Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Gate Project

The first gate hangs out back by my garden. I'm hoping that it will keep critters (aka Beezle the Cat) away from my vegetables.

The second gate closes off a small section of yard (15 feet x 15 feet) where the rabbit barn will be located. I am getting excited to build that project, which should start in a couple of weeks. (I think my two current rabbits, Mohair and Cashmere, are also getting excited to move off of the porch!

This was a really fun DIY project to do, much easier than I thought it would be. I don't know why, but I've always thought building "twig" items had to be difficult. I guess it is because they look so interesting and rustic and woven together....anyway, the hardest part was finding thick enough and long enough branches to support the main frame, so it didn't twist and felt solid when stood upright. Oh, and hanging a gate by yourself. That is rather tricky, but do-able. (If possible, find someone to hold it for you. Hinges swing, you know.) Thinking of making your own gate? Here's what I used:

* Branches from a convenient tree. I have box elders in the yard so I trimmed them and used the donations.

* a set of 2 1/2 inch flat corner brackets, which come with matching 1/2 inch screws

* a bunch of 1 inch wire nails (also called brads)

* some hardware cloth or chicken wire

* simple metal hinges

Use the corner brackets to connect the four corners of the main frame. I recommend using 3 inch diameter branches for the frame parts, they are solid without being too heavy. Using a variety of branches (ranging from 1/2 inch to 2 inch diameter) fill in the frame of your gate. I ran some branches diagonally across the frame, while others were running horizontally or vertically. I kind of liked leaving some "free" branch bits, they look artistic, I think. Tack in place with the small nails. Put the hardware cloth or chicken wire across the bottom 2/3 of the gate, or cover the whole gate with the material. This is to keep anything from leaping between the twigs on your new gate! Hang with the hinges (again, having a helper for this part might speed things along....)

It may not last forever, but it is a nice way to recycle some stray branches and keep your garden safe!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And it just keeps snowing....

I think I know why Jack Nicholson's character went crazy in The Shining: It wasn't possession by evil spirits, it was the endless snow. I have been feeling very tempted to swing an axe around while shrieking, "Heeeeeeeerrrrreeee'sss Johnny!!!"
Well, not really. It is very sad, though, after a sun-filled weekend full of gardening, digging in the dirt, and getting a whopper of a facial sunburn, to face a work week with SNOW FALLING FROM THE SKY. I mean, really. Who's idea of a joke is this? It sucks.
This past weekend, I took a five-day vacation from work and spent it outside in the yard (aside from Friday when it rained, so I spent the afternoon indoors with salty chips, chocolate, and movies--it was vacation, after all.) Day #1: Pounded 25 fence posts, hung 100 feet of fencing, planted three trees, fenced off all three trees with stakes & poultry netting, cleaned both chick & full-sized chicken houses. Day #2: It rained, so I built a garden gate out of twigs and called it a movie day. Day #3: Cleaned up dog poop, hung out laundry, took dog into town to participate in an Easter activity, came home & cleaned & then had a great movie night involving pork tacos....mmmm, tacos! Day #4: Hung garden gate, hung rabbit yard gate, dug out three garden beds and expanded three other beds into one giant potato patch, planted yellow Stuttegard and red Red Barron onion sets, planted five kinds of potatoes (Green Mountain, Kennebec, Russet Burbank, German Butterball, and Red Pontiac). Note: This garden project also involved clearing out copious amounts of kitty poo, from my outdoor kitty Beezle's "composting" project...ewwww. Day #5: Raked out front garden beds, burned a giant pile of pine needles, pounded two fence posts, took four generic benadryl for allergy attack caused by incinerating pine needles (I forgot I was really allergic to pine trees, and then remembered after I was bathed in oily smoke. Itchy.) Took shower, went to town for a doctor's appointment (routine, not related to pine needle incident) and errands revolving around buying animal feeds, but livened up by a drive-thru to Culver's to get a lemonade freeze (yes, they are back! It must be almost summer.) Now, all I need is an assignment to write an essay titled "What I Did On My Vacation" and I could write up a bang-up piece sure to deserve an A+++++. I wasn't ready to head back to work, but my gardening muscles needed the break!
***Chick Update: Lost another one yesterday, but the remaining 38 are going strong. If the weather holds this weekend, and actually WARMS UP, I will be moving about half to the new "grow out pen"!***

