Weekend Ranch Excitement

It’s been a fun weekend here at the Hermits’ Rest. I managed to go horseback riding twice, which is rare, and Apache and I had lots of fun.

Sara is setting up our cone obstacle course.

Sara set up cones, so we got to ride in patterns. He did way better on Day 2, like he figured it out. I also prevented him from eating thistles unless it was my idea.

Today we went into the pasture where a lot of cattle were. Spice did a great job herding them, and Apache managed not to panic when a big mama came toward him. Baby steps.

The new veggie garden at the cabin. Tyler hopes it will be chicken free.

Meanwhile, Fiona was “helping” Tyler work on his new vegetable garden. And hee-hawing. He has patiently built a fence and covered it, to keep the chickens out. That’s nice of him.

Let me out of this car.

Even more exciting was the fact that the sheep’s owner had come to pick them up to shear them. She got the male in her SUV but the ewe would NOT be caught. She thinks she’s a cow, dang it. In the end, they let Sheep Man back out. That’s one for them!

Ooh! Carrots and celery! Thanks!

As for the chickens, they were excited this weekend by food fun. I got them some dried mealworms, which they love. They’re sort of creepy, though, because they look sort of alive when you pour them. Plus, they got even more excited when I bought them veggie leftovers from the dinner I was cooking.

One of these eggs is not like the other!

The it was my turn to get excited! The chocolate brown eggs have started! It’s amazing how tiny pullet eggs are. I want to save the shell!

Homemade chicken and dumplings. Comfort food rules.

Now to eat my chicken and dumplings. Dumplings are secretly flour tortillas cut up. Chicken is not from my hens!

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Little Wonders

It’s a beautiful day today, so I’ve done a bit of wandering around. I’m always surprised at the beauty I see, just walking around the ranch.

Just a beautiful day to have dog fun.

Today the dogs and I checked out the arroyo, and they had a lot of fun sniffing and stomping, as usual.

That is a BIG hole. Glad I know where it is, so I won’t step on it.

I was surprised to see just how big the armadillo’s hole has gotten. Every time I walk by there’s more dirt outside it. That is one busy dillo.

You can’t really see as much orange as I saw in person, but hey, these will be a lot of delicous berries!

The trees and bushes are all budding out, and sometimes the color really surprises me. The dewberries are all red and yellow, and look almost autumnal!

A brief pause between screeches.

There are also many, many birds out today, including a family of mockingbirds who would really like to be left alone. They yelled and yelled at me for messing around in “their” tree, trying to get a picture of some raccoon poop. I think the raccoon may hang out in the tree, too.

But the best!

The best nature sight came slightly off the ranch, on our county road. I saw something white as I was driving into town this morning, so when I came back, I parked to check things out. There, in the middle of a field, were dozens of white irises. They were so pretty.

The irises are right in the center of this picture.

I wish I could have gotten closer, but you know, snakes. My guess is that there was once a house where the overgrown trees and such are now. There is still a huge oak that may have been planted by someone. And, next door, there are a lot of the same flowers planted around a tree. Maybe they dug some of the ones in the field up.

Here you can see the flowers and the big tree. And an annoying post.

I’ll just have to ask the people who live there one day!

Ranch Gets Clean with Donkey Help

Yesterday was the final day of the great chicken coop cleanup effort. Before that, though, I had to clean my dang horse, who has started to shed his thick winter coat. Fiona the mini-donkey did not want to be left out, either.

This may not be the right brand, but this is the sort of thing we used on the horses.

It was too cold for me to ride, but I wanted to hang out with Sara and brush Apache out. Of course, Fiona had to come along. Sara had bought these new miracle tools, which look suspiciously like something you’d clean your barbecue grill off with. I tried it out on the very dirty Apache, and wow, did a LOT of long white hairs come off. He seemed to like the way the cleaning tool felt, too. Neither Spice nor Fiona were shedding like Apache was. Must be the Arabian in him.

I’m embarrassed that my tail looks so perfect, so I”m hiding it. Snort.

While I was at it, I also trimmed his tail, since it was reaching the ground again and getting all dirty. I hope he appreciated it.

May I please come in?

I kept having to go back into the tack room to get things. I heard a noise, and there was my little “helper” wanting to come on in and check out the food dishes full of beet pulp that were soaking.

Fine, then, I’ll just go over and check out this hay, since these feed bowls are obviously empty.

When I told her to move, she happily went over to help get rid of that last bale of hay that was hanging around from when the horses were in the corral. Such a little darling.

Also had hen helpers

That’s Fluffy Butt in front, with Candi in back.

Later in the afternoon, I came back to finish cleaning out the chicken coop. I was very proud of myself for emptying out all 24 nest boxes and replacing the old mulch with new pine shavings, which are what the new chickens are used to, anyway. The job was made both harder and more fun by the new hens, who were very interested in “helping” me.

The golf balls are pretend eggs, Ralph says they work, so I put one in each next box.

In fact, after I finished, I was picking up more glass off the ground, and Fluffy Butt, the new Barred Rock hen, came up repeatedly, so I fed her some chicken scratch right out of my hand. She was very delicate!

