Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Chickens aren't only tasty to us human folks. They are also irresistible to all sorts of predators that are lurking in every shadow and under every shrub on the farm. I have experienced first hand the heartache of losing a flock to gnashing teeth and sharp claws.
The main predators are (in no particular order)
I am only really going to address the predators that I have had experience with or that live in our area. I'm sure there are many other wonderful blogs that discuss bears and mountain lions and psycho weasels. We live close to the coast on the Gulf of Mexico where there are NO weasels! The last time I saw a mountain lion was at the New Orleans Zoo. If I ever see a bear around here, you will know it because my screaming will be heard throughout the nation.
My first chicken run was made the 'Snuffy Smith' way. It was just kind of thrown together with 3x2 wire, posts, zip ties and heavy gauge wire to use like bread ties to hold wire together. It worked quite well for a couple of years. Then, one morning, we found one of the 6 hens dead in the run. I thought that a hawk grabbed it through the wire and pulled its neck because the neck area was really torn up, and only one hen was dead. We looked over the run and could not find any issues. The next morning, we saw the same thing. We looked all over the run and couldn't find a problem. I had family members look everywhere too. We looked for hair caught in wire, scratch marks, disturbed dirt, etc.... nothing. I set up a trap inside the run and a game cam. This is what we found:
We also finally found where the culprits were entering. Somehow, some of the wire had come apart where we had joined two pieces together. It was on top of a cross board and was not noticeable. We still can't believe the animals were able to find it, let alone wiggle themselves underneath it. But, I guess they have all night to figure out how to get in there. I was very upset with the whole ordeal. We razed the entire run and built a new and larger run with security in mind. I will be writing future blogs on our run project.
One of the main predators of chickens that most people don't consider is the family dog and the roaming dog. We have had issues with packs of feral dogs in the past. Some of the other family members on the farm woke up one morning to a horrendous sight. Their beautiful flock of about 5 hens was completely destroyed. We knew it was a dog. Hair was found on parts of the wire run and there were prints in the dirt. They were also killed in a manner consistent with a dog, which is their backs were torn up. Dogs like to pin the chicken down and chew at them through the back and neck. The dog visited my coop and run as well, but he was not able to get my hens. I have seen dogs chew through hardware cloth. I have seen them chew right through chicken wire or poultry netting. On the coop, I have 3x2 wire and hardware cloth. The 3x2 wire is for dogs and raccoons, and the hardware cloth is to deter rodents and snakes from getting in and eating the eggs. The dog you see in the picture chewed through the hardware cloth. I wish that I had gotten a picture at the time, but I was not blogging then and didn't think about it! The bad boy below really tore up the outside of my coop. He scratched everywhere. I think this is the dog that also killed my brother's chickens. It is NOT our dog.
You might be able to see the dog scratches better in this photo. He scratched all along the sides, and as high as in between the top two vents.
So, the take away from this post is:
- Poultry netting and hardware cloth can be ripped apart by a dog and other larger predators
- use 3x2 wire to deter larger predators
- check for holes/gaps/loose areas in your run fencing
I'm going to be starting a series of posts documenting the building of a secure run. Stay tuned!
Monday, February 4, 2013
I am an avid watcher of documentaries. If they center around farming or agriculture, I'm especially interested. The majority of the food documentaries I find are on Netflix Watch it Instantly. They actually have quite a nice selection with different varities of nonfiction videos. I have had folks ask me what I reccommend. So, I thought I'd put out my top five favorites and then throw in some extra, "non-farmy" videos too. My ratings are based on a few criteria and they are as follows:
Cinematography (or how well the movie is ''photographed'')
Pace (how the video moves along... are they dragging it out?)
1. Food, Inc. ------------ Overall Best Documentary for a "beginner"
Food, Inc. is a wonderful beginner's guide to having eyes opened about the current state of the food industry. It does not dive too deeply into political/social/cooperate issues. It introduces us to Joel Salatin who is one of the faces of the home farm movement. This is not a documentary for the well informed because you will not glean any new information. However, I'm placing it at number one because it is a good, overall look at the issues faced with our food supply.... from cruelty to the farm animals to the big businesses behind the scenes. The cinematography is nice and the pace moves along nicely. Unfortunately, at my time of writing this post, Netflix does not have the watch it instantly feature available for Food, Inc.