Monday, April 18, 2011

Status Update on the Chicks

They are doing better! There is still a teensy bit of wheezing and sneezing, but they seem to be more interested in doing things other than parking their little feathered butts under the heat lamps and staying there for hours. I believe their appetites are back, as the food is disappearing at an alarming rate. And they don't seem bothered by the gatorade-yellow water--I don't know what exactly is in this powdered antibiotic, but it is seriously yellow. The chicks are drinking it down, so I don't think it tastes bad or anything. It just looks a little nuclear. A few of the chicks have swollen feet and wing joints, but they can walk again. Well, mostly walk. Once in a while, a chick will fall over suddenly, peep in anger, and lash out at the nearest chick in retaliation. I think the fallen chick seriously believes that he was pushed, dammit, and somebody is gonna pay. Poor thing! It was his own big honking swollen toe that put him off kilter, and down he went, but who am I to explain logic to a three week old chick? I wish I could say that the weather is perking up as nicely as my chicks are. It is cold here again, with snow predicted overnight. I am really hoping that it doesn't wind up being much. I am so very tired of winter, and spring doesn't seem to be coming any time soon. (Remind me of this whining about cold weather when it is 90 degrees in July and I am pining for chilly breezes.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

And the verdict is...

Infectious synovitis. Yep, that is what my chicks have. How did I figure this out, you ask? Well...I arrived home at the end of a busy week, shucked off some gear indoors, and headed out to collect eggs (three today) and check on the chicks. It is a bit wild out there this evening, gale force winds, snow and howling banshee noises everywhere. But when I popped into the shed, I was met with a very odd noise, kind of like: "gurgle hiss gurgle hiss gurgle hiss". After thinking, what the heck IS that? I realized, omigosh it is breathing. Oh yes, not only do a couple more of my chicks have swollen feet, joints and gimpy wingettes, now a good half dozen are sneezing and percolating when they breathe. Thank the Chicken Gods for the Chicken Health Handbook, which led me to realize that my initial diagnosis of Viral Arthritis was in actuality the first onset symptoms of a much worse disease. Oh yay. But, it is treatable! Can we say "light at end of tunnel", folks? After researching on-line to figure out actual brand names of generic water soluble antibiotics, and a quick phone call to Fleet Farm, I was back in my car headed south like a bat outta hell. No, I didn't get pulled over. I think the police are all hiding indoors from the weather. I grabbed three packets of drugs, got some advice from a farmer or two, picked up a milk house broom and dairy strength bleach (for post-chick cleansing of the shed, as this bug will attack any other poultry in the vicinity for a looooong while), and I was back in the car and whipped home. I swear, it was like something out of an end of the world movie--branches flying down onto the road in front of me, leaves and hard things whacking into the side of the car, pelting snow. But I made it home, mixed up a batch of antibiotic-laced water, and hauled it out to the shed. The chicks were all still alive, a few not so cheerfully so. I forced the worst looking ones over to the waterer and made them drink, endured the horrible gurgle-hiss of agitated sickly chicks, and actually managed to close the door which the wind was trying to rip out of my fingers. I don't know how many will be alive in the morning, but I tried. The good news is, any survivors that make it to butchering time will be edible and non-toxic to humans. The bad news is, anyone hoping for all natural chicken is out of luck with this round. I discovered in my frenzied research that it is likely, given the onset of the disease, that these chicks were exposed to the nasty ol' bacteria either in the hatchery or at the breeder farm where the eggs were laid. I emailed the hatchery to ask if they had any idea about this disease--I am going to bet that they have heard from other folks with the same hatch date about this same issue. Or if they haven't, they will. Poor little things! It is so sad to see a chick that can't breathe. And who knew this would happen?? I feel awful.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy Fall!

