Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Seven Little Cottontails

Unlike Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter who "were born in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree", and gathered blackberries down the lane, that is, all but Peter who raided Mr. McGregor's garden; these seven little cottontail bunnies were born in a poop pile.

Lest you think ill of their mother, let me remind you that winter was long in passing and these little bunnies were born when snow covered the ground and it was cold. Newborn rabbits look similar to baby mice, all pink, and they have only a minute amount of fur. Since a manure pile generates a great deal of heat as it decomposes, creating a burrow inside this horse manure pile was smart, for it kept mother rabbit's little ones warm as she was gone from morning to dark foraging for food. Then, when she returned she'd nestle with her babies and fed them throughout the night.

Mrs. McGregor put Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter's father into a pie, but Pumpkin, the neighbor's gentle mare, doesn't mind sharing her food or her manure pile. These three - four week old bunnies haven't far to go to nipple on the hay, which was probably their first taste of solid food. By four to five weeks of age they will be weaned.

To enlarge pictures double click on photos

A wonderful web-site that explains raising orphaned wild cottontail rabbits is I wish I would have had this site when we tried many years ago to raise a wild cottontail that we found in the road by our corrals. Meadow (the baby rabbit) was a day old when we brought her home and lived sixteen day. Now, I have a better idea why she died. I thought I'd over fed her but this site changed my mind.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


The apple trees are in bloom and the chicks are out of the basement and at the corrals. "Yeah!", no more cleaning cages. They live in a mobile home now and all I have to do is pull it to a new patch of grass.

The downy feathers have been replaced by stiff adult ones and they're strutting their stuff. Even taking to the skies for short distances having discovered their wings. But, mostly they just eat and eat and eat.

All except the poor Partridge Cochin that is, for she still looks like something out of the ugly duckling book. She may be slow to mature, but she is suppose to reach a whopping eleven pounds when grown. I've never raised one before but they're heralded as excellent setters and mothers.
Partridge Cochin

That's what I've always wanted, a hen that would set on a clutch of eggs and hatch them. Hopefully with the Cochin, I've stacked the deck and next year my dream will come true.

In the past, I've tried using golf balls to encourage the broody feeling. It doesn't work. They might be white and round but they weigh too much and the only one fooled is me when gathering eggs in the dim light of evening. And, marking a few eggs with a pencil so I know which ones not to gather and eat - sometimes works with the older hens - but how do you teach them to sit on the eggs lightly. The old adage teach by example is definitely out in this circumstance. I'm out of ideas so, if you have some advice, let me know.

As far as I've gotten is hens who would sit on eggs for twenty-one days, but they sat and squashed and sat and squashed until all their eggs were scrambled. How is it that my neighbor has an Australorp hen older that Methuselah, and she still hatches two or three chicks each year? I don't know, but I've ordered some Australorps just in case that hen isn't a fluke.

P.S Chicory, the new goat, is now jumping onto the milking stand all by herself.

If you desire you can double click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Prairie Heels

No, it isn't one of my misspelled words. I know, I'm rather famous for them. But this time I actually mean heels not hills. I'm referring to the type of shoes we wear on the prairie when we've had a light rain. The clay soil, or gumbo as we call it, transforms our tennis shoes into clodhoppers. You've heard of those, but ours are unique as it is the prairie that designs the heavy shoes and she adds heels. Each step we take attaches another layer of clay dirt until our heels are several inches off the ground. Then all of a sudden, your flat footed as the heavy weight of the clod causes the mud clump to fall off.

A clumsy dance step initiates because neither shoe is at the same height at the same time. I call it the Clodhopper Stomp because sometime during the wobbly dance you naturally hit your heel and skid it forward to knock off the three inch clod on the shoe, if the other foot is limping along flat. It is of course, a varied rendition of the country swing with lots of toe tapping in your high heeled shoes and at times the unrehearsed moves sorely tested your coordination.

If there's been a heavy rain, the music changes to slip slidin away , slip slidin away, the nearer your destination the more your slip slidin away as it becomes near impossible to stay erect going down hill. That's when we drive, choosing to take the longer route with the pickup.

Mud, the kind that causes you to slip and slide compels us to switch to our chore boots as our oldest granddaughter calls them. The purchase of the little boots earned Kirk and I good grandparenting points from her mom since her little daughter no longer comes home with her tennis shoes caked in mud and smashed dingle berries. Plus, our granddaughter thinks its cool to wear a pair like Grandpa and Grandmas.

