Going Cuckoo over Gloomy Beauty

It’s time for another post with mostly photos. The rainy day brought a lot of sights, from a bird and insects I’d never seen before to animals dealing with water. That’s right, the title of this post isn’t an insensitive ableist phrase, I actually saw a cuckoo!

In the center is a yellow-billed cuckoo!

I knew we had them here, but I’d never seen a cuckoo before. It must have been recovering from the most recent downpour. I read that these birds are called storm birds, because they tend to sing after a storm. This one wasn’t singing.

Close up.

The other fun part of today was enjoying the wet animals. Poor Fiona thought she was trapped in one of the pens until Apache walked over and showed her it wasn’t a lake.

I’m outa here!

Here are some other images from around the pens.

Here are my insect finds. most are new to me, but not the fire ants. They messed up my foot night before last.

I’ll close with more moody weather photos. It was a pretty interesting day after all.

New Chicks Are Laying, I Hope in the Right Place

There’s good chicken news all around. First, Star’s three days of solitary confinement seem to have worked, and she is now running around and acting like a normal hen again. That’s just in time, because this morning I found a new egg, on the ground, over by where the new hens hang out.

Big for a first egg

It’s a different shade of brown from any of the others, so I know it’s a new one. Plus, it’s really not much smaller than the eggs the older hens lay, so good job, whichever one of you laid that! However, the middle of the ground is not a great place to lay. I thought I’d better get some fake eggs to put in the boxes, since I keep taking up every egg I find (to thwart the snakes).

So, off I went to the local feed store. Of course, they didn’t have any, so I sat in my car and pondered other places where I could get some fake eggs. It dawned on me that I have some about ten feet from where I am sitting at my desk right now.

Yes, the bird themed bathroom has fake eggs in it (and non-bird items).

That was quite a duh moment, when I realized I hadn’t had to make that trip into town (though it was good to get gas). I went home and gathered up the fake eggs, as well as some sturdy cardboard boxes. The reason I did that is that the new chickens still seem more comfortable over in the west end of the chicken run, where they were when they first got here. So, I made a few nest boxes and stuck them in various potentially enticing spots. Since it probably won’t rain again for quite a while, cardboard will be fine, and when I figure out where they like to lay, I can get a wooden one made, or buy one.

Blondie is already checking one box out, and Betsy had been looking until I bothered her.

I also took some of the endless supply of grass clippings and fluffed up our other nest boxes, to try to get them interested in laying where the other hens do. I’ve seen them going in there and looking around, so maybe someone else is going to start laying soon!

Enticement

And if my fake yellow eggs disappear then, more’s the better. I’d like to see a snake digest one of them!

We’ll see, as Lee’s dad always said.

Broody Hen, Moody Horses

What better thing to do on a full moon than to try new things? Right. I did it anyway. Good ole Star went broody again, and with something taking the eggs every night, it was fruitless to let her set on them. What to do?

Do something about that hen!

She was also hogging the preferred egg-laying spot, which made me worry about the new chickens when they go to finally start laying. Hmm.

Enjoy a passion vine in bloom while imagining me trying to figure out what to do.

Finally, reading the backyard chickens for newbies group paid off. Someone shared that if you put a broody hen in a dog cage with airflow under it, they would feel the cool air under them and go back to normal. It’s called a broody breaker. Why, there’s one of those in our coop. So…

What are you in jail for?

I thought I’d need help, so I gathered Lee and Kathleen around. But all I needed was someone to open the door for me. I just picked her up and set her in there, with food and water. She is not happy. I hope this works!

It’s cute how all the other chickens keep checking on her. Bruce is especially concerned. He’s such a good rooster.

Moody Horses

I’m not having a lot of horse luck. I’m beginning to think it’s user error, and maybe I should not be riding until I get my lessons going. After not having much luck with Apache the previous day, I figured he’s not feeling well, so I just walked him (and Fiona) around.

Yet another picture of Apache eating.

