Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

Vinegar Set Fresh Milk Ricotta Cheese

A very easy cheese to begin with is vinegar set fresh milk ricotta. It takes no rennet or starters or press, but does take some care and practice.

Equipment is essential in making good cheese. First is a stainless steel pot with lid. As with choosing a milk pail and tote, quality is worth the price as it can last for years. one of mine is thirty years old. As to size, one holding two gallons is a good place to start.

set fresh milk ricotta cheese
When the vinegar is whisked in, the curd is scattered in the whey. Once the pan is set aside to cool, the curd settles down to the bottom leaving a layer of whey on top. This whey can be used in cooking, if it is fresh. One cheese maker I met poured the whey out in a trough for her goats. They loved it.

Other equipment for vinegar set fresh milk ricotta includes a dairy thermometer, stainless steel colander, cloth (Most recipes call for cheesecloth. I prefer bridal veil netting as the weave is set and it is easy to wash.) and whisk. The other ingredients are fresh milk and white vinegar.

Although this cheese is called vinegar set, it is actually acid set. Instead of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar will work, but can color the cheese slightly. Lemon juice works, but gives a lower yield. It’s great for lemon cheesecake.

After milking, bring in the milk and strain it directly into the pot. I like using a wire strainer lined with a paper towel for this. Milk from the refrigerator can be used as long as it isn’t more than a day old.

fresh milk ricotta cheese
Once the layer of whey is poured off, the layer of fresh milk ricotta cheese is left. Pouring off the whey must be down carefully or the cheese will break and pour out too. Usually I pour the whey out through the colander so it catches the cheese. There is additional whey in the cheese. It will drain out on its own. I put the colander back on the pan, put a plate over it and set it in the refrigerator for a few hours. The whey can be pressed or squeezed out also.

Slowly heat the milk. This cheese has a wide temperature tolerance. Most cheeses need a precise temperature. The final temperature can be 175 degrees to 185 degrees. Do not allow the milk to boil. Occasional stirring with the whisk helps heat the milk evenly.

I prefer the lower temperature as the milk sets slightly slower allowing stirring with the whisk to keep the curd smaller.

The amount of vinegar used is not precise either. I generally use 1/2 cup per gallon. This sets the milk quickly and gives a minimal vinegar taste.

When the milk reaches the desired temperature, whisk in the vinegar. You will see the curd form. Turn off the heat or move the pot off the heat. Cover it and leave it until the cheese cools down.

Line the colander with the cloth. Pour the curds and whey into the colander. Work the cheese to remove the whey.

draining fresh milk ricotta cheese
This was a small batch of fresh milk ricotta cheese from a half gallon of milk. It was set at around 170 degrees with the vinegar whisked in briskly and gave a fine curd. Larger curd is easier to drain. This is a good cheese to use instead of tomato sauce on pizza with vegetable slices, meat etc. spread on top along with mozzarella cheese.

Since my colander has small holes, I don’t bother with a cloth unless the curd is very fine. I pour the liquid in, let it drain, pick up the colander and roll it so the curds begin to coalesce removing more of the whey. Press out more whey with a spoon or your hands.

Put the curds into a storage container and refrigerate. Your vinegar set fresh milk ricotta is ready to use.

There are some milk, cheese and meat recipes in “Goat Games“.

Cheese Begins As Milk

When I started raising goats, it was for the milk. I liked drinking milk and had problems drinking cow’s milk, but not goat milk. Except the amount of milk in the refrigerator kept mounting. Well, cheese begins as milk.

The simplest cheese is set with vinegar. The milk is heated enough to kill off most bacteria in the milk.

cheese begins as milk safely produced
Goat milk absorbs odors and can get dirty left open in the milk room making a stainless steel tote a must. Warm milk breeds bacteria. A simple ice bottle can cool milk in the tote during hot weather.

For most cheeses the milk is not heated to those temperatures. The milk can be pasteurized before making the cheese, but then various starters must be added or the cheese doesn’t make well.

I prefer to use unpasteurized milk to make cheese. That makes the remark cheese begins as milk take on great significance. Bacteria laden milk will spoil the cheese.

Clean milk begins with good milking equipment. I started with a quality stainless steel milk bucket and tote. These are expensive, but good care keeps them in good shape for decades.

Nubian doe on milk stand
Dairy goats do have long legs, but they are still close to the ground. The solution is a milk stand. This is a simple, sturdy one used now for over thirty years. The legs are braced. The front has two 2 x 4’s, one rigged with a bolt to act as a stanchion. The latch is a long nail on a chain pushed through a hole. The metal mesh on the stand does collect dirt, but provides good footing for the goat. The stand restrains the goat for giving shots and trimming hooves as well as for milking. the Nubian doe is High Reaches Pamela.

Warm milk is a great place to live in the opinion of bacteria. Winter cold takes care of this problem for months. As soon as temperatures stay above sixty other measures are needed. My solution is a pint plastic juice bottle of ice placed in the tote to cool the milk as soon as it is added. If you do this, remember water expands ten percent when it freezes (Investigation found in “The City Water Project”) so leave head space.

Both the milking equipment and the ice bottle are cleaned as soon as the milk is poured out. Scratching stainless steel ruins it. A soft scouring pad cleans without scratching.

cheese begins as milk from an udder
Some books say to wash the goat’s udder. Others say not to. For me, I wash a muddy udder. Otherwise I brush it off. A circular, hard rubber horse curry comb works really well even for dirt. A stainless steel bucket is best and I had one for years. At a time I thought I was quitting milking, I sold my bucket. The Tupperware pitcher works well, but must be thoroughly cleaned. If my milk stays fresh in the refrigerator for over seven days, my procedure is working. Otherwise I check for sloppiness.

Goat milk needs to be strained into clean glass jars and refrigerated as soon as possible. Some cheeses use milk fresh from the barn. The vinegar cheese does. Feta and Cuata can be fresh or cold. Mozzarella milk must be cold.

Don’t fall into this trap: ‘the milk looks clean, why bother to strain it?’ It’s amazing what you don’t see. Taking a sip of milk and getting a mouthful of hair is really icky. You can use special filters. I’ve used Viva paper towels for years with good results.

Cheese begins as milk. Now that good, clean milk is waiting in the kitchen, it’s time to make some cheese. I make  few simple cheeses and will go through them one a week for a few weeks.

Harriet buys her dream Nubian dairy goats and must learn to milk in “Capri Capers“.

Cowbird Entrepreneurs

Brown headed cowbirds are not a favorite of birders. I see their points. However, the cowbird entrepreneurs living here have my thanks.

Unlike most birds, cow birds do not build nests. They sneak into other birds’ nests and lay their eggs leaving those birds to raise baby cowbirds that often get rid of the competition.

At the bird feeder cowbirds move in as a flock running out most other birds. They inhale the sunflower seeds and leave the other more desirable birds to go hungry.