2. Farmageddon ----------- Best for showcasing plight of small farms
Farmageddon is a documentary that makes the big vein in the side of my neck bulge. It's a call to action and gets me fired up whenever I watch it. Your eyes will be opened to the ridiculous travesty of how small family farms are treated by the government. Big food cooperations are all about money, NOT food for health. The cinematography is pretty good and the pace is moves along nicely. This sits at number two because small scale farming is near and dear to my heart. The government control over small scale farmers is a HUGE issue. Farmers should not have to hide health sustaining crops in secrecy for fear of ruin from the government.
3. Frankensteer ------------ Best for showcasing the beef industry
This is a must see for the meat eaters out there. Question: What percentage of the cows on an industrialized cow farm are fed antibiotics? You have to watch the documentary to find out. Follow the cattle industry to see how the animals are treated and how and what they are fed. This is a little more objective and allows both sides to speak. However, all of these food documentaries are biased towards eating cleanly, so it shouldn't be a surprise that your take away will be pro small farm. The cinematography was more journalistic in style and there's not much pretty scenery to look at. The pace is moderate. It sits at number three because I think it is important for meat eaters to know what they are eating, and this is an entire documentary dedicated to beef.
4. King Corn ------------ Best for showcasing the corn industry
King Corn was an enjoyable watch. It follows two young Bostonian males on a quest to plant and grow an acre of corn in corn country and then follow its plight in the American food industry. Although a little bit silly, it has some useful information. Corn is in almost everything. I especially liked the part of the film where they attempted to recreate high fructose corn syrup. Although they won't be winning any scientific accolades any time soon, it definitely made me stop and think about the nasty stuff that has oozed its way into every crevice of the food industry. It sits at number four because it was an enjoyable watch, and I no longer consume high fructose corn syrup because of it!
5. Ingredients ----------- Best cinematography
I love photography, and I enjoy watching some movies just for the scenery. This is a luscious documentary. Is it realistic? Maybe not as much as some of the other mainstream documentaries out there. Portions of it can come across as being a little bit pretentious. There is an introductory history lesson into the growth of the food industry in the US. The cinematography is top notch, the content is moderate and the pace is moderate to slow. It sits at number five because of the pretentious tendencies. I think small scale farming should be accessible to everyone from all demographics.
Some of the Food documentaries that I have seen that did not make it onto my Top Five List:
Forks Over Knives: boring, overly subjective without showing real science to back up claims
Hungry For Change: sensationalized. The first half was okay and then went downhill from there.
Food Matters: I'm a science person. This is supposed to be more of a science-based documentary. However, I found the information to be sensationalized, hand picked and very.... boring. I couldn't make it through the entire documentary.
Here are a few extra documentaries that I enjoyed watching:
The Natural History of the Chicken
The Natural History of the Chicken is not what you think it would be. There is very little chicken history involved. This is more of a fun look at different chicken owners. It runs that gamut from a lady that bathes and diapers her pet chicken to a farm that free ranges and provides meat for their family. It's a cute little jaunt through crazy chicken territory.
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead
I found this video to be very thought provoking. Could I juice for 90 days... or 10 days? I doubt it. My body requires fiber. However, the journey that the two men in this video embarked on was refreshing to watch.
If you are ever in a down kind of mood, then check out this documentary. Whatever your circumstance, happiness can be found within yourself. Will more money make you happy? Will a bigger house make you happy? Travel along with folks from different walks of life and see for yourself.
I really can't tell you how many times I've watched this documentary. If you love horses, this is a must see. This story follows Buck across the country helping horses, yes, but he's really helping the people that own them. Horses are a mirror to our soul, and Buck has a good one. From a troubled childhood to raising a beautiful, happy family of his own, go see why he has become a true horsemen.
