Thursday, April 29, 2010

All the colors of the rainbow (another sunrise)

Sunrise through the clouds. This sort of beauty just never gets old, does it?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Prehistoric plant

We have this really scary, prehistoric-looking plant growing along our east fence line.

This plant is not a friendly-looking thing.

The thing is, I kid you not, about five feet tall. The leaves are about two feet long, variegated, and covered in thorns.

Touch me not!

The flower is pretty, but YIKES! Do you see those spines???

Turns out, it's a Milk Thistle, an invasive from the Mediterranean area. Apparently it's got medicinal properties and is used to treat liver damage. Be that as it may, it's just... nasty-looking... and nobody around here has any liver problems.

Since the last thing I want is dozens of these giant things all over the yard next year, I put on some long sleeves, got out my heaviest gloves, and went to work on it. First, I chopped off the flowers to prevent it from going to seed. I discovered the hard way that you have to be super-careful handling any of the plant, because those spines will go right through gloves. Ouch! Eventually I chopped enough of it back so that I could see the base of the plants, and then I took a shovel and cut it off at the base (no way was I going to reach under it to get to the base, and besides, none of my clippers could get around the 5 inch stems!).

So now I have a big mound of thistle parts in my front yard. I'll probably take them to the dump later this week since I don't have any lawn bags to stuff it in, and frankly, the only safe way to handle this plant is with a shovel. I still have to dig up the roots on the plants so that they're really dead and don't come back, but I think I got them before they went to seed and so hopefully I won't have to deal with them again next year. Which is a Good Thing, because those thistles are just nasty!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy (belated) 22nd birthday, Cash!

April 14th was Cash's 22nd birthday. I wasn't able to go out to Paint Creek Farm, where he's retired, on the 14th, but I did manage to make it out this weekend to say hi and stuff him full of carrots.

If you visit the Paint Creek Web site, Cash has his own page with some very handsome pictures of him. Next month he's going to be the feature horse of the month, so I'll let you know when his story appears on their site.

On my visit, we did our usual grooming routine, which Cash wasn't terribly interested in. He got hoof goo and fly spray, had his eyes sponged and medicated (he has very sensitive eyes), and was fed a constant stream of carrot bites. He's a pretty plump guy right now, and could give Reddums a run for his money in the fat category! Still, I'd rather have him a little plump as an older horse than too thin. It can be hard for them to keep weight on as they get older, but Claudia, the owner of Paint Creek, does such a fantastic job with all the horses.

I took a few pictures while I was out there - you can see how well he's doing!

Exhibit A. Note the plump belly.

Handsome as ever!

Never one to pass up on the noms.

Trying out different poses for the camera...

Surveying his domain. Paint Creek is such a beautiful, beautiful place.

I couldn't resist getting on bareback and going for a short walk. It's been probably 6 months since Cash has been ridden, but he was a gentleman as always. His right hind continues to bother him though, so it's a good thing he's retired. But I sure do miss the view from this vantage point!

Happy Birthday, Monsieur Le Spot! Here's to another year of retirement!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Soooo comfortahbuls

This morning, Elias refused to get out of his bed at the regular time.

Apparently he'd decided to sleep in.

Comfy or ded? It's hard to tell.

Dogs really do like to sleep in strange poses, don't they?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I took this picture around 7 a.m. this morning, right after we put the boys out to start grazing in the new field.

Sunrise with the horses... what more could you ask for? Man do I love living here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I think his (garden) tractor's sexy

If you missed the reference to this entry's title, please refer to this song. :)

Since the horses finished eating down the grass in the east front pasture this past week, the husband got out his garden tractor and used it to mow down the weeds and grass stems that the horses left. Normally mowing the yard isn't blog worthy, but hey, it's the first time he's done this, and our tractor goes about 20 miles an hour.

No, I'm not kidding, our tractor goes fast. You try driving your car around your yard at that speed and you'll see why this might be a little more exciting than your average lawn-mow-a-thon. It involved weaving trees, dodging stumps, ducking under branches, and avoiding chickens (who were THRILLED at all the bugs that showed up after mowing) at speed. I realized how fast the hubby was going when I noticed that his hair was being blown back as he mowed, so of course I took a break from cleaning the car and got out the camera.

This photo sequence was taken over about 10 seconds.

Nice avoidance of the tree (he did hit the front fence though).

Notice the bit of shrub he's got stuck to the mowing deck. Apparently one must take spoils when one is mowing high brush.

Zooming down the edge of the driveway.

This one is my favorite. I call it "Primal Scream Mowing." I'm formulating a theory about men taking out their aggressions by mowing lawns at speed. I'll let you know the results as they come in. :)

At least the east front lawn is mown. The horses will be starting in on the back once the ground dries a bit from the recent rain, and then we'll use the mower again to clean up what they don't get. Seems like a reasonable process - the boys mow first, then the hubby comes back for the clean-up. Not a bad deal!

