Thursday, August 30, 2012

How We Prepare Old Brodbeck Farm for a Storm

100 year old pecan tree. My Dad is 6 feet tall.
       When a hurricane threatens in the Gulf, folks around here start thinking "how many days off of work will I get?" The next thought is "Will it be bad enough to worry about, or is it time for a hurricane party?" Then, all sorts of crazy things start happening. I liken it to an expectant Mom that is in the nesting stage. The gas stations begin to have long lines of people filling up with enough gas to power themselves to the moon and back. Pretty soon, the gas stations are empty. Then everyone descends upon the grocery stores. Men strut around puffed out like tom turkeys while they load their cart with beer and give guffaws and grins to the guys around them. In the meantime, their wives are on the bread aisle, grabbing every loaf within a 50 mile radius. You don't like pumpernickel? Doesn't matter. When there is a hurricane, you will grab 10 loaves just in case your tastebuds have changed. You will only watch The Weather Channel to see where Jim Cantore is located. If you see him in your city, you will pack up the kids and scramble like crazy to evacuate. Which brings me to my next topic.... evacuees. Every city has them. They are the folks that heed the repetitive warnings to "Get Out Now!" Once they are on the road, they quickly realize that they should have just stayed in their house. The traffic is usually bumper to bumper. The fear of running out of gas only to find that every gas station is empty is a real and valid fear. Of course, all of the above humor is just that: humor. Although any actual real threat to humans is fairly slim for a category 1 and 2 storm (unless you live in a flood zone), any type of storm can bring a very real danger to the animals in its path. So, I thought I'd write a quick post about our farm's storm preparedness.

        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: , 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!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Betty Beak

     My last order from the folks at McMurray Hatchery was for 39 little chicks. I can't just order a couple of different breeds. I'm the person that has to order as many different kinds as I can get. In the last order, I had:
See the puffy head chick looking right at ya? That's Betty Beak.

Partridge Rock Cochins
Araucana (which are really just    Easter Eggers)
Mottled Houdans
Buff Laced Polish
Silver Laced Wyandottes
Partridge Rocks
Red Star
Pearl-white leghorns

        I bought the mottled houdans for my two young children. They are a “puffy-head” type chicken. Because of their huge head of luxurious feathers, they do not see things descending upon them very well. I thought that this feature would be great for the hawk-like approach of small hands. When they arrived in the mail, my girls and I raced to the post office. We brought our babies home and placed them into their brooder in our garage. I had the heat at just the right temp. I had the water nice and clear. We laid down shavings, but put paper towels over the top. We then threw out scratch on top of the paper towels so that the new beaks could find some grub. They were so cute, and we were very happy.

      The girls could easily spot their puffy head babies. They had this weird little knob on top that looked like they were growing some sort of second head. We checked everyone for pasty booty and felt for full crops. I adjusted the light as the days went on.

      After about one week, I was watching the little babies and noticed something about one of the puffy heads..... She was darting here and there, madly pecking at the food and scratching up the shavings. It was hard to see at first, but then... Yes! There it was!... her beak. It was... crooked. I picked her up and examined her closely. I poked it (of course) to see if it would go back to normal. The poking did not seem to bother her much. Her crop was about half full. I set her back down and back she went, madly pecking along.
      Over the next few weeks, I kept a closer eye on her. The beak was definitely becoming more severe. The bottom half was jutting out to the left. So, I started to research ''scissor beak'' and ''cross beak'' chickens. Almost every article I read said to cull. I felt her crop. It was half full and she was gaining weight. I could not cull.
      After a few more weeks, it was time to move all of the chicks out to “the big coop.” It is a 650+ square foot run with a large coop attached. I watched the little chick with the scissor beak. She was so happy to be running around, scratching in the hay and dirt and playing with the grass. I named her Betty Beak, and I knew then that I would do everything in my power to save her.

      Betty Beak did well for a few days. Around the sixth day, I entered the run to find her pinned beneath two of her larger coop mates. They were pecking her unmercifully. I scooped her up and scolded the others. I tucked her in my shirt and went about the chicken chores. Betty Beak was relieved to be somewhere safe. She fell asleep snuggled down next to me, all warm breath, feathers and down and dirt.

