Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Don't Worry, Be Happy!

I have been creating more movies than actual "blog posts" lately. This leads me to wonder, "How do you all feel about this addition? Do you prefer to simply read my entries?"

I will admit to a certain hubris and selfish fulfillment in my writing each day. I do it as much for me as for any perceived interest on the part of my readers. It is my journal to reflect on our growth in this farming adventure. It is filled with as many triumphs as losses- (I hope!) and helps me to remember where we were and more importantly, where we are still going.

At the same time, I do care what you think. Whether you are enjoying coming along with us. If my posts are interesting, or even understandably written. I love when I get comments from you. I check for them a couple times each day. And, it brings me some happiness to see more members "join" as readers. It makes me feel like I am accomplishing something that matters to someone else.

Anyway, with all that said, or written... I hope you enjoy my latest musical video. I captured and spliced footage from this week's activities as an update on the critter populace.

For Kindle viewers, use THIS LINK.
Thanks for visiting with me today, Friends.
Sonja ♥


I just spent more time than I want to admit creating a 5 minute movie montage (that I REALLY liked) only to have the file corrupted when I attempted to save the final copy. Now, I either have to start over or just forget about it. Either way, I am ANNOYED and needed to VENT.


Sonja ♥

Sunday, July 29, 2012

For My Daughter, Caitlin

For Kindle Viewers, use THIS LINK.
I know this has nothing to do with "farm life", but I just felt like making a video for my daughter today. She has been a little home sick and I have been missing her, too. I hope this will help to cheer her up. It was a lot of fun for me to put together.

Sonja ♥

PS Thanks Ryan Twombly and Kevin Kratka for video and photography.

Ryan's Chicks

As I said we would, Sean and I took 10 minutes tonight (Friday) to candle and check all the eggs in the incubator. The temperature has been holding steady at 95-98 degrees since Tuesday. As best as we can tell, 21 of the 34 eggs in the incubator appear healthy.

We set 6 Cochin eggs and we have 3 with definite signs of development. Of the other 2 Cochin eggs, 2 may have a blood ring (indicating miscarriage) and one did not appear to be fertilized.

Of the 9 Americauna eggs we collected, 7 look promising. The other 2 might be fertilized, but it was very difficult to be sure because of the color and speckles on the shell. We marked these. We'll keep these in for another week and recheck them.

At least 11 of 19 "Barnyard Beauty" chick eggs look to be developing properly. Six of the remaining eggs are questionable as to whether or not they are growing chicks and 2 do not appear to be fertilized.

We will keep the questionable ones of these for another week, just in case we missed something. You can see the difference between the fertilized, development egg above and the unfertilized egg below.

Though Ryan and I set the eggs a week ago, I am really only counting that they are a couple days old because it took a couple days for the incubator to get to over 95 degrees. By my best guess, we should have chicks around August 11-14th. Can't wait! Thanks for visiting the farm today.

Sonja ♥

Friday, July 27, 2012

Almost Time for Salsa!

Wednesday morning, after Daddy Dale helped me by mowing our front lawn, we visited Sean's grapes to find... you guessed it, MORE Japanese Beetles! Uggghhh! There was easily 40-50 of them mating undisturbed or munching away at the tender grape leaves. THAT. WAS. IT.

Notice the mutilated leaves and the dirty looking masses of beetles.
Armed with my newly purchased container of food grade Diamataceous Earth (DE) and a table spoon, I marched outside to battle the hordes of my winged foe. The day was windy, so all that was necessary was for me to stand upwind and hold the tablespoon of DE near the grape plants to spread it fairly evenly all over the grape plant leaves and dusting the beetles in the process. For good measure, I dusted DE over the other plants in the raised beds in front of our house. Then since I was on a roll, I sprinkled a tablespoon down the backs of each goat in the main pen. They did not seem to like it, at all, which is strange because it looks like a fine powder and cannot possibly have hurt them. In contrast, the chickens LOVED being sprinkled with the DE. They treated it like they were getting a dust bath. For good measure, I sprinkled a little on the chicken coop floor, on a singular pile of horse manure in Jasmine's stall and over the hill of manure full of tiny flies buzzing along a fence at the edge of the horse pasture. I was not sure that this was going to have any effect, but felt relatively better for my having done SOMETHING.

A few hours later, at around 2pm, I returned outside to capture some pictures of our garden's produce. Since I was near the grapes, I took a minute to check out if the DE had done anything. It had. Really. There were maybe 10-15 beetles collectively on all the vines and they weren't looking so good. The flies in the manure in the horse stall were gone. This was all very promising, but 10-15 beetles were still beetles too many. Maybe I needed to give it more time? Or, maybe these were other beetles that found the grapes and had not been treated? Or, maybe it just wouldn't work.

When Sean and I checked the grapes tonight at 8pm and there were still a few beetles present on the leaves, but no where near as many as had been on previous days/nights. And, the ones there did not seem to be active, like they had been. So, again, promising results, but not perfect results so far. The jury is still out.

As I surveyed and photographed the various garden spaces, I was very happy to find several yellow blossoms had developed into the promise of several tiny watermelons beginning to grow. The extra heat and natural funneling of water inside black tires seems to be paying off for their growing this season. Our cucumber plants are sporting many tiny cucumbers, too. Our tomatoes are HUGE and full of flowers and fruits. Several varieties of our hot pepper plants are ready to harvest. Others are covered with tiny white blossoms which will bloom into tasty peppers in the weeks ahead. Under the premise that a picture speaks 1,000 words, I took a few to share with you.

Serrano Hot Peppers
Jalapeno Hot Peppers
Mildly Spicy Banana Peppers
Teensy, Tiny, Baby Watermelon



Some of our best and healthiest veggie plants are living in medium containers on our deck. From these, I harvest Basil, Chives, Scallions, Oregano, Mint, Hot Peppers, and Tomatoes. Even if you only have a small area, you CAN still grow some fresh veggies for your family.

