to build more cold frames and put them in my garden so that my entire garden is just a bunch of cold frames. 

What's really useful is planting vegetable starts in the cold frame.  I've found that they do really well if I close them up at night and open them in the daytime.  Today I picked my dinner of salad from one of the cold frames.

My other cold frame has seeds started.  This is somewhat not exciting as watching lettuce and beans grow is really not fun.  Still, I can see some progress and I do have herb starts in there to keep my interest up.  I put together a square foot garden in each of the cold frames.  They look really impressive and almost make me look like a real gardener.  The next picture is my second cold frame.

Second Cold Frame
This weekend, I spent weed-whacking the old garden.  To my surprise, I had some plants that came back.  I have parsley, tricolor sage, two oregano, onions and some carrots that survived the past winter.  The carrots are really odd because I couldn't get the damn things to grow last summer, but they started this spring.  I planted some purple carrots in the cold frames, but I have no idea how they're going to do.  Right now, as seedlings, they're pretty iffy.

So, I decided to plant bush beans, including dragon's tongue, which are absolutely delicious, various herbs (cilantro, marjoram, basil, dill, parsley, sage, rosemary, lemon thyme, regular thyme), purple carrots, kale, several types of romaine, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, chard, arugula, spinach, mesculin mix, onions and garlic.  I planted yellow tomatoes, eggplant, lemon balm, catnip, snow peas and dragon's tongue beans in my container gardens on the porch.

With so much rain, I put out a couple of buckets under the eaves of the barn.  I'm so glad I did! I caught enough rainwater to water all the birds and Sid the llama, thus saving me from hauling water from the house.  Much easier and economical.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thor, Malamutes and The Market

8:53 PM
Malamutes always seem to warrant road trips. 

Thor, Haegl and Kira (in background)
I don't exactly understand why that is, but Malamutes seem to have the ability to pull me great distances to adopt them.  Such was the case with Mishka when we took a long road trip to pick her up in Kansas.  Such is the case with Thor, our newest Malamute, who was in Great Falls.  He came from the Fort Belknap Reservation, found running with a group of feral dogs.  Poor guy had porcupine quills stuck in his muzzle and mouth that had gotten infected.  He still has lumps and scars from the thing.  Poor guy.

The good news is that he's so far getting along with most of the other dogs.  We've had a few small spats, but nothing that would yet qualify for  scary Malamute fight.  As you can see in the picture on the left, he's doing pretty good.

Thor is simply gigantic; that's the only way to describe him.  We measured him to be 30 inches at the shoulder, which is huge for a Malamute, where the standard is about 25 inches.  Still, he's well proportioned.  He's still a puppy and still has growth plates, which means he'll get taller yet.  Probably only a half inch or so. 

The lady who worked for Malamute rescue was so in love with him, but her big male Malamute hated him.  Our male, Haegl, is pretty nonchalant about everything, but is a little taken aback by his size.  Thor isn't sure of Haegl's intentions, so it's kind of important to keep the peace.

Thor also made me violate my own rules as to wake up times.  I wanted to go to the Farmer's Market, and so ended up getting up early.  When I was there, I discovered that this was the second market of the season.  To my surprise, the first market happened April 30th in the snow.  Geez!

I got salad greens, bok choy, salsa, guacamole, potatoes (cold storage), cheeses, butter, bacon, ground buffalo, a beef roast, a pork roast, and some awesome sesame balls with bean paste in them.  These are my very favorite, so I asked the seller if he was selling it all summer.  He said yes!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cold Frames, Chicks and Nick

4:13 PM
Last summer, we built cold frames to grow vegetables during the winter.  Well, the best intentions of mice and men.  Yesterday, I broke down and got enough dirt to fill one frame and bought some plants at the local organic store.  I picked up a lettuce mix, marjoram, lemon thyme, and ginger mint.  I also had some seeds, so I followed the square foot gardener recommendations and planted those as well as more heirloom varieties of lettuce, carrots, bush beans, and onion sets.

Cold Frames
I then closed up the cold frame and called it good.  You see, cold frames are mini greenhouses and keep the warmth of the sun in.  So, even though it's cool and about 50-60 right now, and is around freezing at night, the seeds should sprout and the plants should grow. 

Creating the cold frames were cheap and easy.  I went to the recycle store, Home Resource, in Missoula, and found some lumber that would suit my needs as well as two single pane windows.  The frames are basically boxes without bottoms with one side taller than the other.  The single pane window sits on top of the frames. 

