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Feb. 26th, 2010

The Cake is a Lie


OK, so ever since I saw some PBS thingamagoogie where some lab tech suspended a thread (more likely many, many threads) of DNA from a rod, lifting it out of a beaker, I've been fascinated with the idea of SEEING a molecule with the naked eye.  Er, sort of.

So, today I taught a homeschooling science class about Darwin, evolution, and genetics where we EXTRACTED OUR OWN DNA.

That was unspeakably cool.  Now, seeing the slooshy stuff floating around in the solution wasn't enough for me, no sir.  I had to pick up threads of it myself and see that gleaming slender line lifting out of the liquid.  I had my son take some photos, and hopefully all of you lovely people will be able to see what we were seeing, even if it doesn't look like much.  The liquid is pinkish because one source said that a drop of food coloring would help with visibility.  It didn't, really.  I thought it would stain the DNA, instead, the DNA remained whitish in clumps against the pink background.  If you use a toothpick to tease at a clump, you can pull a thread up.  Be careful, it is fragile and doesn't take much to snap!

Look, Ma, my DNA!  (You can see my farm-y front yard reflected in the glass.)  The thread may be too small to see in this photo.

OK, one more try for a super close up:

See that tiny thread that goes from the pinkish liquid to the tip of the toothpick?  That's my DNA!!  :silly grin:

Feb. 7th, 2010

The Cake is a Lie

Conversation Hearts: A Rant

I have always loved the idea of conversation hearts.  What  a fun way to flirt!  Pass along some sweet nothings on a cushion of sweetness.

But the reality of the matter is: Conversation Hearts Suck. 

I know they like to keep them cheap, but seriously, how much would it cost to have some quality control?  Less than half the little messages are clear or even centered.  And many of the messages are just inane.  Finally, it seems they got rid of "FAX ME."  Fax me.  Seriously? 

And taste is important.  For the longest time, the leading brand of conversation hearts had white ones that were a nasty peppermintish flavor.  Does anyone actually like that flavor?  (Apparently someone does.)  The pink may be worse, though.

Now, this same brand seems to be under new management this year.  Whereas in the past, the packages had lots of clear plastic where you could inspect the candies and choose the one with the most clear messages (or the fewest white hearts!) now the bags are all opaque.  I guess they were tired of people inspecting the merchandise, which wouldn't be necessary if they didn't have so many screw-ups per bag.

Well, annoyed as I was at the lack of transparency, I went ahead and bought them anyway.  Apparently, they've made other changes as well.  While the messages are still as off center and illegible and silly as always ("Tweet Me?"  And what does "My Boo" mean?)  they've done away with white hearts and added blue ones!  The flavors are more intense and tart than usual as well.  Not exactly an improvement, alas.  (blech!)  But they are a little softer, which is nice.

I will take my lot for now and dream of a day when there are legible, tasty confections of affection.  Imagine if they tasted like butter-cream mints.  Oooo....

Until then, here's a funny article about conversation hearts.

Dec. 23rd, 2009

The Cake is a Lie

Random vid with kids

I don't post enough stuff with my kids in them.  For those of you who need more chitlins, this is for you!

The Cake is a Lie

(no subject)

So, yesterday Athena and her cousin Dorathy were playing outside and discovered that one of our free-range guinea pigs had given birth to a single white guinea pig.  We've never had a singleton born, and we've never had one all-white.  Petra had been pregnant at the same time as all the other mothers, but never got moved into the "nursery" and we never did see her babies.  Whether they were aborted or quickly snatched up by the cats, we don't know.  But she got pregnant again, and this was the result: one really big baby!

Rather than set up the nursery for just the two of them at this very cold time of year, we decided to take them in as pets that Athena and Ivy would take care of. 

A few guinea pig facts: Gestation is up to 70 days long, which results in a baby fully furred, eyes open, teeth ready to chew, and in all other ways "ready to go!"  On his first day of life, Twinkle was chewing on a carrot happily.