He had just gotten out of his pen, so he really wanted to eat. That was frustrating, but we had fun anyway. Fiona followed us, and really seemed to enjoy exploring her new territory.

Hey, wait for me! (She’s that fit in the horizon)

Both of them liked the change of scenery, and I enjoyed the restful interlude.

This poison ivy looks fascinating.

I then tried to ride Andrew. I managed to eventually get the saddle and bridle adjusted for him. And he did okay in the round pen, but will now only go one direction. Anyway, I mounted, and he acted all barn sour and was hard to get to move out. Eventually he followed Dusty some, but I had to hood on through some spooking, and he crowded poor Kathleen and Dusty. In the end, Kathleen walked us around until neither he nor Dusty would do anything but investigate a feed dish. I’ll try another day. Who knows where the issue lies? I need help, but will get it soon.

I’m so glad Jim mowed. There’s hay everywhere. All I want to do is eat and gain weight and go lame. I’m a load of fun.

I just want a horse I can go riding on and learn new skills. I can’t do any of the exercises in the working equitation book, because I don’t have a clue what driving through the hindquarters means, and no horse of mine can side pass. I need patience! It’s not a race and is supposed to be fun. Maybe I’m the moody ones here.

The Latest Case of Missing Eggs: Solved

I may have mentioned that the family reported no eggs the entire time I was in Austin last week. I found a few over the weekend, but not the usual amount.

Don’t blame me; I’m not laying yet.

In case the fact that Star had gone broody was making laying hard on the other hens, I set up two cardboard boxes with bedding in them, to make more compartments in the old roosting area. No one used them, far as I could tell.

High-quality nesting boxes

Then on Saturday, when I went to check for additional eggs under Star, I realized that the eggs I’d marked with a star were no longer there. Three different eggs were there. THAT is when I decided eggs were being laid, but consumed. Grr.

I can’t make the grass around the coop die and the big mower can’t reach it. I thought putting the food container in that space would be useful, but…ants came.

I knew it had to be a snake, because nothing else, other than a human, can get in. Then I was worried for Star, since she is setting so dedicatedly on her nest! I must have checked for a snake a dozen times this weekend, and other people were checking, too.

These blurry but happy chickens are eating all the food I had to throw out due to ants. They also eat ants.

So, today, when I FINALLY had a chance to move my butt off my office chair, I went to check the chickens. There were two eggs under Star. Good. Then, I went back, because I was thinking that perhaps if I set the new nesting boxes I put in sideways, the hens might like them better. I moved the one on the left, and heard the weirdest sound. I carefully peeked in the other box, and there, under the chicken bedding, was a very content rat snake. I KNEW it had to be lying around somewhere nearby, and it was just hiding! I’d probably missed it earlier.

The culprit

I asked the nephew to please eliminate the snake, which he did quite efficiently. As always, I hate doing this, but I know it would come right back if I just moved it off to the woods (previous experience). Besides, I am pretty confident we have a LOT of rat snakes here, so I’m not leading to their extinction. Ranch life is hard. To cheer you up, though, here’s one of our herons in the tank behind the house.

If you put goldfish in the troughs, expect a visit from me, the fish killer.

And…it’s raining again. I’d hoped to go visit Aragorn the beautiful dream horse at Sara’s later today, so I hope there’s a break!

Always Something with Chickens

I knew it had been too long since we had any chicken drama. They certainly know how to get themselves in trouble, even with all these dogs guarding them. They can’t help it; they are chickens.

On Saturday, I noticed that Barbara, the dark black new hen that should lay very dark eggs, was sitting a lot. Now, lots of the chickens were sitting, because it was hot. But she was sitting a lot. On Sunday, I noticed she was dragging one of her legs. Oh no, she had hurt herself in all that rain and slop. And I quickly realized the other chickens were pecking away at her and pulling out her feathers. The only good thing about that is they weren’t pecking Billie Idyl (who is fine now).

