Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

New Invasive Garlic Chives

In working on my botany project I keep coming across references to invasive species. There are lots of them, many escaped from cultivation.

I avoid planting these kinds of plants except in my vegetable garden. Vegetables aren’t known for their hardiness away from cultivation.

Except for garlic chives.

New invasive plant?

My garlic chive patch looks like snow in August when the flowers open. It buzzes and hums with activity. The insects are so busy with the flowers; I can brush by totally ignored.

Years ago my father gave me a pot of garlic chives. It was a ten inch pot crammed full. I promptly planted it in a corner of my vegetable garden.

The chives did well. They grew lush and bloomed profusely in August. Butterflies, wasps, bees, bumblebees, beetles, spiders swarmed around the flower umbels.

I didn’t cut the seed heads. Mistake.

My garlic chive patch is now six feet by eight feet. I leave it as it is in a difficult area. Besides, the blooms are so lovely in August and the insects do love the flowers. And I cut the seed heads.

garlic chive flowers

The garlic chive umbel is a partial ball of flowers. I’ve never counted them, but think there must be fifty in each one.

I missed a few. Garlic chives came up all over my garden. They came up outside my garden. This year they came up in the pasture.

At what point does a species become invasive?

My garlic chives haven’t reached it yet. I have given plants to people to plant in their gardens. Each person is warned to cut the seed heads. But, do they? Or have garlic chives spread from their gardens too?

Many invasive species hurt native areas. Autumn olive and Bradford pear displace native plants and aren’t as good forage as the natives.

Others have been here so long, like plantains and ox eye daisies, that they are part of the native flora now.

invasive garlic chive seed pods

Each garlic chive flower becomes a seed capsule. Each capsule contains three oddly shaped, black seeds. That’s around 150 seeds per umbel. When ripe, the covering turns brown and papery, splitting open. The seeds fall to the ground or are tossed when the wind blows the stalk.

Would garlic chives fit into the problem category or the ignore it category? I’m thinking it would be in the latter. Why?

It is a good insect pollinator plant. It is relished by goats so deer would probably like it too as a natural tonic against worm infestations.

In all probability, garlic chives will never become invasive. It does seed freely. However the plants are not aggressive enough when in competition against other invasives such as the grasses.

Still, it makes a person think: What potential problems lurk in my garden?

Fall Overtakes Summer

As fall overtakes summer, many changes sneak into the goats and garden. The noisy changes come from the goats.

Nubians are known for their loud voices. Prime breeding season is in the fall. Roughly every three weeks a doe announces she is in season and displays for the buck.

Nubian buck in rut as fall overtakes summer

Nubian buck High Reaches silk’s Augustus spends hours standing on top of the gym calling to and looking for the does. He has gotten fat over the summer which is good as he now often neglects his grain, grazing and hay.

Bucks produce musk behind where they would have horns. I prefer disbudded or polled bucks for several reasons, safety being high on the list.

My Nubian bucks weigh around two hundred pounds each. Double my weight. They are good natured and I can handle them without too much trouble. Horns would make them dangerous.

Many years ago my father had a black Nubian buck with horns. On Nubians horns go up six inches or so and then turn outward. This buck developed a horn spread three feet across with each horn spiraling a time and a half.

Nubian buck

Nubian buck Goat Town USA Gaius sneaks up on the gym to look out at the pastures when Augustus isn’t watching. He has gotten old and is now second buck.

One day my mother and I were out to trim his feet. He wasn’t very aggressive towards us, had grown up as something of a pet. He felt playful, turned his head, picked my mother – all 160 pounds of her – up on the tip of a horn and set her against the top strands of the barbed wire fence.

As fall overtakes summer and the bucks begin to reek and call for the does, I am glad they don’t have horns.

In the garden many of the summer crops are dying back. The yard long beans still bloom, but are dropping their leaves. The tomato vines are browning at the base. The squash is succumbing to the squash bugs.

broccoli takes off as fall overtakes summer

Transplants are an easy way to get cabbage and broccoli going for the fall. I prefer fall planting as the cool weather keeps the flavor good. Hot weather makes them bitter. The mulch isn’t needed now to hold moisture and can even make it too wet. The mulch does keep weeds down and the soil from freezing until winter gets serious.

As fall overtakes summer, the cold weather crops are coming up. Turnips, beets, peas, Chinese cabbage, rutabaga and lettuce have sprouted. Cabbage and broccoli transplants are in.

The rains have come dropping the temperatures. Here in the Ozarks fall overtakes summer, not slowly, but in a couple of weeks.

Thwarting Raccoons For Now

The raccoon wars are stalemated for now. The fruit trees and chick house are in contention.

The raccoons won some and lost some. So did we.

Most of my apples are gone. One Asian pear tree was stripped in a single night by raccoons.

The lines of electric fence went up. The other two Asian pear trees remain untouched.

raccoons don't like electric fence

The roofing tin sides should have worked as they are four feet high. They didn’t. Raccoons jumped up, caught the top and climbed over last year. This year electric fence wire circles the top and bottom of the metal square. Finally we get to eat some of the Asian pears.

Next year the electric fence lines will expand. The apple tree is still a challenge, but now that we know the electric fence works, the challenge will be met.

That gives a happy ending for the fruit crops. It leaves my pullets at risk. Their house is on the other side of the garden and workshop from the fruit trees.

I built the chick house around 20 years ago. I’m not a great carpenter, even worse then, so it isn’t quite square. I’ve patched it numerous times over the years in an effort to keep the wildlife away from my chicks.

The wildlife keeps winning. Between the raccoons and black snakes, the last couple of years have been disasters.

Next year will be different. I’m remodeling the chick house.

solid building should foil raccoons

Is any building truly safe from raccoons or snakes? I have my doubts. This one is as safe as I could make it with solid walls and floor, securely screened windows and ceiling and four hooks on the doors. The roost sets on two supports and is easily removable to put a brooder and heat lamp in for baby chicks.

There are now solid plywood walls. A tongue and groove floor is in place. The doors are replaced or fixed. A solid door sill went up. This should keep the black snakes out.

Although chicks like to be warm, they out grow much of it in a couple of weeks. They raise a lot of dust growing feathers and dropping manure. Ventilation is imperative.

The chick house had hardware cloth tacked up around the eaves and over the windows. It wasn’t secure. A couple of raccoons discovered this.

raccoons like pullets for dinner

My black Arcana pullets are half grown, but still living in the chick house. Or, at least, they have moved into the remodeled chick house. They had been spending the nights in a cat carrier for safety, so don’t know much about going into a house at night. All of us are glad to dispense with the cat carrier. The pullets were getting much too big to fit.

The remodeled house has a hardware cloth ceiling securely tacked up and under the plywood walls. The problem window is now secure with more hardware cloth over it and slats around it tacking the cloth down.

A roost is in place. It sets on a foundation for easy removal when the heat lamp is in place. Plenty of floor space is left for a water fount and feed trays.

My remodeled chick house and I am ready for next spring and new pullets.

Making Mozzarella Cheese From Goat Milk

Raising Nubian dairy goats means having goat milk in the refrigerator – lots of milk. It’s good for drinking, cooking, spoiling the cats and chickens. Eventually more goes into the refrigerator than goes out until the shelves are covered with it. Making mozzarella is one way to empty them.

There are lots of recipes for making mozzarella cheese. I have a simple one I use.

Making any cheese requires certain equipment. First is a large stainless steel pot. I have three of different sizes for one gallon, one and a half gallons and four gallons of milk. Whey – the liquid left over – is acidic and eats aluminum.

Second is a stainless steel colander with small drain holes. Other items are a stainless steel long spatula, whisk and flat ladle. A cheese thermometer is absolutely essential.

For making mozzarella I use a Pyrex bowl the colander rests on, a Pyrex bread pan and kitchen gloves. The other ingredients are milk, rennet, citric acid and canning salt.

milk for making mozzarella

Many recipes are for one gallon of milk. This makes a little cheese. I like making more cheese as the work involved is about the same. I stash a couple of glass gallon jars of milk in the refrigerator and use 2 to 2 1/2 gallons at a time.

Let’s get started making mozzarella.

Step 1: Set the pot on the stove. Put citric acid in the pot.