And in case you haven't gotten enough cute in your diet today:

It was brought to my attention that baby Petra was born in Porter's office.  I went and checked his blog, and sure enough, May of this year she was born in a bin!  Thanks Porter, for keeping record of that!  Her sister (the one that looks like an oreo or an icecream sandwich) is now with our friends the Chapman's.  They want to breed her and aspire to have some babies that turn out white, so I was sure to tell them about the birth of this one.  If they are willing to wait a couple months, we could send him on a "date".

Baby Petra:
The Cake is a Lie

Sunshine and Spook

I think I put off making this entry for so long because I didn't want to talk about Sunshine without talking about Spook, and I wanted a photo of them together.  Not an easy undertaking.

But today I was taking photos, so I decided to make it happen.  After many, many tries, this is the best photo I got:

Neither is thrilled with the idea.  :)

Sunshine with her classic "smile."

So, Sunshine came into my life towards the end of September when I went all the way out to Aumsville to check out a bee removal job.  This family said they had one hive in the backyard and one in the wall.  They assured me that, yes, they were honeybees.  I don't know what possessed me to go all the way out there, I usually won't go so far.  Maybe it was the fact that she ran a daycare and children were being stung.   Anyway, when I got there, I informed the lady that: No, these weren't honeybees, they were, in fact, YELLOWJACKETS and should be destroyed.  :sigh:  I was about to return home after this pointless trip, when a nice but flustered lady ran up to the house holding a very fluffy little dog. 

Nice but flustered lady: "Is this your dog?"

Lady of the house: "No, I've never seen that dog before."

Nice but flustered lady:  "I've been up and down this street and no one seems to know anything about this dog.  I almost hit her in the middle of the street!  I have to go to an appointment right now and can't take responsibility for this dog--will you *please* take her?  She has no collar or identification...."

Lady of the house:  "No, no, I really can't.  I run a day care and I've got way too much going on already...."

Me:  "Um... I'll take her!"

So, at this point, I'm wondering what possessed me to say this.  I'm not a dog-person, I'm an animal-person.  I knew this dog likely had a loving home, and taking her home with me to Dallas wasn't going to help her find her family.  I figured I'd put her up on craigslist.   But this dog is so adorable, if I posted a picture, many people would surely be willing to claim she was theirs!  So, I resolve to make a post with the location I found her, requesting details from any inquirers, and explaining that we are willing to give her a loving home if not claimed.  Not only is she adorable, but she is surprisingly well-behaved.  She is shaken-up, but trusting and cuddles down into my arms.  (I never hear a peep out of her until I get her home and she barks a little at some of the family members.)  Every moment she's in my arms, I am falling more and more in love with her.  I call Porter and inform him I'm bringing a small fluffy dog home that likely won't be staying with us long.  He is not exactly thrilled with the news.

I then call my brother-in-law for further advice.  He suggests I try and find out if she has a microchip--any vet would be willing.  I bring her into the Aumsville vet, where they inform me that she's a Pomeranian (I had no idea what kind of dog she was) is about 2 years old, and in excellent health except for a rampant flea infestation.  No, she has no form of identification.  So, I leave my name and number in case any one comes looking, and I get the information for the two closest county animal control departments, leaving them my information also.  According to law, if this dog is not claimed in 30 days, she is legally ours.

It wasn't long before I resolved that Sunshine was her name.  She reminded me of a little blonde dog by that name that I knew as a child.  She had such a happy, sweet disposition, and just looking at her made me feel so happy.  She was like a ray of sunshine in my life.  I went on many errands on my way home, and each time she was so concerned to be left in the car and so happy when I returned to her.  By the time we got home, she was firmly, unquestioningly emotionally bonded to me and has been ever since.  I did my duty and contacted all the proper sources and authorities.  I let the kids know that she wasn't our dog, and she might have to leave us at any time if her original family found her.  I began to be paranoid every time the phone rang or I got an email from my "lost dog" craigslist ad.  We would sing to her:  "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.  You make me happy when skies are grey.  You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.  Please don't take my sunshine away!"  No one ever did come calling with the appropriate description.  Maybe she was abandoned by a family on hard times, trusting that such an adorable dog would easily find a home.  I suppose I'll never know.

