Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Little Perspective

After three days of being away, I am finally settled in my mind enough to write a little. Our trip and all the possible things that could go wrong has weighed heavily on me leading up to our departure. I wanted to go and surely, we deserved a rest after so much time at our labors. But, when you are starting a business, any business, it becomes like a living child to you- one that needs your time and attention and your love. Such as it has been with this venture into family farming for me. It is romantic to envision living off your land, building a life standing beside your man and surrounded by your children. Think: "The Waltons" or "Little House on the Prairie". Their back-breaking toil and constant worry for crops to come, threats to defend against, and the bountious rewards reaped or lessons learned all cared for by the end of each episode. Romantic it may be on tv or in books, it is less so, in reality. How many "vacations" did they take, do you suppose? The reason for that is obvious.

I am very glad that we set aside this time to rest before summer hits in full swing with its endless cycle of milking, weeding, preserving, vetting, and the like. I am as glad that we have our farm being cared for by a trusted, capable young woman. We needed this time. To step back and think about the landscape and direction we are moving in. To laugh with family. To play and splash in the ocean and run in the sand. To collect our thoughts and dreams and hold them in our hands like the tiny sea shells we have been collecting on the beach. To play dominoes and drink wine. To compare Life without the farm and it's many cares weighing on our shoulders to Life with the farm; its kiddings, milkings, and insistant greetings of "meh!" each morning. The fluffy down on new chicks and goslings.

We chose wisely. For us. This time away has been relaxing and wonderful. I would not change one minute of it, other than perhaps adding a few more familiar faces to the mix. I feel ready when we return to get down to the business at hand, finishing our barn and main coop for winter, adding another pasture before fall, preparing the turkey pens, caring for our crops. Romantic in notion, farming is much hard WORK. I am feeling refreshed and ready to get back to it.

Good night, John Boy.

Sonja ♥

Cheese Attempt #2

I followed Country Girl's recipe and came out with this! It is still not as creamy as I would like it to be, but Sean loved it. And, I have to agree it was fairly tasty.

We packed it in our suit case to share with Sean's parents, brother and sister with the hopes that they would enjoy it, too. It survived the trip intact.

We'll have to see what the review is.

Sonja ♥


Friday, June 22, 2012

Why We Can't Have Anything Nice... ♥

Goats are nothing if not helpful.  Pepper and Jedi are particularly good at showing us the holes and weaknesses in our fencing.  So before our trip out of town, we wanted to reinforce our fence with eight new posts.  However, in the interests of being helpful, Jedi chose this time to show us a weak post in the corner by breaking it in half.  This is another post he is putting through quality testing.


Chicks (An Update by Meaghan)

Hey, this is Meg telling you about the chicks.

We have 13 healthy chicks in our living room. Their so cute. They are so small they can fit in my hand! We have 7 chicks that are black, and 5 chicks that are yellow with brown spots.

Only 1 is pure gold. It's my favorite because it's different than the others, and it's pretty.

We don't know the gender yet. We're going to sell some of the chicks.


Talk to you later, my Plutopian people, Meg.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


On the first day of summer, what could be better than picking strawberries and preserving their sweet and tart flavor for the cooler days to come? Or, fresh strawberry shortcakes with home made whipped cream... Mmmmm...

Thoughts of future delights tantalizing my taste buds set my feet in gear to go strawberry picking with Kristen and Meaghan on our way home from Caitlin's house yesterday. We arrived in mid afternoon and only spent about 20 minutes at work, but that was enough to collect 13.5 pounds of fresh, juicy, ripe strawberries. We barely contained ourselves from eating them until they were paid for properly and we settled into the car for the ride home. Then, I am not going to lie, it was every woman for herself. The berries tasted sweet with just the right hint of tart and more delicious that I imagined.

Today, Meaghan and I worked together to get them all put up and preserved. Meaghan was in charge of filling a quart bag which we are trading a neighbor for some of her fresh rhubarb and a pint container for a gift for her Dad. While she was busy picking the best of the best for these purposes, I was busily cutting off the green tops and sorting the rest of the berries into either the bowl intended for jam or the tray slated for the freezer. (I like to freeze the berries on a tray before I slip them into a container. This way, they do not stick together into one frozen mass later.)

After the berries were all sorted and washed, I used my potato masher to squish the strawberries into a slightly thick consistency. I like lots of bits and pieces of fruit in my jam. I added 2 cups of sugar to 9 cups (before mashing) of strawberries and stirred it all together until the sugar had dissolved. The recipe called for 4 cups of sugar to 2 cups of strawberries, but that seemed way to sweet for me. The end product was still a little tart, just the way I like it! Then, I dissolved 2 packets of fruit pectin in 1 1/2 cups of boiling water until it, too, dissolved. I poured the pectin water over the strawberries, gave it a good mix, and filled my plastic jars. I do have mason jars, so I could have finished by dipping these into a hot water bath to seal them, but I wanted to freeze the jam, instead. It seemed easier to me today.

One and a half hours later, the final product is ready for fridge, freezer, or gifting. We ended up with 5 pint sized containers of strawberry jam, 1 pint sized container for strawberry shortcake for tonight, 2 quart containers for eating, 2 quart & 1 pint containers for freezing and 1 pint container and 1 quart bag to gift. Not too bad, if I do say so myself.

We want to go back to pick another box after vacation, if the fields are still open. With all the humid, hot temperatures and the coming rain in the forecast, it seems doubtful that we will have that chance this year. But, maybe.

Thanks for visiting!
Sonja ♥

Sean's Mishap

Exhibit A: Sean could have had a stich or two on the thumb pad he sliced with the scissors while trimming Pepper's hoofs. We let it bleed, washed it  thoroughly, used hydrogen peroxide and a band aid, instead.
Hoof trimming scissors are sharp. Goats can and will move unexpectedly, especially while you are trimming their feet for them. And, they are thankless for your assistance. They do not look sorry or concerned about your loss of blood or flesh.

Goats are concerned if you might have a forthcoming treat still in your pocket. They will nuzzle their heads into your chest and make eyes at you, if such shameless pandering will further the possibility of your doling out another treat. It ususually does.

Ellie is finished. Pepper has had her back hoofs done. Jedi needs another go at his. Leah and Rachel are due for their introduction to feet trimming. And, we might as well get Asher and Abigail on the stand and used to this affront.

