Monday, December 31, 2007

Swallow that

On the right, aspirin for people. On the left, aspirin for cows. Twice a day, Lottie, the Jersey cow, gets two of the big ones. The instructions say 'by bolus' which is a fancy way of saying 'poke it down her throat.' It's a common technique, and every feed supply store sells a simple tool to help with that. I know how it's done. I've seen it done. It's just not happening here, now, with this cow when I don't have a squeeze chute to immobilize her. I have enough trouble poking pills down cats' throats.

Fortunately, the vet said I could grind up the aspirin boluses and mix them with grain. Add a little warmed molasses, thinned 50/50 with water to bind the powder to the grain, and Lottie has a therapeutic morning snack.

She's better than she was, but not well yet. The vet warned me it would take a while.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mr. Ice

He really is okay.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Iced rooster

Some birds don't have enough sense to come in out of the rain. When the rain becomes an ice storm, bad things happen to dumb birds. Earlier this month, I went to bed knowing nasty weather was headed our way. I'd made all reasonable preparations and moved the livestock and poultry to shelter. This rooster apparently didn't like the company, so he later returned to his favorite roost in front of the house. I found him at daybreak, looking like this.

The weight of the ice on his head and neck feathers made it impossible for him to raise his head, but he was alive and trying. I wrapped him in a towel and moved him to the bathtub. A few careful whacks with a tablespoon broke up the worst of the ice coating his feathers so he could lift his head. The rest melted quickly in the warm room. I let him stay in for a couple hours until he was dry and happily crowing. Do you know how LOUD a rooster sounds in a small room?

Mr. Ice continues to roost nightly on the fence near my front door, through rain, snow, and bitter wind. I doubt he's learned his lesson.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Off-season brooding

December isn't prime nesting time, but we can't convince this banty hen of that. This is her first nest, but she seems to have the basics mastered. Puff up and spread out to cover the eggs, screech at anybody who gets close, peck when the screech isn't enough. The chances of her raising young through the dead of winter are slim. We've seen that happen before, though, so we've been helping her along as best we can by providing fresh water and food.

The power of instinct is a marvelous thing. She's an incubator baby, hatched from a batch of eggs that went into the incubator in February 2007. Yet she knows how to set a nest properly, how to turn the eggs, when to protect and when to gracefully accept the meal that's offered. She picked a good spot among the the straw bales, protected from the wind but with a bit of a view so she can see who or what's coming. She got more right than wrong, and sometimes that's the best any of us can hope for.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry what?

Lottie's had a rough week. Her 4-month-old calf is a rather vigorous nurser. Add a bit of chapping from winter weather, and her tender parts got quite sore. She quit letting the calf nurse, which led to other issues. She wasn't too amenable to hand-milking either. We tried one thing, then another, and she got a little better. It didn't last, and we finally had to call the vet out. He administered a super $30 antibiotic that I can't buy anywhere off the shelf, plus an anti-inflammatory. He left two more doses of the anti-inflammatory, with orders to pick up aspirin boluses at the office next time I'm in town. We'll grind those up and add them to her grain for several more days.

Today, on the third day of treatment, she's regained some of her appetite and lost most of the swelling in her udder. She's allowing the calf to nurse, and letting me strip her out. It'll be a while before she's back to normal though. I'm hoping there's no lasting damage to her udder, but it's too soon to tell.

There are other repercussions. It'll be several weeks before her milk is cleared for human consumption. Some medications pass through the animal's body and disappear quickly. Detectible residues may remain longer with others and can be present in the milk or meat. We chose a longer-acting, broad spectrum antibiotic this time for Lottie, so we'll be observing a longer withdrawal period. The milk's still safe for the calf, especially one as healthy as hers. And it's probably safe for humans who aren't allergic to any antibiotics. But probably isn't good enough, and that's why these withdrawal periods are established by the drug manufacturers and the FDA here in the U.S. (Other countries have their own regulatory agencies that deal with these rules.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy holidays

