Sunday, November 21, 2010

Granny Farmer Gal Tells All

The air was brisk but not uncomfortable this morning. My two drakes met me at the feeder awaiting their turn to eat. They are first on my list of, "To dos" each morning. It's funny how you settle into a routine when you work on a farm. When I first realized how many lives I was caring for I used to get panicky. The animals all "talk" to you in the morning. It's as if they are saying, "Me first mom." Of course they are just making noise because their bellies are roaring. They will actually "talk" to me anytime I go out the front door. Rather like Pavlov's critters mine act upon the sound of the front door opening. Now they even react to my voice. There were times in the early days of having a farm that I would feel rushed at their voices, but like a mother with too much to do I can now pretty much ignore their pleas and get to each one in his/her turn.

As I mentioned the ducks are first. My duck boyz get some wild bird seed as well as chicken feed. I have a funny little cactus bird feeder. His sombrero holds a trough of bird seed. The ducks get first dibs and then my single yard rooster "Rosie" gets what they don't eat. When he's through the wild birds get their turn at it. After I feed the ducks I go to the greenhouse and let out Rosie and whoever has managed to sneak in with him during the night. We have an "official" hen house that most of the chickens sleep in, but occasionally Rosie's little sister or some other hen decide to spend the night at the local clear walled motel. Don't ask me what they are doing, I don't want to know. So out they come and they get fed "scratch" and chicken feed. My normal order is to head to the "official" hen house and let my two roosters Chipper and Piper out along with an undetermined number of hens. Most are Rhode Island Reds, but we also have five Auracaunas. The RIRs don't have official names except Azzie and Chicklet. When they were tiny I could tell who was who, but now they blend in with all the other red hens. The Auracaunas are named Princess, Amelia (first one to fly), Norma Jeana, Waddles (waddles because she broke her toe as a chick), and Bingo. I named Waddles and Chicklet. The kids from our Wednesday night bible study named the rest. Oh yes, their dad named Norma Jeana. She is such a weird color; almost lavender.

We love our chickens. I especially love Rosie and Princess. Rosie is the biggest chicken, pardon the pun, I've ever met. He will run to the feeder during the day because he knows I'm apt to fill it. He will also run to the fence when I come out hoping for tomatoes or some other goodie. BUT if I come in the yard he runs as far and as fast away as he can. He's a big coward when it comes to mom. Princess follows me everywhere. She will jump on the gate when I am in the yard and just start talking. She reminds me of a lady that used to live behind my grandma. Mrs. Louis was her name. She loved to talk. She would talk your ear off if it possible. She had a gate she shared with grandma. Their lots were back to back and you could count on her coming to the fence if you were out in grandma's yard. I remember her house smelling funny. I don't remember the smell, but it was "off" is what I do remember. My grandma's house had a warm food smell all the time. Whether fried chicken or cooling pies it was a homey smell. Anyway, Princess and her chickeny ways really remind me of Mrs. Louis.

After I release and feed the majority of chickens I head to our Cornish chickens. I'm sure you're making the same mistake I made when I ordered these guys. I figured they were tiny and cute because I'd eaten "Cornish game hens". Not so. These are Cornish chickens, not game hens. These guys (and gals) have legs like logs and are not tiny in any way. Roodles my Cornish rooster is a fighting cock. He thinks he owns the world and is VERY protective of his harem. He has five hens (two of which are his daughters). He loves attacking whatever comes near his domain. We find head pecked finches in varying degrees of paralysis in his yard. They have attempted to steal his food and he has pecked their little heads. You don't want to mess with Roodles. I used to go fetch eggs and even go in the yard and do whatever needed done. Now it waits for hubby to get done. I don't like tangling with Roodles. My husband theorizes that he is so tough because they did a horrific job of clipping his wings. He has sore nub at the end of what used to be one of his wings. It looks nasty and sore to me. If it hurts as much as it looks it is no wonder he's aggressive. Poor guy. For this reason my husband babies and plays with him. He delights in picking him up and talking to him like he was his best pal. He has suffered the consequences of Roodles anger at this gesture, but it hasn't stopped him yet.

Once I get the chickens fed and watered I return to our yard and get sweet feed for the goats. We don't give them much, but they expect it like the elderly expect their social security. The line up of boys goes in order of their arrival on the farm; Billie and Bartie are my Nigerian Pygmy goats and were first to join our family. They came as lawnmowers for our 2 acres of weeds. One day we came home to find Bartie outside the gate (this is still a mystery) and three strange goats in our field. Two of the strangers were very tall and white, one was short and white. We learned that the tall guys were neutered Saanens. They were given the names Pinkie and Brain (for obvious reasons.) The small guy we named Freddie. We learned his name was Stubborn, but I don't need a goat with that temperament so we changed it to something more friendly. He was terrified of humans when he first arrived, but given time and lots of love my husband gets to scratch him on the head from time to time. Our former neighbors had a goat named Ellie May. She was a Saanen, Alpine and Nubian cross and when she was pregnant the neighbors asked if we wouldn't like a kid from her. They wanted her for her milk and planned on farming out her kids. I figured I could bottle feed a single baby goat. (Wow was I a sucker.) Buddy and Pal were born in March a year and a half ago. We watched them enter the world and took on the job of raising them both on bottles. I guess the rest of the world was smarter than us as the others who said they wanted one backed out.

I must share that it was the hardest thing I've ever done. Buddy took to fake goat milk like a trouper, but Pal was much more sensitive to it and almost immediately had the scours. That was pure hell. I eventually (after weeks and months) worked out a formula. I borrowed some of his mother's milk and mixed it with the formula. That didn't work. I came up with a very expensive formula of canned goats milk and whole milk that he could tolerate. He took a lot of work to keep alive. He's quite healthy now, but he has the weirdest shape of any goat I've ever seen. If their is a nerdy goat in the encyclopedia of animals I believe Pal could be the poster child. He walks like a dweeb and acts like the strange child he is. He's a lover of lovers and my husband babies him something ferocious.

