andyschickenscratch

city girl meets country living, chickens, adventures, humor

Cleaning up

It is important to understand that when I set out to do something that I can picture myself doing it just like a pro and that the outcome will be just as I expect, successful. What I often forget is that most of the time things don’t go as planned. This would be the case when I decided that I would use the power sweeper to clean off the large cement pad attached to our shop. In past years I have used the pressure washer with out much success so this year the power sweeper it was.

The first challenge was to get it down from its winter storage space which is actually quite high. I would almost think that Grant had placed it out of my reach. No problem stacking up so buckets I figured that I was now in reaching distance of it, here’s a quick safety note: buckets are not stable and should not be used in place of say a step-ladder. I found myself channeling my inner acrobat as the buckets started to become a little wobbly.  Not a good time to weaken I could reach the sweeper with my finger tips and was able to slide what I thought was the heavy part off the first hook. By now the buckets were really complaining about their improper use and the thought of aborting the mission did cross my mind. Then again I was half way to getting it done and I didn’t really want Grant to come home and see that I had left the thing hanging upside down from the ceiling. Centering myself and doing some deep calming breaths I reached up for the sweeper. Well once it came of the hook I have to say that I wasn’t quite prepared for the weight of the thing. The buckets tipped and the sweeper and I came crashing down. Now I know I was home alone but I have to admit that I did look around to see if anyone had witnessed my near bush with death.

Taking some more of the deep calming breaths, a little faster now because there is something that falling off buckets with a power sweeper heading straight for me had sped up the heart rate a little. Success was mine though and I had gotten it down, I will have to mention to Grant that maybe next year we can store it in a more accessible spot.

This thing is not exactly light and moving it out side was a little hard. All the cats had made a break for it and were now peaking through the shop door, you would think that they were concerned for their safety or something. Going with the safety first rule I put on my safety glasses and dust mask and went back to trying to negotiate it out the small shop door. Of course the thought of opening the large shop door didn’t even cross my mind, well it has now. You know hind-site is 20/20.

Okay time to fire this baby up and get it done. I check to make sure there was fuel and of course there wasn’t much. I placed a call to Grant to double-check the type of fuel it needed, mixed or regular. You see last year I added the wrong fuel to the lawn mow and to this day it still doesn’t run quite right. Best to be safe and put in the right fuel. I asked Grant in my best yes I know what I am doing, don’t worry I have it all under control voice,”yeah so what kind of fuel does the sweeper take?” Slight pause on Grant’s end and then “why?” Me again in my don’t worry I got this voice, “Well I got the sweeper down (not mentioning the buckets or the fact that I almost wore the darn thing) and I’m going to sweep of the cement pad for you.”  He knows me enough by now that if I think that I am going to do it, then I am and it is easier on all parties and equipment involved to guide me in the right direction. He finally replied in a I am not so sure this is a good idea voice, “the fuel you need is in a small jerry can. I quickly replied, ( before he could ask anymore questions)”great honey, thanks.”

All fueled up and ready to go I just have to start it, yeah I got this. The sweeper is a pull start so I primed the engine and pulled. Nothing, like not even a maybe going to start. Prime again, I mean it had sat all winter so I need to get the fuel in the lines. Also engage the choke and pull, nope nothing. Fine prime, and pull only this time don’t weaken with one pull but go about it in a crazed jerking motion which would insure success, nope. Okay time to reevaluate the situation. Primed, choked on, kill switch in the right position. I know I need more momentum.  This thing has a “safety” feature in that you have to press a lever on the top and the squeeze the lever on the under side so that it will run, doing this and trying to pull the cord was standing in my way of being able to get the thing to run. It was about then that I noticed that the lever on the under side has a catch and if you push it in it will stay in the locked running position. Perfect, now I can just focus on pulling, priming, pulling, pulling, pulling, pulling. Starting to work up a bit of sweat now and the safety glasses are starting to fog, needed to regroup because at this rate I was going to have an arm that look like one of a body builder, picturing Arnold in the Terminator. I rethought about my pulling and thought that timing it with the perfect jerk and pull motion would be the key to getting this thing running. Levers locked in place, prime again for good measure and employing the perfect jerk and pull motion was exactly what I needed, success!

