Monday, May 31, 2010

UPDATE: Kitteh finds home!

Many, many thanks to LB for adopting the black kitten! Rumor has it he will be going by "Lucky" from here on out, and he certainly is VERY lucky to find such a good, loving home.

In the last week, the little guy went from being quite feral and living in the wood pile in front of the guest house to being a complete love bug and living in our house, much to the disgust of Freya and Bailey (the other cats) and the interest of Elias (our Malamutant). Wednesday he went to the vet for a check-up and to be tested for all the nasties. The vet gave him a clean bill of health, a vaccine schedule, and placed the little guy at only about FIVE weeks.

After a week of nearly constant eating, he's starting to fill out a bit. He still doesn't have a lot of muscle mass but now has a "Budda Belly," since his favorite past-time is eating. In the last two days, he finally became healthy enough to have the energy to play, so we've been making the most of strings and other kitty-toy like objects (although Elias did object when the kitten tried to play with his Kong).

Before he went to his new life, I took a few pictures and a video of Teh Kyoot:

Vanquishing the String of Doom!

Hah! Got it again!

Nomnomnomnom

video
Kittens are just sooo amusing to watch!

And of course, the obligatory cuddle pictures:

Oooh! Yes! That ear! Scratch that ear!!!

I believe one of the tenants of Being Cute (according to the experts at Cute Overload) is dangling your paw. Here the kitten practices.

And for the money, the cute cuddle shot.

Here's hoping that Mr. Kitten has a great new home and settles in well. Many thanks go to all the folks who helped me find a home for him, especially E. who seems to know everyone who might be susceptible to a cute face. Thanks E.!!!

Monday, May 24, 2010

KEEP OUT! THIS MEANS YOU, REDDUMS!!!

Red has, as far as we can tell, Prehensile Lips. He can open gates and undo latches. The first night here, he decided he was done with the small paddock and let himself and Saga out to munch on the pasture. At our old barn, he managed to let himself out on a few walkabouts, and once let several other horses out to join the fun. In the case of the feed shed here, he's after the 200 or so pounds of feed I keep on hand... for Saga. Red gets a mere handful each night, since he's trying to lose that round-bale look.

Now, in Red's opinion, this is Not The Way The World Should Work. He too should get 3 lbs of feed twice daily, preferably more. Since he doesn't, he must go after the feed himself. To do this, he must open the shed. Last week, he figured out how to remove the (supposedly horse-proof) bull snap that kept the shed closed. So, we got a padlock.

Yes, there is a padlock on my feed shed. To keep Reddums out.

Thusfar, it has foiled him. Let me demonstrate:

Me: Um, Reddums, what exactly are you doing there?

Cute Little Reddums (note the adorable, innocent face): What??? Oh, Hi Mom! Nothing, nothing at all, it's just...

Well, see, (nose wiggle) I'm hungry and all...

...and (clang) Saga gets more food than me...

...and (enh! enh! ENH!) there's food in the shed, so...

...wait a MINUTE!!! You replaced the bull snap with a padlock, didn't you?!?!
(Note the disgusted look on his face. Ha! Foiled him!)
Um, mom? Could you at least tell me the combination? Puh-leeeze? Before I starve?!?!?

Oh, and we debated between a four-number lock and a three-number lock. We're hoping the three-number lock is complicated enough so that he won't figure it out. But, um, don't tell him the combination, OK?

OK???

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Looking for a home

A little black kitten who is between 6 and 8 weeks old showed up at our house yesterday morning. No mamma, no siblings, and no idea where he came from.

At first, I thought he was feral, but after feeding him for a day (I know, I know, but how could I not?), he's actually very friendly.

We have coyotes and hawks here who would love to make a snack of a little kitten, plus we already have two indoor kitties (which is the limit), so he needs to find another home. I don't want to take him to the shelter, because we all know what kind of home he will end up with there.

I will take him to the vet this week to get him checked for Feline Leukemia and Feline AIDS, plus have him vaccinated, de-wormed, and treated for fleas. I am also willing to pay for his neutering when he's old enough, but I will only give him to someone who SWEARS they will have him fixed.