No, don't get excited, I'm not making jam next. Dingle berries are goat poop.
Our destination from the corrals is the house on the far right on the hill. It's three-quarters of a mile away.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Double Yolker

The incredible edible egg is running through my mind as I anticipate the opening of a real whopper sized one. It's sure to be a double yolker. But, there's a slim chance, very slim, that it will be a triple yolker. In eighteen years, it's happened once and the third yolk was real small but ever since then, I keep hoping for another one. Why is beyond me as three yolks don't make a better egg and separating the yolks from the whites for angel food cake would be a real challenge.


Whoever laid this humdinger, I feel sorry for. OUCH! I wonder if chickens get hemorrhoids? Anyone care to check for me? I'm not quite curious enough to look.

Sure enough, when I opened the egg it was a double yolker. The first one I discovered caused me to wondered if twin yolks would produce twin chicks? It won't. The yolk is what the chicks eat and it's body forms in the white. Smart chick, the yolk is my favorite part too.

Years ago, when I looked up the information, I stumbled across an article on how to use an old dentists drill to pierce a tiny hole in an egg shell so you can squirt food safe, dye inside. It claimed the chick when hatched would have colored downy feathers. How cool would pink, blue, and green chicks be? The color wouldn't last long as chicks start to gain stiff feathers in a week. But a white breed chicken might look pretty neat with blue downy feathers and stiff white feathers poking out here and there. I always thought I'd try it sometime but I never did. Maybe, I'll do it with the grand kids some year. Dye the eggs before I incubate them I mean, of course not color the grand kids. They can watch.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Relocating Bees

The honey bee's nature is to fill any void. So, when I removed two frames to accommodate the queen's travel container, they filled the empty space with burr comb that hung down from the hive's lid. In order to put the frame back, I had to scraped them off and I imagined their frustration after creating such a work or art to have it destroyed.

The hives had sat for a week after I had released the queen before we had time to check to see, if their highnesses had created any offspring which is called brood at the larvae stage. Kirk was off work and so on Friday he suited up and took a look. One hive didn't have very many bees in residence and there was no brood, a good sign that their queen had died shortly after she was released. Rather than have a new one rushed to us, we decided to move the bees into the hive with the fewest occupants. We figured we'd do this the next day when we relocated them to the Durham Buffalo Ranch, just outside of town.

Right now, it was afternoon, the best time to visit the inside of a hive since most of the workers are visiting blossoms and their are fewer bees at home to disturb. To relocate them, we needed everyone, so we waited until the sun went down and the cooler temperature drove the bees scurrying for the warmth of their hive. This gave us time to go and do livestock chores and when we returned, the first thing we did was tape the hive's openings with good ole duck tape to prevent a war that would surely ensue when we jostled their boxes heave hoeing them into the pickup bed. It wasn't much consolation that the workers would lose their lives as their stinger penetrated our hide and was ripped from their bodies. Especially as I was still recovering from the three stings inflicted upon my neck the previous week.

With their escape blocked, we worked as a team stretching duck tape around each hive straddling the boxes to hold them together so they wouldn't separate. With the hives sitting in a row across the back of the pickup bed, Kirk placed cinder blocks on top each hive lid and began cinching a strap across them to make sure they didn't move during the bumpy ride into the pasture, early the next morning. I headed for the house wondering what we'd have for supper since it was late and an early morning was ahead of us. As I reached the garage, I called back to Kirk, "Don't forget to rip the tape off the openings so they'll have plenty of oxygen tonight."

The sun was just creeping over the horizon Saturday morning when we re-taped the openings and drove the ten miles to the pasture. The wind had a bite to it and we were bundled in sweatshirts and winter coats as we set down the hives near a haystack and ripped the tape off the openings. Then, we returned home for the cow panels to form a fence to discourage the buffalo from rubbing on the boxes and knocking them over, which has happened once before. We were lucky that time. The bees had swarmed onto a nearby fence post and we were able to scoop them up and place them once more in their reassembled hive before they flew off without leaving a forwarding address.

The cow panels took only a few minutes to erect and Kirk and I put on our bee veils and gloves to add a couple honey storage boxes for each hive and shift the bees from the hive without a queen to the one next to it. As we did so, we talked about the seven head of elk we'd discovered on the hillside when we walked the pasture checking out the vegetation on Mother's Day. It was awesome to see them return to the plains where they were once plentiful and we hoped to glimpse then again when we visited the hives throughout the summer. Finished, we headed for the house to start our livestock chores, our own stomaches rumbling with neglect.
Bibb's kittens in the hay barn.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mother's Day Hatchet

"Boy are you going to be in trouble." Kirk heard said in a variety of ways from his coworkers when he told them what he'd purchased for me for Mother's Day. In fact, the guy he bought the hatchet from said, "You'll be okay as long as she doesn't use it on you." No one he spoke to could believe a woman would be excited about getting such a gift. The part Kirk particularly enjoyed was the incredulous looks he received when he told them that he'd already given it to me and I loved it. I'm sure they figured either his wife was a talented actress or just plain weird. Those that guessed just plain weird would be correct.

