Sunday, June 28, 2009

Maa-Maat and The Red Thing

This is the Red Thing. It is the most indispensable item on the farm. Two people fit very comfortably in the seat, three if you squeeze together. Three bales of hay fit perfectly in the back. It never gets stuck. It never breaks—OK one time it did and believe me, it was a nightmare. Without the Red Thing, horses would go without hay and grain. Fences would never get repaired. Eggs would never be collected. We would have to walk up and down the hill to the barn. Life would be miserable. I ride in The Red Thing.

This is Checkers. She helps bring the horses in and helps put them out. She supervises feeding, stall mucking and general chores. As you can see, she rides in The Red Thing.

This is Maa-Maat. She can do tricks. She plays her little piano and her little drum. She rings her cowbell and jumps through her hoop. She can even do a sheep version of moon walking.


One afternoon a while back, I was down at the barn getting feed and hay ready to take to the horses in the back pastures. The lambs were out of their stall, and three of them were off grazing up on the hill. Not Maa-Maat, though. She was hanging around the barn to keep an eye out should I forget to latch the door to the feed stall.

It only takes her an instant to dash in and throw herself headfirst into the nearest open feed bag. She doesn’t care if it’s lamb feed or horse feed or poultry feed or chicken scratch. It’s all the same to her—edible. And once she gets her head in a bag, it is not easy to get her out. She stiffens up her neck and somehow manages to concentrate her weight it’s all you can do to push and pull and tug and shove her back out into the aisle.

By the time I got the grain buckets filled and sorted, she wasn’t at the front of the barn, so I figured she had given up and gone out to graze with the others. I loaded the buckets into the back of The Red Thing and tied them down. I called to Checkers, and she got in The Red Thing. I got into The Red Thing.

I started it up, put it in gear, and we were ready to go when—

Maa-Maat clambered into The Red Thing. The first thing she did was the first thing she always does. She grabbed the nearest thing, the key, and started trying to eat it.

The first thing Checkers did was jump in my lap and start barking to alert me there was a problem.

At this point, I was trying to pry open Maa-Maat’s mouth to get the key so I could turn the engine off. Since the Red Thing was in gear and running, I was also trying to hold onto Checkers so she wouldn’t slip down and hit the accelerator.

Finally, I got the key away from Maa-Maat and turned off the engine. As you can see, the floorboard isn’t very wide and Maa-Maat isn’t very narrow so there was no way she could turn around. She was going to have to walk all the way through and out the other side.

I got out.

Checkers got out.

After checking if the gear shift was edible—it wasn’t—and checking if the steering wheel was edible—it wasn’t, Maa-Maat finally got out.

Good! Disaster averted. Just to be on the safe side, I grabbed a little bit of grain and teased Maa-Maat into the barn with it. While she was busy gobbling it up, I ran to the Red Thing and got in. Checkers ran to the Red Thing and got in.

But before we could get away, Maa-Maat ran to the Red Thing and got in.

This time it went faster: I got out of the Red Thing. Checkers got out of the Red Thing. Maa-Maat got out of the Red Thing. I ran into the barn and scattered a bit more grain down the aisle then raced back to the Red Thing.

This time we made it—almost.

I came around the other end of the barn, and there she was in the middle of the road waiting for us.

I made a quick U-turn and circled around to the other end of the barn. Maa-Maat raced down the aisle, and there she was again, blocking the road.

Another U-turn. Another Maa-Maat block.

And again.

Sometimes it’s difficult to out-smart a sheep, but it’s not impossible. The next time, instead of making a U-turn and going around the barn, I made a complete 360 degree turn. As Checkers and I drove past, I could see Maa-Maat at the far end of the barn, waiting for us.

Maybe one day I'll find a way for Maa-Maat to take a ride in the Red Thing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Third Time's a Charm

The other day I got a bit of a surprise when I went down to the hen house to gather the afternoon eggs. Curled up all nice and cozy in the corner next to the nesting boxes was a large Black Rat Snake. Since I didn’t have much with me other than an egg bucket, I shut the door and called up to the house for my husband to get his gloves and come down.