This little guy is extremely friendly once you start petting him. He especially loves to have his tummy rubbed. He'll let you pick him up and just goes limp in your hands. He will make a wonderful, loving pet, especially if someone gets him now and spends a little time feeding him and loving on him.

So... anybody interested in an adorable little kitten? Post in the comments or send me an email. I really, really want to find him a loving home!

This is his fifth meal today. He's finally starting to slow down and eat instead of just inhaling it. Poor little guy is very, very thin.

You can sort of see that he's got some longish hairs, so he might turn out to be a little fluffy. He's also got some brown striping in his coat, so he might end up more of a tabby than a solid black.

Enjoying a chin scritch while showing off his pretty green eyes.

Aaah, the belly rub! He loves these and will roll over for one at a moment's notice.

The not-so-fun side of farm life

WARNING: This post is about butchering our rooster. There are no pictures, but I tried to be honest and descriptive. If you don't want to read about it in vivid detail, please don't. I have no intention of offending anyone, but I do want to share my experience because it was a difficult thing to do and it was important to me to share.

So please, if you don't want to know what happened, don't read this entry. But please realize that if you eat meat, an animal had to die for you to eat dinner.

Several months ago, we figured out that one of our supposed-to-be-pullets was actually a rooster. We've accidentally ended up with two other roosters, both of which we gave to the barn where we boarded our horses. Unfortunately, roosters are the unwanted by-product of the backyard egg production trend, and there are loads of them available on Craigslist for free. Another blogger wrote a great article on why the responsible thing to do with unwanted roos is to butcher them, and I have to agree with her. I might be able to give our roos away, but why? For all I know they're going to end up in cock fights, and that's not the kind of life I'd want for any of my animals. Besides, I've spent time and money raising the bird - since I'm a carnivore, why shouldn't I have him for dinner if he can't serve any otherwise useful purposes at my house?

To be honest, the hubby and kiddos weren't very excited about this idea. I really wasn't either, but what else was there to do? The reality of some industries, like the egg industry or dairy industry, is that male animals have no value. Often they are killed at birth (read some dairy goat forums if you don't believe me). At least my roo had a great life as a pastured chicken before his one bad day.

So, a month or so ago, I had arranged with a local farmer that "when the time came," I could come out to his farm and he would teach me how to butcher our rooster. Well, that time came last week, when not only had Mr. Roo discovered crowing (every 30 seconds or so, all day every day, from before sunup till dusk), but he also decided to come after me once or twice. If you've never been around a rooster, they can be MEAN. They can and will attack you if you get close to their girls. And they won't quit when you try to fend them off - why do you think people use birds for cock fighting? So between the crowing and the demonstration of his willingness to attack humans, his time had come.

The night before, when everyone came in to roost, I snagged him and put him in one of our carriers with some water. In the morning, I loaded him up in the car and drove the 30 minutes to the farm (Mr. Roo crowed the whole way there.) When I arrived, the farmer was very helpful, showed me all the equipment, and then we began with about 20 older laying hens who were about to begin "enjoying their retirement."

Now let me be perfectly clear here. There are a lot of euphemisms for butchering a chicken or any other animal. I've heard it called "processing" or "harvesting" or, as the farmer so neatly put it, "enjoying their retirement." Using terms like this protect us from what is really happening - you are killing an animal in order to eat it. In this sort of small-scale arrangement, you do so by holding the chicken's head in one hand, then taking a sharp knife and slitting its throat. You are killing another living animal, and watching its life blood pump out onto the abattoir floor. It is not an easy thing to do, either physically or mentally, but then, I don't think killing something should ever be easy. Hunters at least try to drop their quarry at a distance, with a gun (although I realize that's not always clean either, and you have to finish the job up-close). But with chickens, you do it eye-to-eye. It's a very personal thing to do.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We started on the older hens. They were put upside-down into killing cones. There was a bit of squawking, but for the most part, once they were in, they were calm. Then was the hard part - you hold the head in your left hand, then make two cuts using a very sharp filleting knife, one on either side of the neck. The goal is to cut the arteries but leave the windpipe intact, so that the heart will continue beating and the blood will all pump out. This was by far the worst part. Some of the chickens struggled. They did not die instantaneously. It took perhaps a minute, maybe 90 seconds for them to bleed out and die. I watched it, because I felt like I needed to. It was not easy to see.