Monday, January 7, 2013
|Annoying paddle hole!|
I have been trying to move our family towards a simpler eating lifestyle. I used to buy at least one loaf of whole wheat bread from our local grocer at least once per week. The ingredient labels on even the healthiest loaves I can find make me cringe. Why in the world does a loaf of bread require so many ingredients? Surely folks back in the 'olden days' didn't add mono and diglycerides, calcium propionate, etc. If the loaf won't start spoiling until after 12 days, I don't want to eat it. So, I vowed to start baking all of our bread in the bread machine. It started out well. The smell was wonderful. However, when it came time to get the freshly baked loaf out of the machine, it was very difficult to nearly impossible. It always gets stuck on that darn paddle on the bottom. And when I did finally dislodge the loaf, it had a huge hole in the bottom where the paddle made its mark. The loaf was oddly shaped... more like the shape of a cinder block than something taken out of Grandma's oven. When sliced, the slices were very awkward to eat because they were so large, and they didn't fit into any of my reusable sandwich containers. Something had to be done. So, I started doing a little bit of research and found some sources out there for using the bread machine to prep my dough and the oven to finish it. After many loaves of trial and error, I'm ready to share the method that works best for me.
I am lucky enough to have a dough setting on my Sunbeam bread machine. When using a bread machine, you always add wet ingredients first and then your flour and then your sugar, salt and yeast. I use a simple recipe supplied by Sunbeam shown below (http://www.sunbeam.com/Splash.aspx), and I have found it to work best for me.
1. Add your ingredients to your bread machine. For a 1 1/2 pound 100% whole wheat bread loaf, I add the following in this order:
2 tablespoons softened butter
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 teaspoons regular active dry yeast (quick acting dry yeast is fine)
Set your machine to the dough cycle. For this loaf, my machine takes 1 1/2 hours to prepare the dough.
2. Prepare your pan. I use a bread pan I bought from a local retail store. It's a 9x5 inch pan. Spray the pan lightly with olive oil spray. Any other non-stick spray will work. You can also grease it with butter or some type of lard. If I am out of spray, I will grab a stick of butter, open the end and rub it all over the inside of the pan.
3. Remove your dough from the machine and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. I use a piece of wax paper on top of my countertop. I flour it with the same wheat flour used in making the dough.
4. Punch the dough down with your fists and shape it into a rectangle that is approximately 10 inches wide. It is not necessary to knead the dough. I don't even use a roller. I just kind of push it around until I get the shape I want.
6. Place a damp cloth over the bread pan and place in a warm, stable environment like the oven or a microwave. Don't turn either of them on. I place my bread in the microwave because I like to free up my oven so that I can preheat for step 7. The dough needs to have time to rise for about 1 hour before baking. This can be fudged a little bit. I sometimes leave it in there an extra 30 minutes when I'm busy doing something else. Your final loaf will look very similar to what you see after this step is complete.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, give or take a few minutes depending on your oven. My oven bakes a little bit hot, so 30 minutes is usually the perfect amount of time. It should sound hollow when you thump it.
8. Take it out of the oven, turn it out onto a board or plate or rack and let it cool. I usually let mine cool for about an hour before I put it in a gallon ziplock for storage. If you put it into a container too soon, the steam from the bread will add too much moisture to the loaf/container and will encourage mold to grow. So, make sure it's cool before you store it. I keep my loaves out on our counter in a ziplock. They usually last approximately 4 to 5 days for a family of four. Sometimes they only last a couple of hours because butter on fresh bread is ridiculously yummy.
I hope you enjoy the whole wheat recipe and the fresh baked bread. This method sounds very time consuming, but it's actually quite easy once you get the hang of it. There is a lot of 'hurry up and wait' with baking bread.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Banana trees require hot (check), tropical (check), ridiculous (check) environments to really thrive. They do not like the cold, and freezing can devastate them. Oddly, bananas are considered to be perennial herbs. They have beautiful deep purple buds and beautiful yellow flowers within. Banana trees can grow to huge heights! Some reach 40 feet. See the person standing underneath our banana tree? The fruit grows on a large, non woody stem. The stems are really cool looking. The fruit starts to ripen once the stem is cut. Many times, the bananas get too heavy for the stem to support, and the stem breaks, beginning the ripening process.
All of these pictures are of the banana trees on Old Brodbeck Farm. They grow taller every year and are easily divided by digging up individual stalks. The trees are cut back during the
winter and look pretty awful... like weird mushy stumps. But, every year, they pop out bigger and better than the previous growth season. The bananas taste sweeter and more "banana-y" than the huge store bought bananas. The banana trees at our farm do not get sprayed with any type of fertilizer, pesticides or anything. If you live up north and are interested in trying out bananas, they do grow in sunrooms, greenhouses, and bathrooms if someone is constantly taking a hot shower (well, the bathroom has not been officially tested, but now you know what kind of climate we're living in down here).
