Monday, December 30, 2013

The Largest Snowflakes I've *EVER* Seen...

True to the predictions, we got another foot of snow overnight. Thankfully, the 3/4 inches of new ice never materialized. Power remained intact at our home through the night.

Sean was up before 5am to clear the snow with his new snow blower. It took nearly an hour to clear the driveway, create paths to the animal's gates, and excavate the vehicles from the solid foot of wet snow blanketing them. Once freed, Sean (and Justin) set off to liberate one of our neighbors. When they return, it will be time for morning chores. Having two men living here to care for the majority of the manual labor, worth every dish I have to wash. Just sayin'.

It wasn't so much "snow falling" last night as it was the sky throwing loosely packed snowballs at us! Seriously, never have I seen snow flakes the size of these! Check it out:

Thanks for visiting with us today friends. ♥

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ice Storm 2013

I remember the Ice Storm of 1998 vividly. I was eight months pregnant with my third child, Kristen, and living in Belfast, Maine. We were without power for a couple days, but we managed just fine. With a heat source that we could also use to warm up food on, city water that never failed, an abundance of oil lamps for light and plenty of books to read, the only care we had came from keeping one five year old boy and one four year old girl occupied during the day. And finding a contractor to remove the large limb that crashed into the roof of our home from a tree that loomed over it. Compared to those that lost their power (and also their ability to heat their homes) for an entire week or longer, we were relatively comfortable.

Fifteen years later, my life has taken a widely different path. No longer a "townie" our family lives in a very rural setting. When this year's storm warning came, we expected to be among those that would be without electricity for the duration. We were not overly concerned about it. Our home is heated with a wood stove so we expected to be warm. Though our water is now from a private well, it overflows at the outside pump, so water would be available at a moderate pace. Our cooking oven is fueled by propane which allows us to cook even without a power supply. And, the cherry on top, my new "smart" phone had a 3G connection most of the time, so we could check facebook and email to keep in contact with friends and family. We even spent a little time watching Netflix on it. I don't know the exact numbers, but tens of thousands of our neighbors were without electricity for a week or more. Neighbors less than a mile away were without for 4 days. We lost electricity for 4 hours. I am afraid I have no riveting "surviving Ice Storm 2013" stories to tell you. Only images from around the homestead to share.

Our week in images:

Jasmine's hay manger was frozen to the ground and her pallet was covered with ice.
She did not seem to mind. 

Trees, heavy with ice bend with the
weight. It is going to take some time for
them to make a full recovery.
The doe's woodland pasturage is affected. The
smaller trees bend more than the larger
deciduous trees and pines. The does will have
no trouble eating the leaves
from the tops of these trees come Spring.

Tree limbs encased in ice and covered in snow. 

Mallard conference. 

Fresh hay or lightly soiled hay from the goat stalls are spread around the chicken yard for the chickens, ducks, geese, and guineas to pick through and rest their cold feet upon. We do not use hay that the goats have been using as litter, but goats are picky about their hay. If it touches the ground, ours will sleep in it, but eating it is out of the question. Our birds are only too happy to put it to good use. 

Pearl Guinea and Chocolate Guinea Fowl
In the barn, Keren Happuch and her mother, Rachel bask in the sun and enjoy their morning's hay. 
Ebony grunts warnings at the barn chickens availing themselves of her water. They ignore her and continue
 their onslaught. Sometimes, a few brave souls attempt to steal her grain. 
Simon and Charles have settled any differences and reside together in the barn.
The doe yard is untouched by goat hooves. Our goats are a little spoiled and prefer to be
snug in the barn to exploring barren pasturage. 

Ever my companions, Cassy and Delilah followed me into the pasture to keep me company while I snapped some images. 
Delilah did not want to stay in the
barn with the other goats.
She was hopeful that I came bearing treats. When
I had not, she followed me, good-naturedly, anyway.
I love these girls. ♥

Judah is a handsome and friendly buck. Won't he make lovely babies someday?
We did not lose electrical power for long, but there was a constant need to chisel out water buckets and check on our animals through the rain and cold. Though pretty to the eye, ice makes all the walking surfaces treacherous and they needed attention, sanding and salting regularly. When we were not attending to these needs, what did we do?