Honestly, the tree did not look this big out in the field. It's an eastern red cedar, cut from a poor corner of pasture about 300 yards from the house. The full, bushy side of the growing tree faced southwest and benefitted from the bountiful sunshine such a view offers. The backside faced deep woods, and it wasn't so pretty. It was thin and kind of flat in profile, which is a handy thing when you want to put the Christmas tree against the wall. The major drawback is the bushy side is much heavier than the flat side -- not such a problem for a growing tree with a good root system to hold it in place. In the living room, it's a different matter. I got up the morning after to find the tree tipped over. (We suspect a certain brindle-colored cat of climbing the tree and exacerbating an already unsteady situation.) My daughter, being a practical sort, suggested we anchor the legs of the tree stand with sandbags. They're 70 pounds each, and they're hidden under the tree skirt.

The minor drawback of choosing one of the native trees growing out back is the branches don't support some of our favorite ornaments -- at least not out on the tips where you can see them. We had to make do with lots of ribbon, bows, and the lighter ornaments we've accummulated through the years -- those that were still presentable. (The crocheted lace snowflakes have had too many adventures with the cats.) Since I love the smell of fresh cedar in the house during the holidays and there's a surplus of those trees around here, I expect we'll have cedar indoors again. We've already planned some of next year's ornaments . I'll knit some cute little Christmas stockings, and some tiny mittons to hang on the tree. And at least one set of these adorable tiny sweaters here on the Berroco site. Seriously, you have to check them out.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Solstice salad

I slept through the actual moment of Winter Solstice, when because of the Earth's tilt, the Northern Hemisphere leans farther away from the sun than at any other time during the year. It happened just after midnight here in the central U.S., and thus began the first day of winter.

To celebrate, Mother Nature brought us rain, to be followed by the dreaded 'wintery mix' with an overnight low of 19 degrees F. That's a bit nippy for the salad greens, even in the greenhouse. So we harvested a big bowlful for the weekend's meals, then pulled the floating row covers back over the beds -- effectively tucking them in with a light blanket to ward against the worst of the cold's damage.

Lottie, the older cow, has two sore, chapped teats and won't let her calf nurse unless we intervene. The sheep wouldn't come into the barn because the cow was there and in a cranky mood. The chickens skipped their usual scratching through the underbrush and perched in whatever dry spots they found. And the ducks . . . couldn't be happier. Really, it's their kind of day.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Blankets for plants

I've been using floating row covers in the greenhouse lately to add an extra level of protection on cold nights. Jugs of water around what few tender plants remain in there help a lot, too. The water warms with the day's heat, and at night, when temperatures drop, the heat radiates from the jugs and warms the plants. I have fresh salads daily, beets now and then, and a batch of collards for the family most weekends -- all this using no supplemental heat.

Temperatures have dipped as low as 21 degrees Fahrenheight overnight outdoors, but under the cover in the center bed, the lowest reading has been 31 degrees F. That was enough to damage a few tomato plants, but the fruit survived well enough that my father-in-law had fried green tomatoes for lunch a few days after Thanksgiving. I picked the last of the green tomatoes and pulled the vines earlier this week to free up trellis space for the maturing snow pea vines. I'm not a big fan of green tomato cooking, but I did find a new recipe for green tomato jam that might change my mind. I'll let you know after I make it this weekend.

About those covers - they're made from spunbonded polypropylene and can last several seasons. My oldest covers are a light-grade from Reemay, and I lay those along the outer beds where I have mature beets growing. The beets can survive without the covers, but I think the few degrees of warmth the covers hold in will improve growth. This year I added a heavier cover from Agribon that's rated for protection down to 26 degrees. I used it on the center bed over the tomatoes, and on that 21 degree night, the only damage the plants suffered was some freezing on the upper branches. Because the cover has to drape over the trellis, I needed a wider width, so I bought a cover that's 15 feet by 50. That covers the trellis nicely, with plenty on each side for the spinach and lettuce beds next to the trellis.

The down side is maintenance. It takes a while to cover the plants, and uncovering them on warmer days is a messy job. The covers usually are wet from condensation, and the big cover for the center bed is awkward for one person to manage. With practice, I've cut the covering and uncovering time significantly -- if you don't count the time I take for snacking on the produce.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Prairie skies

The view from the roadside across a section of prairie I pass on the way to town. It rained hard a couple hours after I took this photo. If you look along the horizon, you can see the heavy gray of the storm moving in from the southwest.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Strawberry joy!