However, once they had bled out, the rest of the process was relatively easy. First, into a 150 degree scalder for 90 seconds, then into the barrel plucker to remove all the feathers. Pull off the head (and try not to think about that too much), then cut off the legs at the joint. Slice the oil gland off the tail, then pinch the skin under the belly of the bird and slit that. If it's a hen, check to see if there's an egg trapped inside, and remove that for later eating. Stick your hand (yes, I was wearing gloves) into the body cavity, gently pry the intestines away from the cavity wall, and pull them out. As the intestine comes out, cut it out along with the vent. If you're saving the heart and liver, set those aside. Finally, wash the bird, inside and out, make sure you've got all the innards out, then put it on ice. That's it. Maybe 5-7 minutes per bird, from the time you take it out of the crate to the time it's on ice. To go from living to dinner-ready in 5-7 minutes. I'm still sort of uncomfortable with that.

I ended up doing the washing part for most of the hens, since the farmer was letting me process my bird for free in exchange for a little help. It really wasn't so bad, not any different than washing a chicken at home once you've brought it home from the store. But then came time for my own rooster, and I did the entire process myself.

Getting him in the killing cone was easy. Slitting his throat was awful. I tried and tried but just could not get the knife to cut. The helper showed me twice how to hold the knife but I still couldn't seem to get it. I wanted to do it quickly so it would be over for Mr. Roo as fast as possible, but I was really nervous and frankly, a little sick-feeling. I had to press quite hard in order to cut through the feathers and the skin, and all the while I was holding his head in my left hand. It was so personal - a living, breathing creature waiting for me to cut its throat.

Fortunately he didn't struggle while I was trying to get the job done, or I probably would have cut my own hand off. But, eventually, I managed to get the right side of his throat. Blood spurted - it wasn't neat at all. I did the left - that was easier although I didn't manage to cut very deeply, since he was struggling a bit at that point. Since I wasn't able to make a good cut, it took longer than it should have for him to bleed out. He struggled some as it was happening, and I felt horrible. I didn't cry, but as I told a friend later, I felt somehow dirty and unclean for having done such a thing.

Soon enough, his struggles ended, and then it was just a matter of turning him into a dinner-like object. I'm guessing that he dressed to about 2.5 lbs, but I didn't have a scale to weigh him. Certainly he was a lot smaller without his feathers, and much smaller than any bird I've ever bought from the store. I took him home and tossed him in the crock pot along with some wine and seasonings (coq au vin, anyone?). I admit that I really didn't want to deal with cooking him, but I did anyway. I ended up stripping the bones and putting the meat in the freezer to deal with later. I don't want any chicken to eat right now.

Be that as it may, I now know what goes into getting that chicken onto my table. I'm not entirely comfortable with it, and I sure am not looking forward to doing it again (I'm sure we'll end up with more roosters sooner or later, or our older hens when they stop laying). Killing animals is hard, having grown up in a part of American society where animals are pets. Obviously not everyone has the luxury to feel that way toward animals - I am sure that for most people in the world, if you want to eat, you have to kill it first-hand. So what is a paradigm shift for me - animals that I raise and kill myself as food - is normal for many, many people, and they don't have the luxury of contemplating on it as I do. Obviously, in American society we are far removed from our food sources. Beef, pork, lamb, and chicken might come in neatly-wrapped packages from the grocery store, but an animal has to die for that meat to get in that package. Foisting that killing off on someone else is a luxury, and it leaves us removed from the reality of our food sources. It seems like there's something fundamentally wrong with that paradigm.

This post has actually been sitting in my draft box for over two weeks now. I still haven't eaten chicken of any sort since I butchered Mr. Roo. I still feel like there's blood on my hands, and I still think about what I did in very vivid imagery. While I'm not going to be turning into a vegetarian any time soon, I now think more about the animal that died so that I could have my dinner, and every time I sit down to the table I take my meal a little less for granted. I hope that having read this, you will too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

The past two weeks have been a rollercoaster, house-wise. Our old house has been on the market since the end of March, and we'd accepted an offer near the end of April. After too many amendments and inspections to count, the buyers backed out at the last minute. I don't want to get into a lot of details, but suffice it to say that the house has some issues that we didn't even know about and are going to be rather expensive to repair. And no, insurance won't cover it.

