Henny Penny

Henny Penny

During twenty years of having laying hens on the farm, only twice have I encountered the issue of an overgrown top beak. When my late husband Larry kept pigeons (Pensom rollers – show birds), it was not unusual for the upper portions of their beaks to grow long and lap over the edge of their lower beaks, but this might have been due to the fact that they were not allowed outside to forage and peck around in the gravel. The chickens here, however, are outside almost daily. That’s why I was a bit surprised to notice this hen one day last week.

Chickens kept in a coop or pen with at least a partial concrete floor, or that have some exposure to graveled areas, have ready abrasives to help keep the fingernail-type material of their beaks in trim. As they hunt and peck for seeds, bugs, worms and greens, the frequent scrapings of their rigid mouth material against the surrounding rocks seems to prevent the problem of overgrowth. Exactly how the hen got into this condition, I don’t know. Perhaps she’s a delicate eater. Regardless, with a top beak that long, she would soon be having a problem being able to eat at all, and a little careful pruning was in order.

After doing chores at the barn, I picked up the troubled bird and brought her down the hill to the house. She graciously posed for photos before the procedure, and sat fairly still in my lap as I used nail clippers to remove most of the excess material from her upper beak. Not having a metal nail file to hand, the coarse side of an emery board was employed for the final shaping and smoothing, and then a few “after” pictures were taken for comparison. Bless her heart, this little hen didn’t even doodle on me. What a gal!

Since the Ordeal, I have read that some folks put a cement block or a piece of sandstone in their chicken pens to provide the birds with a tool to prevent this problem. The enclosed pen outside my coop has an older concrete floor with several rough areas, so you’d think that would suffice. Who knows? If not for that, I might be trimming beaks right and left. While it would be a small price to pay for all the nice fresh eggs they provide and the bugs they eat, I’m putting a landscape block or something like it onto my shopping list for the next time I’m in town.  Just in case!

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Pecking Order

Pecking Order

Bird watching is a hobby that demands so little for what we can reap in return.  This time of year I try to pay more attention than ever to the little cedar feeders that are suspended from the overhang of my front porch roof, keeping them stocked with a steady supply of food for the wild birds. When the landscape looks barren and brown, I figure the birdies can use a little extra help in the meal prep department, and their antics can be pretty entertaining.  As I am sitting here typing this, I can glance out the windows to my left and see sparrows, chickadees, cardinals and snowbirds (a.k.a. dark-eyed juncos), all jockeying for position at the buffet stations provided for them.  Now and then a bluejay shows up and tries to convince them all he’s the Boss, but they all get their fair share eventually.

On decent days–meaning it’s not raining and there’s little or no snow on the ground–I let the chickens and guineas out of their pen to forage, even in winter.  Of course, they have grain in the feeders inside their coop every day, but by nature they love to roam around the yard, hunting and scratching for tasty tidbits.  I figure happy hens lay healthy eggs, and it makes a noticeable difference in the feed bill when they’re able to get out and about.  Recently a couple of the younger Highland Brown hens have occasionally found their way onto the front porch, where they clean up the loose seeds that have been scattered by the wild birds during the day. After tossing that freshly killed rat snake (see prior post “Unwanted Gifts”) onto the top of the concrete steps after measuring it, and then finishing my phone call inside, I returned to the porch with the intention of removing the thing to the ditch, only to find it halfway down the throat of a brave little hen already, and another hen running up to see just what sort of big fat worm her friend had found.  The chickens have a pecking order amongst themselves, with Rojo the Rooster as the obvious ruler.  Even the guineas don’t challenge him!  IMG_2551

While the farm cats and the barnyard fowl all coexist with no squabbles, the cats most definitely have an unwritten hierarchy.  Last summer a new tom cat wandered in from somewhere, and the whole balance went Kablooey.  Sammy, the youngest of my bunch, began challenging the newcomer to fights, even though Sam and all the other kitties here have been “fixed”.  Seeing Sammy getting the stuffing knocked out of him, Wally jumped into the fray, and the next thing you know I’m doctoring wounds on two cats, and trying to decide whether to run off the stranger or try taming him, so I can get him to the vet for neutering.  It’s taken a while, but finally the last few weeks I’ve been able to pet the new guy (now named Louie), and can pick him up and carry him around with no problems.  He’s not as aggressive toward the other cats, and has learned to keep his distance from Mary Alex (the Queen of the Outdoor Cat Community, just ask her!)  IMG_2403

Of the three inside the house, Tripod Jack wants to think he is Top Cat.  Once in a while, the older gal Pepper has to put him in his place when he gets a little too rambunctious in his play.  They both have their bluff in on poor Sugar Baby, who won’t stand up for herself, no matter how many times I tell her to give it a try.  They’ve all been together for years, with Jack being the youngest at seven.  And yet, it was just this past November that I was finally able to capture them all in one photo.  Bet you can guess which one is Jack.