No joke, it feels like late October out there this afternoon. The chicks are glaring at me every time I pop into the shed to do a head count. Both heat lamps are on again, but they are so not happy to have returned to the deep freeze after enjoying some balmy breezes. I swear, if they could talk, they'd be muttering death threats. I can't say that I blame them, because just as it finally started to warm up it has just as quickly turned windy, raw and cold. April is such a bitch. In happy news, my hens have forgiven me for accidentally dropping sour yogurt onto their backs yesterday, during a fridge clean-out session. It wasn't my fault, exactly. I didn't take into account how excited they get when cooked rice is tossed in to the pen, and when they dashed in like little roadrunners, I was shoveling out a bunch of leftover greek yogurt. One of them got it all over her back--it looked like thick paint. She didn't mind the yogurt as much as she got pissed off at the other hens trying to eat the yogurt off of her back. They were chasing her around and around, and all she wanted was to gobble up cooked brocolli and bacon bits out of the quiche leavings. ( I admit it, I laughed until I peed a little. I am not very nice sometimes.) It is a chilly evening here, a good time to make a big cheesy omelet and some hot tea and settle down in front of the television. I have two discs of the Waltons Season 2 waiting for me, so Goodnight JimBob and hope things warm up soon!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Update on Sick Chicks

Well, folks, it ain't good news: This afternoon, before cleaning the chick brooder, I caught all the sick chicks (10 in all) and gave them a physical. Four of them were so arthritic, I couldn't extend their wings, claws or feet--and they peeped in pain. And the other six were not as bad, but obviously not doing well at all. So I did the hard job of being a farmer-ette, and helped them along to the chicken afterlife. I'm hoping it is better than their last couple of days ended up being...maybe good chickens get reincarnated as eagles or condors or something cool like that. I'm hoping not pheasants (which stupidly run IN FRONT of your car and get smushed, every time). No donations in lieu of flowers are needed, the funeral will take place as soon as the new fruit trees arrive. Man, I just hate it when this kind of thing happens....

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just when things are going fine....

Last night, the last chick check was as usual: Happy, healthy chicks running around, loving the newly expanded brooder. This morning? A half-dozen chicks are laying on the floor, flopping around, unable to stand up or walk easily. After thinking "oh dear, its a slipped tendon!", I realized: 6 chicks do not ALL sudden slip tendons. Swollen joints, curled up feet, tenderness in the legs, but with good appetite and interest in drinking, so they couldn't be that sick, right? Thank goodness I splurged on a copy of the Chicken Health Handbook (I thought I wouldn't really need to use it but got it anyway), and I think I have it narrowed down to Viral Arthritis. Apparently, this affects broilers (yep, those are mine) and heavy breed chicks that grow quickly. It has a very rapid onset (as in, overnight), and causes all the joint symptoms I identified in the little chickie-poos. It doesn't kill them, unless they get a secondary infection, and usually all recover within a week. So here's hoping that VA is really what I have. When I checked this afternoon, a couple more chicks seemed to have the same symptoms, but when I startled them and made them move around by stepping into their habitat with my scary, giant feet, all of them were able to get their legs under them and waddle/shuffle out of the way. Again, a good sign! It was ridiculously hot and muggy yesterday, and I tried not to let the chicks get too heat-stressed, but there isn't much you can do when Mother Nature decides to be a booger. I can only wonder if the stress of yesterday tipped some of the weaker chicks over the edge, and let this virus take hold. Keep your fingers crossed that we have a fast recovery over here!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Digging in the Dirt