With nigh on to thirty years of marriage, my husband's got me pretty well pegged. I've got a practical streak a mile wide and Kirk knows that as far as I'm concerned any tool that makes life easier is a wonderful present.

Most women love jewelry and our daughters are no exception but it holds little attraction for me as dot pearl earrings are my only adornment. My left ring finger is even bare as I got tired early on in our marriage of having to take off my wedding ring to knead bread, work in the garden, make cheese, kid goats and lamb ewes, and a myriad of other tasks where it just plain got in the way or the diamond was so caked with bread dough or dirt it was disgusting. I figured since my husband didn't wear his at work because of the danger it poises and doesn't put it on after work, why should I have to wear mine? As for my fear of someone making a pass at him because he's not wearing a wedding band, well, you have to first be aware that someone is hitting on you before you can be tempted and Kirk is downright oblivious to any such moves. Besides, my sweet husband's favorite place is at home and that's where you'll usually find him if he isn't at the coal mine working. Life's just sweeter when we're together.

I'm not much into clothes either but lately, I've been wandering over into the men's department looking for shirts. The flimsy faddy things in the women's area aren't worth my money as I want something that will last so I don't have to go shopping again anytime soon. I've too many other things to accomplished with my time. When I found an Orvis woman's button up shirt the other day discounted several times down to nine bucks, I was tickled pink. The other three button up shirts I purchased came from the men's department and the sturdy t-shirt was a men's Carhart.

So, when Kirk went to the gun show and brought me home a hatchet, I thought great, he listened when I complained about the last one he bought me. I told him the handle was too flimsy and the blade too narrow and light. This one was everything the last one wasn't. What more could a woman ask for than a husband who listens and tries to please her.

Kirk spent a little while swinging the hatchet around after he came home and then disappeared into the basement returning after he'd cleaned it up. "A collectors item", he proudly told me as he held it out for my inspection while he pointed to the Boy Scout emblem stamped on the metal. I didn't want to tell him it didn't really matter to me. It wasn't going on display anywhere as I had plans for it. But, then maybe, he was thrilled because our son is an Eagle Scout with eight palms and Kirk's mom has the Silver Fawn award and his dad the Silver Beaver and scouting has been a part of his life for a long time. As for me, as long as it does the trick when it comes time to use it on some roosters that are headed into the freezer, then I'll consider the twenty bucks he paid for it worthwhile.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Got Milk?

Got Milk for me? The chorus of goat's bleating and the calf mooing seem to ask while they peer through the fence into the shed where the sound of milk splashing against the sides of a stainless steel bucket draws their attention. When the milk pail is full, I pour it into a tote and wait for Pudge, the first goat to be milked, to finish her grain.
She then jumps off the stand and Chicory, the next dairy goat, files in to the shed on her own and only gets as far as placing her front feet on the stand - then waits. I push gently on her hips but she plants her feet and doesn't budge so I place my arms around her flanks and lift while she scrambles with her back feet. We've progressed. She doesn't ram her head into the metal front of the stand, but only occasionally, and her back legs don't do the splits with one sliding off the stand to the left and the other to the right. But, its far from graceful, and though she watches the other two goats morning and night leap onto the stand, she's yet to catch on. It's okay, yearlings are all ding bats and when she's two she'll have grown up into an intelligent goat, I hope. Until then, she's part of the entertainment committee and much patience on our part is needed.
While Chicory searches the feed bowl for any crumbs left by Pudge, I scoop up my premixed combination of beet pulp, vitamins, sunflower seeds, and COB (corn, oats and barley) and refill the dish. Milking Chicory doesn't take long as it will be another year or two before she's producing large quantities of milk.
Last up is sweet, complacent Leta who puts her front feet onto the stand, heaves her weight forward, then settles back, forward, then back at least ten times while I shout encouragingly, " Hut! Hut! Hut!". If I'm not playing my cheer leading role, she stops and peers around at me with a questioning glaze, refusing to budge until I get out my pom poms so to speak. Then after she jumps up, I tell her,"Good Girl!" and she wags her tail like she's done something really grand. I'm never sure whether to roll my eyes or laugh but when I'm in a hurry, I'd like to bean her over the head for taking so long.

In the twenty-four years we've been raising dairy goats, we've never had one quite like Leta. She takes the grip of an iron man to extract milk from her teats but her sweet personality and large milk production has kept her in our herd, if you can call three goats a herd.