The first objection to cowbirds has become a big problem due to people. We cut down and split up forests so susceptible birds are left within reach for the grassland loving cowbirds.

cowbird entrepreneurs gather in trees
The brown headed cowbirds gather in the trees as the herd of goats approaches. Goats tend to race out to an area jostling each other. The birds are waiting for the herd to settle down and graze.

The second hasn’t proved out on our feeder. Our first feeder mob is morning doves. They literally cover the entire feeder floor leaving no room for other birds. Even cowbirds and blue jays give way. The cowbirds move in next, eat their fill and leave. There is still plenty of sunflower seeds, scratch feed and suet for the other birds.

All day I see cowbirds around the barn lot. They clean up dropped feed, ticks and other unwanted insects. I wish they ate flies.

Over spring lone star ticks are a big problem on the goats. By early summer the biggest nuisances, according to the goats, are the horseflies and deerflies.

This brings in the cowbird entrepreneurs.

In Africa rhinos, antelopes and elephants have tick birds sitting on them eating ticks and other bothersome insects. There are no tick birds in the Ozarks.

cowbird entrepreneurs sit on the goats
The brown headed cowbirds fly down from the trees and land on the goats. The goats ignore their passengers. The birds hop up and down the backbone checking for insects and ticks on the goat or flying up out of the grass.

This year especially I have noticed the cowbirds sitting on the goats. Mostly they seem to dive off after insects the goats scare up in the grass.

However, the cowbirds also hop up and down on the backs of the goats. A big, juicy horsefly must be a tasty cowbird treat.

The goats don’t seem to mind their riders. Any help eliminating horseflies is welcome.

Thanks, cowbird entrepreneurs.

Find more about our bird feeding experiences in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Poison Hemlock Eradication

Several articles have shown up recently about poison hemlock. It does grow here in the Ozarks and this is my poison hemlock eradication method.

There was a stretch of this plant along the road by the barn. It was a hundred feet long and several feet wide when I began getting rid of it.

look for plant for poison hemlock eradication
Early in the spring the distinctive leaves appear in rosettes. These can be dug out by the roots. Once the flower stalk shoots upward, its size and shape make it easy to spot. It is normally a single stalk an inch or more in diameter growing up to seven feet tall. Queen Anne’s Lace has slender stalks and is rarely over three feet tall.

I don’t use herbicides normally and didn’t want to for this. A row of asparagus was behind part of this stretch. Elderberry and day lily were growing there too.

Poison hemlock is considered the second most toxic plant in Missouri (Number one is the invasive water hemlock.). It can grow as an annual to a short lived perennial, but is mostly a biennial. That means it has a rosette of leaves one year and blooms, then dies the next year.

flowers key to poison hemlock eradication
Once poison hemlock flowers open, they are quickly pollinated. They will form seeds, even if the plant is cut down. The flowers are in groups forming a loose umbel. The flower stalks come from any leaf node on the flowering stalk.

My poison hemlock eradication method made use of this life cycle. When the plants put up their flower stalk, I cut them down. The plant died.

There is a drawback to this. Once the flowers open and are pollinated, they will set seed. Any surviving seed means more plants.

poison hemlock leaf
Although other plants have lacy leaves, the poison hemlock leaves are easily identified. They are large with a long center stem. The leaflets are in pairs, large near the base and small near the tip, making the leaf strongly triangular. Wild carrot or Queen Anne’s Lace does have lacy leaves, but they are much smaller without the strong triangular shape.

I stuffed the flower stalks in empty feed sacks and let them dry. Where I live I can burn my trash in a burning barrel and, once the plants were thoroughly dry, I burned them.

The first year was the worst in terms of the number of plants to cut down. The second year was not much better. By the third year there was a definite drop in the number of plants.

My poison hemlock eradication method does take dedication. Gloves are a good idea, although I rarely use them. Keep the sap off your hands, etc. and wash up right afterwards. The poison danger is from ingesting (eating) the plant or its sap.

poison hemlock stem
The poison hemlock stalk is smooth. The background color is light green. Purple splotches and streaks color most of the stem. It is hollow. To eradicate poison hemlock, cut the stalk at the base. Try to get all the leaves leaving no nodes to put up a second smaller stalk. It is not necessary to treat the root as it will die on its own. Cut the stem into smaller lengths to make bagging and disposal easier. Try to keep the sap off the skin.

This year I found a few plants trying to grow near the asparagus row. They were easily dug up and disposed of. Three bloomed and were similarly dealt with.

It was a lot of work, but I consider my poison hemlock eradication method a success.

I have plant pages posted several years ago on water hemlock. It has a general plant description with pictures.

Garden Resident Northern Fence Lizard

My garden is an insect magnet. Last year a resident Northern Fence Lizard moved in to help reduce these insect populations.

This lizard hung out around the raised bed often basking on the rock walls in the late afternoon. She got used to me going back and forth and found me interesting to watch.

I do know my resident Northern Fence Lizard is a female as she was visited by a male wearing his bright blue sides and bobbing his head toward her. She grew fat with eggs after that.

resident northern fence lizard
My garden resident Northern Fence Lizard is sitting on a corner stone of the raised bed watching me carry water buckets from the rain barrels to thirsty plants. Her new tail is short with small, packed brown scales. A male must have visited as her belly is starting to swell with eggs.

As the weather warmed up this year, my resident Northern Fence Lizard appeared on the raised bed walls. She still remembers me and watches me as I go back and forth.

Last year something happened to this lizard’s tail. One day she had a tail. The next day she didn’t. Luckily for us both, she was fine and continued to consume both good and bad insects.

This is one way to recognize this particular lizard. The missing tail has regrown, sort of. The replacement is short and curved.

I don’t know if she eats my number one enemy: squash bugs. She does visit the summer squash bed nearby. I seems doubtful as bugs wiped out three of four plants in two nights.

Northern Fence Lizard head
There are plenty of lizard sized gaps between the stones of the raised bed. When the sun gets too hot for basking on top, my resident lizard slips between the stones. She keeps a head out to check on passing meals or threats.

Other undesired insects are the cucumber beetles and biting flies, deer, horse and stable. These may be more likely. The frogs work on the mosquitoes.

According to “The Amphibians and Toads of Missouri” by Tom R. Johnson of the Missouri Department of Missouri this may be the last year I see my resident Northern Fence Lizard. These lizards only live about three years. She is growing fat with eggs again and could lay two clutches this year.

Perhaps next year I will have one of her baby lizards as my new resident Northern fence Lizard.

Grow some pumpkins in your garden. Check out “The Pumpkin Project“.

Eating Meat

When I was growing up, meals were planned around meat, potatoes and a vegetable. Eating meat was the norm and almost everyone did.

I still tend to plan meals in the way my mother did with a protein, a starch and a vegetable. However my definitions of these three have expanded.

There are more vegetables to choose from. My garden is transitioning from spring choices like beets, bok choi, spinach and peas to summer choices of mostly tomatoes, squash and okra. A few greens such as mizuna and lambs quarters do grow in warmer weather.

eating meat Not this goat kid
Nubian doe High Reaches Rose has a friendly buck kid. He comes into the milk room and learned in a time or two to get up on a stand to eat.

