Saturday, May 03, 2008

willful fowl

I’m being over run by willful fowl.

They won’t let me plant grass seed, they stomp on the flowers in the flower beds . Dig holes under the bushes. and of course leave a fine coating of high quality manure everywhere (including decks and steps) they go.

Just the other day I was walking out the back steps and … And... Well anyway. there seems to be strategic piles placed just about everywhere to ambush everyone's comings and goings. (you should have seen the look on the face of the neighbor's elementary school age daughter as she showed me the bottom of her shoe as though I was personally responsible).

And then, its not just the mess they make, it’s the birds themselves.

Example - Just the other night. The night it was raining so hard, I stepped out the kitchen door. It must have been going on two am, and I was up giving the farm, the gardens, the greenhouse and of course the birds one last look to see if everything was safe and sound when....

When I stepped on a rooster.

Right there on the steps to the porch.

There he was. A large red and black rooster, under better conditions you would have said a beautiful creature, all huddled up, soaking wet on the top step. His normally beautiful plumage damp and soggy. Looking like he had been in a fight with a fox and somehow managed to steal away instead being turned into a meal.

I don’t know what he was doing there. Our kitchen step is several hundred yards away from where the chicken’s mobile home is current parked.

Why did it decide to camp for the night on my steps, instead of its nice warm chicken house?

And that wasn’t all.

There were two hens sitting on the railing around the back deck. And right there below the chicken behinds. Down on the deck, were two large mounds of chicken droppings.

Fairly large piles sitting behind them on the deck.

And then out on the stone wall, in front of the house...

Four more hens, sleeping (or whatever it is that birds do at night) side by side.

And, showing a little bit more intelligence, in the barn, on the steps going up to the loft, two more.

And finally, in the barn's side room, the room I’ve taken to storing ‘stuff’ in. There on top of the old, it must be an antique by now, cook stove was another hen. For some reason the willful ones really like the cook stove, (it must be the warming shelf above the stove top) that I’ve given up on keeping it clean and have instead covered the top with grain sacks.

Why is it? Why won’t the chickens stay in their pasture? Why do they insist on flying over the electric fence and climbing the hill up to the house where they are obviously not wanted (my new strategy is to throw a rock in their direction each time I see one scratching for grass seed in the year).

But enough about poorly behaved chickens, unless, of course, you want to come out and try your hand at catching wayward birds and returning them to their pasture. Not that catching them much matters.

Each time I catch a bird in the yard I’ve taken to clipping the feathers on one wing back a few inches under the theory that with one wing shorter than the other its harder to fly.

However, I’ve noticed recently a number of repeat offenders. Chickens caught with clipped feathers.

Upon being caught for the second offense I clip the feathers back a little further. Maybe I hadn't cut enough the first time.

And the third time? Should we institute a repeat offenders program. Three strikes and she's out. Or is that three strikes and she's chicken soup?

The problem with that, though, besides the fact that we'd start coming up short on eggs is that I’d have to pluck and gut the offenders myself and to tell the truth, I’m not much when it comes to chicken plucking.

Let's go to the Farm News

This rain is slowing our planting down. We filled the fields in front of the house plus the one by the greenhouse by last week but we haven’t been able to do any planting so far this week. (which is probably just as well, it dropped into the 30’s last night and is expected to do it again tonight. That’s awfully chilly soil for plants like tomatoes, basil and peppers.

Asparagus picking and egg give way. Over 50 dozen eggs were taken by shareholders last Saturday. In fact some of the late arrivers didn’t get any eggs. (sorry). And there were about 15 cars here at ten on the dot to cut asparagus. the 15-20 shares worth of asparagus was gone in the first twenty minutes.

Ground hogs and deer. This year I’m determined to not lose vegetables to our local fauna. We are putting up a second deer fence outside (and some places inside) the original deer fence. meaning that if a deer wants to get in and eat our vegetables she has to go through two fences with a five foot space in between. That's a pretty serious jump.

Our other big vegetable eater, and at this time of your just as bad if not worse than the deer is the ground hog. Ground hogs are close to impossible to catch with a live trap. The standard method for getting rid of groundhogs is to sit still, usually for several hours, with your varmint gun waiting for the victim to venture out of her burrow.

Me? I’m not much of a shot and you only get one shot before the groundhog retreats back underground, but over the past several years half a dozen shareholders have spend days out sitting and waiting. Sure seems to be a poor cure to me.

What I’m doing this year in a big way is installing anti-ground hog electric fences. This is on the expensive side but groundhogs are an expensive varmint to have around and the fences work.

So if you come out to the farm and see that short 18 inch tall white fence, DO NOT TOUCH! The fence’s are attached to some rather strong energizers and they are capable of giving quite a shock that is capable of deterring even a vegetable hungry groundhog.

Bees. The last of the 20 packages of bees arrived yesterday. Each package is three pounds of worker bees and one queen bee. Enough to give a good start to a new beehive.

Unlike the previous 15, the packages that arrived this week were in very poor condition. The apiary that raised them had driven them by truck and stopped in Roanoke to mail the ones that were destined for apiaries, farms and back yards in Virginia.

Apparently, though, the mail delivery from Roanoke to The Plains isn’t all that fast and many of the bees starving in route after they consumed the quart of sugar water included in the bee cage. (I think the truck driver would have done better to wait until he was up in New York before dropping ours in the mail. Have you noticed that it often takes less than a day for a letter or package to travel from NYC to DC ).

First vegetable delivery - that will be the week of June 9th. Specific details on our webpage.

Years as a CSA. - I just looked back at my records and realized that this is the 12th year that I've been a professional farmer. This is Bull Run Mountain Farm CSA's 12th year. Not its eleventh as I somehow recollected.

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