It’s the same routine with the horses in the pasture.  Since there isn’t a stallion in the herd, one of the older mares seems to think she’s in charge.  Even Bindi the Very Good Dog has recently taken to putting on airs a bit, since I adopted a bird dog, Jethro Bone-dean, from the shelter in town.  All in all, it turns into quite a show.  It’s no wonder that I haven’t watched a soap opera in years!

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Unwanted Gifts

Unwanted Gifts

Now that the holiday hiatus is truly over, the pool of memories from which to dip for writing subjects has refilled, although the Midwest weather this weekend has it rather frozen-over at the top.  Having pick-axed my way through the surface (that means downloading photos from my iPhone to my computer), I will start this year with the subject of Unwanted Gifts.

Part of the peril of living in a rural setting–and having a house that is almost 100 years old–is the intrusion of various forms of wildlife when the temperatures outside become frigid.  Spiders hide out in my upstairs bathroom.  Mice leave their calling cards in the potholder drawer of my kitchen.  Snakes slither their way up the drainage pipe end from the ditch by the road into my basement.  None of them are invited, nor welcomed.

IMG_2450One morning about a month ago, I found my Roomba stopped dead in the middle of the living room.  Programmed to run daily in the early morning hours, the little sweeper is usually done with his task and back on the charger base by the time I wake up.  If he stalls and shuts down, it is typically because he got hung up on a floor register, or his dustbin got full, but this was not the case that day.  Picking up Roomba and turning him belly-up, I saw something wrapped around the paddle wheel that sweeps debris into the device.  Sheesh, that looks like a snakeskin, I thought.  Indeed, it was, and what’s worse, the snake was still in it.  My best guess was that one of the cats had found the little rat snake in the basement, played with the thing until the snake went belly-up, then brought the prize upstairs to leave in a highly visible area where I could not fail to find it come morning, like somewhere between the stairwell and the coffee pot.  “See what I brought you?  I am a fierce protector!” Roomba had simply foiled the surprise by trying to do his job.  No cats were praised.  IMG_2453

 

This week, as I was on the phone in my office, a stramash broke out in the living room.  It sounded as though Bindi the Very Good Dog had turned wrong-side-out as she scrambled her way out of a previously peaceful nap on the couch, only to stand in the doorway and stare at me with a look that  spoke volumes.  Thanks to the convenience of cordless phones, I was able to investigate, whereupon the party to whom I was speaking was treated to something unprintable, also spoken at volume.  Another rat snake, this one in a heap on the floor, mostly dead.  But as Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride:  “Mostly dead is also partly alive”, which was apparently as unacceptable to Bindi as it was to me.  Tripod Jack the ornery cat was perched on the kitty tree by the window, pretending with great nonchalance to watch the birds outside at the feeder.  I hadn’t actually seen him bring the repulsive reptile up from the basement and drop it onto the sleeping dog, so I couldn’t officially blame him for the episode, but once again, no cats were praised.

Today, no snakes.  No spiders, no mice, and no major upsets in the household.  There’s a thin layer of snow on the ground, and the wind chill is brutal. But the sun was out, and I managed to bundle up and get to the barn, where the chickens were thankful for some kitchen scraps, and for fresh grain in their feeders. They rewarded me for my efforts with several nice big, brown eggs.  Upon my return to the warmth of the house, I rewarded myself with a bit of that St Louis specialty, Gooey Butter Cake, which I had been hoarding in the deep freeze since Christmas, when it arrived courtesy of my wonderful Daddy & Mother.  THIS was NOT an unwanted gift.  This brought back my attitude of gratitude. This, with a cup of fresh coffee, made all seem well with the world.  And no cats were blamed.

But they weren’t praised, either.  If you know cats, they’re probably plotting something, right this very minute.  IMG_2520Happy New Year!

 

The Nose Knows

The Nose Knows

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what about odors?  Why in the Sam Hill do some dogs think they simply must roll in what we consider the foulest-smelling substance they can find, and then trot, grinning from ear to ear, back into the house, looking for all the world like they’ve just solved the Mysteries of the Universe? I am darned if I can figure this out.