Last night, I separated the soft goat cheese I made from a gallon of milk into 3- 5oz plastic tubs. To one, I mixed in fresh basil, garlic, scallions, & oregano. To another, I mixed in fresh dill and peppercorns. To the last, I added garlic and chives. They all tasted really, REALLY good, but did not harden to the consistency I wanted this time. The cheese spread will still be lovely on bagels, or to eat on chips, crackers, or fresh garden veggies. I have enough milk to make another batch or three this weekend and will attempt my hand at cheese again on Sunday afternoon. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Garden and pest update complete, I will turn my attention to the critters happenings for you soon. I am especially excited to candle the latest batch of eggs incubating in my living room area. I sure hope we have a good hatch rate on them!

Thanks for visiting with us.
Sonja ♥

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dog Park Adventures

As promised, a movie about our recent visits to the local dog park. I hope you laugh and enjoy it as much as the pups and I had making it for you.

Good night,
Sonja ♥

Kindle viewers, use THIS LINK.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ryan's Last Farm Chore: Incubation

Last Friday, before we rushed out the door for work, Sean washed out the incubator and sanitized it. Ryan and I took a couple of minutes to set some eggs. We had collected 34 eggs over the previous week from the various coops. Our intent of hatching more "true-to-breed" chicks rather than "barnyard beauties" necessitated our collecting the eggs over more days than our usual procedure. In the end, we compiled 9 Americauna eggs (the blue ones on the left), 6 Cochin eggs (white ones in the middle), and rounded our the incubator with 19 mixed breed eggs. With anticipation, I candled the eggs for the first time today. At least half were showing some indication of life, but it is still early days yet. I will candle them again on Friday to see how many are truly developing.

When I attempted to tally the total number by kinds of chickens currently taking up residence on our three chicken pens, it was too difficult to reckon off the top of my head. With pencil and paper in hand, a trip to the coops was wanted. In addition to these fresh "possibilities", we are currently caring for 43 chickens ranging in age from 2 weeks to several who are retired ladies. For those who care, the break down is:

3 Cochin hens-a-laying
2 Cochin 6 week old chicks
3 Cochin 2 week old chicks
1 Cochin rooster

3 Rhode Island Red hens-a-laying (we think)
1 Rhode Island Red rooster

1 Red Star hen
1 Red Star 6 week old chick

2 Americauna hens-a-laying
2 Americauna roosters
1 Americauna 6 week old chick

2 Australorps-a-laying
3 Australorp 6 week old chicks

2 Barred Rock hens (mostly retired from laying)

3 Lacey Wyandotte hens-a-laying

3 Buff Orpington hens (maybe laying occasionally)

6 Barnyard Beauty mixed breed 6 week old chicks
4 Barnyard Beauty mixed breed 2 weeks old chicks

The chicks' genders are so far, undetermined. I have yet to hear any crowing or seen any spurs, but as yet, I have not collected any eggs from these either. Of course, either of those possibilities are much future signs. For the now, we have been graced with 43 chickens. Of these, 19 are most probably still laying, 4 are definitely NOT laying (as they are roosters) and up to 20 more will come on-line to lay this fall- depending on how many of THOSE are roosters. You know I am praying for hens! These should tentatively hatch on or around August 11th. Am I ready for this again? I guess, we'll see!

In the garden front, the watermelons and cucumbers have both decided to put out flowers. This is exciting news for us. I have visions of making pickles and eating fresh cucumbers in salads, on sandwiches, and seasoned with salt & pepper in the coming months.

As Ryan mentioned in his post, Sean is waging a seemingly unending battle with the Japanese Beetles for the right to enjoy the grapes. So far, the beetles seem to be winning. While I put out some traps near the grape vines, Sean took matters into his own hands and literally picked almost a hundred of the buggers off of his vines. He was about as pleased as you can imagine about this. In response, we purchased a food grade, organic miracle cure for these in the form of acclaimed Diatomaceous Earth (DE). Be sure to get the food grade stuff, not the pool filter kind. It should be 98-99% pure, with the other 1-2% being some kind of trace mineral, also harmless.

According to my research, this stuff is completely harmless to humans, but physically kills many pests, worm or insect in nature. You can rub a minute amount onto your animals' coats with no harm to them, but any fleas, mosquitoes, black flies or the like living on your livestock are destroyed because their protective coating is compromised to the point of their death. You can, also, mix DE into your pets' food without harm to anything except any unwanted worms living within them. I love the idea of a non-chemical way to fight problem insects organically, but all these claims seem too good to be true. We are trying it, since everything we have read about the use of DE has been resoundingly positive on the various forums and website I regularly read. As of now, I keep my opinion of the accuracy of these claims to myself, but if it works as well as promised, I will certainly report that.

As a second line of defense, in conjunction with the DE, Tazmanian has graciously offered to stand guard over the grapes in case any hungry birds or curious squirrels attempt to full their bellies with them.

Thanks for visiting with us tonight.

Sonja ♥

Monday, July 23, 2012


Hello I'm Kristen, this is my first entry so it's not as good as everyone else's, yet.

By now you might have heard of Rudy's passing, it was one and a half hours ago and my voice still sounds raw and scratchy from crying. I'm really not much of a farmer or an outside person, but I loved this chick. I guess that's what a week of caring for an animal leads to: absolute adoration. As much as it hurts now, I am still so thankful that Rudy hatched to us and gave us that week of being totally, comepletely, almost ridiculously happy. I miss the little one so much and even now my eyes are fogging up. She didn't give up the fight though, she just fought so hard for so long there was no fight left in her, and that's okay. She did so well and I'm so proud of her for holding on this long. It took me an hour to finish writing her a letter and I know that I was just stalling because I didn't want to acually acknowledge that she was gone.