P.S. This is probably a bad time to point out to the hubby that they actually have - and I am not making this up - lawn mower races. There is actually a U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association. They call it a "grass roots" motor sport (and you thought that "poultry in motion" was a bad pun!). And for your viewing entertainment, there are videos on YouTube. Seriously, people do this for fun.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Strawberry bounty

This weekend, I went to pick strawberries at Sweet Berry Farms in Marble Falls, TX with a few friends. This is the third year I've gone, and once again, we were able to rake in big, delicious berries in very little time. I think we each got about 10-12 pounds of berries in about an hour, although I ended up with about 28 pounds (I pick fast and I've got kiddos who loooove my strawberry jam!).

Berries all over the bushes, just waiting to be picked! (Photo courtesy of Writingweb.)

It was hard to resist eating as we picked, but we managed. (Photo courtesy of Writingweb.)

Writingweb (in pink) and Fuzzypony hard at work picking strawberries.

Me picking berries (thanks Writingweb for the pic!)

It was a teeny bit muddy, with all the rain we've had in the past two days (Writingweb's picture of her feet).

Back home again, with the bounty of our efforts. This is about 35 lbs of berries - each flat holds about 7 lbs of berries (minus the ones the kiddos ate before I took this picture). I picked four flats, and I took one of Fuzzypony's flats home to make jam for her.

One of my favorite things about picking my own berries is that all the berries are not the perfectly-shaped things you find in the store. They come in a rather impressive variety of shapes and sizes, and some of them were just so neat I had to take pictures.

There were a number of berries that had a "thumb".

This one seemed to be growing a "mini-me" off the side.

Strawberries with... heads?


This one takes the prize for an odd berry though... I sort of think it looks like a hermit crab. What do you think it looks like?

A quadruple batch of strawberry jam, made with Pomona Pectin. I love this stuff because it only requires using 1 cup of sugar or honey per 4 cups of berries, as opposed to 7 cups of sugar to 5 cups of berries if you use Sure-Jel. You get more of the flavor of the fruit and less of a sugary taste when using Pomona, so I highly recommend it if you're making jam of any kind.

The current contents of my fridge. It's about this time when I realized that I've only processed HALF of the berries that I never want to see another strawberry again. Well, maybe until next year...

As I finish up this post, I really DO still have the two big stainless steel bowls of berries to process. The smaller bowls on top are the eating berries for the family, although I doubt they'll last past tomorrow night. The small white bowl of sliced up berries are leftovers from the strawberry-topped waffles we had this morning. Still, I've got a lot of strawberries left to process. Normally I turn them into jam or freeze them, but last time I froze them they got a bit freezer burned, so I'm going to try to avoid that this time around. So, I'm thinking about trying to put up some strawberries in syrup so that I could use them in pies or smoothies or strawberry breads, but I need to find a decent recipe. If anyone out there has one, please send it to me! In the meantime, anybody want a strawberry?

Friday, April 16, 2010

An open letter to The Girls

(Before we get started, let me point out that when I say The Girls, I'm referring to the hens. Just to clear that up.)


You lead an idyllic life, for a chicken. You have a safe, secure coop where you get to roost every night. You get organic grain, which you often refuse to eat, in favor of other options like kitchen scraps, bugs, and fresh grass. Although you have your own waterer, with daily fresh water, you also make use of the horse's water and the dog's water, and nobody tells you no. You have your very own extremely tolerant guardian dog, whom you often use as a perch, which she tolerates without protest. You have any number of dust baths which you have dug in my front planting beds, and we don't complain when you go under the carport and fluff your feathers apres bath, leaving piles of dirt (and to think, I originally blamed the kids for stomping their shoes and leaving the dirt). I also didn't complain, even a tiny bit, when you got into my garden one day and ate all the bean seeds I had just planted.

All that I ask of you, in exchange for this fantastic life, is that you lay eggs occasionally (preferably in a place where I can find them) and STAY ON THE PROPERTY. Is this last request so hard? Your two acres are predator fenced. There's plenty of bugs and grass, leaves to scratch in, and everything else a chicken could want. There is NO NEED to wander onto the green space to the east and invite the coyotes over for a lunch of chicken nuggets. Your guardian dog can't help you if you're on the other side of the fence! There is also NO NEED to go across the road and visit my neighbor's yard. Even if she does have a deep pile of leaves to scratch in, she also has chicken-eating dogs (as far as you know, but let's not tempt fate, shall we?). Besides, I am fairly certain that your little chicken brains are not intelligent enough to look both ways before crossing the street, and thanks to our moms, we all know how dangerous it is to cross the street without looking both ways. And really, what is the point of crossing the road? You're only going to get to the other side - which frankly, is no better than this side.