Speaking of rain, you can see how high the water got on Monday

So, I took the advice I was given and let the other new hens into the big pen a week earlier than I had planned to. That led to a lot of squawking and chasing. Eventually, everyone has come to terms with the bigger flock, though each sub-flock sticks to itself, like rival street gangs or something. If a bug shows up, though, they all go for it.

Old chickens in front, new ones in back.

After a day of rest, Barbara seemed happier and was eating and drinking, but her leg kept folding under. So, when Kathleen, etc., came back yesterday, we decided to pull a Dr. Pol. That means we have been watching a LOT of veterinarian shows on television. The three of us got together and got a splint on Barbara. My job was holding her. She was good.

Barbara in her first splint

The splint was some flexible wire, with bandages under it to cushion her leg, and wrap around it. The first one had a bent leg, as shown above. She had a hard time with it. I realized that is not how they usually hold their legs. So, we redid it more straight.

That’s better.

This makes it easier for her to lay down and rest, and she can hobble around to get to her food and water. She seems okay for now.

We’re okay, too. Thanks for asking.

My hope is that Barbara heals up and can get around soon. This morning she had obviously moved around a lot, and was standing. Good signs. I know she stands a better chance without all the pecking and trying to flee pecking. And these new ones made it 6 weeks before any accident, so not too bad.

Call me Stumpy

By the way, it’s time for all the swallows to fledge, just like the purple martins at my friend Donna’s house. We have dozens and dozens of them flying around right now, including ones who have nests around our house. This morning, I looked out the window by our stairs, and saw at least ten of them sitting on the roof.

A few of the barn swallows, seen through the screen.

Upon closer inspection, I saw it was two families, four parents and their chicks, who had just fledged. Some of those babies were figuring out how to stand on solid surfaces. It was so cute, and really made me feel better as I set out to face yet another difficult day at work.

I Could Have Worked Harder Yesterday, But…

Now, I’m not referring to my paid employment, which did get it’s time in, but to my after-work job, helping with the pens and other jobs. It was an uncharacteristically pleasant day, so I can’t blame the heat. No, it’s my little buddy Vlassic who kept me sidelined for at least 45 minutes.

I deserve attention.

I went outside around 5 to water the chickens and check on progress, and I sat down to watch the hole-digging process in the stall area. Vlassic jumped in my lap.

We are fascinated.

He obviously needed some Mama love, because he only got down once for a minute until 6 pm, when I had to get out of the hard chair and help out. He snuggled, he licked, he cuddled, and he sighed from happiness. I love when the weather lets me hang out with my doggie dude.

Before digging holes. You can see one of the water troughs set up and markers for posts to divide the stalls.

Now that the dirt is all moved, the stalls can be completed. There will be four of them (thus limiting the number of horses that Kathleen and I can acquire). Each trough will be shared by two stalls. It will be cool.

Goldie likes to be involved.

The holes in the pens were easy to drill, but there were also three holes farther out, to support a water trough area for the cows.

The new posts are past the big gate. The water line has to go way out there.

The last hole was a doozy! The auger just wouldn’t go down. It just bounced and bounced about a foot down. It took at least half an hour to get that hole dug, and the soil had to be loosened, and the auger had to go sideways for a bit. But, once it got past the hard stuff, it happened. It turns out there are a few areas of really compacted soil right there. That’s interesting, because just a few feet away, there was no problem.

Looks like a normal hole, but it is not.

The good news is that all the poles are in their holes, to make a rhyme. And I DID get some work in. I filled in some of the holes, including a large and very wet hole where the water line got cut and had to be repaired. Let me tell you what, damp clay soil is heavy. My back reminded me of that!

It may look like an area with dirt and some random fencing stuff, but that used to be a big hole.

Of course, that was all a drop in the bucket, compared to all the work that has to be done on this project, but it’s nice to get some sweat equity into my project. By the way, Lee also filled in two holes. Nice, dry holes, I want to point out.