Gonna miss you, Little One,
                              Kristen ♥

Rudy's Passing

Poor Rudy Chick gave up her fight at 8:30 tonight. Kristen is devastated. As much as we knew that this was going to be the probable outcome to this venture, that knowledge brings no relief to our hearts. At least, we have pictures and video of these days to remember meeting and caring for Rudy while she was here with us. 
Rudy died in my hand with me patting her head, talking softly to her. We told her that she had fought well and that it was okay to rest now. We said how much we enjoyed caring for her and that we loved her and would remember her. For a large part of the day, Rudy had slept. She refused food and water all afternoon and into the evening, no matter how often we urged her to eat and drink. At the end, Rudy opened her eyes and then, I felt her body relax. She did not seem to be in pain, at all. Other than her having a miraculous recovery, that was as much as I could hope for; that she be at peace and that she not die alone.

As much as it hurts, I would do it all again if I needed to.

Ryan's Day at Lally Broch Farm

Hi all,

We have a treat for you today. Sean's brother, Ryan has graciously agreed to write a guest post for us.

Thanks for visiting ♥

This morning I found out what “first light” means. It’s not a synonym for dawn; that comes after. Dawn is when the sun pokes its eyelash over the horizon. Before that happens, night peels back like the lid on a sardine can, exposing the cold gray miracle of first light. I have to say honestly, there’s not much to recommend it. There’s no warm center, no cheery foregleam of the day to come. No color. Looking out over the gloomy hillside from my position on the couch, I was reminded of nothing so much as cold porridge, lumps of congealing gravy, mounds of soppy ash the wet night after a barbecue. First light, woefully insufficient, could bring me nothing of the complex interplay of greens and browns and, yes, grays, that taken together comprise a symphony in landscape outside Sean and Sonja’s front window. Left with only the grays, the view presented no symphony, just a monotonous transition from lowland to hill to sky, like the mournful blast of a bassoon.

Fortunately, I had the piccolo section front and center, in the form of I-forgot-to-count-how-many little peeping chicks, who had been my companions over the somewhat overlong evening. Sonja had offered to move the little peepers, but I had refused, and I don’t regret the decision. I’d asked them to quiet down a few times in the night, but realized after repeating the pattern that they were really only
responding to the sound of my voice with more various, frenzied peeping. After which, I quieted down myself, and somehow, someway, drifted off to sleep, with an occasional peep popping into my dreams. Machias, the banded gray kitty cat named for a somewhat distant town, helped immensely, cuddling into the crook of my legs for warmth, yet sensing, in a very blood-will-out indication of pedigree, when I’d rather he toddle off elsewhere while I rolled to my good shoulder and re-settled my leg pillow. Between myself, Machias, and the peeps, we paddled through the night, finishing up on a colorless, cheerless, and very early rocky shore.

And yet, I wasn’t tired. No, honestly, Sonja/Mom/Kimmy. Somehow the ebullience of the peeps in that first tongue-schluck of morning, the piping of the roosters outside and Machias’s knowing neck stretch combined to elevate my opinion of first light. I saw it less as the death knell to my somnolent efforts and more as what it truly is to the birds and beasts of the fields, farms, and forest. Namely, an affirmation that they’d made it through the night. Sans foxes, sans owls, sans the clutching talons and the snickety chops. Life was in that first gray light. Life was in the drifted charcoal and the sorry bassoon. Life was what they peeped and cawed and snorted for, and first light was what showed they lived it.

I’ll get to the snorting in a moment. Sonja doesn’t give proportional space to the piggies in her narrative, compared to the real estate they occupy and the racket they make, but she’s already made an eloquent defense. But that’s later. After first light I listened to the peepers peep, I pet Machias. Maybe at some point I drifted off, because not long after dawn had come and gone. I had wondered if Sean was one of those farmers who get up before the sun. I used to stay over at a friend’s dairy farm and always insisted I would get up and do my modest share, and always slept right on through. Fortunately Sean is able to husband his little flock without resorting to such an early start, so I was up sufficiently before him to let in an endless stream of cats through the piano room window, loving on each in turn. Some were friendlier than others, but none exactly spurned my advances, and there were so many that I’d met, pet, and “so long”ed half a dozen before the back of the line hove into view. When those with little interest in human affairs had suffered my attentions, sniffed at the bunny in the cage by the doorway, and retreated back through the window, I closed up shop and took a brief tour through the house to see what the rest were up to. Evidently, it was bath time for every kitty in the world, because a synchronized preening session had kicked off on all surfaces of the piano room, the kitchen counter, and the dining table. I passed between rooms for some little time, amused and a bit disquieted by the like-mindedness of the weasel killers.

About that time Sean stomped upstairs, abusing the intelligence of the dogs in hushed tones. I’d not noticed their barking in amongst the peeping, crowing, distant snorting and silent-but-distracting preening. But it was there. Sean did his best to shut the beasts up, stomped back downstairs, then stomped up again, this time shirted and intent on bringing in some firewood. I should mention at this juncture that I was dressed in shorts and my customary Hawaiian shirt, but it was a lovely Maine morning by this time so had no compunction in following him outside. Those who haven’t lived here probably think it’s cold in the mornings, even in summer, what with the mercury dipping so low and all, but it doesn’t look cold on a green and pleasant morning in Maine. Though the ground doesn't hold the heat like southern baked clay, it holds such a suggestion of beautiful things that it makes you believe in heat, even when the thermometer says heat is not there. A parousia of heat, if you will. Suffice it to say, I followed Sean out, but lacking sleeves, I left him to carry the modest bundle of wood. Down on the basement he split the wood like a callused old lumberman, using first the maul then the axe, and several strokes with both on a knotty piece of ash that may be burning still. I know enough about starting fires to know it's not so easy as it looks, so admired his skills both as a chopper and a lighter. After blowing the fire into life we went outside to start the true work of the farmer - picking Japanese beetles off desiccated grape leaves - no, sorry, that still was later, but meshes so well with my experience as a gardener that I had to give it pride of place. First, we fed and watered the animals.