Hope you all have a great day!
Sonja ♥

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One More Thing...

It is always, "Just one more thing..." around here in the mornings, or the afternoons, or evenings. Always. I marvel how we get out the door for errands and necessary appointments every morning (except, the mornings when I don't make it, of course.) This morning was no different.

Operation: Vacation Preparation is in full swing. That means that within the next 3 days (working around our regular employment) we have a ton of stuff to finish so that when we leave for the week, I can buy myself a few hours to actually relax on this vacation to the beach and not be in constant panic imagining the mayhem going on back at the homestead. It is going to be a marathon couple of days. Among what needs to be accomplished is:

1. buy and set 8 new cedar posts for the horse pasture
2. buy and set final 4 new cedar posts for the goat pasture (Sean set 6 new posts already this week, but Pepper is still pulling the fencing down and walking out whenever the mood strikes her to do so.
3. weed large raised bed, refill with soil/compost and plant as many tomato plants as will fit there. (Sean was just given more than 100 additional tomato plants and unless they get put into the ground immediately, they will be wasted.)
4. figure out WHERE to put rest of tomatoes and peppers
5. finish chicken tractor #2 (which will house goslings and ducklings for the now.) done
6. buy new pool for goslings and ducklings to swim in (note to self: make sure it will fit in the chicken tractor enclosure.)
7. move Ellie into new temporary kid enclosure for the week.
8. move said enclosure to opposite field with waist tall hay growing.
9. buy extra feed/hay (just in case.) done
10. move chickens to former (cleaned and sanitized) gosling/duck pen inside house. done
11. train house/critter sitter on the routine
12. clean house
13. pack
14. make milk into new batch of cheese and preserve
15. freeze or jam the 13.5 pounds of strawberries Kristen, Meaghan and I picked today
16. move Fenn to new run in front of house (since he has learned to climb over the 6 foot dog pen area in the back yard!)

Add to this list our regular weekly meeting attendance, time set aside for our volunteer ministry work and our family worship night, the regular feeding, watering, and mucking chores, the sad and necessary burial of 2 hens which died from natural causes (one yesterday and one today), dropping Meg & Kristen to visit their Dad for dinner 2 nights this week (after picking them up from a sleepover with their older sister this morning) and you have the makings of a triumphant accomplishment or impending disaster! I guess you'll have to stay tuned to see what happens.

By the time Sean left for work and I drove the hour to my eldest daughter's home, we had already cleaned and medicated a fish tank, finished the gosling/duckling enclosure, milked Ellie, filtered the milk, and sanitized the equipment, fed and watered all the critters, and moved the chicks to their new home. After work, Sean brought the girls to their Dad for dinner and returned to work in the back garden. With the use of a weed whacker, a hammer (to remove a rusted fence from last year) and our hand-pulling the weeds, Sean and I readied the bed for its tomatoes.

Our day was not all work. We took a few minutes to swim with the goslings and ducklings in a pool. We want them to be well-trained and obedient so that they will be able to go with us to a local lake to enjoy swimming with our family. The goslings are so tame. They swim for a bit, using their necks to pour water down their backs and preening. When they get tired of that, they love to climb on my hand to rest.

I love swim time, as much as the babies. These few minutes of play time made the unending battle with all the bugs (black flies, mosquitoes, & horse flies) we waged while forcing the garden into civility, worth it.... almost. (I am sporting more than 40 very itchy bug bites covering my body.)

It is late and time for bed, finally. I am worried about how my babies are going to handle their first night outside. A silly notion to most people, probably- they are water fowl- but these particular birds have become very dear to my heart. I know that I am not going to be able to sleep peacefully tonight despite Sean's reassurances.

I hope you all have a good night.
Sonja ♥

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

NEW: From White Gold to Cheese... Updated (again)

The work, though satisfying, is NEVER finished on a family farm. After our regular work days, Sean and I have chores, chores and more chores to do before we can settle for the night. I admit, some of those chores are self-inflicted. For example, Sean being given over 100 more tomato plants today at a local organic greenhouse who was getting rid of the stock they hadn't sold. These plants, currently living in Sean's car, needed to be replanted immediately if they were going to be of any use to us. So, the raised beds we just finished readying for peas and beans are now slated to hold tomatoes, instead.  I appreciate the spirit of this gift, truly I do- I just worry about the flesh's ability to plant and tend these new acquisitions before we leave for vacation in 7 days.

Sean's beginning attempt.

Tonight, we were eager to milk Ellie. Sean's lesson went very well yesterday and by the time he had settled into a rhythm, even Ellie seemed relieved with Sean's growing skill. We usually split chores between us to favor our individual strengths. For this chore, I collect and sanitize the equipment, prepare the iodine solution, and fetched Ellie's portion of grain. Sean took this time to loose Ellie (who bee-lined it for the milk stand) and then, washed his hands. I cleaned Ellie's udder. Sean milked. When he was finished, I took the collected milk into the house, strained it into sanitized one quart mason jars, and refrigerated them. Sean checked Ellie over and trimmed her hooves. He takes this time to brush her, perform any other routine care procedures and then, returns her to the pasture.

Getting into the Rhythm

I took the two+ quarts of milk collected yesterday and tonight and began making our first batch of cheese. Sean wanted to help with this, but he had tomatoes in need of some planting, so I got to play at this all on my own. I found a couple good, simple recipes and decided to combine two of them into my first foray. Since I did not have vegetable rennet on hand, I decided to use the recipes that call for vinegar or lemon juice to sour the milk. I opted for the lemon juice.

This is the recipe I used attempted to use:
2 quarts fresh goat's milk
1 lemon
pinch of salt
garlic to taste
chives to taste

1. Very slowly bring the milk to 180 degrees in a good pot. (The best pot I have is the new one I just bought for milking into, so I used that this time. I shall have to invest in a good pot, though, for future!) I watched the pot very closely, stirred often, and used a candy thermometer to check the temperature. Remove from heat when the temperature reaches 180 degrees.

2. Add 1/4 cup of either fresh squeezed lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to the milk. Try not to knock over the measuring cup before you add either one. (I was in the process of squeezing my fresh lemon and accidentally tipped the measuring cup over, spilling a lot of it on the counter. I had some lemon juice in the refrigerator, so I added a few drops of it to make up the difference of what I lost.) Mix the lemon juice into the milk thoroughly and allow to simmer about 15 minutes until soft curds form. You need to stir this occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.