So what we thought was going to be a super-easy house selling task has now turned into an expensive nightmare. The money we have tied up in that house was going to fund the addition on this house, and now we're faced not only with no addition, but also with fixing a house that we're no longer living in. We are still in the information-gathering process and trying to figure out exactly what to do, but suffice it to say we are not exactly where we hoped we would be at this time.

That about covers the worst of times. We're trying not to dwell on it, but simply to find the best solution and move forward with it. So instead, we'll focus on the best of times, which is actually pretty good! Last weekend my parents were here and we worked on the second bathroom, and the framers we hired to build out the hubby's workshop actually got most of the work done. So, progress!

Let's check on the bathroom first, since we actually did that part:

First, my dad installed insulation on all the exterior walls in the bathroom - it's in the northwest corner of the house, so it definitely needed insulation. He's a pro at this, and the hubby and I learned how it's done.

Next, they ran the electrical. We installed a light over the vanity and a light/heater/fan unit in the ceiling. With my dad's expert help, they got it done in record time (i.e. ~4 hours instead of the two days it took the hubby and myself in the other bathroom), and the hubby only had to spend a few minutes crawling around in the hot attic!

Finally, we put up the drywall. The commode will go in this corner. The bathroom is now ready to be taped and floated, then textured, primed, and painted. Yaaay!

But enough of the exciting bathroom work - on to the workshop!

The framers we hire got started at about 8 a.m. on Saturday and worked till dark. Here they've got up the basic frame all the way around.

Next, they installed the windows. We wanted to have lots of windows for ventilation and light.

Here's what it looked like on the outside after the windows were installed.

And from the other side. I'm standing where our patio will be.

The same view after they covered everything in planking. We'll prime and paint this, probably a nice dark sage color. Notice that half the wall is stone and half is brick - we're planning to do some creative landscaping to hide the stone.

And looking at it from the other side. Looks nice, doesn't it! When we get around to building the barn, it will most likely have the same exterior finish, so the two buildings will match.

View from the inside. I'm standing where there will be a double French door installed - the idea is that the hubby will be able to wheel his big power tools through the doors out under the carport if he has a big project to work on. He can also open these doors, the windows, and the back door (not yet installed) and get a great breeze through his shop.

There's still some finish work that needs to be done (most notably doors, but also window trim, caulking/sealing, and hanging plywood and/or pegboard on the interior walls), but the man is VERY excited to have such a large workshop all to himself! Good thing I haven't asked for a sewing room of similar size... ;)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Growing food is hard

Growing up in south Louisiana, I pretty much learned to garden by the following method: stick whatever you want to grow in the ground, then chop it back every 3 to 6 months so that it doesn't take over your entire yard. I remember once covering a newly-planted garden with a tarp during a late freeze, but we didn't get around to taking the tarp off until about a week later. The tomato plants went from about 6 inches to nearly 2 feet in that time... and I am not exaggerating!

Here in central Texas it's a little different. The soil is extremely alkaline - if you have any soil at all. Rainfall is sporadic - we just went over 3 weeks without rain, and it's only mid-May. And of course, summers are hot, hot, hot - we often have days in August and September that are over 110 degrees. All this means you'd better plant early, hope for rain, and gather your spring harvest before mid-June.

So tonight I picked another handful of green beans, with are once again doing great - I only wish the chickens hadn't gotten them when I first planed them, because they are the one thing that's really producing. I took most of the rest of the snow peas, which are being savaged by aphids. There are gobs of ladybugs out there, but they just can't keep up, and it's getting really warm for snow peas. The smaller bush snow peas in the middle row have all but died, and the bigger peas are on their last legs. I'll probably do my last harvest in another few days and then turn the plants under.

Green beans on the top, sad-looking snow peas on the bottom. This might be enough for the hubby and I for a veggie for one meal.

