A Surprise Inside the Wood Stove

One day I arrived home from work to a surprise inside the wood cook stove.  My wife was cooking dinner on our propane stove, and left a note for me on the wood cook stove.  It was a late fall day, and the chill in the air beckoned for a fire in the wood cook stove each evening, but first a look inside.

Inside the stove, a small noise could be heard as something moved slightly about in the firebox.  Not knowing what it could be and hoping it wasn’t a maimed mouse brought in stealthily by the cats, I grabbed a flashlight and approached the situation from a bird’s eye view through the firebox cook lid opening. I peered down into the darkness hoping the flashlight expose what was inside.  The rest can be seen in the video as I change my work clothes into an old sweatshirt and use an old pillow case for the task of removing our stole away bird.

As can be seen, the removal of the bird was incredibly easy, but making the video was not.  I recently applied for a grant to improve my journalism class at school.  I was blessed to receive three Mac computers with the highly coveted Final Cut Pro program.  What I have discovered in the process is the painful superiority complex Macintosh has created in the PC world to over complicate simple computer use functions.   Where I can find simple help tutorials with Blender, Movie, Maker and Even Adobe Premier, however, not with Final Cut Pro.  A user must pay for a class to get what a simple user manual should provide.  I have never been a Mac user and I understand why. Last night I spent 45 minutes trying to get the Mac to recognize my flash drive and it still doesn’t.  I have to go online today and research more on how to get a normal plug and play device to play nice with Mac.  Video editing has been an adventure, and I am unsure if it is skill or pure stubbornness in forcing my will upon the program.  I hope to get better with practice, but it’s definitely a challenge to me.

“Bird.” The World Book Encyclopedia. Field Enterprises Inc, 1952. I find many uses for my mom’s World Book Encyclopedia Books to this day.

After much frustration with technology these past few months, I reverted back to a classic way to identify the bird who had inadvertently trapped itself in our wood cook stove.  Instead of turning to the vast amounts of overwhelming information on the World Wide Web, I turned to my mother’s encyclopedias she gifted to me.  My mom where given these encyclopedias by her parents when she was a child.  I have always loved my mom’s encyclopedia collection.  When I was younger, I would read them for fun, and as I got into high school, the Internet was still not invented yet, so I used them for reports I had to do for class.  Under the section devoted to birds, I found a variety of pictures and matched the bird’s features that impressed upon me, the narrow curved beak, the oval marks on the bird’s cheeks, the spots on the bird’s chest, the gray color of feathers.  Soon it became apparent that it was Flicker.  Now taking that new substantiated info, I was able to do a concise search online which gave me the characteristics of the bird, and how it ended up in our chimney.  The Northwest Flicker, one of over a hundred names, likes to nest in hollow trees and also use their beak to drum territorial signals to others of its kind on metal objects.  The chimney served both purposes, it made a load sound in which to drum its beak upon to broadcast the bird’s message. And, once the bird found its way into the chimney cap, it felt like a nice hollow tree to explore and make a home, until it ended up in the firebox.

Sixty-six years later and still useful. I find that many things our society has discarded as obsolete are still very useful and relevant to this day.

The rest is history.

 

Dog Gone It!

Losing your dog can be a traumatic event in Northern Idaho. If it isn’t the wildlife, there is also the real possibility of a neighbor releasing a barrage of defensive fire. In this clip, I explain a moment in which we lost our dog during a snow storm, the importance of finding her, and how we could have easily lost her forever.

What makes our dog run? I really don’t know exactly. We’ll be playing in the yard and she will without much warning give use what we call the crazy eye. She circles about 3 times and bolts.  No calling her back will get her to return until she has filled her wander lust.  I do know that our dog has an incredible appetite for wild animal feces.  She will chase deer just to scare up some more grub.  I know disgusting, but to her it’s the treat of the century.  Even though we buy her big bones to chew on, dog bacon treats, dog snacks and cookies; she will abandon them all for what she can find in the wild.

We do worry about her safety and have taken precautions, but there is always those unplanned moments in which she can and will escape. We are lucky she hasn’t killed a chicken yet, but we wouldn’t trust her to let her close enough.  We also take her on daily walks and sometimes we will even ride a bike and allow her to run beside us, but that too is risky if a squirrel crosses our path.

My wife and I discussed if we ever will get another dog.  We decided that this will most likely be our last pound dog.  We want to raise a puppy and develop proper behavior from the start.  We have adopted two dogs from the pound, and they both have had their issues.  The first dog we owned loved us and was very protective of us.  She would stay close by us and create a defensive perimeter when we went for hikes and camping.  She was great, except with small children.  She had a Heeler’s instinct and wanted to herd children and place them in a controlled situation in which she would not let them move.  So, when friends and family with children visited, we had to crate her.

