Friday, July 29, 2011

Sheep shenanigans

Do these look like the faces of hardened criminals to you? Well, they may not, but there is a reason that they are behind bars. Don't let the sad eyes and fluffy faces lure you into sympathizing with these evil-doers. The are baaaaaaaaaad news!

                                       " Eye ^didn't do it!"

Note: there are no photos of the actual event in question, because at the time, this shepherdess was too busy thinking of new curse words to supplement the ones already in free-fall from her mouth....seriously, I think I heard a collective gasp, and felt the warmth of the blushing faces from the truck-drivers at the Iowa 80 Truckstop 12 miles down the road.

When I went out to feed my lovely flock this morning, I was already in a less than jovial mood. It was already hot and sticky, and I was thinking about all that had to be done to get ready for tomorrow's farmers' market. I was also dreading the possibility that we might be dealing with some flooding in the downtown area where the market is held because the towns North of us, along the Mississippi River, got about 15 inches of rain on Wednesday, sending a deluge of water down river. In addition there are two major events going on downtown this weekend, which will make parking a nightmare. So, while my mind was aflutter with deciding whether or not I wanted to even bother going to market, something caught my eye. I saw several chickens wandering around the horse pasture, and then my attention was drawn to a few more chickens in the sheep pasture. I immediately panicked, thinking that some predator had gotten through the chicken fence and had scattered the frightened chickens. As I rushed to the gate, expecting to find chicken carnage all over the place, I was greeted by several of my sheepie friends....IN the chicken run.  Yup, it was better than chicken carnage, but still, this couldn't possibly be a good thing. 
There is a gate between the sheep pasture and the chicken run, to which we have been intending to add a more secure latch....intending to...for months. Somehow my crafty little fuzz-butts opened said gate and had gotten into the chicken run. Upon discovery of this troubling situation,  my first thought was for the safety of the sheep. Was there anything they could have gotten into that might have harmed them? Did anyone get stuck in a fence, or the chicken coop? Then as I surveyed the area, my concern for my little ovine friends turned to shear anger ( this is where the bad words came in..I will spare you the particulars).
First I noticed something different about my Honey Crisp apple tree. I planted the tree three years ago in the chicken run to help shade the chicken coop and allow the chickens to eat the windfall apples that I couldn't use. Something was strange, the tree was looking all shiny. Now, normally I am drawn to shiny things so, of course, this captured my attention. What I was seeing was the shiny trunk, devoid of any bark.
At first glance, you might think, as I did, that this doesn't look so bad.

 But, upon closer bark, all the way around, as high as my little darlings could reach.

As if this weren't bad enough, they did the same thing to a newly-planted Cleveland Pear....a tree that I have been carrying buckets of water to, every day, during our drought, in 120+ heat index.

....and they ate a Pussy Willow all the way to the ground. Side-note; Apparently chicken wire fencing only works for chickens.

The Pussy Willow should be find, but the trees will die. The bark brings the nutrients, gathered by the leaves during photosynthesis, down to the roots to feed it, so without the bark, the trees will starve. Now I am going to have to find some replacement trees, at the end of the season, while the garden center's stock is all depleted...and carry buckets of water to the new trees. D@mn sheep!
They also discovered a tasty treat in the chicken coop. I have been buying these mineral blocks for my chickens and I really like them. I just bought this block the day before this incident, and I was going to mention how well I like them in one of my chicken-related posts, but I guess the sheep can tell you how wonderful they are, they have reviewed them, and they give them two enthusiastic thumbs, or hooves, up.

I fed and watered my woolly, little, tree-killing sheepies this morning, but I am ignoring them for now, until I am less angry. I guess I should be mad at myself. Rest assured, that new latch is going on the gate this weekend for sure!

" What do you mean, 'it was my job to watch the sheep?' They told me they were going to surprise you by pruning your trees for you!"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's gettin' hot up in here.

It's been about a month since we've had any measurable rainfall here, and daytime temps have been stuck in the upper 90's for some time, yesterday was 100 degrees. Today we are supposed to hit 101 with a heat index of 120+ and unbearable humidity. It has been a  huge challenge to keep the animals cool. I have several fans in the sheep barn, and we added two more high velocity fans a couple of days ago. The fans help, but they can only do so much when they are just moving hot, soupy air around. The sheep keep their noses plastered to the fans all day and then go out to graze at night after the sun goes down.

I also have sprinklers running all day over the barns to cool them down.

The chickens are having a very difficult time as well. I lost my big Blue Cochin rooster and one of my Easter Egger hens in spite of my efforts to keep everyone comfortable : (. 
The chickens are all walking around with their wings up, trying to cool themselves.

