Sunday, January 15, 2017

Snow walking...

 This is our gravel road --six miles to the highway.  
If we get more snow and wind, it's blocked.
Right now, it's warming up, so the road is a little better!

 Snow walking in the Breaks Pasture.

 A lone antelope was paying more attention to Sue than to me.


 See, the fence is buried.  
There will be lots of fence to fix this spring & summer.
Hi Sue!

Long shadow.

I'm getting all excited about the fact that I have a pair of used snowshoes on the way.  I ordered this pair of traditional wooden snowshoes with the rawhide lacing from Ebay.  I've never walked in this style before, but have wanted to try since deep, powdery snow or even wet snow can be hard to walk in with the modern aluminum snowshoes.  You tend to sink in with the moderns, whereas the traditional style snowshoes have more float due to more surface area.  It'll be a fun experiment.  Since I got shoes used, I'm not out a lot of money compared to buying them new if I don't like wearing them. I'll be sharing my experience with you once they arrive!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A snowy walk...

As I was out doing my afternoon chores:
feeding chickens, bringing them some hay for the floor,
gathering eggs, digging out the snowy barn door,
and feeding the cats,
I decided to take a little walk.

It's snowing this afternoon, rather beautifully with no wind.

Along the way I noticed this Long-eared Owl.  I'm not sure I've seen one in real life before.  I didn't have my camera at the moment, so I just enjoyed watching him.  While walking home, I spied another bird that I was unsure of.  I tried to snap a picture of it in my mind so I could try to find it in my field guide.  The many chickadees were flitting here and there at the feeder, all "dee-dee-dee-ing" back and forth to each other as I walked in the garage to fetch them some more sunflower seeds.  Then I had an idea to grab my camera and walk back out.  Maybe I could snap a picture of the birds so I might identify them.

Lucky me, the Long-eared Owl was still on his perch and he allowed me a couple snaps.  Isn't he a beauty?  I'll say!  The unknown bird became more evident when I looked at my photos and saw the hooked beak.  It looks like a Northern Shrike, but kind of not.  Then I saw the juvenile photo in my guide, and that nailed it.  He's a young one!  I've seen the Northern and Loggerhead Shrikes in the summer here, but I don't know that I've ever seen one in winter.  They are listed as "scarce" in the Peterson's Field Guide to North American Birds.  I'm so glad I took a little time to go walking despite the cold 6 degrees and snow.  It was well worth it.  Now I'll have a good cup of black coffee and a treat.  

Have you been seeing any unusual birds or animals around your place?  Do tell!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Chickens in winter...

I cleaned the coop this fall before the winter hit hard.

 Looks like I need some more bedding on the floor.
You see I saved over two Rhode Island Reds as an experiment.
  I wanted to see how many more eggs they would lay in their Old Age.  
They've done pretty well.

 Good egg production happening this morning!
We don't use all these nest boxes.  I have the majority boarded up.

 Some of the eggs are double-yolkers!

A young friend of mine who I give eggs to emailed me today with questions about why her friend's chickens aren't laying.  I thought that it might be a good time to talk about keeping chickens in winter since this is a common problem for us up north who are facing extreme cold right now.  It's hard on everything -- including chickens.

Here are some excerpts from my email:

Egg Laying Breeds:
There are really so many variables for chickens laying or not laying eggs.  One of the first variables I think about is the breed of chicken.  Right now I've got Pearl White Leghorns which lay large, white eggs.  These are THE BREED for getting lots of eggs.  They are the breed commercial farms use because they are such good layers and they are one of the best converters. So you really are getting more bang for your buck -- when it comes to converting feed to eggs.  There are other breeds that are very good too like:  Red Star and Black Star (sexlinks),  Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock, and Astralorp.  One thing I'm trying is to do from now on is to buy just one breed per year.  This way when it comes time to replace hens every fall, we know which are the old hens and which are the pullets (young hens).

