Monthly Archives: October 2012

Dogs and Chickens: a Love Story?

Everyone waits patiently to be let in.

When we (I) announced our intentions to add chickens to the Farmhouse menagerie, we were met with some very grave concerns.  These concerns came in the form of questioning along the lines of the following:

“Won’t the dogs eat them?”

“How will you keep your dogs from eating them?”

“Dogs eat chickens, don’t they?”

and, also, “Don’t you think you have enough animals?”

To the last question, the obvious answer was a resounding ‘NO!‘, but to the rest, I responded with a feeble ‘yes?’ (the question mark, of course, inflects the end of that word upwards with shaky uncertainty).  The truth is: I was completely nervous about it.  Our little suburban lot does not have a lot of yard, and it would be an enormous pain in the tail feathers to keep the dogs and birds separate.  The yard must be shared.  They would have to play nice.

But how?  How, indeed.

The farmhouse blondes. Minus one photographer.

The only inter-species assimilation experience I had to fall back upon was cats and dogs.  Our previous home was a 700 sq ft shoebox, in which we managed to seamlessly, incident-lessly integrate two cats together with the dogs.  With such tight quarters, it was sink or swim.

I am no dog whisperer, but it was immediately obvious that these dogs had to see the cats and the chicks as part of the ‘pack’, which is exactly opposite of their natural inclination to see the smaller animals as prey.  So how do you re-wire?

When we first brought home the baby chicks, they were kept in a brooder on our kitchen table.  Which is totally normal and not insane, at all, thank you very much.  Though they were up off the floor, they were still roughly at sniff-level for the dogs, which is good because the dogs were able to get used to the smells and sounds of the chickens.  The flip side of this is that the chickens were still in danger from the dogs–those dogs could still knock that brooder off the table, if they really, really wanted to.  How do you prevent this from happening?  The answer is the key to the success of the entire operation: constant supervision.  At no time, EVER, especially in the beginning, do you ever, ever, ever let your dogs be around the chickens (or cats, or whatever) unsupervised.  Whenever we had to leave, the dogs were locked up, or the chicken brooder was put behind closed doors.  If I had to step out into the yard for even a minute, those dogs came with me and were not left to their own devices with the brooder.  I understand, too, that I have a leg up because I work from home and am there to supervise all day long–but whatever you do with your animals when you are away at work, be sure that they are securely separate.  Never trust them alone.

Abbie tends to her flock of feathered babies.

The most nerve-racking part of the whole process is the supervised visitations.  But this is where it is seriously important to remain very, very calm.  Dogs feed off of your energy, and if you are a basket-case, your dog will be a basket-case with a poultry craving.  For the first couple of dog/chick meetings, it was also imperative for me and the Texan to be present: I would securely hold a baby chick, and the Texan would securely hold a dog–albeit, comfortably, on the couch.  We would pet and coo and love both animals, and let the dog sniff the chick and reward the dog with praise for polite behavior.  Any sudden movements, tense body language, or acts of aggression were met with restraint, and immediate cease and desist of visiting rights.  It is important during these moments to really know your dog’s body language, and to not underestimate it.  You want the dog to be near the bird only when it is calm and submissive (thank you Cesar Millan!), and you want to reward the dog with positivity when it acts like this around the chick.  I’m not going to lie….it is a long road.  You have to be committed to the idea of dog/chicken harmony and put in the time.  Believe me, it is worth it.

The chicks are a little older, and you can tell by my camera distance, the trust is a bit stronger.

We probably lucked out with our dogs.  Chance has always been very tolerant of other animals (except squirrels).  You just have to show him once, and only once, that this little ball of fur or feathers is a pet (shown simply by me holding and petting the new animals and letting him sniff, wag his tail in approval, and go on his merry way).  Abbie was a little tougher.  Abbie was very anxious and tense when the little babies arrived in their kitchen-table brooder.  The first couple of visitations did not go well (she strained against the Texan’s hold on her, and her body language was that of a very hungry dog).  More than once in those days, I thought that she could never be trusted, and I would never let her be around the chickens.  She had adapted nicely to the cats, but she was much younger then, and perhaps cats were better suited to dog-friendships than chickens were.  It was very discouraging.

Chance waits in line at the watering hole, and gives Gertie a sniff and a wag.

But I dug in my heels and kept at it.  I had read that it was better for free-range chickens to have guard dogs in the yard with them, that this helped keep other predators away from the yard.  Because we live close to the foothills, we have a lot of coyotes, racoons, and raptors around here.  Not to mention plenty of neighborhood cats on the prowl.  I really wanted my chickens to have body guards.