When he pulled the snake out, it was obvious from the bulge in his belly—the snake’s belly, not my husband’s—that he had already eaten at least one egg. More disturbing was that from the length, a loose five feet, the hen house intruder looked very much like Barn Black Snake.

Barn Black Snake has made his home in, around, and under the hay stored in the side-shed of the barn for the past six years. The agreement we have is that we don’t move him, chase him, attempt to catch him, or disturb him in any way. In return for a safe place to stay and plenty to eat, it’s his job to discourage less desirable snakes, such as Timber Rattlesnakes or Copperheads, from moving in.

Nowhere in this agreement is there now, nor has there ever been, any mention of eggs. Mice, yes. Voles, yes. Chipmunks, squirrels, and other small furry creatures, yes, yes, and yes. Eggs, no. Eggs never.

In light of his history and past success—we’ve never had a rattlesnake or copperhead at the barn—he was forgiven this one egg. However, since he found his way to the chicken house once, the odds are he will be able to again. In light of this, he was banished to the back pasture.

The End

I gathered the eggs—minus the one the slithery black thief swiped, cleaned them up and took them over to the neighbor’s house to swap for some of her home-rendered lard. Yes. Bartering eggs for lard. It used to be the mall, the boutiques, and lunch with the ladies. Now it’s the Co-Op, Tractor Supply, and lard-bartering—and won’t hear any complaints from me.

On my way home, some questions came to mind. First of all, how did the snake get into the hen house? Since the house is a PVC storage shed, there are no boards to come loose, no cracks to open up, no roofing to shift. I check it several times a week, and it’s sealed tight. Except for the back door which is opened only briefly when we’re gathering eggs, the only way in is through the chicken door that opens onto the run. That means the snake had to come across the run in broad daylight. Where was Idiot the Rooster? Why didn’t he or one of the hens make a fuss? And even more intriguing: Could the snake have had something to do with the hen I found last week. She was fat and healthy. Perfectly normal in every respect—except that she was dead. Did he scare her to death? Or, since he’s a constrictor, did he choke her?

Before going to the house, I decided to stop at the chicken run to look for some answers. There was nothing unusual going on in the run. Just a normal afternoon of scratching, pecking, and strutting. When I opened the door to the hen house, I did find one answer, though.

Unfortunately this particular answer: less than thirty minutes goes with the question: How long does it take for a black rat snake to travel from the back pasture to the hen house?

Yet again I called my husband down from the house. This time we took him almost a half a mile down our road to a little creek and let him go. That is we let him go after my husband finally got him unwound from his leg, then from the roll bar on the Polaris, and then again from his leg.

The End (Again)

A new day. First thing I did was check the hen house and there was absolutely no sign of a snake anywhere. The chickens are living the snake-free life!

Until around 10:00 am.

Yes, he came back.

Luckily, this time we caught him before he made it up the hill to the hen house. By now, catching him had become old hat for my husband, and he was unceremoniously dumped into a plastic storage box—the snake, not my husband. He stayed there all morning. That afternoon the neighbor’s children came over to see him and have some pictures taken with him. Later some other neighbors came to see him. (As you can tell, there aren’t a lot of entertainment options available in our hollow.)

After everyone who wanted to see him saw him, and everyone who wanted to touch him touched him, and all those who wanted to pose with him posed with him for a quick picture, he was ready for relocation. He and his container were loaded into the pickup and taken not to the back pasture, not to the creek, but a good five miles down the road to a little roadside area where he was released.

It’s been a week now, and so far he hasn’t returned.

Even though the chickens are safe and the eggs are safe, somehow the hay shed seems a little empty.

The End?

My Husband with the Black Rat Snake

Friday, November 21, 2008

In Praise of Eggs

In a previous post An Egg! I said there would be time for larger eggs and more colorful eggs. That time has definitely come! Right now, we are averaging between eight and ten eggs a day, and each one is more lovely than the last.

Here's a recent sampling.

The speckled one and the dark, dark brown one are from Cuckoo Marans. The blue, green, and olive green (my favorite) are from the Ameraucanas. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly who is giving us the pale pink eggs.

Most of the eggs weigh in at a standard "medium" weight, but what they lack in size, the certainly make up for in color.

