Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Animal Communication on the Farm

Avo and Finley as his "peep"

Lately, I have seen evidence of communication between chickens and sheep.

First, we noticed Avo the rooster is able to call Phoebe, our blind ewe, to food. When we throw "salad" (garden weeds) into the sheep pen Avo engages in "tidbitting," a form of communication between a rooster and his hens, where the rooster picks up a found object (usually edible), drops it repeatedly while clucking, in an attempt to draw his hens to him. Because Phoebe is blind, she can't easily find her pile of weeds as her son Finley can find his. So Avo tidbits over her weed pile until she locates it by the sound.

Sunday I discovered our sheep understand rooster warnings. While the sheep were grazing the garden paths under my supervision, Avo noticed the neighbor's dog through the fence running on the far side of their property. Chickens have a disctinctive high trill for airborne predators, and a low growl for ground predators. Avo let out a long, low growl and Finley, who was grazing with his back to the fence and could not possibly have seen the dog, jumped up in the air and ran to me, clearly understanding there was danger.

Finley and I have our own communication language. He has a way of "pawing" me when he wants attention. It's his way of saying "I want." If I mimic his motions first, he understands that if he comes I will pet him. Here are a couple of videos.

He is more like a dog than a sheep, and he wasn't a bottle baby.  He loves attention so much I call him the mutton glutton!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Macro Monday: Scoliid Wasp

This Digging or Blue-Winged Wasp (Scolia dubia) is a beneficial insect in my lawn and garden, as it is a natural control agent for the destructive grubs of the June Bug (Beetle). Here, the female is feeding on the wildflower Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) which I let grow among the vegetable beds to attract pollinators.

They will not sting unless greatly aggravated. Soon she will burrow into the soil to spend the nights, and eventually will sting and paralyze a grub onto which she will lay her eggs. Although I have not yet seen it, Scoliid wasps are said to fly just a few inches above ground infested with grubs in a loose figure-eight pattern.

As a naturalist, I have a confession to make. Although I don't mind beetles, and I practice kindness towards most insects, their grubs just give me the willies. I would much rather hold a snake than a grub! When I find one in the garden, I use a trowel to toss it onto the path in hopes a bird or chicken will find it for a snack!

To see more of the world up close, visit Macro Monday!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Stills: Signs of Fall

Living so close to Mexico as I do, we won't be seeing too many signs of fall until October or even November. Mostly we are feeling the signs of fall. After an abnormally hot summer, with three entire months of temperatures between 103-110, having 80 degrees at noon feels rather pleasant!

So instead, I will show you some signs of September color where I live. Your life has probably been touched by this stuff, and you never knew about it. This is the time of year that the female Cochineal insect (Dactylopius coccus) lays a white fluffy substance containing larvae on the pads of our Prickly Pear  Cactus (Opuntia sp.).

When this white fluff is collected...

...and crushed... produces a natural red dye that is more stable than synthetic colors. The Cochineal is native to South America and Mexico (and obviously this part of Texas which once belonged to Mexico). Cochineal dye was used by the Aztecs and Mayas, and once was the second largest commodity after silver exported from Mexico. The Navajos still use it to dye wool red for their rugs.

After the Spanish conquest, it was exported to Europe, and even was so valuable as to be quoted regularly on the London and Amsterdam Commodities Exchange.

England, wanting to control their own source for the coloring, transplanted it from Brazil to Australia in 1787. Can you guess the use for which the British wanted it?

That's right...there would have been no Red Coats without this little insect and its white fluff.

Chances are very high that you've worn and consumed this insect in your daily life! It is currently used in both the food and cosmetic industry. You'll see it listed as carminic acid, red color E120, and carmine. It's found in alcohol and soft drinks, meats, cheeses, pastries, jams, lipstick, blush, face powder, eyeshadow, hair coloring, oil paint, water colors just to name a few.

Each year people consume an estimated 1-2 drops with their food. This could be of concern if you are vegetarian, vegan, Jewish, or Muslim. Don't like the idea of consuming crushed insect larvae? A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation will require all foods and cosmetics containing cochineal to declare it on their ingredient labels as of January 5, 2011. Still, with cochineal red being one of the safest colorants, I kind of doubt there will be much information letting people know its source.

For some classic signs of fall, visit Sunday Stills!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Macro Monday: Maple Seeds

I remember the first time as a child I found a maple seed floating in a small lake at summer camp and thought it was the wings of an insect. The counselor assured me it was plant life and nothing to be worried about.

There is a nearby canyon of Bigtooth Maples, an isolated remnant of ones from the north. These photos are from mine, even more astray. Since my macro shots didn't come out as crisp as I would have liked them, I decided to make them more artsy with filters.

I've already seen the first of the migratory Viceroy and Monarch Butterflies coming through to feed on our Frostweed, and I think the maple seeds back lit by the sun greatly resemble their wings. It's interesting how much mimicry there is in nature. In the case of the Viceroy, it is a comimic of the Monarch butterfly. But what is the purpose of the maple seed to resemble insect wings?

