Monday, May 30, 2011

Fencing party...

We have two acres of meadow surrounding our home. When we first moved here 8 years ago we hired a man who put up a fence that gave our dogs a nice big area of lawn to play on. Then three years ago I started buying a couple of spring lambs to raise for "freezer camp." They helped mow the lawn and were fun to have around, (and later? delicious!) This year I went from two lambs to 5, knowing we would need more space for them to convert sunlight to protein!

So yesterday, on a fine spring Maine morning, our driveway filled with cars. Sister Deb and her husband John came from Massachusetts, neighboring friends Scott and Marion were here with their magical tractor, and niece Emily and her husband Jeff came from Portland, (bringing their very cute new dog!) too. John and Chris put up 70 or so "T" posts, then Scott and the rest of the crew pulled the very heavy "field fence" and attached it firmly to the posts. Later in the day Marion climbed on the tractor, (I hopped a ride for part of the time, whee!) and bush hogged some of the meadow to encourage new growth for the lambs to enjoy once they nibble down the existing tall stuff. (The night before Scott used the bush hog on the tractor to annihilate an ugly wall of Sumac bushes and clear up our property line on one side. It was an awesome sight!)

Deb and I did a lot of cooking... quiche for lunch, roast lamb and roast chicken (both home raised last year) and a big ol' bowl of sweet potato salad for supper. There was pie and ice cream and snacky stuff, too, and lots of cold drinks for the people fencing in the sun.
In this picture Chris and Jeff are fastening fence to the sturdy "T" post. They were almost at the end here, sunburned, tired and bug bitten.
When the last fence clamp was crimped we opened up a spot in the old yard fence and showed the lambs where the tall grass was. Tired from his day-long efforts, John rested on the yard fence and we all smiled to see the lambs explore the vast new territory! They waded in and commenced to eat. And eat. And more with the eating. The grass is so high they can't see each other if they get separated so there has been a lot of "baa-ing."

The fence came out beautifully and it makes me extremely happy to look out and see my properly fenced from corner post to corner post. I can hardly wait until the chickens and ducks realize they have so much space to roam!

That new fence represents space and security for my dogs and livestock, but it also represents how very fortunate we are to have friends and family who will give up their precious spare time to help us complete a daunting project. It is a blessing on so many levels.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Duck egg!

On May 1st I brought home Elvis and Belle, two young adult Muscovy ducks. They are delightful... friendly, bug eating, quiet and colorful additions to the mini farm. Every morning Belle waits for me to come open the door to the chicken coop. She climbs the ramp and hides behind the feed bin, looking for all the world like a bird laying an egg. But there have been no eggs.

Until this morning! Belle laid a large, slightly green tinted egg. I am hoping she will lay more and brood them, and that I will have DUCKLINGS. That would be such a treat. (The larger egg towards the right is the duck egg. The other two eggs are from my chickens.)

P.S. Today I added another female duck. Her name is Beauty. Stay tuned for photos of the happy trio.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hopping on opportunity...

I delight in feeding the wild birds. The chickens delight in searching for fallen seeds on the ground under the feeders.

This week I put my beautiful bird bath up for the season, and filled it with clean water. I turned the water spigot off and looked back to admire my handiwork. Two smart chickens had already figured out that if they hopped up on the bird bath they could dine at The Sunflower Buffet.

You have to admire the fact that two birds not known for keen intellect had assessed a novel situation and taken advantage of a new opportunity within mere moments of it being presented. And they were richly rewarded by a smorgasboard of seed.

I learn a lot by watching my chickens.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

If I could give one bit of advice...

If I could give one bit of advice to people who are choosing a life mate, it would be this. "Choose a mate that has a sense of humor." When I look at the high and low points in the last 26 years of marriage, I can clearly see that it is a lively sense of the ridiculous that has smoothed over the rough spots that come to everyone.

In this photo, Chris has just sat down at our beloved picnic table with a nice rib eye steak he has grilled. Bizarrely enough, Lilly the ancient boxer is sitting there, like a small, striped human, and she is eyeing his steak with ill intent. Some people would have a fit, smack the dog, yell, be in a huff. Not my man. He has a chat with the dog,(who is deaf as a post!) and later put an onion ring between his lips and shared it with her. We shared a laugh and enjoyed our meal.

Both of us share an appreciation of the absurd, and it has served us well. So well that when I woke this morning to the slanting light of dawn through the wavy glass of our bedroom windows and realized that my beloved was holding me tightly in his big arms, my very first thought was, "This is just as magical and wondrous as it was when we were new." I laid my hand across his furry face and drifted back to sleep, awash in the awareness of how very, very lucky I am. There is so much good... but the humor is the seasoning that flavors it all.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


When I got the wild idea to add two Muscovy ducks to our mini farm a couple of weeks ago, my patient husband was on board. The day we were to get the ducks he went to the hardware store and got supplies needed to build a little duck house. Then he spent a good part of his day planning, designing, measuring and cutting a nice shelter for the new additions. The project really needed an extra pair of hands, and I was at work. He picked me up from work and we drove to get the ducks, not arriving home until late. And mean while, the flu from h*ll moved into my body.
For the following two weeks I have remained sick and fundamentally useless, and Chris has worked 20+ hours of overtime both weeks, late evenings and all day on some weekends, so the duck house remained in pieces. The ducks didn't seem to mind. They could bunk in the lamb lodge or in the spacious chicken coop if they wanted, but they seemed perfectly happy to nap under the picnic table or just in the middle of the lawn. I've been worried that a night-time predator would scale the fence and have some tasty duck snacks, but so far, so good.