Oh no, big problem because I had lock down the levers the sweeper was running but it was also in gear. This was not something I was prepared for. I was now clinging to the machine as it pushed me backwards, back towards the shop actually. I can not express how strong it was. I mean great I have the thing running but we are not heading in the right direction at all. It now had complete control over the situation and if I hadn’t locked down the levers I could just let go and it would stop. The brush was now on a cleaning mission of it own. I was using the door jamb to brace myself and it was cleaning the base of the kids basketball net. At this point I was just clinging to it and feared that it was about to escape, seriously how am I going to explain to Grant that the sweeper ran away. Focus Andrea focus, if this thing get away there is no way I will ever be allowed to operate anything on the farm, except maybe the manual broom and shovel.

In a moment clarity I remembered the kill switch and activated it, it wasn’t like the thing died fast. It was almost like all the work I had put in to starting it was working against me and it was slowly starting to slow down and slide off the base of the basket ball net. Woo, that was a close one and questioned if I should really try this again, the answer was of course, yes. I mean the engine is warm now and it will fire right up. Taking a moment to flatten my hair back down, as it had taken on a bit of a devilish appearance, and straighten my safety glasses which were kinda sitting sideways on my head, I deactivated the levers swearing to never use that trick again and braced myself for the power of sweeper. This time I did mange to fire it up on the first pull, got myself into position, leaning in to it and squeezed the levers. All the stars aligned and it was working. I managed to get two full passes done before Grant pulled up the drive way. He parked his truck and walk over to see how I was making out, I replied “great just, great no problems at all, totally have this handled.” Well I mean by then I did have it handled and really I didn’t think he really need to know all the other stuff. Well till he read this and then well…….

Have a beautiful Day

 

 

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Adding to the Flock

I have to say that we love our chickens here, and we call them “the girls.” We recently purchased two new girls, my first pure breed ones. The “old girls” are called a heritage mix, which means that they came from a farm that raises all sorts of chickens and roosters so they are not “pure bred” as they free mingle together and then you end up with cross breeds. The “new girls” are Lavender Orpington and they are a large breed of chicken with a sweet personality. This gives us a total of 6 chickens happily wandering in our yard. They are closed in their coop every night and every morning we go and let them out for the day. Before they head off for the day they always stop for a little pet and visit. That done off they go on discussing what they will do for the day. Usually, two of them follow me over to the hay shed and busy themselves scratching for any bugs they can find while I fill the horses Eco nets.
At any given point I can go out and call them, “here girls” and they come a running. Really it is very entertaining to watch them come a running as fast as they can. I would not call a chicken’s gate graceful but they do cover some ground. The other activity that they enjoy doing is following my husband Grant around the yard when he is doing anything with his tractor. I guess they figure that he can do the digging and they will get the worms. One day he was cleaning out the horse pens and the girls were helping him. He would load the dirt and poop into the trailer and the girls would jump in and climb to the top of the pile and just start scratching. Something that they take very seriously, the dirt was just a flying out the trailer door. Grant has said “if the girls keep following me around like this you are going to have to sew them up some safety vests.” Now what a sight that would be!

One of the girls helping Grant with the yard work.

One of the girls helping Grant with the yard work.