A better view of fluffy pine shavings. Ah. Comfort.

About that time, Mandi and Randy showed up to help me with the floor and parts of the coop I could not reach. A real cleaning ensued, with the feed trough cleaned out, the top of the chick raising area cleaned, and ugh, a dead chicken that got wedged behind the cage removed (one final owl casualty, I guess, though it had been a while).

Mandi also swept all the droppings and stuff off the floor, which now will be some fine mulch, once it composts a bit more. It may be an old coop, but it’s a clean one now.

This picture is from before the floor got cleaned. Imagine it all smooth and with no poop.

Once Randy discovered the pieces of glass in the pen, he started picking it up, and by the time we were ready to go, we had another large amount of glass! I sure appreciated the help.

Now I’m just hoping that the new hens and the old hens get along. They definitely hang out in separate groups. But we already have a couple of eggs from the new gals. Hooray!

Great Hen Adventure Time!

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Entry to the farm. We knew we were in the right place.

Previously, I hinted that I was going to add some chickens to our flock. I’d met a woman at the Master Naturalist Christmas party named Cindy Vek, who told me all about her chicken farm, Bird and Bee Farm, between Rockdale and scenic Milano, Texas. I was intrigued.



A welcoming display from the Tom!

So, yesterday, Mandi and I fired up the big, black pickup and headed over there, first stopping at Tractor Supply for the supplies I’d needed earlier.



Welcoming committee.

I’m always grateful for map apps. It sure makes finding places way in the middle of the country easier. After a drive through some really pretty Milam County countryside, we found the place, conveniently labeled, as you can see from the first photo.

Continue reading “Great Hen Adventure Time!”

Coop Cleanup

The Raising Chickens for Dummies book told me that coops of free-range chickens need to be cleaned out every six months to a year, and since I couldn’t remember the last time anyone cleaned it, I decided now is the time.

Much less glass is in among those rocks now.

Besides, the massacre appears to be over, egg production up, and I was thinking about enlarging the flock.

My original plan was to replace all the nest box material, but we couldn’t get any straw yesterday. So, instead I cleaned off all the roosting areas and obviously soiled bedding.

Mandi and I are probably the only people who think this is a beautiful sight. Nice smooth dirt.

Then I spent an hour raking up sticks and shards of glass in the chicken run. Y’all, there is a serious glass issue in there. Also pieces of crockery. Sara says that they’d gotten rid of all of it when they lived in the cabin next to the chickens. I’m pretty sure the next renters did, too.

A sample of the variety of debris I picked up.

As it rains and the chickens peck, more glass comes to the surface. The chickens don’t eat it, but it looks bad.

As I raked and stuffed the mess into two huge feed bags, I pondered why people of the past would just throw bottles out like that.

This is how you know I’m not from around here. It suddenly dawned on me that Elaine Laywell, who used to own this ranch when it was much bigger, told me they’d used the cabin as a hunting cabin.

Well, heck! The hunters probably sat around and lined up bottles and crocks for target practice! There’s probably hundreds more shattered bottles in there.

Thank you for your efforts! Now where’s my new cousin?

So, we’re setting a bucket outside the chicken yard, and all of us chicken caregivers will pick up a few pieces every day.

We got bedding in Rockdale today, so we will replace the old stuff tomorrow. Egg-ward and upward!

Next: New chickens!

Chickens and Dogs, Oh My

First of all, I’d like to sincerely thank all of you who have said such kind and supportive things to Mandi after yesterday’s post about Sweetie. I know she feels the love from all of you. And I mean ALL of you. Her post and the one about Brody getting hurt are the two most-read posts since I started this blog. Close behind came dead chickens. Hmm. I sense a theme.

I feel lots better when sitting on Daddy. Harvey is being good, though.

So, here you go, something on both injured dogs AND dead chickens. Something for everybody, huh?

I guess you can tell from my tone that this isn’t all that horrible. Like Mandi said yesterday, when you live out in the country, you see life and death every day. I think it gets you a better perspective; we all are going to go sometime, for some reason, so let’s appreciate what we have now. Platitudes, maybe, but true.

Chickens can be funny

We did have another chicken loss this week. It was really hot, then really cold, and I guess if a chicken had to die of natural causes, the cold time is probably better. Poor little Ameracauna was just sitting on her nest. Sara thinks she was eggbound or had some other issue. At least nothing ate her, and it was peaceful. Poor dear.

For only having nine hens now, we are still getting lots of colors. And the pinkish one in the middle is HUGE.

I mentioned that the egg production had ramped up, but it had settled to four a day, which isn’t many for the number of chickens we had. As we were dealing with the dead chicken, Tyler, who lives in the cabin by the coop, came out. I said feel free to take a few eggs now, since we have enough for at least our community. He said, “Oh, I’ve been finding them in a weird place lately…oh my gosh!” He had turned to the shelves outside his door and found SEVEN eggs from a brown hen on the top shelf. Someone found a nice, warm roost. So, yesterday, everybody got some eggs!