We did go through a short spell of double eggs. These weren't ordinary double yolked eggs, they were completely double--double yolk and double white. Essentially, there were two separate eggs in the one shell. Here's an image of one of the blue doubles.

And for comparison, here's a medium sized speckled one:

The speckled ones are interesting, too. You can feel the little specks, and if you examine them carefully....sheesh...examining eggs...I really need to get off the farm more often, don't I? Anyway, when you examine the specks, you can feel that they are raised. In effect, they are little globs of dark brown stuck all over the egg.

With so many eggs, we have instituted a new rule: All visitors must take eggs. It doesn't matter whether you want them or not--you can't leave without them. The UPS man was a bit taken aback by the new rule, but when I explained how Bessie the Rottweiler felt about the situation, he suddenly developed a craving for fresh eggs.

OK. The truth is the UPS man was thrilled with the eggs, but that doesn't sound half as interesting, does it? And it doesn't give me a chance to include an image of Old Bess.

Here are a few things I've learned from my chickens:

  • Gathering eggs never gets old. From the last day of September when I found the very first egg through to yesterday afternoon when I found the 372nd one, it's always a thrill to find some eggs in the nest boxes.

  • It pays to buy good stock at the beginning. I ordered my flock from Ideal Poultry and couldn't be happier with them. They are big and healthy, and I only lost one a couple of days after they arrived.

  • I can eat quiche for lunch for three weeks in a row. To clarify this isn't the same quiche--same recipe, but not the same quiche.

  • There is no such thing as an ordinary egg. It doesn't matter whether it's tan or brown or blue or green, speckled or solid--every egg is as special and unique as the hen who laid it. The variety of color, texture, size and shape never ceases to amaze me.

  • Chickens are hardy and forgiving. This is my first flock and therefore very much a learning experience. They have suffered through my experiments with feed, lighting schedules, and everything else without a single incident.

  • There are few things that feel as nice in your hand as an egg that's so fresh it's still warm. Not only does it fit neatly into the palm of your hand, there's something about the texture and weight that makes it feel very precious.

  • One of the best things in the morning is to hear the hens singing their Bok-Bok-Ba-Bok laying songs. Like finding eggs, this never gets old. It's a sweet little confirmation that everything's ok.

  • And finally, a rooster can serve many purposes. Not only does Idiot wake up the flock in the mornings, he alerts them to any perceived threats such as hawks and high flying aircraft. He helped a hen who had gotten out of the run find her way back, and in one very unusual situation, he even came to the aid of an egg-bound hen. (As this is a G-rated blog, I'm afraid you'll just have to use your imagination on that last one.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Smartest Sheep in Grainger County*

*This claim is based on 1) the scarcity of sheep in Grainger County and 2) the assumption that most people have better things to do with their time than clicker train sheep.


Here's little Maa-Maat, my 6 month old Tunis lamb, showing off her tricks.

As you can see, there are no cuts in the video. This was done to show how much she enjoys performing. As a matter of fact, she usually has a little temper fit when it's time to stop.

The most complicated thing she does is the Bang the Drum trick. For this, she has to hit the feed pan with first one foot then the other. Just banging away at it with one foot doesn't work.

As for the Bow Down trick, she can also expand it to crawling along on her knees. This, however, has pretty much been eliminated from her repitroire as it just looks too creepy.

If anyone has any suggestions for additional tricks, I'd really like to hear them. My husband is after me to try to teach her to roll over, but being as she's 1) overweight and 2) a sheep, I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. Neither is she very well suited to retrieving items as she pretty much tries to eat anything she can fit into her mouth.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An Egg!

I never knew I could get so much pleasure from admiring an egg. To be fair, this is the first egg from my first chickens so it's extremely special.

It's also extremely small and extremely ordinary in color.

There will be time for larger eggs later.

And time for colored eggs.

But for right now, there is no egg as beautiful as this egg.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Princess Maa-Maat

A few weeks ago, I was in the barn cleaning stalls when it started sprinkling. It was nothing much, just a few spits and spurts to tease us into thinking we would finally get some decent rain. When I went outside to empty the muck bucket, I could hear Maa-Maat crying. The other three lambs were over at the side of the barn grazing and making the most of their time out of the stall, but not Maa-Maat. I looked all over before I finally found her standing standing in the doorway of the arena bawling her little heart out.