Making mozzarella cheese requires slightly acid milk. Normally I add 1 1/2 tsp citric acid to two to three gallons of milk making about 2 pounds of cheese. Goat milk changes a little over the seasons. If the cheese starts getting rubbery, reduce the acid. If the cheese doesn’t set, increase the acid.

Step 2: Pour in cold milk from the refrigerator.

The milk can be a couple of days old, but can’t have any hint of sourness. I check any milk over one day old to be sure. The milk must be cold or the acid will not dissolve properly.

warming milk for making mozzarella

Milk at the bottom of the pan warms faster than at the top. Whisk the milk to mix the temperatures before checking the temperature. If the milk gets too warm, let it cool before adding the rennet.

Step 3: Warm the milk slowly to 88°. I stir it occasionally with the whisk and check the temperature. I take about 30 minutes to warm the milk so it doesn’t scorch.

Step 4: Whisk in rennet dissolved in a quarter cup of warm water.

Rennet strength can vary from different suppliers. It should set up the milk in 30 to 40 minutes. I prefer liquid rennet and count drops going into the water. Fresh rennet is 4 – 5 drops per gallon. Older rennet takes a few drops more.

Using rennet for making mozzarella

Liquid rennet is easy to use. I put a little warm water in a custard cup and count drops as they fall into the water. The water with rennet is whisked into the warm milk.

Step 5: Stop heating, put on the lid and wait until the curd sets.

Step 6: Use the long spatula to slice through the curd. Make quarter to half inch slices across. Cut across the slices to make columns. Cut the columns into short pieces by slicing both ways at an angle. Let the curd set for five minutes.

cutting curd while making mozzarella

The set curd is soft and full of whey. The whey seeps out through the surface of the curd. Cutting the curd into small pieces makes more area for the whey to seep out of. Heating the curd kills some bacteria that would sour the cheese and drives the whey out faster.

Step 7: Start gently heating the curd. Sprinkle canning salt over the cut curd. Use 1 Tbsp per half gallon. Use the ladle or gloved hands to gently stir the curds and dissolve the salt. While the curd heats, set up the bowl and colander beside the pot.

The curd can eventually reach over 120° and be too hot to touch. The cheese forms between 110° and 120° so very slow heating gives more time to work with it.

Step 8: Stir the curd every five minutes or so until it sets. This is hard to describe. The curd gets firm, seems like a soft rubber, starts to melt together. Take the curd out of the whey, putting it into the colander.

pressing the curd into cheese while making mozzarella

The curd is full of whey when it gets put in the colander. Pressing down on the curd and folding it over helps push the whey out . Once the curd is a compact, flat mass, it’s ready to return to the whey.

If you have two pots, you can strain the curd out while transferring the whey to the second pot. You need to keep the whey in a pot and continue heating it.

Step 9: Fold the curds over to push out more whey and form a large, thick slab of curd. This is slid back into the whey in the pot to heat. Set the bread pan up next to the colander.

Step 10: Every few minutes turn the curds over. The outside will get soft and hot. The slab will pull into a long slab. The curds will start to melt.

stretching the curd making mozzarella

The pancake of curd will get very hot on the side touching the pan. It will feel soft and melted. This gets turned over so the other side gets just as hot. The interior won’t be as hot. This means the outside will stretch down off the inside. Folding the stretches part back up helps distribute the heat so the entire mass will stretch down. If it doesn’t, put it back in the whey to heat some more. The curd will be very hot, close to 120 degrees. Wearing gloves and rinsing your hands in cold water helps prevent scalding your hands.

Step 11: Take the cheese out of the pot and hold it over the colander. The slab should stretch down elastically. Fold the end back up and let it stretch down. Keep stretching and folding until most of the whey is out of the cheese and it has cooled so it stretches very slowly.

Step 12: Put the cheese into the bread pan, pressing it down. Pour off any whey. Let the cheese cool a little and then refrigerate.

making mozzarella results in cheese

The cheese can be molded in any shape of container. I prefer a loaf pan. To unmold the cheese, slide a butter knife around the edges and shake it out onto a plate or use the knife to slide the cheese up out of the pan. The mozzarella made from raw got milk keeps about a week. It can be frozen. Frozen cheese must be used frozen or as soon as it thaws.

Making mozzarella takes me about three hours from pouring the milk into the pot to pressing the cheese into the pan. It sounds more complicated than it is.

The best part comes after the cheese is chilled: Eating your own fresh mozzarella.

Other recipes for using goat milk are found in “Goat Games” along with pencil puzzles and goat trivia.

Building Easy Garden Trellises

A carpenter I am not. I can build well enough to get by, but fancy or even close to really good is beyond me. I still want garden trellises, so easy is essential.

Another reason for easy is being fast. I rarely have more than an hour to spend in the garden for watering, cultivation, weed control and all the other tasks a garden requires.

My garden trellises have versatility as well. They are light weight, sturdy and last for years. Moving them is possible, but not easy.

I use cattle and hog panels for trellises.

single garden trellises

The bean trellis is half of a cattle panel. Mosaic yard long beans have long vines so I stood the piece upright. The beans till made it to the top. The big problem is harvesting the beans at the top, two feet over my reach. A stool helps.

The first step is deciding where a trellis is wanted and why. My first reason for a trellis was to support pea and bean vines. I like those varieties with long vines needing support, but want them within reach for easy harvest.

One type of easy trellis is to cut a cattle panel in half. Pound in two posts. Tie the panel piece onto the posts.

The panel is stiff enough to place a foot up the posts to extend above them. The foot is maximum height from the ground or the vines sprawl and tangle before reaching the wire. It is possible to hang pieces of baling twine down from the wire to guide the vines, but this doesn’t always work well and the twine is a nuisance to get off the panel later.

hog panel garden trellises

Originally I put up this looped trellis for peas. This year late winter turned into hot summer and fried the peas. The winter squash vine grew up over the trellis. It has tendrils and keeps itself on the hog panel. two problems have surfaced. One is that the vines can’t put down adventitious roots (extra roots) because the vines don’t touch the ground. The second is keeping the developing squashes pushed away from the panel so they aren’t stuck between the wires.

The advantage to using panel pieces is being able to move the trellis easily. After cleaning it off, the panel is untied and set aside. The posts are pulled up and pounded in at a new location.

More permanent garden trellises are made with whole panels. With planning, one person can create these. It’s easier with two people.

These trellises require wire and a panel. The two wire pieces need to be as long as the trellis is to be wide plus extra for wrapping on the trellis. Get these ready and laid out where the trellis is to go.

I work alone. I stand the panel on edge with one end against a tree or building and secure one wire to the panel wire next to the bottom of that end. I don’t mind stepping over the wire about four inches over the ground. Otherwise the wire can be wrapped on the last panel wire, but will need to be replaced when it rusts through.

tomato garden trellises

This is not really a trellis, but is. I have two cattle panels pulled into hoops to form a permanent shade/green house. This year the tomatoes are providing the shade. Tomatoes are vines that normally sprawl across the ground which ruins the tomatoes. They do not twine or have tendrils and must be encouraged to lean down onto the panels. I’m using baling twine attached on one side, looped over the vines and threaded through the panels across the length.

The wire is laid out along the ground. The loose end of the panel is pulled to form a curve until the wire can be reached and secured to this end of the panel. The second wire is secured at both ends to the other side of the panel.

The trellis is maneuvered to where it is to go. The top of the arch is lifted up until the trellis settles in place.

I like these rounded garden trellises. This year tomato vines are leaning on some. These must be tied on. A winter squash vine is growing over one peas were on earlier. Peas or beans can be planted at both ends so the vines meet in the middle. Greens can be planted under them in the shade provided by the vines.

That is the final advantage of these garden trellises. So many plants can be supported on them freeing up more space in the garden.

Gravel Road Hazards

My gravel road is like other similar roads for many road hazards. The most common ones would be potholes and washboards.

Most drivers, if not all, are familiar with potholes. On a gravel road water causes the potholes either by digging them out or by turning part of the road to mud. Tires toss the mud out forming the pothole.

gravel road in summer

One of the special things about living here is the gravel road with its edges in trees and wildflowers. This is one of the pictures used in “My Ozark Home.”

