Monday, November 17, 2014

Fall Grasses

Back in October, we made a trip over to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, to attend an open house at the Nature Conservancy's Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.

It was a beautiful day.  We took a picnic lunch, listened to talks about the resident buffalo herd and took a short hike.  I also purchased a t-shirt and the following book at the gift shop.

I bought the book because I've become fascinated by the many species of grasses I've found growing on our land.  If you recall, a few weeks ago, I wrote an entry about Little Bluestem grass

The clumps of Bluestem shown in that article have turned reddish-brown and stand out beautifully in contrast to the snow in this picture.

I've never paid much attention to grasses, I guess because my eyes were distracted by the much showier wildflowers.  I wrote a blog entry on those, too.

However, in the fall, most of the wildflowers are gone and the grasses begin to send up seed stalks.   I took several pictures of various grasses this fall.  Unfortunately, I didn't buy the grass book in time to be able to identify most of them.  But here are the pictures I took.

I know a lot of folks who want immaculate lawns and cannot stand it if their grass gets over 2 inches tall.  I'm happy to say that I'm not one of those folks!  I love the bio-diversity of the small prairie that we have created around our house.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Guest Raccoon

I was leaving to go to town the other morning when I noticed a furry animal down near the deer feeder.  It looked like a raccoon, but we normally do not see them during the day.  As I cautiously approached it, it turned to look at me and there were the trademark bandit mask around its eyes. 

It stared at me and I stared at it.  It was a stand-off.  I worried that something was wrong for it to be out in broad daylight.  But, as I approached, it ran over to a nearby tree and started to climb.  It stopped at the first large branch and looked down at me.

It was very shy and tried to stay on the other side of the tree from where I was.  I decided it was a young raccoon who had not yet learned to stay hidden during the day.  Or, perhaps it was just very hungry.  At any rate, I went on to town thinking it would be gone by the time I got back.  This tree is only about 30 feet from a creek and most of that 30 feet is covered with brush and tall grass.   So, there was plenty of cover in which it could hide.

When I got home, I didn't see it and breathed a sigh of relief.  I really did not want a raccoon hanging around this close to the house and chicken coop.  Raccoon are notorious for killing chickens and, with their dexterous "fingers", they are able to undo latches and things that most animals cannot.

However, my relief was short-lived as later in the day I noticed something round far out on a limb, high up in the same tree.  At first I thought it was a squirrel nest.  You know how squirrels make nests out of small branches and leaves.  But, this just did not look quite like that and while I was observing this "thing", it moved.  It was the raccoon.  It was curled up in a ball and appeared to be waking up from a nap.  

I knew it would come down as soon as it got dark and I was worried.  The outside door of the chicken coop is only secured by a hook-and-eye sort of latch.  To easy my worry, Tom went to town and bought a better latch to go on the door.  Also, a friend suggested that we try to trap the raccoon in a "live" trap and relocate it.  Thankfully, we have a larger trap than the one in which we caught the opossum recently (Mouse Trap Mystery).

During the night, our wildlife camera captured pictures of the raccoon after it descended to the ground.

I love the look on the deer's face!

Luckily, the raccoon ventured into the trap shortly after these pictures were taken.  Here it was the next morning.

I felt really sorry for it because it was obviously scared.  I put a blanket over the cage until Tom had time to haul it off.  He took it out to a secluded area beside a creek and let it go.  Hopefully, like the opossum, it learned from this experience and will stay well away from humans in the future.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Along with autumn and cooler weather comes an abundance of winter squashes:  pumpkins, acorn squash and butternut squash, among others.  My favorite is butternut squash and my favorite thing to make with them is soup.

The recipe I use is one that I created combining several recipes that I found on the internet.  It is simple and quick.   Here's what you do.

  • Roast a butternut squash by cutting it in half and putting it cut-side down in a pan.  Add about half an inch of water to the pan and cook in a 350 degree oven until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork.
  • Let the squash cool and peel it.  The peeling should come off easily.  Then mash the squash and set aside.

  •  In a heavy pot, saute the following in 1 tablespoon of olive oil:
    • 1 cup chopped onion
    • 1 large carrot, chopped

  • When the onions are translucent, add 3 cups of chicken broth or vegetable broth.  Or, mix the two and use 1.5 cups of each.

  • Bring to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender.  Then, add the mashed squash.

  • Heat to a simmer and add 1/4 teaspoon of Nutmeg.

  • At this point, you have to puree the soup.  You can do this using a counter-top blender or an immersion blender.  If you do it using a counter-top blender, you will have to work on batches of about 2 cups at a time and be careful to not let any of the hot soup splash out on you!  I like to use an immersion blender, like this.

  • Puree the soup until it is creamy and smooth.  Then add 1/2 cup of half and half.

  • Adjust the seasonings by adding salt and pepper to taste.  I add a little more nutmeg as well.
The finished soup is creamy and sweet and reminds me of the Pumpkin Lattes you can get at the coffee shops this time of year.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Chickens Like Pepper Seeds

A few weeks ago I wrote an entry about the cayenne peppers that I was drying.

At that time, I also had a few Poblano peppers that I wanted to dry as well.  I tried stringing them up, like I did the Cayenne peppers, but they were too large and thick to dry well and most of them ended up getting moldy.  So, I decided to de-seed them, cut them into pieces and dry them in my dehydrator.

Afterwards, I had a bunch of seeds that I thought might be of interest to the chickens.  I put them in a pan and stood back to see what they would do with them.  It turned out that they loved the pepper seeds and ate every single one.

The three old girls were first to investigate.  But, before long the younger chickens showed up to check things out.