If I dare to arrive late to do chores, oh the tongue lashing I receive. The kids and calf tell me in a near deafening pitch of how they almost starved to death waiting on me. The milking does get a panicked look in their eyes as their bleats raise to a loud insistent screaming pitch as they try to convince me that their udder nearly burst while I was off lolly-gagging around instead of doing my job. When I unlatch their pen's gate, order is forgotten as they push and shove each other trying to be the first one out and onto the milking stand. The whole melodramatic scene would make me laugh, if it didn't make me feel so guilty. I nursed our three children and I know how uncomfortable the milking does are feeling. Though in reality, if they became too full they would begin to drip milk and then the drip would turn into a stream but the udder would not burst.

The great advantage to milking goats over a milk cow is no manure encrusted tail swishing in your face, you aren't bent over since the goats are up on a stand and you've a gallon to milk not four. The same method of extracting milk from a cow is used to obtain it from a goat. You reach under their flank and encircle a teat with your thumb and forefinger squeezing to prevent the escape of milk upward into the udder and then pretend you are playing rapid scales on a piano by compressing your middle finger, ring finger, and then pinkie if the teat is that long.

Your hands form a rhythm with one squeezing and the other letting go enough to allow the milk from the udder to flow into the teat, then it squeezes while the other hand lets go. Pulling downward as you milk is a unpopular move with our girls, and quite unnecessary, thereby avoided.

The faster you milk the more foam forms on the top.

It has been two weeks since our white older does ( a female dairy goat) have kidded (had their kids). They will soon reach their full milking potential of close to a gallon a milking or two gallons a day. The Nubian (brown goat with floppy ears) named Chicory is just a yearling and it will be a year or two more before she will reach the production levels of our seven and nine year old does, Leta and Pudge. Sound like a lot of milk? It is. Our girls are heavy producers.

Hay isn't cheap and why waste money on a animal that won't give much in return? So we choose our goats carefully and monitor our feed program.

We feed little grain in order to more closely balance the omegas in the milk. In comparison the stores milk can be as bad as 15 omega 6's to 1 omega 3 which causes high cholesterol and a host of other health problems. Where as one study sited women who drank a large amount of omega balanced milk lowered their risk of breast cancer 60 percent.

The advantage of goat's milk over cow's milk is that goat's milk has smaller fat globules and is therefore easier to digest. It was the reason why we bought goats in the first place as our children, when small, could not tolerate the stores milk and I suspected it was the cause of my runny nose. It was and we found it didn't matter if it was fresh cow's milk or the store's product. They both caused us problems. Our goat's milk has all the digestive enzymes present since it is not pasteurized and during the first hour after milking has an extremely high antibacterial content. A win win situation as far as we were concerned.

I won't quote anymore facts as you might be already saying that I'm a walking Encyclopedia, which is what my friends affectionately call me. But, the question remains. Are you sold on goat's milk yet?

Friday, May 8, 2009


Want prompt delivery from your postman? Order bees. For some reason the view of thousands of bees held at bay by a thin metal screen tends to makes people a little nervous. Or maybe it isn't the enclosed bees but the loose ones crawling around on the outside of the wire mesh frame that their worried about. Whatever it is, you can be sure to receive a phone call the minute the postal worker receives the package. "You can come right away and pick up your bees. Just knock and we'll meet you at the back door.", they helpfully offer.

For at least twelve years we've had hives and off and on. We've ordered Buckfast bees from Texas or Italian bees from California and they have been shipped through the postal service. But this year, we tried a new apiary. A fellow bee keeper highly recommended them and said the apiaries owner made several trip to Wyoming each spring with a horse trailer full of boxes of bees for customers. We decided to give them a try.

Normally, you buy bees by the pound and you have a couple different choices of weights but with this apiary there's only one choice and from the size of the cluster of bees I'd estimate it at four pounds. A queen came with each four pounds of bees.

In each box was a can with tiny holes in it from which the bees can extract sugar water to fortify them for the journey.The packages arrived at nine pm Friday night. The air was crisp and the forecast was for near freezing temperatures so instead of placing them in the back of the pickup, they went in the back seat. At home, I put them in the coolest room in the basement which was away from the coal /wood stove that was providing warmth for the baby chicks and garden plants that awaited warmer weather from under a grow light. The room had no door and thus received some heat. In the morning the bees would be slightly lethargic when I dump them into their hives. Not a bad thing when your vigorously shaking a box full of them.