Meanwhile I've been watching the ducks when I have a chance. They are quite dedicated to one another. Belle, the hen, wanders about, looking for bugs or succulent sprounts to eat, and Elvis, the drake, follows her. He never lets her out of his sight. If he finds a treat to eat he huffs at her and shares the morsel. They sleep side by side, sometimes resting their heads on each others backs, looking for all the world like they are cuddling.

I woke up this morning just certain that I would be all over my virus. My virus laughed. So after sitting up for a bit I took a hot shower, waved my white flag of surrender and climbed back between the sheets. The dogs thought this was a fine idea on a rainy day and joined me. Five hours later I woke and heard hammering.
I looked outside and there, in the cold rain, was Chris- building me a duck house.
He was drenched, his clothes sodden. His tools were wet, the wood was wet,his hands and cheeks were red with cold- but he had this determined look on his face. He knew I've been worried about the ducks at night, and he was finishing this project no matter what!

Finish he did. I guess he didn't want Elvis to be the only dedicated husband on the place! I cleared a spot next to the chicken coop and we set up cinder blocks to elevate the new duck house a bit. Muscovies like to be up a little off the ground, we have learned. I found an old blueberry box in the garage and stuffed it full of clean, sweet hay for a nest box. I sprinkled fresh shavings on the floor and put a pan of duck food in the house. The ducks were watching, and within moments Belle had jumped up to have a snack and investigate.

When the weather clears I'll paint the house so it matches the coop. Meanwhile, I hope the ducks find this a fine place to start a little family. I know I will sleep better at night knowing they are safe and snug in their cozy new digs. And I will revel in the knowledge that my kind, talented, dedicated man went the extra mile to build this little place so another loving couple would be safe and cozy.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The cirle of life, clad in feathers...

Those of you who know me or read my blog know that I am exceedingly fond of my chickens. I got my first hens 4 or 5 years ago, after wanting them for most of my life. I woke up one morning and thought, "What am I WAITING for?" and then arranged to start with four of my chosen breed, Silver Laced Wyandottes. I chose this breed because they are unusually pretty, large, round-ish birds, with white feathers laced in black. The are good egg layers, do well in a cold climate, and are fairly calm and friendly. I've added to my flock, lost a few here and there due to injuries or illness, and until yesterday I had 10. Before I left for work yesterday I did one last walk around to make sure all the animals had what they needed for the day, and I saw one of my older hens lying in the grass, obviously dying. People who know chickens have a saying, "They can be fine one minute, dead the next." That is about how it was with this hen. She had been looking absolutely fine up until that moment. I tucked her into a quiet corner of the coop so none of the other animals would bother her. When I got home the light had left her eyes.

My sweet husband told me he'd bury her for me, and true to his word came home after a long day and went right to work with the shovel, digging a deep hole. We thanked her for her beauty and her contributions to many happy breakfasts, sprinkled some of her favorite sunflower seeds in with her, and tucked her into the earth.

As I walked up the hill towards the house, hands in pockets, head bowed, something buzzed past me. The sound of its wings were familiar, yet I had to reach into the back of my brain to remember just what it was. While I was thinking the buzzing thing came back, and hovered before my face for one blink. A hummingbird! Perhaps even the very same one seen in the above photo. This is the bird I found, looking very dead, caught in a spiders web last June. I warmed it and fed it and it came to life long enough to sit on my fingers and preen before he flew away... a magical moment.

I rushed to the garage and got the hummingbird feeder out of storage and then mixed up some food and got it hung by the door. By this morning my visitor was adding his jewel tones to the beautiful spring day.

The circle of life is so very apparent when you surround yourself with animals. In this instance, just as I was grieving the loss of one life, I was reminded that it is spring time in Maine and new life is all around me, just waiting to be appreciated.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Call of the Wood Thrush...

To the best of my knowledge, I've never seen this bird, but I love to hear him sing. Last night I heard him for the first time of the season, calling from the deep woods over the rushing brook to the north of the property. I hope you will listen here, and imagine how the song sounds floating over the wind tossed grasses in the gathering evening. Pure magic!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Spring marching on...

I have not blogged for a bit because I have been held fast in the grips of a particularly nasty virus that has laid me low. But spring has marched on despite my illness and plans I had put into place have come to fruition. I went to purchase 4 lambs last Sunday, and the woman threw in "runt triplet" for free. So I have a real flock (5!) of them now, and they are beyond adorable.

The daffodils, jonquils and tulips I planted last fall, and the fall before that, etc. have burst into riotous bloom. They encircle a crab apple tree and normally they all flower at once. This year either they are early or the tree is late, but it is still a pretty show!

I decided our mini farm might just need a pair of ducks! So here they are, Elvis (he ruffles his head feathers into a funky Elvis-like hair style and is very good at wiggling his rear!) and Belle. They are Muscovy ducks; known for being excellent bug eaters, producers of fine eggs, and excellent parents. I am hoping they'll get down to the business of nesting soon so we can have a bunch of cute babies waddling about! Meanwhile, they are interesting characters. They don't quack, but rather make an odd, breathy sound. They also don't swim, but will hop in a pool for a vigorous splash!

I have not been able to enjoy my new additions as much as usual since I have been feeling so rotten, but I felt well enough today to take pictures and I even caught myself smiling once when the lambs went rollicking past me, bucking and leaping with the joy of spring.