Really, I'm getting tired of looking for you every evening and chasing you back into the yard. The calls from neighbors and the City (!?!?) to let us know that you have escaped are getting sort of embarrassing. So could you please, please just STAY HOME and LAY SOME EGGS?


The Management

Digging in the ditch across the street! Really, what WILL the neighbors think???

Starting the journey home (and yes, I looked both ways before we crossed the street).

Taking her sweet time about it.

More than halfway there.

Back on our side - and contemplating heading back to the neighbor's side! Baaad chicken!

Following the fence back to the gate (which begs the question, how did they get out?)

Finally, home safe. Again. For the 19th time.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Eggy goodness

If you have chickens, springtime apparently means eggs, and lots of them. Our original flock came into production about this time last year, but now we have 8 hens instead of 5 (plus the one rooster, who has started to think about crowing), and we suddenly seem to be overrun with eggs.

Well, OK, not really overrun. Kiddo #1 mentioned to me this morning that we should get more chickens. I kind of agree, since they're really fun to watch, and I wouldn't mind having some extra eggs to share. :)

The egg on the left is from one of our hens who just came online, most likely a Rhode Island Red. The one of the right is from a seasoned layer, one of our Hylines. Big difference in size! It will take a little while for the new hens' eggs to get to full size.

If found this egg tonight - it's got very odd coloring. Sometimes this happens, although usually you'll see spots or speckles. However, variations in color don't seem to affect the contents of the egg.

At our house, Tuesday night is vegetarian night. Breakfast for Dinner, including scrambled eggs and home-baked bread, is often on the menu.

And if you've ever wondered if you can tell the difference between a grocery store egg and a farm egg, the answer is most definitely YES, you can both taste and see the difference. The yolk on the left is from a brown grocery-store egg left over from Easter, although the hen that laid it was supposedly in a cage-free environment with an all-natural grain diet (so, better than an egg laid by a battery-cage hen). The yolk on the right is from one of our eggs. The intense orange color of our yolk is because of the high beta-carotene content of the eggs, which occurs because the hens eat so much grass.

The grocery-store egg is easily picked out - it's the light-colored one in the center of the bowl.

If color doesn't convince you about the superiority of farm eggs from hens on pasture, perhaps these stats will. According to a study done by Mother Earth News, compared to the USDA stats for the nutritional value of eggs, farm eggs have:
  • 1⁄3 less cholesterol
  • 1⁄4 less saturated fat
  • 2⁄3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • 6 times more vitamin D
While I realize that this isn't exactly an exhaustive study of egg nutrition and shouldn't be taken as the gospel truth, certainly I prefer to have eggs that come from healthy chickens out doing chicken-things, like eating bugs and grass, taking dust baths, and yes, crossing the road. Besides, it's fun to go out and see what the girls have left you each day!

And for those of you who don't know, I feel duty-bound to inform you that eggs come from chicken butts. Yes, it's the real, icky truth. If you want more details, refer to How a Hen Lays Her Eggs (warning, some slightly graphic pictures).

What do you think of when you see this?

This is the field next to the east of my house. It's public green space.

Looking east from our fence line. You can barely see our neighbor's fence in the top left of the picture; it's perhaps 300+ feet between our house property line and theirs.

Here's the side view. For comparison, the top of our predator fencing is about 3 feet.

So what do you think when you see this?
  1. I am SO GLAD I don't have to mow that!
  2. Um, chiggers. And... other bugs. And... snakes??? EEEK!
  3. "... for amber waves of graaaaaaain!"
  4. That could feed my horses for MONTHS!
As you've probably guessed, I think of horse feed when I see that much grass. The boys have been diligently mowing during daylight hours around here, and we've been rotating them after several days on each pasture. The back pasture is getting a much-needed rest, and I don't have to mow the rest of the property.

Feeding the boys grass has cut down significantly on our feed bill in the last month or so. They're up at night since I don't want them on so much grass 24/7, and they have a round bale to nibble on when they're up. Well, they don't nibble much, since I haven't noticed a significant decrease in the amount of hay left for nearly a week now. Neither of them are getting any grain either - Red's too fat to need it (I think he's an air fern), and Saga's at a fairly good weight right now. This is somewhat surprising since when he was boarded, he got 12 lbs of pelleted grain per day. However, he often had little access to forage, especially when the horses were left in due to inclement weather. I think he got 2, maybe 3 small flakes per day, if he was lucky. So my own little feeding experiment seems to demonstrate that, as we all know, forage is best for horses.