      I brought her to the house and put her in a run all of her own in our garage. I put out bowls of food... one dry crumbles and one a wet crumble mash. She began pecking furiously. The top portion of her beak was normal, but now the bottom portion jutted out at almost a right angle to the top. After one hour of exhaustive pecking, I checked her crop. Nothing. This began my syringe feeding schedule. I made her up a warm mash and fed her with a syringe. It was very slow going. I fed her three times per day. Even after filling her crop half-way (which took about thirty minutes), she was always hungry and always feverishly pecking the food dish. This process went on for about one week. She was dwindling.

This was Betty Beak at approximately 1 week of age.
     One beautiful day at lunch time, I sat in a chair next to her enclosure and pondered her fate like I had done so many times before. She was hunched in a corner and had given up pecking at the food. Her crop was empty. My syringe feeding was not working. She was alone from other chickens. She could not preen and groom herself like she needed and wanted to. She would never be able to peck at the earth and grab a grub. Her tongue had started to shrivel and turn brown because she was not able to keep it moist in her beak. I picked her up and felt her little bony body. She gave out a few hollow cheeps, and I knew it was time...

      Being on the farm is a wonderful experience. There is so much life and so many new beginnings. There are also more chances for unhappy endings. Betty Beak was one of those. I am glad that I did not cull her when I first noticed her deformity. She was able to enjoy a short life of chasing crickets through the grass and scratching in the dirt. I hope she knew how much I tried and how much I wanted life for her. Betty Beak is now buried beneath a beautiful crepe myrtle tree that blooms white in the heat of the summer. Maybe next year there will be an extra bloom just for her.

A crepe myrtle blossom under which Betty Beak was buried.

     Side Note:  I didn't take any pictures of Betty Beak in her older age. I did not have a blog at the time, and it did not occur to me to click the shutter. The younger pictures here show her beak when it was less severe. When she passed, her bottom beak was at a right angle to her face. It was as if half of her beak could grow, and the other half could not.

Monday, August 20, 2012


           I've never really considered myself to be the type of person that needs inspirational quotes. Three days ago, around one o'clock in the morning (while surfing Facebook), I was pondering the type of people that use quotes and could not come up with an exact demographic. I also realized something else... I use inspirational quotes. This realization came to me right before I posted my very first blog post. I was (and still am) afraid to put myself out there. I did not want to hit the “post” button. After the clock was rolling towards two in the morning, do you want to know what I said? “Be. That. Nut.” That's right, you heard me. I don't want to be just any nut. I want to be THAT nut. I'm talking about the nut in my new favorite inspirational quote:
         “The strongest oak was once a little nut that held its ground.”
This struck home with me for a variety of reasons. The world can be a daunting place, and when I thought about beginning a blog, I thought about all of the thousands of people already doing so. I do not know that I can make a positive difference in someone's life or if anyone will be entertained by my words. I do not know if I babble on or not give enough. The quote sounds a little “me against the world.” However, it's quite the opposite.
           What does a nut need in order to grow into a beautiful oak? Being a gardener, I know it will need a few things: good soil, sunlight, and water.
          There is great soil here in which to firmly sink my roots. My family's history on Old Brodbeck Farm dates back generations to around the 1850s. I have a definite feeling of home, a wonderful husband, loving children, great parents and great in-laws. I also have wonderful, supportive friends. So, the nutritive soil is there.
          I would consider my passion for various subjects to be the sunlight. I am passionate about the simple farm lifestyle and attempt at taking beautiful photographs to capture its essence. When the shutter clicks (and clicks and clicks), I get excited about going home and plucking that little card into the computer to see what pops up. What moment in time did I find? What can never be repeated and yet was captured so quickly as to trap the flick of a dragonfly wing? Right now, for me, the sunlight is streaming.
          Last, but not least, the nut needs water. Lots and lots of water. That's where you come in. As you are reading this, you are my water. Without water, a plant is deprived and will surely wither and die. I already feel in my soul a sense of rejuvenation after posting my first blog post. I felt new “friends” on Facebook raining down. I expected one or two people to trickle to my first blog. I did NOT expect over 80 page views. The friendly nature of the Fresh Eggs Daily farm girls brought the ladle and scooped many of you from their pool. I only hope that in return for the water I am so gratefully receiving, I can give you something you need too. I hope that you feel satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment out of watching this little nut dig down deep in the dirt, reach up high for the sunshine and open its sprouting branches to embrace the water.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Chicken Swap!