Look at those fine poles.

It looks like, at least for now, we have all the posts needed for the horse area. Now, to just fill everything in, finish burying the water line (ugh, a great deal of hand trenching is involved), set the troughs up with their floats and stuff, and add gates.

While the “getting the horse over here” part of the effort is coming close to an end, the project will go on and on, so I’ll keep chronicling it. Why? Mainly for me, I guess. It’s fun to look back on things once they are done. I sure enjoy the photos of building our house!

The container gets to be turned into a tack room and hay storage, while the second container, once it get here, gets to be other storage. Or something. Plans are fluid. Then, the great cattle fencing stage of the operation will begin. Our ranch will look very different, and there will be lots more space for rotating cattle and adding to the herd (which, to be clear, is NOT my area, but it’s fun to watch). Speaking of cattle, the new young heifers behind us want to not only be friends with Goldie, but also the chickens!

These birds are fascinating.

Pitching in to Get Apache His New House

After taking a few days off for other stuff, we’re back in the final stretches of finishing the new horse pens over at our covered shipping container at the Hermits’ Rest. While I haven’t done the heavy digging or lifting, I’ve contributed more than the dogs have.

Why work, when you can relax beside the new giant porch fan?

Humans have been quite busy, though. Yesterday the trench was dug (by hand!) and the water lines put in for the two horse troughs and a sink/horse washing station. Doesn’t that sound fancy? No, I will not wash the horse in a sink; those are two separate things.

Once the water lines were in, it was time to move some dirt. The idea is that the ground should slope away from the shipping container, so that no pools of water will form if it rains hard from the south, or an enthusiastic drinker splashes a lot. So, more dirt was needed. Where did it come from?

The dogs won’t have their hill to climb much longer.

There’s a reason for making that small pond up by our garage. We needed to move some dirt and add it to low spots, and this stuff does the job. It’s certainly pretty soil, but rather clay-filled. Maybe that way it will shed water.

Goldie helped, when not trying to make friends with cattle.

At one point there were three supervisors and one heavy equipment operator, though in my defense, I had done some piddly little helpful things. Nonetheless, it was fun to watch the attempts at smoothing out those clay clods. And it was cool to see nothing under that shelter for the first time in many years!

Smoothing.

While this was going on, and while I wasn’t off horsing around, I did things that I could do. For one, I picked up a bunch of horse and donkey poop out of the pen where the equines currently spent much of their day, and brought it over to mix with some chicken poop compost to make some fine fertilizer for plants Kathleen is going to plant.

The other stuff I did was small, but saved some time for our tractor operator. I picked up a lot of the little pieces left over from the fencing rails. Some of it can be recycled into pieces of gates and such, and I have a feeling even the little things will be useful someday, somewhere. This was the second time I picked up scrap, and I brilliantly noted it was easier to put them in a wheelbarrow than to carry pieces in my hands. Guess what? That stuff gets hot in the sun.

And I picked up the larger pieces of rock and concrete that were hanging around the area, causing us to trip, or potentially bruising a horse hoof. They will be used in the planters, as well.

I was impressed my arms still worked after picking up all the hay on Sunday, but I was only a little sore. I even made my back feel better by riding Apache a bit, which was stalled by an unfortunate encounter with a moving utility vehicle. Apache thought it was Evil Personified. Sigh, all my fault, too. I’d forgotten there was someone down the race moving cattle. At least I enjoyed finding nature stuff to enjoy over by the new pens.

BUT. Through everything, through the rain, the heavy lifting, the horse challenges, and even some work shit that’s about to go down, I’m doing remarkably well. I did just knock on a wood product after typing that, though it was a piece of petrified wood.

Have a fun day. I plan to.

Don’t Let the Chickens Out

It was a fun, relaxing day, except that I did a thing I probably shouldn’t have. The chickens were trying so hard to get grasshoppers from within their pen. I was throwing them in, but felt sorry for them, so I let them out.