She has been my shadow, my companion, my avatar of sorts.  The whole familiy adores her and anyone who meets her falls in love as well.  The kids have all saught her favor, and she usually sleeps with one of them, but she remains firmly, unquestioningly, my dog.  She lays near me when I am sitting somewhere, and the moment I get up to leave the room, she follows me.  I am so happy and thankful to have her in my life!  She seems to have filled a hole in my heart that I didn't even know was there.

Sunshine loves being a farm dog!  She might look like the sort of fluffy pup you'd see on the lap of a queen or an elegant millionaire, but she loves to roll in dead things and chase guinea fowl as much as any ol' hound.  She loves to "help" me when I'm rounding up poultry to move, and she adores being around at slaughter time.  Sunshine and Daisy are good friends.  It is hilarious to see them playing together!

OK, now for Spook

Spook is Sunshine's opposite in more than just the obvious ways.  He's shy, not terribly trusting, aloof. 

Early on in October, Porter decided it was now or never to pick a bunch of apples for cider.  He was on a mission!  I was worried when he filled the back of the car with stacks of buckets and bins.  "Just how many apples are you planning on getting?"  "As many as I can!"  he replied.  He brought me home 600 pounds of apples that day, and I nearly had a coniption dealing with them all.  But on the way home, he called me:  "Mind if I bring home a kitten?"  I was tickled pink!  After losing not one beloved cat, but two, we were on the lookout for some more felines to add to the farm.  I was even more thrilled to learn he was a black cat.  My first cat was a black cat, and I've had a special place in my heart for these dark, sleek beauties ever since.

He'd been called "Panther" by the family with the apple trees, and he was the last in a batch of kittens they were trying to find homes for.  He has a distinctive sleek, expressive tail.  Being from a family of barn cats, he wasn't terribly people-friendly, and they recommended we keep him in the box for awhile, then release him in a closed room.  Porter had been able to handle him some, and I think that's where the bonding happened.  In these stressful rehoming situations, animals seem to look to a friendly person for comfort.  I wanted to name him "Spook, the Halloween cat."  But Porter insists on calling him "Squeaker" because of his peculiar, high-pitched meow that is barely audible.

Well, once the cat was out of the bag, er box, we didn't see him!  He found a hiding spot really quick, and it took us several days to figure out where that was.  The funny thing was, every night at about 4am, he'd come to our bed purring and loving on us.  Then he'd disappear again.  We later discovered that he was hiding in the ductwork that goes under and behind our woodburning stove!  A nice warm hangout.  :) 

He has since become far more friendly and comfortable.  He is somewhat of an indoor-outdoor cat, and doesn't care too much for me, because he usually encounters me angry with him for being on the table and snatching leftovers.  He is very quick, and I can't catch him to put him outside!  Nearly every evening he comes to Porter in his office for lovings.  He never does that with me.  He is definitely Porter's cat.  And we've all been surprised to realize--Porter is a "cat person!" 

Oh, and here's Sunshine's "Happy Dance"

Sunshine is learning to be tolerant with Hyrum's loving:

Oct. 3rd, 2009

The Cake is a Lie

Mary Cate's Raspberry Cheese Spread

  1. Milk the goats
  2. Make Chevre cheese (5 quarts warmed milk, 1/2 cup buttermilk, 3 drops rennet, let sit for half a day, drain in pillow case till stops dripping)
  3. Mix a pound of Chevre with 1/2 cup homemade raspberry jam and a pinch of salt
  4. Chill and enjoy!

Sep. 25th, 2009

The Cake is a Lie

Hive Removal Adventures, Part II

I've gotten a lot of calls lately from people with various bee issues.  One guy actually had a swarm!  Swarms in September are almost unheard of, and certainly doomed to die in the dead of winter.  And this swarm of honeybees thought they were yellowjackets--trying to burrow down into a hole!  I had to dig down to get at them all.  Were it not for Scott's wonderful bee vacuum, (I was borrowing it while he was on vacation) I could never have gotten them.  Alas, the bee vacuum was not working properly because it's seals were coming undone.  Finally, the motor quit and I couldn't figure out why (later learned it was because the piece of wood that holds down the safety had snapped in two.)  I had to go home with what I could get. 