For more up close views on the world, visit Macro Monday!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Stills: The Color Purple

There's not a lot of purple out in my part of the world right now, but I did find this interesting and unexpected purple thing to shoot yesterday on my hill country travels. Can you guess what it is?

To see more of the purples of the world visit Sunday Stills!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Color Carnival: Bowling Ball Art Garden

If you haven't discovered your local community, you should check it out. It's sort of like Craigslist, only everything is free and thus recycled. Everyone we've met--whether we are giving or receiving--has been very nice and interesting.

We picked up some sliding glass doors from Freecycler Judy so we can build a solar powered water distiller and produce our own drinking water from our neighbor's sulfurous water while our well is dry. She was making mosaics on bowling balls...

...and displaying them in her garden in front of her house. She started with a few, but after someone told her they were tacky, she put out even more! I thought it was an artful use of discarded items, and perfect for Color Carnival. Thanks for the glass, Judy!

For more color, visit Color Carnival!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

All Our Ducks in a Row

Today, when we woke up all our ducks were in a row!

Farmer Rick and I have much to be thankful for--we've made it through another year together including our better foibles in chicken husbandry and accidental gardening, and our worse drought in history. His love did not waver even when I persisted on having curved walls in the new coop, and admits his carpentry skills improved with my nagging encouragement.

Nor did he admonish me for the outrageous debt we incurred from me having to take rabies shots after being bitten by the fox. Yea, he understands and supports my need to rescue critters, stick fingers into their wild mouths and to nurse them back to health. He loves my cooking--even when I forget that I am cooking and serve dinner a la charra y el carbon.

I have come to enjoy being awakened at 4 a.m. when he begins playing Chopin etudes and Joplin rags, mistaking my back for the piano in his deep slumber, and have begun to see it as a new way to get a jump on my busy day. I look the other way when he consumes all the household pickles, and gleefully cap the toothpaste and shampoo after him, because secretly I think I got the better end of this deal. He assures me we are equally fortunate!

People tell us we were made for each other. Indeed, we are cut from the same recycled cloth, quilted together by the poets, nobility, explorers, and farmers of our ancestry, having since discovered an 8th great-grandmother and 21st great-grandfather in common. When we cross the creek, neither of us can remember what we went there for.


Uh hum?

Look, all our ducks are in a row! How cute!

But...we don't have any ducks!

Oh...You're right!

Y'all better go home!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Return of the Magical Mystery Egg

When we first began keeping chickens, we bought a dozen ceramic eggs to place in the nesting boxes to give the girls the idea of where we wanted them to lay. This might seem silly to those of you who do not keep chickens, but it is a fact that young pullets are just as likely to lay one on top of your head as in the nest box without a little instructional guidance!

Soon we were awash in eggs, and selling them to friends and neighbors. I collected up the fake eggs, which were no longer necessary, only to discover there were now only 11. Our greatest fear was we had accidentally sold one of these great imitations to someone expecting a dozen edible ones! Yet no one would own up to receiving the mystery egg.

This weekend, while digging up some of the composted soil that washed down with the last rain into the creek, Farmer Rick discovered the missing egg! It looks as if it has fooled quite a few egg eaters by all the tooth marks on both ends. I'd love to know how it got into the creek, and where all it's been the last three years! Maybe this has given predators the idea our eggs aren't too palatable!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jeepers Creepers, Where'd You Get Those Peepers?

Since the scare back in February when Big Bird went on her big adventure, she's stayed pretty close to home. In fact, yesterday afternoon I last saw her sitting by the coop door. When evening fell, Alzina the Ameraucana (the one who worries) was standing in the door telling me something was wrong. Roll was called, and instantly I knew what she was talking about: Big Bird was missing again.

Fortunately, I had bought two nifty LED headlamps (how did we ever live without them?) and Farmer Rick and I began the search. I've since learned the best way to find a chicken in the creek is to lay on my belly and shine the light at their eye level. Within a few minutes she was located, sleeping under the big oak. I think she just gets caught unaware because she can't see the others heading to the coop.

 What? Where? Why do you have scissors in your hand?

So, I borrowed Farmer Rick's mustache scissors (sorry, honey) and went to work! Although the Polish are loved for their poufs and antics, I don't want beauty interfering with safety.

The bob is IN you know...

Just look at those big eyes!

Does this mean I can get sunglasses now?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Macro Monday: UFO

Please click to biggify!

This is perhaps the most unusual insect I have ever seen! It was on a morning glory leaf in the garden yesterday and could fit on the head of a pencil eraser. If you look closely, it's actually disk shaped with a transparent "windshield" over its head and "windows" on the sides completing the oval.

The beautiful metallic patterns caught my eye as they reflected in the sun. It was shy, and I chased it around the leaf taking dozens of photos just to get one with clarity. Finally it got tired of my intrusion and, to my surprise, flew away!

If anyone knows what this is, please tell!

n.b. My naturalist friend Bob B. in Arizona was able to identify this as Deloyala guttata, a Mottled Tortise Beetle. Thanks Bob!