Whoa! We’re free!

I watched them for at least ten minutes as they flapped and ran around after grasshoppers and crickets. They’d fight each other for them and squawk away.

Bugs everywhere!

I went off to take care of the horses, and when I came back they were scattered all over. So, I went in for a while. I went back out with half a watermelon shell. The minute I walked by, four of them came running, led by Bertie Lee, of course.

But the other two? Nope. I couldn’t find them. So I came back a few minutes later, and Star and Henley, the skittish one, were behind the coop. I couldn’t get them in. Well, I got Star in, but Buttercup went out. So, I had to get Lee to help. There are no photos, because we were too busy!

That dang Henley ran out in the field, ran around us, and got stuck trying to get in the wrong way. But, we did it! More teamwork! However, they stay in for a while longer, I think!

What’s this?

Earlier today, we rewarded ourselves for hauling all the hay by taking a spontaneous trip to Temple for lunch. We ended up downtown and Kathleen looked for a restaurant. We headed to a place with pizza, and ended up in a really pretty area that appears recently renovated.

Area near the restaurant

We had a great time at Treno’s, even with the weird trendy ordering system. The outdoor eating area was so pretty, and the oven-fired pizza was fantastic.

Pretty eating area. There were also really cute play areas.

We were delighted with our meals, and we want to go back and try their beer bar. I’m impressed with the work they’ve done there, and it was good to see families having fun.

More downtown Temple.

One funny thing is that I wore an old t-shirt today that says, “I apologize to anyone I’ve not offended yet. I will get to you eventually.” I had three different people come up and say how much they liked it. One guy took my picture. That was weird!

In all, it was a good Sunday. I worked, had fun, and ate good food. We’re going to try another Temple restaurant soon!

It’s Grasshopper Season (and Cicadas and Katydids)

A Break with a Katydid

The dogs wanted to go out this morning, so I went out on the porch to drink some coffee and watch them play. I quickly realized that in fact, I was being watched, as well. There was a curious katydid sitting on my chair, waving her antennae at me. Mike Yager, you can stop reading now. Thank you for clicking. (He’s not a fan of these things)

You know I’m a katydid, because I have such long antenae.

Soon, she jumped up on my pants leg. I figured I could get a few good pictures of her for iNaturalist (which identified her as a slender meadow katydid Conocephalus fasciatus).

Let’s chat.

Next, she just hopped on up to my hand, where I was able to watch her up close, doing things with her legs, swishing those antennae, and chilling.

Checking what’s on her leg.

Finally, I got a video of her doing things and walking down my hand. I stopped when she began chewing on me and drew blood. Cheeky insect!

An innocent insect, until…

Grasshopper World

What I’d intended to write about today was grasshoppers, though. Every few years, we get a bumper crop. While I know both my children are creeped out by them, I am glad for the chickens’ sake, since they do love to chow down on grasshoppers. The vast majority this year are differential grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis), which are the kind known for messing with crops. (I saw one other type today, an obscure bird grasshopper, but I didn’t get a stellar photo.)

Look at those eyes!

The ones here are pretty varied in color, with the adults being yellow, orange, green, or brown (brown ones are older). The earlier instars tend to be very bright green, but they are mostly adults now.

Those brown twigs WERE asparagus leaves.

I can see why some folks get bothered by these guys when it’s one of their super-abundant years. They are everywhere and eating everything. Here is my asparagus. Yep, all you can see are sunflowers and other things that grasshoppers don’t eat down to the nubs.

The way the grasshoppers jump every time you move is annoying to me and apparently terrifying to some people. The good news is that I have never been bitten by a grasshopper, even when they got under my shirt or in my boots. The bad news is that those suckers hurt like heck when you run into them in your utility vehicle that no longer has a windshield.

Now, when I say they are everywhere, I’m not kidding. Here, watch this video. Also, if you aren’t on mute, listen to it. What do you hear?