I already had grasses growing inside the frames, so I took the weed whacker to them and used the grass as green mulch and spread the dirt on top of them.  Yeah, I'll probably have some weeding to do when it comes up, but that's okay.  You can see the unprepared one in the background where I had just taken the weed whacker to it.  I'll be picking up top soil and laying down the rest of the plants I get from the market this weekend.
Barnevelders and Cornish Xs

I should've started this earlier, but given the wonky weather, I'm lucky I got anything to start.  I figure I'll probably use the frames this year for most of the plants and plan on growing into November or better.  It's really odd that up here a few hundred feet makes a huge difference with growing.

I got my chicks from various places.  I so wanted Barnevelders and I got them this year.  Yay!  I picked up 15 Barnevelder chicks (12 poults and 3 cockerels).  I lost one chick, don't know what sex.  I got 4 feathered legged cuckoo marans cockerels as "packing peanuts."  I then went to the feed store and picked up two turkeys, two Cayuga ducks, and eight Cornish Crosses (meat birds).  I had ordered a mix of ducks, geese and turkeys, but the turkeys kept dying from that lot and I lost two ducks in transit.  But I do have five lovely ducks (two Pekins and three Rouens) and two goslings (African or Toulouse) from that.

Barnevvelders and Cornish Xs
 I kept losing the shipped turkeys.  Don't know why, but they seem to be extraordinarily fragile.  After a while, I just decided to ask for a refund.  Very annoying.  Even so, everyone is doing really well.

Geese, Ducks, Turkeys
On a sad note, Nick the llama passed on.  We're not quite sure why, but it may have had to do with his age or he might have eaten something bad when he escaped.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Llamas on the Lam

1:29 AM
Sid After Capture
I've been sick lately and have been behind on work.  Today, I got further behind. Once again, the llamas prove to be troublemakers.  My neighbors drove up and told me that my llamas had escaped from the pen while I was on the phone to my husband.  I ran partway up the hill to see Sid go blazing across the BLM road above my land and see Nick climbing the talus field. I climb up to try to get him, but I have slippers on and no harness.  I trek back down.

Nick after capture
I went back inside and got my hiking shoes on because slippers are only good for hunting.  I went down to the barn and got the halters and ropes and came out, figuring I was going to have to drive to find them.  My neighbors, W and D, had spotted Nick on the talus field not moving.  At first, I thought maybe I'd leave him there and look for Sid, but when you have a llama in the talus, you should probably go and get him.  D had managed to get to Nick on the talus, despite the rocks and held him for me to climb up and amazingly not break my leg doing so.  I put a halter on Nick and walked and slid down on my butt to the back trail.  One llama caught, I tied him to a tree in my backyard where he could get grass and went back to get Sid.  By the time I got back, they shouted that Sid was running down the hill.  To my surprise, here comes a llama at full gallop.  I go to meet him and he decides he wants to leap down the hill.  W and D follow my orders and surround him with me and W catches Sid.  I put a halter on him and walk him back down.

So, I thanked my neighbors profusely, including the neighbor up on the BLM road who I never even saw but who shouted and chased Sid back onto our property.  Sid looks extraordinarily pleased with himself in the photo, but tonight both llamas are tethered close to their food and water and under the shelter until we can secure the fencing tomorrow when my husband gets home.

That took a good portion of the afternoon.  Go figure.  Llamas = troublemakers. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Llamas Versus Geese

9:20 PM
"What is that?"
Today I decided to put the geese out with the llamas.  Not because I was bored or the geese needed to go out, but more because I figured it would give them both something to do.  I'd like to put some of my birds out with the llamas and the geese were probably the safest with them until the llamas got used to the birds.

What I didn't count on was the amusement factor.  I took some photos once I saw that they were truly amazed at each other.

"What Weird Critters Did You Bring?"

Sid thinks they're llama-eating space aliens

The llamas discuss their options

"Do you really think they eat llamas?"

"We think they're velocipraptors"

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rain, Chicks and Egg Eaters

11:30 PM
Sigh, it's raining.  Not that I mind the rain, but in some ways I prefer either rain or snow, but not both.  Both equals ice, which makes life interesting.  Okay, not interesting.  How about dangerous?

Naturally after I bought the Welsummer and Buff Orpington chicks, I get an email from a hatchery saying they have (gasp!) the elusive Barnevelders.  I lost my mind and ordered 15 chicks.  They warned me that they will come with "packing peanuts," that is, a name for unwanted cockerels.  Basically, I figure by the time I get both groups of birds, I will have 50 chicks.  OMG.

The good news is that the roosters will go to freezer camp.  I've got two that have to go and probably two ducks who aren't laying eggs.  (No eggs and no good for breeding?  Well, their days are pretty much numbered).