3. Set the timer for 30 minutes and let the milk do it's thing. (I took this time to go outside to bring Sean some drink and check on his progress. It was too cold to stay and visit in the shade without a light jacket, so I did not. At 30 minutes, the milk had slightly thickened, but did not have any curds in it, so I added a splash of apple cider vinegar and waited another 30 minutes. After more research, I decided to wait over night to see if the whey was going to separate. By morning, the milk had begun to separate, but there were no "curds" formed yet. We decided to cover the pot and wait until this afternoon to strain the curds from the whey through several layers of cheese cloth and hang it to dry.)

5. Carefully pour the curds and whey through 4-6 layers of a good quality cheese cloth. (You don't want to lose precious curds!)
6. Tie the ends of the cheese cloth together and hang over a large bowl to strain the last of the whey from the curds for at least 2 hours, until the cheese is soft and pliable.
7. Add any spices you enjoy. We suggest chives, garlic, rosemary, and thyme.
8. Cover and refrigerate for up to 10 days (Ours would never last that long!)

I was going to wait to update this post until this afternoon, but then, couldn't help myself. Besides, I am curious for any input you all have to what might be taking the curds so long to form??? I think that next time, I will follow the recipe which used vegetable rennet (instead of lemon juice or vinegar) as the active agent to see does that work better. I am anxious to go home to see what progress there is and thankful I have a job to be at today so I am not home staring daggers at that pot!

Thanks for stopping by!
Sonja ♥


Thanks to Country Girl from the Acorn farm blog, I may have saved my first attempt at cheese-making. At the very least, the curds are separating from the whey. I read this post: making-goats-milk-cheese and saw that she kept her milk at 185 degrees for 15 minutes. I had not done that yesterday. The recipe I was following instructed me to immediately remove the milk from heat and add the curdling agent. Hmmm.... I figured, if it isn't going to hurt to leave the milk out and covered overnight to curdle, it couldn't be more detrimental to put it all back into a clean stock pot and heat the milk for a while, could it??? Within minutes of warming, a wonderful curdling effect started.

I let it simmer for about 30 minutes, (I was hoping to get more curds by simmering longer, but I didn't.) stirring occasionally. Then, I poured the curd/liquid mixture into the 6 layers of cheese cloth lining my washed colander. I added a pinch of coarse sea salt and left it to drain. It couldn't have been easier!

The finished product. Once the cheese cooled sufficiently, I scooped the same amount into two pint canning jars. In the one to the left, I mixed in some fresh chive and garlic and poured some EVOO over it to preserve everything. In the jar on the right, I dissolved some salt in water to create a brine and poured it over the cheese. I can't wait for Sean to come home from work to show him what I have been up to! First of all, I need someone to taste this creation to see if it is edible before I attempt to taste it. Secondly, no matter how it turns out, Sean is going to be so proud of me for doing more research and figuring the process out.

Final note: Sean liked the finished product. I did not. It was edible, but not what I was hoping for. I suspect part of the problem was my technique (or lack thereof), having reboiled the milk, and the lack of finding a recipe that worked. (Next time, I am following Country Girl's instead and I hope for much better results.) What I intended to make was a nice soft, spreadable cheese for crackers, bread, and stuffing roasted peppers with. What I got was more granular and crumbly like a feta cheese, but very mild in flavor similar to a mozzarella. I will have enough milk to try again before the weekend.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

White Gold...

Sean milked Ellie tonight after she'd been without the kids all day and he was able to collect more than a quart of milk. Milking, up until tonight, has been a very frustrating endeavor. Since, we are untrained, we had only been getting about the amount shown in the pint jar. With thoughts of it taking FOREVER (or at least a week) to collect enough milk to make even 8 oz of cheese, both Sean and I were viewing milking Ellie as mere practice; a way to get our sanitation routine and milking technique down.  Then, Kelli to the rescue! She worked with Sean tonight and within ten minutes, the reward of amassing more than a quart of milk in a single milking was realized. This changes everything. Practice time, over. Cheese making to commence! I am soooo excited to prepare fresh cheeses together with Sean.

This was a busy weekend around the homestead. Besides mowing the lawns, trimming the weeds back, mulching the plantings around our back patio and front gardens, working on the goats pasture fencing, setting up  and filling the girl's pool, planting some veggies in the raised beds in the front of the house, and installing a badminton net, we hosted an 8th grade graduation party (BBQ) for Kristen. Also, both Patches and Ebony had their toe nails trimmed, which was not fun for either Sean, Allen (Kelli's husband and Sean's tutor for this task) or the piggies. But, the piggies will feel better for having it done, we are sure.

I am too tired to continue writing tonight, but will update you all later tomorrow. Have a great evening, friends.

Sonja ♥

Friday, June 15, 2012

Oh, Those Kids!

It was the perfect storm, really. We combined, mowing around the grapes and weeding their boxes (thereby exposing their existence to curious goats) with moving the foot-tall, flowering tomato and pepper plants all to the front porch (congregating them into a nice buffet), with a yard that is home to two kids with no sense of property rights or boundaries. Ironically, I had just spent hours researching what kind of netting I was going to use around the grape stalks to protect its bounty from the birds- probably around the same time the goat kids had wandered into the front lawn and discovered that grape leaves deliciousity was only surpassed by their complete and utter unguardedness. (I feel justified in authoring new word creations. You should have heard the stream on incomprehensible syllables Sean was making, attempting to illicit my help upon discovering the attack on his veggie plants. You know something is bad when it leaves your man literally speechless!) Sean fails to see any humor in this. He was so angry that he immediately stalked outside and began cobbling together some old chain link fencing into a secure pen area for the kids, determined to stop the invasion into his would-be garden once and for all.

Asher has Ninja skills!

It didn't take more than a couple of hours for him to wire up the holes and lock the 4 panels together, which I originally intended to use as the coming turkey's first yard. I kept that observation to myself and instead, empathized with his plight and tried to be helpful. (I suggested that he could screw three solid pallets together at their corners and place some scrap plywood across the top and make the kids a movable, suitable shelter from the sun.)

Finally, caught!