One morning last week I noticed our little black hen Plum did not come out for her morning visit, I thought that maybe she was laying and would come out when she was done. Rude to interrupt the girls when they are doing their business and often find myself blushing and saying “oh excuse me” like when you open the door to an already occupied stall in a public bathroom. Later in the day I went out to check on her again and she was still on the nest. This in the chicken world means she has gone broody, which means she intends to hatch the eggs she is sitting on. I know that Plum really wants to hatch her eggs to the point that last year she went missing for a week and when we found her she had a little nest made and had laid 13 eggs in it. Where she had decided to build her nest was not safe at all!!!! It was down in our wind row right next to the road and there is a large population of coyotes around. How she survived that week down there we’ll never know! We are a rooster free farm here and the eggs she was sitting on would have never hatched. We took the eggs and wrecked the nest so she wouldn’t go back and carried her to the hen house.
Now that she had gone broody again in the hen house this time I decided we should let her hatch some eggs. I got a hold of our friends Mark and Tina, who have supplied us with fertilized eggs before and the were nice enough to supply us again. Plus, I think they find my farming adventures entertaining. We got the eggs and brought them home and I set them next to Plum and she would talk to them and then gently roll them under her. I did have to go out the next day and remove the eggs that weren’t fertilized. I have to admit I was not to excited to move her as a broody hen can be fairly grumpy. Plum being Plum didn’t mind and she happily went back to sitting on her eggs. She has been sitting on them for 5 days now, and has 17 days to go till they hatch. We have hatched 2 batches of eggs in our incubator with great sucess and no sleep on my part. It’s kinda like waiting for Christmas morning for the presents to open. This will be the first time we have had a hen hatch them, so we are excitingly counting down the days, well maybe me the most.
Sitting on her nest.

Sitting on her nest.


Now, just in case that wasn’t enough fun for around here we are also waiting for a parcel to come in the mail tomorrow all the way from Nova Scotica that contains 12 Call Duck eggs. It’s time to start up the incubator again and I can’t wait. These are a tiny little breed of duck and the thought of having little fuzzy ducklings around makes me smile. Good thing my husband is a good sport, he didn’t even bat an eye when I mentioned how cute the ducklings would be swimming around in the tub.
I will keep you updated on the new adventures as I am sure there won’t be a dull moment.

