Animals, foreign and domestic

Cats, dogs, and chickens, as well as the occasional unwelcome visitor.

No-Drama Llama

Today is my birthday, and I bought myself a present. I bought a llama.

Good news, though. I won’t have to worry about avoiding the spit.

Nope, this llama is for Heifer International. They do great work around the world lifting people out of poverty with education and gifts of livestock and plants. You can imagine how that warms my gardening heart.

I bought a llama share, since a full llama was a bit above my budget. I’m not sure what part I got, but since it’s going to someone else, I don’t suppose it matters. I mean, it’s not like someone will get just the ears and maybe the right front leg; the recipient gets a whole llama.

Anyway, you can donate a flock of chickens, or a goat, or a water buffalo (and how’s that for dinner table conversation, “Yep, bought a water buffalo today.”) You can buy shares of animals or big packages to give. And you can purchase in someone else’s honor, too. So if you’re trying to figure out what to give Great Aunt Margaret, might I suggest a camel?

Heifer International. Check it out.


Categories: Animals, foreign and domestic, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Signs of Spring, or, Mud Season Has Arrived

After our nutty winter of ice storms and snow storms and whatnot, I’m thrilled to see some signs of spring popping up around the Fraudulent Farmstead. It’s not time to break out the spades yet; the ground is super soggy (we’ve had several inches of rain over the last week, with more to come). Still, the dedicated (and desperate) observer like myself can find a few hopeful signs.

1. Mud. It’s everywhere, including the dog’s paws when she comes into the house. On the upside, my trusty sky-blue Wellies (at left) are still watertight and ready to take on the sludge.

2. Eggs. The girls have ratcheted up the egg laying slightly, which will continue to increase as the days get longer. Egg production is tied to the seasons, which is one reason that eggs are so intimately associate with spring and Easter. And chocolate too, but that has more to do with Cadbury and that kid that says, “Fank you Easter Bunny! Bawk Bawk!”

As a side note, the girls look much better. The sent-through-a-paper-shredder molting look is gone, and they’re starting to look like real chickens again.

3. Bulbs. I don’t have any blooms here yet, but crocus, tulip, and daffodils (see left) are all pushing out of the soil.

4. Crazy cats. There’s something about spring that make the cats even more nuts than usual. They’re talking at us a lot and racing to the doors whenever possible. I’m not sure if it’s spring fever or what, but this crazy cat behavior has been a predictable sign of spring for years.

5. I mentioned the mud, right?

Categories: Animals, foreign and domestic, The garden year | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Hey! I’m in the news!

The Indianapolis Star published an essay I wrote in their Green Living section last Saturday. But in case it vanishes (as links are known to do in the chaos of the interwebs), I’m reposting the essay here.

Photo by Harold Miller, aka Mr. Roy

A lifelong city girl, I blame my fascination with farm life on a childhood “Little House on the Prairie” habit. Thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder, I wanted to grow pumpkins, make bread, pick apples and milk cows. OK, maybe not the cows, as they’re pretty demanding, but the rest of it, yes. I wanted the farm life.


Even volunteering on an organic Community Supported Agriculture farm didn’t cure me of this romantic notion — and seriously, eight hours of picking beans should knock the romance right out of anyone’s soul.

Instead, it ramped up my passion for growing edibles, raising chickens, canning and other great-grandmother-type stuff (although I’m always looking to make it faster, cheaper and easier than great-granny’s way).

Even though farm life beckoned, a country girl I am not. I like the city, with its theater and art and regularly scheduled trash pickup. Instead of moving to the country, I turned my roughly tenth-of-an-acre Irvington plot into an organic farmette — the Fraudulent Farmstead.

I ripped out a swath of the front lawn to put in a vegetable garden, prompting neighborly chats over tomatoes, peppers and squash. I crammed baby watermelons and Halloween pumpkins into tight spots by growing them up trellises instead of along the ground.

My favorite food is any kind you plant once and harvest year after year, so I added raspberries, asparagus and even dwarf apple and cherry trees. I planted strawberries between the street and the sidewalk. I had so many berries last May that I nagged passers-by to help themselves (remember, always pick from the middle of the patch, because dogs may have visited the edges).

But what made my little homestead a farm was the addition of chickens. My five Rhode Island Red hens lay enough fresh eggs to share with friends and neighbors. Chickens are easy. They’re certainly less work than a dog, although not as inclined to fetch.

These chickens are minor neighborhood celebrities. People stop by when walking their dogs or bring their grandchildren by to visit “the girls” at the garage henhouse. One 3-year-old even begged to help me clean out the old bedding and dump it in the compost pile.

Speaking of which, chicken poop makes great compost. I use it to enrich the vegetable beds and feed the fruit trees. By putting that waste back into the soil, I complete the food cycle, growing a robust, organic garden that feeds me, my friends and family, and even the chickens.

