Spring on the Farm

The weather has been incredible around here for the last several weeks and life is springing forth on the farm.

ImageThe chickens have been going crazy with the laying and we have more eggs than we know what to do with. Pickled eggs, scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, eggs over easy, omelets, casseroles, fritatas, eggs florentine, eggs for baking with… after eating eggs every day, there are still six dozen in the fridge!

 

ImageJeremy and Platypus are pretty thrilled with the sunshine and warm weather, and have been happily quacking about. Platypus has generously donated a few dozen duck eggs for our breakfasts over the last several weeks.

 

ImageDay Lily and Sunflower are pretty darned shaggy. Next month I will try my hand at shearing them (aside from my one attempt at shearing with fabric scissors, I am totally inexperienced in this department). Perhaps soon I will get to washing, carding and spinning the several bags of fleece that are hiding out in my mudroom. I need to find a good project for Sunflower’s lovely fleece.

 

ImageDaisy and Dinosaur are becoming quite large in the middle. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their kids, and the return of goat’s milk! (Since several of you have asked, Daisy – on the left – is an Alpine doe. Dinosaur – on the right – is a Toggenburg/Saanen cross.)

 

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Oddler is growing whiter with age, losing his hearing, and developing cataracts, but he is still filled with youthful energy and can outrun our sprightly Beagle puppy, Echo. Last week, Oddler taught Echo how to tree a raccoon and chased a coyote out of the yard in the dark of the night. Not bad for an old boy!

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Lynden has caught all manner of small creatures: frogs, toads, snakes. Last Spring and Summer, we had a hard time with Lynden wanting to keep all the creatures he had captured. He just didn’t understand that we have to leave Mother Nature’s children in peace where they belong. Now, he’s come a long way – he keeps each captured creature for one night only, and the next morning releases them where he found them. Progress!

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There’s been lots and lots of bike riding around here lately. Our very long driveway is perfect for this beloved activity, and the kids have been out there every chance they get.

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ImageGaia is wonderful and beautiful, and charming us all. Her older siblings grow deeper in love with her with every passing day. I am amazed by her – so calm, so peaceful, so content. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard her cry since her birth. Gaia is the brightest blessing and I am filled with gratitude at being her mother. How did I get so lucky FOUR TIMES!?

Yessir, Spring has definitely arrived. It’s my favourite time of year, when everything is bursting with the freshness and newness of life, renewed.

Winter Adventuring

January 2012 was, perhaps, the strangest January I have experienced yet. We were inundated with more rain than I thought possible for mid-winter, with only a few snowy days. What a surprise to wake up on the final day of January to a forecasted 13 degrees Celsius!

We took advantage of the warm, sunny day and headed out to our local conservation area with my dad. The kids brought their bikes; it thrilled them to no end to be bike riding in January. It was Raina’s first time riding her two-wheeler (with training wheels!) outdoors.

(You’ll have to excuse the quality of the photos. My camera is out of commission and I’ve had to rely on my phone for pictures.)

My dad pushed Robin in the stroller, so all this pregnant mama had to do was walk leisurely along and enjoy the sunshine!

We came upon a swan who was being forcibly outcast from the rest of the flock. Two other large swans would attack it whenever it tried to rejoin the flock, and drive it toward the boardwalk. At one point, the outcast swan was a mere three feet away from Lynden – if he had stretched out his hand, he would have touched it. We spent quite a while marveling at the swan, watching it closely and appreciating its magnificence and beauty. It didn’t seem frightened of us at all, and completely ignored our dogs.

In his younger days, Oddler would run off into the woods and have grand adventures while we slow, two-legged folk ambled along. Now, at 11 years old, he is going deaf and losing his sight. Now he prefers to stay close by, and we sure do appreciate his company. I can’t help but wonder how many nature walks we have left with the old boy. He’s been a central part of our family for so long…

Robin was pretty thrilled by the beach. As soon as his feet hit the sand, he was digging and collecting shells. Each new shell was held high in the air with an excited exclamation. (Although he rode in the stroller, Robin insisted on wearing his bicycle helmet because his older siblings were each wearing theirs – a warm woolly hat just wouldn’t do.)

