Thursday, April 30, 2009

You Know How Some People Look Like Their Pets?

Well, I'm beginning to get a little worried...

I've got kind of an Appenzeller Spitzhauben thing going on.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pink Explosion

This is a Sensitive Brier, Schrankia uncinata. It grows as a sprawling perennial in our prairie, and when you touch its leaves they close up. I have grown up playing with them, but for some of you they will be unfamiliar. After the recent rains, there are hundreds of them in bloom, like tiny fireworks across the homestead.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Am the Crazy Chicken Lady!

I should mention that--in case you are following along on the coop construction and are considering building one yourself--neither of us has constructed a structure out of wood this size before. In college I took architectural construction courses--which is to say I have a lot of book sense without much practical application and Farmer Rick was a City Boy in a previous life and has admirably worked his way up from building our chicken tractor a couple years ago.

(If you are unfamiliar with chicken tractors you should google the term). This one has since had a floor installed to become the Chickens With Disabilities Unit, namely Teddy Bird's house. The book we have found most helpful in our building process is Building a Shed: Siting and Planning a Shed, Building Shed Foundations, Adding Custom Details (Build Like a Pro Series) from Taunton Press. It's very well illustrated and written for the layperson. We bought several books on coop design first but they were not detailed enough for actual construction.

OK, so we've underestimated how long it will take to build the coop. We were certainly not expecting a week of rain after being in a drought. Or that these chicks would grow faster than our previous ones. So, I've had to do a little ahem redecorating...(if you are terribly fastidious and tidy, you'd best close this post ASAP!)...

Truthfully, I have disliked this bathroom since the day we met. For one, the tile job (very unprofessional) goes right over the window and blocks the handle! I removed a sliding glass tub door because I could never keep the lime off it and it made the room--which is twice as long as what you see--even narrower. Because the room was carved out of an old post office, the pipes are on top of the floor! The electrical outlets are really extension cords from other rooms. I even had to remove a phone jack for goodness sake! This room is going to be entirely remodeled even if I have to take the Sawzall to it!

The Crazy Sheep Lady once told me something had to be really wrong before she'd have chickens in her house. However, the Crazy Sheep Lady has sheep in her house. That must make me the Crazy Chicken Lady. (Fortunately, we do have our own bathroom).

So now the race is on! Will Farmer Rick finish the new coop before the chickens spill into my studio? Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Coop Wall Framing Begun

Farmer Rick has begun the first wall of the new chicken coop. This wall will eventually mostly be inside the coop, but since we are building it in stages it must serve as an exterior wall for a while. Here you can see the door frame.

The wall is being built from recycled lumber we've gotten from several folks. Even the window is recycled.

We are setting the fixed glass window low enough for winter light to shine in on the chickens and for them to be able to see out from their dust bath. Here FR is measuring the sill to see how to position the glass and the wooden stops that will hold it in place.

The window is being lowered into the inside frame stop.

Here the outside frame has been applied to hold it in place.

Here's the nearly completed framing of the first wall. Notice how we used the floor as a flat surface on which to build it. The outside panel with the window will be sheathed in plywood, and the rest hardware cloth. For now, it has been moved to the side on top of the other floor joists to make room for the next wall to be built.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

And You Thought Your Job Was Tough

Today in cleaning out Teddy Bird's house (the Chickens With Disabilities Unit) I noticed I had some helpers in keeping things tidy.

These dung beetles are known as "rollers" (as opposed to "tunnelers" and "dwellers") as this is what they do with their treasure. Dung beetles can roll up to 50 times their weight. By consuming and burying dung, they keep the ground clean around our animals, and help fertilize the soil, thus helping out the garden. They also provide an excellent model for determination!

Friday, April 24, 2009


This morning I caught this beetle on a flower known as Crow Poison, Nothoscordum bivalve. Over the next week I will be sharing the various native wildflowers blooming on the farm. Because of the exceptional drought there aren't the usual big stands of things, but most species are represented if you are willing to look for them. I had the pleasure of guiding some folks from out of state recently who were interested in the flora of the Hill Country.

Normally the short grass prairie would be so full of flowers you could not leave the path without stepping on one.

The garden is looking good, although we are behind on planting many things.

The lettuce grew so slowly, even with irrigation, that by the time it was the right size to eat it was already bitter.

Farmer Rick has been doing a great job with the compost process. We will be adding more bins across the creek near the new coop once it is finished.

A week ago we heard the Chuck Wills Widow calling from the creek. It is such an ethereal sound. Wednesday the Hooded Oriole and his gal showed up at their feeder. It's nice to have them back.

