Tuesday, August 30, 2011

They come and they go

Yes, we've used this picture before. Deal with it.

We've thought ever since we moved here that we ought to have a dog. Dogs can fight off the hawks and owls and foxes and things that come to assault the chickens. Dogs can herd animals. Dogs can play. Dogs are neat. The other day a neighbor texted me to ask if we still wanted a dog. It turns out the latest in his long series of Blue Heelers had proven himself a miserable cattle dog, and needed a home where cattle management would no longer be part of his duties. Thus we adopted Blue (ok, so the name isn't all that creative -- we didn't have much time to prepare for this dog).

When he arrived, Blue was exhausted after about 20 miles of running around after cows, and for the first couple days he mostly sat around listlessly. He wouldn't eat, he didn't do much... but eventually he got his strength back and warmed up to us. Since then he's been a very nice dog. Energetic, playful, quiet. And the other day he found for us the stray cat that promised to terrorize the chickens when winter set in. Blue isn't much of a fan of cats. Including the ones whose territory he moved into -- our Eeny, Meeny, Miney, and Moe.

We rid ourselves of the stray cat (Blue isn't much for shotguns either, as it turns out), and were grateful for Blue's services. But the next day, Blue got into the chicken coop. He'd done it before, several times, and thoroughly frightened the poultry, but after strengthening the door and adding stakes to the chicken wire, we thought we were safe. This time, Blue used his formidable strength simply to break through the door, and caught and killed one chicken and one guinea. So we had to keep him tied up until we figured out what to do.

This morning, Blue helped us make that decision. We've been keeping him tied whenever we weren't around to watch him, and training him to ignore the chickens and cats, but to little avail. During one off-leash session, he managed to push his way into the chicken coop again. No dead chickens this time, but he had to be dragged out by the collar after ignoring all our commands. So Blue has to go. He's always been great with the kids -- like most heelers, he nips at people occasionally, but hasn't ever actually bitten or hurt anyone. He's an energetic dog, and a strong one, which some of our more timid children have found intimidating, but once they've learned to assert themselves he's been gentle and relatively obedient. He's probably fairly cowardly -- early one morning when we were tracking down a noisy coyote in the brush, he would follow me willingly, but always hid behind my legs. He understands some basic commands, and barks only when strangers appear (and even then, very little). But, although he never caused a problem his original owner's cats or chickens, he's been a terror to ours, and needs a home where that won't be a problem. Although I will if I need to, I don't particularly want to put him down; after the cat and two chickens, I'm already tired of burying animals. So anyone want a dog?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What we look like now... 8/21/2011

Tips from the Inspection -- Water

Realtors talk about buyers doing "due diligence", which really just means they look over the place with a critical eye (or more typically, hire someone to do it for them). When we bought our condo, we arranged for an inspector to drop by, and we met him afterward for a few minutes so he could tell us the dishwasher didn't work and we needed to replace the insulation on the air conditioner coolant pipes (incidentally, although we replaced the dishwasher shortly after moving in, we never did re-insulate the air conditioner). But our meeting with the inspector before buying this place was much more detailed, and one of my favorite parts of the purchase process.

Sometimes I'm surprised by what a little systematic thought can do for a problem. Sometimes that surprise comes tinged with disgust ("You mean I can take an entire 3 credit hours in Underwater Basketweaving?"), and sometimes I'm terribly impressed and wonder why I didn't think of whatever it is already -- except, of course, that 1) it never occurred to me to think about it, and 2) there's often substantially more work involved than a first impression would suggest. The home inspection was this latter variety, and for the sake of blog fodder, I'm planning to include bits of our inspection results in occasional posts.

We started off with the outside of the home, and in particular, with the roof. Our has problems, on one side, as I've mentioned before. Shingles cracking and blown off, missing rain gutters, bad drip edges. Turns out a fair bit of a home inspection is figuring out where water is going to want to go, and making sure it's ok for it to go there. Our inspector (see the website for a free PDF copy of his home maintenance guide) gave us lists of places where water was going to mess with our house, and gave us ways to abate the problem:

  • Have rain gutters. They let you collect rain water into once place, and deal with it.

  • Water flows downhill. Angle your rain gutters accordingly.

  • Rain gutters lead to down spouts, and those down spouts lead to the ground. They should extend several feet away from the foundation before emptying the water.