The calm pen now has an egg eater.  I discovered this because I saw two eggs in a nest box before I left for town and found no eggs, but did find the remains of three shells.  So, I have to look for the culprit and separate them for a few days.  Then, I will have to try to put them back and then if that doesn't work, off to freezer camp.  My worry is if they all start doing it.  If they do, they pretty much are gone.  Which is very annoying because I like these chickens.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

No Self Control

11:04 PM
Today I took some money I had and ordered chickens/geese/turkeys/ducks for spring.

I am hopeless. 

I got some buff orpingtons, welsummers, turkeys, goslings and ducks.

I'm hoping I got some cool turkeys.  I really like the turkey personality.  I'm hoping for some good layer ducks too, but this is more or less the bargain order so I'm hoping that the bargain birds are fun.  It'll be fun to figure out what breed they are.

Normally I wouldn't do this with chicks, but I'm pretty sure that the mix will be just fine.  I wanted to replace the buffs I lost and get some more chocolate egg layers in.  I'm good with the Easter Eggers.  The one little EE cockerel who survived is a pistol.  He is constantly searching for things to get into and get out of.  He tries to get out of the pen when I show up and struts in front of the big birds like he's something special.  What a hoot!

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Sacred Halls of Wally World

8:54 PM
I'm not a huge fan of Wal-Mart, but I occasionally step into the store because occasionally there are things I can buy at Wal-Mart that I can't really purchase locally at a better price.  Even so, if I can avoid Wal-Mart, I will, not for political or other reasons, but because I just don't like the experience.

It comes down to this: lots of folks shop at Wal-Mart for the bargains, even though I've seen them price some stuff higher or equal to the local retailers.  Wal-Mart is always crowded, which means I have to deal with lots of people and lots of lines.  When I go to Good Foods, I deal with a smaller place that may or may not be crowded.  The food is organic (or marked conventional) and I know where it comes from.  They love featuring local foods and products.  They take pride in offering good produce and foods.  And yeah, they cost a bit more sometimes, but not always.

I had gone into Wal-Mart to get meds for one of my dogs.  It had been put back on the shelf so I had to wait.  So, I went looking for organic and local stuff.  Wal-mart does carry local products, but it is often hard to find them unless you know where to look.  I did score some extra Wheat Montana flour at a good price, local egg noodles, and organic cereal at a decent price.  The prices were good.  The experience, not so thrilling. I felt like I was back in Denver, and in Missoula, that's pretty hard to do. 

As usual, the whole thing took much longer than I had planned.  I realize that Wal-Mart has a place in the retail world -- and I'm more likely to buy TVs and other electronics there because of the price break.  But honestly, if I had my choice, I'd choose a smaller store over the big warehouse store. 

I like being able to pay not a lot on things, but at some point the quality factor and the community factor comes into being.  Wal-Mart fills a gap that we have out here in terms of certain types of goods.  But at the same time, I won't buy meat and vegetables there that I don't know the origin -- or don't approve of the origin.  My buffalo comes from Montana.  Same with the beef and pork, as well as my chickens and the deer I hunt.  Most of the butchering happens at places I do business with -- I've met the owners too. 

My husband -- who never liked eggs before he ate our chickens' eggs -- had eggs in a restaurant at a hotel and was stunned at how bad they were.  I think commercial eggs have no taste; even the organic eggs seem to not be as good as my own chickens' eggs.  Food I get from the farmer's market is so much better than the food you get in the store. 

I know I'm not the only one who thinks this.  And maybe that's why at least in Missoula, we still have small businesses even though we have two Wal-Marts.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Llamas, Shiners and Other Idiotic Things

11:02 PM
I got back from a Science Fiction convention and was pretty excited to see all my critters, including the llamas.  I have a terrible feeling that my disappearance for a few days made the llamas antsy.  So, Sid and Nick were behaving like total buttheads.  I caught Sid and was going to pet him when he dodged and I moved forward at the same time he did.  The resultant thwack sent a shockwave that can only be described as nasty.

The good news is that I never hit the ground.  It hurt like hell and I remember shouting and more or less hanging onto Sid.  We were both pretty stressed out and after several minutes, I gathered the eggs, stomped back into the house and started making phone calls.  I tried to get hold of my husband (failed for various reasons) and my neighbor who is an emergency flight for life nurse (she wasn't there either).  However, as I was looking at myself in the mirror, applying ice and wondering if I should go to the emergency room, my neighbor calls and offers to come up and inspect.