I wish I could say the same for the bird that sings (if you can call it that!) so loudly by my bedroom window that I cannot get a good night's sleep. He showed up for the second year in a row on Tuesday. My friend Bob B. helped me identify it as the Yellow-Breasted Chat, Icteria virens. Their song is described as "an odd, variable mixture of cackles, clucks, whistles and hoots. Their calls are harsh chak's". To this I would add very loud, and continuous from midnight to 5 a.m. I've started turning the sprinkler on under the tree all night to shoo him off. I hear him in the back keeping the sheep awake now.

After all, Finley is already used to annoying birds.

Avo...well he's just Avo. What can be said for a rooster in love with a blind sheep and thinks he has fathered Finley? (Notice how he's posing by the word Ideal?)

Here's Finley's idea of the ideal rooster...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Installing the Coop Flooring

Here Farmer Rick is installing the sheet vinyl flooring.

It's going down with a flooring glue and a trowel with grooves. The grooves are important to help the glue spread once the vinyl flooring is pressed down onto the plywood subflooring.

After drying 24 hours, the trimming begins.

Ta da! Now it just needs mopping to get the tree pollen off. Of course with the lovely speckled pattern you'd never know it was there if I didn't tell you.

FR pointed out the shape kind of looks like a grand piano. FR is an amazing pianist--no wonder he liked working on it! Next up will be the walls...stay tuned!

Water Falling?

Considering we are in an exceptional drought, I was astonished to find water running with beautiful waterfalls in our usually dry creek. As it turns out my neighbor--who has landlocked us, destroyed our privacy along with all his understory vegetation, bulldozed his portion of the creek, and dug a huge pond upstream from us--was releasing water. He told Farmer Rick he was trying to find a pond leak and wasn't going to charge us for the free water. Although our thirsty oak is getting a good drink, it would have been nice if he'd let us know beforehand. Don't you think it would have been neighborly to ask first?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How Fast They Grow

Here are the chicks at 3-1/2 weeks of age. They are getting even more adorable.

Apenzeller Spitzhauben

Silver Laced Polish

Salmon Faverolles

Gold Laced Polish

Sicilian Buttercup

Cuckoo Marans
Buff Laced Polish

Cream Brabanter


Room Service

Because of all the other chicken stuff going on, I haven't mentioned Rooster-o has been sick. He's our first, and smallest rooster and usually doesn't like to be handled. The one with the biggest wattles. For this reason (and because birds in general are pretty good at hiding their symptoms) we didn't realize he had lost a lot of weight. Several weeks ago Rick found him in a very debilitated state and we brought him in to be nursed back to health. I feel badly that I did not notice this sooner.

When an adult chicken is underweight from illness and not eating, I cook scrambled eggs with a little nutritional yeast sprinkled in for them. I know this sounds strange, except egg is what they eat inside the egg, so it is their first complete food. After a few days of seeing they will eat this, I begin top this with fresh chopped cabbage, grated carrot, crushed garlic, and sliced grapes or raisins, a little parsley.

Upon close observation of Rooster-o, it appeared his extremely hooked bill was making it very difficult to eat the pellets. I used the dog toenail trimmers to remove the tip and an emery board to sand the edges down. I figured he would resist, but he got a very pleased and relaxed look on his face during the process, not unlike how I must look when I get a professional pedicure! I think I can probably safely take a little more off now, and will add this to my monthly routines.

Before trimming...

After trimming.

He's doing much better, and is back out in his apartment in the main coop today, but still getting room service!

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Yesterday morning Farmer Rick left the door to the chicks unsecured and Francisco killed five before I came to their rescue. I had left the house and fortunately returned for something I'd forgotten, or else they all would be dead. I am extremely angry at FR's lack of mindfulness, and saddened by the loss (as he is). We had a good cry when we buried them.

It's too bad all our rescue dogs are hunting breeds instead of shepherding breeds.

Among the dead was Emma, the little Marans whose feet I taped every night and was finally walking fairly normally (she walked like a wind up toy), the most precocious Brabanter that flew to the tub side to see me every time I entered the room, a Buff Laced and a Silver Laced Polish, and the pesky Buff Orpington I didn't order who was finally settling down. Between the hatchery mix up, original losses, and this, my breeding plans are all messed up!

On top of the already heavy day, the replacement peeps showed up, a day before expected. I had just spoken to the hatchery Monday and they assured me the chicks were shipping Wednesday, not arriving Wednesday. The hatchery had asked if it was OK to put "a couple" of extra males in for warmth, and I said OK since they had sold out of any other hens I wanted. What I got was eight extra males of a same--but as yet unknown--breed! Since when is eight a couple? Now what on earth am I going to do with all those roosters?

