Wednesday, November 28, 2007


As many of you know, after our recent bear attack we were left with four turkeys: two toms and two hens. Three or more toms can live together in perfect harmony. Unfortunately, two toms will often fight to the death.

So we were left with a very unsatisfactory situation. Our new pet, Lucky, roamed free among the ducks and geese. His somewhat chewed-upon counterpart, UnLucky, was stuck in the infirmary with the two hens. Lucky could tell they were all in there, and developed a poignant habit of standing at the top of the stairs with his head cocked against the door. The turkeys were healing up nicely, but they were not happy.

But the situation has been resolved! My friend L2's father, who lives about an hour away on a lovely woodsy piece of land, keeps chickens and absolutely dotes on them. He volunteered to take UnLucky in--and as an added bonus, he decided to adopt a first-year Langshan rooster that had been destined for the stockpot.

Today L2 and I drove the two boys to their new abode. They're being kept together in a fenced-off part of the chicken pen until they learn where home is. Then, once they get their bearings, they'll be free to mix with the other birds and to range freely during the day.

We were a little nervous about keeping the two birds together, because until now they've only known each other through a fence. But when we put them in the pen, absolutely nothing happened. They pecked at some scratch grain together, and L2's dad fed them some grapes.

These are two lucky, lucky birds. They'll be treated better than most people's kids, I bet. In fact, they're so lucky that UnLucky has been renamed Tom, and the previously unnamed rooster now goes by the name Leroy.

Meanwhile, back at home, the hen turkeys have been relocated to an outdoor pen where they can socialize through the fences, but they're kept safe from Lucky's amorous advances and the geese's pinching bills. This is their first night back out in the world, and they seem to be pleased.

I love it when things turn out so well for everyone involved!

Monday, November 26, 2007


Finally, finally, finally, we got some rain today. Real rain. I think we got more than most areas of the state, because the meteorologists on the news were all talking about how this storm system failed to live up to its potential.

Isn't it amazing how quickly plants respond to the first few drops of rain? The lawn greens instantly, and everything seems to put on new growth within minutes. The spinach and arugula I planted near the end of October are starting to look like rows of baby vegetables instead of rows of little green specks.

The weather today was not what it appeared to be. I walked outside expecting a chilly blast, and was greeted instead by a soft puff of warm, humid, rain-scented air. It was 65 degrees, and so pleasant that I lingered unnecessarily in the garden, picking played-out vegetables and feeding them to the eager chickens.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What would you do?

See this stripey sock? I've been working on it since February. Not really, of course; for several months during the gardening season, I ignored it. In fact, the only time I touched it between February and now was when I took it to Stitch 'n' Pitch at Turner Field.

Nevertheless, I am finally approaching the end of Sock #1. Unfortunately, the set of size 3 Addi Turbos that's in the sock is the exact same one I need to swatch for my Neiman sweater. I have the yarn for the sweater in a bag next to the sofa, and I can't wait to start it. Meanwhile, I'm kind of bored of the socks--although I will admit I would love to be wearing them right now!

Do I:

(a) Grind my way through the stripey socks before starting my sweater?

(b) Put the sock on a stitch holder and start swatching the sweater right away?

(c) Buy another circular needle, because it's an awfully useful size and you can never have too many Addi Turbos?

(d) Do something else I haven't figured out yet?

Friday, November 23, 2007


This is what I now see when I look upward in my office:

Kind of "tropical getaway," isn't it? The wallpaper in the frames is from the dining room of my grandparents' house. I stripped it off and saved it when we sold the property.

The Christmas lights are there just because I like Christmas lights. They have nostalgic holiday associations, certainly, but they also remind me of the sort of funky little outdoor eating places I love best--Shady Grove in Austin, Texas, comes to mind.