The next morning, I took out the tin can exposing the bees and carefully slipped the small box that held the queen and an attendant onto the lid of the next hive. Clinging all around her frame are bees which pass the sugar water to her through the screen. Since she and the workers are not from the same hive, if I were to released her, there would be many who have not yet been introduced. Not know their own queen is no longer with them they would kill her thinking she was an impostor. Hence she is protected while all her subjects are introduced. This takes approximately three days.

After I remove a few frames from the hive box, I shake the bees from the traveling container down into the hive. Then I set it on the ground near by knowing the few that are remaining inside will crawl in the hive at least by nightfall. I gently moving aside the bees, and place the queen's container inside, then replace the lid. Since there has been drought in this country for years, the old frames have little honey in them so I head to the house to mix up some bee food in the form of sugar and honey water.

In a few days I'll show you the next steps in this process and the bees final journey to the Durham Buffalo Ranch where they will roam with the Buffalo on the Wyoming plains.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Our Daily Bread

Don't have time to make bread, then read a little further, you might change your mind. I've found an European style bread recipe that tolerates my attention deficit brain and busy schedule. It has a relaxed raising time frame and the wonderful slightly chewy texture makes great panini's. For a light lunch or supper I spread home-canned brochette on thick slices and then sprinkle on a combination of cheeses such as Asiago, Mozzarella, Parmesan, or Romano, then broil the slices in the oven until their toasted and the cheese is melted. With a green salad, it makes a delightful light supper or lunch.

American style breads with their tight crumb are wonderful and once in a while caramel rolls are a must. Yet, though I find kneading bread soothing, when I'm in a hurry, which is often, the minutes seem to stretch on forever as I knead and knead watching for the tiny blisters to form on the dough's surface, signaling I'm done. Then, I rush off to another task and invariably forget I'm even making bread. You know out of sight, out of mind? This results in the dough having already mushroomed and is now cascading down the sides of the bowl by the time I pass through the kitchen again. To avoid this, I make this type of bread only on baking day. Ones where I'll be in the kitchen for hours making muffins, cookies, etc. for my husband's lunch box.

That's where the European style bread is perfect for me and can work into a person's schedule that has a job outside the home. Typically, the dough is mixed the night before. Often, I do this but what works better for me is if I wait until six in the morning just after my husband leaves for work and right before livestock chores. It takes only a few minutes to mix the 1/4 teaspoon of yeast (I use SAF instant yeast), three cups of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 5/8ths cups of warm water with a wooden spoon. All the dry ingredients can be placed in a bowl the night before and the water added the next morning. It helps me to do this as a bowl sitting on the counter reminds me I need to mix bread.

After the dough is made, I place a plate over the bowl, but plastic wrap works well too, and let the yeast feed until about five thirty in the evening. Twelve to eighteen hours is what the recipe recommends for the dough to sit the first time but since I don't exactly follow the recipe on the sequential amount of time for each step. - Okay, I'm not even in the ball park for following the recipe except I do add the same amount of ingredients as they do. But, my bread turns out wonderful. Lest one should think I'm overly smart, I must confess the lack of adherence was due to a temporary loss of the recipe and a poor memory. Therefore, I recommend 8-12 hours for the bread to raise initially. I've tried a couple different ways of doing the bread and they both worked, including skipping the next step and doing it a little earlier than what most of the time my schedule will allow, so feel free to experiment.

Unlike American bread, the dough isn't smooth but bubbly. With a spatula, that has been sprayed with oil so it doesn't stick to the bread dough, I go around the edges of the mixture rolling the dough toward the center. This is so the yeast has a new area to feed. When I've made a complete round or two, I let it sit again until it has doubled in size, thirty minutes to an hour, while I go off and do evening livestock chores. This second dough raise can be skipped and you can go on to the next step but doing it this way helps fit the chore into my busy evening schedule. I turn the dough again when I return and place it in the center of a flour sack towel that has been generously sprinkled with corn meal. More corn meal is scattered on top of the dough just before I flip the sides of the towel loosely up over the top. The corn meal keeps the dough from sticking to the towel.

At this time, I place a cast iron Dutch oven with lid, in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately thirty minutes while the bread doubles in size. Then, I pull the Dutch oven out and spray the inside with oil. Grasping the edges of the flour sack that were flipped over the top of the dough, I gently dump its contents off the towel and into the Dutch oven. Don't worry. The bread will naturally deflate a little but raise quickly in the hot oven. Bake for approximately fifty minutes, When it is a golden brown, I remove it from the Dutch oven and place it on a cooling rack. My husband strolls in at eight pm, either during the final minutes of baking or just after. His nose begins twitching as he inhales the inviting aroma of freshly baked bread. The twinkling in his eyes telling me I've scored at least fifty points with him as he slathers the piping hot bread with butter and honey.