Friday, July 9, 2010

Eggs are a-cookin'

A dozen chicken eggs from Red Roof Hens are currently in my incubator, and I'm crossing my fingers hoping I'll have a good hatch! Last year, I attempted to hatch a dozen Speckled Sussex eggs, and failed miserably, with not a single chick resulting. I decided to give it another go after the recent predator spree our flock endured.

The incubator is a homemade version of "the real thing", DIY'd from a broken Haier wine cooler bought at a garage sale, a leftover heat panel from the snakes' cages and an inexpensive thermostat control. So far, it's working beautifully and keeping the temperature within 1 degree of my goal.

The expected hatch date will be July 30, give or take a day depending on whether I nailed the correct temperature or not. Fingers crossed for a good hatch!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

First ever garlic harvest!

Today, our garlic was pulled up out of the ground, where it's been biding its time since last October. Such an amazing sight! It's almost hard to believe that the tiny cloves I planted last year have matured into such large heads of garlic. Although there's a range of sizes, several are really huge, and I'm very pleased with the harvest!

The act of pulling, washing, and (crudely) braiding the garlic heads was time-consuming, but well-worth the effort. All of them are now hanging by the rafters in the humidity-controlled basement, where they will dry for the next 3 - 4 weeks. Then, the show really begins! I cannot wait to try out these lovely varieties of garlic in my kitchen.

Bandit insisted on being included in the garlic photos, so here he is... :)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Coop and run redesign

I'm sad to report that Hoof & Howl is now down to just three lonely hens. The fox came back and took 4 additional hens this week, and we lost some of our favorites: Ameracaunas Chip and Clover, Polish hen Freebie, and our last remaining Black Star.

Apparently our previous attempts at predator-proofing the old run were unsuccessful, so to prevent further losses, we're building the Fort Knox of chicken runs. I spent the day today working on it, and hope to have it completed by the end of the week.

I'm thankful for the 6 tiny chicks that are currently growing in my brooder box: 2 Barred Rocks, 2 Speckled Sussex, and 2 Ameracauna hens. In the coming weeks, I'm also going to give another shot at hatching eggs in my incubator. A box containing Blue-Laced Wyandotte, Blue, Black, and Splash Ameracauna, and Black Copper Marans eggs should be arriving early next week, for a hatching date in late July. With any luck, the flock should be 15 strong again by winter.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blog writeup

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Linda Newman of the Hedlund Husky Preservation Project over the previous weekend. Linda posted a small writeup about our kennel on her blog. If you check it out, be sure to check out the rest of her blog - there are wonderful photos and information about her historic lines of freighting dog.

I feel so flattered! I'm thrilled that Linda enjoyed the visit to our little homestead as much as I enjoyed hosting her.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Already wishing summer away

Yesterday, my fall training rig for the sleddogs arrived at Byron's workplace, delivered by truck in a huge crate. I am ecstatic! The shipment had been delayed for several weeks and I was starting to worry - but as soon as I opened up that crate, I knew it had been worth the long wait.

Fall can't arrive soon enough!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Compare and contrast

From here on out, no more apologies about not posting to the blog enough. OK, I promise, that was my last one!

Two groups of baby birds are growing up on our property right now. One group: domesticated, entwined with man, part of our farm. Growing under careful loving care in safe conditions.

The other: untamed, mischief-filled and bright-eyed, aligned with the wild. Already engaged in a lifelong quest for survival.

Byron and I have really enjoyed watching the wren family on our front porch birdhouse over the last several weeks. At first, all we'd hear were the brazen, melodious chatterings of the parents as they scuttled across their house, clinging to the sides and scampering up over the roof. At times, the cacophony was so intense that I got the distinct impression they were having marital problems. But as the weeks wore on, more sounds began to emanate from the nest: distinct juvenile chirpings. Each evening, we watched as the parents flew into the woods to gather caterpillars and moths for their young. They would return, we'd hear the young birds cry in anticipation, then like a flash, the parents would be off again to retrieve more food. Trip after trip. Even more amazingly, at times they appeared to be cleaning house. The parent would return from the woods with a worm and deposit it. Then, they would carry debris and waste from the house and neatly place it on a nearby tree branch, creating tidy row after row on the limb.

Watching the wild wrens and the domesticated pullets grow up side-by-side has been fascinating and eye-opening. The young wrens emerged from their parents' nest yesterday, still with downy fledgling fluff clinging to their heads, their tail feathers barely developed, the shafts still showing clearly between thin feathery fluff. Yet, these young birds were already fully-flighted, and took to the sky immediately upon leaving the nest. They made a few errors, but had it sorted out in a hurry and were eager to get on their way. They were already amazingly survival-savvy, avoiding me judiciously even though I had been a presence on the porch throughout their development. They already knew the cardinal rule of wild things: survival is king.