Continue reading “Chickens and Dogs, Oh My”

Guest Post: More Dog Sadness

by Mandi Shuffield

Country life is a special and different kind of life. It is even more important out in the country to form bonds with neighbors and their animals, in case an emergency ever happens. Country life does have some rules that are sometimes very heartbreaking for the families that have to abide by them. My family is one of those families.

Sleepy Maggie

I am, by all accounts, an animal lover. All of them. Even skunks. I believe they all have their own beauty to share. The most special animals in my life are my dogs. We operate by pack law, and it serves us well. We have a big collie named Sarge, a “hefty” husky/collie named Wink, a little furry Pomeranian/Yorkie named Sully, and a tiny piebald dachshund/Chihuahua named Maggie. We adopted a beautiful new dog that was a dalmatian mix named Sweetie. 

Fuzzy Sully

The four other dogs get along rather harmoniously. They don’t fight or get physical with each other. They will growl over who gets to sleep on which blanket, but they are called off easily. Sarge and Wink are a protective team. They have been taught to work together to neutralize a threat by command, or by recognition. Sully was bottle raised from 3 days old by me after his mother became sick and passed unexpectedly. Maggie came to me from a cousin of mine. They are not trained like Sarge and Wink. 

King Sarge

We brought 2 year old Sweetie into the pack, and I had very high hopes of her joining in the ranks of Wink and Sarge (who are 7 and 8 respectively). Sweetie seemed like a great fit, and then things turned south. But I want to include pictures of what she was like before that happened to really capture who she truly was before the trauma surfaced and took over her mind.

We have no idea what her life was like for the two years before we had her. She was named very well with her personality. She was an astounding cuddler, and loved the kids. She often slept with my two younger kids, as a matter of fact. She got along very well with the other dogs, the cat, and loved her big yard. 

Wink, with Patsy Catsy

One day she started getting out of the yard and chasing cows, sheep, and anything else she could find. We worked on making the fence more secure, but it just never seemed to work.

Then that escalated. She attacked Maggie unprovoked. It didn’t leave serious injuries, so I let that slide as a bad day. Then it happened again.

The third time was really bad. Maggie came out of it with no permanent damage, but Sweetie threatened the kids (the same ones you see her cuddling in the pictures) that time as well. Sarge and Wink did their jobs and protected Maggie and the boys. Sweetie had to be locked up in the house and isolated to assure that she wouldn’t hurt anyone. That’s no life at all. 

Sweetie with her sleeping buddy

At some point in her life, she suffered trauma that caused her to just snap. She was then unpredictable and dangerous. We only had one choice. To take her to see the vet. February 7th, 2019 I laid on the warm, green grass with Sweetie (who had to be muzzled for behavior there) and held her, and cried so hard that I thought for sure I would vomit. Her trusting eyes had looked to me to be protected, and trusted me fully. I felt like I was plotting her murder behind her back. 

Happy days

The night before she had meat lover’s pizza and chicken wings. I felt like I was the worst person on the face of the planet for not being able to fix this with her. My heart is broken. I took every bit of strength I could muster to tell the vet what had happened, ask about alternatives, then make the final call that I knew had to be made for her own peace. So many people I talked to who are professionals with dogs reassured me that this was the right thing, the only real choice, and most humane thing for her.

Peekaboo

The alternatives of her being hit by a car, or a neighbor shooting her and missing so she suffers, another animal injuring her, Wink and Sarge having to gang up on her 2-1 to protect us, were something that I couldn’t allow her the chance of having to go through. She died next to someone that loved her, who held her, who cried for her, who apologized for whatever had happened to her, and who wished beyond wishes that we were anywhere but there at that moment.

We loved her.

I’m so heartbroken, and so angry that someone hurt her in such a way that made an innocent life have to be cut so short. All sorts of mean things against whoever did that have run through my head. But the main thing I have thought was, “There. I cleaned up your mess for you. I broke my own heart to bring peace to hers that you had broken so badly.” 

I wanted to scream “STOP!” when her heart rate and breathing rapidly declined. She was very heavily sedated before the bad shot came. I just kept saying, “I’m sorry.” over and over again until the vet told me it was over. 

This isn’t a nice, warm, fuzzy, funny post that we usually try to make. This is a real life post of what happens when someone is an irresponsible pet owner. Sweetie’s mother and father were allowed to have a litter of puppies that were unwanted. Those puppies were given away, and at least one of them was abused, then tossed on the street to starve. This is the reality of allowing puppies to be born that you do not want. There is someone like me whose heart is breaking over making the choice to have a dog put to sleep because someone else made a bad choice and was not responsible. 

Sweetie stole my heart, and she deserved to grow old with me. She deserved to watch the boys grow up and meet grandkids to play with one day. She deserved a full, healthy, happy life with us. She is now at peace under the tree with Ricci (my old mare who passed in ’17) and my mom’s little dog (also a rescue who lived to be 18 years old). She belongs under that tree. No matter what man made faults she had, she was my good girl.