My job was the latter. Armed with an ordinary garden hose, I bravely stood in place while Sean upended the duck pool, utterly ignoring the implication that I was meant to fill it up again. When Sonja emerged sometime later, she reminded Sean of this detail, and I artesianally obliged. I did take my cues to fill up the goat's bucket, topping off Jasmine's barrel while Sean was busy scooping grain for the goats. We then moved on to the pigs, which I have mentioned make some terrible noises. This was the chore we were attending when Sonja joined us, and she attempted to show what the pigs are good for, granted that neither is earmarked for a destiny as bacon, pork, and/or ham. What the pigs are good for is amusement, as she attempted to show by scratching Patches, the clear boss hog of the duo, on the belly. But Patches refused to do her famous trick of flopping over in the mud for a long, indulgent belly scratch, instead squealing at Sonja very rudely and with a threatening toss of the head. This probably would have been amusing, if not for the real danger she appeared to be in. Sean mentioned afterward that the pigs are equipped with razor-like tusks, not pointed for goring but edged for gouging, and Sonja's bare legs were easily in range had Patches actually decided to get violent. But it was just a feint, from a grumpy pig with scratches along her sides and behind the ear, there evidently having been a fight between her and Ebony while I slept with the peepers.

And here we come to the other work of the farmer, stopping the beasties from mauling one another. Sean showed me the contrast among the rooster's spurs. Ruffio has mere blunted nubs, while the cock o' the walk sports the sort of scimitars that would surely have won Chicken George his freedom. When they removed him from the general population to a retirement tractor with a couple of shy hens, there ensued a turf war such as Bugsy Siegel would have thought autobiographical. Roosters bloodied and battered for days. Bits of feed strewn all over like bullet-riddled Valentines. Barnyard fowl gone, prematurely, to the mattresses. When the dust settled, a new Godfeather emerged to rule the roost with an iron beak. And I thought the squirrels snapping my corn stalks were pestilential! At least my corn doesn't maim other corn. It seems l'amour is at the kernel of the matter. The alpha rooster begets the chicks. The betas bide their time, sharpen their spurs, and wait out the night.

Let me finish by saying I had a blast at Lally Broch today. The skills Sean and Sonja have learned and their commitment to the farm are equally impressive. I haven't mentioned little Rudy up to now, but I will say that however that drama comes out, the girls kept that little one by their side all day long, nurturing and warming him/her with compassion that really goes contrary to what you expect from people their ages, but is right in line with what we look for from these particular young ladies. You can tell the whole family loves their animals from the love the animals give back, from Ellie nuzzling Sonja while on her milking stall to Machias and Taz drawing out every pet and cuddle I had in me. It was well worth the early morning and I look forward to playing farmer again!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lack of Sleep Triggers Old Memories

After dozing on and off for 4+ hours of what I am optimistically calling sleep, I woke this morning at 6:45am to find Rudy's condition unchanged from her triumphant revival at 2am. Man, this chick is a FIGHTER. I am no longer convinced this tenacity is a good thing. She is not acting like she is in any pain, but to be honest, it is torture for us- this roller coaster of emotion.

Let me back up. In the past few days, Rudy has suffered a couple of what appears to be seizures. Her body seizes, her neck extends completely backwards and she is unresponsive for a few seconds. During these bouts, I think, "Oh no! This is it." They last less than a minute and after them, she sleeps a little and then, peeps for food and water and returns to her active self. With this in mind, I honestly think we are merely making her last days comfortable and I am talking to Kristen about that horrible, but probable outcome.

Yesterday, Kristen cared for Rudy all day while Sean and I worked a charity tent booth at the local Belfast Celtic Festival. When I say "all day", I mean Sean and I left the house at 7am and we did not get home last night until 10:45pm. Grandma Becky & Grandpa Dale kindly picked up the girls for us at 5:00pm, since the girls preferred to stay home for part of the day and visit the festival at night.
I was concerned about leaving just in case Rudy took a turn while I was away. But, the reality is, there is nothing more we can do. There is no other medicine, treatment, or procedure that is going to miraculously heal this chick. We are hospice care. As much as I personally care for this little one, ("care for" as in: sleeping  -not- on the couch... alone... so I could be there to tend her through the night, "care for") I DO have other responsibilities, too. Rudy was stable when the girls left home. Kristen set him in his 10 gallon glass aquarium, set up the heat element on one side, fed and watered her, and made sure she was comfortable for her absence. In the few hours of being alone, Rudy crashed... again. Which brings us back full circle to being up all night, offering food and water whenever Rudy peeped that she was awake, checking the temperature of the tank and making adjustments, and wondering repeatedly, "Am I doing the right thing?" Would ending this be more humane? Is Rudy suffering because I am letting her continue?"  I don't know the answer.

But, this morning, I dreamed of my Grandpa George. It was a memory as much as a dream. When I was a young girl of about 10 or so, I was with Grandpa while we went to help a neighbor family with some chore of theirs. I don't remember what. The Whitney children, my aunt Belinda (who is only 3 years older than me) and I were all playing in the field, near the barn. There was an old, white porcelain bath tub in the field where a family of mice had made their home. The field mice were not "pinkies", (you know, so young that they had no hair) but they were tiny little things. Fearless, we thought it great fun to pick them up and let them scurry around our fingers. We must have played with them for at least an hour, when Grandpa George came to check on us. He took one look at our hands full of mice, one look at the livestock grain nearby, and told us to drop them and go inside the house and wash our hands. I think it was the grim look on Grandpa's face that filled me with dread. I begged Grandpa not to kill them, but Grandpa's kind, but resolute reply was, "They cannot be allowed to spoil the grain. The Whitneys NEED it for their animals. Mice carry diseases and can make the people and other animals sick. Go inside." I dreaded what would happen. I love my Grandpa with all my heart and always have, and I know, Grandpa was a REAL farmer. One who would not hesitate to protect valuable, expensive grain from vermin who would spoil it. I cried all the way into the house and all the way home... and right now, again, while I share this memory. For what? A nest of field mice that were destroyed nearly 25 years ago? Because though I understood why, even then, I was helpless to stop it? Or just because I miss my Grandpa? Or because, REAL farmer, I am not and likely never to be. Were Sean or I to come across a nest of mice, we would leave them be. If they got into our grain, (which we keep in large plastic and metal trash cans with locked covers, since we work with 100 lbs of grain at a time, instead of silos of grain) we would protect the grain better or Sean and I would trap them and release them elsewhere.