I don't understand what's going on with today's lack of customer service and communication. It's pervasive from dishwashers to chickens. Maybe businesses have grown too large to be effective. I get the best service and communication from the individual sellers on eBay and Etsy.

The new replacement peeps are small and fragile in comparison to the first ones, I'm nervous about them. Francisco is banished to the side yard until all the babies have moved into the new coop. The hatchery is done with it's run this spring, so today I located an individual selling fertile eggs for some of my losses, and I ordered a Hobovator (incubator). Farmer Rick is open to trying new strategies for becoming more fully awake and mindful in the morning. This has been a rough spring for many of us.

Hopefully my next posts will be more cheerful...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sears Update

Since my last posting, Why I Will Never Buy Another Appliance From Sears, I have been receiving 1-2 automated calls, then live person calls each day trying to reschedule the repairman to put in the non-existent dishwasher part. I grit my teeth each time they end the conversation with "thank you for choosing Sears!" During the past seventeen days of this I have felt very harassed by Sears.

They wouldn't even leave me alone for the Easter weekend, three people called to try to schedule the repairman. I told each live person that I will not accept a black control panel for my white dishwasher, and that I expected them to live up to the warranty to replace the entire unit. One of these people even told me they had no evidence I had a warranty!

The last person told me he would refer my case to the national replacement group and I should expect a call from them. This morning I received another call to reschedule the repairman. I told them to take me off their call list and to have the national replacement group call me. Unbelievable, they called. I now have a $500 credit toward the new dishwasher of my choice--only it has to be from Sears!

After this one breaks, that's it, no more Sears appliances! No more Sears warranties! I estimate I have spent 12 hours on the phone with Sears or the repairman over this issue trying to get my dishwasher fixed for 2 months. I still have to set the last three wrong parts on the doorstep for UPS to pick up. I predict with outsourced service, and incompetent parts department, and horrible communication, Sears will soon go out of business.

Calendar of Events:
Feb 16 Initial call for repair
Feb 20 Wrong part arrives
Feb 25 Repairman arrives, orders another part
Feb 27 Another wrong part arrives
March 4 Repairman arrives, orders another part
March 12 Third wrong part arrives, I am out of town
March 16 I call Sears and tell them it's the wrong part, they promise to expedite the part before the repairman shows up
March 17 I call Sears to ascertain the part has shipped, it has but they don't know when it will arrive
March 18 Repairman comes, but there is no part
March 19 Forth wrong part arrives! A manager is supposed to call me, doesn't.
March 23 A manager calls to tell me there is no white part, I will have to accept a black part! She says my warranty doesn't cover "cosmetic problems". I told her the problem was functional, that Sears was causing the cosmetic problem, and that if this wasn't taken care of I would seek legal action.
March 24-April 10 For seventeen days I receive 1-2 automated or live person calls each day trying to reschedule the repairman to install "the part".
April 13 I am issued an authorization number for $500 towards a new Sears dishwasher.

My advice to you: 1) Don't give in 2) Don't ever buy Sears appliances or warranties.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cutting the Curves

First, we transposed the curve from the bottom to the top. This was accomplished by drawing a series of parallel lines on both the top and bottom of the plywood, measuring from the bottom and marking it on the top. I added a half inch just to make sure the saw didn't hit the metal panels.

Since I couldn't find my artist charcoal or chalk, I opted for a barbecue brickette and a curving yardstick that warped in the rain.

It was a matter of connecting the dots. Farmer Rick wanted me to make the cut, seeing as how the curve was my idea in the first place. It's important that chickens have good feng shui, you know.

This is my Dewalt reciprocating saw. It is often generically called a Sawzall, even though that's another brand (Milwaukee). I got it to demolish parts of my former flooded home. When I bought it a decade ago the salesman thought I should buy a smaller, more ladylike one. Even though this one is the biggest and heaviest, it is counter-weighted to balance it for a smoother cut.

Tools are a great investment. If I had to choose just one saw, it would be this one. You can buy blades to cut through whatever you want.

Here's the finished cut.

We had a little rain last night (imagine that!) so here we've tucked our floor under the sheet vinyl that will eventually cover it. That was after we did a little dance together on it, and got to thinking how the roof could incorporate a little deck into the oak, maybe with a staircase following that curve...

Here's a closeup of the vinyl. I think it's supposed to look like regal gold flecks, but it just looks like the chickens have already been there. Next task, building the walls.
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