Starches now include rice, pasta and the occasional Jerusalem artichoke. These last taste and cook fine. Cleaning the dirt off of them is time consuming.

As years go by, meat has become more of a side dish than the main one. Eggs, beans and cheese replace eating meat some days.

Becoming a vegetarian has been considered, but rejected. This is not because killing animals for food is so terrible. After all, nature works that way.

The big sticking point is becoming a hypocrite. I raise livestock. When my goats have kids, many of them are bucks. This year all five were bucks.

In the goat world as in the cow world, one or two males are kept for herd sires. The others must be sold, usually as meat animals.

young goat used for eating meat maybe
Young goat kids love to run and play. This youngest twin buck of High Reaches Valerie live life to the full for now.

One of my five buck kids has been sold as a herd sire. That leaves four now up for sale. I can not keep them.

These four are friendly. I work with them daily. One is spotted. Another has striking markings. One wants to be a pet and is cute. One is much like Augustus without the spots.

baby Nubian buck goat kids
Goat kids play hard for a time. Then they lie down and rest. The top one is High Reaches Rose’s boy. The other is High Reaches Valerie’s boy.

Not many people in my area keep dairy goats. There are quite a few people who want goat milk to drink, but they don’t want to do the milking and goat care.

With hopes someone does want American Nubian herd sires, I am advertising these four buck kids. But I realize they may end up on someone’s dinner plate. Eating meat is still a fact of life for most people.

Hazel discovers chickens are used for meat as well as eggs in “Mistaken Promises“.

Annual Invasions

My garden was looking so good. Then the annual invasions began.

One is mostly welcome. Gray tree frogs call from the rain barrels every warm evening.

Most sit hidden above the barrels. A few brave ones sit on the edges of the barrels. Now and then one is brave enough to continue calling when I come near enough to see its throat turned into a grape sized balloon.

annual invasions of gray tree frogs
Every warm evening calls of gray tree frogs resound through my garden. Judging by the numbers of egg masses in the rain barrels in the morning, they are very busy. The frequent rains wash many of the eggs and newly hatched tadpoles out of the barrels.

In the morning great masses of eggs float in the rain barrels. In a day or two the masses sink until the eggs hatch. Then tadpoles line the barrels.

I value the tree frogs. They catch lots of flying insects, especially mosquitoes zeroing in on the rain barrels. Even during dry spells one barrel is not used to water the garden so some tadpoles can grow up.

Another of the annual invasions is never ending. Weeds love wet weather. They can grow with abandon and the gardener can do little but wait for dryer times to tackle them.

Hen with chick in my garden
Chickens are not allowed in my garden. This hen and chick needed someplace reasonably safe so I bent the rules. She shreds the mulch digging for earthworms and other delicacies for her chick. She also digs up lots of weeds.

This year I do have help of sorts. One cochin hen managed to hatch a single chick.

Since the chick is too small to run loose with the chickens, the pair have occupied the garden during the day. I set up a temporary chicken wire fence, add food and water and hen with chick. She is rototilling the garden section by section.

At least I can try to control where the hen and chick are. They stay safely away from where I’ve planted. My third of the annual invasions, a most unwelcome one, is the raccoons.

These creatures climb over the fence and dig up the garden looking for worms and grubs. Any plant in the way is tossed aside. A third of my tomato plants are destroyed. Three raccoons are history. Electric fence is the next project.

annual invasions of woodchucks
Woodchucks or groundhogs or whistling pigs, these vegetarians do well out in the pastures. In the garden or orchard they are disasters. Since they climb as well as dig, fences don’t slow them down much.

The fence will hopefully prevent another of the annual invasions: woodchucks. These vegetarians can eat a garden to the ground in a single morning. They have been seen next to the garden.

And the garden wars continue. The snow peas, Chinese cabbage, spinach and other greens are worth the fight.

Read more about raising baby chicks here.

Never Big Enough Garden

My garden is actually as big as I can try to take care of. Yet at planting time it is the never big enough garden.

Every year I carefully plan out what I will plant. The potatoes will be in this bed. The tomatoes will be in these beds. The trellis for the peas and beans move to a new bed.

Even though I’ve covered much of the garden with cardboard and mulch, weeds appear. The beds and pathways seem endless as I pull up these stubborn garden invaders.

Now the garden seems to have plenty of room.

Burgundy okra dwarfs my never big enough garden
Lots of people seem to dislike okra because it is slimy. Burgundy okra is much less slimy and has a good flavor. The plants can get big. I had one top 13 feet. These tall plants need protection from strong winds. They like it on the hot side of warm with plenty of water, but no soggy roots.

Then the seeds and transplants start arriving. At first everything fits well. It fits until I run out of places to put plants that always seem to grow bigger than planned for. The never big enough garden strikes again.

One of the big offenders is the winter squash. Butternut isn’t so bad. I can turn the vines to fill the allotted space. Tahitian melon and Yuxa squash definitely don’t cooperate.

Perhaps I should stop growing them. Except these two are goat favorites. They are prolific and good keepers so the goats have treats all winter providing needed vitamins.

Another offender is the okra. I grow three kinds: burgundy, jing and burmese. If the plants stayed four to five feet tall, there would be plenty of room. The last few years the plants have topped out nine to ten feet tall. Harvesting is interesting as I am five feet tall.

Lots of Speckled Roman tomatoes fill my never big enough garden
Paste tomatoes are great for winter storage. Speckled Roman tomatoes are big and meaty with a great taste. Those with no blemishes are frozen whole. The skin slides off when they thaw. Others make good juice and sauce. They are good for fresh eating too.

The biggest offender is me. I keep cutting back on how many tomato and pepper seeds I start. I start them late due to temperature and light considerations so those my garden will not accommodate don’t sell as other gardeners have filled their gardens all ready.

Those seedlings are trying so hard to grow into productive plants. I hate to toss them out to die. My never big enough garden surely has a corner somewhere for these little plants. Except they soon become big plants.

And my garden is well on its way to becoming the usual summer jungle.

Hazel Whitmore’s mother and grandfather compete with their tomatoes in “Mistaken Promises“.

Choosing Lawn Mowers

There was a time when we didn’t worship lawns. Long before I remember. Now choosing lawn mowers is an important part of keeping a lawn.

Lawns are fields of grass like pastures. Many grasses are the same in both places. In spring those grasses do their best to grow tall, lush and seed.

This may make great hay. It makes a lousy lawn. Pushing through or searching for a crochet ball in thigh high grass is no fun.

common milkweed sprout
Among the hazards in the yard are the common milkweed sprouts (Asclepias syriaca) coming up. Usually the grass gets mowed before they come up making them easier to spot. This year they are buried in the grass and marked with rods. The lawn mower must go around the patch, but not too far as the remaining grass is cut by hand.

The solution is to mow the lawn grasses down to a manageable height. This brings us back to choosing lawn mowers.