I also pulled up the potatoes tonight, since the plants were looking pretty yellow and sad. I really wasn't sure what I'd find, but I pulled out 14 potatoes of varying sizes. Not a spectacular harvest by any means with 8 plants, but I did plant very late. At least I grew SOMETHING and they didn't get eaten. I actually decided to stick the plants back in the ground since a lot of them had teeny little eraser-sized potatoes on them - who knows, maybe they'll make it through the summer and produce again in the fall.

Tasty-looking taters.

Something I did find a ton of in the garden was these big white grubs, which I think are Japanese beetle grubs. I must've seen dozens of them, and of course it was too late in the day to get the chickens. Tomorrow I may go out and nab a bunch of them to feed to the girls, or even just let the girls hang out in the garden for a bit and hope don't scratch things up too much.

So the bottom line is that most of the cool-weather plants are done. The onions are starting to fall over, so probably another week or two before harvest. Then it's just the tomatoes and peppers, which are growing well but not really flowering and fruiting yet - and it's getting way late in the season. It's a good thing I've got a farmer's market nearby and don't have to depend on what I grow to feed us, because I'm not doing a very good job of it. I am glad I grew something this spring though - it's very satisfying to at least get a few veggies out of my own garden. Still, I've got a long way to go before we become more self-sufficient in the veggie area.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's curtains for you!

I need some help from those of you who might have decorating suggestions.

Our bedroom faces south and has two large windows that get a lot of afternoon sun. Now that it's getting warmer, the room really heats up in the afternoon and takes a while to cool off in the evening. The room doesn't have great ventilation, but we're working on that. We hope to put in double-paned windows and get solar screens too, but in the meantime, I'm thinking some curtains lined with solar fabric would help.

The main part of the room is about 12 x 12, so not very big. There is a small entryway where you walk in that's perhaps 6 x 6, then you turn left into the bedroom. There are a total of three windows; two of them are south-facing.

Walking into the bedroom. The window on the right opens under the carport and therefore doesn't get any direct sun. The window on the left faces south.

Turning left into the room. These two big windows face south.

After stepping into the room, turning around and looking back into the entry way. Door is on the right (with bathrobes hanging on over-door hooks).

The wall opposite the windows is a nice blue color; the bedspread is white. All of the rest of the walls are cream-colored with white trim on the doors and windows.

This is the curtain fabric I picked out initially - it's backed with a heavy solar lining. I love the fabric but I think it's waaaay too much for the room.

So, I need some assistance with curtain suggestions. I can easily back anything with solar fabric, so the options are unlimited. I confess not being one for lace and stuff, but suddenly, curtains like these are looking appealing. Maybe a solid white solar panel with a white lace overlay? Is that too boring? Is there something better out there? White lace just isn't something I would normally go for, so I'm a little hesitant to take the plunge.

I want to keep the price reasonable, and I can sew just about anything, so if you have an idea that's a little pricey or maybe not quite the right color, I can probably find fabric and make it myself.

Oh and if you send me any curtain suggestions that look like this site, I will never speak to you again. There will be no gingham or ducks, thank you very much. ;)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Egginess

Our three new hens have finally all come online, including the Americauna, who is laying green eggs.

The new eggs are quite small - on the right is one of the eggs from an older Hyline hen. And yes, of course we have green eggs and ham with the Americauna eggs. :)

We have also been trying to figure out where the Hylines are laying their eggs. Suddenly we weren't getting many large eggs, and I was wondering where they were hiding them. Never mind that they have 10 lovely nesting boxes in their coop, apparently those weren't good enough. No, the hubby finally found the nest in some tall grass where the horses don't graze.

10 eggs to add to our collection!

We've been eating a lot of quiche and other eggy things lately. I think I may have to make some tirimisu before too much longer to use up more eggs, since we still have over two dozen in the fridge. If anyone has any recipes that use up a lot of eggs, please post them in the comments!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How does your garden grow?

My garden this year isn't really doing all that well, so if you're growing a garden, I hope yours is doing better than mine. Mostly it's due to not getting started early enough, so hopefully next year I'll have more time and do better. And luckily, here in Texas we get two growing seasons, so I can try for a fall garden.

The three bean plants that were left after the chickens snacked on all my newly-planted beans are doing well. Unfortunately, they won't produce enough beans for anything other than a snack or two.