Photographed November 30, 2007 - one very confused, but delicious ripe strawberry. You'd better believe I washed it off and ate it.

Variety: Jewel
Planted: September 2007

My supplier kept the dormant plants in cold storage for the summer, so they arrived in the usual state of bundled roots I've always dealt with in spring plantings. The warm fall weather fooled them into thinking it was spring, so they leafed out and bloomed merrily. I pinched off
most of the blooms in order to direct the plant's energy into root development. I left a few blooms on out of curiosity. Only one other berry ripened, and I enjoyed it, too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tickseed & leather-wings

Tickseed sunflower
(Bidens aritosa)

This daisy-like flower appears in late August and blooms well into the fall. I suppose they can grow about anywhere, but I see them mostly in the lower ends of pastures and prairies where the soils tend to be a bit more moist. I saw great sweeps of tickseed yellow in the prairie conservation projects I passed on the way to and from town yesterday. Their presence is less dramatic in our front pasture, but beautiful still.

The common name, Tickseed, no doubt comes from the appearance of the plant's distinctly black seeds, which are about the size of an adult dog tick. The plant self-seeds readily, and it seems about as easy to grow as the domestic tickseeds I plant in my flower beds. I even had a blooming plant in the greenhouse in late spring, a volunteer sprout I let grow out of curiosity. It bloomed from late May to mid-June. No doubt the warmth and long growth season of the greenhouse tricked it into early flowering.

Walking among the tickseed in the pasture, I noticed that nearly every plant has at least one of those distinctively marked yellow and brown bugs among its flowers. They're Pennsylvania Leather-wings (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus), and according to the information in my favorite bug book, they're a beneficial insect. The adults eat pollen, nectar and small insects. The Larva like grasshopper eggs, small caterpillars, and beetles. My bug book also says that some Leather-wing species native to the Great Plains are used for biological control of Corn Earworm caterpillars. That alone would put Leather-wings on my Good Bug List.

FYI - My favorite bug book is The Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. Good pictures, clear entries, and well-organized.

Monday, September 17, 2007

We have a herd . . . sort of

Two weeks after the due date, Rosalie finally gave birth to her first calf. Rosalie's a grade Jersey and was born here on the farm. She was bred to the same Limosin bull as Lottie. Unlike her mother, Rosalie chose a nice shady spot at the edge of the pasture that's easily accessible to the humans for viewing, and she wasn't cranky about us looking at the calf.

There's clearly much affection between the cows, who are a mother-daughter pair, and that affection extends to both calves. Yesterday, shortly after the birth, we watched the new calf nurse from its dam's tender udder while Lottie licked its still wet coat and mooed softly. Lottie's own calf, now three weeks strong, stood quietly nearby. Already, the cows are taking turns with babysitting duties - one staying close to the calves and the other grazing a ways off. It's typical herd behavior, but interesting to observe nonetheless.

Cows, like mother animals of most species, have a particular 'voice' for communicating with their young. That early soft-voiced 'mother-talk' always fascinated me when we were actively raising dairy goats. I'm not surprised to find similar patterns among cattle, and I don't think anyone who knows me well is surprised at how much I like listening in to those private conversations.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just another big box

We bought a new stove recently. The cats found a good use for the old one. I told them they couldn't keep it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Find the grapes

I'd feared that the late spring freeze had wiped out this year's crop of wild grapes, but I spotted these beauties among the leaves of a pecan tree at the edge of the back pasture. They're unusually large for wild grapes, too. I suspect that's partly due to the location. This vine has its roots in a swale that directs rainwater from the hillside toward the pond and thus receives a greater share of moisture. I'm anxious for them to ripen and scouting for more grapes I can reach. And wondering whether the birds will beat me to the best ones. (A smart gambler would bet on the birds.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Finally here

Lottie, the 7-year-old Jersey cow, finally had her calf Sunday. He's half Limousin, sired by the strapping young black bull who lives just down the road. Lottie choose a quiet spot in the trees that could be reached only by traipsing through high weeds and a thorn thicket. I tried to persuade her to bring the little guy up to the barn, but he was too wobbly legged for much of a walk. I thought for a bit that I might succeed, but then Lottie spotted the dogs.