As you know this dog we have now is very friendly and loves children, but she is a runner.  That provides a whole other level of stress during hunting season.  We have even been told by a neighbor that they had our dog within their sites and were debating on ending her deer chasing escapade.  She was only gone for 40 minutes that time.  My wife and I are debating creating a fenced area near the shop we want to build, just so she can run around and act crazy within a controlled space.

 

Sick Chick on the Homestead

One of my favorite animals and things to do on our homestead is to care for our chickens. I love our ladies! Chickens require little and give much in return. I still consider myself a novice when it comes to sick chickens. I have not had much success in healing a chicken once they are really sick, but I still try and give them the best chance possible to recover. In this video you will see my efforts in trying to assist our chicken, whom we think is egg bound.


I want to give a little shout out to all the Chicken Hens.

You Ladies are AMAZING!

Mama Moose Prepares to Protect Baby Moose

A unique aspect of living in Northern Idaho is the fact that it is “Moose Country”.  When we first moved here we could not wait to see a moose and being able to see a male moose with his paddles was and still is a rare treat.  But even rarer is being able to see a Mama Moose or Cow with her Baby.

The perfect opportunity came during Christmas Break.  We had been seeing a female moose at our salt lick over the course of a couple weeks. Then one morning, as I was leaving our chicken coup, I saw what I thought was a female moose and I was able to get our camera set up to film her.  I set up between our two vehicles, because one does not want to get too close to moose, they are big, elusive, and like their space.  When feeling threatened they will charge and one can get hurt.

With that being said, I was able to have one of the most thrilling experiences being able to see nature up close and personal.  There are moments when it all comes together, us and nature, and what a moment that is!

Enjoy the video.

Tales from the Coop

Saying goodbye... Krista holds our surprise late bloomer of a rooster. We could manage with two, but a third was too much for the harmony of the coop.

Saying goodbye… Krista holds our surprise late bloomer of a rooster. We could manage with two, but a third was too much for the harmony of the coop.

This past Thanksgiving Break we finally dispatched one of our three roosters.  Currently, we have twenty-seven ladies and two roosters.  For weeks we have put off killing our extra rooster and had him in the isolation chamber, so he couldn’t stress out the ladies.  He was the last rooster to begin crowing and he was such a late bloomer he took us and the entire coop by surprise.  We almost stayed his execution if it wasn’t for the need of his isolation chamber for a chicken who is ill and another chicken who has become broody.

Lining it up and clamping it down... Putting the last leg of the table on which will act as a platform for the broody hen and her chicks when they hatch.

Lining it up and clamping it down… Putting the last leg of the table  which will act as a platform for the broody hen and her chicks when they hatch.

Our broody Barred Rock chicken has been nesting in the same box for about two weeks now.  She has about six eggs under her, and we are hoping for them to hatch within a week or so.  Our nesting boxes are hanging on the wall of our coop at about 3 feet off the ground and for the newly hatched chicks we are hoping to welcome into the world it would be a steep drop.  We decided to build a table out of scrap wood today to set under the box so the mama and her babies can walk out of the nesting box and onto the table that we will have wired off for their safety.  It is a crude design made out of scrap wood, but it should serve the mother and baby chicks well until they are ready to flit about the coop.

Almost finished... The table now has a top and I am placing the guide rails on for the the chicks. I will run fine mess wire around the table and attach it to guides to keep the chicks safely in.

Almost finished… The table now has a top, and I am placing the guide rails on for the the chicks. I will run fine mess wire around the table and attach it to guides to keep the chicks in safely.

This will be our first chickens ever hatched from our group. We never had a broody chicken before now.  We were hoping maybe next year to purchase Silkies to help with hatching, but with a broody Barred Rock, this could be what we have been hoping for.  We have heard that once a chicken is successful with hatching chicks, she will most likely become a mother again.  Once the chicks are old enough, we’ll transport the mother and chicks to the isolation chamber where they can be safe together from the others in the flock until they are old enough to fend for themselves.  Thus, our rooster’s stay of execution was lifted and we ended up butchering him.

Making preparations... Here is out setup behind our wood shed. We attached the killing cone to a tree and the had a bucket placed below. We also set up the table, with clean warm water, towels, sharpened knives, and protected the top with clean garbage bags.