At the time I took this picture, we still had Pretty Boy, the rooster.  That's him on the left examining a piece of pepper.  He would have made a fine rooster.  However, I have noticed more intermingling between the young hens and the old girls since we sold him and the flock seems to be a more cohesive unit now.  So, I feel we made the right decision to let him go.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Wasp Nest

Most of us have a healthy respect for wasps, probably because we have all been stung by these creatures at some point in our lives.  Last year I wrote an article about mud dauber wasps.  These are a type of wasp that make nests of mud and lay their eggs inside.

In general, mud daubers are not aggressive and their sting is not as painful as that of the wasps which make paper-like nests.  As a result, when I find a paper wasp nest in an area where we are frequently working, I generally remove it.  Here's a small one I ran across last month.  

The paper-like material these nests are constructed of contains finely chewed wood fragments and salivary secretions of the wasps.  The wasps were just getting started on this nest and, being the inquisitive person that I am, I tore it open.  Inside, I found these tiny wasp eggs.

Given time, the wasps would have caught and stung stung spiders to paralyze them.   Then they would have sealed a spider in each of the cells of this paper nest, just like the mud daubers did inside their mud nests.

It is well into the fall season now and I've not seen any wasps of any type in several weeks. That's because male wasps die off at this time of year, while the pregnant females look for a protected place to spend the winter.   They will emerge next spring and the cycle will start anew.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mouse Trap Mystery

Ever so often, we have a mice problem in the hen house.  This is not to be unexpected because the chicken feed contains grain and attracts mice.  Normally, we pick up the feeder at night and hang it from a hook suspended from the ceiling, so at least the feed is not as readily available to the mice at night when they are most active.  However, in spite of our best efforts, we have to set traps occasionally in order to control them.

We could use poison, I suppose, but I hate to see any creature suffer, and poison is a horrible way to die, even if you are a  mouse.  Besides, I wouldn't want the chickens to eat a mouse that had died from poisoning.  And, they do eat mice, if they can catch them.

Last week, we saw a couple of mice in the chicken coop and decided it was time to set out traps.  We normally set the traps in a storage area next to the coop where the chickens can't get in there and disturb them.  Tom set 3 traps, baited them with peanut butter and caught 2 or 3 mice. Then one morning when he went to check the traps, they were gone.  After searching high and low, he finally found them under a set of steps with partially eaten mice in them.  We figured something had found the dead mice and eaten them, but what?.  So, Tom got new traps, drilled holes in them and tied string to them while tying the other end of the string to a post.

The next morning the traps were all sprung, but no mice were in them.  At this point, I decided to place the wildlife camera in the shed to see what was going on, and this is what I found.

A young "possum" was the culprit.  See him on the step?  We don't know if he was attracted to the dead mice or the peanut butter.  At any rate, possums are well-known killers of chickens, so we had to find a way to get rid of him.   Fortunately, we have a "live" trap we acquired at some point in the past. Tom set it with some cat food for bait and caught the little guy.  

He is not fully grown, only about half the size of a grown possum. In fact, I'm not sure a grown possum would fit in this trap.  He was probably born this spring.

His method of defense was to issue a loud "hissssss" and show off his sharp teeth.  At no point did he "play dead" as possums are known to do.

Tom hauled him off several miles to a creek bed where he should find plenty of food and be well away from any houses or chicken coops where he might get into trouble again.

Hopefully, this encounter with humans will have taught him to stay well away from houses and chicken coops.  Otherwise, he might not be as lucky the next time.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Roosters and Hens

My how time flies!  I realize it has been a while since I posted anything about the chickens, but had no idea how long until I looked back and found the last chicken post was in June! In my defense, I have posted a few updates to our Windy Acres Natural Farm Facebook page, but those were short with little detail.  So it is time for a more in-depth report.

The last chicken entry was this one  Chicken Introductions where we introduced the chicks we purchased in April to the old hens.  It was pretty dramatic for a few weeks, but the social issues have pretty much been worked out and peace and order have been restored to the flock.

The chicks we bought are Rhode Island Reds.  We got "straight run" chicks.  Straight Run means the chicks are not sexed, i.e. you don't know if they are male or female.  As it turned out, of the 8 chickens, we had 4 of each.  It took several months before we could tell the difference.  But, when it became obvious that we had 4 roosters, we had to figure out what to do with them.  With our small flock of 7 hens, it would be stretching it to keep even one rooster, much less 4.  My rooster dilemma became the source for many jokes among our friends, several of whom offered to lend me guns or otherwise help eliminate the problem. 

Finally, someone told me about an auction that is held each Saturday morning not far from us where folks sell, chickens, ducks and rabbits.  I took 3 of the roosters to that and ended up with $12 for all three of them.  Of course, I had to pay the auctioneer, so my net was about $10 or so.  Not hardly enough to pay for my gas.  :-(

The rooster we kept grew into a handsome fellow and I named him Pretty Boy and here he is.

It is not obvious in this picture, but his legs are a lot longer than those of the chickens and he towered above them.  He was also somewhat intimidating.  I've heard stories of mean roosters who "flog" people, that is fly up and strike at you with their spurs (long toenails that grow from toes on the back of their legs).

As you notice, I am speaking of him in the past tense.  That's because the guy I bought him from called the other day to ask if any of the chicks he had sold me were roosters.  If so, he wanted to buy one of them back because coyotes had gotten into his flock and killed both his prize roosters.  I was relieved to have a humane way to get rid of him.

The hens don't seem to miss him much.  In fact, the younger hens seem to associate more with the older hens now that he is gone, which I view as a good outcome!