I'd left the dogs about 50 yards away, out of sight, with strict orders to stay put. They got restless with me out of sight so long, and so they crept closer. The puppy saw me and rushed forth with excitement, only to learn just how paranoid and protective a mama cow with a newborn calf can be. The cow lowered her head and charged, I yelled, ran, and waved my big stick. Bebe, the farmcollie, dashed into the fray. The cow rolled the pup and Bebe both. I shouted 'Run' and all the dogs but one took off. (We learned 'run' a couple of years ago when the skunk was spending time in a burrow under the barn.) Ralphie, the English Shepherd, stayed with me. The cow shook her head at us and pawed a bit, but she didn't charge again. We found Blue, the Aussie, down by the driveway gate. Bebe apparently ran all the way back to the front porch with the pup, then came back alone.

This morning, both Lottie and Rosie, last year's heifer, appeared at the yard gate where the big water tank is located and waited as usual for their morning grain. The calf was missing though. I coaxed the cows into the barn and locked them in separate stalls, then headed out to search for the calf. After a half hour of walking a grid pattern in the likely section of tall weeds and thorn tree saplings, I noticed both dogs had stopped tracking and were staring into a thick weedy patch, tails wagging. Yep, there he was. He refused to stay on his feet more than 30 seconds and wouldn't walk. So I half carried, half-dragged him out to the mowed section of the pasture, then left the dogs to guard him while I went for the truck. The dogs did their duty, I managed to lift 70-plus pounds of wriggling calf onto the tailgate, and somehow got the calf into the barn with his mama without getting hurt. He stood when Lottie demanded it, walked around, nursed, and even gave a few tentative hops. A good meal and a quiet day in the barn have improved Lottie's disposition. I put Rosie in a stall across the aisle. She's bred to the same Limousin bull and due anytime. I believe I'll keep her in the barn and avoid all the drama among the thorns and ragweed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Grrr . . . yip!

Dinah - age 9 weeks - taking a break from helping me around the house to subdue a wild, unruly old hair band. She's an American Working Farmcollie from the same line as our Bebe. She's met all the livestock and exhibits a healthy respect for cranky pregnant cows and geese. Bebe's teaching her how to help out in the barn. Blue, the Aussie, is teaching house manners and how to ride in the truck. Ralphie, the big English Shepherd, is tolerating her.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Nope, he's not choking it! This chick was rowdy before it came out of the shell, and there are only two ways to keep it still. If I set it on my shoulder, it'll burrow into the long hair at my neck and sing soft happy chirps -- for about 20 seconds, and then it pops up and darts about, which isn't a healthy activity for a chick so high off the ground. The Genius Husband prefers to wrap these wild peeps in his big hand with just a tiny fisthole opening to peer out from.

For two days, this chick's egg rocked and bumped against the others in the incubator. The early peeps were muted, but as the hours passed, they gained in fury. To make matters worse, it was the only chick to hatch from that small batch of eggs, though it does seem to have the energy and vitality of a half dozen packed into one tiny ball of fuzz. For two days it peeped with the volume of 6 or more, and I took to wearing headphones while I worked so I could concentrate. Fortunately, a large clutch of ducklings hatched a few days later so he has company now. I've moved them all to larger quarters in one of the barn brooders.