Despite the balmy, early-spring-like weather, the shore of Lake Erie was still a mass of ice. The wind had created incredible ice hills and caverns, which made for some totally awesome exploration.

In total, we spent about three hours at the conservation area. By the time we returned, we were muddy, hungry, and thoroughly happy – proof of a day well spent!

And to think, we would have missed the glorious sunshine and the wonders of Nature if the kids weren’t homeschooled. How blessed we are to have our days open and free!

Thoughts on Dog Diet

A little while ago, I posted about replacing commercial dog food with homemade meals for our dogs, and included the recipe that I started out with.  After receiving some great advice from readers and friends, reading up a bit more about canine nutrition, and paying close attention to my dogs, I’ve made a few changes to that first recipe of mine.

To begin with, now I use more sweet potato and less potato, more carrots and less apple, and more raw meats/fish.  I cut out tuna due to concerns about mercury, and have replaced that with salmon, sardines, sole and herring.  I was feeling that fish alone wasn’t enough animal protein, so I checked out the meat aisle in the grocery store (I have never in my life shopped in the meat section of the store! It was a strange experience…).  There is a section of the cooler that is full of deals, 30% off and so forth, so I stocked up on some chicken legs and ham.  Now, in the morning the dogs will get a raw chicken leg with bone or a chunk of raw ham.  In the evening they get their rice mix (with the tweaks I mentioned above), topped with fish, flax oil, and a scoop of cottage cheese.  I still throw a raw egg in there from time to time, as well, and mix in the broken shells for added calcium.

On their new diet, the dogs have shown some awesome changes.  They have more focused energy (as opposed to hyperactive, unfocused wildness), seem better able to follow through on commands, and have brighter eyes.  Their fur is shining and so soft.  Oddler, 11 years old next month, had been suffering from a bad arthritic limp that has now completely disappeared (he had been nearly unable to walk some days, before the diet change). They sleep better and poop less – and, speaking of poop, their stools are smaller than they’ve ever been, not much bigger than our cat’s poop!  This tells me they are absorbing most of the nutrition from their food, instead of taking in lots of fillers that pass right through them and come out as large stools.

So, I think it’s safe to say that the dogs are thriving on their new diet.  They exude health.  It’s easier on our wallets and life is just all-around better for everyone!

It’s a Dog’s Life

Before Jae stopped working his office job, we purchased middle-of-the-line dry food for our dogs.  With two medium-large dogs who really know how to run all day, middle-of-the-line food could become a fairly significant portion of our grocery bill.  When Jae left the office behind and our income became casual, we downgraded to bottom-of-the-line dry food for the dogs.  Yes, the nasty, full of filler, no name kibble. We couldn’t justify spending so much money on dog food.  I justified the crappy food by including a raw egg on top every morning, but every time I glanced at the ingredients list on the bag, I felt a wave of guilt.  Mainly grains, full of fillers, plenty of preservatives, chicken meal by-product (I’m guessing ground feet & beaks? Yuck!), chemicals and unpronounceable additives.  I don’t feed my kids such poor food, or my livestock, or my poultry.  WHY was I feeding garbage to my beloved furry friends?

Soon enough, Molly started showing typical behaviour changes, mainly hyperactivity.  I’ve known for a long time that poor-quality food can negatively affect a dog’s behaviour, but the changes in Molly still caught me by surprise.  She needed to poop more often and had a couple of accidents in the house.  I knew within a week of the diet change that the crap food was just not cutting it.

This morning that first bag of crappy food finally ran out.  I knew it wasn’t in the budget to switch back to the decent food we used to buy, but I was not about to buy more low-grade junk.  So, I looked up the ingredients on the premium food (the kind that sells for $75 per bag – yikes!), read a few dog nutrition websites, and decided I’d make good food for my dogs at home.