Chicken Swap site at Robertsdale Feed Store
   There is a wonderful little feed store in a neighboring city named the Robertsdale Feed Store. The interior of their store is set up kind of in the "old timer" style, which fits my style perfectly. They have graciously been hosting a monthly chicken swap. All sorts of things can show up here. Today, there were various assortments of poultry, including Coronation Sussex, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Pharaoh Quail, Naked Necks and many more. Many times, you will find other livestock, ranging from fainting goats to even the little pig that we saw today. There are fine folks selling jams, jellies, homemade breads, cookies and delightful sewing crafts.
Wonderful Naked Neck chick
    One of the cutest little chicks we came across, was a naked neck. What do you think about this little fella? They certainly are interesting and definitely a conversation starter. We (well, read that I... my husband was not entirely thrilled) decided to purchase a full grown naked neck to add to our flock. She is point-of-lay, which means that she should be ready to lay very soon. I was told that she should lay jumbo eggs. I'm excited to see how she does because I have never owned a naked neck. I tried to do my due diligence by asking if she is prone to being picked on because of her bare skin, sunburn potentials, etc. I checked her eyes for clarity, nostrils for discharge and her comb and wattle for spots. She looked great, so I bought her for $10. I don't think that's a bad price for a point-of-lay hen. Without further ado, here she is. What should we name her?

I found it somewhat challenging to find her best side for the camera!
 This little fella was an eyecatcher. He was on a leash and was very friendly. He liked to be petted and held. I have never tried to walk a rooster on a leash, but I imagine most of mine would not take to it without extensive training.... and squawking and kicking and flapping. 
Muscadine jelly. I'm excited about trying it out.
     Like I said, there were wonderful sewing crafts and jams and jellies. When I see a lady standing behind a table with all of her wares set out before her, I don't just see the jars of muscadine jelly. I see someone standing picking the muscadine grapes by hand, cooking them down on the stove and adding their own special touch. I see them cutting out fabric squares with pinking shears in different colored fabrics to adorn their jar lids. I see her making her tags and writing down the blend. I imagine her hopes of selling some jelly, so I try and pay special attention to their efforts and I try and buy some jam whenever I can. If you are not familiar with muscadine grapes, here's a nice wiki article on them They grow like wildfire here and can be used in various applications.
     The chicken swap is always a fun walk through for kids and anyone interested in rural, simple living. Do you have a chicken swap in your area? If so, is it like ours? Drop me a comment :)

Easter Egger X Cuckoo Marans young roo

     Have you ever had that moment when you knew that you wanted something more out of life.... something more fulfilling than just scratching off the next chore on the daily "To-do" list?
     Well, maybe this is the beginning of the answer to that question I have had for about 10 years now. You see, I did what most people consider to be the normal successful thing to do. I graduated high school with a decent GPA, went on to college to become a science teacher, and I then began my teaching career. Within 6 months, I realized my first life mistake. I do NOT want to be a teacher! I quit with the threat of losing my teaching license all together, but quit I did. I felt like I had let my then newly-wed husband down. I felt that I had let my parents down. I started teaching again that next year because we needed income. The school was wonderful. The students were great. I was so utterly bored. I did as many activities with my students as I could, including frequent outdoor excursions to look at bugs and catch frogs (things I find incredibly interesting). My high school students wanted to "hang out" instead of collecting soil samples. So, I "retired" from teaching, and that next summer my husband and I were well on our way to expecting our first little one. Five years later, with one attending Kindergarten and another in preschool, I have something I have not had for the past ten years of "what-ifs." I have a simple little word that gives so much... time.
   I am very fortunate because my husband's job supports us. He said that he wants me to find something I am passionate about... something that fulfills my soul... something that I would do if I had, you guessed it, time. So, I'll tell you what I'm passionate about and some of what you should expect to read about on this blog. The following list is in no particular order of importance:
-rearing children with a respect for the land
-animal husbandry
     Please come along with me on this life journey and let's one day share our history together. But, first thing's first. What should we scratch off first on our soul's "To-do" list?