I don't know if it'll improve my ability to work, but it certainly looks good to me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Good riddance to a bad idea

From the Nov. 21 issue of the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin:

Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin has announced that he is dropping the proposal to add dye to raw milk sold as pet food.
The addition of dye was proposed as a possible amendment to the rules relating to Georgia Feed Laws and was intended to prevent any confusion between milk sold for human consumption with that sold for animal consumption.
"There is overwhelming consensus that labeling will be sufficient for consumers to tell the difference between the two kinds of milk," Irvin said.
"We will delete the dye proposal and concentrate on labeling. Everyone seems to support having clear, recognizable labeling. We will re-publish the proposed rule changes and hold another hearing in order to receive public comments."
A pre-hearing on the proposed rule changes was held November 2 at the State Farmers Market in Atlanta. Of the 160–170 people attending, approximately 50 provided comments with all speaking against the addition of the dye.

Well, yeah. I have two comments regarding dye in raw milk sold as pet food.

(1) If I wanted artificial dyes in my pets' food, I'd feed them the junk they sell in giant bags at the grocery store. Note that I do not.

(2) If I had to drink purple or green milk in order to express my utter disdain for Tommy Irvin's ill-considered opinions, I'd probably put my food-purist ways aside and guzzle. Luckily, I can just get raw milk from South Carolina. It's even labeled for human consumption.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Writer's block

Who has had it? And what did you do about it?

I'm not talking about problems with blog writing. I'm talking about the kind of thing that can really mess with one's professional life as a writer. The kind of thing that can make the mind go blank and the deadlines go flying by.

At first I thought I was experiencing regular procrastination issues. But no--it's a whole different beast that's far more insidious. We suspect my new office space may be part of the problem. We describe it as having a unique, newly discovered property called "f*ck shui."

Luckily, I think I may be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. A change of scenery has been helpful. We are having gorgeous 70-degree sunny weather (the positive aspect of the drought!), and I spent several hours working on my laptop outdoors yesterday. But what happens when it inevitably gets cold again? I can work on the sofa, but that puts me in the middle of everyday life, with TV and dogs and who knows what-all.

Your thoughts? Back in grad school I used to write in coffee shops, but now that we live in the country, that's an awfully long way to go to bang out a few paragraphs.

Friday, November 16, 2007

This is getting ridiculous

I used to wonder if our bird-of-prey netting was really necessary. Then there was the Cooper's Hawk incident in the quail pen, which was pretty convincing.

But surely the chickens didn't really need netting overhead? Wrong again. This morning I spent several minutes staring in the eyes of this creature, which had perched on the edge of Chicken Run #2b. It was not alarmed by me. It observed me.

I might not have even noticed the owl if it hadn't been for two crows, which were heckling it loudly, occasionally swooping down from a nearby pine tree. I wonder if it had caught its feet in the netting? Well, it must have resolved the problem, because after staring into my eyes for several minutes, it unfurled its wings and flapped slowly into the woods.

Off you go, buddy. You are magnificent, but you are not welcome here.

I swear I need to start carrying a camera at all times.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Temporarily, the ground doesn't go "puff" when you step on it

We had a couple of hours of steady rain during the night. The air smells wonderful, and the red choy sum I'm taking to market today will be unexpectedly crisp. Now, however, we are experiencing such powerful gusting winds that I expect the soil to be turned back into dust within a day.

Apparently these same winds caused heavy damage and injuries in Tennessee. And also, there's no more rain in this week's forecast, which is a problem because we need the equivalent of about five years of English weather to even begin to get us out of the mess we're in. If I were our governor, I'd keep those facts in mind before giving God too much direct responsibility for this weather system.

I sound so cynical--sorry! Hearts, bunnies, unicorns, fuzzy yellow chicks.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Predator parade

Listen, world. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom was one of my favorite shows when I was young, but I never suspected I would actually have to live it. I want out.

As I was putting the large poultries up for the night, I heard repeated "flushing" in the quail pen. I marched over to find out what was the matter and discovered that a small hawk had found its way into the pen, but couldn't find its way back out again. Somewhat ironically, it kept bouncing off the inside of the anti-bird-of-prey netting.