My grandparents had a sickle mower. It had a series of blades arranged in a cylinder mounted between the wheels. The operator pushed a long wooden handle pushing the mower over the lawn to turn the blades cutting the grass.

This was hard work. If the grass was more than two inches too long, it was nearly impossible. These belong in a museum perhaps, definitely not in use anymore.

Then came the push mower. An engine turned the blade cylinder. Forward movement was still provided by the operator. Long grass was still a great problem. They were a way to develop leg and shoulder muscles.

The cylinder of blades is long gone now. Blades whirl under a platform slicing off the grass and throwing it out the opening on one side along with rocks and other debris.

The forward motion of the mower has changed too. There are some a person must push, I suppose. Most have engines pulling the blades along now.

There are the self propelled ones the operator walks behind. The person can turn, pull back, move in close, avoid wanted plants and get lots of exercise.

We have used a self propelled mower for years. Parts of the yard cam only be cut with one. The mower requires a strong back and legs.

choosing lawn mowers to fit the job and age
This mower is old, but it runs. With care it should last as long as I need it. Age catches up with a person and many of the tasks that were once easy to do become difficult. that includes lawn mowing. So the riding mower is now a needed machine.

Many people now have riding mowers. They sit up in the seat with a steering mechanism to turn the mower running along at some speed. These come in a variety of sizes.

We’ve gotten older. Mowing is harder and takes longer. We finally made the decision to get a riding mower to cut much of the lawn. Age made choosing lawn mowers different than before.

Pastures can be beautiful swaths of green as seen in “My Ozark Home“.

Foxes And Chickens Deadly Game

Two hens disappeared to give me warning. Then I saw I was in the middle of a deadly game of foxes and chickens.

Several years ago I played another game of foxes and chickens when a pair of gray foxes and their kits took up residence under the house. The first reaction of most chicken farmers is to get out a gun and shoot the foxes. End of game.

foxes and chickens deadly game
Gray foxes are lovely animals. The pair make loving parents and are devoted to each other. Their diet consists of squirrels, ground squirrels, deer mice, voles and chickens.

We try to live here in harmony – as much as possible – with the wildlife we are displacing with our buildings and gardens and such. How does a chicken farmer cope with gray foxes?

The house and foxes were on one side of the road. The barn, chicken house and chickens were on the other side of the road. The road had to become a boundary.

The first defensive move was to keep the chickens locked up in their yard unless I was there to watch them. The fox countered by trying to sneak up on the hens when I looked the other way.

The second defensive move was to yell, scream and chase the fox. The fox persisted. So did I.

The third defensive move was to go over the fence along the road. It now has chicken wire over the field fence. The chickens stay inside the fenced in area. The foxes know it is a boundary.

baby gray foxes
These two gray fox kits found a hole in the barn floor. I thought they were kittens at first fleeting glimpse and brought over some canned cat food. The two foxes thought cat food was good.

The fourth defensive move was to counter the reason the fox wanted to get to the chickens. A growing family is hungry. Store chicken is quite acceptable to a fox.

I lost half my flock the first year. The second year I lost a few hens as the defensive moves took effect.

The foxes are back. The chicken wire is still there. I am restricting when the chickens can be outside. Chicken is on the grocery list.

The deadly foxes and chickens game has resumed with a new wrinkle. The foxes are now living under the barn. At least their entrance is outside the chicken fence.

Raising chickens takes responsibility and a good chicken house. Hazel Whitmore learns some of this in “Mistaken Promises“.

Spring Grass Enticing Goats

Spring is arriving here in the Ozarks. The result is spring grass enticing goats away from their hay trough and hay.

I will admit the new grass is juicy (for grass) and lush, much tastier (to them) than hay. Those creatures who eat grass are glad to see it. I don’t eat grass and I’m glad to see it.

spring grass enticing goats to race across the pastures
Often time out with my goats is relaxing. They scatter around grazing. I find a good place to sit. Not now. Now my Nubians make sure I get lots of walking in trying to keep up with the herd.

The goats and I have been at odds over their hay all winter. For many years I bought nice alfalfa/grass mix hay and the goats loved it.

My hay supplier retired. I now feed grass hay. Not just any grass hay. This is hay baled from the fields the goats graze all spring, summer and fall.

Still, it is just grass hay with a liberal mix of various other plants commonly referred to as weeds. Goats prefer these so-called weeds to grass.

That is the problem.

grass getting goat kid tall
Many kinds of pasture grasses bloom and seed in the spring. With abundant rain, my pastures are lush with grass growing tall. The goat kids will soon have grass seed stalks towering over them. Hopefully there is warm dry weather then to put up a spring cutting of hay.

The goats busily nose through the hay in their feeder picking out the weeds and rejecting the grass. I look out to see their feeder appears full of hay.

No goat is eating it. They are standing there waiting.

I bring in the tractor to haul out the bedding. I toss the hay from the feeder onto the floor as the new bedding. I refill the hay trough. The goats begin nosing through it.

With spring grass enticing goats out into the pastures they are even more picky. The hay sits there waiting. A few mouthfuls disappear.

spring grass enticing goats
I walked out to take pictures of my Nubian goats to update the My Goats gallery. The whole herd was busy snatching grass as they walked along trying to sample grass from the entire pasture. Most of the pictures are of goats with their heads down in the grass.

Rainy days make the hay disappear. Half of it does end up as bedding as goats are notoriously sloppy eaters.

There won’t be enough rainy days to make all of the hay left in the barn disappear. However, with spring grass enticing goats and other livestock and wild creatures, those bales are left sitting there. They will not be more palatable next fall than they were last fall.

Maybe I will put up a sign at the feed store and find out if anyone else wants this left over hay. Then the goats can complain about the new hay in the fall.

Read more about goats in the novel “Dora’s Story”, a biography of a goat and her owners.

Weathervane Forecasting

Modern weathervanes come in lots of fancy shapes for decorating roofs. Before modern weather reports weathervane forecasting was the main reason for this roof adornment.

Several years ago we worked on the house roof and added a small cupola over the garage and dormers over the main house to improve the looks of the house. The cupola was a perfect place for a weathervane.

The key to weathervane forecasting begins with careful alignment of it to the points of the compass. Next comes careful observation.

warm weather weathervane forecasting
The weathervane arrow is pointing south. This usually means warmer weather is blowing in. Warm and cold are relative terms as 60 degrees in August is cold and warm in February.

We didn’t expect much from our weathervane. The house is nestled between three hills with a valley in front of it. The hills shield the house from the wind.

Still it was interesting to note which direction the wind was coming from. Patterns began to emerge.

The expectation was for cold winds to come from the north and warm winds from the south. Most of our big storms come from the west.

Observations showed the winds rarely came from true north or south. This past winter the warmer winds came primarily from southeast and colder winds from the southwest.

cold weather weathervane forecasting
Get out the coats. The wind is out of the northwest and has ice in its teeth. The weathervane arrow gives the wind direction. The larger tail catches the wind turning the arrow.

When really cold temperatures started coming in, they came from the west veering to the northwest. Frigid temperatures did pour down from the north.