Board games in the evening. (Check out the chocolate guinea hanging out on the wooden goat behind Justin.)
French toast, bacon and fresh pineapples for brunch and board games in the morning.
And where was our recovering chocolate "house" guinea?
Chocolate Guinea was watching the happenings from a clothes dryer rack in the kitchen. Check out those lovely polka dots!
We also spent plenty of time snuggling Maggie's new puppies. Nearly 10 days old,
their eyes are unopened still, but they sure snuggle sweetly! ♥
All the cats take turns on the best
napping spot in the house, on top of
the piano. Talon spends the most
 time there.
Boogie enjoys keeping it warm for Talon
whenever he is away.

Our good-natured breeding stock of heritage turkeys seem confused about their move to the barn, but they enjoy our visits. See how curious our hens are of the camera. Both toms, Aquila and Lazarus, were all puffed out and showing off for me. Take a look....

As we reflect on how blessed we are to have come through the storm in good order, our thoughts and prayers are with those who are still dealing with the aftermath of this storm while preparing for a new bout of 10-14 inches of snow expected Sunday night into Monday morning. Winter is sure making a grand entrance this year. Stay tuned to see what happens next!

Thanks for visiting today. We're really glad you did.
Sonja ♥

Monday, December 23, 2013

Guineas and Goats

I love to barter with other artisans and crafters at shows and fairs. There it is. Now you know another of my secrets. Often, bartering is the only way I could afford to treat myself to some "want" I have and couldn't purchase... yet.

At our final show of the year last weekend, I met Felecia Bowen whose boyfriend, Joe, creates the coolest deer, snowmen, and owl sculptures from tree log and branch segments. (If you are reading this and have a webpage where people can see images of your creations, please let me know, so I can link it for you.) I had to have a goat made for us. When Felecia came over to browse, I asked if Joe might create a goat for us- "Jedidiah" style. And, we negotiated a mutually beneficial trade.

What do you think?

I can just picture him on our display table with baskets of our goat's milk soap surrounding him for the 2014 shows. Perhaps a small, tasteful chalkboard tag with our price hanging from an ear or displayed between his horns? When I look for items to decorate our displays, I want items that draw attention and also make me smile. He sure does both!

In true goat fashion, he has already been caught thinking up mischief. This requires just a little back story...

Last night, we had to bring one of the chocolate guineas inside because it was limping on its left foot a bit. There were no signs of injury, but we prefer to be safe than sorry. As soon as little guinea is walking normally, he [(she?) We still can't tell them apart... ] will be returned to the coop with the rest of his/her family. For now, he/she is staying inside in a kennel, warm and protected from Fenn to rest up and mend. And, if it also gives me a little additional time to handle and keep him/her tame, all the better...

About an hour into "The Sound of Music" with Sean and the girls I dramatically declared, "The only thing that could make this evening any better would be a guinea to snuggle and pet while I watch this." Taking my cue, Sean retrieved our guinea from his/her safe kennel and deposited it on my lap. Guinea settled nicely into my wrap and allowed me a little cuddle time until, bored with my affection and attention, he/she decided that hanging out on the goat's back was preferable. And, this is what we got:

Which only goes to show if you have goats, even wooden ones, be prepared for the mischief that follows them. And, if you are blessed enough to have both goats and guineas? Forget about it.

Thanks for popping in for a visit. I'm glad you came. 
Sonja ♥

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Talking Dogs and Winter Preparations

Pardon me for stating the obvious, but winter is here. Temperatures into the single digits (or worse!) for days on end, climbing to a high in the low 30's on the nice days, kind of "here".

