Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Day in The Life Of...

Since I work fewer hours than Mr. Bee, it's my responsibility to take care of the "day time" chores. (It's a more than fair arrangement, trust me!) It's a simple, soothing routine that I enjoy immensely when I am not nauseous from the Little Bee growing inside me. In an attempt at homestead transparency, I figured I'd take you along on a day last week.

First thing in the morning, I start by calling Lula Mae into the barn and situating her in the stanchion for her morning feeding. A stanchion is a simple enough contraption with a bucket for feed, a lock for the goat's head and "hobbles" or ties for the feet of a milking goat.

 Chloe trying out the stanchion. Grain! Omnomnomnomnom
The nice thing about a stanchion is that it keeps the goat from sitting down or moving while milking, ensuring sweet, clean milk. Even though Lula Mae isn't milking right now, we keep using the stanchion to keep her in the habit. This may look like a medieval torture contraption, but I assure you it's not! The time spent in the stanchion is usually less than 10 minutes and it's not uncomfortable for them.
Lula Mae getting ready to be milked (a few months back).
Our milk pail has a lid that covers the top while leaving a small opening for the milk to squirt into (not pictured).
After feeding Lula Mae, I head next door to the duck barn. There, I open the gate to their run so everyone can frolic and forage in our land all day long. (Okay, and the neighbor's land as of late. Something about a field full of dandelions that is proving irresistible to those Khaki Campbells who have no problem sliding through the fence.) Before stepping inside the house to collect eggs, I shut the run again so that if I startle Mama Duck when I go to collect eggs, she'll only flee to the run and then promptly return to her nest. Today, there are 10 eggs in the nest boxes and scattered in various corners of the house. Not bad.
Then I turn my attention to the chickens who are (still) preferring the inside of the house to the beautiful outdoors. I blame this on the fact that they have a very nice screened window that they can look out of and even feel the breeze through without ever having to get a feather wet in the rain. I also blame their obviously inferior intelligence; our ducks instinctively know it's better to roam outside!
The "baby" chickens, hanging out by their window. Instead of actually going outside.
 I try to coax them down their ladder and out the door, but they refuse. Instead I startle our sitting Mama Duck down below. She'll come back shortly. I use this as an opportunity to check for new eggs that have been deposited in her nest that are far too late to be joining this hatching process. I find 2 eggs and put them in the egg basket.
Mama Duck angrily leaving the duck house, heading into the run.
I check everyone's water and food. That's it! I'm on my way for the day.
See? Just like I said, simple.
Mr. Bee gets home and I give him the daily report. We stand outside on the back deck, proud of all that we have.
Then we hear something.  Chloe is whimpering loudly. Could Lula Mae be in labor early? Mr. Bee rushes toward the goat barn. I rush inside to pee (thanks Baby Bee!). When I finally make my way to the barn, everything is quiet. Lula Mae is on the stanchion eating, with Mr. Bee stroking her gently.
Me: Is everything okay?
Mr. Bee: Yeah... Uh, it's fine now. What time did you feed Lula again?
Me: In the morning, like normal. Why?
Mr. Bee: Looks like she's been here all day then. I think you forgot to get her out.
I'm horrified. Poor pregnant Lula Mae--unable to sit or lay down for an entire day!
Mr. Bee continues: And, uh, it looks like you locked Mama Duck in the duck house and run all day too. And locked the rest of the flock out, which means they didn't have access to their water.
Could it get any worse?
Mr. Bee continues again: And the extra eggs you found under Mama Duck? Yeah, they were actually part of the original batch she's been setting. I guess it's too late to put them back now!
Fortunately...the stress didn't induce labor in Lula Mae and she still happily gets on the stanchion each morning for her feed. As for the ducks, it had at least rained the night before so our flooded land made a nice watering hole for them. And Mama Duck? Well, she is still trying to add 2 more eggs to her nest each day, but at least we have 12 viable eggs remaining. 
As Mr. Bee says: Sometimes you're the one stuck in the stanchion and sometimes you're the one that leaves the goat there.
Homestead wisdom at its finest.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

If I Should Have a Daughter...