Growing up with ducky siblings, I suspect he'll have identity issues. We've seen this happen before - ducklings that walk hunched so they'll not stand taller than their chicken friends, guineas who eschew the company of their kind and live with the hens instead. Amusing but relatively harmless quirks. But danger lurks for a chick who thinks he's a duck, for there are buckets about, and he can't swim.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Purple wave

I always grow purple petunias, not because I like them, but because my younger daughter liked them so much when she was small. I think she still favors them, but not with the single-minded exhuberance she exhibited a decade ago. She's grown now, and she no longer spends summers weeding at my side and sneaking away to read the books in some shady spot. And still I grow purple petunias even though I'm not enamored of most things purple. A garden just doesn't seems right without them.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Bee balm

Wild bergamot aka horsemint, bee balm
Monarda fistulosa
I didn't see so much of it during the drought the last two years, but a wet spring seems to have rejuvenated the prairie flowers. I've found a few small patches on my land, and several large patches down the road at the edge of a cornfield and still more in a neighbor's native prairie field.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Story of Bruce

Bruce the Duck came to live with us earlier this summer. His journey began with a phone call from the Genius Husband. 'You want another duck?" Hmm. Yeah. I didn't have enough of those.
Bruce belonged to a teenage girl, and he spent his early days as a fuzzy, yellow, adored pet. But as ducks do, he grew. And his family began to realize how large (and smelly) he would become. So Bruce made the long car trip from the metro area to the farm by car. Below: Bruce meets the flock. We left him in his cage for the first 24 hours so the rest of the ducks, chickens, and turkeys had a chance to get to know him before any actual mingling occurred. With poultry, this is always a good idea since they'll peck a hole in the head of an outsider if they don't like how he looks. (Or smells.)

Bruce continued to grow, and in just over a week he'd lost the last of his yellow fuzz. He joined the flock and learned about wading pools, mud, and other ducky things.

Silly duck! Anyone who's lived around ducks knows the kind of trouble a duck can get himself into. Bebe, the farmcollie, alerted me to Bruce's predicament -- apparently Bruce had so much fun splashing in the bucket he'd discovered that he splashed out too much water. Ducks have short legs, so they have trouble climbing out if the water level is too low. Bruce, however, didn't want to get out. Oh well. Too bad. No more buckets for Bruce!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Spring bounty

My favorite spring lettuce mix comes from Pinetree Seeds. It's a colorful mix of red, pale green, medium green, and even red-freckled leaf lettuces in a variety of shapes. I love the visual variety almost as much as the tasty salads.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Cats choose odd spots for naps. Although maybe if you're a cat, napping on the roof doesn't seem strange. No dogs sticking their wet noses in your ear. No geese tweeking your tail. Nothing to worry about except a little rain . . . and hey, with a fur coat like that, it takes a while for the wet to penetrate.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Happy ducks

The recent rainfall filled the little pond near the house, so I've been letting the ducks out to play. If only they'd stay at the pond instead of wandering along the creek to sample every pool deep enough to paddle through. If only they carried watches with little alarms to remind them when it's time to return to the safety of their night quarters.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

You shall not pass!

Goose Goose protects 'her' ducklings with impressive ferocity. I've tried for weeks to get a decent photo, but of course, she spots me and the camera and turns into a sweetie. So this is as good as it gets.
When geese go into protective mode, they stretch their necks straight out, holding their heads low while they hiss and stalk toward whatever they perceive as a threat. (Unless it's REALLY big and scary -- honk, honk, run!) That's a warning, and most creatures back off. Especially if they've ever been pinched by that strong, hard beak. They'll also fly at your head and beat you with their wings. That hurts.
Actually, all three of the Buff Orpington geese take turns watching over the ducklings. The mated pair often have 'other business' to attend to, though, which leaves Goose Goose in charge much of the time. She doesn't seem to mind as she has few other demands on her time. The white rooster she adores apparently has made it clear that they're just friends.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bye, bye

Hickory at age 10, the last living member of the barn cat trio of Hickory, Dickory, and Doc

Born: Spring 1997
Adopted: Summer 1997
Died: Monday, April 9, 2007

When one spends a great deal of time with a community of animals, certain things become apparent. Personalties, hierarchies, likes and dislikes, and occasionally the odd alliance between unlikely companions. Hickory clearly liked her littermate Dickory best, and she never bonded closely with any of the other cats. Yet the kitten she terrorized most turned out to be the closest thing to a kitty friend she had, so long as he acknowledged her superiority and followed her rules. He alone was allowed to cuddle in the old ratty chair in the barn with her, though only on the coldest of nights. Humans, however, were best utilized as Hickory petting slaves. Idle hands weren't to be tolerated, and those who ignored her hints might get a stronger hint -- a quick poke with the claw tips. She wasn't vicious. She was just reminding you she was there...waiting...getting impatient.