Before we had the farm, Sean looked at winter in a vastly different light. A light that included snow boarding, sledding and other enjoyable cold weather activities. I attempted snow boarding once and quickly realized that strapping my feet to a board and hurling myself down a steep incline was hazardous for my health and well-being. But, even I enjoyed the cold weather activities of making snowmen and snow tubing.

These days, snow means WORK and lots of it. Winter has become an endless cycle of chipping away soiled hay or litter from stalls and thawing water buckets, fingers, and toes. The animals on the homestead are faring slightly better than their humans at keeping themselves warm in bodies covered with feathers and fur. Though, the geese, ducks, and guinea fowl finally succumbed to better sense and have begun going inside the chicken coop at night rather than piling on top of each other in a corner.

A night time move
We moved our turkeys from their yard in the back up to the barn for the winter. We have nine turkeys living here right now, our five and four that belong to neighbors. Our neighbors birds are leaving this weekend, which I don't want to think about. Even knowing they were well-raised and cared for and that they do not belong to us, it is still a little sad knowing they are destined to become some one's dinner. Instead, I focus my energy and attention on the three Blue Slate turkeys; Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and the pair of American Bronze turkeys that will live here through their natural lives. We moved them at night to make it less stressful on everyone. Sean and I walked into their pen scooped up a turkey under each arm and walked to their new home. Picking them up and carrying them to the barn was easy. Getting them to release us was more difficult. They did not want to be put down and flapped their wings wildly. With a little coaxing and petting, all the turkeys were settled into their winter stall. It is not ideal because there is no yard for them to play in, but it is a large 10 ft x 6 ft wide x 8 ft tall stall. I scattered some fresh hay and scratch for them to dig through. Once we add some limbs and 2x4's for them to climb onto and around, it should be more suitable and do the trick until March when the weather breaks.

Tur-chicken in the top left of this image is blending with his peeps. 

Our silly mixed up "tur-chicken" moved into the stall with the turkeys. Hatched at the farm this summer, he imprinted on the turkey poults while brooding together with them. When it was time to settle the chicks and poults outside to their respective permanent homes, the chick promptly flew the chicken coop and broke into the turkey pen where he lived all summer and fall. No amount of coaxing would change his mind and since he isn't doing any harm and the turkeys have accepted him, we allow them to live together. I wish I captured a video of the suspicious looks the turkeys gave him when he began to crow. It was truly hilarious.

A couple of our roosters, Charles (on the left) and Simon (in the middle) prefer a
flock of their own instead of taking their chances at finding love in the main coop. 
He is not the only chicken to fly the coop. We have a group of roosters and hens that live with the goats. They have decided that the pig's food is much to be desired and fearlessly eat from Ebony's dish without regard for her potentially lethal teeth. At night they roost on the walls between the goat's stalls. More than one morning, Sean has come inside with a collection of eggs found in the corner of one of the goat's stalls nestled near a group of sleeping goats.

So far, Fenn is the only one truly happy with the wintery conditions. Undaunted by the blustery conditions, he lays in mounds of snow with a look of pure happiness. I love watching him pounce and play in the element he was truly bred for. Sadly, for now, he is unable to be outside without one of us walking him. The snow piled up along the fencing of his yard gives him just enough of a height difference that Fenn is able to jump his fencing at will. If he would choose to remain in the yard, that would not pose a problem, but he does not. He is up and over the fence in a wink and immediately disappears into the woods for a visit with our neighbors living on the road that winds about a mile on the other side of the woods. Twice on Monday, he was returned to us. Sean took the time to shovel the snow away from both sides of the dog fencing, but it did not prevent Fenn from escaping the 2nd time. So, until Sean can get out there with some chicken wire to make the fence once again Fenn-proof, Fenn is an inside pooch and lets us know about his distress vocally. Check it out:

I took a peek at the extended forecast this morning. It looks like we are getting ready for a warm snap toward the middle of next week. Temperatures in the 30's seems downright balmy on a day like today! What's the weather like in your neck of the woods? How do you keep you animals happy through the cold winter months?