Once the new enclosure was complete, Sean felt a little better and it was time to lure those bad kids into their new day time home. We will move it as we need to, so they will have fresh green grass to munch on. At night, they will live in the barn with Momma Ellie and the herd. (Which means that we are going to need to switch milk time to late evening before we lead the kids to the barn each night.) Abigail was easily lured with a scoop of grain. Asher was not as easily fooled, as you can see in the video. He does have some awesome ninja wall-kicking ability, though!

Asher and Abigail sulking in their new shelter

This is a very temporary arrangement. As soon as the kids cooperate in filling out so that they cannot walk through 4"x4" fencing, they will be moved permanently back to the appropriate pasturage.

I checked Sean's grapes. Thankfully, most of the damage was done to the leaves. There are still over 20 clusters of grapes growing. I am thinking that I better come up with a safe way to protect them from the birds, though. I think THAT would be more than even good-tempered Sean could bear.

Thanks for visiting!
Sonja ♥

How Many Eggs?: Video (April 2012)

I found this footage on my computer. I hadn't uploaded it previously, but when I came across it today it made me smile, remembering back to how excited we were to get 7 eggs in one day.

Now, we collect between 15 and 20 eggs each day from our flock as it stands now. We hope that at least 8 of the new chicks we hatched and kept are hens. I have a strong suspicion that the chick in this photo is a rooster. There is no way to tell at this point, until they fledge out, grow, and eventually crow one morning, but 3 of the chicks do not panic and run away as the others instinctively do when you reach your hand into their cage. Instead, they stand taller and turn to face you. All of them are inclined to try a peck at your fingers when you handle them (after all, they do slightly resemble good sized worms), but these same chicks seem both more of a mind to peck a hand and more intent on you feeling it. Again, this proves NOTHING, but it does make me go hmmmmmm.

Angelus's wing has not fully healed by the change in diet. Nor, has his moulting cycle helped to align his wing, so the next step is to attempt to splint it into place with some medical tape. In my research I found a video on how to do this, so when Sean returns from work tonight, this is one more matter to be added to our "To Do" list. I am glad it does not seem to bother Angelus in terms of either movement or pain, but if we can help it to heal and be aligned properly, that would be best.

Both Angelus and the female mallard's eye infections are getting better. We have been using Bacitracin antibiotic cream on it and flushing them with a saline solution. The warning label on the tube of Bacitracin does say not to use in eyes, but the list of ingredients and dose was exactly the same as the other, so we tried it. If it had seemed to sting or if there had been no improvement, we would have consulted our vet. I do not suggest or recommend this to any readers, but it seems to be working for us. The ducks vision has returned now and though the eyes are still a little cloudy, I expect full recovery for both by the end of the month. Triple Antibiotic Ophthalmic Ointment is what is generally used to fight an eye infection, but it was going to take longer than a week to get here from ordering online and our local pet stores/ livestock stores were out of stock. It is a combination of three antibiotics: Neomycin, Polymyxin B, and Bacitracin. It is used to treat bacterial infections of the eyes and eyelids.

The ducks and goslings must be moved to a new home outside SOON if only for the sake of my tender olfactory sense. I walked into our home today to all the windows closed, and both chicks and duckling/gosling pens needing an immediate changing! I know I have posted about this before, but I CANNOT emphasize what this combination smells like. It was bad enough that I considered leaving home to find somewhere better smelling to visit until Sean came home from work to help me with it- like "The Bog of Eternal Stench." Instead, I pulled on my work gloves and tackled the mess. It only took moments to do and after opening all the windows to air any residual offensive odor, I felt much more inclined to continue living here. I love the little babies, but I am going to have to love them outside and hope they continue to love me in return.

The sun is shining bright and no rain in the forecast for a while. Enjoy it while you can!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Update for Caitlin: Jasmine

There are days when I doubt but that Jasmine is nothing more than mouth and tail. She eats like a.... well, a horse, to be rather blunt. She is all stomach, that one; She could and would happily eat herself sick. I attempted to get a video of her a few days ago, but could scarcely capture 10 seconds before she was munching on greens, completely ignoring me and anything I had to say.

Here, you are Caitlin, for what it is worth. ♥

Each Morning is an Adventure...

With the kids having their last day of school yesterday, I was looking forward to a less hectic, stressful morning. *Sigh* I guess there is always tomorrow.

What I did not anticipate was Sean helping a friend to move 4 of his bee hives from Searsport to Winterport at 7am. Brighid (our Velveteen Rex bunny) to finish her escape tunnel in the night and be found this morning waiting for me outside the main chicken pen. Or, Kristen to let all 3 dogs outside accidentally while trying to hand me the telephone.

I was outside giving the goats and chickens some bread when this all happened. Sean had returned from Part One of the Great Bee Relocation (which entailed loading the bees into a van) and was coming to see me in the back yard before continuing on with Part Two (which was the unloading and settling of the bees into their new location). He spied Brighid roaming free; he bent down to scoop up bunny into his hands with the intention of presenting her to me to receive deserved accolades of bunny hunter extraordinaire. Sean was brought up short by my frantic pointing and my cry of, "Sean, Fenn is loose! And there go the others!" Instantly alert, he snapped into action. He thrust bunny into my hands, pivoted and barked, "Angus, stop!" (Which usually causes our terrier to halt his escape and fortunately did this time, as well.) Angus captured, Sean hopped into the car to find Fenn before Fenn found trouble. In contrast, Buster was a good lad and came when I call him. He followed me to the bunny hutch and chicken coops as I returned Brighid to home and finished this mornings feeding routine, not even considering wandering away.

About 15 minutes later, Sean returned with Fenn, who had made it almost a mile up the road before he was captured with the aid of a neighbor and her flowers in need of "marking". Everyone sorted, Sean left to complete the bee transfer before going to work and I began to prepare for my day ahead.

Before I get to the getting, I thought I would share a snippet of what the goats are about these days. This is NOT where we want them to be! This weekend is going to have a lot of time devoted to the enhancing of the goat pasture fencing!

"We may not make a lot of money, but we sure have fun!" I wonder what the rest of the day will bring for excitement?

I hope you enjoy your day.
Sonja ♥

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Real Game...



Kristen thought of these captions. I thought she was brilliant and since I could not improve upon them, I leave them this way.

Kristen Sanders & Sonja Twombly

Monday, June 11, 2012

We've got GRAPES growing!