No matter how the potholes are dug, traffic either goes around, straddles or bounces through them. The road grader dutifully fills the holes with loose gravel which gets wet and tossed out again.

Trees line my gravel road. Surprisingly these trees are road hazards.

Black walnuts and oaks are sturdy trees. They get big with massive branches reaching out across the road sheltering and shading it.

This year the black walnuts hang heavy with nuts at the branch tips. Each nut is small compared to the tree or even the branch. Lots of nuts means lots of weight.

Coming home the other day I found one result of this combination. A branch had bent too far from the weight and snapped off. It lay across the road partially blocking it.

branches can be road hazards

My truck would squeeze by this branch if I go onto the shoulder. Smaller branches are easily driven over which breaks them up. Such a road hazard is annoying and the cure is a fifteen minute exercise of sawing and shoving.

There are several options when a branch or tree falls onto the gravel road. The one picked depends on how much of the road is blocked and how big the branch or tree is.

A large tree requires calling someone with a chain saw to come and cut it up. Usually the road crew arrives with chain saws and large equipment to pick up or shove the pieces to the side of the road.

A small tree or snag which is a dead tree with no branches can be picked up at one end and moved out of the way.

The branch I faced gave me four options. First was calling the road crew. This seemed ridiculous for such a small branch. Besides, I have no cell phone and would have to walk or drive a quarter mile or more to a house hoping someone was home.

One was to drive around or over it. This works well for smaller branches, but not this one.

saw for cutting wood road hazards

This is a great little saw. It’s less than two feet long including handle. One side has coarse teeth. The other has the teeth different lengths as are found on a bow saw. These cut through branches quickly.

Third was to push the branch out of the way. I got out of my truck to heft the branch. It was too heavy and, being split, too awkward.

That left me with the final option, one I am prepared for. Pruners and saw are kept in my truck. Pruners were no help. The saw was the thing.

A couple of cuts and the branch was in three pieces. I shoved these off the road and went home.

road hazards pushed aside

In a day or two these branches will be covered with brown leaves. The leaves drop leaving bare branches. Unless the brush cutter chews them up, the branches will provide bird perches for years. The road crew dumps these branches over the fence sometimes.

There is one big drawback to lining the road with fallen trees or branches, one creating serious road hazards. Large amounts of water from big storms will race along these and dig deep ditches along the road.

I still prefer my gravel road with its trees and fields in spite of the road hazards.

Find out more about living on my gravel road on the sample pages from “My Ozark Home.

Building PVC Pipe Gates

A few years ago I needed new garden gates. Being tired of wood gates that fell apart in a couple of years, I built PVC pipe gates.

one of first of PVC pipe gates

This PVC pipe gate to my garden is used almost daily, often several times a day. It is so easy to open with one finger hooked in the wire. The bungee cord keeps it closed. It is like new after several years of use.

These gates have worked very well. They are light weight, sturdy and durable. I need another gate, this one for my little chick yard, and will build another of my PVC pipe gates.

This gate will be much taller, about six feet, as the wire around the yard is that tall. I gathered some wood to build a gate and found the weight more than I wanted even with 1” x 4” pine.

materials needed for PVC pipe gates

These are the pieces I will need for this PVC gate. The shorter pieces will be the sides. The longer pieces will be the cross bars. The short and long pieces are only 2″ different so I want to keep these separated to avoid mistakes.

Two lengths of 2” PVC pipes have a lot less weight. The pieces were cut into four 32” pieces and three 34” pieces. Four PVC elbows and two PVC tees along with a can of glue complete the materials.

checking the parts of PVC pipe gates

Putting all the PVC pipe parts together before opening the glue is a good idea.
Any fit problems or missing pieces can be fixed before having a mess.

The pipes need to be reasonably clean and dry. The working area needs to be flat and big enough for the completed gate frame to lie flat plus room to walk around it.

My preferred spot for building PVC pipe gates is under a big black walnut tree. I do need to move fallen nuts out of the way and pad uneven places. The shade is welcome on a warm, sunny day.

beginning to assemble PVC pipe gates

The first joint on a PVC pipe is easy to do. The glue is spread on and the pieces pushed together. Then begins the wait time until the next pieces go on.

The glue setup time is fifteen minutes. When I worked on four PVC pipe gates, I could glue one joint for one gate, go on to the next gate to glue the same joint and on down the line.

flattening joints for PVC pipe gates

It’s pleasant working out under the black walnut tree, but the ground isn’t level. The joints on the gate need to be flat so pieces of board give a flat surface to press the PVC joints flat as they are glued. Once the glue sets, any crooked joint stays that way.

This time I am working on one gate. I have a few other projects to work on to take up time and a watch to keep an eye on the time.

Once the frame is done and sets for two hours, I can complete the gate. I cut the wire to go over the gate and use old electric fencing wire to lash the wire onto the frame.

framework for PVC pipe gates is finished

The final two joints are glued and pressed flat completing the PVC pipe gate framework. This needs to set for a couple of hours so the glue hardens. Then the wire can be lashed on.

Hinges must be bolted on. This isn’t a big problem. Drill holes where needed, position the hinge and insert the bolts. Tighten the nuts on.

A gate latch is the last item. I find a bungee cord with hooks on both ends works well. For this particular gate I will use more than one to keep unwanted visitors from prying the gate open at the bottom.

wire is lashed onto PVC pipe gates

The 1″ x 2″ welded wire is lashed onto the PVC pipe gate frame. The gate is now complete and waiting for hinges to be bolted on.

PVC pipe gates take a bit of planning, but are easy to build. I love being able to open and close them with one hand. Best of all the advantages is not needing to replace the gates every two or three years.

Hazel’s Cooking Challenges

“Mistaken Promises” is written. Now I’m finishing all the fact checking. Then there is Hazel’s cooking.

Broken Promises

Back in “Broken Promises” Hazel learned to cook. Then it was a way to cope with her grief and anger. She discovered she liked to cook.

Old Promises

In “Old Promises” Hazel chooses a 4-H Cooking Project. Her cooking becomes more adventurous. The recipe sections at the back of each book get bigger. This continues in this third book in the series.

I grew up in a time when fast food was getting going. People cooked at home. Cookbooks were kept on a kitchen shelf for easy access. My shelf has about twenty different cookbooks.

pepper for Hazel's cooking

Recipes usually call for green peppers. My problem is the bitterness of these. Instead I’ve discovered colored bell peppers with an array of flavors and no bitterness. This gold bell pepper has a mildly spicy taste.

Hazel’s recipes are based on recipes in my cookbooks. This is when Hazel’s cooking and my cooking clash.

My milk comes from the goat barn. some of my milk becomes cheese. My eggs come from the hen house. My tomato sauce with its garlic, onions and bell peppers comes from my garden.

milk for Hazel's cooking

Refer to milk and Americans think of cow’s milk. I raise Nubian dairy goats and have goat milk in my refrigerator. It is unpasteurized. Goat’s milk and cow’s milk cooks much the same. The real difference is between using raw milk and pasteurized milk. Raw milk must be scalded (heated to 150 degrees and cooled) for many recipes such as breads and custards. Otherwise the milk will sour during cooking and sour the food.

Hazel gets milk, eggs, cheese, tomato sauce and other vegetables from the market.

I use lots of whole wheat flour, carob, little sugar, little salt and no black pepper in my cooking. Hazel uses white flour, sugar, salt and pepper in her cooking.

tomatoes for Hazel's cooking

Comparing store and garden tomatoes leaves the store variety in the chicken yard. chickens have no taste buds. Garden tomatoes come in hundreds of varieties suited to a cook’s purposes. These are paste or plum tomatoes with thick flesh and small seed cavities inside for making sauces.

Some of Hazel’s cooking is entered in the county fair in “Mistaken Promises.” One recipe is for a frosted chocolate cake.

I am in trouble.

I do bake cake. I do have an excellent recipe for chocolate cake. Except I cut the sugar in half and substitute carob for chocolate. I haven’t frosted a cake or made frosting in a very long time.