By sharp contrast, the young chicks in my brooder seem painfully slow to develop. Now nearly two weeks old, the chicks can barely fly - even though their wings are fully feathered and their tails as developed as the wrens'. Although they are already showing most of their adult chicken behaviors such as pecking, stretching, flapping, dust-bathing and the like, they appear clumsy and unsure compared to the machinelike efficiency of the wrens. Clearly, these chicks depend on human intervention, or at least some level of care, to survive. It was one of the clearest pictures of domestication I've been fortunate enough to observe.

In other news, were were honored to host a special guest over the weekend: Linda Newman, of the Hedlund Husky Preservation Project. Hedlund huskies are a very special, very rare line of freighting dog from the far North. These dogs are very close to dying out, and are being painstakingly preserved by a group of extremely talented and dedicated individuals. They are a throwback to older lines of working sleddogs, a time when mushing demanded a very large, heavy-coated, tough dog that thrived in uncompromising conditions. Such dogs are decidedly rare in the sleddog world today, with racing dominating the mushing scene. Race dogs are built fast and light, small and efficient. Lightning-quick, the average race dog maxes out at around 45 pounds, and could be a mix of Alaskan village husky, shorthaired pointer, and even sighthound. These dogs are spectacular for racing, but due to their small size, can often fall up short when breaking trail on deep snow, or pulling heavy loads for long distances for camping or adventure expeditions. Clearly, in the mushing world there is a need for both types of dogs to be preserved, and Linda is doing just that by maintaining her very special lines of Hedlund freighting husky.

Speaking of the sleddogs, all of the Hoof & Howl crew is doing spectacularly. Tempo is growing up fast, and quickly proving to be a beautiful, incredibly driven dog with high leader potential. She amazes me each and every day. Of course, everyone else is enjoying the summer off from sledding work, choosing instead to pass their days lounging, going for easy hikes, doing obedience work, and of course, chewing away on frozen yogurt Kongs (everyone's favorite summer activity). We are also waiting on a shipment to arrive from California - our brand-new dryland training cart. Even though it won't be in use until fall, I cannot wait to see the new rig in person.

On the farm side of things, our small garden is growing away, producing huge stalks of garlic and pushing tomato plants up their stakes towards the sky. We have roughly 30 garlic heads growing away under the soft soil, and 12 Purple Russian tomato plants that are waiting to bloom and fruit. We harvested the scapes from the garlic yesterday and made a delicious batch of garlic scape pesto, served over freshly-rolled homemade pasta. Served with fresh-baked rosemary bread and old-fashioned roll butter, and a summer fruit salad, I wondered if meals could possibly get any more satisfying.

I don't think I could trade in the homestead life for anything. All of life's small pleasures are just too good to miss.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The day in pictures

Simple photo post today.

Byron and I enjoyed a beautiful day at Hinckley Lake, and took Tempo out for an easy canicross, with Bandit learning to carry his new backpack (which he loved - I think he feels important when he wears it).

Bandit proudly shows off his new pack (and ragged old leash)

Stopping for a drink on the shores of the lake

Tempo is getting tired, but still tries to regain her place out front when we turn back to the trail

Beautiful Tempo is growing up so fast!

Bandit and Tempo resting towards the end of the hike. Notice how the energizer bunny, Tempo, is still raring to go, while Bandit seems a little - exasperated - by her puppy energy!

Friday, June 4, 2010

In all the excitement of Wolf Park and the busy-ness of the last couple weeks, I neglected to post on the blog that sadly (very sadly), we lost four of our hens to a fox in mid-May.

Needless to say, for such a small flock, the loss was devastating; our flock was reduced by 1/3 in a single evening. To find the aftermath of feathers and scuffed grass was just horrific, even when you're mentally prepared for the loss of an occasional bird. The hens taken were Thirteen (my silver-laced Polish Crested), my Turken, and my two Barred Rocks. The loss of the Barred Rocks was especially hard to take. Not only were they great producers of giant brown eggs, but even more importantly, they were the tamest of all my birds. When they were chicks, my stepbrother and I regularly carried them from the brooder out into the yard, where we'd spend lazy, spring-soaked minutes fishing worms out of the gardens and tossing them to the eager little chicks. Even to the end, those two hens would follow Scott everywhere when he visited, and he would still throw them worms. I'm going to miss those sweet, funny hens.