Several years ago she developed a dark spot in one eye. The spot gradually spread until she had one good golden eye and one brown eye. In the last year, her eyesight became worse in the dark eye. She could still sense movement, but not what caused that movement, so waving a hand on that side often earned a nasty hiss and a smacking. Despite her disability, she maintained her position as Queen of the Barn. No cat dared venture within her defined perimeter without permission. Those allowed within that circle had to follow her rules.

1. No stealing cuddles from the humans -- hiss, smack.
2. In fact, do not think of even making eye contact with the humans -- growl, hiss.
3. No milk until Hickory finishes her share as defined by her, and then no milk unless Rules One and Two have been properly observed, several additional minutes have passed, and express permission has been granted by Hickory. Growl. Hiss. Smack, smack, smack, smack.
4. First dibs on fat mice go to Hickory. Leftovers distributed via Rule Three terms.

We'll miss ya, Hickory Pud.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Another project

Behold the new fence for my herb & perennial garden. My genius husband unearthed and moved many large rocks while digging those postholes. Here at the edge of the Ozarks, we grow rocks really well. The fence needs another coat of stain and some chicken wire around the bottom to keep the chickens out, and then I can replant all those herbs the poultry ate last summer.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A breath of spring

Finally, the ice is melting away. By 2 p.m. today, this patch and a few larger sections in the shadows of the woods remained, but the rest of the farm had gone to mud. The ducks are happy. They love mud. They love puddles. We have plenty of both now. I don't mind the mud much myself. It's not nearly so hazardous underfoot, and if one does fall, the landing isn't as painful.

Monday, January 22, 2007

More snow

Apparently we didn't have enough white stuff on the ground already. We woke up Sunday morning to discover another five inches on the ground. And the road out of here looking like this. We don't get a lot of traffic here, which is a good thing because in the best of times it's only wide enough for one vehicle and on the curve pictured above.

The greenhouse held up well through this latest winter storm. By 9 a.m., nearly all the snow had slid off the top. Inside we have mud. Mud, mud, everywhere.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I'd be cranky too if I had frost on my whiskers every morning. Lottie, the Jersey milk cow, had a chapped udder, too -- ouch!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tom's been feeling pretty perky now that he's recovered from the injuries incurred during that unfortunate incident with the geese. Strutting around the barnyard with half his feathers missing couldn't have been much fun. Now that he's fully feathered again, he struts and preens all day. He also exhibits an annoying curiosity about the camera.

A few months ago, this guy was bottom turkey in the pecking order. We weren't even sure he was a tom. He didn't act like one, and he hadn't developed enough of a snood and wattle to distinguish him from the hens. As time passed, and the more dominant toms disappeared, one by one, our flock dwindled to this guy and one hen. Likely, it was his very meekness that saved him from the coyotes and bobcat that preyed on his braver flockmates. He didn't browse in the woods, and he usually was first to alight on a high roost near day's end . And thus he's survived predation thus far. With the more dominant Tom's gone, his hormones kicked in, and that long red drip over his beak, his snood, began to lengthen. The red wattles at his throat grew and deepened in color. I've seen this happen many times before when a dominant tom leaves the flock for whatever reason. One or two of the lesser toms will step up to take his place, and in turkeys, the signs include the physical developments as well as the behavior changes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The year of gates

This may be the year of the gates. I have nothing against a well-made 'farmer's gate' of whatever wire matches the fence, especially in locations that don't see a lot of through traffic. Unfortunately, most of the farmer's gates here at the farm aren't that manageable for a middle-aged gal with wimpy muscles. So I've made a list of gates to replace, as time and funds permit.

First on the list was this one between the cow pasture and the field where the greenhouse, orchard, and big garden are located. This was a life-changing event. I smiled. I might even have done a little dance out there in the sunlight as I considered the sheer volume of time and aggravation this new gate will spare me in the coming growing season.

Life is good.