(watch the first 3 minutes and 40 seconds of this video for the most amazing poem;
 you won't regret it!)
Mr. Bee and I aren't sure if we will have a son or a daughter. It's not the type of thing you set out to choose nor that you have much control over. So we figured we'd let it be a surprise. Well, that's one of the reasons we skipped finding out anyhow.

Listening to our favorite spoken-word poet Sarah Kay reminds us of the exciting journey we have ahead of us. We hope you will continue to follow along with us and understand now why it's been so quiet on the blog front as of late--I've been sick and Mr. Bee's been busy making sure everything on the homestead stays up and running. With nicer weather, fewer chores, and feeling a little bit better in these final months, I expect you'll be hearing more frequently from us again!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Expectant Mothers of The Homestead

If you’ve been keeping up on this homestead tour, you’ll know that Mama Duck is sitting on her clutch of eggs and Lula Mae is growing wider with her expected kid(s) by the day. It’s a privilege to watch how these mothers take care of their not-yet-arrived little ones and how their behavior changes as time gets closer.

Guarding her eggs and stuffing the nest (note how much bedding she's gathered)
The LulaBarrel is packing babies!
But I’d be remiss if I failed to tell you the other anticipated arrival on our homestead. Yes, Mr. Bee and I are expecting our first Baby Bee!

Baby Bee's first closeup!
We’ve waited a long time to share in this forum for a variety of reasons, but now that it is so close, it doesn’t make sense not to share. It’s an exciting time and I’m happy to be in the company of other expectant mothers. As my time draws nearer, I am amazed at how similar all animals act when nesting—including humans.

Let’s just hope Lula Mae and I don’t have too much in common. Our due dates are 2 weeks apart. And we’re both planning on birthing at home. =/ Did I mention she had some ovulatory complications when we were trying to breed her?

Goat update

We’ve had the goats for 7 months. I can’t believe it has been that long! Lula Mae and Chloe add so much humor and joy to our lives, not to mention milk, that it makes them worth the effort.

Lula Mae & Chloe in January
Our first half-gallon day!

Lula Mae (the mama goat) is an anxious, finicky goat that is more serious than playful. She continually barks orders at her Chloe or me—if I’m nearby. She’ll let me milk and boss her around in the barn, but as soon as we are in the pasture, she thinks she is the boss. She scolds me for getting out of sight or lagging behind. In case you haven’t seen it, just watch this goats screaming like human video now. And yes, ours really do sound like this.
Here Lula is feasting on some grain (which she gets because she is milking). Her soft undercoat from winter has almost entirely disappeared.
The ducks' bodies may be boats, but mine converts blackberries to milk!
Chloe is the opposite of her mother. She is playful and stubborn. She is 1 year old and acts even younger. She still runs at full speed and jumps all fours(!) onto Lula’s back to reach a high blackberry bramble or just to hitch a ride.
Since our goats have so much to forage, we only supplement their feed. They get 2 different kinds of hay and Lula gets grain. A few months back however, we took Lula Mae to the breeder and due to some ovulation complications, left her there for a few weeks. Chloe was alone and distraught. Mr. Bee and I spent hours trying to comfort her. But when our presence didn’t alleviate her distress, we, like any normal goat parents, turned to food to bribe her. She refused handpicked blackberry leaves, rejected all produce, and even stopped letting us hand-feed her hay. So we tried grain. The sweet, high-calorie grain that Lula eats to make sure she is able to produce milk. Well, Chloe loved it. For those few minutes, she’d stop crying and seem to truly enjoy herself. And after a feeding she seemed somewhat calmer.
Chloe crying through the fence
And thus, we fed her. Sometimes in the milking stanchion like we do with Lula. Sometimes straight out of our hands or from a bucket. A little for breakfast, a snack here, a pity snack there and a hearty dinner.
By the time Lula came back, it was clear that we had created a monster. A very large (10 pound over healthy weight) monster. With Lula back, she stopped crying all the time but became obsessed with grain. She was an addict, desperate to get her fix and willing to try everything from coy looks to outright defiance to taste that sweet grain again. Milking Lula Mae became a test of strategies to Chloe from vaulting over the milking room walls or attempting to squeeze between the gate that separates the milking room from the rest of the barn. Often it resulted in Chloe getting her head stuck somewhere, when inevitably her now rollie pollie body refused to fit through an opening. It was a rough transition.
"Who me?" Chloe trying to get into the bag of feed
All this to say, Lula Mae is pregnant and should be kidding this summer. Hopefully she will have two babies (most common) but we will have to wait and see. It’s intriguing to feel little hooves stretch the sides of her belly. Chances are, I’ll be the one “on-call” when she delivers so I have to start reading up on goat labor soon!
Chloe is off grain and down to a healthy weight again, but still obsessed. Occasionally she’ll take advantage of a partially latched gate to squeeze into the milking room to steal Lula’s serving. Hopefully, she’ll be thrilled when we breed her next year and she can eat grain twice a day to help her babies grow. Sigh.
Her old self again, but always hoping to earn a treat with that grin.
The goats have done an excellent job clearing out our invasive blackberries and salmonberries. Their paddock used to be so thick with vines that we had to cut a clearing around the barn so they could get out! Soon, I will take you on a tour of their barn and pasture. Maybe I'll even show you Mr. Bee's homemade cheese!


