Farm Chores with our Scaredy-Cat (aka Chicken Kitty)

Last night, after I got the kids to sleep, I headed out for my nightly chores… I remembered to bring my fancy camera!  I always start with watering… then I realize I should have harvested first… tomorrow, I say… every day!   Things are really growing (even the weeds! – again, tomorrow!).  Look how pretty the lettuce is!!

 

I think I’ve mentioned before that our kitty, Buster, is a city kitty, king of the neighborhood and quite the hunter when we lived in Seattle.  He’s become quite the scaredy cat since we moved to the country, and doesn’t venture far from the deck and his favorite pooping spots.  This spring, he started coming with me to water the garden. He acts all relaxed and cocky, and gets into his ol’ hunting stances with the bunnies and birds, but then doesn’t do anything about it.

Our tomatoes really struggled this year!  They hardly grew for the whole first month… and they looked really sad.  Our neighbor recommended that we get lime – she said that it totally turned her tomatoes around a few years ago.  I went to the Country Store in town and asked about lime and they only had a 25 lb bag – way too much for my 9 plants!  They recommended a few different fertilizers and the one I ended up buying didn’t even have lime in it, but it had a bunch of other things.  The company is called FoxFarms and the product is Grow Big!  I added it to my tomatoes every other day as recommended and within five days, there was a night and day difference!  And now, two weeks later, there are tomatoes on a few of the plants! WOOOOOOHOOOOO!

There’s kitty again!

I had to take a few shots of the alpaca fence on my way down to check on the chickens!  Isn’t it awesome?  Looks so farmy around here now!

Kitty followed me down to the lower part of the yard.  He’s a little hesitant but as long as I’m going, he’s going.  It’s been a fun part of the evening to see him branching out!

We’re (Carson is!) building the alpaca shelter off of this cool old building on our property and, in that process, we’re going to shore up the old building so that we can store hay and other things in it.  Another day, another project! 🙂

The chickies were running low on food, and Carson made a new setup for them so we don’t have to reach way into the coop part to grab the food bucket.  I like it… we’ll see how it is in the winter – we’re hoping the food stays dry.

This is Buffarina, the broody hen.  She rarely – if ever – leaves the nesting box.  And last night, she had a feather stuck to her beak… hmmm, I wonder if she was pecking one of her sisters?

Nolan the Rooster needed food and water, too, but he came over to pose for some pictures!  He’s such a nice boy.  We have heard about roosters not being so nice and we were worried that he would be a meany, but he’s such a love!  It took him awhile to feel safe around us, but now he comes right out to greet us and he’ll let us know if something’s wrong with the girls.  If they are out of food, he’s crowing a lot more and then he’ll run back and forth from the gate to the girls to alert us!  It’s been so fun to have him around.

Kitty has discovered the chickens and I hope he doesn’t figure out how to get over that fence.  The hens are all protected from above with chicken wire, but Nolan’s enclosure is open on top.  Buster was definitely scanning to see if he could get up there.  Then when I went back to the hen side, he laid right down and was flicking his tail.

Luckily, when I headed back to the house, he was very close behind me!  Chicken kitty! 🙂

Our apple trees have little baby apples on them!  TONS OF LITTLE BABY APPLES!  Summer is here!

I got back to the house, then remembered I forgot to get the eggs from the hens… back down I went.  I was a little nervous about my shoe choice – I usually boot up – both to avoid the poop on my feet, and so that they don’t peck me… exposed skin plus red toenails?  Not the smartest!  Luckily, it was easy and the hens didn’t seem to notice! Phew!

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Alpacapalooza! And, now we DO know how to build a fence!

This is the song I referred to in my last post… this is one of my all-time favorite bands and probably my favorite song right now.  It IS our life!

Aaaaaaaand it happened!  We not only learned how to build a fence, but we actually built it!

ALPACAPALOOZA (our work party to finish the fencing for the alpacas!) happened on Sunday!  We had a bunch of helpers and we’re so grateful.  It’s amazing to us, still, that people will come miles and miles, give up their weekend days, to help us with our dreams and plans and goals.  They WANT to do hard labor to improve our property and just be with us!