Bindi, the very good dog who showed up here at the farm on the day after Thanksgiving last year, and who has been a true Godsend for 99% of the time since, is one of those types.  She seems to think she’s applying perfume by flopping down onto her side, forcefully pressing one ear and the side of her neck into a particular spot on the ground, and pushing forward with her head and shoulder to smear who-knows-what substance deep into her otherwise pristine fur.  Sometimes she wears Eau de Catpoop.  On occasion it’s Eau de Cowflop.  But a few times it was–horror of horrors–Eau de Dead Raccoon.  Yecchh!

My dear sister-in-law Abby told me yesterday on the phone that her vet told her there’s a technical term for this, and that it’s called “scent ecstasy”.  This intrigued me, so I Googled it.  All I saw were a bunch of links pertaining to drug-sniffing dogs and something called MDMA.  No doubt the Internet Police will be keeping a watchful eye on me now.

Then I did a search for “why dogs roll in stinky stuff”, since sometimes the non-technical terms tell us just as much, and maybe keep us out of trouble.  All sorts of theories abound, with the most likely one being something about dogs–as hunters–wanting to disguise their own smell to make it easier to sneak up on potential prey.  An instinctual behavior, so to speak, that no amount of Purina products can completely overcome.

Thankfully, though, in all the years I’ve lived in the Boonies, only one of my dogs has been victim of the Ultimate Odiferous Offense: that of being sprayed by a skunk. I called the vet’s office, where Heather L. was (as usual) able to provide excellent advice.  She told me to mix a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda, and a bit of dish soap (the kind with degreaser) and apply that (outside, of course) to the area of the dog that had been squirted by the skunk’s oil.  After vigorous massaging of this solution into the dog’s fur, a warm water rinse, a regular shampoo, another thorough rinse, and a long airing out, the dog was actually able to come back inside the house that evening.  Amazing.

Now it’s your turn.  Leave a comment with your dog’s favorite cologne.  And here’s hoping he or she (or you!) never gets skunked!

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Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

It must’ve been a sign.  The first song to play when I hit the “shuffle” button in the music app on my cell phone this morning was Lessons Learned by Aaron Lewis.  It’s a great tune, nice music, and showcases the rich, smooth lower range of Aaron’s singing voice very well.  A big thanks is due to my cousin Brian for introducing me to this guy’s music.  If you’d like to hear the song, one of the YouTube links is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BqSYUQI4Ck

While my day hasn’t turned out as rough as some of the things mentioned in the song, it is what came to mind just a few minutes ago, and I had to laugh.  You see, for the past year and a half, I’ve been buying fresh milk from a local Amish farm, and lately started using some of it to make my own yogurt in a crockpot.  This week’s batch didn’t set up as it should have.  Not wanting to waste the protein-rich yogurt-flavored milk (buttermilk?  not sure . . . never bought any), it seemed that using it in a fruit smoothie would be the next logical step.

My hand blender has a canister attachment for chopping small quantities of nuts and fruits and the like, so in went the frozen mixed berries, some flaxseed meal, a few chopped dates from one bag and the last few pitted dates from another.  I fit the lid on top with the connected handle that encloses a powerful mini-motor, and pressed the button a few times.  The contents were looking roughly pulverized.  But hey, wouldn’t they be easier to pour out if there was liquid mixed in?  (Yes, you can close your eyes and shake your head, here; this is indeed where it gets ugly).  I ladled in a bit of the liquid yogurt and quickly discovered why the canister is touted as good for dry ingredients . . . the lid is most definitely not of the tight seal variety.

OK, then, Plan B.  I grabbed a small mixing bowl from the lower cabinet by my knee, poured the remaining contents of the canister into it, and swapped to the wand attachment of the hand blender.  After all, it’s just like a regular blender, just smaller, right?  WRONG! Maybe one of the pitted dates got wedged underneath the edge of the blade guard and left too much space between the blade and the bottom of the bowl, I don’t know, but the resulting mess looked like an eruption of Mount Smoothie had taken place in the southeast corner of my kitchen.  Splotches and bits of smoothie ingredients were everywhere.  Why hadn’t I just gotten out the old reliable Oster blender in the first place?!

Suffice it say that after K.P. duty was complete, the real blender did a fine job.  The smoothie tasted good, was filling, and probably nutritious.  And maybe–just maybe–I learned a little something in the process.

 

Hibernation

Hibernation

Turtles are a common sight on the country roads around here during the summer.  In fact, one of the ways I discern the bona-fide Arrival of Spring is when the box turtles start their meanderings.  In late June, I spotted this one while traveling a gravel road on the county line, and had to stop and take his (?) photo.  I put a question mark there, because my abilities in identifying terrapins by gender is 100% nil, and this large example literally clammed up upon my approach.