These bananas are so sweet, that if you are making a banana bread with them, the sugar should be cut down by at least 1/4. My favorite healthy banana bread recipe is from the 100daysofrealfood.com folks. What is your favorite banana bread?
Thursday, September 6, 2012
I read a bunch of cleaning tips on the internet, and I wonder how many people actually take the time to gather the materials to use them. I am not the most organized person in the world. I am also very forgetful. It runs in the family. I forget everything... from why I walked into a room... to my daughter's birth year. I gave up taking a daily vitamin a long time ago. So it's no surprise that my cleaning tips are things that I find in the yard or are super easy to do. I find whatever is at hand. I'd like to think that I am recycling or reusing, but, really, I'm just too lazy to walk back to the house. The following tips are more farm and animal-related tips than house cleaning tips.
Tip One: Onion Bag
My hands are always dirty. I'm the person that has to wash their bar soap after using it. I don't particularly like to use pump soap because the bottle usually gets covered in grime and looks none too pleasing to pump. My artist Mom taught me this trick. Cut up an onion bag and wrap it around your bar soap. It makes even the most stubborn soap create a luxurious lather. It scrubs your hands clean at the same time. You can also tie a string to the onion bag and have a nice soap-on-a-rope for outdoor use.
Tip Two: Leaves!
Please do not underestimate the scrubbing power of leaves. Our horse trough is far enough away from the house that I really don't feel like walking back to find a scrubber. I just grab a big handful of whatever leaves are closest. The bigger the leaves, the better. I've scrubbed a horse trough with sycamore leaves, pecan branches, ginger lilies, an old palm branch and some other things laying around. Leaves are wonderfully abrasive and clean up the algal bloom on the trough quite nicely. Just make sure you rinse the leaves out before you fill up the trough!
Tip Three: Pea Gravel
We have a guinea pig. His name is Ponyo. He is named after the little sea creature girl Ponyo in the movie Ponyo. He's scampering around with a girl's name and making a real mess of his enclosure. He has been outside this spring and summer and his water bottle used to get algae on the inside of it until I thought up this little trick. I know that this is the time where you say, "why doesn't she just hang a bottle brush next to Ponyo's house?" My retort is, "do you have children?" If I did not have kids, I would hang a bottle brush and BAM! Done! However, kids move everything that is not nailed down. I can already see the next headline on the local newspaper: "Woman Spends Thousands of Dollars Replacing Bottle Brushes for Ponyo." So, anyway, back to my point. Instead of using a bottle brush, I grab a handful of pea gravel from one of our failed walkway attempts, drop it down into the bottle, fill about halfway with water, screw the lid back on and then get to shaking. In just a few shakes, I've cleaned a water bottle, cleaned some rocks and gotten some exercise. It's a real win-win... especially for little Ponyo.
I will not even pretend like I have a spotless house, so I will not list ways to clean it. For a house showing once, I literally threw dirty dishes in a cardboard box and put them in the back of the truck. I am the "messy house, happy kids, happy chickens" type. Do you have any weird ways to clean around the farm? Let me know by leaving a comment or let me know on Facebook. Thanks!
Thursday, August 30, 2012
|100 year old pecan tree. My Dad is 6 feet tall.|
My major concern is our horses. I have a sweet paint horse named Shug (pronounced like the first part of "Sugar") and my Mom has a spotted saddle horse named Dolly. When a storm is imminent, there are a few things we do to try and keep them safe. First, we double check all of our fences to make sure that they are strong and nothing is loose. We then pick up any limbs or any other debris in the field that may blow around in the wind. When horses are turned out in a field, it is advised to never leave a halter on them. They can get them caught on all sorts of things. This is also true in a storm. In order to place our information on them, we braid dog ID tags in their mane and double band them. Livestock marker paint can also be used to spray paint your number on them. Fingernail polish on their hooves can be used the same way. Some folks even shave their phone number into their coat. They need identification on them in case part of the fence gets knocked down and they are on the loose. We have also trained them to come to a whistle. We do not stall our horses during storms. Horses are intelligent. They know nature better than I do. They have access to their stall at all times during a storm and can come and go as they please. Large limbs falling are the main threat and horses can become trapped, crushed or scared enough to harm themselves if a limb crushes through the barn. Also, the roofing can be ripped off and blown around inside the barn. A fire could also erupt as the result of injured electric lines and they would be trapped. So, our horses are tagged and allowed to come and go as they please in and out of their turn-out barn.