  • Rain flows down roofs, not up it. Pipes and vents coming out of the roof have flanges on them to keep water out; the shingles should be on top of the flanges on the uphill side of the roof, and under them on the downhill side, to keep rain out.

  • Clearing vegetation (grass and weeds) away from the foundation keeps the foundation dry (and, we later learned, helps control earwigs and other bugs that like to come inside at night).

  • Don't spray the house. Sprinklers are like rain on steroids, and can cause water damage just like the rain can.

Inside the home, we turned on pretty much every faucet, tap, and fixture in order to ensure we had both hot and cold water everywhere we were supposed to. I say "pretty much", because we didn't test the toilet in the old end of the house. The little valve on the supply line coming from the floor was turned off. The inspector suggested I could turn it on, "if you're feeling daring", but I declined (after we moved in, we discovered it leaked a little bit, and the tank wasn't well matched with the toilet base, but otherwise it functioned). Not only did this process ensure (most) everything worked, it also proved we could run lots of water down the drains and the septic tank wouldn't back up into the shower. This is a useful thing to know.

Finally we discovered the home has three (yes, three) water heaters. Connected, that is, and three more disconnected, standing forlornly in the various basements. Since the home consists of an original portion and two additions, apparently each section has its own essentially separate plumbing. One day I'll allocate a dead water heater or two to some project or other and go to the trouble of packing them up the stairs and out of the basement, but today is not that day. Any guesses as to what has killed off the water heaters such that there are so many dead ones?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hold your Horses

It's been interesting getting to know our neighbors. We've found whole categories of interests, hobbies, and philosophies that don't show up much in city life. Several of our neighbors, for instance, spend a fair bit of time and effort doing things "the old fashioned way", sometimes because "the modern way" requires infrastructure they're not sure they'll always have, sometimes just to prove they can, and sometimes because it's simply more fun that way. One neighbor in particular keeps a team of beautiful Norwegian Fjord horses. They're a small draft horse breed, gentle and strong and always some shade of tan. His are called Bob and Ike (as I recall, Bob's on my left in this picture), and I drove them the other day.

This neighbor also keeps milk cows, and cows require bedding -- in this case, straw. You spread the straw all over the stable floor and the cows live there. When one layer gets ... um ... messy, you spread some more on top. Periodically, especially as part of spring cleaning, you take out all the matted layers of composting straw and whatever the cows have mixed into it, and pile it up to compost some more, after which it becomes excellent fertilizer. One of my favorite books on the subject of this "old fashioned" lifestyle nearly waxes rhapsodic on the joy of mucking out the cow shed, and the satisfaction that comes from a well-stacked manure pile. In any case, this neighbor needed straw for cow bedding, and had arranged with another neighbor to haul off some of the smaller bales of straw remaining after the wheat harvest. My job was to drive the horses to the field, and throw the bales onto the wagon.

As it turns out, at least with well trained horses pulling a light load (the wagon was empty when I drove it) over a good road, there's not much to it. You yank on the reins on one side or the other when you want to turn, or on both to stop, and shake them a bit to go faster. It helps a bunch if someone whose voice the horses recognize is watching over your shoulder and can repeat the voice commands the horses ignore when coming from you. Even better if he takes over to drive the horses and their several hundred pounds of straw back up the hill and home.

There's a great deal of trust that comes from working with animals, as I'm learning even with our cats and poultry. On the rare occasion the birds get out of their enclosure, for instance, they generally want to get back in as much as we want them to, so all we have to do is get out of the way and let them do it. With the horses, they'll drive straight into the ditch or the irrigation lines if you tell them to, and it's perfectly clear standing next to Bob and Ike that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted if they chose to disregard you. But when you and the animal understand each other, stuff gets done remarkably well.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

51 babies in our front yard! "The Birds" Part 1

This part of our journey started in the middle of July when we placed an order for baby guineas (keets) and baby chickens (chicks). Shortly after we decided we wanted a milk cow we decided we wanted chicken. However, we didn't know about guineas until a freind from here was sharing that they have them around their house for insect control. "Insect conytoll?" We need insect control! So guineas we got.