We then were given "Lucy". Lucy is a Boer goat. She was only six months old when we got her. I really didn't notice how small she was until I was scrapbooking my animals. Her pictures when she first came into our yard show a tiny little girl with little bitty horns and a tiny body. She has filled out very nicely. She had triplets this March. I prayed like the dickens that she would be able to nurse all three. She was a superb mom and all three of her kids are healthy. We only named her female kid. Yael (goat in Hebrew) shows the Alpine goat coloration she got from her grandma Ellie May. Her head is brown and black and has the typical Alpine coloring. She's a brat of a female and is jumpy. The boys have no names for obvious reasons. They look just like their creamy uncle Pal. Their dad Buddy throws them around like so much trash when he's in the corral for breeding.

The last goat on the rolls is "Gracie". She is "supposed" to be a registered show goat. We paid $30.00 for her. She has bent horns and weird coloration. I highly doubt she was shown anywhere but in her owner's minds. She is skittish as if never handled by humans. (Another sign to me that she was never shown.) Show goats are cleaned, brushed, pampered and not afraid of humans. This goat won't let you come near her enough to even pet her let alone anything you'd have to do to show her. She was bred this year so we will see what sort of mom she is.

Getting across the field to feed and water the moms and babies is always a gamble. I always carry some sort of stick or broom to beat off greedy or cuddly goats. I may have to drag a wagon with hay or feed across the field. If the boys see me doing this and have already gone through their sweet feed I can be in danger of being mobbed and smashed. My biggest Saanen Pinkie can get down right wild if he thinks someone else is getting his "fair share" of anything. He tried to "play" with me this morning on my way back to the house. You do NOT want a 250-300 pound goat with very long horns "playing" any sort of game with you. I shouted "NO" with as much gusto as I could muster and waved my old red broom handle at him. He did his little head turn (this normally causes me to give him more pecans or carrots), but I was not in any sort of mood to play with Mr. Cutie Pants. He watched me walk (VERY FAST) towards the chicken yard. He just stood looking disappointed as I got farther and farther away. (AND CLOSER TO SAFETY!)

One would think that was all I had to do, but as soon as I got in the house my cat and dog decide it's time for their third or fourth goodies. My husband and I use goodies to reward our dog for going potty outside and cat for coming in. Animals are much smarter than most humans given them credit for. It wasn't a month before our dog realized she could just go out and come in and get a goodie. The cat learned it immediately. I guess she had been watching the dog practice this form of deceit for years. She used to be an inside only cat, but after her retarded brother Joker died she was allowed to enjoy the pleasures of farm living.

There are days when I'd like to throttle Freckles. She goes in and out every few moments. I quit giving her goodies for every meow. My animals learn just how far they can push me and they basically give up on tricking me into feeding them junk food. My husband on the other hand is more patient and actually admires their efforts. He's a complete softy.

So here it is hours after I've fed them all. I myself have yet to eat. I am just now finishing a cup of tepid tea and thinking about napping. I was up at 5:00AM and everyone is full but me. I love every bit of it. (I say this now that everyone is cared for, but when I first am awakened by a barking dog who wants out before the crack of dawn it's another thing.)

We aren't really farmers. I hate the idea of eating my chickens (which I have done). I have to cover the taste of eggs up with chili and cheese. I know that when hubby butchers the goats I will be a mess mentally. We are basically owners of around 42 pets. We can afford to feed them, but it's silly. I've learned loads of lessons because of this adventure, but I'm still terrified when one turns up sick. I rush around like a proverbial chicken with her head cut off. (I've experienced this in real life so I know what I'm talking about.) It's hard to have animals. They are a huge responsibility. They need more than just food and shelter. We've rescued animals all through our marriage and those who didn't receive love and attention are a mess. When you love and care for animals you are connected to them in ways words can't describe. The thought of eating my animals is just plain hard. It's so much easier to go buy meat all processed and packaged for my convenience. Why that personal connection or soulish tie isn't there I just don't know.

I've yammered on way too long. I have other things to do today. My work goes on before me and just because the morning is half over, the chores are NOT.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A New Toy

I really enjoy having computers and use my laptop almost all through every day. Occasionally I just stop in my tracks and turn it off and just say, "Enough". While returning from a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah I sat next to a published author. She was typing on a weird keyboard looking thing. I had to ask, "What is that?" She told me it was an Alphasmart Neo. She said it took AA batteries and she wrote her romance novels on it. I love to write, but having to lug a laptop and then make sure it's either plugged in or has a full charge can be irritating. Well this past week I went searching for more information and found that an older version, the Alphasmart 3000 could be had on eBay for a song, so I began watching the bids and checking out more information about the little darlings.

I am now the happy owner of an Alphasmart 3000. Hubby removed the dead rechargeable battery and we replaced it with three copper topped AA batteries. I have been writing on it for a couple days now and just think it is marvelous. I can take it anywhere. It holds a long charge as it's nothing but simple text. I can plug it into my computer (you really need a USB printer cable) and open a Word document and then I press SEND and voila, it sends it to a word document. It has eight files and I think I remember it hold 100 pages of text in each file. It takes cheap batteries and even the battery that stores the text you're saving is an easy find and cheap replacement. I didn't even have to have software. I have both Macs and PCs, but used my Vista laptop and it installed a driver that let me receive the text from the Alphasmart!

I love finding technology that is user friendly and this one really is.