Slowly….every so s-l-o-w-l-y, Abbie began to relax around the chicks.  When her body language dictated it was safe, we started letting the babies out for free-range kitchen sessions.  We’d start by letting the birds loose and holding on to the dog.  When she had proven herself worthy, we would put her in her ‘down’ position and tell her to stay (which she is very reliable with), and let them free-range around her (keeping a close eye).  Slowly, but surely, we’d let her get up and wander around with them, and ultimately, she got the picture.  Still, I never thought I would let her be outside, unsupervised with the birds.  But she proved me wrong.  After many weeks of dedication to the cause, she became and still is the best chicken-shepherd I could have asked for.  She wanders the yard with them, happily sniffing and coexisting as though it is the most natural thing in the world.  And Chance?  Never even batted an eyelid at the chicks, and is content to lay in the sun on the driveway while they take dirt baths in the planters a foot away from him.

Chance and Millie sun themselves in peaceful coexistence.

So what happens if the chickens pre-date the dog?  It just so happens that we ran into this scenario, as well.  My brother’s french bulldog, Milo, comes to stay with us quite frequently, and that dog wanted to eat those chickens with such a passion that, again, I thought it hopeless.  But, Milo is proof that you can teach a frog new tricks.

The frog and the chicken.

When Milo first came to visit post-chickens, I had to only let him outside when the chickens were locked in the back garden.  He would go back and sniff them through the fence, and if he got aggressive (ie, barking or growling at them), I would correct him.  Soon enough, he got used to them being back there, and we began the supervised visitations.  For him, this meant a short leash while he and I sat and watched the chickens free-ranging in the yard.  Again, any aggressive behavior was corrected, and if it persisted, the visitation was ended.  Sweet behavior was rewarded with praise.  Slowly but surely, the length of the leash was increased and then eventually, the leash was discontinued.  He was allowed to be free with the birds only when one of us was outside to supervise.  Once or twice I caught him gleefully chasing a chicken, but was close enough to put an immediate stop to it.  These days, he is trusted to be outside with the birds alone.  While the chickens tolerate his presence, it is interesting to note that they do not let him come close to them like they do Abbie and Chance.  They give him a wide berth.  I attribute this to the simple fact that the chickens grew up with Abbie and Chance.  It seems to me that when one or both types of animal starts as a baby, they do better with each other for the long haul.  But that’s just my opinion.

Milo upholds the ‘No House Chickens’ mandate.  Chance couldn’t care less if the chickens go in the house.

I must say that it is a beautiful thing to look out into the yard and against all odds, see free-ranging dogs and chickens.  But I also take my success in this department with a large grain of salt; you just never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and the reality is that you should just really never let your guard down.  I am, by no means, a professional animal trainer, and I, by no means, think that my methods are fool-proof, or even worthy of duplication….I just wanted to share how it was that our odd-couple group of animals came to be.

Apple Pie Snickerdoodles

I still have apples on the brain….so I took my favorite cookie recipe and went a little mad-scientist on it:

Ingredients:

-3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat works pretty well, too)

-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

-1/4 teaspoon salt

-1 tablespoon baking powder

-2 teaspoons baking soda

-1 cup butter

-2 cups sugar

-2 eggs

-1 tablespoon light corn syrup

-2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

——

For the snickerdoodle dust:

-3 tablespoons sugar

-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

—–

1-25.5 oz. jar of pre-made apple pie filling

—–

For the crumble topping:

-3 tablespoons sugar

-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1- rounded tablespoon full of finished cookie dough

-Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

-In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon for the snickerdoodle dust, place aside on a small plate.

-Dump the apple pie filling onto a large plate, and then use a knife to chop the apple chunks into small pieces.

You want itty-bitty chunks.

The apple pie filling jar will come in handy for crafts later….right now, it’s got a date with the dishwasher!

-To make the cookie dough, combine all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, stopping with the baking soda.

-In your mixer bowl, cream the butter using a paddle attachment.  Add in the sugar, mix it well, then add the eggs, the corn syrup, and the vanilla and blend it thoroughly.  Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix well.  Set aside for a moment.  Just a moment.

The mixer, doing what it does.

-Now in a small bowl or plate, combine the sugar, cinnamon, and scoop of cookie dough to make the crumble–you will have to break the dough up with your fingers and mix it up to get a good crumbly, sandy consistency.  Set aside.