Of course, eventually the rains will stop, the temperature will rise, and the grass will go dormant for the summer. I'll be back to feeding hay and hoping that we don't have a drought and skyrocketing hay prices this year, although at $9 per square bale, it's not exactly cheap now. But that leads me back to the greenspace next door. What will happen to all that delectable grass? Can I cut it for hay (doubtful, but worth a call to the city maybe)? Can I graze the boys on it during the weekend while I'm home, if I set up a portable electric fence and keep an eye on them (again, worth a call to the city)? Will it be left to die off naturally or will it be mown and wasted?

I'm looking at things differently, that's for sure. Whereas before I might have just seen a field of tall grass, now I see food for the horses. If I were raising a sheep or a cow for slaughter, I would see - indirectly - food for us. And it frankly seems a shame to waste it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why did the chicken cross the road?

You are probably thinking that the title of this post is a jest, but I assure you, it's not.

See? Chickens crossing the road to get from our across-the-street neighbor's house back to our house.

Notice the unhurried strolling technique, as if they were supposed to be across the street (which they weren't).

Strolling up the driveway... almost home!

Back on home turf. No, I do not know why I opened the gate for them, since they were clearly perfectly capable of going through the gate when it was closed.

The backstory of this picture sequence is that I came home from work last Friday to find all five of our Hyline hens across the street in the neighbor's yard. They had hopped through the bars on our front gate, then wandered across the street and under the neighbor's fence, so I had no easy way of getting them back. They were quite busy digging through the leaves and paid no attention to me the first time I went to get them.

A little closer to dusk, I tried again, whisting to them. I've never called a chicken before but they did eventually come follow me across the street and home to our yard. Saturday morning we put a bit of netting across the front gates to prevent any more escapees, and that seems to be successfully containing them.

As for why chickens cross the road, the answer is now completely obvious to me. Not only do they get to the other side, as evidenced by the above photos, but while doing so they are poultry in motion. ;)

Monday, April 5, 2010

No bull

On the way into work this morning, I got a call from the hubby. This is a fairly common occurrence, since I often forget things at home and he calls to remind me.

"Hi sweetie, what did I forget?" I answered the phone.

"Um... nothing, but... well, there's a bull behind the back fence," he replied.

Pause. My brain is wondering how many pounds of steak-on-the-hoof is equal to one bull, and what are the laws of ownership if an animal wanders onto your property, and then I realize...

"A bull, honey? You're sure he's not a steer?"

"Nope, he's a bull alright," the hubby responds.

Hm. Neither of us have any experience handling cattle from the ground although we've both worked them from horseback before. But bulls can be dangerous, and this one...

"He's got horns... pretty big horns," my husband informs me.

Hm. Bull with horns. Skip the steaks... well, darn! What do we do now? And more importantly...


I mean, we don't exactly live in the country. We've got 70 acres of greenbelt behind us, sure, and all of our neighbors have 2-10 acres, but still... there's a Barnes and Noble walking distance from the house. And a busy highway, for heaven's sakes! There are no farms with cows - much less bulls - anywhere nearby!

"No idea," responds the hubby, "but I'm going to call the city."

Never mind that it's 7:20 a.m. on a Monday and nobody but nobody is going to be in that early. But I dutifully hang up so he can call.

About five minutes later, the hubby calls me back.

"The sheriff is on the way," he says, "and they've been looking for the bull for a week and a half."

Wait a minute. How do you lose a bull on a 70 acre piece of land for a week and a half???

"Oh, and they knew who I was when I called," he continued. "I told them I was the resident at 762 Oakdale, and the guy on the other end responded, 'Hi Sean'".

Geez, they know who we are and they know where we live. Welcome to small town life.

Returning back to idea that the sheriff was on his way. "Um, so honey, what are they going to do, handcuff the bull and stuff him in the backseat of the sheriff's car?" I asked.

My husband laughed. "No idea," he replied, "but I told them which way he ran. I've gotta head in to work but I sure hope they catch him!"

You knew this post would include a suspect picture, like one where the photographer swears it's a photo of Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster. Well, my husband swears there was a cow just beyond our back fence, and here's the photographic evidence. No bull!

So, how was your Monday morning? Anything exciting happen?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter flowers

More wildflower pictures from around the farm. The purple flowers seem to be coming out!

Violet wood sorrel. These flowers curl up at night, then re-emerge the next morning.

Possibly self-heal, but I need to look more closely at the flowers to determine if that's the correct identification. If anyone else knows what these are, please drop me a line.

Rose vervain, I think.

We have exactly two Texas Bluebonnets growing on the property. Unfortunately, I think the horses ate them shortly after I took this picture. [Yes, I know the lupine species, of which bluebonnets are a part of, is toxic to livestock. However, horses are not very susceptible to lupines (sheep are significantly more so), and Texas Bluebonnets are not known to cause problems. So, I figure that the two that were munched shouldn't cause a problem for the boys.]

I hope everyone out there is having a lovely Easter, and I hope you got to enjoy some wildflowers as part of it!