Meat loaf, cornbread, beef stew, zucchini bread and crepes don’t concern me very much. I do variations on the recipes, true. But my variations don’t change the recipes enough to be

eggs for Hazel's cooking

Chickens are great homestead livestock. The brown one is a salmon Favorelle. The white one is a white rock. There are so many breeds and colors. Fresh eggs are different too. People think about having brown or white eggs. The shell color is not as important (unless you eat them) as what is inside. Fresh eggs from my chickens have rich orange yolks from all the greens the chickens eat. This makes them a disaster in white cake (the cake becomes yellow cake). The whites are thick. The size varies, not all extra large or jumbo or whatever. Two small eggs are roughly a jumbo egg.

worrisome.

That frosted chocolate cake scares me.

Hazel’s cooking is an important part of her books. It’s not part of the plot, but it is her way of coping with stress. It is part of what makes her Hazel.

And preparing the recipes as they appear in Hazel’s cooking section in the books is important.

Where are those chocolate cake and frosting recipes?

Raccoon Wars Beginning

As we have no dogs, summer begins the raccoon wars.

Pictures of raccoons make them look so cute with their masked faces and ringed tails. For the gardener or homesteader, cute ends there.

Raccoons are vandals. They destroy for the fun of it. If there are five sacks of feed, all five will be ripped open. Even feed raccoons won’t eat is ripped open. Even an army of raccoons can’t eat two hundred fifty pounds of feed in a single night.

raccoon wars nightmare around apple tree

My Fuji apple tree is getting big. Many branches overhang the tractor shed roof. Others hang over piles of lumber. The garden fence is next to the tree and covered with wild grape vine. The lumber could be moved. The shed and garden fence can’t be.

Chickens are a favorite meal. Raccoons will often kill five or six, eating one.

Tomatoes are another target. All of the green tomatoes are torn off and left on the ground. Each reddening one has a bite out of it.

I don’t leave sacks of feed available. I lock up my chickens at night. A livetrap is put out near the tomatoes.

These are the opening skirmishes. The real raccoon wars are only a whisper now.

raccoon wars tree cage

Roofing tin sheets surround this Asian pear tree. The branches must be propped because of the fruit. Four foot lengths of PVC pipe surround the props. Chicken wire tops the metal. The raccoons can still get inside.

Apple and Asian pear trees are heavy with fruit. This fruit is still small, months from ripening.

The trees are defenseless.

Raccoons have hands. They climb trees and farm buildings easily. They love apples and Asian pears about two weeks before picking time.

The Asian pear trees are separated. Each is hidden inside sheet metal boxes four feet high, put up last year.

raccoon wars metal ring

A four foot high ring of sheet metal with axle grease ringing it couldn’t stop the raccoons. They jumped up, grabbed the top and pulled themselves over.

The raccoons managed to jump high enough to scramble up and raid the trees. It was difficult enough so most of the crop was still on the trees for us to pick.

My apple tree isn’t so lucky. It grows next to the tractor shed. Last year the large crop vanished before ripening.

The fruit trees are again heavy with fruit. The raccoons are aware of this. We know the raccoons know. The raccoon wars loom.

Maybe we can wrap barbed wire around the boxes. This isn’t practical.

Making the boxes higher will entail putting in a door so we can get to the trees. This isn’t very practical.

Getting a dog isn’t an option. We want the neighbors’ dogs to stay home and need no invitation living here.

raccoon wars apple prize

One of the prizes the raccoon wars are fought over is the crop of Fuji apples, not ripe until October. Last year the apples vanished during September.

At present I am considering an electric fence. This would mean clearing a pathway for the wires. The orchard area has Common Milkweed six to seven feet tall growing among the trees, a sudden drop to the pasture fence on the outside of the trees, the tractor shed and lumber complicating this option.

The raccoons are determined. We are determined. The raccoon wars will be decided by who can out maneuver whom.

Common Purslane Weedy Pest

Common purslane aka pusley aka pursley is a gardener’s nightmare – maybe. It has been used as a wild green and a medicinal plant historically. It is cultivated in the Middle East as animal fodder.

No one knows where puslane came from. Perhaps it came with the colonists. Yet its seeds are found in ancient archaeological sites in North America. Purslane doesn’t care. It lives anywhere it can internationally.

common purslane plant

This pot got overlooked in the spring. Common purslane doesn’t mind. It happily filled the pot with stems, leaves and flowers.

The plant seems to prefer gardens and flower pots around my home. That may be because it is more noticeable there.

Common purslane looks like a succulent with its thick stems. The leaves aren’t thick, yet give the impression they are. They have  broad, blunt tips.

Moss roses or Portulaca is a cultivated relative known for its beautiful flowers. Purslane flowers are similar, but much smaller and only in yellow. They bloom early in the morning, vanishing by noon.

common purslane leaf

Common purslane leaves are thicker than many other kinds of leaves, but not as thick as succulent leaves usually are. They have shiny surfaces covered with minute waxy spots.

The leaves fold up by evening in hot weather. Even the plant seems to fold up to sleep through the night.

There are so many kinds of weeds in my garden, common purslane may have grown there for years. It got pulled, tossed in the wheelbarrow and rolled away with the others.

common purslane stems

Common purslane stems are thick with a waxy look to them. They can turn mostly dull red.

Last year a plant got overlooked. It grew big and luxurious for a purslane. This means it sprawled out over the garden path with foot long stems. These were nearly half an inch thick, glossy reddish green.

I noticed it. I took the usual group of pictures except for flowers. Since I usually work in the garden in late afternoon, the flowers were long gone. That made identification difficult, but not impossible in this case.

common purslane flower

I suspect the common purslane flowers open more than this, if I spot them earlier than after milking is done. They may open at night and start closing in the morning.

This year I’m taking a few minutes to see the flowers. I haven’t nibbled on any yet. I’m thinking I will double check about the edibility of common purslane beforehand.

I may check out a stem or two with the goats. Weeds are much better nutritionally than the usual pasture grasses. Purslane may spread itself generously earning the name of weedy pest, but we may be condemning it unjustly.

Chicken Tractor Trials

Free range chickens have their problems. One is having chickens show up in the front yard, even coming onto the porch. This is an annoyance. I thought about building a chicken tractor.

A more serious problem is the threat of predators. My flock had no predators bother them for several years. Then a family of gray foxes moved onto the hill opposite the barn.

There were gray foxes on the house side of the road 25 years ago. I saw one now and then, even saw one climb a tree once. Gray foxes do climb trees. Red foxes don’t.

chicken tractor

The chicken tractor is about four feet wide by ten feet long with an open bottom. This is the second day and the hens were happier with a rooster in the tractor with them. The nest box was too exposed so an old towel was laid over to make a wall over and behind. The hens are nervous being out in the grass danger area (known to be close to the fox run). they don’t understand how they can be outside and not able to race off to wherever. This tractor is definitely not fox proof so I put chickens out only when I will be going by frequently. Besides, the shade keeps moving and the sun is hot.

Fifteen or more years ago the foxes moved away. No new ones moved in until a month or so ago.

Foxes love chicken dinner. My hens started to disappear.

The only solution is to keep the flock confined. The chickens hate it. The hot weather makes it worse.

A chicken tractor became more appealing. The flock still numbers 22. Moveable chicken pens normally hold less than a dozen.

hen in chicken tractor

This hen wants out! She paces back and forth along the wire poking at it. She did finally settle down a bit.

I looked up chicken tractors. All chicken tractors have some kind of sturdy frame covered with wire. Otherwise they come in many shapes and sizes. They are built of different materials. Which idea might work for me? Is a chicken tractor the answer?

A friend has loaned me her version. It isn’t fancy. It was their first attempt and has several things they would do differently in the future. Still, it was a chance for me to try a chicken tractor out and see if it will work for my flock.

My hens range from one year to five years old. They are a motley crew of various breeds. There are three roosters whose main activity is to argue with one another. As the tractor only holds six or seven chickens, I would have to pick some out for that day.

chickens eating in chicken tractor

It occurred to me the chickens go in and out of their house to eat at the feeder. I put a dish of feed out in the chicken tractor. They ate the first one so I put in a second one. This seemed to make the hens settle down.

I snagged seven hens and shoved them into the chicken tractor. They got upset at being caught. They were not impressed by being in a cage. Having access to fresh grass didn’t cheer most of them up.