Oh, that reminds me....does your friend have old hens?  If she does, they will not lay on a regular basis.  I replace my hens every year.  So the hens laying now were just chicks back in April.  That will make a huge difference in egg production.  The old hens will produce what we call JUMBO eggs, but they will not lay an egg a day like a young hen will.

Mixed Breed Flocks: 
One thing that happens amongst mixed chickens is that sometimes they will gang up on other breeds.  Some of the more docile breeds end up being picked on and some of the more aggressive breeds will beat up on others and/or eat their eggs.  I used to buy a variety of chickens, but the past couple years, I've been buying just one breed.  They all get along.  A quiet coop is a happy coop which produces more eggs!

One thing that really helps egg production is feed.  High protein feed.  If you can get the hens to eat the Layer Pellet, you will win.  Sometimes chickens like it (mine do) and sometimes they don't.  A trick my MIL used to do was to make a mash out of it.  She'd pour boiled water over the pellet in a Cool Whip dish and carry it out to the chickens.  You don't really have to have a Cool Whip dish, but you know -- a disposable dish is nice to leave at the coop. The hens loved to eat pellet that way and if that's the only way you can get them to eat layer pellet, do it.  Wheat is a high protein feed you can add.  I feed Hen Scratch which combines a little of everything and chickens like some variety.  If your friend can add scraps from the table, chickens always love that.  It keeps them "happy" and they look forward to you coming.  I sometimes grab a little clump of alfalfa hay and throw to them.  They like green stuff like lettuce, peas, and trimmings from your veggies.  They will also eat meat scraps.  Some people say you shouldn't feed meat scraps, but I do.  Chickens will fight over it, they love it so much.

Temperature & Water:
Make sure the floor of the coop has plenty of bedding -- stray, hay or wood shavings.  If hens' feet are cold, they aren't happy....just like us.  Try to make the coop as draft-free as possible so it can be as warm as possible.  I do have a red heat lamp over the water bucket to keep it from freezing.  It really doesn't warm the coop much, but it keeps water available.  During these cold, cold winters, I do NOT let my hens out of the coop.  When there is snow and ice on the ground, my girls stay indoors.  Remember about cold feet? 

Hens have to have lots of water.  If their water supply is freezing over, they aren't getting enough water to make eggs.  Eggs are something like 90% water.  A tip to keep hens drinking:  take out hot water every day.   This way they have more drinkable (warm) water during cold days.  The less energy a hen needs to stay warm, the better. 

I do think the light from that heat bulb over the water bucket also keeps hens laying through the winter.  They need the light to stimulate the pituitary gland to produce eggs.  Even if your friend could add one or two hours more light in the coop in the early morning or the evening,  it might help.  If you are worried about fire, just put a regular light bulb in the coop and leave it on or put it on a timer.  If your coop has windows, keep them as clean as you can so more light comes in.

Nesting Boxes & freezing eggs:
Mine are wooden.  I've seen the metal ones (the friend has metal).  I don't think they should be a problem, but I can imagine that those hens are kicking out the straw since it would be slippery and hens like to fluff up their nests.  I saw an idea where somebody took one of those small wash tubs and cut part of the front out so the hens could enter and then added hay, straw or wood shavings to it.  It kept the nesting material in and made it easy to dump out and clean too.  That might be helpful. 

With the cold we've been having, my eggs will freeze too.  That heat bulb doesn't really keep the coop warm, it just keeps the water from freezing most of the time.  Even then, the water gets ice around the edges.  When I know it's going to be below zero or around 0*, I go get the eggs early -- before noon.  Or they WILL freeze in the nests.  Then I might go check again in the evening before dark to see if there are any more.  My hens are usually all done laying before noon, so that just makes it easy to go fetch the eggs and feed & water them all at once -- particularly in winter months.  The hens like to climb up to the roost early in winter.

Chickens need a roost up off the floor.  Here again, we're talking about warm feet.  When they are off the cold floor or ground, their feet are warmer.  Their bodies are warmer up off the ground too so that keeps our chickens happy!  The less energy the chickens use to keep warm and happy, the more energy they can convert into eggs.