I tried stretching the netting up to let the hawk out, but of course it wanted nothing to do with me. So instead I had to go inside, leave the door open, and try to chase the hawk out. This was much more difficult than it sounds. Fortunately the quail were trying their hardest to be invisible, so they didn't all rush out the door. But instead of flying away, the hawk kept crouching down, wings spread, and trying to attack my feet. It watched me, well, like a hawk (to steal a joke from the late Douglas Adams). It did not want to go anywhere that I wanted it to go.

Eventually I got my way, locked the pen door, and disposed of the one quail that the hawk had been in the middle of eating. Gah. Poor little quail.

And now I must address the question that has been plaguing Stew since she began reading this entry: What kind of hawk was it? Surely I can answer the question, having looked at it at extremely close range for more than five minutes?

No. Not at all. Why? Because it was an immature hawk, and ALL IMMATURE HAWKS LOOK ABSOLUTELY FREAKING IDENTICAL. They have brown backs and buff chests with brown speckles and stripes. They are the size of an especially muscular raven. So I'm frustrated and sorry, dear Stew. All we have to go on is the fact that it was eating a small bird, which maybe/probably/possibly puts it in the accipiter family.

I am hoping that the hawk had a negative enough experience that it will avoid our quail pen in the future. But we'll have to take a good look at that netting in the morning.


Either the geese have been playing with door latches again, or Lucky decided he needed to find himself a new flock.

I know turkeys and chickens are not supposed to share the same ground because of certain diseases, but there's no harm in a turkey ranging with ducks and geese, is there? They seem to be getting along fine.

Remember back in the spring, when the turkey poults thought they were goslings and the goslings thought the turkey poults were tiny geese? I wonder if they remember each other.

Oh dear

Does anyone want a (now perfectly healthy) tom turkey with a partly-bitten-off tail? As a pet, I mean?

We're having the same problem we had last year--that when you get down to only two tom turkeys, they want to fight each other nonstop. We can't bear to kill the one we rescued from the woods, so we are looking for a good home for him.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Turkey update

It's too early to tell for sure, but it looks as if Blue (the s.o.'s favorite hen) may have rounded the corner. She is up and walking, as opposed to down and sleeping.

Unfortunately, the Bourbon Red hen that the neighbor found walking in the road took a turn for the worse. We had to put her down this afternoon because she had developed gangrene in several areas...which was, I'm sure you can imagine, one of the worst things I've ever seen.

For the record

First frost this morning! It's probably only enough to kill the basil and not much else, but there is a definite sheen of icy crystals on the grass.


I was wrong! The basil, okra, sweet potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes are all done for the year. The s.o. has gathered the remaining green tomatoes, and I'm planning to go dig all the sweet potatoes that are still in the ground.

It's strange how different every gardening season is. Last year, you may remember, we were fighting the first frosts tooth and nail, covering tomato plants with sheets, etc. This year we (and our garden) are ready for the change. Onward and winterward.

Monday, November 05, 2007


We didn't hear a thing during the night. The dogs didn't bark. The geese didn't honk. But this was what I saw when I stepped outside Sunday morning:

Total and complete catastrophe. The PVC turkey pen was smashed--the pipes weren't disconnected, they were splintered. Something even pushed its body straight through the chicken wire. And somehow, something popped the door latch on the wooden pen and got into it, too.

At first it didn't sink in, because it was too terrible to contemplate. Four turkeys missing, presumed dragged away and eaten. A tom dead in the pen. Four birds mauled so badly--wings broken, lungs full of fluid, tails torn off, chest muscles exposed--that they had to be put down. Two hens traumatized but mobile, one staggering like a drunkard and one with flaps of skin open on her back.

And, miraculously, one tom with a bloodied face, standing in the middle of the yard. He warbled quietly and took cautious steps toward me. I went to get some scratch grain and led him into the fallow section of the garden.

We don't know if it was stray dogs or coyotes. There are both in the neighborhood. We're furious, made even more furious by the fact that we have no one specific to be angry at. We called animal control, as if that'll do any good. (They've ignored us before, and they'll probably ignore us again.)