Have a Beautiful Day

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Branding Time

Confession time……I city girl turned country girl was terrified of cows! Not just cows but bulls, steers (bull calves that are castrated at a branding) heifers (a female cow that hasn’t calved before) and calves, like the little guys. Big or small I was scared of them all! Which when you move to country is a great source of entertainment for our cattle farmer friends. For example before we had our place fenced for the horses we kept them at our friends the Abts and they have cattle. Steven being the joker he is proceeded to keep our horses in a pasture that just happened to be behind a pen of cattle. Ugh, how am I suppose to get to my horse with this pen of Andrea eating cattle in my way? Simple, I climbed up on the pipe fencing and in a shuffling motion I worked my way over to the horses. Ha Steven I made it and was able to totally avoid being attacked by the cows. When I was done loving my horse I repeat my same tact of climbing on to the pipe fence and working my way out of the danger zone. I went over to visit with Steven and Theresa before I left and Steven in his deep voice said “so did you make it safely over to your horse?” I replied ” of course, didn’t you see my spider man like moves to get there?” “Nope”, Steven replied “but I can tell by your clothes that you made it over there.” insert chuckle…. I looked down at myself only to see that the nice pipe fence had left 3 perfect horizontal rows of rust across my clothes when I was clinging to the fence for my life….not cool, not cool at all!!
I am not sure when my fear of cattle started I just knew that I was scared of them to the point where the hair on my arms stand up when ever there was a bovine near my safety bubble.
It was with mixed emotions that we headed over to my very first cattle branding at the Dykstra Farm. Grant had grown up with this all his life and had attended many of these and was an old pro. Me on the other hand was not a pro at all, in fact I didn’t know how I was going to survive a day surrounded by cattle. First line of defense, the perfect outfit, I mean we are going to a good old fashion cattle branding and I wanted to make sure I looked the part. With my cowboy hat, freshly pressed cowgirl shirt, new wrangles and shiny boots we headed over. I would later learn that nobody, well almost nobdy dresses like Gene Autry when they attend a branding. It is not a fashion show and work clothes are more the fashion. Although many of the ropers dress in this style but it is for a reason. Mental note for the next one, old jeans and a hoodie will do.
What I saw and heard when we arrived was a something I will never forget! The sounds and smells were almost over whelming to all of my senses and took me right back in time to the old west….or what I image it to be like. The cows were mooing, the calves about 230 of them were baling, the torches for the branding irons where heating them up, horses stood saddled and tied at the fence, some of the cowboys were throwing their ropes to practice for what was coming and the people young and old stood around visiting and laughing waiting for the work ahead.
Peter and Cecila Dykstra put on one of the best brandings around and from the amount of people there you could tell. The reason for branding livestock goes back thousands of years as a permanent mark can’t be removed way of identify what is yours. Some of these cattle would be going out to a community pasture and this is the way to identify them to each particular farm. The Dykstra’s use the brand Lazy left D over Y which means with a registered brand the placement is key. Also, when these cattle go to the auction market there is a brand inspector to make sure that stolen cattle are not being sold.
I have heard people say that brandings are cruel but to me this a lack of true knowledge of why these are done. The real work begins early in the morning with Peter and few select people sorting out the calves from their mama’s. This is not only done for the safety of the people involved as a 1200 lb mama cow is very protective of her young calf but to also check the herds health and to make sure that the calves being branded are healthy and are big enough. The ones that are not big enough are left with mom to grow and will get branded at a later time. What people have to understand is that these animals are the farmers lively hood and if they are hurt in any way it costs the farm. Peter personally over sees all of his cattle and in a way that amazes me! He knows which calf goes with which mom, who has twins and how easily they had those calves. To a farmer a good cow is priceless and they do everything to insure their safety. Peter’s daughters even joke that Peter remembers the cow’s birthdays but forgets theirs. It was with great pride that Peter let me name a calf and even as he grew when he was in a pen of 200 other steers Peter would point him out and say there’s Ruger