Organic gardening is cost-effective, healthy and easier than you might think. You only need some basic knowledge, a few simple tools and a sense of adventure.

So this spring, take the leap. Plant a pot of strawberries to savor still warm from the sun, or help your kids poke peas in the ground and eat the pods right off the vine. Start slow, and enjoy the process. The urban farm life may soon lure you in.

Categories: Animals, foreign and domestic, In the garden | Tags: | 2 Comments

Horror in the Henhouse, or, The Molting Season

My girls are nearly two years old, which means it’s time for them to molt. For those not familiar with the life cycle of the Gallus gallus, that means they lose their feathers and grow new ones, although not neatly or in a timely fashion. So several of the girls have been losing a feather here, a couple there.

And then there’s Bernice.

I had to shut the chickens into the henhouse for a few days and let them fend for themselves during our ice storm a couple of weeks ago. I loaded them up with food and water, fluffed their bedding, turned on some lights, and closed up the henhouse to wait out the ice storm.

When I was able to get back out there a couple of days later, I was horrified to find that one of the girls looked like she had developed mange. She was missing feathers from her tail (notice the pathetic space in tail above), and had lost so many feathers on her back that I thought the other girls had passed the ice storm ripping into Bernice, Mean Girls-style.

In this other photo, you get a better idea of the sticking-out-like-post-electrocution number the feathers have been doing as they grow back in. And I’d like to emphasize: she actually looks better than she did. Apparently, however, this is normal, and Bernice is just going through the chicken version of my terrible junior high acne-glasses-and-frizzy-perm stage.

In other fun chicken-related news, we have a galloping case of poopy butt in the henhouse. Chickens normally sleep on a roost. Most chickens notice the sun going down, file into the henhouse, jump on the roost with their butts hanging freely over empty space, and settle in for the night. My girls, however, have never gotten the hang of timing the roost jumping so that they have enough light to see. When this happens, they cram themselves into the nest box instead, settling down on their haunches and creating mounds of poo.

The result is a fairly nasty mass of dried chicken poo hanging like a rock from the girls’ rear ends. It’s not blocking their vents (the hole the egg comes out of) so it’s not dangerous, but it sure is gross. I’m going to put some apple cider vinegar in their water and see if that helps. Regardless, come spring, I’m going to have to corral all of them and either clip the poo off (not fun) or try to bathe them and soak the poo off (really, really not fun).

Egg laying drops way off in winter and picks up with longer days. Chickens also lay less when they’re molting; they need to put their energy into growing new feathers. I suppose it’s just as well we’re getting few eggs, since I can’t keep the nest boxes clean, which in turn leads to slightly poopy eggs.

To sum up: my girls are dumb, they look terrible, and they’re not laying much now. But I love them anyway.

Categories: Animals, foreign and domestic, In the garden, The garden year | Tags: , | 1 Comment

No, Seriously, Is There Some Kind of Eclipse?

Because I'm not sure even Mercury in retrograde could cover the nonsense we've been dealing with here for the last six weeks or so. In addition to the woes listed in the last post, I've developed the cold from hell (with fever. I never used to get fevers). That's on top of the weird inner ear infection/vertigo thing I had the end of last month.

So what with not being able to breathe well, I did not sleep well last night. When I heard a loud crash, I decided I didn't want to know what caused it (I figured Fiona, but not how she did it) enough to get up. Good call. Ginny informed me this morning that, based on a reconstruction of the crime scene, Fiona must have:

1. Gained access to Ginny's bathroom via a closed pocket door, possibly by jimmying her tiny paw under the door and slamming at it until the door cracked open enough for her to shove her way in,

2. jumped onto the glass shelf above Ginny's sink where

3. she engaged in her favorite game (knocking shit over just to see if she can)

4. and knocked a heavy pilsner glass into the sink, thereby

5. breaking–nay, shattering–the sink

6. and then, presumably, running away.

And I'm not talking a little crack, maybe we could fix it with some silicone. When the bottom of the glass hit the pedestal sink, it splintered the ceramic basin in three places. The upshot is yet another freaking thing I have to fix–or in this case, replace.

Lessons learned:

1. Fiona is evil. (No, wait, we already knew that).

2. No glass in either bathroom; plastic only.

3. We must put a chain on Ginny's bathroom door to prevent further incursions. We already have chains on the upstairs bathroom (to keep Gabby out of the trash basket) and on the project room door (to allow cats entrance while keeping Gabby out of the cat food and litter boxes). Our home has become a minimum security halfway house/insane asylum, because A. the animals outnumber us and B. they are sneaky.

I have high hopes that with the arrival of July, perhaps our luck will turn. In the meantime, I am devoutly hoping that nothing else will break, be broken, develop an infection, or try to drive me completely around the bend. Updates as they occur.  

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