-Scoop a mounded tablespoon or so of dough, form it into a nice little ball between your palms, then roll it around on the plate full of snickerdoodle dust until it is coated on all sides.

-Place on an un-greased cookie sheet, then use your thumb to make a little well in the center of it.  Put about a 1-1/2 teaspoon-sized dollop of apple pie filling the in the well.  Sprinkle some crumble topping over it.

Fill with filling.

Top with crumbliness.

-Repeat until your cookie sheet is full, and pop it in the oven for 10-12 minutes.  As the cookies are cooling, I like to sprinkle an extra dose of cinnamon-sugar dust across the top.

Enjoy!

Cinnamon Bourbon Apple Cider

I know it’s kind of turned into pumpkin season….but my dad brought me a big, beautiful haul of apples from his orchard, and, ever since, I’ve had apple brain.

I also tend to have cocktails on the brain a lot.  Subsequently, I knew I wanted to find a recipe for some sort of bourbon-soaked apple concoction, and while there are plenty of them out there, none of them really fit the bill.  Some had ginger ale in them, some had lemon juice, some had straight ginger floating around in there….I was nonplussed.  So I decided to strike out on my own.

Oh, yes. It is all good.

Okay, so I didn’t actually use any of my dad’s apples in this concoction–they only served as my inspiration. But don’t worry, they were put to good use in other kitchen projects. I know you were worried.

Here’s what you’ll need:

-2 oz. store-bought apple cider

-2 oz. bourbon (in this house, we prefer Woodford Reserve–holla, Smallwoods!!)

-3 oz. hard cider (I used Hornsby’s Amber Draft.  Those who know me well know that Hornsby’s and I go waaaay back)

-1 good shake of cinnamon

-ice (duh)

-dark brown sugar and honey for garnish

Rim a lowball glass (the fancier, the better) in honey and dark brown sugar (the brown sugar is heavy, and the honey holds it on there really well–plus, it tastes darn good).  Mix the apple cider and the bourbon in a mixing cup, and then pour over ice into your fancy glass.  Add in your hard apple cider, dust with your single shake of cinnamon and give it a quick stir.  Then….what are you waiting for?!  Drink!!!

Cheers!

Chicken Coop Redecorating

It’s been about six months since we built our lovely little coop, and so, of course, I was starting to get a bit fidgety to make some changes.

First, let’s look at how it was:

Baby Eloise checks out her digs.

And now:

Same chicken, checking it out!  She has such an eye for design.

It was time for a new sign, since every time we put the chickens away it feels like we’re putting them in jail.  Might as well make it official.  I am the chicken warden, thank you.

A little oilcloth bunting can make even going to jail cheerful.

The roost box even got a makeover:

Eloise (again!) hangs out in her old bedroom….the curtains, made from dishcloths, were cute, but didn’t hold up to chicken poop very nicely.

Hello, oilcloth! Not only did the box get new curtains, I lined the back wall of it (which tends to get covered in a lot of poop) with an oil cloth sheet to make cleaning easier.

The inside of the coop also got some fun new decor:

Am I the only one who thinks a cast-iron skillet makes a great food dish? Too heavy for them to flip over, and kind of adorable!

I bought this pretty tin sign since it looks like Millie posed for the painting….and yes, sometimes I make flower arrangements for my birds.  What.

We’re trying a galvanized bucket out as a nesting box. If they take to it, it will be a lot easier to clean than the wooden ones we were using (that they wanted nothing to do with). The girls seem to really like fresh herbs to nest in….a few rose petals might make it more enticing. We’ll see.

That’s all the chicken insanity I have to air out for the moment.  Happy Friday, everyone!

Animal Nannies

 

Nephew #2

Been doing a little babysitting of the newest nephew in the past couple of weeks, and the animals have been pulling their weight.

Abbie has always had a soft spot for babies, but she seems especially in love with this one.

Milo’s got first watch.

Abbie and Milo make sure the kid stays put as I grab a fresh diaper.

The girls keep as close of an eye as they can without breaking the no house chickens rule.

Abbie’s got this shift.

Chance decides he’d rather be inside with the baby.  Please put your phone down and LET ME IN.

Milo ponders how he might get from the couch into the swing. And if anyone would notice.

Just checking.

Cutes!

Chance and Milo wonder why the baby is awake at 2 am.

Abbie’s got this shift, too.

Also, this one.