After all the calves have been sorted into their groups and the cows are placed in an adjacent pen to wait for their calves, it is time to start the branding. I made my way into the danger zone (well in my mind it was) and climbed up on to a round hay bale to watch the action below. The ropers mount up on their horses and the ground crew takes their place, its go time. The branding pen is a large pen that is clean and dry, the calves are brought in as a small group at a time. The ropers ride over to rope the calf trying to ensure that both back legs are caught and then they drag the calf over to the ground crew. The ground crew take over the calf and remove the rope and everyone springs into action. The calf is held in place as their vaccinations are given. Each person having a different colored marker for each vaccine to ensure that not one is missed. When the vaccine is given the mark is placed on the calf to show that they were done. The branders come over to apply the brand, which is one of the most important jobs as they have to be placed exactly. Then if the calf is a bull calf they are castrated, this would be where prairie oysters come from. It doesn’t take long at all and the calves are released and herded over to reunited with there mama.
As I watched from the safety of my bale I was handed a beer, now this is the life. I was fascinated by how everyone one knew and did the job they were given and after a couple of beers or what I like to refer to a liquid courage I found myself wanting to take part in all the action. Most everyone one there knew of my fear and I think when I spoke up to say I would like to help there were a few shocked people. Finishing off my liquid courage I climbed down from my very safe bale and went to stand by the gate that would open to allow me to enter all the action. I yelled at Grant who was working on the ground crew that I was coming in and to be honest I think his eyes doubled in size from surprise. I was taken over to the place where the ground crew regroups to wait for just the perfect one for me. Oh boy, more than once I wondered why did I open my mouth, seriously life was good on the hay bale. I was safe, enjoying visiting, and the beers were being handed up to me. This may have been a mistake, the adrenaline was causing the liquid courage to wear off. I couldn’t leave the pen though, I had to do this. I wanted to experience all that was a branding and fear or not I was about too. I ended up with Grant on one side of me and Peter and Cecilia’s middle daughter Nicole on my other. They were explaining to me how to properly hold the calf’s front leg. This is important to know, as I said before when they treat the calf they treat it quickly and it is important to hold their leg just right. Not so hard to hurt the calf, be in the right spot on the calf so that the needles can be given and so that you’re not in the way when the brands are being applied.
Okay here we go the calf that they had decided was for me was being brought over by the roper and before I knew it I was running over to take my place. The calves are held down on their side with a person holding the front leg in a bent position so the calf can’t kick out or get up and the back leg is stretched out for the same reason. It is important to know that even though these are calves they are strong and will fight not to have this done, so not weakening is very important. There have been people hurt badly from a calf that is not properly held. Grant and Nicole had coached me and throwing all caution to the wind I took my place on the calf holding his front leg. I was shocked at how strong they are and he almost got his leg away from me with the first protest. I held a little tighter and could feel my heart rate rising…..just one and then back to the bale. Or so I thought, I passed the test and held down a couple more. Look at me I am a cowgirl or so I thought till someone nicely informed that I need to move out-of-the-way and let the pros take over. Back the safety of the hay bale I went with a grin from ear to ear on my face. I was so happy that fear didn’t stop me and I was able to get in and take part of something that is truly a cowboy way of life.
When the branding was done supper was served and a feast it was. As Peter works to get the calves ready Cec prepares the meal for all the people who have spent the afternoon working up an appetite. After supper the prairie oysters are fried up (now one of my favorite things to eat if done correctly) and that night there was a cowboy that brought his guitar and entertained us with his old cowboy songs. Nothing could wipe the smile of my face for a few days after that, to me it was an amazing experience, one that I will never forget.
Since my first branding all those years ago, Grant and I have attended countless others. Being part of them is something I love and wait for the phone to ring in the spring to let us know where we will be helping out. As time has gone on my fear has started to leave and I can even be found giving vaccinations, marking and yep even cooking up the prairie oysters. I have learned that brandings are not only important for the cattle farmer but they are also a community event bringing family and friends together.
A couple of years ago when my friend Wendy and I were running steers into the chutes so that Grant and her husband Scott could rope, she turned to me and stuck out her hand. I looked at her for a minute then realized that she wanted to shake my hand. She said, ” congratulations Andrea I am very proud of you, you are no longer scared of cows.” I have to say that she is right but the fear is not completely gone as in you won’t find me in the middle of a hay-field surrounded by cows but I can diffidently be around them without having a panic attack.
Our daughter Meggie had a horse show on the same day as the Dykstra branding this year but as I type this I am waiting for it to be time to head over to their place to help with the ones that were not done at the first one. Its a mini branding but all the same it is a branding and that means hard work and fun and iced cold beer.