I’ve gotten into the habit of doing some weathervane forecasting. On days the radio forecast tells a change is coming in, I note the wind direction. When the direction changes, the temperatures change a short time later.

The radio isn’t great for forecasts as they assume most people watch television. We don’t. Weathervane forecasting works for quick notes and to see the trend for the day.

Our April snow came in on a northwest wind. It’s leaving with a southeast wind. My garden, goats, chicks and I are hoping the southeast wind will blow for many more days.

Nature observations can lead to creating poetry like haikus found in “My Ozark Home” now available as a free download for a limited time.

Rhode Island Pullets Arrive

I grew up with Rhode Island chickens from the time they were taller than I was. This is the first time in many years I’ve ordered Rhode Island pullets for my flock.

These are deep red brown chickens with nice personalities in my memory. They were a heavier chicken. They would get broody in the spring.

Rhode Island pullets
As soon as I open the gate to the chick yard, I hear the patter of tiny feet. Looking in the door windows I can see the chicks standing in the corner. If I crouch down by their area and talk to them, my Rhode Island pullet chicks begin to scatter and get back to eating, drinking, sleeping or running around. While the pullets are young, I put up cardboard barriers to keep them in a small area easier to heat. Once the pullets feather out part way and start acting like they want more space, I will take the barriers down. I do use layers of newspapers on the floor. Each layer is three sheets thick. There are ten or twelve layers on the floor. When the top one is dirty, I can roll it up and the chicks have a clean floor with a minimum of stress to them.

That isn’t true with modern strains. People liked this chicken, but didn’t want them to get broody. They wanted eggs. Their size got smaller.

This year getting any chicks in April has been a challenge. The cold weather in February blasted most of the hatching eggs for Cackle Hatchery so their order list said June.

I like getting pullets in April. The weather is supposed to be warmer. The pullets have all summer to grow up. And they start laying in the fall dropping eggs in the nests all winter.

Nap time for Rhode Island pullet
In years past I’ve started the chicks in a large box in the house. This is the best way in very cold weather. Then I come into the room to find all the chicks laying down sleeping. Young chicks spend a lot of time sleeping. This pullet forgot to lay down. Occasionally this will precede a chick nose diving into the floor.

Through a local feed store, my Rhode Island pullets arrived this week. They are a happy, healthy bunch safely quartered in the chick house under a heat light.

The chicks think the light is too warm. I keep moving it up and focusing it so the chicks have most of their area to enjoy without the, what they consider, excessive heat.

I would reduce the wattage of the bulb except for the weather forecast. A cold front is moving through. The chicks and I will continue to adjust the heat until the cold goes away again.

Rhode Island pullets at drinking area
Over many years I’ve accumulated several chick items. Glass quart water founts are one of these. I like the glass as it is easy to clean. The quart jars are replaceable. While the chicks are small, a single one is enough. Later I will add a second. Once those are emptied in a day, I will go to a small metal fount. Like other birds, chicks fill their beaks with water then lift their heads to swallow.

One of my standard cochin hens is setting on a few eggs. They may hatch. It’s the first time in years I’ve let a hen set eggs. She is happily moved into a cat carrier so the other hens and local black snakes can’t bother her. The door is propped open all day.

My Rhode Island pullets may be joined by some Easter Egger cross chicks in a couple of weeks.

Hazel Whitmore prefers Buff Orpingtons in “Old Promises“.

Joy of Being Young

As I get older, it gets harder to remember what it was like to be a child. Watching the goat kids reminds me of the joy of being young.

Nubian doe High Reaches Agate feeding buck kid
Any youngster knows you need plenty to eat to produce all that energy. Nubian doe High Reaches Agate stands patiently for her buck kid to drink plenty of milk before he bounds off to play.

Adult goats and I are alike in some ways. There are serious matters to attend to.

goats going out to pasture
Nubian doe High Reaches Agate is the last doe going out to pasture and the one kids follow when they get left behind as she always answers their calls.

For the goats those matters are mostly eating and raising their kids. For me they include eating, although I do less of that each year, taking care of my livestock which is family, writing, taking pictures and walking.

goat kid showing joy of being young
Those old does may stay at a walk, but not the kids. High Reaches Pamela’s buck kid shows off his racing form speeding by High Reaches Agate.

Kids aren’t burdened with these serious matters so much. Eating is important. The rest of life is exploring and playing. Everything is new. Everything has the potential for play.

shy goat kid hides behind Nubian doe High Reaches Rose
Nubian doe High Reaches Rose is busy eating the lush spring vegetation. This is the main occupation of the adult goats. Her buck kid is checking out the camera from his safe vantage point before daring to join the other kids.

Walking out to pasture the herd passes an old, broken sycamore log. We adults tromp by. Kids stop to nibble on the crumbling wood, jump on top and race along in their joy of being young.

Leaping goat kid shows joy of being young
Forget being shy. High Reaches Rose’s kid takes off leaping to race away with the other kids.

The south pasture is a long walk. We adults set a steady pace, stick to the path and focus on our destination.

enjoying life is part of the joy of being young
After a strenuous play session, these two buck goat kids are taking a break. They do try to keep an eye on where the herd is going as they hate to be left behind.

Kids stop to check out every plant, rock, fallen branch and blowing leaf along the way. When they get left behind, they race up leaping, bucking and kicking in their joy of being young and filled with energy.

goat kid antics show the joy of being young
This littlest buck kid is no slouch when it comes to kicking up his heels.

Out in the pasture the adult does get to work eating grass and weeds. This early in the season the grass, even the fescue is lush and tender. The only sound is the tearing grass blades.

cavalcade of goat kids shows joy of being young
The herd is drifting down into the creek bed on its way to the pasture gate. The slope is a perfect place for goat kids to race and leap down leaving their more sedate mothers behind.

Kids nibble on this plant and that. They sprawl out to sleep. They run up the hill and descend kicking up their heels.

goat kids on tree stump
Goat kids find many uses for an old, weathered tree stump. It’s good to nibble on. It’s good to standing on. Given some time, it’s good for playing king of the mountain on.

By the end of the afternoon the herd approaches the bridge on the way back to the pasture gate. The kids sometimes lead, sometimes follow. The does walk onto the bridge, cross and start toward the gate.

Goat kids playing on gym
These young goat kids still do more sliding down the gym ramp than running or jumping. In another week that will change.

Kids check out the creek banks, the bridge planks, the water below, the rock slope beside the bridge. Inside the barn lot the gym is waiting for more chances for the kids to play.

The does take this as the way things are. I feel memories stir reminding me of the joy of being young.

Goat kids are part of the action in “Capri Capers“.

Goat Kids First Day Out

Pasture grass is green and lush and calling the goats to come out to graze on something tastier than hay. For new mother goats that means a goat kids first day out.

March kids have an advantage in the Ozarks. The grass may be growing, but it is still short. There is enough of it to keep their mothers from wandering very far. The does are impatient with staying in. They want that goat kids first day out.