Three years ago, we planted 8 grape vines, purchased from the Fedco seed sale. We waited and watched those grapes over the summer, fall and winter. When the following Spring came, we hoped and hoped that they survived. 5 of them did, but barely grew any new leaves or branches. The next year, we repeated the cycle, just hoping they would survive and grow. And, though four of them made a little more "progress", to actually call it so aloud was painfully stretching its definition. But, as the saying goes- hope springs eternal for optimists.

Last year, we added 3 new grape plants to the "vineyard" (Oh, yes! That is what I do call it. All pitiful 8 grape vines of it.) with dreams of that future day when Sean, the girls and I would enjoy grapes for our table and wine for our bellies. (Sean and I, not the girls, of course.)

Today, I found these. The "these" in question are budding GRAPES. Lots of small clusters of them. On 5 of the 8 vines. GRAPES. After 3 years of waiting and hoping, we have the possibility of delicious, juicy, wonderful grapes to harvest this year. Which means that next year, we might have enough of them growing to be able to add them to the CSA shares we plan on selling. This proof of life is also a green light for us to plant an additional 4 vines this year. It is a small pat on the back, of encouragement to our hearts, the fruitage of patience and the realization that maybe, just maybe we are not completely and utterly barking mad for attempting this endeavour to begin with.  

And, in some future year, we may even have enough to make that bottle of wine.

Thanks for visiting!
Sonja ♥

Another Milestone for the Ducklings...

After bathing in the kitchen sink for the past few weeks, the ducklings have graduated to having a swim with water deeper than they are tall. They had a blast!

I love this video of the ducks learning to swim under water! When one gets going, they all start it.

Have a great night! Sonja ♥

Chicken Tractor #2 is Infested!

With Cats. Just lousy with the little furry beasts!

No sooner had Sean stopped his work for the evening, Tasmanian and Machias decided to check it out for themselves. If you look closely, that would be Machias's tail dangling from the inside of one of the new nest boxes. Silly boys!

Our cats don't bother the chickens, since the hens proved that they were perfectly capable of running the cats off in order to steal their cat food! With visions of being bested still fresh in mind, they probably thought a little "recon" was due before its feathered inhabitants took possession.

During the early evening, while Sean worked on the 2nd chicken tractor, we brought the ducklings and goslings out for their bath time. We kept a close eye on the bathers in case the cats decided to take advantage of their relatively small and helpless state. I was supposed to be helping Sean with finishing the 2nd coop, but I had a migraine which began in the morning and didn't subside until last afternoon. I spent most of the afternoon medicated and resting, which left Sean with the lion's share of the work to complete. I was glad my head ache subsided by evening and I was able to spend some time on the grass with the babies, watching Sean. Happily, everyone survived both bath time and nap time in the clear early-evening air.

My favorite part of the day, was napping in the sun with the babies all sleeping beside me. I love how tame and friendly they are. We are probably going to keep these particular birds separate from the other ducks in their own pond. We raised several mallards last year from chicks, but they act like "normal" ducks; they are friendly enough, but they certainly don't choose to follow us around or settle to nap in the grass with us. I hope that keeping them apart will continue this behavior, especially if we continue spending time with them and love them. For that reason, I do hope that we have one male and one female or alternately two females of each breed. I think these will be allowed to live in the larger pond in the front yard when it gets created. I can picture so perfectly returning home, driving up the driveway, to the happy "welcome home" of a duck and geese chorus.

Have a great day, friends.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Our Cats Deserve a Treat!

I will admit it looks cute with its furry, little head and sweet eyes, but do not be fooled, this ermine is completely capable of killing every chicken in your coop in one night. This weasel, who lives in our area and many others across the country, is a carnivore. While they mostly eat small birds, rodents, bunnies and the like, they have been known to infiltrate a chicken coop or yard and kill at it's whim. Unlike foxes, who may swipe a bird or two from the coop and escape undetected to eat its stolen meal, there are many accounts of one of these guys stealing into a coop and killing every bird in it. It's intention? To come back, night after night, to feed on its newly acquired bounty. One account found a coop of 70 chickens all dead, with little or no sign of loss of blood or struggle, just the tell-tale sign of small puncture wound in each of their necks. Having one of these critters lurking in the woods near my precious flock does not leave me with the warm and fuzzies. But, to be fair, I didn't know one was lurking nearby... until we found it dead in the drive way this morning, courtesy of our cats and their nightly patrol.
 An Ermine hunting a wild Rabbit. Source:
I love all animals. I always have for as long as I can remember. At least, most of them- spiders not withstanding. But, when it comes to something attacking my ladies and lads with the capability of decimating my flock without regret, I can live with it's preemptive demise. Had I known this threat existed, I would have cheerfully set a "Have-a-Heart" trap for the little guy and removed him to a safe, new home. I didn't know. The threat was there. Under the circumstances, I am completely fine with my cats doing what they are paid to do, to protect and defend our farm from rodents and other small would-be assassins.

Sean thinks this guy was a young male. At 8 inches in length, plus the tale, he was certainly small enough to squeeze into the main hen yard fencing and large enough to damage its occupants. Sean gave him a decent burial. I am sorry for the loss of his life, but relieved that our flock remains safe and intact.

Good night, Friends! ♥

Thursday, June 7, 2012

We're International... Okay, Sort of!

Okay, we know that this post really has nothing to do with either farming or our daily lives in here in Maine, but we were so excited, thrilled, perplexed, and happy, we couldn't resist this thank-you to those of you who take the time to read this blog, especially those of you who have clicked on the members tab and leave us encouraging comments each day. Your participation, questions, and friendship means so much to Sean, Kristen, Meaghan and I.

What prompted this post was our checking our audience stats (which you all can't see so would have no way of knowing) and our discovering that we have had readers from the United States of America, followed by; Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Indonesia, and Malaysia. How cool is that?

For those of you who are not current members of the blog, what are you waiting for? It costs nothing to sign up and it makes our writing, so much more enjoyable for us, knowing you are all out there going on this adventure with us. All you need to do is click the link on the left side and follow the instructions. And, feel free to leave us a comment with your thoughts and feedback.

We really hope to hear from you soon!