My intent was to get them to join with another hive.  With a Langstroth style hive, this is easy.  You just place newspaper between two boxes (one is on top of the other) the two colonies on either side of the paper.  By the time they eat their way through, everyone is good friends and plays nice (hopefully.)   I wasn't sure how to get that to work on my Horizontal Top Bar Hive, and pretty much failed.  The swarm absconded.  :(

There was another call, one from the Mission State Park.  I'd gotten a swarm from them in the late spring, a tiny, puny swarm laying in the grass that wasn't worth spit.  They didn't have the numbers to build a hive.  :(  But they appreciated me moving the menace from the horse trail, and called on me again for this.  They have a rental house in a completely different town from the Park (I dunno why a State Park has rental property, I didn't ask) with a young hive above the garage door.  The house had been unoccupied, but now someone was moving in who was allergic to bees. 

It's a pity you can't see the bees in this photo, this hive was vibrant and active wtih lots of bees coming and going.  This is a good thing!

Today, my sidekick is Porter.  Scott was completely unavailable, and this was a rush-job--had to be done today.  I'm glad, because there's no way Porter would have come otherwise.  He's both fascinated by the whole bee thing and freaked out by it.  This was such a fabulous hive extraction experience (unlike last time), I'm glad he got to share it with me.

We are coming at the hive from its back, inside the garage.  This will make the extraction soooo much easier.  :)  The nice Park Rangers set up a ladder for us, and Porter begins cutting into the sheetrock.

We pulled the sheetrock away, and I was prepared for massive sheets of comb like last time.  But no, here is the cute little nubbin of a hive!  Just getting started!  The new comb is so beautiful and strange.

This is a closeup of the piece of sheetrock we pulled off.  The comb was attached to it, so it tore with some staying on the sheetrock.  Bees cluster on the torn comb.

What a fantastic photo!  Porter remarked at how the natural beehive looks just like the comb on a Horizontal Top Bar Hive.  I nodded and said, "Yeah, that's the point."  ;)  It's like those bees studied Top Bar Hives or sumthin!  This new comb is yellow rather than white like new comb usually is.  I have no idea why.  Maybe because they got started later in the year?  Wax is made out of honey (or rather, nectar), it takes 6 pounds of honey to make a pound of wax.  The later in the year you go, the darker the honey gets.  Maybe that makes yellow comb?

Hive gone!  I was prepared this time.  I brought two clean buckets with lids, one for brood comb, one for honey comb (if there was any--there wasn't.)  This hive was not in a good position to survive the winter.  They're even worse off than my fledgling hives!  If such a thing is possible.  (Maybe I'm being too hard on myself, I dunno.)  Anyway, I made sure to get the bees off the comb, then dropped it into the bucket and CLOSED IT.  We worked quickly and with a will.  But there really wasn't a need to worry, this hive was small and we were enclosed inside a building--like the first extraction.  There was really no danger of robbing.  Plus, when you come at a hive from the back, all the angry guard bees are at the entrance.  All the nice, sweet, naive bees are at the back with no clue what is going on.  Gotcha!

Bees inside the vacuum box.  Hello bees!  I'm going to give you a new home!

My clumsy attempt at attaching comb to top bars.  Rubber bands work with frames OK, but not so well with a bar, where it is too easy for tension to pull it to one side or the other.  I use wire that pierces the comb.  The ones with too much honey are heavier and sometimes tear through.  This comb is new, soft, and weak, and I have to try several times before they stay.  Who knows, they may end up falling later anyway.  :(  If they stay on, the bees will attach them to the bars and repair any damage to the soft comb from fingers pressing into it.  The wire (hopefully) can be pulled out later without too much damage.  I do this work indoors, away from bees that would rob.

A most amazing thing--as I am working on the comb, I watch several newborn bees emerge from their pupas.  When they come out they look all white and powdery.  I hope that is normal.  I noticed that on the other hive extraction too.  I realized I should snap some more photos, so I pause in my work to grab the camera.

Another lovely newborn bee!  Sticky with honey I spilled.  Welcome to the world, little one!