Potatoes. I put more mulch around them after I took this picture. Hard to say how they're doing as they keep all their secrets underground until harvest. I think they are a little light green though, so I gave them some organic plant food.

Onions. The stalks should start falling over soon, but I think I got them in the ground too late this year to have anything more than fairly small onions.

Someone laid down this nasty carpet in the walkway between the beds. Great for keeping down weeds, but NASTY. I pulled it out and tossed it on the trash heap to be removed on trash day and put down mulch instead.

The one thing that seems to be doing well is the peas. Unfortunately, I planted two different varieties on three rows without reading the packages carefully, and the peas in the middle row are apparently a dwarf bush variety while the outer rows require support. I managed to untangle the plants and put in some netting to separate the rows, and they seem to be doing much better now. I even got a small handful of snow peas from the bushes in the middle row, but they were so tasty I ate them all before I even got back to the house.

What do you have growing in your garden this spring, and how is it doing?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Seriously, mom

Anie here, hijacking the blog for this entry.

Mom put this funny pink stuff on my nose today. She said it's to keep the flies off, which are biting me.


I tried to lick it off, since it's ruining my perfect poofy whiteness. However, I can't seem to reach it. Dangit.

I object. There must be a Livestock Guardian Dog Union that protests this sort of mistreatment. How can I work under these conditions?

Note: The pink stuff is SWAT. Yes, it's safe for dogs, and no, she can't lick it off. It does a really great job of keeping the flies from biting her nose - they are really bad this time of year!

A toast to good friends

Late in the week, I had a fairly major calamity involving my iPhone. On the same day, we got an offer in on the house. I desperately needed my phone to negotiate the contract, but didn't have it. The hubby was in Alaska, so I couldn't use his phone, and repeated trips to the AT&T store availed me nothing in terms of getting a new phone (it's a long story and not worth telling, but the bottom line is, if you're married and have different last names, be DAMN SURE you are both listed on the account as having the ability to alter the account). I was so mad I was about in tears, and buying a $20 single use phone from Wal-mart looked to be my only alternative.

Enter FuzzyPony. She drove down to my house (45 minutes in traffic) after she got off work so I could use her phone. All night. Including calls to the hubby in Alaska and my Realtor about the house. I bought her dinner and a case of hard cider (her favorite), but frankly it doesn't seem like much considering that she saved my sanity that night.

Then, the next day, I was telling my tale of woe (WOE!) to another friend, who offered to send me her old iPhone until I could get one of the new 4G iPhones when they come out in June or July. And lo, not thirty minutes after we started talking, her old iPhone was in the overnight mail, and delivered bright and early yesterday morning.

Sometimes, the generosity of my friends is overwhelming. Here's to both of you (you know who you are!) with many, many thanks and a toast to good friendship! I truly hope I may one day be able to repay the favors, with interest.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Unexpected visitor

Not 10 minutes ago I went out to the back pasture to get the boys to move them to their new pasturage, and I saw this handsome guy as I stepped through the gate:

Well helloooo there!

Ok, I admit, the first words out of my mouth included several four-letter words and an accelerated heart rate, but once I realized he wasn't venomous, I ran for the camera.

Pretty sure this guy is a Texas Rat snake, and he was probably somewhere between 5 and 6 feet long.

Now while finding such a large snake in the back pasture was more than a bit startling, I didn't feel so bad after looking at these pictures, where there are rat snakes hanging out (literally) in people's doorways.


On his way to the neighbor's pasture.

I should mention that I used to keep a rat snake as a pet when I was younger, and I volunteered at the Louisiana Nature and Science Center in the herpetology department, so snakes are pretty familiar to me. However, if you come across one, it's always best to steer clear of them. A snake this size, while non-venomous, can inflict a good bite if you try to pick him up and don't get it right. And snakes are incredibly strong for their size and can be difficult to handle. There's absolutely no need to run for a shovel to try to do him in, either - not only is he harmless to humans, his main diet consists of rats and mice, so he's very beneficial in a place like this!

I sorta hope that he makes a home under the back shed or under the small house, but if not, maybe he'll at least come back for an occasional visit!