I hope this winter chickens post might help you and your hens if you are seeing a slow-down in egg production.  It is a normal thing to have slower egg production in the dark and cold of winter, but it doesn't have to be this way.  I am not a chicken expert or a chicken scientist.  I'm just a ranchwife who has been raising chickens for 30+ years, and this is what works for me where I live in the wintry northern plains.  Here's to More Eggs!

Saturday, December 31, 2016


The round "wheels" have fence posts underneath 
and then you see the wires in between all wrapped in snow.

 Jackrabbits galore
 Sharp-tailed grouse on the snow

 Christmas Day Windows
Christmas Day Stump de Noel Cake

Christmas Day we got a Big Snow.  It came in with wild winds and white-out conditions.  The two youngest sons ate with gusto and were out the door and on the road for home before the heaviest stuff dumped on us and there was no way out.  It was slow traveling with blowing snow, but they got back to their home safely.  PTL!  The rest of us just stayed inside and watched the blizzard happen while feasting and celebrating.  

After Christmas Day, we all went out to see what we could see.  Drifts everywhere.  On the high ridges and flats, it was somewhat bare, but wherever there was something to catch snow -- whether it be a fence, some trees, a little clump of grass or a barn -- there was a drift.  A big drift!  Some 10 foot drifts!!  The local weather station said we picked up 12+ inches of snow that day and since it blew up to 50 mph for about 24 hours, I really didn't see how anyone could measure such snow.  I enjoyed exploring around the tree patches near the homestead on the hard drifts, walking up high in the tree tops and over fences.  

Since then I've been out daily, discovering and trekking around on my snowshoes.  It's so interesting to see how the snow sifted and drifted like sand and made beautiful patterns and snow creations everywhere.  Yesterday I went out in a pasture where the sheep are and walked the deep, snowy draws and then climbed up to the hilltops.  My trusty Sue came with me.  Despite her old age, she stayed with me and never lagged behind like she is sometimes apt to do.  She enjoyed herself with the spirit of a pup.

With all the drifted snow, the men have been busy digging everything out.  The corrals and the barn was buried and many stockades and water tanks and roads.  There are snow piles everywhere and the children who live here are delighted at their new snow hills built by Papa and Daddy for their sledding joy. They even created stair steps for them to walk up the side of the sled-hill.

I hope you all had a good Christmas and are ready to forge ahead into the New Year.  Wishing you all the best.  Keep looking up!
Yesterday, just snow.                    Selfie-- Sue and me

Friday, December 16, 2016

Snowy views from snowshoes...


The snow started falling late last night and has continued all morning.  So far we have 7-8 inches of snow on the ground, and it's still falling so we'll see how the totals are.  I decided the chicken coop needed a layer of barley hay on the floor for a little more insulation against the cold.  We're expecting the temps to fall below zero for the next couple nights and I don't want the egg production to start falling off from cold feet.  I'm so proud of my girls as they continue to produce 21-23 eggs every single day despite the cold.  I've been gathering eggs early -- by noon or 1:00 each day so the eggs don't freeze in the nests.  CarpenterSon fixed a loose door, weather stripped, and got the coop a little more snug. I'm sure it does help.  The heat lamp keeps the water bucket from freezing over and adds a wee bit of heat.

I decided that the snow was deep enough, particularly in the trees, to break out the snow shoes this morning.  I had been trying to walk in the tree patches but kept punching through the snow drifts, and that makes for hard walking trudging.  I strapped on my snowshoes and headed back out for a hike.  What fun I had.  Although the temperature was around 5 degrees, I didn't feel cold at all.  I had my wool pants on, wool socks on my feet, a wool buff around my neck, the handmade wool cap on my head from OnlyDaughter, and wool gloves on my hands.  I was just short of being a complete sheep!  With the work of snowshoeing along with being bundled up so well, I kept my body quite warm and toasty.  I really didn't think I'd be able to tolerate being outside so long, but with nearly no wind today, it didn't feel so bad.  I made a few tumbles over snowdrifts that I didn't see very well.  One of my problems is that I like to gawk around while I walk and so when a drift banks off steep, I fall down it.  No injuries, just a lot of snow stuck to my pants and coat.  It was kind of like remembering how to drive in the first snow of the season.