Here is the established hive I am introducing them too.  I removed empty top bars, and replaced them with the comb we extracted today.  I was prepared this time with a false divider wall I cut out of a normal movable wall (important to Horizontal Top Bar Hives) covered with two layers of newspaper.  Hopefully this time will work out much better than the last.  Not only does the new small hive have reason to stay put (their comb is there!) the neighboring hive has motivation to bite through the wall to that intoxicating honey smell!  I needed to leave the new colony's end open so that the stragglers could find their way in.  After that, I need to go back and close it up so they can't be robbed by stronger hives, and they will be motivated to exit through the newspaper and confront the colony they are destined to join with.  They won't have a choice!  Bwhahahah!  The photo doesn't show it well, but the air is full of bees from this new colony.

A bunch of stragglers still hanging out in the vacuum box.  I can only shake so many of them out, the rest will have to find the way on their own. 

This was a fantastic extraction experience.  It went off without a hitch.  I just need some more experience fitting comb onto top bars effectively.  Thrive little bees!  Get every drop of nectar you can out of those Queen Anne's Lace and little yellow flowers I see everywhere.  Hopefully you'll make it through the winter and get the jump on next spring.

The Cake is a Lie

Hive Removal Adventures, Part I

I haven't been a very good bee mommy.  This is my first year attempting to keep bees, and I have so much else going on.  I tried to establish four swarms and a package (five hives total), but two failed before they could get strong, and the others appear to have suffered from robbing.  (They have little or no honey stores!)  I blame myself for not taking better care to finish their roofs properly and close their back doors.  

I have, however, gained quite a bit of experience in bee wrangling, between catching swarms and being convinced by my bro-in-law, Scott (who is even more insane than I am) to begin removing established hives from the walls of people's homes.  So first let me tell the tale of our second beehive removal, of which I actually have photo evidence!    This happened in the tail end of August.

Here is me getting in my gear:

Here is the ingenious bee vac that Scott built:

The entry to the hive was in the wall of an abandoned house:

Here Scott has cut away the area beneath the hive opening between two studs with a circular saw.  Lots of bees, lots of brood comb.  Not seeing much honey... yet.  Which one am I?  I'm the cute one wielding the vacuum.  ;)

Closeup of the same pic so you can see how many bees are covering the comb:

You can see in this picture how well the vacuum has sucked the bees away:

The first section was all brood comb, lots of eggs, larva, and pupa with just a little honey and pollen to directly feed them.  But this huge, well-established colony had completely filled the space between these studs and spread to the space on either side for their honey storage. 

Below, you can see the honey storage on the right.  Note how much lighter the color is on the honey comb, especially when capped over with wax (the uncapped areas are slightly darker--the honey there still has to dry more before it is ready for Egyptian-tomb longevity).  Brood comb always gets dark, maybe from bee poop?  I dunno.  Bees are very fastidious, but maybe you just can't get it all out of the wax.

Hey, does this beesuit make my butt look big?

Fabubulous shot of the sheets of honeycomb! 

Below, the brood comb has been cut out and put into frames.  After probing on the far left, we see that we've reached the end of the hive.

Unfortunately, we were inexperienced and unprepared to handle a hive of this size out in the open.  The first extraction we did was from inside an enclosed barn, so the smell of the exposed hive couldn't attract the attention of every hive for miles around.  Also, it was smaller, and Scott had enough frames to fit the comb on.  This time, Scott filled up all the frames he had and then had to assemble more before he could put the comb away.  This was extremely time consuming. 

I had nothing to do with my hands but vacuum bees.  The bees just seemed to keep coming!  We later realized this was because--like blood to sharks--this torn open hive was calling to every bee for miles around.  The air was full of them, and passers-by on the street looked into our alley, and hustled away!  I was sucking up far more than just this hive's bees.  It didn't help that we took too long before beginning to cut and fit the comb at all, acting like we had all the time in the world.  Silly us!  We should have treated it like sensitive open heart surgery--get in, get out, get gone.

I just stood there vacuuming bees off the honeycomb, aware that most of them were "enemy bees" robbing this hive we'd ravished.  I watched many an epic battle as bee grappled bee in vicious attempts to sting, tumbling off the comb to the ground unable to fly.  I couldn't believe how many bees were going in the vacuum, bee after bee after bee.  Maybe a hundred thousand or more.  No joke.  (A hive can easily contain tens of thousands.)  I wondered if I should stop, if maybe this was just too many bees in the vac.  But I couldn't stop--I was defending the honey!   