Next time I snagged six hens and a rooster. They seemed a bit happier. Water fount and nest box made the tractor better in their opinion. They still pace the wire wanting out.

I am learning. I hope the chickens will learn too. It’s hard for them to be confined after being free range.

Frustrating Tomatoes

We seem to have planted a lot of frustrating tomatoes. We aren’t the only ones, or so I hear.

Tomatoes are great eaten plain, in sandwiches, on pizza, in salad, grilled with feta cheese, so many ways. They look great too with that flattened round, red shape.

The tomatoes in the store look beautiful. Pick one up and it feels like it would bounce on the floor and not bruise. Take a bite out of one and it could be an apple.

This may be a tomato to city people. It’s fake to me.

My tomatoes are firm, yet soft. They bruise easily, if dropped. Normally they tend to splat on the floor. Biting into one lets juice run down your chin as rich taste fills your mouth.

frustrating tomatoes

These Mortgage Lifter tomatoes get medium to large. They take time to swell to full size and more time to turn color and get ripe. They tend to get ripe about the time the gardener gets disgusted and doesn’t check one morning.

Tomatoes are a summer crop. Any hint of frost nips or kills the plants. The challenge is to put transplants in the ground as soon as possible, protecting the plants from spring frosts resulting in ripe tomatoes as early in the summer as possible.

The problem with planting tomatoes early is cold ground. The frustrating tomatoes hunker down refusing to grow until the ground warms up.

Black plastic on the ground around the plants helps overcome this. As soon as night temperatures get up into the sixties, the plastic must be taken up or the roots will get too hot. Then mulch goes down to keep the ground from getting too hot and dry.

Tomato plants sprawl out across the ground. Box turtles love this as any ripe tomatoes are at just the right height for turtle snacks. Sow bugs, slugs, mice and other critters agree.

These frustrating tomatoes don’t vine or have tendrils. The plants must be tied up or caged to keep them up off the ground. Commercial tomato cages are quickly outgrown and fall over.

frustrating tomatoes are not cherry tomatoes

Husky Cherry Tomatoes are about an inch in diameter. They grow in clusters of six or eight on dense vines that tend to stay short. The best part is how soon the tomatoes get ripe.

Finally blossoms appear on the plants Tiny green tomatoes start to swell. And they stay green. Frustrating tomatoes seem to slowly get bigger, stubbornly remaining green for weeks.

That is the appeal of cherry tomatoes. True, they are small. Maybe that is why they turn red and ripen more quickly. They are also prolific. And they can be used any way a big tomato is used.

Big tomatoes are frustrating tomatoes, but awaited impatiently. In the meantime, cherry tomatoes make great snacks.

And they taste like real tomatoes.

Enduring Ozark Summer Heat

Missouri Ozark weather is usually changeable. Lately the changes have been slow in coming. Summer heat has been sitting here for a couple of weeks.

Temperature is only part of the story in the Ozarks. The other part is the humidity.

Our bodies sweat. It evaporates. Our bodies cool down. Humidity slows or stops the evaporation so we stay hot and feel hotter than the temperature warrants. Lately humidity levels have rivaled the temperature.

cat sleeps through summer heat

My cat Cloudy sprawls out on the grass next to the sidewalk occupied by my cat Burton. both await my appearance to serve dinner. They look so comfortable. They make it tempting to join them.

Cats don’t sweat. When summer heat settles in, they find a shady spot and sprawl out. Favorite haunts are often in front of doorways. Open the door. Find splat cat lying a step outside.

Chickens move into the shade. My flock has lost its favorite haunts as a pair of gray foxes has moved into the area. The chickens now hang out around the goat barn.

summer heat makes chickens pant

Chickens try to slick down their feathers. Then they start panting. These three are in a shady corner of their yard. A family of gray foxes has moved to the area so the chickens stay on full alert through the heat.

Horseflies and deerflies influence the goats. These insects have vicious bites. The goats come in with big, raised welts oozing moisture. The flies like sun and moist areas.

The goats go up on the hills and tuck themselves into deep shade under the oaks. Unfortunately the best browse is down in lower areas.

My herd is smaller now, only seventeen goats. They pack themselves into as small an area as possible. Each goat hopes the flies visit the neighboring goat or can be rubbed off onto the next goat.

Nubian goats in summer heat

Goats pant when they get hot. The herd loafs in shady areas most of the afternoon. My herd goes up over the hills and down the ravine during the day, between layovers in deeper shade. Once the air starts cooling, the herd comes out into the pasture to graze.

Toward midsummer the horseflies move up close to the goat barn. The goats don’t appreciate this. The chickens do.

Savvy chickens stalk the goats watching for flies to land. Snack time.

Summer heat is making work difficult. It’s too hot for me to work outside, even in the shade by noon. My barn is almost cleaned out. I keep trying to take out a few loads of manure each day.

Noon means coming in to change shirts as the morning shirt is sopping wet. There is a rumor this summer heat will break for a few days by the end of the week. All of us need the break.

Livestock Decisions

My Nubian dairy goats are livestock. They are business. They are also a hobby. They are also pets. That creates problems.

Raising livestock is like any other farming or ranching business. It is supposed to make a profit.

Raising livestock as a hobby can remove the profit requirement. Pets aren’t supposed to make a profit.

spotted Nubian buck is livestock

One thing this Nubian buckling has is spots. He was born March 15 and is disbudded. His mother is High Reaches Agate. His sire is High Reaches Augustus.

Hay and grain are part of raising livestock. Goats love to eat. They are messy eaters. As food just appears in front of them, they can drop some on the floor. More will appear later.

Purchasing hay and grain is expensive. That dropped feed and hay is money ground into the mud.

polled Nubian buck is livestock

Polled goats are becoming popular again. This black Nubian buck, born March 16, is polled. His mother, High Reaches Lydia, is polled.

Goats do get sick. They get parasites such as intestinal worms. Medicines and wormers are expensive.

Livestock requires equipment. I get by with a minimum, but still have hoof trimmers, disbudding iron and other items. Luckily these can last for years with a little care.

frosted spotted Nubian doe is livestock

This frosted gray spotted Nubian doe thinks cameras are suspicious. Whe was born March 15 and is disbudded. Her mother is High Reaches Agate.

Before retiring, these expenses weren’t a big problem. Now the goats must pay their way, at least much of it.

My goats bring in money from milk and selling kids. I’m not a commercial dairy and don’t officially sell milk. Still, other people in the area are like me: intolerant of cow’s milk.

Selling kids is where much of my hay money comes from. My kids are now close to three months old now. They are for sale.

two Nubian does are livestock

High Reaches Rose has a Nubian doe with interesting color patterns. She is black with spots. Her face is half white and half black and has red highlights. she was born March 12 and is disbudded. My older bottle baby is ignoring the camera. She is black with spots. She was born March 9 and is disbudded. Her mother is High Reaches Matilda. There is a fourth doe, a month younger and a frosted black.

In past years I’ve kept a kid or two or three. This made it easier to say good-bye to the others.

Getting older changes things. Raising livestock is work. Each year the work seems harder and takes longer. The solution is to have fewer goats.

My goats are pets. I know each and every one and have since they were born. The obvious solution is to not keep any kids. The adults get old and die. The herd gets smaller.

And saying good-bye to the kids gets harder, especially the bottle babies.

Dora’s Story deals with some of these issues following Dora, an Alpine/Nubian dairy goat, through several owners.

Young Pullets Go Exploring

It’s dangerous to stand in front of my little chicken house door in the morning. The attack of the young pullets begins as soon as I open it.

Those cute balls of fluff went through the ragged feather growing stage. They became miniature chickens.

young pullets watching

After the great escape, the pullets gather to watch the monster – me – refill their food and water. Once this is done and the monster withdraws, the great escape is reversed until breakfast is eaten.

The chicks were content to sleep grouped into their protective cage. Young pullets want to sleep on a roost.

Little chicks were happy scratching around inside their house. Now the great outdoors beckons.

This is where the dangerous part comes in.

Full grown buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks and New Hampshires can fly, but not well as they are too heavy. Young pullets don’t have that problem.

young pullets

Even small pullets have perfected the watchful glare of a hen. Occasionally a most un-chick-like squawk is heard.