Since many have asked, no, I am not setting any traps for the rogue fox. Instead, my mother and I spent the day in a torrential summer rain, reinforcing the run so that the chickens could be safely put up inside until the fox decided to give up on the hens. Apparently, it worked, because we haven't lost another hen yet. They are still free-range, but their coop is now much more secure at night. We consider our farm here to be predator-friendly. On the philosophical side of things, I have immense respect for wild creatures and understand that just like me, they are just trying to nurture themselves (and this time of year, their young, too). I respect the fact that I am the newcomer here. On the practical side, it does absolutely no good to rid the farm of this fox. Another will undoubtedly take her place, and if not another fox, a coyote may come and enlarge the den. In the end, it will make no difference. Better to live alongside and protect my flock the very best that I can.

This coming Monday, we'll be welcoming the addition of six new chicks to our farm. Two Barred Rocks, two more Ameracaunas, and two new Speckled Sussex will be joining our flock from Meyer Hatchery. I cannot wait to watch the new chicks grow up and become part of our homestead.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I have to admit it: My heart aches for horses.

The sight of horses grazing in a rolling field of green takes my breath away. The soft whuuush of their breath on the palm of my hand, their whiskers brushing my fingers in greeting, tumbles into my soul like a comforting hug. My heart aches for them. Horses are one of those things in life that get into your blood - and stay there.

There is a reason why our homestead is called Hoof & Howl Farm. The "hoof" part hasn't come to fruition yet here - and may not for quite some time. Every now and then, I torment myself by browsing the Dreamhorse classifieds, knowing full well that right now is not the time for an equine family member.

But, in the meantime, I do get to enjoy my mother's absolutely stunning Quarter Horse, Wimpy's Master Jake.

Just having a horse "in the family" seems to help dull the ache for now, and for that I'm very thankful.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I'm exhausted, so just a short note.

Today, myself, my husband, and my friend Mallory helped transport a needy wolfdog across state lines. He was an absolutely beautiful animal named Keeyani - likely a mix of Samoyed and Malamute with possibly a little wolf thrown in.

This beautiful young boy had been found languishing in a shelter in Illinois, a state that bans the ownership of wolfdogs. Without transport out of the state by a reputable rescue group, he would have been euthanized without a second thought (whether he actually had wolf or not). So, we agreed to be part of a relay from Chicago all the way to New Jersey, where he would find safe haven at Howling Woods Farm, a sanctuary for wolfdogs and wolves.

We drove up the highway to meet Denise Kinsey, the amazing woman who had brought him all the way to Ohio from Chicago to save his life. Denise and Keeyani shared a heartfelt goodbye before we coaxed him into our truck and took off for Pennsylvania.

The ride wasn't long, but proved to be eventful; somehow we got turned around in PA and ended up going a little out of our way. Still, before too long, we met up with Dan and Tricia, the dedicated volunteers who were taking the "graveyard shift" to drive Keeyani from western PA all the way to New Jersey.

To say that Dan and Keeyani hit it off would be at tremendous understatement.

Mallory and Keeyani were also fast friends.

There was a distinct sense of comraderie among all of us as we completed the transport; mutual admiration and respect for our involvement in the work. Keeyani seemed to be truly grateful, and that's not something I say lightly. As we parted ways, Keeyani came to each of us in turn, placed his paws on our shoulders, and looked at each of us squarely as if to say, "thank you".

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I'm always shocked when the dogs finish blowing their coat in the spring. They look so different without their warm parka-ruffs of fur!

So far, Jasper is the only one who has finished blowing coat. As you can see, his winter and summer looks are dramatically different.

He hardly even looks like the same animal!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wolf Park

I've just returned from an incredible week-long seminar at Wolf Park. My brain is hyper-saturated and I have a notebook filled to the brim with notes and sketches. I have absolutely no words to describe the experience of the whole event - from the incredible seminar topics, all the new information I somehow managed to cram into my mind, and of course, the time spent with the wolves. Truly a life-changing week!

I'm struggling to put it into words, so I'll just share photographs. The shots that include myself were taken by none other than the legendary wolf photographer, Monty Sloan.

Getting wolf kisses from Wotan, my favorite wolf!

More time with beautiful Wotan.

Meeting the adorable new wolf puppies! This was such an amazing experience.

Reudi really enjoyed this backscratch! What a ham!

Randoms of Wotan, taken by myself throughout the week.

Renki and Ayla begging for treats.

Eclipse, the beautiful, shy white wolf.

Pat Goodman working on clicker-training the resident coyotes - this was absolutely fascinating.

My memories from Wolf Park will last me a lifetime.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Transitional times

Every spring, Jasper sheds his fluffy undercoat all in a rush. Shaking out from under the burdens of the previous year, as if he is emerging from the old life and hurtling into the new.

Like a wolfish New Year's resolution.

It's all very poetic, but in the meantime, he just looks like he sat down in a cotton candy machine.