The good news is I most likely don't have a concussion and the bone that got hit was actually one of the tougher bones in the skull.  I missed the temple by an inch and impacted the orbital ridge.  So, I have a shiner and I look and feel awful, but I will live.  She called and checked on me later tonight and if I had really hurt myself, she would drive me to the emergency room.  So, tonight I am resting and feeling really stupid.

After she checked up on me, we went down to the barn and Sid and I made up.  Sid put his head close to mine and let me catch him and I petted him.  We both decided it was way too much excitement for one day.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fun with Nick and Sid

12:38 AM
Things have been kind of wonky here lately, so I'll try to update you on the llamas.

The llama vet came for a visit and declared Nick being much older than the rancher told me.  The rancher thought Nick was 8.  According to the vet, Nick is 14.  The vet said Sid was 12.  Although I know that the vet is probably closer to the age than the rancher, I know it's more or less an educated guess than anything.  The vet didn't think I would be able to work Nick much.  I think there's more likely light duty work ahead for him.

One problem I ran into was Nick suddenly went blind for two days.  Some llama breeders told me it might be llama polio, which is a deficiency of thiamine due to stress or diet change.  I had asked the vet about the blindness and the vet thought he was just blind.  But, Nick's eyesight started improving, which suggests something temporary.  Who knows?

Nick's crappy ears are from a genetic defect that runs in a particular line out of Darby.  Traceable to a llama ranch from there.  Seeing as they aren't infected and Nick is a gelding and couldn't be bred anyway, I'm not really concerned.  Furthermore, Nick's lines come from Bolivian stock and he has a very old head.  Sid too is of an older type of llama.

Once Sid got over the shock of having someone else in his pen, he's settled down and is a bit calmer.  Sid is top llama and Nick is second.  Or should I say I am top llama, Sid is second and Nick is third?  Today while husband and I were visiting, Sid came over and behaved very deferentially towards me.  He lowered his head and put his lips to mine in a type of sniffing/kissing behavior that distinctly said that I was top of the herd.  Kind of funny and very ticklish.  Nevermind they're still aloof and skittish, but he's genuinely not terrified of me anymore and acts like he just needs to act funny at me.  Sid has a really funny personality.  He loves to act like he's a tough-guy, but he really likes me. 

I've trained both llamas to eat out of my hands.  Very cool and even ticklish.  Sid is gentler than Nick who has actually pinched my palm with his teeth.  But seeing as llamas don't have top incisors, my skin gets pinched between top gums and bottom teeth.  Unlikely to draw blood.

It has been too icy for us to walk them.  I don't want to risk an injury for either them or us. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sid and Nicky

2:25 AM
Well, today Nick the Black Llama arrived.  He's a confident, sassy dude who has positively fallen in love with me.  His former owner commented that he never allowed anyone to touch his head and he went and sniffed my breath and gave me a version of a llama kiss.  Basically, he was very mellow and relaxed.

You can see his new picture in the pen with Sid,  I had put some field fencing between them so they could get used to each other.  Nick, you may notice, has torn up ears.  The rancher I got him from didn't know how it happened, but his ears had been pretty torn up when the rancher got him.  They're fine and they don't cause him any pain.  Which is very good.

Sid, on the other hand, was pretty uptight about the entire situation.  In spite of the field fencing, he started posturing and threatening to spit at Nick.  Nick did the same back.  I fed and watered them and hoped for the best.  I went inside for a nap.

When I went back with more food and water (I wanted to make sure everyone was happy), I found Nicky in Sid's pen.  They were acting very calm until I came in.  Then, Sid started acting like a butthead to us both.  In desperation, I took Sid for a short stroll outside the pen.  He seemed to calm down.

It seems Nick took the bottom portion of the field fence down and slipped under.  When I was away, they were acting okay.  I've been checking on them at night and they seem okay when I do.  When I was close by, Sid was really being an idiot.  No llamas spit or hurt each other yet, but they were acting like two morons.  The only thing I can think of is that Sid is desperately trying to guard or protect me from this new "intruder."  But he's being Sid, which makes him skittish and less willing to put up with me trying to pet or handle him.  Nick, on the other hand, is willing to let me handle him a lot, which makes me think he's really a people llama and not a llama who really was supposed to guard sheep, which was his job for 3-4 years.  It's quite apparent that the rancher I got Nick from took decent care of him and didn't abuse him because he's not at all fearful or skittish.  Nicky is about 8 years old.  Looking at Sid and his behavior, I'm starting to rethink Sid's age.  I think he's Nick's age or maybe a little younger because of what I'm seeing.  He's lost a good portion of his gray hair with good nutrition and he's a bit more antsy than Nick.  His teeth are cleaning up with his food too.