I open the door. Flying pullets shoot out the door into their yard.

For a week or so this yard was their bigger world. Then a roll of chicken wire with stakes made their yard bigger. Now they are off chasing each other and any bug unlucky enough to crawl or fly by.

The main objective of both the chickens and my young pullets is not finding bugs. They like grass. They spend lots of time grazing.

This is the main reason all of my chickens are let out to roam around the compound containing the workshop and barn. Their yards are devoid of grass. It has been eaten and killed off by high nitrogen chicken manure.

Perhaps someday I will have a chicken tractor, one of those moveable chicken houses and pens. Each day the tractor is moved to a new spot. The chickens would be safer.

young pullets at garden fence

A fence is a challenge. Whatever is on the other side simply must be better. These young pullets are still small enough to squeeze through the fence and a few do.

The other alternative is a new chicken house surrounded by four or five yards. The chickens would have access to one yard at a time giving the grass time to recover between onslaughts.

My chicken flock only needs ten to twelve new members. My young pullets number twenty-one. All of them are so nice.

One of the hard things about raising livestock is letting some of them go to new homes. It isn’t possible to keep them all. Half my young pullets will have to move away. I have to choose and all of them are so pretty.

Cleaning Up After High Water

Another round of rain began as I came in from milking in the evening. Clouds had already dropped two and a half inches this week. It was slow, soaking in with no cleaning up needed.

Steady drumming accented with lightning and thunder continued until long after sleep claimed everyone. Morning light brought the rush of moving water.

The rain hadn’t stayed slow and steady. It poured. Rising waters had rampaged for a time, then dropped to a smaller torrent.

creek after flood

Last night’s flood has passed leaving the creek muddy and foaming. Debris left on the pastures marks the water’s high level. Debris is trapped against trees along the creek.

Cleaning up displaced all other tasks. The road washed out where the wet weather creek roared out next to the driveway leaving a three foot deep hole. The large rocks put into the culvert hole were across and down the road.

There was a culvert across the road at that spot twenty-five years ago. It washed out and was never replaced. The hole washed out every time the wet weather creek flooded. We filled it with large rocks to slow this down. Usually they work.

cleaning up the road means moving rocks and gravel

A wet weather creek poured out onto the road tearing off the gravel and rolling out large rocks leaving a three foot deep ditch across most of the road. Yes, the neighbor drove into the ditch and scraped the underside of his truck getting out again. The first step of cleaning up was putting the large rocks back into the hole.

The small pasture fence was flattened for thirty feet. Leaves, branches and road gravel are piled onto the wire.

My goats went out to pasture to find the bridge is washed out. The I-beams are still there. The approach is half gone. Many of the planks are gone. They didn’t cross the creek.

cleaning up downed fencing is hard work

Leaves and branches caught in the fence. road gravel piled on. Fence posts gave way leaving thirty feet of fence flattened. Cleaning up starts with pulling leaves and branches loose. Then the gravel is hoed away. Finally the posts are straightened or replaced so the wire can be raised.

What happened on the other side of the creek? I don’t know yet. The creek is too high to wade across. It doesn’t matter for now. Cleaning up this side will take time.

The neighbor came by while I was milking and drove into the hole in his large pickup. I heard the frame scrape on the edge of the road.

cleaning up the creek bridge will take weeks

High water often carries the bridge planks away. We find them, bring them back and pace them back on the bridge. This time cleaning up means filling in where the bank has been carved out.

Cleaning up began. First some large rocks went into the hole in the road.

Cleaning off and standing up the pasture fence will take several days. I cleared the first foot of debris off the top of the fence leaving the gravel.

Gravel is hard to move. It is heavy. It is full of rocks. Maybe I’ll use the tractor to move at least some of it. The driveway needs it.

Storms and floods are the topic of an essay in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.” They are a section of “My Ozark Home” due out this summer.

Enjoying Warm Spring Days

I love warm spring days. They are made for being outside.

That means cleaning out the goat barn. The warm sun is enjoyed on trips to the manure pile.

The next item on the list is clearing more garden paths. The dead nettle and chickweed are dying and seeding. It’s time to pull these and mulch the pathways to keep the weeds from taking over this summer.

Nubian doe High Reaches Topaz Willa

High Reaches Topaz Willa is getting old. She went to sleep. When she woke, she was alone. She came to the barn to find someone and found me.

This day I am rescued from the garden by a goat. It seems Willa has gotten separated from the herd. She came to the barn lot seeking help finding the herd.

The first warm spring days are special. Only dogged determination and the terrible mess keep me working in the goat barn.

A goat in trouble takes precedent. I empty the load of manure and go to the house to change into hiking boots. Grabbing my camera and walking stick, I am ready to take Willa back out to pasture.

goats reappear

I am amazed by how easily a herd of goats can disappear and reappear. Willa went to sleep and the herd disappeared. We passed this spot going to the ravine and no one was here. Now the herd stands here wondering what we are up to.

The herd had disappeared up a hill that morning. Two ways down are favored by around early afternoon. Lately the herd was taking the long route down into the ravine.

Willa and I go to the ravine. No herd. Willa is happy to have company and starts grazing.

Camera in hand I go down to visit several tagged trees. Last summer I identified these trees, tagged them and have taken pictures of their bark, buds and winter looks. Now these are ready to bloom.

goats like warm spring days

My Nubian goats are enjoying the spring weather. They race around gorging on seeding grasses and budding brush, then lie down in the shade to chew their cuds.

Two are in bloom and I take pictures. This is when my walking stick comes in handy. It has a hook on the end for pulling down branches as I have yet to learn to levitate and don’t climb trees.

Willa comes looking for me. We resume our search heading down the hill pasture toward the creek.

The herd has materialized by the creek. Willa is reunited with them and her kid.

I check out another tree. The shingle oak is in bloom.

greening hills on warm spring days

Overnight the trees have greened. The grass is lush. The breeze is warm and light. The clouds sail overhead billowing into shapes and morphing into new ones. Quiet surrounds you, fills you, heals you. This is my Ozarks in spring.

Turning to look back at the hills, a warm breeze ruffles my hair. The smell of dogwoods adds a little perfume. The trees are leafing out turning the hills light green. The goats are relaxing in the shade.

I turn back toward the garden. I walk past it and off onto another hill, up another ravine in search of lady slippers.

Warm spring days are too precious to spend working all day.

Watch for the new book “My Ozark Home” due out later this year. For now, check out Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Kids Find Playgrounds Everywhere

The fun part of raising goat kids is watching them play. They find playgrounds everywhere.
Goats trace their wild cousins into the mountains of Asia. Mountain animals climb. Goat kids love to be on top of things.
In the barn the kids use their mothers for playgrounds. After a big rainstorm, all my does are covered with mud from little muddy hooves standing on them as they try to sleep.
For the most part goat mothers are tolerant. They ignore the little hooves bouncing on them and leaping onto their sides and backs.
In the barn lot the kids race up and down the goat gym. When they finally wear out, the gym steps make great places for a nap.

firewood playgrounds are also nap places for Nubian doe kids

The fallen sycamores are cut into short pieces of firewood. After playing on the pieces, these little Nubian does find a good place for resting.

The pastures offer the most opportunities for finding playgrounds. The grassy parts are only good for naps. The woods and ravines are the best.
The ravines have wet weather creeks in them. These are usually deeply eroded channels snaking their way down the spaces between the hills.

Creek bed playgrounds are good places for a Nubian kid fight

Barely six weeks old these little Nubian bucks are already testing their fighting skills. the edge of the creek bed has good places for this and stumps for napping.Nubian

When water travels at high speed, it undercuts trees along the channels. It leaves boulders exposed. Kids jump down from the pastures onto these perches. They leap back up. They play king of the mountain.
Last year’s storms blew down many trees. It will be years before these fallen giants are gone for lumber, firewood or rot away. Until then, they are another source of kid playgrounds.
Kids leap up onto the trunks and chase each other up and down. Kids get up at each end and challenge each other or squeeze past each other. Their balance is amazing as they race at full speed up these rounded paths.

fallen tree playgrounds for Nubian kids

The fallen tree is wide enough for one Nubian kid. These two are trying to squeeze past each other and rejoin the other kids in play.