I struggle with the decision of what to do about Rudy. Is there an inherent value to life? When do we say, "enough is enough?"

This morning, Rudy is active and alert, peeping, eating, drinking, and eliminating waste. I do not have pictures other than the video I am still editing because I am simply too tired to bother to take some. I will though, just as soon as my brain awakens and catches up with the forced activity of my body. For Sean and I, it is another long day at the festival accepting donations for this year's Heroes*Hope*Healing McDonald's Golf Classic presented by Bangor Savings Bank, which supports the children and family rooms in the newly created pediatric floor of EMMC's CancerCare of Maine.

At least, the weather is fine.

Thanks for stopping in. I appreciate your company.
Sonja ♥

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Day at Echo Lake

What a long, but wonderful day! Sean and I had to work a little this morning at our paying jobs, but then, the visiting North Carolina Twomblys and the Twomblys/Sanders in Maine all spent a couple of hours at Echo Lake.

The young girls and Grandma Becky spent the time swimming, even though it was really windy. The temperature read 75, but it didn't feel like that to ME!

Sean, Ryan, Dale and I all climbed the Beech Mountain Cliff Trail. It was just perfect weather for that. At the top, we shared a "victory melon"- a small, sweet watermelon, which we carried up the 1/2 mile vertical trail in Sean's back pack.

After an ice cream and a few minutes flying out over the pond in the tree swing in Trenton, we stopped at Bird's Acres in Ellsworth to see the owls, hawks, and walk the Boardwalk Trail.

At home, it was time for the evening chores. We intended to move the 11- month old chicks into the Main Coop Area, but that plan was abandoned when both Australorp pullets walked through the chain link fencing without a fuss. The young chicks were repopulated into the chicken tractor once again. Additionally, when we attempted to move them into the coop, Rufeo was very quick to assert his status by chasing the new chicks and snatching feathers from their little heads. Bad Rooster!

Rudy was fed and watered through the evening hours by Kristen, who has been attentive and wonderful in her care of Rudy and then, she was put to bed for the night to snuggle into the "chick pile". Rudy is hanging in there, which I am pleased to see. Even though we are working the fused knee joint periodically, I have yet to see any improvement with that. But, the vitamin regiment we've begun is only on its second day, so there is still hope for improvement. At least, there has been no set back.

I strained and herbed a new batch of chevre, which I thought was delicious and I pressed our guests into tasting. Sean happily showed his brother his skills with the milking and gave Ryan a quick lesson in proper technique. Perhaps in the morning, Ryan will try his hand at it? We'll see!

Thanks for stopping by.
Sonja ♥

Rudy's Update

Each morning, I check the chick cage with a sense of apprehension. Chicks are not the most hardy creature to begin with and you sometimes lose one without any warning signs of distress. Add to this, my real knowledge that we have a chick with a clear physical deformity and my chances of finding that it did not survive the night, and you can see why. I am very pleased to announce that Rudy is hanging in there.

Kristen has become her champion. (I have settled on calling it a her, since I am HOPING that this be so.) Krissy has taken over much of the daily feeding, watering, and cleaning for Rudy. Which adds another layer to my concern for this chick. The effect it could have on my daughter's emotional well-being. I love that Kristen is large hearted, colored with a strong streak of defending the weak, maimed, and outcast. I just hope and pray for both of them that a happy ending is around the bend.

To that end, we have removed all the bracing from Rudy chick. It wasn't helping at all, and it was hurting her each time we strapped on some new idea. Through researching and discussing the situation with the good and knowledgeable My Backyard Chicken Forum folks, it was suggested that Rudy might have a B2 (riboflavin) deficiency and that an avian vitamin regiment might be useful. I ordered some online from Dr. Fosters, along with a good broad spectrum avian antibiotic (for my growing veterinary medicine cabinet). This won't be delivered for several days. Willing to try anything and unwilling to wait, the girls and I picked some up at the local pet store and started Rudy on it yesterday. I cannot report any miraculous healing, but Rudy is alert, alive, and seems intent on remaining both. I second this thought whole-heartedly.

I have been remiss on capturing pictures or video for the past couple of days, but will try to make some time to do so later this evening. So, check back this posting for that addition.

In other happenings, I made another double batch of chevre cheese this week which I flavored with chives and garlic from my garden. I sent half home with Daddy Dale to share with the rest of the Twombly's and the other half home with my good friend, Nancy. I thought it was delicious, but I wanted some other opinions before I decided to keep the recipe I used and developed as one of MY recipes to offer at farm stands, markets, and the like. Since I gave away all the cheese I was using for Sean's morning bagels, I whipped up another single batch for our own use last night. It is still setting in the oven, but should be ready to drain in another hour or two.

The dreaded Japanese Beetles found Sean's grape clusters and decimated all the growing goodness on at least two of the vines. I set out some bait and traps in the hopes of saving what is left of them. We do still have a decent supply growing, but those poor grapes have had their share of being eaten by everything, but US! It would be really appreciated if we could score at least a few clusters for our table.

The tomatos are doing wonderfully well. The hot peppers are all growing and developing peppers. I am looking forward to making some salsa before too long. Our cucumber plants are budding well- so far, no trouble there. The watermelons are doing about as well as they ever do. Even with the extra heat from being planted in black rubber tires, they are still on the small size. The jury is still out on them.