I've been able to do things with Nick that has taken a long while to get Sid to do.  It's okay, I understand Sid has trust issues, but it's really nice to have a llama who is more or less relaxed.  Sid is better at commands and is good at walking; Nick, I think is fine, but he's less crisp and not good at pacing with the human yet.  That's okay, again, I can work with that.

Hopefully tomorrow I won't find bloody llamas, or either (or both) missing because Nick figured out how to get out of the pen.  I think they'll want to hang out because of the food and because I'm here.  I've already gotten a taste of herd politics and I think it's pretty silly.  I'm going to get some more rocks and make certain they don't try to push open the pen.  It should be set, but I want to make sure they can't muscle their way out.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My First Attempt at Soapmaking

12:22 AM
Today I decided to embark on the merry adventure of hot process soap making.  I chose hot process soap because I would have soap ready to go once it was hard and I shouldn't have to worry about the lye that you need to worry about with cold process soaps. 

I decided to try a small batch today with tallow, coconut oil and palm oil.  I chose to do a small batch first, even though I was ready to throw caution to the wind and make a huge batch, but something nagged at me in the middle of the night, and I decided discretion was the better part of valor, and planned on a small 8 to 10 bar batch.  I may go smaller if this doesn't work tonight.

First, the mistakes.  Making your first batch of soap is a bit of a learning curve.  For one thing, there's the oils.  I planned on tallow because it's cheap and easy to come by, makes a reasonably hard bar, and it's the closest thing to venison fat I can find.  Okay, then.  Nobody told me that the tallow I got had meat in it.  LOTS of meat.  When I started melting the tallow, half the weight was in meat.  So, I had to strain the cooked beef from the beef fat.  That was mistake #1.

Mistake #2 was putting the sieve over the smaller container which sat on the scale.  You know what happens when you try to drain oil from meat and the meat plugs up the strainer?  Okay, so I had to clean the scale.  It still works.  The Malamutes licked up what they found on the cabinets and floor.  I ended up having to measure out half as much fat again with all of this.

Mistake #3 Don't put your Kindle anywhere near the soap pot.  Somehow, I got soap and fat dried on it.  It cleaned off okay and the Kindle still works.

Smart Idea #1: (Are you surprised I had smart ideas?)  Do this outside.  Really.  The smell from the lye reaction would kill you if you're indoors.  Those who do this inside are INSANE. 

Smart Idea #2: (That wasn't really needed)  Wore a full face shield and latex gloves for handling the lye.  No, I wasn't that klutzy, but I really could have been.

Smart Idea #3: Hot plates.  Yeah, it worked wonderfully.

General confused notions:

1.  Stirring.  How much and how often?  I seemed to think hot processed soap needed lots of stirring.  Now that I reread the book, I think I stirred too much and things started doing okay all by themselves.

2.  Timing: How long is long enough?  I had no idea how long this was supposed to take.  After a while, applesauce stage, mash potato stage, trace stage, etc seemed to not make much sense.  In the end, after several hours, I figured that if the soap hardened when I poured a bit onto the mold and the lye didn't eat my skin, it was ready.  We'll see about that.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On My Soapbox

12:53 AM
Today I went into town because I got a handle on a free scale to do weight measurements for my latest project: soapmaking.  I got the idea to make soap when I noticed I had a lot of venison fat I collected for the sled dogs.  Venison fat makes exceptional soap.  But seeing as I can't get it except during hunting season, I've got to at least learn how to make soap, and that requires some kind of fat and oil. 

Beef tallow is readily abundant and probably the closest analogue, even though deer fat has a higher melting point.  That was ridiculously easy to get, so the next problem I had was a scale.  I decided to ask the good folks on the Missoula Freecycle and one fellow came up with an outdated electronic postage scale.  I picked that up today.

I had promised the guys at the warehouse where I got the shavings for my animals that I would pick up the bags.  I was looking around and found the perfect wood there for soap molds: an old column from a house that was missing a side.  The guys are hooked on my chicken eggs and without any persuasion, they cut the soap boxes down and even cut the backs and fronts for me to nail.  I got all of it at an excellent price and now I don't have to pester my husband to make them.  What's more, one of the guys is married and his wife does essential oils.  She's hooked on my chickens' eggs too.  I owe these guys eggs. The chickens had better get laying.

As if that wasn't good enough, I found organic coconut and palm oil at my grocery store as well as organic essential oils on sale.  Wow. 

Tomorrow is soap day.  If this really works out, I may be selling some.