After searchng through a few different sites I decided on this site because they offered a combinztion of good prices, selection, and quality. Having never owned any birds of anykind in my past I chose our birds based on what the site had to say about them. There wasn't much information on the guineas so I just got 5 each of the four kinds. As for the chickens I choose to get 8 americaunas, because they looked like they are decent layers, get to be a decent size for meat and, the biggest reason, the hens lay blue, green, olive, and turquoise colored eggs, and 20 barred plymouth rock. We chose these to be our main chicken since they are suppose to be a wonderful dual purpose bird, meaning they are great meat chickens and some of the best "backyard" layers. Why so many, because it sounded nice/fun. Is it too many, I have no idea, we have never had chickens before :).

I thought I would share the process of mail ordering chicks (birds). Some people might know how this goes, but some might not (I had no idea until I did it). After you decide what you want and place your order, you wait. You will recieve and e-mail about a week before the chicks hatch (their hatching schedule is fairly predictable once they are fertilized) letting you know to expect them. They are shipped off the day/day after they hatch as this is when they can withstand not having any food or water for 24-48 hours any older and they would die. They get to your post office the day or day after they leave their hatchery. Once there the post office will give you a call letting you know to come pick them up. To be polite you should get there as soon after the phone call as possible.

How did this process work for us. Pretty well. Our guineas came a week before our chicks since that is just how the hatching schedule happened. We only recieved a two day notice that the guineas were coming due to a minor over site. As we knew they would come in this general time we were expecting them and this didn't cause much problem. We knew they were shipping on Wednesday the 20th and would get here either Thursday or Friday. Thursday came, we built our outdoor brooder and fenced it in with chicken wire, and Thursday went. However, early Friday morning our post office gets their mail delivery, and at 8am Sara, from the post office, called to let us know we had some baby birds in the office ready for pick up. Yay!!!!!!!

Josh, Andrew, and little Josh head into town to pick up our newest addition:

I busily finish getting the final touches done for the brooder, i.e. filling the food, and water dishes, turning on the heat light (they are suppose to have a steady 95 degrees for the first week), and I am sure a few other things that I just don't remember right now.

I got an honorary phone call from Josh on the way home so I could hear just how noisey these tiny birds can be, and for Josh to share how cute they are. A short time later they arive home much to Lily and my excitement. We take them, inside their box, to their new enclosure and start unloading them. Much to our surprise these noisey darling little things were small enough and skittish enough they could slip right through the chicken wire! AAH! A quick game of catch the keet(fortunately they weren't nearly as fast then as they are now) and we had them back in their box. Being the (cheap) resourceful couple we are we grabbed a few small pieces of wood that was lying around and some tent stakes and a large cardboard box, and made a very functional temporary wall. This wall ended up being a very good thing as we needed a better wind break and that is exactly what this provided.

Here are some picture to give you an idea of what we started out with.

Now the adventer is only begun so stay tuned to hear about sleepless nights, baby chicks, and 51 near death experiences.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Herding chickens

We'll doubtless have more to say about the chickens in another post, but after all the time I spent trying to get this video to upload over our DSL connection, I can't help but post it. In recent days, our boys have gotten chicken herding down to a science, but the first time we had to chase them back into their coop, it took a bit of effort. My favorites are the guineas, which behave like skittish schools of fish, running away en masse every time one of them flinches.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Highlights of the week

Somehow this week I'm feeling particularly productive. The toilet still leaks, there's still plenty of painting to do, I haven't started redoing the electrical systems (which I have to do soon so we can insulate before winter starts), and I found another wasps nest. But this week we built a chicken coop...

...and a nice gated enclosure to go around it (complete with makeshift irritating string all over the top as security theater against hawks)...

...and I patched the bit of the roof over the master bathroom where the shingles had torn off.

It's not pretty, but I think it will last one winter, after which we're thinking of redoing the roof anyway, or at least this part of it. I used tar paper nails (left) instead of roofing nails (right), ...

...and hip/ridge shingles rather than normal ones, but again, it only has to last one winter (or maybe two), and now I've learned from that mistake before we redo the whole thing. We've been considering metal roofing, but realized only the south-facing portion of the roof needs to be redone anyway, so we may just replace the south shingles, and leave the rest alone. When that hits the top of the priority list.

So I feel good about this week. Now to figure out how to move the chickens and their crazy heavy new home, so their manure fertilizes the lawn instead of killing it.