After costing it out, homemade dog food works out to less than the cheapo crap food, and about 10000x healthier!

Here’s what I did tonight for my dogs:

1 sweet potato
2 potatoes
2 apples (simply because both dogs LOVE apples and go nuts for them)
2 cups of brown rice cooked in chicken broth
2 Tbsp flax oil
1 can of tuna
Handful of chopped carrots and broccoli

I cooked the sweet potato and the potatoes, stirred in the rice, apples, carrots and broccoli.  There seemed to be enough for at least a few days, so I doled out each dog’s serving, and added the tuna and flax oil on top. (I also poured the water from the tuna can into the bowls.)

The dogs devoured it. I have never seen them so eager to eat their dinner before.

Each morning they will still get their raw egg (with crushed shell), and on Sundays when we have our chicken dinner the dogs get all the scrapings.  I’m also going to experiment a bit with higher ratio of meat to veggies/rice (always raw meat), and try including things like cottage cheese or kefir.

All in all, it took me hardly any time to prepare the dogs’ food tonight, and I won’t have to do it again for at least three days – there is plenty still in the fridge.  The cost can’t be beat, my feelings of guilt were taken care of, and Oddler & Molly loved their first homemade meal.  I think we’re on the right path!

A Visitor in the Dark

Well, I knew it was inevitable. I knew our luck was too good to be true. I knew, sooner or later, we’d be visited by a creature of the wild wanting to make a meal of our hens. We can only tempt fate for so long, out here on the farm. I’m amazed we’ve made it this long (15 months!) without any sneaky predators taking our ladies in the night.

Over the past several months, a pack of coyotes have taken to wandering our area in the night. Throughout August and September, we heard them yipping in the fields across the street, beside us, and behind us, night after night. My dogs heard them, too, and good old Oddler, the noble and valiant hound, went bounding through the fields each and every night, bawling his hound dog bawl, chasing them far off into the bush and returning hours later.

Lately, I haven’t heard the coyotes. I’m not sure what they’ve done with themselves, but in their place has come another menace.  For many nights, Oddler and Miss Molly have gotten themselves worked into a tizzy, running the perimeter of our farm, barking and yapping and bawling. They keep it up for hours some nights, and other nights they settle down quickly, only to resume their protective vocalising a short while later.

Last night the dogs were mostly silent. Then, at 4am, I was awoken by the shrill yip-yapping of Miss Molly in the field just out my bedroom window.  A moment later, Oddler joined with his deep bawl. They kept it up for ten minutes before racing off through the field, chasing something away from our farm, their yaps and bawls fading in the distance.  I laid there in the dark, listening for their return. Forty-five minutes later, they finally came running up our 1/2km driveway, still very worked up. They circled the farm again and again, barking, until I felt like I was going to go crazy and brought them into the house. They paced by the door for a while, and only settled down to sleep when the sky was becoming ashy, pre-dawn.

Of course the dogs’ nighttime escape was on my mind a great deal today. I had a morning appointment, and when I returned I put on my boots, fed the chickens, and went out in the field. Within minutes I found a whole chicken’s worth of feathers puffing out of a thorny bush along the edge of the field. A few steps to the east, and there was another huge tuft of feathers, blowing gently in the breeze.  Something (or a few somethings!) had taken off with our hens. I only wonder if the theft happened before the dogs went chasing through the field, or after I brought them in the house? Had the dogs prevented more birds from being taken in the night, or had I allowed the hens to be taken by bringing the dogs inside? This is troubling me, and weighing heavily on my mind.

So, now we’re at a crossroads. Do we tie the dogs to the chicken tractors at night for protection? Or do we bring them in at night to keep them safe? I am not comfortable with my dogs racing through the fields at night after some unknown prowler. Anything could happen to them, and I’d never forgive myself. I also don’t like chaining the dogs if there is a prowler around – they are much less able to defend themselves if they are tied. For tonight the dogs are curled up on their blankets in the house, warm and safe, and I am worrying myself silly about the hens left outside unprotected.