I have a sprinkler going into the chicken run, and over their barn to cool it too. The chickens find some escape from the oppressive heat by picking around in the puddles.

Even my little Barn Swallow baby is lifting himself up out of the nest to stay cool. He is an only child so he is doing pretty siblings to heat the place up.

Rooster Cogburn and Swagger seek shade under the apple trees....and beneath the weeds in my overgrown garden during the heat of the day. That's why I left all those weeds in there....yeah...that's it.

The horses are a little tougher to keep cool. I have fans in their barn as well, but the fans don't offer much relief in this weather. I hose the horses down with cool water a couple of times a day. Jasmine feels the need to taste the water as it comes out of the hose, making it kind of difficult to spray the rest of her body down.

Then, of course, after she is all clean and fresh, the obvious thing to do next is to roll around in the dirt and replace all the gunk that just got washed off.

  Dead horse.

Aaaannnd shake it all off.
Ande has his own way of keeping cool. He has his sprinkler...

...and his swimming pool, albeit a little small for him.

Sometimes he likes to combine the two for that true 'water park' experience.

He is, however, not too excited about the prospect of sharing his water park with Emma and Jolly Ball.

We have chances of rain in the next couple of days and temperatures are supposed to be more had better cool off because I promised my critters that if we can just get through today, we will be OK.
I hope it's cooler wherever you are!
Now I have to make jam for Farmers' Market. YAY! Boiling water and hot, molten fruit!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fun with Japanese Beetles! Caution, this doesn't end well for the beetles

Well, I have no excuse for my long absence from my blog. The summer is flying by and there have been a number  of things that I could have blogged about, but time just seems to slip away so quickly. I vow to be a better blogger....or, that is to say, I will blog more won't be any better 'cause I am still the one that is writing it, there will just be more of.....well, whatever this is.

Recently our farm has been invaded by Popillia Japonica-no, this is not some hip, new rock band-we are talking Japanese Beetles here.
At first, there were just a few of them munching on some of my flowers, which was not much more than an annoyance.

Then they brought their friends- along with their voracious appetites..

Then they started dining on some of my fruit trees. 
 Oh, heck no! I am not havin' any of this!!!

Something had to be done, and since I really try not to use any insecticides on the property, I had to get creative.
In past years, I have gathered up some of  shiny little insect-offenders and thrown the mercilessly into the chicken run, to be gobbled up by my hungry flock. It was pretty much a win-win situation.....unless you were a beetle. 
Hard-shelled beetles provide extra phosphorous and calcium - not to mention lots of protein for the chickens- which means happy chickens, less feed for me to buy, and, as an added bonus, by keeping the number of beetles down , my plants looked less like Grandma's lace doilies. But, collecting the evil little creepy-crawlies was a bit time consuming- as well as a bit disgusting when they decided to fly into my hair, so I needed a new, improved method of revenge.

I considered placing one of those Japanese Beetle traps in the chicken's run, but I didn't really want all the beetles to land inside a trap where the chickens couldn't get to them, so I improvised -as I sometimes do.

I bought the bait that is intended to go into the trap - apparently it is scented with beetle pheromone and the beetles are lured into thinking that they are on their way to some sort of  insect swinger's party, when, in reality, the only date that they will be having is with their maker.
 I tried to think of a way to expose the bait, while ensuring that the chickens couldn't get to it. The bait is supposedly non-toxic -  the beetles are only lured by the scent and then are captured in the trap, but I still didn't want to take any chances. I had a few ideas to keep the chickens safe from the bait, but some of them were not very practical. At times like these I go to our junk- garage and take inventory of all the useless stuff that we have been hanging onto "just in case we need it".
I found a couple of old vent of these could work.

The back had wire mesh, so there was no way for the chickens to get through it.

I found a board to attach my new-fangled trap to.

Opened the bait and secured it to the board.

Covered the bait with the vent cover.

And then nailed it into place...OK, so I am no Bob Vila, but I got the job done.

I almost forgot to mention that you will need a good supervisor for this project.

I then selected a spot in the chicken run to place my new chicken feeder, and waited for the fun to begin.

Are you wondering why you only see a few chickens in the video when you know that, in actuality, I have....well....a lot of chickens? It has been obscenely hot here and most of the girls were seeking shade at this time of day. One of the older Barred Rock girls, however, was particularly persistent!

Is this going to solve the problem? No, but it will give me a little satisfaction knowing that there are a few less beetles eating my yard!

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