Have A Beautiful Day!

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This Little Piggy

2 summers ago our daughter caught a pig at a farmers day fair so we were the proud owners of a wiener pig, one that you can raise and butcher for meat. We brought her home got her all set up and were ready to take on the role of good farmers raising livestock. Well, of course nothing around here goes as planned and I noticed that the only time that Olivia would eat was when we were around her. She seemed so lonely in that pen all by her self that we (the kids and I) decided that she would do much better with company. As luck would have it I found a sweet little pot belly pig for sale on a Alberta classified site. I phoned to find out more information on her and where she was located. She was just outside a small town about 2 hours south of us and I made the arrangement for the kids and I to go pick her up on the Saturday.
Saturday morning arrived and the kids and I put a small dog carrier in the mini van and head south to get her. We have a major 4 lane highway that would make the trip down quick and chose that for our route. On the way we encountered some major constructions delays and while waiting we goggled map and different route for coming home. It was mid June and the temperature was quite high so the last thing we wanted was to be stuck in traffic with our sweet little piggy. After about 2 hours we arrived at the farm and the nice young fellow that was selling her came out to meet us. I have to say he did kinda look at us funny when we pulled up in our mini van and took the dog carrier out of the back but I never really thought any thing of it. Down to her pen he lead us and the kids we excitingly discussing the new addition to the farm, they had all ready decided that her name would Oakley. When we got to her pen the young fellow took the carrier from me and said “I’ll just grab her for you.” and in he went. We could hear some squealing going on and shortly he came out with the cutest little black and white piglet I have even seen. I paid and thanked him, we put her kennel in the back where we had laid down the seats and both kids got in the next row so they could keep her company on the trip home.
We had not even made it half way down their driveway when it happened….Oakley had done what all animals do but it was not right, not right at all. Meggie was yelling,”she pooped.” and Mitch was bailing over the front seat, then it hit me! Oh the smell, how could such a cute “little” animal make such an eye watering smell. I instantly rolled down the windows while tears were running down my face and I was trying to drive with one hand while the other was firmly pinching my nose to stop the invasion of the smell. At this point I noticed that Mitch who was now firmly in the front seat , having bailed from the back in a ninja like fashion was not laughing anymore but gagging. As Meggie was now informing us that she had pooped again and that the bottom of the gate on the kennel had broken a the turds were now rolling out.
I had to get control of the situation and we all needed air so I pulled over….. I had no sooner stopped and Mitch had his door open and was very close to losing his breakfast. Meggie being Meggie said “no problem I have it under control,” and started picking up the escapees and putting them in a large disposable empty drink cup with toilet paper that we had in the back. A few more deep breaths out the window of course and we all settled back in to make the trip home. I figured we were now safe as she was little and from the amount of waste she had let go of she must be empty. Oh sweet lord no, we had barley made it 5 minutes and the bomb went off again! How could this be happening she was such a tiny little thing and the stuff she was producing was not. Once again I pulled over, no need to roll down the window as we hadn’t quite got them back up from the last time. Meggie went to work cleaning up the mess again and Mitch went back to opening his door and trying to get some relief. I have to admit by this point I was wondering if we were ever going to make it home. Vehicles were starting to pull over to see if we need assistance and I was just waving them on with a no, no we are fine not dying from the odors that were being release by the passenger in the back.
I needed to do something or we were never going to make it home! What did the kid that sold her to us feed her before we picked her up? Or could she have been a nervous pooper, whatever the case was it was not good not good at all. I told Meggie to rip us off each a few sheets of toilet paper, I had a plan. “Okay everyone if we are going to make it home we need to stick this up our noses so we can’t smell through our noses.” Perfect plan if we couldn’t smell it we may make it move the 2 miles before having to stop again. We all place our TP up our noses and you could tell our coolness rating by how this was done. Meggie folded hers and had one continuous piece that went for one nostril to the other, Mitch being a teenage boy had some care in his placement, he neatly folded two separate pieces and placed them in his nose so that no one could see them. Me on the other hand did not care in the least and wadded and shoved mine in, anything so I didn’t have to smell what had now become a livestock hauler and not a clean sweet-smelling mini van. We drove with the windows open and I cursed the van manufactures for not having back windows that rolled down instead of usless vents that opened a 1/2 inch. To heck with safety we were dying of toxic odors in it.
Remembering the highway construction we proceeded with the back route that goggle had laid out for us. Once again Oakley did what apparently little pigs do every 2 mins but we were a little more prepared, the toilet paper was taking the edge off and Mitch was now riding in the van like a dog with the window rolled down gulping in the fresh air. Bless Meggie and her strong stomach the poop would roll out of the carrier like a vending machine and she would pick it up and but it in the cup. The only disadvantage with the new route was it took us through a town….with traffic lights. Yeah it is a little hard to maintain any coolness when you pull up to a red light and a barn yard odor is escaping through the open windows, oh and you have toilet paper shoved up your nose! Of course we hit a red light and the gentleman in the truck next to us looked over and smiled but then you could see the smell slowly hit them, they gave us a look and slowly rolled up the windows, good to know we weren’t over reacting!
We made it to the 4 lane highway and I will admit that I did go over the speed limit a little as Oakley was not weakening in her deposits and the smell was not exactly leaving the vehicle. Sure let the police pull us over, I did not care at this point. I was starting to think the smell was causing some hair loss and Mitch was going to suffer from PTSD for years to come, Meggie being Meggie was so happy to have a pig she didn’t care of the after affect of this trip. I repeatedly said to the kids, “it’s okay we are making memories, great memories, like remember the time we got the little pig on the hottest day of the year in a mini van, with a broken dog kennel, and the pig was a nervous pooper.”
I have to say that we did laugh a lot that day, and when we finally headed up our driveway we all had smiles on our faces. We had survived!!! As we pulled in we stopped to talk to my husband Grant. He started to walk towards us and then it hit him like a brick wall. His face took on that expression and I think his eyes may have started to look a little teary. It was then that he noticed my nose plugs and he said, “I’ll check it out when you unload it.” Good idea honey.
We got Oakley unloaded and put in her new pen where she happily snorted around…..and pooped.

Have A Beautiful Day

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