Thanks for visiting with us today. We're sure glad you came.
Sonja ♥

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Emu Plans

I have a confession. I have a soft spot in my heart for large birds. I love peacocks, I love ostriches, and I love Emus. I do.

Sonja at Benson's Wild
Animal Farm, NH
I remember seeing Disney's Swiss Family Robinson movie as a child, captivated by the scene where they participate in Ostrich riding races. The closest I have ever been to an Ostrich or Emu was playing "tag" with one while visiting a zoo as a young girl. In my memory, I have the scene of me tip-toeing up behind an Emu at the Kismet Preserve and touching it. It jumped, turned tail and chased me across the lawn. When my legs couldn't carry me anymore, I stopped, scared and not knowing what to expect. The Emu stopped, too. Then, it turned and ran the other way. So, I chased it. We did this dance back and forth for quite while as my family watched on in amusement. My mother remembers it being an ostrich at Benson's Wild Animal Farm. Whichever version is true, I have always secretly wanted to have one someday.

Photo Courtesy of Abundance Farms
Photo Courtesy of Abundance Farms
But, I live in Maine. And, people in Maine do not routinely keep emus or ostriches or even peacocks. So I locked these thoughts into the corner of my mind filed under "Someday I hope to..." and that is where it lived quietly until last weekend. Somehow the topic of emus came up between Sean and I. I shared my memory with him and confided my desire to "someday" keep a small flock of emus here. Sean asked some good questions, like; Where would we keep them? How would they earn their rent? Do you know anyone who keeps Emus? I did not realize how much I had thought about really keeping Emus here until I heard myself address each question. "I would like to keep them in the pasture with the goat does or kids." * "I can make them profitable by selling their eggs to people who want to carve them, eat them, or hatch them. I can use the eggs for making jewelry or home decor pieces. Also, we could hatch and sell young emus." * "Marissa Carabin of Abundance Farms keeps emus. I will contact her to ask her about them." Sean looked at me a long minute and then said, "If you really want an Emu, I think we should get some."

Photo Courtesy of Abundance Farms
I do really want emus, but first things first. There were some pretty important things I did not have answers to: How would they do in the cold weather? What do they eat? How long do they live? Today was research day. I could not find web pages of anyone local who keeps emus, but that is okay. I started my search for information at the American Emu Association website. I read a half dozen of Marissa's blog posts about her experiences keeping emus. And, I found a well-written guide about emu care at Sybil's Den.

Photo Courtesy of Abundance Farms
My research has turned up these basic facts: Emus are a member of the ratite family. They are omnivores and eat foods similar to that of our local wild turkeys. A commercial ratite food is available at some feed stores. (I made a note to call ours to see if they could order me some if I needed it.) They grow to 5-6 feet at the head and can weigh 110-140 pounds on average. I found conflicting reports of how long emus can live. One report suggested they can live to be around 30 years of age! They do fine in cold weather, but like any animal, they require adequate shelter and appropriate fencing to keep them safe and plenty of room to run. I read accounts of emus living with pasture animals and saw pictures of them playing in ponds like ducks or geese. I saw pictures of people hand feeding them. I also read about the struggle to return them into their pen and the various bruises that resulted. There is a lot to consider.

Photo Courtesy of Abundance Farms
I have more research ahead of me. I am a planner by nature. It took us two years to find and purchase our heritage turkeys. I would like to be ready to obtain a couple emu chicks or six fertile hatching eggs this summer, but I am prepared to wait longer. I want to find the perfect ones for us. In the meantime, I can plan and I can dream. ♥

If you haven't had the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend a visit John & Marissa at Abundance Farms . Marissa takes fantastic images of her flocks and herds. I appreciate her allowing me to use some of them in writing this article.

Thanks for visiting with me this evening, friends. I am sure glad for your company.
Sonja ♥