The dogs make good use of baby nap time….they were up all night!

Seems to have survived just fine!

Not-So-Gloomy Blooms

It’s a grey, cloudy day at the Farmhouse; a perfect day for a happy, colorful arrangement.  Behold!  My favorite colors all thrown together.

It all started (like usual) with a trip for something entirely else to Home Depot, where I spotted these delicious purple and coral carnations.  The Halloweenish colors of the carnations made me think immediately of something that was growing in my yard….

Darling orange cosmos that were a surprise pop-up in the garden. An 8-foot-tall surprise that my mom insisted was a weed and wanted to pull and I said, “No, it’s not a weed!” and she said, “Well, what is it then?” And I said, “I don’t know!” It eventually turned into a cosmos of some sort. I think. That’s what I’m going with, anyhow.

This crazy plant eventually got so tall that it flopped over and I had to prop it up with an Adirondack foot rest.  But, I digress.

Pretty cosmos to complement my store-bought carnations.

Since it’s almost Halloween, I went with a black, metal cauldron-style container, and began cutting the carnations to length and dropping them in.

Time for some purple.

Add in a handful of marigold-orange cosmos, and try not to be happy when you look at these colors. Just try!

Getting Halloweenie at the Farmhouse

Halloween is kind of a big deal in our town.  Every year we have thousands of people that come into town to see the lights and decorations, and well, we gotta keep up!  This year’s theme at the Farmhouse is ghosts, and while the actual ghost part of the decor won’t be unveiled until Halloween (gotta save something for the big night!), the rest of the decorations are up.

My second foray into DIY doormats…. “Boo” seemed a little too obvious, so I went with the evil laugh instead!

Is the cheesecloth drapery too cheesy? Don’t answer that.

Anyone see the creepy ghost in the window? The professional photo-bomber is at it again.

Oh, how I love me some gourds. The uglier, the better.

It’s all fun and games to have pretty decorations during the day, but in this town, you better have something to show for yourself at night:

The nighttime is the righttime.

I am obsessed with purple lights. I wish I could leave them up all year. But then I’d be THAT person….and I am already dancing on a real fine line.

It was hard to get a good photo of our hedge (because I was too lazy to haul out the tripod and expose this right), but suffice it to say, it is full of blinking eyes.

Very Sleepy Hollow….maybe that should have been my theme. I don’t know why I insist on having a theme.

This is an easy little twist on traditional jack-o-lanterns…strings of mini lights (timer and battery operated), wrapped around the pumpkins.

Fairy lights and pumpkins–so pretty!

The sad thing is: all this work and our house completely pales in comparison to what other people do around town….actually, it’s not sad, it’s awesome.

Happy Halloween!

Jurassic Park

Back when my chickens were babies (way, way back, in ye olden times, like six months ago), some of you may remember that I posted some comparative photos of them when they started going through their awkward phase.  You chicken owners will know what I mean: that moment when they go from cute little balls of fluff to WHAT THE–!?  That moment looked a little something like this:

So very awkward.

And then I went a little further with my comparisons and did this:

I seemed to be the only one worried about how this might all work out.

Little did I know what I was inadvertently foreshadowing….

Now, I know that my posts about my chickens are usually a bunch of love and sunshine and butterflies….but we had a little moment yesterday.

Some typical chicken sunshine.

I’ll get to the moment in a moment, but speaking of butterflies, it was a little disappointing when I realized, very early on, that my chickens LOVE to chase butterflies.  And catch them.  And murder them.  I get it, circle of life and all, but I’m still the crazy lady standing in the yard plaintively screaming as the birds dart around the yard in pursuit of the little pretties (that I, incidentally, lure to the yard of death with my deliberate butterfly-tempting plant selections.  My bad.)  I don’t like it.  I don’t like it one bit.

Imagine, then, if you will, my chagrin when I found the world’s biggest, greenest, cutest grasshopper in my garden, and was squatting over it, inspecting it, cooing at it something like, “Hey!  Hey there, buddy!  What’re you doing here, huh, buddy?”  And Clementine swooped in and gobbled that thing one foot in front of my face–despite it being HALF HER SIZE at the time–and then smirked at me like I helped by distracting it.