I idly pulled off a bit of comb and accidentally squashed an unseen bee which stung my finger through the nitrile glove.  That was my one sting of the day, and while the burning faded nicely after a few moments, it itched like the dickens for days afterwards. 

On a side note, being stung doesn't hardly hurt at all.  It's the burning, itching aftermath that is such a bear.  The only other time I've been stung was my second attempt to catch a swarm--the one laying all over the middle of a country dirt road where a car had driven through the middle and crushed the queen.  Those were angry, chaotic bees!  Repeatedly during this hive extraction, bees wandered into my veil from underneath.  I'd just calmly walk away, take off the veil, and shake it out.  No biggie.  :)

By the time we got around to cutting the honey comb, something neither of us had really handled before, we found that our intentions of fitting it in frames was ludicrous.  The stuff was thick and soft and just fell to pieces in our hands.  Don't forget sticky!  Honey was dripping everywhere.  Both of our oldest sons were there as extra hands (and camera-men).  We sent them on an errand to beg clean plastic bags from someone, as we had absolutely nothing to store this sticky, drippy mess in. 

So there I was holding the bag, Scott would remove a handful of comb and try to vacuum the bees off.  The honey was everywhere and the bees were just glued in.  Eventually, we gave up trying to be thourough and were just throwing it into the bag bees and all.  Honey is very, VERY heavy.  The bees were in the bag, around the bag, on me, and it was at this point that I nearly snapped.  I thought, "This is insane!  I can't believe I am doing this!"  And there was Scott, just as cool as a cucumber, holding the course.  I think after that experience, very little about beehandling could freak me out.  

The boys, however, were quite freaked out.  The honey and equipment we were putting in the car attracted the greedy hoards.  Scott drove the van a ways off, but it wasn't long before the bees were there too.  We had to move it a couple times before the boys would actually get in! 

Alas, when we got the bees to Scott's house, he dumped out the box of bees (which had been packed full!) to find most of them quite dead--or nearly so.  This was a crushing blow, as we'd driven a long way, taken many hours, worked hard, and made their family late for their plans for the afternoon.  He really wanted those bees!  But at least he had the honey, which he needed to feed another fledgling hive. 

We split the honey between us, crushing the comb and straining it to get the honey out.  A lot of it wasn't capped, so this honey is thinner than honey should be, possibly prone to fermentation.  (Think mead!)  I haven't gotten around to it yet, but I think I will feed it to my poor, almost honeyless hives myself.  Maybe some of them will actually survive the winter.  :sigh:

More Hive Removal Adventures in Part II....

The Cake is a Lie

Hoop Coop Drama!

I've come upon another fit of productiveness on the farm.  I am learning to do lots of stuff that I didn't know how to do before, because if I don't do them, the won't get done and I won't have that! 

We have been here on the farm almost three years now.  There has been a lot of trial and error.  A whole lot of error.  I've been wanting things that sometimes conflict with each other.  For example:
  • I want lots of eggs from happy free-range chickens
  • I want the chickens to stay out of the garden
  • I want the chickens to fertilize the biggest pasture which also has many  brush-eating goats
  • I want to breed both Araucanas (blue egg layers) and Rhode Island Reds (awesome layers) to replenish 2 separate flocks
  • I want the goats to not destroy their shelter
Earlier this year, I tried putting hoop houses out in the big goat pasture.  It was a disaster!  The goats knew there was tasty chicken feed inside, so they pushed their heads into them and ripped through the plastic chicken fence like it was tissue paper.  I'd lace it up with twine, Porter would shoot them with the airgun to discourage them, but goats are very, very persistent when it comes to food!  Not to mention, the most obnoxious of the young'uns were climbing on top of them and busting up the PVC pipe supports!  I moved the hoop houses to our front and back yard, but we just don't have enough space to handle the amount of poop they make.  They've torn up the grass pretty badly, but boy will the grass that comes back be well fertilized!  Also, the hoop houses were too small.  The chickens stayed out of the garden, but they were miserable. 