The Lally Broch Farm Family,
Sean & Sonja Twombly, Kristen and Meaghan Sanders ♥

Building Chicken Tractors

Sean and I have been working on designing and building this year's chicken tractors. They are 5 feet wide, 6 feet tall, and 8 feet long. This one is going to house Aloysious (our Cochin rooster), 3 Buff Cochin hens, 1 Black Star hen, and our 2 Black Australorp hens. This mix will give us the probability of getting Cochin-feeted chicks at least 4 out of 6 times... I hope. I am no geneticist, but since the rooster is Cochin-footed, I think that will stack the odds a little in that direction, as all the Cochin hens MUST produce Cochin chicks and the black hens' chicks will also have a 50/50 chance of inheriting that gene from their Dad. I guess we will see what we end out with. I am, of course, keeping good records of this.

I love the design Sean created for our tractors. I think they look just wonderful already. The only thing left is to cut more than one entrance into the coop area. So far, I have no suggestions for improvements on them. They are just what I was hoping for. And, get this: EVERY SINGLE PART OF THE TRACTOR WAS FROM MATERIALS WE HAD UNUSED OR RECYCLED FROM OTHER PROJECTS. Total Cost? Nothing. Nada. Nyet. Love That!

Sean is making another one this week of the same design. In it will reside Rufeo (our Rhode Island Red rooster), 2 barred rock hens and 3 Lacey Wyandotte hens. This combination should give us red sex link chicks, called Red Stars. We will be able to tell hens from roosters when they hatch since the all hens should be red in color and the roosters should all be white. Very convenient, that.

This arrangement will leave Sebastian and White Snake (both Americauna roosters) to live with 2 Americauna hens, 4 Buff Orpington hens, and 4 Rhode Island Reds. Their chicks will be a mixed breed, but 2 hens in this group will produce pure Americauna chicks and the other 8 hens' chicks will have a 50/50 chance of producing chicks that will also lay green or blue eggs. I will only incubate the blue eggs found in this pen for the now, since I can guarantee myself those to be 100% Americauna. The other eggs will be sold by the dozen for eating purposes.

While I was attempting to capture some video of the first batch of hens moved to the first chicken tractor, I caught a video of Aloysious crowing, which was very cool. Then, I captured footage of him getting friendly with his ladies. I was worried that the hens would not enjoy this new arrangement. THAT is no longer a concern. With 6 ladies all to himself, Aloysious seemed to be doing just fine.

We will build a third tractor for the chicks currently living inside with us. The box will probably be affixed lower to allow them easy access, but this will give them a safe place to grow until they can be moved to live with an appropriate flock of chickens. Since we believe that most of the chicks we hatched already are Americaunas, they will live in the large pen and coop once they are large enough.

So much still to do, but it is moving along slowly and surely. Thanks for stopping by!
Sonja ♥

This is NOT Where Little Kids Belong!

While the other goats seem to be happy with their home, Miss Abigail and Master Asher have been exploring the lands outside their pasture. This morning, I woke to find them munching on the grass of my front lawn. Sean called out his usual greeting of, "Hey, You Goats!" and they beat feet back inside to their herd. In the time it took for me to throw on my birkenstocks, Abigail was playing on the top of the hay bale and Asher had jumped onto the top of the chicken nest boxes! He is a fearless and naughty lad! He won't jump to the ground, but will jump onto the hay and then back into his field. He is rather sure footed, but it still worries me with this stunt. Another behavior we are going to have to remedy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Foul Fowl...

I wish I had scratch and sniff capabilities for your computer screen. No description of mine will come close to the reality of how foul fowl can smell. I cleaned their pen less than 48 hours ago, while they were bathing in the sink, remember? This is what their clean pen looked like. It smelled good, too, like fresh pine shavings. Now, it is bad enough to have me watching the clock for Sean's arrival with more pine shavings. This is what happens when you mix water with water fowl. The ducks "dabble" which gets the water all over the floor of their pen, mixes with their droppings to create a disgusting, sticky glue, add to this heat and you get the idea of what I am dealing with. The obvious solution, which my friend, Cherie supplied, is to move them outside. She was even kind enough to offer me a pen suitable for them.

So, why wouldn't I? Well, consider this; the ducks and geese get handled extensively each day. At night, they climb up my legs and body to settle onto my shoulder or snuggle under my chin. Because they are used to our voices and movement, they are very, very tame and friendly. Though I would still see them outside and visit often, I strongly suspect that they would be more like the ducks living in the chicken yard, friendly enough, but they have no interest in following us around, unless we have bread or some other treat to bribe them with. So, for the now, they remain inside and I remain occupied with cleaning one more cage each day.

In other news, we have 2 mallards with an eye infection in their left eyes. It started with one of our females having a cloudy eye about a week ago. Merck Veterinary Manual, here I come! The treatment suggested is an opthalmic triple antibiotic ointment. We brought her inside, washed the eye out with clean warm water and applied a triple antibiotic cream to her eye. She remained secluded for a week in a pen in our office while we continued treatments and seems to be recovering. Then, Angelus, our drake with "angel wing" started showing signs of an eye infection, yesterday. So, we began treatment for him, too. They will need to be secluded from the rest of the flock, treated, and the rest of the flock will need a close inspection and watching. It is never boring around here!

Sean just got home and we have some chicken tractors to finish, some veggies to get planted, and I need to tackle this duck pen! Have a great evening, friends! ♥


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kitchen Sinks, the Perfect Place for a Bath

The black chicks survived last night with no problems. They are still much smaller than their counterparts, but they are thriving and doing well. I have moved everyone into an empty parrot cage. The floor is lined with newspaper, which makes changing it easy. And, there is plenty of room for the chicks to settle under the warmth or move to the cooler side to be comfortable and for their food and water containers. Plus, as the chicks grow, they will use the wooden roost at night. To help control the temperature, I have pinned a white towel to 3 sides of the cage and hung a heat lamp from the ceiling- far away from where they can reach and injure themselves- and placed a thermometer at chick level. The whole arrangement is very satisfactory.


When I had finish settling the chicks to their new home, I ran some warm water in both bays of my kitchen sink for the ducklings and goslings to bathe in. Each morning, we wake to find their water container (which holds over a gallon of water) empty and the nice fresh shavings soaked with water. Ducks are messy little beasts! Kristen and Meaghan stood guard over the bathers while I scooped out the wet pine shavings and added fresh dry shavings. This would be the goslings first foray into bathing, but they seemed to enjoy it and know what to do about preening. Guards are necessary because neither breed of fowl seems to be afraid of jumping out of the sink and onto my counter, falling to the floor or into the very interested mouth of Fenn... lots of dangers to watch for!