I accepted this all, begrudgingly, as part of the package.  Chickens are omnivorous, they eat bugs….they love to eat bugs, of all shapes and sizes.  Got it.  Moving on.  So I definitely was not prepared the day that I caught Eloise stalking a lizard in the yard.  I scooped her up, reprimanded her, and waited until the lizard had found a hiding place to set her back down.  I believed that I had diffused the situation until the lizard made its fatal mistake and bolted.  That bird was off like lightening (again, to the soundtrack of my screaming), zigging and zagging down the path and she caught that thing and flung it around like the T-rex in Jurassic Park when it busted into the herd of galloping Gallimimuses.  She beat it about a bit and then sucked it down like no one’s business.  The birds had officially graduated from consuming invertebrates, to vertebrates.  Highly unsettling.

A vicious, calculating predator.

This brings us to the moment.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’ve had a bout of rain this week.  Under normal circumstances, with our sunny, easy-going SoCal weather, I let the girls out of their coop in the morning, close the coop, and do not re-open it until I let them back in at sundown.  The reason for this is simple; rodents let themselves into the coop if I leave it open, foraging for food scraps and just making a general mess of things.  I think you all probably see exactly where this is headed.  When it is rainy and cold (which hasn’t happened much since we’ve had the birds), I leave the coop open for them so that they have a warm, dry place to escape to if the rain really starts to come down.  So, yep.  The coop was left open yesterday.  To make an already too-long story shorter, let me just skip the suspense and say, yes, as a matter of fact, there was a mouse in the coop when I went to lock the girls up for the evening.  There was a tiny little instant when I saw it, and time froze and it was like that scene in Jurassic Park when they are baiting the T-rex by raising a goat up on a platform and the girl goes, “What’s gonna happen to the goat?!”

And yes, those birds went after that mouse, and it was a massacre.  A massacre, people.  I had to turn the hose on them (I know, I know–who dives in to save a mouse?  At least I am fully aware of the crazy).  I could hear the mouse screaming over the top of my own screaming.  I couldn’t handle it.  The hose succeeded, and they dropped the poor thing, and it ran off into the bushes, but those little bloodthirsties crashed through the bushes after it and got it again.  So again, I turned the hose on them, and again they dropped it and finally came slinking back into the coop (because I really soaked them this time).  I do not know what became of the mouse.  I am never speaking of this incident again.

Okay, one last comment.  In the afor-mentioned Jurassic Park scene where Dr. Grant and the kids are watching the galloping Gallimimuses (which incidentally gallop exactly like my chickens), and the T-rex nabs and devours one, Dr. Grant says to the kids, “Look how it eats!…Bet you never look at birds the same way again!”  Amen, Dr. Grant, amen.

Oh, chickens.

Wet, Ruffled Feathers

Well, it is finally feeling like autumn at the Farmhouse, thanks in no small part to yesterday’s first rain of the season (complete with teeth-jarring thunder and cringe-worthy lightening).  As this has been the only legitimate rain storm we have had since I first acquired the ladybirds back in the spring, I was way too curious to see how my pampered SoCal girls’d take it.

Just before it starts to rain, it is business as usual in the yard, aside from some extra fluffy feathers.

As it starts to rain, Clem stands, confused, in the driveway. What is this nonsense?

It went from dark and grey to raining cats and dogs so quickly that I missed the girls’ reaction, and when I dashed out to find them, this is what I saw:

All four girls, curiously watching the rain from the safety of their nice, dry coop.

Apparently, even the chickens can appreciate the pitter-patter of rain on their tin-roofed coop.

Another sudden downpour, and I am stuck in the coop with them!  It really is quite comfy in there.

In between the heavy rains, the girls seemed perfectly content to venture back out and get their dainty feet wet.  They had plenty to say about the thunder, chattering and scattering if it got too loud.

The water coming out of the gutter down-spout was utterly fascinating.

A very fluffy Clem takes refuge under the garden entry arch.

I get distracted by a pretty rose. ‘Miss All-American Beauty’ doesn’t mind getting her hair wet.

Another sudden downpour sends us back into the coop….this time we’ve had it with getting wet! Look at those droopy tails.

Despite it all, Millie, Gertie, & Eloise still got their work done. Clem? Too busy playing in the rain.

But this morning? A nice Clem egg, and another mystery rubber egg in the bottom of the coop.

The culprit is still a mystery….the thunder might of scared this one out of someone!

At the end of the day, we all weathered the first storm of the season quite nicely.  The coop is warm and dry, the girls, all fluffed out from the cold, are back to their normal cheerful morning antics, and I am happy that it is fireplace time again!

It was 100 degrees last week and now I’ve got the fireplace going.  I make no apologies.

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