Nubian kids on their first day out
Nubian doe Valerie is the nervous wreck. All day she calls and hunts to see if her kids are still near her. The kids think their first day out is time to race around and explore.

I choose this day carefully as young kids are not very good at following yet. They also get tired quickly, lie down and go to sleep. That means I get to go hunting up kids.

The perfect day is actually an afternoon. The herd has been out all morning and have settled down to serious grazing. The new mothers are anxious to join them.

Nubian buck kid playing
My Nubian goat kids play a lot on the gym and in the barn lot. But getting out, especially the first time out on the pastures is time to really cut loose. Besides the kids must keep up with the does.

The first step is to wake up all the kids and get them down to the gate with their mothers. This is usually not very hard to do.

Next I open the pasture gate so the does can go out. They mill around calling their kids. The kids ignore them. Augustus sneaks up hoping to slide out the gate.

Once the does are out the gate, the kids can be shoved out underneath. The barrier below the gate is gone now leaving a foot gap at one end.

Augustus looks on disappointed as I fasten the gate.

smallest goat kid checking out bridge
The old planks on the bridge have gaps between them. Down below the creek races along. This smallest of Nubian doe Valerie’s twin bucks is watching the water while deciding to cross the bridge to where the herd now is.

Now the does and kids need to join the herd. I go around and out another gate to call the does. Some of them manage to get their kids to follow them toward the bridge. There are a couple of hold outs.

Finally I have carried the hold outs to the bridge. All the kids and does are at the bridge, get across and follow me up the stream bank toward the herd.

goat kids checking the bridge out on their first day out
The herd went across. Their mothers are standing on the far bank calling. Still these Nubian buck kids are hesitating about crossing the bridge with the creek racing below them. In another day or two these same kids will race across the bridge.

Now comes fun time for the kids. This goat kids first day out is sunny and warm. Their mothers are right there.

The kids spend the afternoon racing around. They are still excited and busy playing a couple of hours later when the herd comes back across the bridge to go to the barn for the night ending this first day out for the kids.

The goats in Capri Capers lead men on a merry chase across the hills.

Buck Year Totally

My spring kidding season is over, I think. This year’s score is: bucks 5, does 0. It is definitely a buck year.

This is also a year of mostly single births. I don’t really mind as I hate selling the kids. This is more complicated now since the local internet classified site closed down.

Nubian buckling of High Reaches Pamela
Spots are no surprise on this little Nubian buck born March 12. Both High Reaches Pamela and High Reaches Augustus have spots. This intrepid little boy followed his mother out to pasture at a week old and every nice day since.

Another reason I don’t mind a buck year is that I no longer keep any new herd members. Kidding season used to be a time to look over the kids and decide on one or two to keep. Now I know all of them are for sale.

Nubian buckling of High Reaches Valerie
High Reaches Valerie had twin Nubian bucks on March 21. This one was up and nursing in a half hour, follows his mother into the barn lot and loves sleeping in the sun.

Why would I stop adding to my herd? There are several reasons. Top of the list is my age and that my girls have no place to go if I am no longer able to care for them.

Nubian buckling of High Reaches Valerie
Smaller than his brother, this Nubian buck born March 21 has had a challenging time. He had trouble learning to nurse, got chilled the first night. Sleeping in the sun was just the thing to warm up. He knows how to nurse and practices on any doe who stands still and doesn’t notice him.

My High Reaches herd has been with me for over 45 years now. All of my herd members were born here. They are like family.

A second reason is the amount of work my herd entails. Younger people don’t get it. The work, even if the amount stays the same, gets harder each passing year over the age of sixty.

Nubian buckling of High Reaches Agate
High Reaches Agate surprised me with this little Nubian buck March 23. He was up doing fine when I found him. He has brown liver spots so will probably have white spots in a month or so. In the meantime he is already staking out his favorite nap spots in the barn.

A third reason is being tired. Dairy stock requires care at least twice a day every day all year round. I no longer have anyone to spell me for even a single milking and haven’t for a number of years now.

Younger people don’t get this part either. As a person gets older, they need less food. This isn’t because children grow up and move out. It’s because our bodies slow down. I no longer need a refrigerator full of milk and cheese.

Nubian buckling of High Reaches Rose
High Reaches Rose was supposed to be bred, but didn’t look it. Still, she dropped this Nubian buck kid on March 23. He has bold white markings, no spots with brown highlights. He is curious and goes exploring whenever he can.

For those goat owners with growing herds a buck year is a problem. The main market for those bucks is the meat market.

For me such a year is par for the course.

Read more about raising goats in Dora’s Story and get a free ebook now.

Waiting For Kids To Arrive

Kidding seasons here are difficult anymore. Few, if any, kidding dates are definite. So March and April are spent waiting for kids to arrive.

With only fourteen does, having kidding dates should be simple. When a doe I want bred comes into season, Augustus gets to visit.

Pest, one of two wethers, took care of that idea last fall. He found he could open Augustus’ gate. This was fun.

There is a spring hook on the latch. One time was my fault as I was in a hurry and forgot to latch it. Another was sort of my fault as I was going to let everyone out to pasture in a half hour and didn’t latch it.

Then there was the board that fell off. Augustus is a big buck, around 200 pounds. He still managed to squeeze through that foot high hole.

Nubian buck kid reward for waiting for kids
Nubian doe High Reaches Pamela was first in the waiting for kids game my does are engaged in this spring.

So now I am watching my does. Which ones are bred? Some have become obvious with their bulging sides and swelling udders. Others are maybes. Some still cycle and are definitely not bred.

Pamela has had a buck kid. She is a happy mother goat most of the time. Wet weather has kept the herd in so she has lots of company. The kid is now old enough to be out with the herd.

Agate should be next. Of course she is past her due date which I had carefully written down. Of course she looks like any time. I check her over every milking time, but am still waiting for kids to arrive.

Valerie is supposed to be due after Agate. She is now looking like she may have her kids before Agate. And that leaves Spring and Rose to watch and wonder if and when.

This waiting for kids to arrive was not supposed to happen this year. I replaced the gate posts that had rotted off. I fixed the fences. I thought I fixed the buck pen.

The good part is seeing pretty, healthy kids. Maybe next season I can have all the due dates written down.

Kidding season can be chaotic especially for first time goat owners as in “Capri Capers“.

Morning Dove Breakfast Crowd

There were no doves when we moved here. Now the morning dove breakfast crowd is ready and waiting every morning.

One of the black walnut trees back from the bird feeder has two big horizontal branches. The doves line the branches basking in the early morning sun and watching for food service to arrive.

morning dove breakfast crowd waiting
The morning doves begin to arrive shortly after sunrise. The numbers increase until there are 18 to 24 birds lining the branches. They watch as the feeder trays are put out then descend on the feeder shoving their way into the crowd.

Doves are ground birds with feet like chickens, made for walking more than perching. The doves moved in after the pastures were cleared out of most of the brush that had moved in.