The ducklings have grown and no longer both fit into one hand. They are just over 2 weeks old and are filling out nicely. The goslings are only about 1 week old and are just a little bigger than the ducklings. They are still very friendly, though they do not follow me in the same way the ducklings did. The ducklings are growing more bold of being on their own and become less frantic if I walk away from them, which is how it should be. In no time at all, they will be ready to live outside all the time.

I have marked my calendar and plan on putting the next batch of 36 eggs into the incubator. I will hatch out a mixture of americaunas, cochins, rhode island reds, and black sex links. I am planning on having them hatch for July 6th, while our niece, Abby is visiting us. (I think she will really enjoy playing with the new peepers.) This is perfect timing, too, in that our inside housing will be empty by then and ready for new occupants- after a good cleaning, of course! 18 of the new chicks are already spoken for, but I still have (potentially) 18 available for purchasing. If you are interested in adding to your flock, feel free to email me and we can connect. You can read about buying chicks and our pricing on that tab at the top of my page.

The rain is coming and going, but the sun is shining through. I hope that tomorrow clears so I can mow this lawn!

Thanks for visiting!
Sonja ♥

A Dilly of a DeLLama...

I had intended on writing yesterday between appointments and meetings, but the day rushed by so quickly and to be completely candid, I just could not bring myself to do it. I was glad of the business of the day, which had me driving all over creation and the immediate need of thoroughly cleaning both our home and the various critter homes residing therein. That didn't stop the tears from escaping in the car as I drove from one appointment to the next, but at least the drives were long enough to get me sorted and back into some semblance of capability to carry out my work. I know how foolish that seems. I understand that loss is sometimes part of this life we are building, but it doesn't make it any easier for me. And, in some ways, I hope it never gets easier for me. At least, I feel and I care, really care about the lives entrusted to us- for however short a time that might be.

So, wide awake (and wishing I were not) at 6 am, I give you the tale of loading an angry llama into a horse trailer. Go ahead and laugh at us. I did as I was retelling it to one of my friends. It is good to find the humor in things, when you can. To set the stage, you must understand, that Dilly had progressed over the past week to the point where the moment he saw Sean, the ears went back and the hissing began. If that was not a proper deterrent to Sean's continued existence, Dilly began charging at the fencing. Sean, determined to win Dilly over, at least to the point where he was not in peril providing fresh water to the goats in the pasture, offered Dilly some grain each time he approached. Dilly, being rather practical, accepted this offering so as to have more ammunition with which to spit at the offending infidel, who was breaching his herd's territory. We had made arrangements to meet Mr. Farmer to return Dilly to his care. The only question left was, how do you load a 350 pound beast, who wants nothing more than to castrate you on the spot, into a trailer 100 feet outside his enclosure... without leaving some necessary bits of your anatomy behind?

Sean's assurance of "Sonja, stay inside this morning. I have a plan." did nothing to ease my mind. But, I cared for some chores around the house while I waited to see what Sean would do. As for what he did do, I don't know in detail. I understand there was some attempt at Sean's haltering Dilly which ended with Sean's jeans being bitten and Dilly remaining halter-free. On to plan B.

Plan B came to me Sunday night while I was trying to get some sleep and instead spent hours agonizing over our decision and praying. I thought if we could slide the handle end of a dog lead onto a rope and attach the clip to Dilly's collar, we could tie the ends of the rope to the stall and to the inside of the horse trailer. With a bucket of grain for bait, Dilly might walk of his own volition into the trailer. The only part I could not work out was how to get the gate opened without the loss of life or limb to anyone. Sean liked plan B and modified it into plan C.

Plan C was this:
Sean tied a dog leash to a rope and secured the rope to the inside of the horse trailer. I grabbed a scoop of grain and Sean and I approached the paddock gate. While I cooed at Dilly and fed him very, verrrry slowly to distract him, Sean clipped the dog leash to Dilly's collar. This took a few tries, but finally succeeded in tethering Dilly to the horse trailer. I scooped more grain for the goats to keep them occupied and to lessen the probability of their escape when the gate was opened. Sean ran inside to grab a pillow case from the linen closet. (Horses quiet markedly when their eyes are covered; it is how you can get a spooked horse out of danger. Sean thought it was worth a try.) I grabbed the bucket of Dilly's grain and ran to the trailer to untie the rope and prepare myself to start pulling on it at Sean's signal. Sean took advantage of Dilly's willingness to shove his face into Sean's space to bag himself a llama's head and deftly unbolted the gate. The blind folding of the llama did not have the desired effect in that Dilly panicked and began screaming from inside the pillow case and thrashing his head to and fro to remove the offending bag. In his distress, he smacked his mouth into one of the wooden posts! It did make it nearly impossible for Dilly to bite Sean and sufficiently distracted Dilly's attention so that Sean could help lead him into the trailer. Once inside, Sean tied off the lead rope to the trailer, making sure it was long enough so Dilly could lie down, but not so long that he would tangle his legs. Then, Sean tugged on the end of the case, removing it and himself from the trailer all at once. Sean added a little hay for Dilly to eat and closed and secured the door and all was done.

I took a minute to hyperventilate with giddy relief. Sean stood grinning from ear to ear, looking pleased at his plan's success. Then, all seven goats chose to celebrate with us by escaping the pasture through the still opened gate, to see what we were doing. Jasmine decided she did not want to be left behind and proceeded to head for the opening in her fencing, too. Sean headed to stop Jasmine. I grabbed the grain scoop and lured Pepper, Leah, Rachel & Jedi back into the gate. Sean led Ellie back to her pasture with Asher and Abigail following behind.

And, that was it. Sean drove Dilly to meet Mr. Farmer and I went to work to worry and fret and cry over whether or not we were doing the right thing. I will let Sean describe the reuniting of Mr. Farmer and Dilly, but I can tell you that Sean thought Dilly acted very pleased to see his human's return. We don't know if Mr. Farmer auctioned Dilly yesterday or if he returned home with him. We asked Mr. Farmer to call us to let us know what happened. I really need to hear that Dilly is safe and happy and in a good situation so that I can stop worrying about it. I hope he does call.

No pictures, no video of this adventure. I was too busy to stop for footage. I do have some video I took last night of the chicks, ducklings, and goslings, which I will upload and post later today. For now, I need to get out of this bed and on to work!