For more up close images, visit Macro Monday!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Stills: Mechanical Transportation

This was taken in Bandera, Texas, "Cowboy Capitol of the World" a couple years ago. It is the only place I know where you can buy beer with your breakfast tacos and churches hold rodeos on Sundays. I'm sure many of you would enjoy taking your horses to worship!

(And no, this is NOT my car!)

For more takes on mechanical transportation, visit Sunday Stills.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Color Carnival: Woodmen of the World

Last week while on a business trip, I stopped in Bertram, Texas, to photograph this lovely Woodmen of the World mural. I remember seeing their distinctive tree stump shaped headstones which had been erected during the early 1900's in the cemetery of the rural east Texas town where I grew up. Since that was pine forest, I always assumed this was a fraternal order of loggers.

According to Wikipedia, the Woodmen of the World is a fraternal organization based in Omaha, Nebraska that operates a large privately held insurance company for its members. It has nothing to do with trees at all. I thought the log shaped lettering was really nice and the colors and design of the mural well done.

But the article does go on to say that the organization's patriotic mission is the annual In Honor and Remembrance program, which pays tribute to the heroes and victims of September 11. So, it seems an appropriate post for today.

For more colors, visit Color Carnival!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where's My Kayak?

Today we finally got a big storm. Real rain. As in over 5 inches! Everything just let out a big sigh of relief. The dry creek ran. Cracked soil expanded, trying to confiscate my sandals as I rushed around checking on the animals.

We'd gotten 3/8 of an inch last night, so this new amount is causing some flooding! Not enough to worry about yet, although Phoebe and Finley were not amused standing in their sheep "pond" this morning. Also, rain blew into the new coop from the unfinished overhang creating a small playa lake in the middle of the pine shavings. The chickens were all standing around looking at it while King Avelino tested the water with a foot and complained loudly.

It's temporarily brought the river back up to something worth kayaking--from near 0 to 260 cfs. Our dry well, however, has yet to see any results. There's more rain in the forecast for tonight and the rest of the week, so we can hope!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

We Are Not Normal

Today Millicent, our wiener-terrier rescue, discovered Francisco's toy frog. It has been in her mouth all day long. Usually she plays with a dozen toys each day. Usually she plays with the kitten. But not today. This. One. Is. Special.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Macro Monday: Mud Daubers Nest

This is the nest of an organ-pipe mud dauber, a slender, non-aggressive wasp that preys on our black widow spiders. I'm happy to have them around. The nest is made out of local mud by the female who molds it into place with her mandibles.

I thought it was interesting that this one--attached to our house--was made with two colors of mud. I like the organic texture of it and think I'd rather live in a space without corners myself.

For more up close shots visit Macro Monday!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Stills: Rule of Thirds

After telling everybody I've been using the Rule of Thirds for a while, do you think I could get the animals to cooperate?

Avo, King of the Sheep (or Fuzzy Hens as he prefers) kept trying to explain the Rule of Twenty Sevenths. It was beyond me.

Finley suggested I use the fence to do my proportioning, although he says he prefers using the fence to scratch his rear ear.

Zoe the Apenzeller Spitzhauben hen and the yet unnamed White Crested Black Polish rooster just gave me a look like I am crazy...and of course, I am the Crazy Chicken Lady around these parts. If you have a good name for him, I'm taking suggestions.

For more Rule of Thirds visit Sunday Stills!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Farewell Rooster-o

In the beginning, we never planned to have roosters, but we didn't read the fine print that said there was a small percentage of error on sexing peeps on the first day of their life. Soon after our original batch of layers began to grow, we noticed something different about this one. It looked like a rooster.

Soon we were absolutely, positively sure he was a rooster, and thinking he was the only one, named him Rooster. You could say he was our first rooster, even though much later we were to discover three other of our 'hens' were also boys! They happened to already have girls' names that we could change to the masculine by adding an 'O'...thus Ava became the infamous Avo, etc. This is how Rooster became Rooster-o.

He was the smallest of all our roosters, and we never knew exactly what unusual breed he was. As a young cockerel, he excelled at sports, namely 'grape ball'. This is where we would toss a grape into the flock and he was like a quarterback that would run around dodging the other chickens who also wanted the prize.

Rooster-o was also a gentleman, always very kind to the ladies who, quite frankly, adored him. Especially the ill-behaved Egyptian Fayoumis. They knew he had the biggest wattles around and took advantage of that any chance they could get. He was the only rooster I could not easily pick up and handle--that is until he became sick. Because of this I never knew he was losing weight. Birds have a way of disguising illness by fluffing their feathers.

At first I thought he was malnourished from having a very hooked beak, which you may recall in an earlier post I clipped and filed. This definitely helped him eat more, and he had a voracious appetite up until the end. He regained his strength, and I moved him from the utility bathroom back into his coop apartment when the new peeps expanded into all our spare space.

But his health went slowly downhill. After the new flock moved into their coop, he came back in the house where I could more easily tend to him and he didn't have to endure the summer heat. I began cooking for him, meals that Farmer Rick says were better than what I cooked for us! In the afternoons I'd take him outside where he'd flirt with the hens from the comfort of my lap.

Farewell, Rooster-o, you will be missed by all of us!
Blog Widget by LinkWithin