We are collecting nearly 3 quarts of milk from Ellie each day. I made buttermilk, which I was very pleased with and if I am careful, will not have to buy again until Ellie dries off. I also made yogurt. It IS yogurt, and that is just about all that can be said for it. Sean loves it and eats it mixed with berries and a little sugar, frozen or from the fridge. It is too tangy for my taste, so I will continue to work on that recipe. When I think I have mastered it, I will try it out on my panel of tasters for their approval.

We have been taking the dogs to the local dog park each week. They are loving that and I will have an entire post about it, when I have the time to sit and do it justice.

For now, work is beckoning and then, I think all the Twomblys in Maine are headed to Echo Lake for the afternoon. It looks like it is going to be a great day for hiking and swimming. Thanks for stopping by!

Sonja ♥

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rudy Doesn't Look Good

This morning when I went to check on Rudy, he/she was asleep in a pile with the other chicks. This is normal, since they all sleep near each other. But, when I picked him/her up to offer water and food, the first thing I realized was that Rudy seemed colder than normal. He/She was alive, breathing, and chirping some, but definitely not acting normal. I offered some water, but she/he only took one sip and closed his/her eyes again. I offered food and Rudy pecked at it a little, but not like he/she normal does. I think the signs are all pointing that Rudy is failing.

That being the case, Sean and I evaluated whether Rudy was showing signs of pain. He/She isn't. Rudy is just tired. He/She wants to sleep. So, we at this point, we are going to let him/her do just that. Rather than return Rudy to the pen, where the other chicks would step on him/her or peck at him/her, I decided to tuck Rudy into a clean wash cloth and carry him/her with me while I go about my chores. Close to my body, he/she will benefit from my warmth and heart beat, while being left to sleep in peace. And, that is what he/she is doing right now.

We talked with Meaghan and Kristen to let them know what was happening. We will continue to offer food and water through the day if Rudy wants to eat or drink, but I suspect that time is short for this little one. I can't think of anything else we can do to help him/her. I don't want to give up, but sometimes, there just isn't anything that can be done. I am comforted to know that we tried. We are giving Rudy every chance to live, but we are also prepared that this is probably a losing fight.

And, ever present in my mind is that we not let Rudy suffer. So, if Rudy begins to behave like he/she is in pain, we will do whatever needs to be done. I suspect, that probably, Rudy will sleep more and more until she/he finally just doesn't awaken. But, I am still hoping for a "hail Mary" play at the end, you know? These little ones really touch my heart.

I'll keep you posted.

-Sonja ♥

Sooo.... Rudy may not be ready to throw in the towel just yet. The girls wanted a turn caring for Rudy, so I let them. I just had them bring Rudy back to see would he/she need to eat or drink and to my surprise, Rudy heartily wanted BOTH. She/He spent a good ten minutes gobbling feed and chirping cheerfully the entire time. I put him/her back in the pen with the others and Rudy is doing fairly well right now.

I guess, we'll just wait and see.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rudy Gets a "Cast" and "Shoes"

Rudy's legs have been strapped in the proper position for the last few days. Though, we have been exercising the knee joint and some progress has been made, Rudy is still unable to stand unassisted. On the positive side, Rudy IS eating and drinking regularly. On the negative side, without getting those knees unbent and moving properly, Rudy's future life prospects are dim.

Since we are able to straighten Rudy's legs more, almost three fourths of the way straight, we felt it was time to try casting each leg in a soft cast around the knee joint. This completed, we added band aids to keep Rudy's legs the right distance apart. This left us with the problem that Rudy's feet, having never been used for standing, were flexed in a horrible position. What to do? I cut a template from index card stock around Rudy's toes and taped his feet to it. This created support and stretched his toes into the correct position and made a larger surface area to balance on... in theory. In practice, Rudy has never stood before and has a hard time finding his/her balance.

We are giving him/her some time to flounder with this new contraption taped to his/her legs. To see if he/she will be able to figure out how to stand and move properly. An hour later and Rudy can lean properly to get food unassisted, but tips over frequently. I think we may need to revise our design some, but I think we are on the right track.

Please, keep sending your positive thoughts and prayers this way. This little guy sure can use all the help he/she can get at this point. We are improving, but we are nowhere near "out of the woods" yet. I am so touched at how scrappy this little one is! I just want him/her to win this fight and walk, really walk someday. Sooner, than later.

When we were not busy thinking up new ways to help Rudy, feeding the other critters, taking Fenn to the dog park (for the first time today) milking Ellie, or making cheese, we spent a few hours today removing the unsuccessful wooden fencing not securing the dog yard and replaced it with six foot tall chicken fencing. This only took a few hours, but working in this 90 degree weather in the hottest part of the day made it feel like it took much, much longer. We hope that this new fence will allow the pups to be able to come and go as they want through the day without allowing them to escape into the neighbor's yards or anywhere else.

The dogs did not seem impressed with this turn of events, even with getting their yard freshly mowed thanks to Daddy Dale, but I think they will appreciate their new freedom to come and go, in time. We have the intention of extending the size of the yard later, but for now, it gives them a safe place to tussle with each other in the fresh, green grass and bark menacingly at any geese or chickens who might wander into their line of vision.
"Do not think this will contain me." -Buster
Thanks for visiting with us today.
Sean & Sonja ♥

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Poultry Physical Therapy?

Occasionally, a chick will develop inside their egg so that they are not ideally situated. One of the results is that when they hatch, they have a condition known as "Spraddle leg". The condition can also appear when the chicks are unable to get a good footing after they are hatched. The danger of this condition is that the chick is not as mobile as it should be, decreasing the ability to get to food and water, resulting in its death. It can also increase the chances that the other chicks will peck it to death. Neither result being good to the chick or the growth of our flock.

When the condition is caught early, it can be corrected by aligning the feet properly and affixing bracing to the feet/legs. The guy pictured above is a classic presentation of spraddle leg. This chick was reported to have healed in braces over a matter of days and none the worse for it, recovered completely.