The bird feeder with its broad tray area is perfect for doves as they can land and walk around sampling the various offerings. Their favorites are the sunflower seeds and the milo.

morning dove breakfast crowd checks for fallen seeds while waiting
The sunflower tray is usually about empty at night so the leftovers, mostly shells are dumped on the ground below the feeder shelf. Some of the morning crowd checks for any good ones.

At least there is supposed to be room. During the winter the morning dove breakfast crowd fills the feeder until they seem to stand on top of one another.

During the spring and summer the crowd thins as the males get more belligerent. The numbers stay high as the doves are busy raising young doves.

Mammals are known for feeding their young with milk. The pigeon family also feeds their young on a type of milk produced in their crops. This seems to influence their seed choice.

Corn is not favored. Over the winter the blue jays eat the corn. All summer the corn is left in the bowl. The doves toss it around searching for and eating the milo. This mix is a hen scratch containing both.

morning dove
Morning doves have feet more adapted to walking than to perching. They are smaller and more slender than the common rock dove better known as a pigeon. They form semi permanent pairs and both parents incubate the eggs and raise the young.

The morning dove breakfast crowd may start by gorging at the bird feeder. They later scatter into flocks feeding other places.

When I go walking out along the creek, there will be a whirr of wings as a flock will take off. If I walk up the ravine behind the house, the same whirr greets me. It is hard to sneak up on a flock.

The best way to see these birds is to get up early enough to see the morning dove breakfast crowd.

Feeding wild birds is one essay in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Old Barn Still Standing

How old is my barn? We’re not sure. The original part of the house was built around 1910, so it is an old barn.

Like the house, the barn has been renovated numerous times. Like the house, these renovations were cobbled together.

The original part has piled rocks as a foundation. The walls had no braces, only frames held together with upright oak boards. Oak is one tough wood.

Old Barn
As lumber ages, it dries out and shrinks. The roofing tin covers the gaps between the boards making the barn less drafty. The roof sags a bit in the center as the old barn is starting to settle. The tin is newly tacked down as this winter would have blown some of it off. It is a challenge in making due with what is here.

There was a lean to section. Originally it was probably used for the tractor and other equipment. One of the renovations was to put in a cement floor with trough along the outer side and wall it in. Water pipes were included.

The water pipes are long gone. The doors where hay was dumped out into a hay trough are still there. The cement is still there. Evidently it was used for dairy cows.

Hogs were moved in later and hog doors were cut into the outer wall. Those are still there too. The goats open the hooks regularly although the doors no longer really open.

The oldest section of the barn has a wood floor about a foot up off the ground. Pieces of the floor boards are missing as is one side of the barn used in a house renovation to put barn wood on the walls. The wall is now plywood and roofing tin. Plywood covers the floor holes.

Nubian buck High Reaches Augustus in his pen
Snow blew into the buck pen during the snow storm. It sat in a pile along the wall for ten days before melting. My Nubian buck High Reaches Augustus was locked in a pen inside the barn keeping a bit warmer. He was very glad to get back into his own place with room to move around. He expects dinner.

At first we planned to tear the thing down and replace it with a new one. Such plans are easily put off for one reason or another. The new barn was never built.

There is no point in building that new barn now. The last of my herd is slowly dwindling as my adults will live out their lives here until they die. The youngest, High Reaches Valerie, is now three.

The old barn is still standing. It is getting shaky and, if the next people here want to raise livestock, they will have to build that new one. In the meantime I’m hoping this one outlasts my goats.

Old farms have old buildings like the old house Hazel Whitmore moves into in “Old Promises“.

Gardening Season Here Again

Seven inches of snow just melted. Temperatures were below zero. Still, gardening season is here again.

In some ways the season never ends. Seed catalogs and orders occupy January. I grow mostly the same vegetables, same varieties every year. However, there are so many other things in the catalogs, something new is added possibly for only that year or maybe a permanent addition.

plastic over raised bed lengthens gardening season
Winter and spring are windy times. This year I’m trying a tie down system to keep the plastic over the raised garden bed from being blown apart. Baling twine is looped on one hook inserted between the rocks, tossed over the plastic and secured to a hook on the other side. Twine going over the front and back are secured to the two heavy pipes. The plastic is staying in place. It is difficult to get inside to plant and to water. It does work better than laying pieces of cattle panel onto the plastic.

February begins gardening season for me. My raised bed is again operational. It’s full of dirt waiting to grow vegetables.

Isn’t February too cold?

The plastic draped over the raised bed turns it into an unheated greenhouse. The air inside on a sunny day reaches summer temperatures. The rocks hold the heat for some of the night.

Spinach is supposed to go in about Valentine’s Day here in the Ozarks. I’m not too enthusiastic about working outside in snow and cold. I waited.

raised bed lengthens gardening season
The metal liner is working well for keeping the soil inside the raised garden bed. The plastic was pulled away for several rains to soak the dirt. Now the spinach seeds are in and the problem will be keeping the dirt moist as the raised bed does dry out quickly.

Now the ground is clear. The sky has been clear for a few days. My spinach seeds are planted.

This year I’m trying a new variety, Noble, is addition to the Bloomsdale Longstanding. The bed is eight feet long and I put in a double four foot row of each.

Spinach likes cool to cold temperatures. If it isn’t started early here in the Ozarks, it bolts as soon as it comes up. And the seeds will germinate in forty degrees.

My next challenge will be keeping the rows watered. The plastic does a great job protecting the raised bed, but it is difficult to open up. I keep the plastic tied down because of the wind.

What’s next?

Snow peas and sugar snap peas go in next week. Greens go in the next week. Potatoes go in in mid March. Tomato and pepper seeds get started in the house the end of March. Gardening season is heating up.

As usual, I’m not ready. The pea trellises aren’t up yet. The tomato cages aren’t up. The weeds are up. I’ll just pretend I am ready and go from there.

Science investigations and lots of pumpkin fun is in “The Pumpkin Project“.

Goats In Snowy Weather

Winters in the Ozarks have been mild for several years. This year left my goats in snowy weather and below zero cold.

This was normal when we lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Preparations for bone-chilling cold were done all year. Old blankets were piled. Baling twine was ready.

When the snow fell, the barn doors were closed. The barn walls were thick as was the bedding. Shivering goats had blankets draped over them and tied on.

Such cold is rare in the Ozarks. Snow is never waist deep and never stays for six months. The pile of blankets got packed away.

Instead a pile of sweatshirts was kept in the barn. These were from local thrift stores. The arms are cut short. The front has an elongated half moon cut out. The arms have holes for tiny legs and the cuff cut short for kids.

The pile sat on the shelf unused. There were a few days when my goats ended up with snowy weather. The temperatures were in the upper twenties. The weather warmed up in a few days.

This year the forecast warned about a polar vortex headed down bringing snow and cold. Augustus was moved into a hastily set up pen inside the barn. The doors were draped with sheets and blankets to cut the wind.

goats sunning in snowy weather
Sweatshirts help my goats keep warm in cold weather, but basking in the sun is the best way to warm up. The goats blame me for the snow. I wish that was true as I could make it go away right away.