New to us this year are chickens! Yes, 4 little chicks that prove why duck-raising is both more enjoyable and more challenging than chicken raising. 
Here’s Tippy Canoe. She’s a buff orpington.  Right now, she is at the top of the pecking order, but also the biggest (most mature chicken) of the bunch.

Miss Tippy
Then we have HennyPenny and Lexie, the Barred Rocks. To me, these are classic “farm” chickens with their wide behinds and speckled black feathers. Henny Penny is also known as the Brave Barred as she rarely scatters when I come by to feed them or go to pick them up.

Lex & Pen at the Front

Lastly, we have Eggy Peggy, a silver-laced Wyandotte. She’s small now (younger) but will grow up to be decently sized chicken.
The littlest chicken of all - Eggy Peggy
They all will be medium to large birds with brown eggs. I’m surprised at how soft they are. And how quiet. These things are church mice compared to ducks! I also thought they were all dying in the first 48 hours because they hardly drank any water and they were going through food at a rate that made me wonder if they had worms. Nope. They are just chickens.

While daily care for them might be easier than our ducks, they aren’t intelligent. But then, maybe that makes them all the more lovable...

The Duck Days of Summer - Part 2

Now for the birds you’ve never seen.
A few months ago we connected with a retiring duck farmer (at one point he raised 700+ birds on his land) and purchased some of his flock. He was liquidating his Muscovies, so we bought 23 birds with the intention of slaughtering most for meat and keeping a few for breeding. The meat is leaner than mallard-descended ducks, but still very good. We lost 5 due to a mystery that is now resolved thanks to an avian expert (which, I will write about another day), butchered 14, and kept 4 females.

Mrs. Little is all-black and looks like the Little described earlier. Mrs. Brown is a beautiful brown and white that reminds me of a Britney Spaniel. Then we kept 2 white and black speckled females, one of who we fondly call Escapy (Esk-uh-pee) because, well, she is capable of escaping from anything or anywhere.  They don’t lay eggs quite yet, but will soon. Instead of quacking, the females trill. It is a beautiful noise—just listen. We will breed them with Little in the future, and hopefully have a self-sustaining meat source that is very low maintenance. They are less socialized than our other birds and are still getting used to the idea that I feed the ducks kitchen scraps off the back porch. They often miss the memo until everything’s been devoured.

Mrs. Brown

Mrs. Little and Friends

The other muscovies... NOM/*tear*
(Seared duck breast on a bed of sweet potatoes & chanterelles with a cherry balsamic reduction)

Our last 5 ducks came around Easter as day-olds. They are all females and all Khaki Campbells. As an experiment, we didn’t “hand-raise” these babies and instead put them with the other ducks early on. They enjoy following around any brown duck (Golden or Khaki Campbell) to the water, food, or foraging, but particularly love cuddling close to Mama Duck. They gather outside her nestbox during the day and attempt to guard her against anything that comes near. When they are outside, they can be found stumbling as they run down the hill and tripping over their long legs. They are as uncoordinated as toddlers and as awkward as teenagers. Eventually, they will lay eggs too.