The first picture is one of the tree patches were I walk.  Very Winterwonderland-ish, isn't it?  Next is a picture of a bunny cave in the snow, and after that is a pic of one-of-many jackrabbits that were scampering around the trees.  You can see the tracks everywhere and even wide bunny trails where lots of feet tamp down a rabbit super-highway.  The white tail deer make their homes in the shelter belts too, especially when it gets cold.  Sue, my dog, enjoyed the romp through the snow, but she was eager to get her paws warmed up when we finally went home.  The wood fire was so nice to warm up against.  Are you getting snow and cold?  It sounds like everyone is going to get a little taste of this Arctic blast.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fresh voices on old carols...

 I'm in love with these fresh, young voices. Enjoy! Blessed Advent to you!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Love Notes...

Since it's Advent, I've been trying to slow down and see things from a different perspective than my own.  I want to see things through God's eyes.  I find that when I have "eyes to see" that there are Love Notes everywhere that He is trying to send my way.  And I know He's sending them to you too!  One Love Note was included in this Jade plant.  It was growing outdoors this summer and I brought it in for the winter months to enjoy.  It lives in the laundry room along with a few other plants.  It's not a showy place to live, but it's sunny and I'm in there regularly so I see and appreciate my green things growing.  If you look closely at this Jade, you can see little, pink rootlets hanging down from the branches.  They are just beautiful (to me) and what I see is a Reaching Down from above.  Little rootlets are wanting to reach down to some fertile soil and grow and grow and spread.  The Love Note came:  God is reaching down to me, and He wants to put roots down in the soil of my life and bring new life, and grow in me and spread His love.  I also think about the verse:  "I am the Vine and you are the branches..." and I think to myself, if I am one of these Jade branches, I need to reach out too and share the life that is in me and spread the Good News.  The life is Jesus. 

Another Love Note came while I was grandmothering.  While two little ones napped, I got the two older grandkids started on the old potholder looms.  Remember these?  I taught my own kids how to weave with them.  It was a trying experience reaching through and across and over.  It's not easy weaving with inexperienced hands.  The Love Note came:  You are like a woven potholder.  The potholder might look wonky in some places and lumpy.  It might be uneven,  the colors might not coordinate, and some of the loops might be missed in the weaving or loose.  It is imperfect, but it's a beautiful imperfection.  When a child gives a homemade potholder to his mother, it is a cherished gift that is loved and used as intended, and she thinks about those wee hands that made it.  There is love in the gift.  We are beautiful, imperfect gifts  to one another and beautiful, imperfect potholders that God loves unconditionally.

Thank you, God for these Love Notes.
Thank you for the Greatest Gift--
The Greatest Love Note ever written,
A baby named Jesus, from the Root of Jesse,
To live and grow
Among us and to us and in us and through us.
The Perfect Gift of Love
To redeem a perfectly imperfect potholder like me.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Ravished with wonder...

I mentioned to you that I am reading The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp for my Advent meditations and so far, it's been a very good thing for me.  One phrase that has captured my attention comes from a quote from John Calvin.  
Every human being is "formed to be a spectator of the created world and given eyes that he might be led to its author...first to cast our eyes upon the very beautiful fabric of the world in which God wishes to be seen by us...As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at His infinite goodness, wisdom and power.
The phrase "ravished with wonder" has captivated me.  I think about it now in lots of little things I see and feel and hear and smell.  Since I am a lover of nature, I am ravished with wonder at the chickadees, nuthatches, starlings and grouse that overwinter with us.  It's cold here.  Just 10* tonight and promises of colder days yet to come.  And they are here, happily visiting our feeders and living in the tree patches and hay stacks.