More rain in the forecast. Hope you all stay dry!
Sonja ♥

Sunday, June 3, 2012

20 Multi-Colored Peepers Greeted Our Arrival Home


Compare the messiness from hatching with clean environment
of the last post, before they hatched. Sean had his work cut
out for him cleaning it again!
20 out of 27 eggs successfully hatching is not a bad result according to chicken hatching web sites, the average hatch rate being around 70%. Our eggs hatched at a slightly higher rate. That doesn't change my heart aching for the little lives that weren't. We had 3 eggs pipped through to the outside air, but the chicks inside were dead already when we got home. And, when we candled the other 4 eggs without pipping, there was no movement inside them. One was clearly dead and not developed with black spots throughout. The other three, showed no sign of life and no breach of the internal membrane. To be absolutely sure, we carefully breached the air sac to see if there was any sign of life or movement. There wasn't. Sean removed the dead chicks and buried them in a box in the woods. It seemed the decent thing to do.

I am trying to find comfort in the active and thriving 17 multi-colored chicks in the brooding tank. They are eating, drinking water, and peeping. I will post close up pictures of the different types tomorrow. For tonight it is best for them to stay warm, dry and safe. Additionally, I have 2 black chicks and 1 yellow chick wrapped in a warm towel, tucked into my shirt. The yellow one seems weak, which is worrisome. They are all so much smaller than the others, that they are getting trampled on. Sean cleaned out the incubator of the eggs and nasty water. It is heating the inside to 100 degrees again and these littlest guys will spend the night in there, to give them the best start possible. If they survive the night and seem more active, we'll put them in with the others. I hope and pray they will. (It is morning. The little yellow chick did not make it and died in my hand this morning, but the others are doing just fine. What a sad start to the day. The rain which has been abundantly present this weekend does nothing to improve my mood. Sean has asked me to remain inside while he "tries something." I suspect this has to do with Dilly. I just hope he doesn't do anything that could injure himself. I think a hot shower and redirecting my thoughts to focus on the 19 chicks that are alive will be more soothing to my heart.)

Sean and I have also come to a decision that Dilly must return to his home with Mr. Farmer. This has been a difficult decision to make. On one hand, I feel so badly for this animal. He needs the right home, situation, and attention to live the best life possible. I strongly feel that the only responsible thing to do is to have him castrated, which will cost about $390 and to let any prospective buyers know that he must be watched and cannot be added to any herd with females in it. I think that Mr. Farmer plans on bringing him to auction to resell him. I can only hope that the next owners are more qualified and better able to provide for his needs. On the other side, after doing more research, checking with our vet, and calling and talking with several experienced llama owners to potentially adopt him, we are convinced that we cannot keep him well here. This is not a good fit for him, and castration is too expensive an undertaking for us to pay for, only to find him a different home. I wish that we could, but we have other lives we are responsible to care for and money is tight. This decision was hard to make for both of us, but the thought of him dying of loneliness, being separated from having a herd or "pasture buddy" or his possibly injuring someone is too big of a risk to take. He needs to be castrated- he should NEVER be bred to pass on this aggressive tendency to his offspring- and find a home with an experienced handler in a herd of male llamas. I hope he finds that. Tomorrow is going to be hard.

It is late and we have a long day tomorrow. I'll write more later. For now, here is some video of fluffy chicks to make you smile. The top video is of the chicks doing well. The lower video is of the youngest, more frail chicks.
Goodnight, friends!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The New Chicks are Hatching!

I knew it was bound to happen (under the premise that anything that can go wrong in your absence, will) but still I was hoping I was worrying over nothing. I wish I was worrying over nothing. But, alas! No. *Sigh* Our animal-sitter texted me that apparently Jasmine noticed our absence almost immediately and made an escape attempt. Daniel (our animal control guy) got a phone call at midnight last night that Jasmine was running up the side of the road. He went and put her back in her field. We know this because he kindly left a note in our door to inform us. When our farm-sitter, Charle checked on Jasmine this morning, she was outside her fencing again, munching on grass in the growing orchard. At least she wasn't off our property, so Miss Jasmine is locked into her stall for the night and we hope she will remain there until our return.

And, two chicks decided to hatch 48 hours early! They weren't due until Sunday night!!! Then, another chick hatched this morning and six more have external pipping on the eggs indicating their immanent hatching, too! This is what they looked like when we left on Friday afternoon. Sneaky peepers! I will worry about them until I am home to check them personally.

I don't have any pictures to update of the new chicks, since my camera is with me. But, I will tomorrow night. Only 24 hours before we will be back on the homestead. I am enjoying all the wonderful spiritual food from our convention, the new releases, and associating with the brothers and sisters, but I will confess to looking forward to getting home to our critters and my own bed tomorrow evening!

Goodnight, all!
Sonja ♥

Friday, June 1, 2012

Gardens and Goslings

I am of two minds. On the one hand, the idea of going away from the farm for the weekend, especially to a Christian Convention with over 5,000 of my dear brothers and sisters from the New England area is exciting, soothing, and just plain wonderful. No stalls to muck, no llamas to tame, nothing to build. On the other hand, we will be away. And, though we have a capable friend caring for our homestead in our absence, we will be... away. No pigs to love, no goats to greet us, no goslings snuggled in my shirt. And, I am completely sure that in the 60 hours of our being away, all the fencing will fail, the basement will flood, the bunny will escape, the chickens will revolt and stop laying their eggs, the ducks will make off into the wild... you get the picture. I am not a pessimist by nature, but I have some little experience in these things. It is almost guaranteed. Things will grind along just fine, as long as we have nothing else on the agenda. But, the second we have plans... that is just asking for trouble.

A sampling of the 36 sweet and hot peppers started and living on our porch.
I was planning on updating you all to our gardening and how the water fowl residing in my living room are faring in great detail, but I still have to pack and get this show on the road. So, for now, I will leave you with some pictures with the hope that each of them speaks the 1,000 words they are rumored to and hope you all have a bright and sunny weekend.

See you soon!

Last years onions wintered over in a garden bed. We'll eat the greens, since we have never had any success in growing the onions themselves to full size after a winter's rest. They will be delicious, though! And, I might count this as our first harvest of 2012.

I was playing Momma duck/goose with the babies. They all snuggle into my arms and settle to sleep.