Our awesome neighbors Jim and Randi helped along with our friend Rich, who lives down the block, our very good friends who are like family, Lacey and Kelly came and even brought a friend we’d never met who WANTED to help, and my brother “Uncle Tiny” (my baby brother, who is anything but tiny!), plus Carson and me and the kids all pitched in.

Carson and I (mostly Carson) had put all of the posts (wood in the corners and t-posts in between) in the ground, and installed the gates

The plan was that we would get the 700 feet of five-foot, nonclimb horse fence stretched, hammered to the wood posts, and clipped to the t-posts.

 

Carson and I were outside getting ready starting around 8 am.  Others started to arrive around 9:30.

There’s ‘Ol Blue getting all warmed up!  Ol’ Blue was pivotal in getting this thing built.  We used Ol’ Blue to move fencing around and we attached Jim’s come-alone and wire stretcher to the bucket to stretch the fence to make it tight and secure.

It started slowly as we were trying to learn and get into a groove.  Jim took the lead because he’s done it before.  The rest of us were trying to follow his lead and figure out the best way to use our tools – we bought a couple of fancy bending tools that were supposed to help with twisting the clips around the t-posts but only Uncle Tiny could figure out how to make them work at first… the rest of us were using pliers.

Eventually we figured out that it worked best to work in pairs – one on the inside and one on the outside of the fence.

Some of the teams MAY have gotten a little (a lot) competitive toward the end… there may have been words exchanged! (ahem… #hillsisters)

We had pizza and beer, chips and cookies, and lots and lots of water!  It felt really hot in the sun for awhile.  I kept thinking that we were getting to “the shady part”… but it turned out not to be shady when we got there!  Some of us MAY have been sore and tired the next day…

 

But we did it!  The fence is all up.

There are some finishing touches for us – we need to finish the shelter, and smooth out the areas where we had to remove plants like rhododendrons that can be poisonous to animals, but we are so close to done done..  So close!!  And we’re really getting excited about having our girls here!  Even Carson said he’s excited tonight.  YAYYYYYY!

 

Big big big thank yous to all who helped physically in person… we literally could not have done this without you! And to those who cheered us from home, we appreciate you… we feel the support and love, and it helps more than you know!  I have a feeling our alpacas are going to have a lot of visitors in the next few months!

Alpaca Preparations Are Underway

I may have mentioned a time or two that I am a little tiny bit obsessed with alpacas.  I love watching them do their thing.  They are so cute and personable and fun.

Last year, we went to the Festival of Family Farms – an event in our area where farms open up and let people see what they do.  We didn’t go to all of the farms, but we chose an alpaca farm and a cheese farm.  I got to be up close to the alpacas and it was amazing.

 

              

 

I stood, making eye contact with a few of them, and it was so cool – they seem so wise and intuitive.  The alpaca farm, they had a whole set up for processing the fiber, too – from washing it to spinning it into yarn.  There was a whole group of women demonstrating every part.  I knew this was something I wanted to learn more about.

I posted something on Facebook about loving alpacas and my aunt, who now lives in California, wrote to me and said that her very good friends have an alpaca farm in the city just north of us and she wondered if I’d like her to connect me to them.  Um… yes Please!

Shirley and Sherry are amazing.  I told them that I love alpacas and want to learn all I can, and I said I homeschool my kids and I’d love to make that part of it.  I had no plans at that time to have alpacas of my own… I didn’t think our yard was conducive to that and I honestly wasn’t ready for another animal… I think our chickens were babies at that time and we were still adjusting to our bigger country land and garden and house.  But I really wanted to be near them and learn all I could.

 

Shirley told us about an event that was coming up called FiberFusion, where people bring the fiber from their animals to sell, and there would be all kinds of vendors for fiber products, and alpacas, too!

             

Shaleigh and I went and I think I was in heaven.  It’s amazing all of the things you can make with fiber… the most interesting thing I saw that day was a bar of soap covered in alpaca fleece (cleaned and processed, of course) and it’s kind of like a washcloth and soap combo – in one.  We also saw someone MAKING yarn with a drop spindle… and I got to try a spinning wheel, and I pretty much felt like I was meditating.  I’m a sucker for yarn… it’s a big part of stress relief for me, especially when my mind is going crazy with worry and thinking too much, doing something with yarn in my hands (crocheting, knitting, making yarn balls) calms my mind… it doesn’t turn it off, it just focuses it.  Anyway, the spinning wheel did that, too!  I was hooked.