Let’s see what we can stir up!

I think that’s enough on grasshoppers for today.

Indirectly Observing Wildlife

At least one cicada is out there.

One of the things I noticed today as I walked through the grasshopper-filled field, was that I knew there were a lot more living things out there than I could see. For example, the video above just rings with the sounds of cicadas. It’s been a big year for them in many parts of the US, but just average here. Still, they are loud when you get out near the trees. I don’t need to see them to know they are here!

I also know for sure that there was a barred owl somewhere in the trees, because it was making its characteristic “who cooks for you?” call a lot. And the pileated woodpecker I see occasionally was also out there calling and pecking. All morning there have been crow squabbles, as well, along with white-winged doves, who are omnipresent. Although I also saw it earlier, I heard the great blue heron squawk a couple times as it moved from tank to tank looking for crawfish or something.

Penney is looking at a lot of crawfish holes that were recently much wetter.

Speaking of crawfish or crayfish or crawdads, I also know they are all over the place, even if I don’t see them. Their find mud castles are everywhere right now, since it’s drying out and a lot of the areas that were damp all winter and spring are not covered in water anymore.

What’s left after a crawfish digs its hole

Yep, they are there, even if you can’t see them. I also saw lots of deer tracks in the muddy areas, which makes sense. There are a few does and fawns in the area.

Summer Blooms

Though we are very obviously heading into the dry season here at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch (the water table is back to a more normal level, so the new spring has stopped flowing, though the old one in the woods is still dripping away), we still have some hardy flowers that are still blooming. I always enjoy them and their tenacity.

Whether your experiencing a rainy day, dealing with the west coast heat wave, or enjoying a restful Saturday, I hope you can go outside and see what is thriving where you live. And if you can’t see anything, listen!

How Are the New Dog and Chickens Doing?

I have already been asked this today, so I may as well write a quick update for you. I’m happy to report it’s all good news!

Goldie is very happy and eating a lot, which she needs to do. She is also sleeping much better since her mommy Kathleen went out and got her a new and gigantic crate to sleep in. Ah, how I have missed having crate trained dogs. I’m told she slept like a log last night. She also got a fine and festive new collar!

This morning on my chicken-feeding break, I looked over to the horse fencing construction area and saw Goldie and Carlton, happily in the shade, supervising the drilling of more holes.

We like the shade.

Goldie went out to inspect the auger when it stopped moving for a bit, but she got the heck out of there once it went back to scattering dirt everywhere.

Yikes!

It’s nice to see at least some of the dogs getting along together. Goldie is very persistent, and repeatedly asks Penney to play with her, but she gets nothing back but growls and snaps. That one may take a while. Harvey has gotten to where they have smelled butts, but he still growls at her (but less ferociously than before). Goldie and Alfred just stay out of each other’s way. Slowly but surely, everyone is adjusting.

I like it here.

As for the new pullets, they also seem to be acclimating well. They have their roosting spots and their resting spots, and are going through chick food like crazy. The two who had seemed to be having trouble are both looking a LOT better. Blanca was up and foraging around with the others this morning.

And little Billy Idyl has no more blood on her, and seems perky and chipper. I’m glad. She is so darned cute. She runs around like a roadrunner, too. In the photo, I was TRYING to get a picture with her whole head in it!

Of course, I DO have other chickens, and I haven’t forgotten them! We got a watermelon in the house yesterday, and it all got cut up for snacking (and a fine watermelon it is, too). Of course Bruce and his ladies got to enjoy the rind this morning.

It will be fun to see how long it takes them to reduce the melon halves to nothing but the very edge of the rind like they did last time.

Since all I’d given them yesterday was a green tomato that had fallen off the vine at the cabin, I feel better in the treat department. If they are lucky they may well get to peck at some ends of zucchini and cucumber that we were given yesterday!

Ain’t life grand, if you are a dog or a chicken? Especially at the Hermits’ Rest?