It's been a full day here at 3/4 Acre Farm. After a rousing start at 6:30 AM, involving a very solid dog meeting up with my kidneys at about Mach 3, I jumped into one project after another. April may be a fickle bitch, but there is something about the kick-start spring provides after winter sloth. The chicks are nearing 2 weeks old and are getting very big and very bold. The young cockerels are starting to nip at me when I don't provide breakfast quick enough, the little snots. But they are still in the cute stage--next week, it will be the ugly adolescent gawky bit which makes me pity them. It's like a bunch of half-feathered junior high students in goofy moods around week even smells a bit like junior high, come to think of it. In any case, they needed a brooder expansion, so I moved a couple of hay bales, found another cardboard-box-wall, and the little buggers seem to be very cheerful with more room to romp around. After I finished playing with the babies, I moved on to the big girls. They seem to need something to do these days, so I tossed a few flakes of straw into their run and they spent the rest of the day scratching and chomping and clucking. The new nest box is attached, and those smart hens are already laying eggs in there. I only had to move one egg, and they caught on and have nicely put the rest of the eggs in the proper spot. I have to remember to listen before I lift the hinged lid looking for eggs--I caught two of the girls en flagrante, which was a little embarrassing for all involved. Eeeek! It was one of those moments like when you're in a public restroom, and you think the door is latched, and suddenly is swings open and there you are, panties around the ankles squawking "It's occupied! It's occupied!" Now, pretend you are a chicken and you will be able to envision what I witnessed twice today. Sorry, girls. As if playing with chickens was not enough, I also dug up three of the back garden beds and planted peas (1 bed) and beets (2 beds), as well as planting my new cold frames. Frame #1 has Dinosaur kale and ruby chard in it, Frame #2 savoyed and Bloomsdale spinach. Frame #3 has my greens assortment: Green Deer Tounge, Fedco's organic Greens Mix, Rouge di Hiver, and Rossi de something-or-other. I figured that was enough digging and planting for one day, and rounded out the afternoon by moving a brush pile. I don't know what I am going to do with the brush pile, but it's now moved and ready to be loaded up and go somewhere. After all that yard work, I decided I was in far too much pain from crawling around on hard ground and too tired to do anything else (like clean up all the dog poo in the backyard), and spent the rest of the afternoon baking bread and trying out my new Shampoo Bar. No, it's not a cocktail. It's shampoo for your head, but like a bar of soap. I like it, and it says it will repel ticks naturally--who wouldn't love a shampoo that can do that?? Looking over this post makes me realize two things: (1) holy cow, if I didn't know better I would think I was a pod-person because I am NEVER this productive and (2) holy cow, no wonder why I am in so much pain! I think I'll take some drugs and toddle off to bed, ready to tackle another fun-filled day tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

About to Lose the Urban Farm?

One of my farm-where-you-are heroes is facing a burecratic upheaval in Oakland, CA. Novella Carpenter, who wrote a wonderful novel Farm City, has in the past year saved up her pennies to buy the vacant lot she tranformed into an urban oasis. And now, the city of Oakland has informed her that she growing vegetables illegally on the lot and she needs to buy a $2500 permit to comply with new "urban farm usage" rules. Poor chickie has no spare cash to face such a whopping fine, and has humbled herself to ask for help. Click on the link to her blog posting ( and if you feel moved to do so, you can make a donation to the case by PayPal. Please know, I never send out solicitation emails, but this case hits close to my heart. If I ever found out I couldn't have my little 3/4 Acre Farm with its feathered, furry, and plant-based characters...I don't even want to think about how devastating that would be. This woman has served as a role-model to many, inspiring people in cities and towns everywhere to embrace the idea of being their own, self-sustainable farmer using however much land they are blessed with (or make do with!) I felt moved to support her, and to share her dilemma with others. This issue is coming up everywhere, as communities work through deciding where the "farm lines" get drawn. If it isn't affecting your backyard today, it could be tomorrow--and we all need to support one another.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Another Chickie Video

The temperatures today are reaching toward 50 degrees. It is lovely, filled with bird song and the sound of mud puddles filling with melting snow. I actually had to raise the heat lamps today, a first since the chicks arrived on Wednesday, and removed one of the quilt "walls" to their tent city. I love their curious black eyes, they watch my every move and seem to peep back when I talk to them. I have missed this over the winter! There is nothing that says springtime quite like a baby chicken.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Little Chicky Update

The little peepers are doing very well. Since the weather continues to be all kinds of oogie, I have them covered up in a quilt-lined fortress of solitude in the big purple shed. Between catching the heat with blankets and having two heat lamps hung low, they are doing very well. No huddling, just cozy plonking into big fuzzy piles of cuteness. There are plenty of little ones zipping around the edges of the crowd, and now that everyone has realized how wonderful water and starter crumble is, they are eating and drinking (and pooping) up a storm. I am hoping that the days start warming up and drying out soon. It will be nice to not have to wade through mud and soppy puddles to get into the shed! Until then, I believe these chicks are going to grow very well indeed. More pictures to come!