The over-crowding was compounded when we took in my sister's chickens (they had a police man come to their door and bully them into getting rid of them!)  They treated each other terribly, pecking out feathers and making sores.  One chicken in particular was so terrorized that she will never fully recover from the trauma.  When you come up to her, she crouches down in fear, doesn't even try to run away.  I just let her go free after awhile, poor thing.

Also, the egg quality decreased significantly.  The vibrant flourescent orange yolks we so prized dulled to grocery-store yellow.  Not the sort of product I want to feed my family nor am I proud to offer it to customers.  We were getting more eggs in the nest boxes (rather than all over tarnation) but the traumatized chickens began eating some of them--a very bad habit that is hard to break.

It was clear that something needed to change.  After having goats escaping frequently and destroying the garden worse than the chickens ever did, we knew we needed a garden fence anyway.  But I had become very attached to the idea of keeping 2 separate flocks that would breed true and perpetuate, and having chickens that would lay eggs in the right place (easy to find, protected from our egg-eating dog), and spend the bulk of their time in the big pasture.  I wanted them to have plenty of space and for me to be able to move easily inside the house, but still have it be strong and light enough to move.  I needed the perfect hoop house.  I needed at least 2 of them.

Ok, so I found the perfect hoop house design from these lovely people.  Truly, I can't express my gratitude enough to them for their genius.  I've been wanting to have these up and running all summer and decided that the good weather wasn't going to last forever, it was now or never.  I was hoping for Porter's help, but he has a honey-do list four miles long plus his own want-to-do list, so I decided I'd just have to do it myself.  So I take great pride in this, not to mention the fact that I made several, ahem, improvements to the design.

Here you can see the basic skeletal design.

Here it has been painted, with nest boxes and roosts added.  These roosts are hanging like "swings".  I thought I'd try it since the wood wasn't long enough.  I later attached them with a second string to stablize them more, since the chickens couldn't balance.

I started building this on Tuesday, before I took any pictures.  I worked all day Wednesday until after dark.  Alas, it was too dark to take pictures of the lovely finished product.  I was so pleased!  And determined to get I dragged the rather hefty finished product at least 200 feet to get it out into the pasture.  No sooner had I done so, than one of our most obnoxious young goats was climbing on the top of the coop.  "Hmph," I thought to myself, "I figured you'd try this, which is why I made this hoop house so strong--you can't break it!  Mwahahaha!"  But as I began gathering sleepy chickens, I saw to my utter horror that THE ENTIRE HERD WAS CLIMBING OVER MY COOP!

One goat, it can handle.  A whole herd, certainly not.  They nearly destroyed it, causing the cattle panels to bend and sink low.  I was livid!!  I grabbed one of our wildest goats by the back hoof (she had no collar) and dragged her, screaming bloody murder, all the way to the back, back buck pen.  I worked one by one, getting all the tamest goats.  Unfortunately, all the goats born this year are quite wild and will run from anyone.  (I haven't done any training with them--too busy.)  I would not be deterred.  By a combination of patience and insane, dogged persistence, I got all but the 4 smallest over.  I decided they weren't heavy enough collectively to cause enough more damage to be worth chasing down. 

Here you can see that the goats snapped the wood support clean in two:

The next morning at first light, I was out to buy everything I needed for the only solution to my problem:

An electric fence.  

It was costly, but I got it up and working that very day.  I bought metal chain collars for each and every goat.  They are choke-chains but I put a cable tie on them to keep them from doing any choking.  The extra chain hangs down, and conveniently conveys a strong shock to the goat when it comes in contact with a hot wire.  I was delighted to discover that they also make handy leashes that make the goats easier to catch and control.  I should have done this long ago!

So here is the finished coop WITH the electric fence.  You can see how the tarps got ripped up by goat feet:

Also, there isn't any protection to one side.  The nest boxes need to be more protected and dark or the hens won't use them.  Also, one of our goats was using them as a hay manger, munching away at the nest bedding!  (In spite of the hot wire right above her head!)

I bought new tarps to put on top properly, and bent the cattle panels more or less back into shape:

Isn't it purdy?  :)

The hard-to-catch perpetrators sporting their new collars:

Aug. 19th, 2009

The Cake is a Lie

Mother and hatchling

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