A total of seven inches of snow fell. The goats were locked in the barn for almost a week.

Bored goats find ways to amuse themselves. They are starving to death. The hay trough is full. They argue with each other. They huddle up overnight.

Water is carried to the barn several times a day. It sits ignored, if the temperatures are warm enough to leave it. Water is demanded after evening grain.

Finally the sun comes out and the barn door is opened up. Heads stick out. One by one the goats come out to bask by the barn.

Goats in snowy weather are a lot of work. Then comes the clean up.

Find out more about goats in “Goat Games“.

Ozark New Year Surprise

Winter weather usually shows up in the Ozarks between Christmas and New Year’s. But this was a new year surprise.

The forecast was for rain and a wintry mix. Winters have been warmer for several years now. Instead I woke up to the aftermath of an ice storm.

One of the librarians so wanted snow. Snow is lovely – in pictures. For those of us with livestock snow is a headache. Ice is even worse.

This new year surprise was a quarter inch coating of clear ice coating everything outside. There had been some wind, so the ice coated the sides of buildings normally protected from the weather.

frozen gate latch after an Ozark ice storm
The ice built up on the chicken yard fence and froze the gate latch to the fence. It didn’t matter much as the chickens had no intentions of going outside into the cold and ice.

Luckily I have the habit of using lead ropes to tie gates closed whenever wet weather is around in the winter. I hate climbing over gates frozen shut, especially with a bucket of milk.

Stones, broken branch pieces and hammers work well to break off a quarter inch of ice. A hand warms the rest and the hook opens. The barn door was broken loose and opened.

Next came feeding the chickens. The gate hook was frozen to the fence. A handy piece of branch knocked it loose.

The water fount took the hammer to knock the ice off. I always take it apart for the night in the winter. The pump handle was iced shut and had to be knocked free.

icy hand pump is new year surprise
Luckily the ice wasn’t too thick as it did try to freeze the pump handle shut. This pump in on an old dug well and I use it to get water for the chickens and goats.

The chicken house was a challenge. The ice had blown over onto the door and sealed it for the first time I can remember. The hammer freed the hinges and pried the door open.

The goats were not impressed with the new year surprise. Even with full hay troughs and normal feed rations, they are starving to death and mob the milk room door.

Last year was such an eventful year. I was hoping for a more laid back version this year. Maybe the new year surprise storm is a last gasp from last year, not a harbinger of the new one.

Goats can be challenging. Meet Capri and her herd in “Capri Capers”.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

I read a wide variety of books over the year mostly from the stacks and bookshelves in my house. “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery was exception, a review I ran across that sounded interesting.

I grew up near the Pacific Ocean and collected shells, studied about shells so the word octopus in the title caught my attention immediately. The subtitle indicating this was more than about the octopus, but about consciousness in all creatures intrigued me.

So many people grow up considering octopuses (that is the correct plural) monsters in a class with bats and snakes. After all, they are so alien with their eight legs, lack of a skeleton and constantly changing colors and shapes. They make wonderful monsters in sea tales.

California beach
People play at the edges of the ocean, but rarely venture into its depths. Being creatures of the land, the ocean is a strange and frightening, even deadly place. The creatures living along the ocean’s edges seem alien. Those of the depths are mistaken for monsters. Some creatures like starfish are so simple they have no real brain. Others like the octopus are far more complex. All seem to have some level of consciousness and ability to learn.

What I wasn’t prepared for is how really alien the truth about octopuses is. “The Soul of an Octopus” reveals them to be highly intelligent.

Science has long dismissed other creatures as having no real consciousness, inferior intelligence and lacking real emotions. Anyone who has raised livestock knows this is false. However, having empirical observations and proof are two different things.

Long ago my family had a cat, Chief Grey Foot, with a sense of humor. She would tease my mother’s Irish Setter Sam and race away with Sam in hot pursuit. Chief would stop, letting Sam roar by, climb the fence and sit there laughing at the dog now frantically looking for her. How do you prove a sense of humor in a lab?

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
“The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery challenges the reader to examine and reassess what consciousness is expanding it to include other creatures.

How do you prove intelligence? My high school gave all students an IQ test at the beginning of the year. It was well known that students in inner cities scored much lower on these tests than those of us in the suburbs.

A group devised an IQ test using vocabulary familiar to those in the inner city. This reversed the results. The IQ test was biased toward those with a certain vocabulary.

How do you test intelligence for a creature far different than a person? A large octopus with a head the size of a watermelon can squeeze through a hole the size of an orange. It sees only black and white with its eyes and colors with its skin. It tastes with the suction cups on its arms. An octopus’ reality is the ocean, not land.

Reading “The Soul of an Octopus” has made me rethink both “The Carduan Chronicles” and the Planet Autumn series I am working on. How do I, a human, put myself into the consciousness and reality of alien creatures?

Challenge your long held beliefs about consciousness and read “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery.

Proud Standard Cochin Rooster

Almost a year ago there was a big ball of animated buff-colored fluff. This grew into a proud standard cochin rooster.

Those familiar with chickens or chicken catalogues know cochins as these eight inch tall bantams. They have lots of feathers making them look fluffy. There is little tail so their ends are rather rounded. They have feathers down their legs and fans of feathers over their feet.

standard cochin rooster
Standard cochins are slow to mature. Once the rooster does, he is a commanding presence.

The color pattern I really liked was like a barred rock chicken: black and white stripes. The bantams were on display at a county fair.

Bantams don’t do well in my hen house. Chickens are mean to each other. The top hen pecks the other hens. Each pecks on the hens below her.

The poor hen at the bottom is picked on by everyone. This is a pecking order. And bantams, being small, are at the bottom.

standard cochin rooster and hens
Mr. Pantaloons, my standard cochin rooster, parades around a group of hens who are too busy eating to notice him.

Thumbing through a chicken catalog many years ago I found cochins came in standard or big size too. I ordered some chicks.

Standard cochins are much bigger than even Buff Orpingtons in looks. Pick one up and much of the size is fluff.

These are gentle birds. They look like fluff balls on fluff balls to me as they walk around.

The last of my last cochins had died of old age. I ordered chicks last spring. Normally I order pullets when I have a flock rooster, but standard cochins only come straight run which means males and females are mixed.

Extra roosters are called dinner. Too many roosters harass the hens so they don’t lay many eggs. And this little buff standard cochin rooster was called dinner.

Somehow I never got around to having that chicken dinner. The rooster grew up. He is gorgeous.

two proud roosters
For now the Arcana rooster is top rooster. The standard cochin is still young and uncowed. The two eye each other warily when close generally choosing to stay far apart. The hens ignore them both.

The flock Arcana rooster is not impressed and tries to chase him. There was a pile of buff feathers near the coop the other day.

Mr. Pantaloons, my proud standard cochin rooster, took it in stride. After all, he is twice the size of his angry rival. They have an uneasy truce for now.

Chickens are a great 4-H project as they are for Hazel in “Mistaken Promises“.