I went to L2's to borrow some extra electric fence wire, and I ended up sobbing on her shoulder. She cried too. She was our poultry watcher when we were on vacation, and she had taken a special shine to our turkeys.

Turkeys are so sweet and guileless and friendly, and we are supposed to be protecting them from things like this. But we had tractored turkeys for two years with no incidents--not even any threats. This came out of nowhere, and we can hardly believe how complete the devastation is.

Now everyone is behind a double perimeter of electric fencing. We still can't sleep, but at least it will help deter a second visit.

The tom has been named Lucky and will be a pet. We feel that somehow it would be wrong to eat him for Thanksgiving dinner after all he's been through. He seems to understand that we are the good guys, and he comes to the fence and calls for us when we are near the garden.

Everyone please cross your fingers for the two hens--terramycin may help, but then again, it may not.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bie zoukai

That's Chinese for "don't leave," and it represents one of the most important, yet least talked about, aspects of raising livestock.

When you hear zany anecdotes about the difficulties of animal husbandry, they usually center around one thing: catching animals that have somehow worked their way out of the enclosure you keep them in.* There are sayings that go along with this: "Any fence that won't hold water won't hold a pig," farmers warn. Doing too little too late is described as "shutting the barn door after the horse is out."

Longtime readers will remember that we once acquired a pair of skittish Barbados ewes that got spooked by a vet's visit, leapt over our fence, and disappeared into the woods, never to be seen again. If we had had them longer, they might have developed a homing instinct...or maybe not. All we can tell you for sure is that they were extremely shy and fleet of foot.

What animal-care books rarely tell you is that there are some animals that are much easier to contain than others. There are two aspects of animal temperament that are of import: (1) being easily caught, and (2) not wanting to leave in the first place.

Chickens and turkeys possess the latter quality. If a chicken gets out, it will spend most of its time trying to get back in with the rest of the flock. (Unfortunately, they rarely can figure out how.) Once I found an escaped turkey roosting on top of the turkey tractor it had wiggled out of. It really, really wanted to hang out with its friends again.

Unfortunately, when chickens and turkeys see you coming, their instinct is to play keep-away. Your only hope is to act casual, corner them, and then make a flying tackle. (In the case of a chicken, a net helps immeasurably.) You have one chance before it gets really difficult--both types of animals can fly, and they get much flightier after you've missed your first grab. Additional difficulty: You need to grasp both legs at once or risk injuring the animal.

When a duck or goose gets loose, it's a completely different story. Ducks and geese possess both of the attractive qualities I listed above. They don't want to leave, and they're incredibly easy to corral. It is possible to catch three ducks with one arm.** They have a tendency to clump up in corners and quack frantically. Not very adaptive, but really useful from a human standpoint.

Geese, although harder to lay hands on, are easy to lead. This morning we found one of our geese on the outside of our portable electric fence.*** I turned off the fence, laid a section of it down, and herded the goose back in. Then I stuck the fencepost back into the ground and turned the fence back on. Thirty seconds, and it was done.

Coturnix quail are an interesting case. They seem to have a profound desire to find their way out of their bird netting, either by exploiting a gap or by tunneling out underneath. But then, having done so, they always remain in the general vicinity. We are always finding random quail in the garden area--sitting in the lawn, flushing out of the cabbages, pecking at our garden clogs. We simply pick the friendly little creatures up and place them back inside the pen.

Nobody tells you these things...but I think everyone who is interested in raising farm animals should know them.


* Indeed, when we came back from Las Vegas, our friend L2 shared a madcap story about an escaped Mille Fleur bantam. To her infinite credit, she managed to head him off before he flew away to roost in the woods.

** This information doesn't apply to Mallard and Muscovy ducks, both of which are excellent fliers. Why anyone would want to keep them is a mystery to me.

*** Believe it or not, a 4-foot-high electrified mesh is all you need to protect a flock of ducks and geese from the outside world. Your main interest is keeping dogs and other predators out. Keeping the birds in is the least of your worries.