There are more than a dozen types of turtles native to Missouri, including a few snappers, some water-lovers, and several different kinds of box turtles.  Children often beg to be allowed to bring home and keep these last varieties as pets, which seldom bodes well for the turtle.  My eldest grandchild (as a three-year-old) once gave us the silent treatment for all of an hour after I responded in the negative to such a request, and that was back in the day when she spoke practically non-stop!  The Department of Conservation website has an online Field Guide that provides detailed descriptions and photos.  The turtles are shown in the same category as the frogs, toads, and lizards–which don’t bother me in the least–but also with the snakes, which do.  Gives me the willies just to see them on the screen.

What struck me as unique about this particular turtle was his size.  I picked him up for a closer examination, momentarily forgetting to hold him head-up and at arm’s length, lest he have the pee scared out of him by this treatment.  Alas, I was quickly reminded.  After the Deluge, so to speak (big turtles evidently have big bladders), I was able to get a look at his lower shell, which was yellow with brown markings, and much prettier than the top part of his case.  Since I was alone, however, it wasn’t possible to get a photo of that, as it goes against my moral code to lay a turtle upside down, even temporarily.  Poor guy had been frightened enough already.

Before leaving him to his business and getting on about my own, though, I did snap a picture of him from above, with my sunglasses nearby for comparison of size (see below).  Impressive specimen, isn’t he?

This morning there was frost on the grass here, and in the coming weeks that will become more and more frequent.  Mr. Turtell  will undoubtedly be finding a place to hibernate for the winter.  And with the first blanket of snow or glaze of ice that covers the roads, I’ll be wishing I could do likewise.  Wake me when it’s Spring again!

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Sunset Cruise

Sunset Cruise

Yesterday was eventful. Two years and nine months (almost) after the passing of her Master, a good friend assisted me in loading the Two-Wheeled Mistress onto a trailer and hauling her to the HD dealer in Sedalia, where they will sell her on consignment. Going through the saddle bags and the tool pouch and the shelf of supplies the night before was brutal, but seeing two ol’ boys drooling over her as we drove out of the parking lot helped. Here’s hoping she finds a new owner soon, and that he (or she) will enjoy the bike as much as we did.

Thankfully, Cousin G had invited me to visit with himself and Cousins K & B at the Lake Place, which is about a 45 minute drive from my house. We enjoyed dinner on the screened-in porch, meaningful conversation, and a perfectly relaxing Sunset Cruise on the pontoon boat. It was exactly what I needed.

Keifer and Ziva are Australian Shepherd mix siblings adopted by K & B last year. They’ve grown up spending many weekends at the lake, and they trot excitedly down the ramp, across the dock, and onto the deck of the pontoon with no hesitation whatsoever. The tradition of a Sunset Cruise is obviously something they relish, and watching them post themselves as lookouts at the front of the boat was fascinating. Keifer kept a sharp eye out for blue herons, ducks and geese. Ziva–for the first time ever–jumped up and sat down on the upholstered seat next to Cousin G, taking in the view from a higher vantage point, but acting as though it was something she did every day. As the sun dropped slowly toward the horizon, the temperature of the air cooled accordingly, and the evening was as perfect as it could be.

As the song says: “I get by with a little help from my friends”. And with gratitude for the loving kindness of those friends, I do more than just get by. I really live!

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How’s Pickins?

How’s Pickins?

Growing up in the suburbs, I was fascinated with the flocks of laying hens kept by my aunties who lived in the country.  Going out to the chicken house with a basket or bowl for the eggs was a privilege that never lost its charm.  Even now that I’ve had my own birds for many years, it’s still a bit of a treasure hunt to gather the fresh eggs each day.  But even beyond that benefit, there’s just something wonderful about having a flock of my own.

Presently, I have nine hens, one rooster, seven guineas, and one lone pigeon.  (The pigeon is another story altogether!) This particular group of chickens were gifted to me when my friend Dave D. was moving out-of-state and wanted them to have a good home. The barnyard birds love to patrol the lawn, hunting and pecking for tempting tidbits of bugs and greens.  It keeps them happy and healthy and cuts back on the feed bill to allow them this pleasure.  It also provides me with a sense of peace and well-being to see them out there, meandering about, scratching the surface with their feet now and then in search of something tasty.