|"Are you closing me in yet?"|
The chickens, however, do get cooped up. I'll be the first to admit that my chickens are really not smart enough to get out of the rain. They would be pressed against the wire of their run from the wind hurling them about. I coop them up and give them enough food and water to last 5 days. It seems like overkill, but when I am in the house thinking about them, I will know that they have been taken care of. I have a large feeder that can hold 50 pounds. I also put out additional feeders and water throughout the coop so that there will not be as much competition for one feeder.
The goats have their own little turn-out sheds that are anchored down. It would take a mighty, mighty storm to knock them down. Goats do NOT like getting wet, so they stay out of the wind and rain just fine. There is no door on their shed which makes it possible for them to leave for safety reasons (or if they just can't take the smell of Otis the buck goat anymore).
These are a few of our animal preparations for a hurricane. I have no knowledge of what to do for blizzards or anything relating to snow. I have only seen snow in our area three times in the past 30 years, so I am of no help to anyone in that department. So, my question is, are preparations the same for those of you folks with snow? Leave me a comment please. I'd love to know :o)
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|This is Shug.|
Friday, August 24, 2012
What is it with kids and lizards?
And why do lizards allow themselves to be subjected to their grasp? Maybe lizards know that by allowing a child to hold them, they are teaching children a valuable lesson that may, one day, save one of their lizard ancestors from being stomped on the playground. I used to get in a countless number of fights in elementary school defending lizards from the (almost always) circle of boys that were hovering over the poor creature. They would be poking them with a stick or throwing rocks or stepping on (or pulling) their legs. I would jump in the center, scoop up the darling and RUN!
So, it goes without saying, when I see a little lizard and my girls want to hold it, I say “sure.” I do have some rules. No pulling, No grabbing the tail (it comes off). No squeezing. And no chasing. I have perfected a method of catching lizards. It works. The next time you see a lizard (ours around here are this type: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_anole) , try this. Get about eye level with it. With your right hand, put it off to the right and up and wiggle your fingers. The lizard will be mesmerized by your moving fingers. With the other hand, quickly place it over the lizard. You will look silly to the folks that dared you to catch the lizard, but you will walk away triumphant, saying “Who's silly now?” You have been dared to catch a lizard, haven't you?
|Saving the lizard from the hair jungle.|
Catching lizards as an adult might seem weird, but once those little curls ask you if they can hold the little lizard, you will quickly become the lizard catching champion of your county. Now, once the child has the lizard in their hand, fully expect screaming, screaming and more screaming! Gender does not apply here. I have seen little boys scream just as much as the little girls. As soon as they scream and release the lizard, it will invariably climb up their arm and embed themselves in their jungle of hair. You will now have mass hysteria on your hands and will have to act quickly to remove the intruder. After the beast has been found and order is restored, the child will, yet again, want to hold the lizard. So, you will place said lizard back into the hands of the scream machine, and the screaming will reach a higher and more frantic pitch than before. After about the third repeat session, the child will be worn out.
Assuming all of the rules have been followed, the lizard should be no worse for wear. However, the child has gained something...knowledge through participation... The lizard did not bite (have any of you wore lizards as living earrings? No? Just me?). The lizard did not hiss. The lizard did not lose its bloody little tail. The lizard only sits quietly or walks about. And now and only now, the lizard is kind of cute. After looking closely at his little scales and peering into his beady, shiny little eyes, it's time to return him to the fence row. Triumphant looks of accomplishment on the little faces beaded with sweat from their efforts surely mean that at least one more generation of playground lizards has a champion on their side. This someone will scoop them up and run to safety against all odds... Hopefully without all of the screaming.
|Future defender of the lizards!|
***I am not responsible for your failed attempts at catching a lizard. I am also not responsible for you catching the lizard only to find out that it is, indeed, a highly venomous snake. This blog is for information and entertainment only. Thank you!