Since the cold has returned, we've been building fires in our wood burning stove and I am ravished with wonder to watch the beautiful tongues of fire and to feel it's warmth as I stand with my cold backside to it.  In winter there is no better way of warming-up that is better than the warmth of a wood fire.
Walking in the biting wind with snow pelting my face as I close a gate in the pasture, I am ravished with wonder at the power and strength of the wind and the cold temperatures combined, and I am amazed at how quickly I get chilled, bundled up as I am, but our thick-hided Hereford cows and woolly sheep can tolerate this weather seemingly without a care.

Do you love the smells and tastes of Christmas as I do?  Are you ravished with wonder at the aromas of fresh-baked bread,  juniper branches, or the spices of star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ginger?  I love those warm, earthy smells and flavors.  I like to put them in my pot of water on the wood stove and let their spicey goodness permeate the air, and I like to taste them in my hot lemonade and in cookies and cakes.  The pomegranates are in the grocery store now.  They are so delicious!  I am always taken by the beautiful red jewels that grow inside -- the sweet, juicy seeds that we love to eat this time of year.

I am ravished with wonder at the sounds of our youngest grandchildren learning to talk, saying the names of their siblings or saying, "Bye bye" and "Yeah" and "No!" and "Air compressor" and "Water tank" and "Bye Gammy!"  And I am blessed to hear the older grandchildren learning to read and love books.  It is a fine thing to have little people climb up into my lap with their favorite books who seem to be ravished with wonder as I read the same stories to them over and over again.  It's a joy, and an honor, and a blessing to me.

So I challenge you to be ravished with wonder this Advent season.  Go to the window, to your back door, go for a walk, look up at the stars, listen to a child and listen closely.  Breathe in the spices of the season, taste it, feel the cold of a snowy day or the warmth of a mug of hot tea.  Love is there.  It's a gift, just for you, from the God of Love.  He is the author of it.  Come, let us adore Him!

Friday, December 02, 2016

A little break in the weather, a little cheer...

 We went from Blizzzzzz.... sunshine and melting in a few days. The poor chickens were literally cooped up while the wind blew and the snow sifted into the cracks of the hen house and the barns.  Today the snow melted off, mostly, and the girls got to go out and scratch in the sunshine.  Do you see the kittens amongst them?  George and Elaine.

I've been puttering around about the house and in the Christmas things.  I decided to make a couple of little wreaths with juniper greens that I cut from our trees.  I just wired the greenery on wooden embroidery hoops and added a smart, red ribbon.  Ta da!  I like to put branches of juniper here and there around the house in vases and around candles.  It smells so good.

This is my new tinsel tree.  
I've always wanted one, and this year I splurged.
The star on the top changes colors 
which I think goes very well with my retro-vintage tree.

The mantel above our wood stove is decked out with greens and lights and Nativity.  I used to try to put candles in those glass hurricanes, but learned to just put some battery lights in them instead.
This is my tiny nativity set which sits on our old trunk so little ones can look closely at the scene.  The Fontanini sets are so nice because they don't break and I don't have to worry about small hands holding the figures.

I've started my own Advent study using this book:
 by Ann Voskamp.
So far, I'm really enjoying it.

The men hung the Star on the Barn 
and set up the cross on the well house
so we are all set for the Christmas Season to begin.

I hope you're enjoying special moments as you unwrap Christmas treasures, hang wreaths, light candles and sing jolly songs.  May you take JOY in every gift of every day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Day of Preparation...

It's the Day of Preparation at my house. Yours too?
Helpful tip of the day....
Taste your batter, fillings, and everything.  You never know if you missed an ingredient like sugar.  Yes, sugar!  One year I was making pumpkin pies.  I poured the filling into the shells and slid them into the oven.  While cleaning up the bowls and beaters, I tasted the pumpkin pie filling -- ick!  No sugar!  Thankfully I was able to pull the pies out of the oven poured the filling back into the bowl so I could add sugar.  One little lick of the spoon or beaters just might save the day!

Happy Thanksgiving!


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