Poor thing. Every time she'd stick her head out the door, a rain drop would hit her, and she'd jump back in. I called her, and she came running as fast as she could, shaking her head and doing that little uh-uh-uh she does when she's being a baby. She spent the rest of the morning inside the barn with me and refused to step a foot outside. Even when I'd go out to empty the muck bucket, she'd stand at the door and cry until I'd come back.

By the afternoon, the rain was long gone, but she remembered. When I let the lambs out of the stall, the other three took off outside like they normally do, but not Maa-Maat. She stopped at the door and stood looking up at the sky until she was absolutely convinced she wasn't going to get wet. Then and only then did she tip-toe out.

She may not be the most gorgeous lamb around. And she may not be the smartest. But one thing's for certain, she is the most spoiled.

The Princess Maa-Maat

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Out and About

(Note: I have discovered that if you click on the image, you can see a larger version.)

Wanted to show a few of the animals around here this week. First of all, here's Checkers, a Border Collie-Aussie Sheperd cross. She's a bit over a year old and no bigger than a minute. Although she has no interest in herding the sheep--she'd rather clean their ears--she does help move the horses.

She's a bit annoyed with me at this point because instead of paying attention to her, I've been wasting time taking pictures of....

The Wash Stall Toad Now I don't know for sure if this is the same one that we've had for four summers now, but every year there's a toad that takes up residence in the wash stall and every year she's bigger. I like to think that she's the same.

On the way back up to the house, I stopped at the chicken yard. We have far too many chickens and are going to have to cull them when winter comes. (I have found good homes for the culls that don't involve any stewing pots.

When we decided to get some chickens, we wanted about a dozen or so. My husband said he remembered ordering chicks once when he was about 8 or 9 years old and not many of them survived. With this in mind, we figured there would be an attrition rate of somewhere around 50%. So, we ordered almost 30 chicks--28 to be precise. This was not a very good plan as all but the second little cream Brabanter survived.

On top of that, when they arrived, I was in the tack stall carefully counting them out as I put them in the inflatible wading pool we used for a chick pen. I was about halfway through when one of the cats sneaked in and jumped right in the middle. Pandemonium! The box the chicks were in flipped over and chicks scattered everywhere. I got the cat before she could get any of the chicks, but the counting was definitely over.

As a result, Mr. R or Mr. Roo or The Idiot--he goes by many names--may be a sexing error or he may be a packing peanut. Who is to know? Even he seems to be a bit confused about it all.

He's an Americauna and, like all my chickens, a bit over 4 months old. He doesn't crow much in the mornings, but he really lets it rip in the evenings--hence the name The Idiot. I'm thinking he may be going to a new home when he matures as we aren't planning on having any chicks. We have plenty and then some!

This is one of the two dark Brahma pullets. I really like the pattern on her back. Doesn't it look like silver filigree? Also, check out that raptor look she's got going.

Here is Miss Brooks. She's the only surviving cream Brabanter. She is exactly how she looks she would be. Although she's quite a bit smaller than the others, she's very bossy and into everything. She's always the first to try out anything new. I call her Miss Brooks because she reminds me of a very efficient yet very officious secretary. All she's missing are the reading glasses dangling off a string around her neck.

To end, here's an American Dagger moth caterpillar. It was only about an inch and a half long, but really decked out. Don't those four little feet look like they are tap dancing?

Wait! I forgot someone!

This is Rachael, my Jacob ewe lamb. She's about 5 months old. Unfortunately she has scurs instead of horns. One of them is quite large and insists on curving the wrong way. It's about time to trim it again, but all in all, it's not bad. Gives her a bit of a unicorn look which goes quite nicely with her scatty behavior.

I swear, there is no telling what Rachael is going to do at any given moment. She can be standing beside me getting scratches just as calm as can be then all of a sudden jump in the air and bound away as though scared for her life. As for the scur, being as I'm a bit on the clumsy side, perhaps it's better that she doesn't have horns. It wouldn't be long at all before I managed to put out my eye or worse on one of them.

Hope you enjoyed meeting some of the animals around here. Thanks so much for looking.