We discovered one of our chicks with this condition on Tuesday, though, our little guy presented quite differently. In our chick, the legs were not splayed so much as the joint connecting the knees were stuck in a "laying down" position. He/she moves around by flapping its wings and swimming across the bottom of the pen. Our chick has use of its feet and can move the toes, so we feel the problem is localized with that fused knee joint. We searched for solutions, and decided our best course of action would be to apply the brace (we used a band aid, cut length ways in half) to keep the legs aligned under the chick. And, follow that up with physical therapy sessions meant to articulate the knee joint several times a day. Using the pattern set by my own physical therapy for my shoulder, we hold the chick and gently move the knee joint as far as we can without causing the chick distress  and hold it there for a count of 5 and release. This is repeated 3x each session, with several sessions occurring each day. It is our hope that as the joint is worked and used, it will have more mobility and eventually we able to align to a straight leg position. When/If that happens, we will then apply a different sort of brace to help the chick to stand on its legs properly. At least, this is our hope.

The real concern now, is that though the chick is drinking and active, I have yet to see it take any meaningful quality of food. If we can't get it to eat, all this work will be for naught. Sean suggested watering down some of the medicated chick mash and offering that. It is worth a try. The little guy doesn't seem in pain and is alert and active. It would be a shame to lose him/her at this point- we are desperate that this be a "her" after all this work, I won't have the heart to rehome or eat "him" and we will be in possession of a 5th Roo, which would not do at all!

I have been playing with the video edit funtion on my computer- I did warn you. I think the video shows what we are doing better than words can. As always, we will keep you informed of Rudy's progress. We hope you will join us in rooting for Rudy's success.

Thanks for stopping by,
Sonja ♥

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

More Milk Madness

Sean here.  Sonja's under the weather so I promised to update our readers about our most recent excursions into the world of dairy goodness.  With a very successful and palatable cheese under our belt, we decided to dive into yogurt.  Not literally of course (although an interesting visual).  We followed a recipe for goat's milk yogurt online that ended up working pretty well.  I will repeat the steps here but I feel I must preface it with a disclaimer.  Goat's milk behaves very differently from cow's milk in pretty much every fashion, including yogurt fermentation.  The yogurt we made may be too thin for many, and resembles very thick milk.  The taste was ideal though, and I loved it with some frozen blueberries, fresh strawberries and a spoon of sugar.

Start with at least a quart of fresh goat's milk.  It can be refridgerated, or straight from the barn.  Heat up to 180 degrees and hold it there for 20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.  We used two pots, one with the milk sitting inside another with water, to make scorching even less likely.  After the 20 minutes, place the pot of milk in a cold water bath to lower the temp quickly down to just 110 degrees. 

Heat lamp does double duty. Warms chicks and yogurt.
At this point, we bring in the only other ingrediant needed, active-culture yogurt.  You can use cultured bacteria to make your yogurt, but we had no problem with Plain, Stonyfield Farms Yogurt. Add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt to the milk and stir stir stir.  After a couple minutes, pour the milk into a sanitized container, seal it and keep it in a hot spot for about 8 hours.  We use either a heat lamp or heat pad.  Careful, you want the temp to not dip below 110 but not exceed 120 or the culture will die.  But if everything goes well, you should never need to buy yogurt again, as you can keep using the successive yogurts to seed the next batch.  And it is Gooooooood......

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Abigail's Morning: My First Movie

So, I discovered a new ability to create and edit movies from my digital camera. My first movie is about the theatrical masterpiece one might expect. However, now that I know I have this cool function available to me, expect (or prepare yourselves for) lots more edited movie posts.
Mwa ha ha ha...

For now, I am pleased to present: Abigail's Morning on the Farm-

I just watched this and laughed so hard. Okay, I need a lot more practice on transitioning. Noted.

Our niece, Abigail spent the night with our girls last night and was only too eager to wake up and help us with feeding all the animals this morning. We started with the month old chicks still living in the chicken tractor in the front yard.
From there, we gave Jasmine her grain. And, we visited with the grown goats. Jedi was being a pest doing his best to eat all the grain before his girls got any. But, we out smarted him by feeding them in separate places.

The growing goslings enjoyed their grain and cracked corn, choosing to eat it from the scoop, rather than with the ducks and chickens in the main coop yard. We granted them this allowance because they are cute... and fluffy... and friendly... and really, how could we say "No?"

We scooped another helping of feed for the Cochins living in the chicken tractor in the back yard. Instead of taking two trips, we got the feed ready for the pigs and the kids, too. Patches and Ebony were very pleased to see their morning meal and were fairly polite waiting while we took pictures before feeding them.
This is NOT the way to do it.
Much better. ♥
In the Cochin tractor, Abigail collected one egg from the nest box, fed the chickens, and had a lesson on holding small hens so that everyone felt safe and content with the arrangement. 
Chicken Whisperer. A Real Pro.

Final Lesson: Chickens are curious and WILL peck your fingernails, especially when they are painted a lovely sparkly shade of purple! No one was injured, but Miss Abigail thought that perhaps, play time was over for a while.

In Abigail's own words: "Weeeellll, it was just a bit dirty, but overall it was pretty fun. I did not get to wear flip flops, which I usually do because they were too thin and my feet would get dirty. The best part was I got to see the chickens and the goats and the horse. Having to go into the unmucked stall was my least favorite part." For Mom: "Please, let me come here again! and maybe some chickens at MY house!"

Thanks for visiting!
Sonja & Abby ♥ 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chicks Hatching Update: Video

This morning we woke to find a total of 6 chicks had hatched completely and the beaks of 5 more sticking through pips in the eggs. The sounds of tap-tap-tap and pips were heard from 4 other intact eggs. Today looks to be like it will be a busy day around here for chick hatching!

Alas! We both have to get to our regular jobs, so the sense of suspense we are feeling and any you might share will go unsatisfied until late this afternoon. I don't even have any more pictures to post yet because I hadn't the time to spare this morning to take them. But, do check back on this posting later for both an update and pictures/video.

Our chicks are already a hand full. ♥

Almost 24 hours old.


