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!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Good Husband

I am the one who goes around taking pictures all the time and, many times, Tom is the subject of my photographic efforts.  He is good natured about this.  In fact, he is good natured about most everything.  He has to be to live with me!   So, I decided to devote this entry to him and share some of the pictures that I (or the wildlife camera) have taken of him over the past few months.  Here goes.

 Visiting with the cat.

Getting some help from the chickens while working on the fence.

Feeding the deer.

Working out in the snow on a cold winter day earlier this year.

Wearing one of his Oklahoma Blood Institute t-shirts that they give him for donating blood.  The one above had an OSU theme, hence the orange color.

Shelling peas last spring.  He has so much more patience than I do!

And my personal favorite!  No explanation needed.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cilantro Resurrected

Cilantro is an herb that only grows during cool weather here in Oklahoma (spring and fall).  When the weather begins to get hot (in early June), then cilantro starts flowering and making seeds for the next generation.

This is what my cilantro looked like on June 2 this past summer.

The flowers turn into little "berries", like these.

When these berries ripen, they dry and become the seed of the plant.

The seed are the spice we call Coriander.  I harvested some of these for use this winter. 

However, I left quite a few and allowed them to fall to the soil where I hoped they would sprout when the weather became cooler.

Today, I noticed I have a whole new crop of cilantro that has begun to grow from these seed.  

I see some cilantro-lime rice and fresh salsa in my future! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Preserving Garden Goodness - Drying Cayenne Peppers

Cayenne peppers, like most peppers, turn red when they are ripe.   Some peppers, like bell peppers, we eat while they are still green.  And, salsa is usually made with green jalapeno peppers.  Speaking of jalapeno peppers, last year I pickled jalapeno peppers.  

This year, I have quite a few ripe cayenne peppers which I want to preserve.   

One way to preserve them is to dry them.  All that is needed is a large sewing needle and some fishing line.

The first step is to thread the needle with the fishing line and stick it through the cap of one of the peppers.

Next, wrap the fishing line around the cap and tie it in a knot.

Stringing peppers on the fishing line, like this.

Continue in this manner until you have a string of peppers the desired length.  It is best not to make it too long. 

For the time being, I just hung these peppers from a cabinet door handle, but I need to find a better place for them where they are out of the way.  A broom handle laid across 2 chair backs in an unused bedroom would work as a pepper drying apparatus.  Anywhere out of the way where there is plenty of air flow around the peppers would be fine.  Even outside in a sheltered area would work.  Just make sure the peppers are safe from freezing.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dear Deer

Our local deer have been a blessing and a curse to us this past month.  They have been a curse in that they have eaten much of the garden.  They have eaten our black-eyed peas down to about a foot tall. 

Here's a closeup view of how the plants look.

They have eaten our okra in much the same manner.

And, they have eaten all except one plant in a small patch of sweet potatoes that I planted in a raised bed.  No idea why they left the one plant.  Maybe something scared them off.  Or, maybe they just got full and will come back to finish this plant off next week.

However, I harbor no animosity toward them because the garden is tired and so are we.   The tomatoes are on their last legs and the weeds have gotten ahead of us.  So, the deer have given us an excuse to drop out of the farmers' market for a few weeks while we regroup, get some much needed rest and prepare for a fall garden.  That is where the blessing is.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Little Bluestem

We have 5 acres, but only use about a fourth of it for our gardening activities.  The rest of it, that which is not taken up by a few large trees, our house and outbuildings, is open grassland.  I like to call this part our "wildflower meadow" because in the spring there are a lot of wildflowers out there.  A couple of years ago, I wrote an entry about some of these.

As mentioned in the above blog entry, we only mow these grassy areas a couple of times a year.  During the middle to late part of the summer, the wildflowers are gone and many of the spring grasses have died  At that time, it becomes rather unsightly and it is time to mow.  I've suggested getting some goats and letting them mow for us, but Tom has not taken the bait so far.  

Anyhow, this year we divide up the mowing duties.  Tom mowed the large open area to the west of the house and I mowed the area between the house and the road.  As I was mowing, I noticed some tall clumps of bluish colored grasses that I decided to leave.  I just liked the way they looked.

Tom told me these grasses were Little Bluestem.  Having now done some quick Google searches on this grass, here's what I have found.  It is a native grass to North America.  It is a perennial bunch grass and is one of the prominent grasses in the Tall Grass Prairie, an ecosystem native to central North America.  

Little Bluestem grows to a typical height of 3 feet.  It is called "bluestem" because, in the spring, it has a bluish hue.  Even though it is currently late summer,  I found this one clump that still has this blue coloring.

Most of the grass is turning tan, like this.

 The seeds are tiny.  They form on the top 6 inches or so of the stem.

I hope that, by leaving the clumps of Little Bluestem when I mowed, they will produce lots of seed that will germinate next spring and produce more clumps of this pretty grass for me to mow around.