 

I started dreaming of having my own alpaca herd then and there… there was a lot of  “what about…?” and “but…” and “how are we gonna…?” to cover first.  Did we have the space they’d need? What about predators like cougars and coyotes?  Do we still have an area to run the dogs in the yard?  Do we have the money needed to take care of them?  And a million more.

As time went on, I felt reassured by Shirley that we can provide them a good home.  We’ve had several visits with the alpacas and Shirley and Sherry, and every single time we’ve gotten together, at their farm or ours – the weather is perfect – warmer than expected and sunny! This was our first visit.

Since then, I’ve taken each kid one at a time and together a couple of times, too.  The kids did chores on their individual visits – Braden even got three alpaca kisses… I think they loved his red hair and his head is right at the perfect level to lean in and smooch.  They love the kids… they are a little nervous about me (rightly so, probably!), but they will follow the kids all over.  Shaleigh is a little more timid around the alpacas – she got spit on the first time we went so I get it – but it turns out that she loves to clean up the poop… something about the poop scoop that they have was fun for her and she has claimed that as her chore!  Twist my arm!  (We’ve offered her the chicken poop and dog poop – to get some practice, but she says no!  Apparently alpaca poop doesn’t stink, “it smells earthy”!  She’s not wrong, but she IS funny!)

Shirley has been an amazing mentor and friend and I am grateful every day that my aunt connected us.   She has three alpacas that she thinks would be perfect for us – Zoe, Phoebe and Midori.   Zoe and Phoebe are white, and Midori is brown with a little white spot on her nose (and she’s also the one who spit on Shaleigh!).

So… preparations have begun!

I’ve studied up – reading books and blogs, joining groups on Facebook, following alpaca farms on Instagram… researched fencing and equipment, looking into vets.  I’ve attended a couple of shearings to see what that’s all about – it’s not pretty, but it’s necessary and they feel so good after they’re sheared, which helps (and the fiber is amazing – so thick and so clean underneath!)  I’m taking an Alpaca and Llama Information Workshop in a couple of weeks where I will learn so many things related to the animals about handling and care and nutrition and maintenance.  And they have demonstrations and classes about processing fiber and even spinning.  It’s going to be a wonderful day for me.

And preparations have begun at the homestead, too.  We purchased some fencing and have spent hours digging, putting wood posts in the ground and string-lining the area where they’ll be, and measuring, and planning.

 

Side Note:  My favorite band is The Paperboys, and they have a song called “Country Life”, about spending a weekend in the country and how you can’t see the stars at home, but here you can… it’s a dream about moving to the country and the chorus goes, “I don’t know how… to build a fence.  But I can learn, I can learn… in this country life”. Carson and I met online, but when we met in person, it was at a Paperboys show and he’s been to a couple more with me since then.  I have always loved this song, and never dreamed it would be my life.  I am humming the song constantly these days as we learn how to build a fence in our country life.   I love stuff like that!!

We are so lucky to have neighbors who know about all of this stuff.  When Jim got home from work tonight, he came over and helped us with a few things we kept getting stuck on.  Luckily, the answer was that we were overthinking it and it’s going to work out once we get the fencing installed… Phew!!  He had some ideas about gates and stuff that we hadn’t thought of – more using what we have, which I am loving right now!

There is a lot of work left to do and I’m sure we’ll be reworking things right up until the last minute, but I am so excited, I’m actually giddy!  I am so grateful that this is my life!

Stay tuned for more fencing, alpaca preparations and hopefully for alpaca news in the next month!

Two Broody Hens and One Naughty Pup

We have two very broody hens who sit on their eggs (and all the eggs) and don’t move.  They want to be mamas so badly!  I get it, Girls… but no.  Not right now.  Those eggs are not going to be babies; they’re going to be breakfast and keto cheese bread and cookies and bread and cake!

 

This is Chunky, our grey Cochin. She’s been broody since last year, but she seems even more determined in her brooding (meaner) this year!  She sits in the way back corner of the roosting area of the coop – not on a nest, even – so she’s harder to scootch!

 

This is one of our Buff Orpingtons (either Buffalo or Buffarina, they look the same) – and she’s in a nesting box, and was so mean. I love the way Wyndy and the other Buff were trying to see what’s going on without getting pecked… “now what are you gonna do?”