Thanks for visiting!
Sonja & Sean ♥
It doesn't take long before the little peeps are running around.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Abby Comes to Visit

Grandma Becky, Grandpa Dale, and Abigail (whom our Abigail is named for) came to visit tonight for lasagna, a cool off in the wading pool, a visit with the goats and chicks, and a few games of XBOX 360. It was a great visit.

First, we served herbed goat cheese stuffed cherry tomatoes, which everyone said they enjoyed and since they all disappeared, I choose to believe them. I love our creation, but I will admit to being worried that I think our cheese is better than it is. This starter was followed by lasagna, since I had been wanting some for a while and am returning to my diet tomorrow, which will NOT include pastas or processed foods. Becky brought the most delicious orange glazed pound cake. The human kids gobbled that up and returned for more!

After dinner, Dale and Sean screwed in more 2x4's to support the plywood sheets I ordered this week and extended the barn's roofed area another 8' ft square. Every little bit helps move us towards the finish line in this project. It is tediously slow work because we will not go into debt to build it or any other part of our farm. We pay as we go and built as we can afford to do so. While Sean and his Dad were building, we women-folk enjoyed watching the goslings grazing at our feet, the girls playing in the pool and talking.

Abby loved playing with Meaghan in the wading pool, but I coaxed her out of it to feed strawberries to the goats in the pasture with me. Uncle Sean distracted the goats, who are only too willing to push their nosy little noses into any unprepared visitor's face. We climbed onto the wood spindle and fed our supply of treats. Uncle Sean captured the video for us. Then, Sean fed the goats some brush branches while we slipped out of the fencing. Ellie happily followed us out for her evening milking. Dale, Becky, and Abby watched Sean collect our nightly quart of milk.

After Abby dried off and slipped into new clothes, it was time to be rewarded by holding one of the freshly hatched chicks for just a couple of minutes. All three of the chicks that have hatched so far all have Cochin fuzzy-feathered feet. The other eggs have not made any more significant progress, but we are hopeful that in the morning, others will have hatched. For tonight, the new chicks are dry, warm, and chirping in the brooding tank. We have another 25 eggs still in the incubator. I wonder how many will hatch by morning. I feel sort of like when I was a little girl and my parents would plan to drive to Maine to visit my grandparents in the middle of the night. I would go to bed early, so the trip would come all the sooner. It makes me want to go to sleep early tonight!

Abby and Becky also braved tasting goat's milk for what I am fairly certain was the first time. Abby drank hers still warm freshly filtered from the goat pale. Check out Abby's review in the video.

All in all, it was a great visit.

Sonja ♥

Chickens are Hatching: VIDEO UPDATE (Graphic)

We came home from our Sunday meeting and found that the chicks had begun hatching. I am so excited because I was unsure of whether any in this batch were going to make it. As of now, 6 have begun peeping out of their shells.

This baby is only a few minutes old, but listen to how loud this little one's lungs are!

With some encouragement from the chick hatched a few hours before, this little one finally flexes and breaks fully out of the egg. I was worried because this chick had not progressed for over 10 hours in its egg. I was worried that I was going to need to interfere if the stale-mate continued. Thankfully, that was not necessary.

As of Monday night at 10:30 pm, we have 8 chicks hatched and thriving. Two others have made pips in their eggs and several others can be heard peeping and pecking away inside their eggs.
We'll keep you posted! Sonja ♥

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cheese Making Attempt #3= SUCCESS!

 After searching the Internet for new recipes to try for making chevre (since attempt #2 was good and edible, but didn't have the tang I was hoping for) and feta cheese, purchasing the necessary cheese cultures, and requesting some help with its making from Sean, we were ready for another attempt. I used the recipe I found at Fias Co Farm's website HERE for the chevre and followed it almost exactly. The only change I made was that I did not let it drip for the full time. I stopped when the cheese was the consistency that I was looking for. It worked perfectly and was VERY easy to do. 

It was really good tasting plain. When we added garlic and chives, it was AMAZING. Just perfectly what I had been hoping to make! This recipe is definitely a keeper. We like eating it on crackers or stuffing grape tomatoes with it as a simple snack. Another delicious way to enjoy this is to roast baby bell peppers in the broiler with a little olive oil. Steam the skins off and stuff them with the herbed goat cheese. I have made this treat for friends with store bought goat cheese. I cannot wait to try it with my own cheese! ♥

We make CHEESE!  ♪ Happy Dance to Commence! ♪

Our attempt at making Feta for the first time was a dismal FAILURE. I think the problem was that either the temperature was too high or we used too much rennet to set the curds. The recipe I used called for 1/8 tsp of vegetable rennet to 1 quart of goat's milk mixed with 3 tbsp buttermilk. At the point where we were instructed to add the rennet and mix thoroughly for a minute or two, the curds instantly formed into the gooped ball pictured. They were rubbery and nowhere near the yogurt consistency they were supposed to attain to after an hour. This mixture was thrown out. And, we searched and found another recipe to try. It calls for goat butter milk, which I will make tomorrow morning in preparation. We should be able to collect enough goat's milk to try feta again later this week. We'll keep you informed of how the next try goes. ♥

Additionally, we were successful in coaxing a teeny tiny amount of ricotta from the whey left over from making the chevre. This, too, was really yummy- slightly sweet and creamy. We are so proud that two of the three cheeses we attempted came out perfectly! With these small successes behind us, we are excited and encouraged to try more recipes!
Sean here.  Milk is an amazing substance.  You can drink it of course, but that's just so boring.  After making chevre cheese, we take the leftover whey and make ricotta cheese.  And you would think that would be the end of it but wait, there's more!  Apparantly, according to the internet, we COULD have saved the leftover whey from the ricotta to make a THIRD kind of cheese that's supposed to be even tastier!  So next time, nothing will be wasted.  Behold!  The power of Cheese.....
Thanks for stopping in,
Sean and Sonja 

This post also shared with: The Home Acre Hop #3