Some of the trees blew over, but lodged in nearby trees. Those at low enough angles become climbing places for kids. Luckily those trees aren’t so far off the ground that a kid falling off gets hurt.
Goat kids grow up so fast. They play a lot at a month old. They still play at two months old. At three months eating is more important than playing. I need to get out more to watch my kids play before they get much older.

Goat kids are playful and full of antics. Check out Capri Capers for Capri’s antics.

Chicks Grow Up Fast

My chicks arrived two weeks ago. They were little balls of fluff. Chicks grow fast.

Now those balls of fluff have tiny tails and wings. They love to race across the floor flapping their wings. They can’t get off the ground yet.

These pullets are a tough bunch. My chick house has no insulation. The walls are wood covered with metal. There are plenty of air leaks. The outside temperature is the inside temperature.

chicks grow and need less heat

Different breeds of chickens look very different. I like lots of them and have several breeds in my flock. There are four kinds of pullets.
The black ones are barred rocks. The plain buff feathers are buff Orpingtons. The brown with black bars feathers are New Hampshire. The chicks with cheek puffs are Easter Eggers who grow up to lay blue and green eggs. By three weeks of age almost all of the fluff will be gone and the pullets will become gangling adolescents.

The chicks huddled under their light when the temperatures plunged. Even with blankets wrapped around the cage, they were cool.

Well, one night I put an extra blanket on and they got too hot.

Chicks grow up fast. They don’t need a hot heat lamp now. Their feathers keep them warm. And they have doubled in size. Besides, the temperatures are approaching normal spring ranges.

Hazel is raising chicks in Mistaken Promises. Grandfather talked about chickens and fresh eggs until she thought it would be fun. After committing herself by talking Lily into joining the 4-H Poultry Project with her, she discovered the work.

Chickens are one of the easier ways to be a country person. Depending on the breed and standard or bantam, chickens can be kept in a small area. With handling many breeds can become pets.

chicks grow feathers fast

Ball of fluff chicks are cute. Larger chicks feathering out look disheveled. This is when they produce lots of dust. This is a Buff Orpington pullet chick like those Hazel Whitmore is raising in Mistaken Promises.

Hazel and Lily have Buff Orpingtons. These are one of the breeds easy to make into pets. The hens are a golden buff color. Their feathers are fluffy. They are docile and calm.

Grandfather built Hazel’s chicken house years before for his wife Helen. He built a sturdy building. He had a nice brooder hood. Hazel’s chicks lived in style.

I’m jealous.

County fairs in rural Missouri are the place for 4-H members to exhibit their livestock and crafts. Hazel will show her pullets at the county fair. But Hazel is being stalked by one who hates her and all around her. And that person is at the fair too.

Mistaken Promises is the third in the Hazel Whitmore middle grade series. It will be release this fall. The first two, Broken Promises and Old Promises, are available now.

Writing Mistaken Promises

Mistaken Promises is the third book about Hazel Whitmore. It is a long overdue book.

The series began with a simple premise: city girl moves to the country. A favorite series for me is Anne of Green Gables. It too has such a basic theme.

Broken Promises was my first attempt at writing a novel. Like all new writers, I had such grand ideas and little knowledge of how to realize them.

The book draft was a disaster.

Broken Promises

A couple of years later I resurrected the novel. The basic idea was the same. The plot was totally different. This time the novel came together and became Broken Promises.

The book had a major flaw. Hazel didn’t leave the city until the last chapter. A second book was necessary to put the city girl in the country.

And Old Promises was written. Hazel lives in the country. At heart she is still a city girl.

Old Promises

Many people move to the country, but never really leave the city behind them. Some try, but are overdoing it. This burns them out quickly and they leave or go back to being city people living in the country.

Hazel doesn’t know yet. She misses many of the things from the city. She finds she values some things in the country.

The plot in Old Promises centered on a family feud rooted in the past. It erupts at the end in tragedy. This does not end the feud or solve the problems.

Mistaken Promises was born in that tragedy. The feud and the bullying Hazel thought were over, are back and far different from the previous semester at Hanging Rock School.

Hazel, still the city girl, finds being part of the country is interesting. She can have her cats, her chickens and get fresh vegetables to cook. None of these was possible in New York City.

Internet service is slow. Cell phone service skips her house. Possible friends live far away. Entertainment such as plays, theater, Central Park are dreams from her past now.

What will the future bring to this transplanted city girl? At thirteen, Hazel is still deciding on her future and trying to survive to live it.

Meet Hazel Whitmore in the first two books of the series: Broken Promises and Old Promises.

Baby Chicks Arriving

Last year I let one of my hens set some eggs. A second hen started to set, but quit. That’s the problem with many of today’s hens: They don’t set and hatch baby chicks.

The seven chicks the hen hatched did fine. They grew quickly as the hen shepherded them around in their yard. Five of them grew big combs.

Three roosters argue over who is ruling the hen house already. More roosters aren’t wanted or needed. Hens are welcome.

Baby chicks cage

This arrangement worked fine on a warm day. It failed the chick test: they were cold. The light moved into the cage and blankets went up around the cage. The chicks were happy through a cool night in the forties.

Having new pullets in the fall is nice as they start laying and lay through the winter fairly regularly. Older hens don’t lay regularly over the winter, at least mine don’t. I prefer the heavier breeds, not the egg production breeds.

Eggs were in short supply this last winter.

Older hens lay fewer, but larger eggs. Many of my hens are not just older, but ancient for chickens.

This year I ordered baby chicks. As I don’t plan on dressing any roosters out this year, all the chicks are supposed to be pullets. There will be twenty-two baby chicks.

There is a chick house. It isn’t fancy as I was the carpenter. The last time I used it, the black snakes found a way in. And the roof decided to leak.

baby chicks huddle

The ultimate test of a chick set up is given by the chicks when they arrive. These chicks are huddling. They aren’t real cold, but they are not warm enough. They are not giving distress calls. The light was too far away. Moving it into the cage made the chicks much happier.

The house has new wire up around the eaves. Every hole I could find is plugged. The roof is tarred.

Still, black snakes are wily creatures. They can find holes where I see none. I have a wire cage.

The cage isn’t very big. It is big enough for a couple dozen baby chicks. The holes should be too small for the big snakes to get in. My chicks will start out in it.

happy baby chicks

Happy chicks cheep softly and rummage around getting drinks of water and eating food. Sometimes the entire flock will lie down on the floor to sleep.

Another advantage to using this cage is keeping the chicks warm. This spring has temperatures rivaling a yoyo tournament. Even the best days have stayed in the fifties and sixties, flirting with freezing at night.

So the chick house is set up. The floor is covered with feed sacks for when the chicks get big enough to get out of the cage. The cage is set up with cardboard around it, a heat light over it and supports for blankets at night.

The containers are full of chick starter. The glass waterers are cleaned and ready. The cage floor has layers of newspaper down so one layer at a time can be taken out revealing a clean layer below.

All is ready. And we wait. The baby chicks will arrive in a day or two.

Rural living is different. Livestock is a serious responsibility. Check out Dora’s Story.

Cute Goat Pictures

Each week I browse through a Sunday paper. The latest one announced a call for goat pictures specifying cute or funny.

I seem to have a lot of goat pictures. Are any of them cute or funny? Is my definition of cute or funny the same as that of the paper?

action goat pictures

Action shots are the hard ones. The goat is moving which can cause blurring unless the camera lens speed is high, but then less light is let in the lens so the picture can come out black. The action is often some distance away necessitating using the zoom. The higher the magnification, the easier it is to move the camera blurring the picture. This is High Reaches Silk’s Augustus as a kid.

Any excuse to browse through goat pictures is welcome. I went browsing.

Kids are cute. They are among the cutest baby animals around. They are notoriously difficult to photograph acting cute or funny.

flying ears action goat pictures

Nubian ears are long and seem to act as wings when a kid runs bouncing and leaping across the ground. For every acceptable action kid picture, I delete five or ten. Taking such pictures takes lots of time following the herd around until they get bored enough with having me around to start acting almost normally again.

This difficulty is due to the tremendous energy filling the kids. They are only still when snoozing, usually in a place difficult to use a camera. Any other time they are a blur racing around. By the time the camera is aimed at the cute kid, it’s moved on and is no longer cute.