 

They don’t do the brooding all the time… I feel like they do it more now since Nolan the Rooster made his appearance a while back.  The hens don’t have any physical contact with Nolan – there is a fence between the two runs, but I don’t know if their brooding instincts kick in more with the presence of a rooster (do chickens have pheromones?). Or maybe they have just reached the age where they instinctively sit on the eggs.

We still have to get the eggs though!

Carson will sometimes grab a rake or a broom and carefully push them out of the nesting box to grab the eggs.  The brooders look angry and they peck when you get near them (which doesn’t really hurt, but it scares you anyway!), so a tool is helpful if you’re gonna reach into the coop.

I’m a little more sensitive (I’m a mama, after all!), and I have found that if I go to the coop a few different times in the day, I can usually catch them out of the nest getting a drink or stretching their legs. And sometimes offering treats entices them to take a short break.  This week, that is not happening.  I gave it three days and then I knew they needed to eat and drink, and I needed the eggs.

I grabbed the little hand broom (gentler than a rake!) and starting scooping, gently pushing, and moving her over.  It’s tight quarters there in the nesting area so not much room to move (or get away when she’s pecking), and I was all bent over and trying to avoid being pecked by the other chickens.  I was laughing at myself the whole time, and eventually – after probably 10 minutes – I collected 12 of the most loved eggs ever laid.  The hens protected them for days at the expense of eating and drinking, and I worked a lot harder than I usually have to at gathering them!

 

Feeling so successful, and like a real farm girl, I took the egg bowl to a stump near the water spigot.  Braden was throwing the ball for the dogs, and I figured he was keeping them too busy to care about the eggs.  I had to take water to Nolan the Rooster, and headed just around the corner of the barn from where I left the eggs.

I heard one kid scream, and then the other.

My heart stopped…. I’d just read on a neighborhood website that there have been sightings of a cougar or bobcat in the area and, even though I know that the presence of the dogs SHOULD discourage most predators, it’s not always the case – recently, there was a fatal cougar attack of two bicyclists in the mountains not far from us, the cougar was super hungry and its behavior was vastly different from what we expect of cougars in the wild.  So I’m not relying on normal behavior patterns of wild animals these days.

Plus… I’m a mama and those are my babies.  I panicked and I dropped the water and ran back to the kids and dogs… and eggs.

Thankfully, everyone was okay.  Turns out Cotter (our two-year-old golden lab) had jumped up on the stump and knocked the egg bowl over and broken almost all of them in the process, and stole one to eat.  He was hurriedly scarfing down the egg in the grass.

I know they don’t look broken, but I promise you that nine out of twelve of them had a crack or gash, and they were all leaking into the bowl that had all the chicken poop and feathers in it… sighhhhh!

 

You naughty naughty naughty dog.

He didn’t even want to look at me! I made him lie down there for ten minutes… a nearly impossible feat for this one, normally… he’s always up and ready to play ball or chase or just run around like a crazy man when we’re outside.

 

So ashamed… or cleaning the egg guts off his face… either way… he’s a cute boy. Still naughty though!

The only saving grace in the situation was that I can still use the eggshells in the garden… oh, and I guess Cotter got a little extra protein for the day.  I collected all of the eggs, rinsed off the stump as well as I could, and headed back to the house.

Some days on the farm are like that… three steps forward, two steps back… gotta keep taking the steps.  Can’t cry for too long over broken eggs… even when they were hard-earned eggs.  I’m sure there are a few more cliches I can throw in there, but I’ll stop.

 

Forgive me!

Hi All!

I keep waiting for the website to be completely ready and just the way I want it, and for time to do a proper introduction, before I start blogging… but I’m busy!  I’m a mom of two kids who are home with me most of the time.  We have three dogs, six hens and a rooster, and a garden and yard that need attention.. and my husband and I run a general contractor business… So many things calling our attention and not enough hours in the day to take care of it AAAND sleep.

I have so many stories I want to share and I don’t want to wait until it’s old news, so this morning I decided that I’m going to jump right in.  I’ll tell some stories on my imperfect and not-quite-done website, and before I’ve fully introduced myself and our homestead, and I’ll fill in the gaps as I go! I hope that’s okay! 🙂