In the spirit of tradition, the rooster is called “Rojo”, (that’s pronounced ro-ho), which is Spanish for “red”.  My Uncle R. had a rooster by that name.  Why the hens belonged to Aunt K and the rooster was said to be Uncle’s property, I haven’t yet figured out, but it may have had something to do with the original Rojo’s demeanor.  As in, he couldn’t have gotten much meaner.  (The rooster, not my uncle).  As kids, we were afraid of Rojo.  On our way out the back door, we’d grab either a broom, a bucket of water, or a poor unsuspecting cat, and if the ol’ buzzard–er, rooster–was nearby, one of us would deploy whatever item of self-defense we’d picked up by hurling it at him, whereupon we’d take off running before he could peck our feet or legs, both of which were usually bare all summer.  Sometimes this worked better than others.  I would swear that bird hid, barely beyond the corner of the house, just waiting for us to exit.  He never bothered Uncle, though.  Maybe he knew he couldn’t peck through the tough leather cowboy boots and blue jeans, and didn’t waste his efforts in the attempt.

By contrast, however, my own Rojo is neither vicious nor vindictive.  He will come a-runnin’ if one of his hens utters any kind of distress call, and he’s not what you might call a snuggler, but he’s gentle enough as roosters go.  I like to watch him navigate the yard with his “girls”.  I’ve fed them long enough that when I go outside, they all hurry to gather ’round me, just to see if I’ve brought them anything special from the house, which sorta makes me feel guilty when I don’t.  Which reminds me . . . I gotta go shred some cabbage.  It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind!

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Almost Paradise

Almost Paradise

What makes you happy?  The answers to that question will likely be as numerous as the folks who answer, either in the comment section or just to themselves as they read this.  Some of them will even be true.

So many people would reply “more money” to that question.  And while it’s true that money can help solve certain types of problems, it can also create others.  If you had millions in the bank, how often might you fret about your children being kidnapped and held for ransom?  How many total strangers do you reckon would write or call or even show up on your doorstep asking for a handout?  And how difficult would it be to discern if new acquaintances were being nice because they actually like you, or if it’s only because of what they think they could gain from the association?  Who could you trust?

For the time being, then, let’s take the “money” answer off the table.  Now, what really makes you happy?  A stunning sunrise or sunset?  The smell of a just-cut lawn or fresh bread baking?  The time to prepare a flavorsome meal and the sight of your hungry friends or family gathered around the table to enjoy it?  A good book or movie?  Playing the piano, the guitar, the mandolin, the banjo, the trumpet?  Hugging your grandchild?

Maybe it’s just one of the steps in dealing with loss that has me pondering this, but lately I’ve been snapping photos right and left, finding beauty and wonder all over the place. This morning it came in the form of a newborn foal from my daughter’s mare, Buttercup.  With a tawny coat, long matchstick legs and a white blaze on her face, the filly was already up and walking, sticking to her mama’s side like glue, ducking her head under the mare’s flank for intermittent breakfast breaks every few minutes.  It’s simply amazing to watch.  And it makes me happy.

Find your version of paradise, and do what you can to enjoy it.  I’m not advocating you play hooky from work, or school, or neglect your chores or taking care of your kids.  But try to carve out an extra five or ten minutes in your day and look around you for something that makes you smile.  Breathe deep, let it out slowly.  See?  Almost Paradise!

Guineas

Here’s what I know about Guineas, of which I have seven on the farm right now.

Plumage:  gray with white polka-dots, sometimes silver, or white

Head:        UGLY

Eggs:         smaller than chicken eggs, hard light brown shells with spots, tear-drop shaped

Voice:       loud and annoying

Tame:       not at all

Utility:      they eat ticks!

Need I say more?

Actually, these birds are pretty fascinating.  They fan out in a row like an organized search party and patrol the lawn, the orchard, and the pasture on their quest for bugs.  The very thought of swallowing any bug (let alone a TICK!) makes me gag, but guineas seems to thrive on them.  They will also eat grain, and share the chicken coop with Rojo the Rooster and his nine ladies, but tend to keep to themselves even while confined there together. I’ve seen them chase after a mouse who dared to enter in search of a free meal from the feeder, but won’t describe what happened when they caught it.  Believe me, it wasn’t pretty.

Guineas can fly, and will quickly take to the trees, or even the barn roof, if they feel threatened.  Mine tend to return inside the coop at twilight, where I am sure to shut and latch the flight pen door to keep predators at bay, but some people have told me that once their guineas were out, it was impossible to get ’em back inside.  Their heads look almost prehistoric, so I guess it’s no wonder they act thoroughly wild.

Every year about this time, however, I’ll witness this little dance between a pair of them.  On April 18, I was able to catch this video from my front porch, looking west into the corral.  About a week ago I started finding guinea eggs in the coop, and I’ve brought the incubator up from the basement.  I’ll keep you posted on what develops.  Here’s a link to a very short video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TsTSjIdPp4