Goats as a rule don’t like getting their pictures taken. I go out several times a year to get pictures to update my picture galleries. I walk by the herd on various hikes and stop to take a picture or two.

action goat pictures

Nubian bucks love to test their skills against one another. They love to play. Augustus and Gaius played like this for half an hour or more. I took lots of pictures and kept a half dozen. Augustus would rear up, then plunge down so fast he was only a blur. To get a good picture meant setting the camera up and waiting until Augustus was at the peak, then snapping the picture hoping to get it before he came crashing down.

The goats see the camera and turn their rumps to me. Another ploy is to walk up and lick the lens. Then there are the ‘scratch suddenly’ or ‘toss the head’ or ‘move into the middle of the group’ ploys.

doe and kid goat pictures

Nubian goat kids learn many difficult lessons as they grow up. One is how to follow mother goat both out and in from pasture. High Reaches Jewel’s Sasha is so unhappy being stuck in the barn lot while her friends are out grazing. Young kids get tired quickly, lie down, go to sleep and get left behind. They are hard to find nestled down in the grass. This afternoon was the first day Sasha’s kid was allowed out with her mother. Sasha is determined to find the herd and leads her kid down the trail. The kid gamely keeps up. This picture was a lucky one as I happened to be out with my camera and looked back to see Sasha and kid coming behind me.

I see the cute, funny, beautiful goat pictures on Pinterest. I think “If that person can do this, I can too.” Then I go home, get my camera and get laughed at by my goats as they dare me to try.

Still, I do get lucky from time to time. Maybe these other people get lucky too.

cute goat pictures

Goat kids can be so cute. This pair went out with the herd and laid down to rest while the herd grazed nearby. The first thing most people notice about Nubian goat kids is the ears, especially if they are frosted (white).

The secret to great goat pictures seems to have two sides. One is having help to set the goat up for a great picture as for a show picture. The other is luck perhaps with someone to distract the goats from the camera or trigger a great shot.

sweet goat pictures

This is one of those goat pictures both cute and special. Nubian does don’t often sleep with their young kids. Augustus was one of Silk’s last kids and she was very attached to him. Goat kids form play groups and tend to sleep with the group. Augustus always preferred Silk to his peers. But finding the two together, not waking Silk up and getting the picture was luck.

Unfortunately I have no help. I must continue to trust to luck and value the special shots I do manage to get.

Cute goat pictures are scattered throughout Goat Games. Check it out.

Frustrating Weather

Along the coasts frustrating weather between seasons is rare. The ocean is a huge temperature sink moderating the air temperatures. this lets one season merge smoothly into the next.

In the middle of the country, like Missouri, such influences are nonexistent. Frustrating weather becomes normal.

March is supposed to be spring. It is on the calendar. It isn’t outside – today. Yesterday was a balmy seventy-four degrees. Today the temperature sits at thirty-six degrees.

frustrating weather affects alder

Black or common alder and hazelnut bushes look very similar over the winter, same size, same gray bark. Even the catkins are similar unless you look carefully. The easy difference is the female flower. Alders have cones as in the picture. Hazelnuts have little cylinders with a spray of red threads – the split pistils – sticking out.

Even the wild plants don’t like this frustrating weather. The alders and hazelnuts are blooming. The spicebush buds are big yellow globes poised to burst open.

Frustrating weather has these plants and others surging into spring one day and sending them back to winter the next. Spring is trying. Winter is resisting.

spicebush blooms despite frustrating weather

Spicebush blooms in early spring, as soon as the weather warms up. The buds started swelling during the first warm spell. then they waited through the cold spell. Back and forth as the temperatures varied until the buds are finally opening in spite of the weather.

Gardening time is starting. Potatoes are already stashed under the mulch trying to grow. Peas are trying to germinate.

Mulch does help. The surface temperature varies widely. The underneath temperature stays fairly steady, at least under six inches of mulch, it does.

I don’t have a heated greenhouse for starting seeds. Tomato and pepper seedlings need two things to do well. One is warm temperatures. The other is lots of sunlight.

The first was easy. I put the seeds on damp sand in Petri dishes set on a shelf in front of the wood stove fan. The seeds happily germinated and went into cups of soil.

frustrating weather hurts seedlings

Cups of soil take up lots of room. Germinating the seeds in small containers works well. The seedlings are moved into the cups when the root is a quarter to half an inch long. I press a finger into the damp dirt, place the seedling against the side of the hole so the top is just under the rim, then back fill the hole, tamping the soil down. The seedling pokes up through the soil in a day or two. The cups are in various kinds of containers to make moving and watering are easier. The containers come in overnight and go out on the porch on warmer (57 degrees and up) days.

Usually I ferry the trays of seedlings out onto the front porch for the day. That way the seedlings get plenty of light.

But the temperatures must be sixty degrees minimum. Thirty-six degrees is not warm enough.

Seedlings don’t understand about cold days. They want to grow and do. They become spindly. If they get too bad, I must try again.

Frustrating weather strikes again.

I can only hope the weather warms up again tomorrow. It is supposed to rain off and on for the next week. The porch has a roof.

All the seedlings and I really want right now are some more warm spring temperatures.

Doe Kid, Buck Kid, Misidentification

Now, any goat owner will tell you it’s easy to tell a doe kid from a buck kid. There are several very obvious differences.

Buck kids have scrotums. They are smooth under the tail. They urinate from the middle of their bellies with their legs planted out in a rectangle.

Doe kids have a tiny vulva under their tails. They squat to urinate. They tend to have smaller, more streamlined heads than buck kids.

buck and doe kid

These two Nubian kids are so alike in size. I assumed both were bucks. Wrong. The black one is a buck. The gray one is a doe.

Telling a doe kid from a buck kid is much easier than figuring out whether or not a kid is polled. For that the hair is swirled over the horn buds and smooth over polled. Hair can stick up or otherwise distort this look.

Three does had kids. Agate was first in the morning. Violet was acting like kids all day but had them in the morning. Lydia had hers that evening.

There was enough time to leisurely take care of each kid set. I took a cursory check and decided Agate had two little bucks. She moved into the large pen with Matilda and Rose.

Nubian buck kid

This little kid is definitely a buck. I double checked. High Reaches Agate isn’t concerned about it. She loves her kids.

That was a mistake. Matilda started chasing Agate. Hay was a temporary distraction. The chase resumed.

Matilda and her week old buck moved into the barn. Peace reigned in the kidding pen. The kids piled up in their cubby hole and slept.

Nubian High Reaches Agate with her kids

The problem with an Houdini buck is keeping him away from yearlings. So High Reaches Agate had twins at just over a year old. She had little trouble kidding, but didn’t know what had happened. She stood looking at the kids, then at me, then at the kids. She sniffed them, but didn’t talk to them. Finally one of the kids started talking. Agate is now a devoted mother goat.

Kids have trouble staying warm for the first few days. They can be stepped on. I build cubby holes for them.

A kid cubby hole is a line of bales against an outside wall. Two bales are put in front spaced apart half the length of a bale.

Two bales are piled on top of the wall line behind the space. A bale is placed over the space leaving a cubby hole.

Kids move into the hole. The hay provides insulation. The small space stays warmer than the outer temperature and keeps drafts out. Does can sniff their kids but can’t step on them.

This year I’m short on hay. Two straw bales backed by thick flakes of straw with a two inch thick board over the top did the job.

Nubian doe kid

How could I ever think this lovely kid was a buckling? All I can think is that I was very careless. This is definitely a doeling belonging to High Reaches Agate.

Kids grow fast. They want to jump on things and run. Even a big kid pen is too small in a few days.

I moved the kids out into the barn while the rest of the herd was out to pasture. My barn is set up with kid cubby holes.

A sunny day invited pictures of these last six kids. I moved Agate and her kids out. That’s when I noticed. Agate doesn’t have two buck kids. She has one buck kid and one doe kid. Oops.

This is a buck year for me. There are six buck kids. With the addition of Agate’s doe kid, there are three doe kids.

And I’m reminding myself to be more careful in the future.

Goat kid antics play a part in the madcap adventures in Capri Capers. Check out the sample pages.