The babies following Goldie
And then there is Edgar (blind and/or brave duck). He's not new, as you may remember. but he deserves his own spotlight. He’s still blind. He’s still a little neurotic. Yes, he still walks in circles and can’t get in and out of the duck house on his own, but he is lovely all the same. When Ms. Duck spent so long rehabilitating her leg this winter, Edgar joined her to make sure she wasn’t lonely. When the baby Khakis got introduced to the adult ducks, Edgar spent the first week with them inside their house helping them get acclimated. And when the little girls from down the street desperately want to hold and pet a duck, Edgar is the guy for the job.  

Just keep spinning, just keep spinning
And those, friends, are our 25 ducks/ducklings. We’ll let you know if Mama Duck hatches her first clutch next month and make sure we post pictures more regularly now that the weather is nice. J


The Duck Days of Summer - Part 1

Our homestead is ever expanding and changing. It seems rather appropriate to provide a thorough update of who is who on the land and who is expected in the coming months.  Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!
First, we have our “original” flock(s) from last year. We have 17 adult ducks, so they are a little difficult to gather and pose for a group shot. I hope these suffice:
Family Photo
You’ll immediately recognize Alice and Ms. Duck, the large white Pekins. Alice has maintained her Top-of-The-Flock status and can be regularly found displaying her gorgeous (and incredibly soft) self for everyone to see. Ms. Duck is still a little strange: Standoffish with humans but desperately interested in being part of the flock. She misses the social cues of the other ducks and marches to a different drummer. She is sort of a “weak” duck with regular accidents (she once sprained her leg flying into another duck in the middle of our icy winter and had to spend 6 weeks rehabilitating in our garage), but balances our flock out and makes us very glad she’s part of our family. Both lay white eggs of gargantuan proportions every day or so. 
The Glamorous Alice
The not-so-Glamorous Ms. Duck

Then there are the Khaki Campells. These are the babies that arrived with Alice over a year ago in a straight run (mixed sex). We butchered the males (except Muffin, our stud and Edgar) and kept the females. Along the way, we lost our fair share (remember Jerome?). Now we are down to Splitfoot and one other female who doesn’t have a name. They lay good sized white eggs daily and are pretty social with us humans.
Splitfoot and Nameless
Next come the Golden 300s. This is a hybrid variety that we got for egg production. They look nearly identical to the Khaki Campbells but have a darker wingstripe and a light brown facial stripe that the Khakis are missing. We have 5 Golden females and 1 male (Bismarck). We have a light one named Goldie who regularly squeezes through the fencing to wander among the goats or sneaks into the neighbor’s yard to eat her fill of dandelions without competition. We also have Mama Duck who has gone broody and is sitting her eggs as I type. It’s amazing to watch her pull bedding into her already full nest box and nuzzle her warm eggs. They lay a medium sized egg a day.
The Golden Girls with Bismarck Behind
 Mr. Bee’s attempt to restore the world through breeding of this “endangered” (aka rare, domesticated) breed? Ah yes. The Magpies.  Well, we have 3 females that are currently happy to be part of the flock. Don’t let their iridescent feathers or unique patterns fool you into thinking they are docile beauty queens. These 3 ducks make as much noise as our entire flock combined. Black Beak is the loudest and serves as the appointed “spokes duck” for her breed. Next, there is Freckle Face and Skinny Head. They usually stick together and produce an egg every day or so. Although many flock raisers describe their meat as gourmet, we didn’t like the taste and actually bartered the butchered males for other items. And those supposedly green eggs? Try a white egg with a dark brownish-green (aka baby poo) bloom to it. Not my favorite breed to say the least. We will be finding another way to save the world—sorry Mr. Bee! 

The Magpies Showing Their Backsides (typical...)
 And what happened to the little Muscovies you may be wondering? Well, one got lost with Butry and the other has become quite the fixture on our homestead. Little, as we aptly named him at the time, is huge. He is the Alpha Male and loves to assert himself by opening his large beak wide and “hissing” or breathing very heavily since the male ducks can’t quack. He is friendly like a puppy, and follows me around while I do morning chores. He wags his big butt and fans his tail in hopes of a treat, then pants like a retriever while he waits. I love Little.

To meet the ducks I haven't introduced you to yet, check out my next post.