Making preparations… Here is our setup behind the wood shed. We attached the killing cone to a tree and the had a bucket placed below. We also set up the table, with clean warm water, towels, sharpened knives, gloves, and protected the table top with clean garbage bags.

We decided to butcher our rooster a different way than we had done in the past.  We bought a killing cone and placed him in it.  WARNING! GRUESOME DETAILS TO FOLLOW.  Next, I used a sharp razor box knife to slit his throat and let him bleed out.  I do not enjoy killing animals, so I attempt to compartmentalize my thinking, so I could proceed with the butchering process. I am sure the more chickens I kill over the years, the easier it will become. At least I keep telling myself that.

My son was not overly curious to watch the event and I almost spared him seeing the entire thing.  I explained to him this is how we get our chicken and for people to buy chicken in the grocery store, someone had to kill it.  I think every human meat eater alive should have to butcher their meal once in a life time.  I think it would give a renewed respect to the animals being butchered as well as make people think about where their food comes from.

Once our rooster was dispatched and was finished twitching, which for me is the worst part.  I removed its head and decided to skin the chicken instead of plucking its feathers.  I heard skinning was easier. Plus, we were planning to can the bird with our pressure cooker and wouldn’t need the skin.  After having done it, I have decided in the future I will go ahead and do the warm water bath to loosen the feathers and wet pluck them.  Skinning took too long hunched over the table, and I believe I could have been finished sooner if I had plucked the bird’s feathers.  I also decided to split the bird near the spine and fold the bird open to remove the gut sack.  I did not like the way the bird looked cut open like this. Having to cut the rib cage next to the spine, I discovered the bird lost its symmetry, so I will most likely remove the guts the usually way of cutting the vent area out and proceeding just below the rib cage and sternum.

Other things I would change is I would lift the tables higher by placing them on blocks, so that I wouldn’t have to lean and hunch over so much.  My back was really hurting after the butchering process.  With the added stress in my system from killing the bird and the below thirty degree weather, a higher table and less leaning over would be nice.

Krista finished cutting our rooster up for the quart size jars.   She then pressure cooked him that evening.  It was quick work for Krista since she had done this before with our first flock.  Next spring, the rest or our Buff Opringtons and Australorps of three years will need to be butchered as well.  They are getting of age where they don’t lay as often and will need to be put down before they become old and ill.  Our one sick bird these past few weeks is suffering from what may be congestive heart failure and we will be burying her soon.  We are using antibiotics with her and at times she shows major improvement and at others she seems a death’s door.  We shall wait and see, but the prognosis is not looking good.

A “berry” good summer…Saskatoon style

A berry delightful Saskatoon day... Krista is picking until her heart is content which was about 30 minutes.

A “berry” delightful Saskatoon day… Krista is picking until her heart is content, which was about 30 minutes.

For the first time since we moved onto our property, we have never realized we were surrounded by wild berries.  Out our front window, we watched for years the humming birds fight over a large series of bushes that bloomed each spring, but we have never spied any fruit upon it, until now.  The bushes are loaded with blue looking berries.  I tried a couple berries and realize quickly it was not a blueberry bush.  The berries did not have much taste.  My wife texted a friend and local resident and asked, “What kind of plant is this?” with an attached picture.  The bushes were quickly identified as Serviceberry trees.

All hands and paws on deck... The whole family turned out to pick Saskatoon berries, a.k.a. Juneberries. However we think the cat was picking berries indirectly by picking the birds who ate the berries.

All hands and paws on deck… The whole family turned out to pick Saskatoon berries, a.k.a. June berries. However, we think the cat was attempting to pick the berries indirectly by picking the birds who ate the berries.

The Serviceberry has other names as well, June berries, and Saskatoon berries.  This year they are prolific.  For years we have noticed this trees/bushes, but never notice them produce a single berry, but this year the boughs are bending over, loaded with them.  Walking about the property, I am seeing Serviceberry trees in several different locations.  Berries are produced on every tree, some more than others, but not one tree is bare.  The deer and moose have been cleaning the lower branches of the berries.  Yes, we saw a male moose the other evening and his paddles were growing quite nicely. The birds have been eating the higher branches, and we gleaned the middle branches. There are so many berries on these trees; we can’t pick them all and many will go to waste.

Stock pot boil, toil, and trouble... Krista processed two batches of berries into jam. Though the seeds are noticeable, the jam is sweet and delightful. I understand why people make this into a crisp topped with vanilla ice cream.

Stock pot boil, toil, and trouble… Krista processed two batches of berries into jam. Though the seeds are noticeable, the jam is sweet and delightful. I understand why people make this into a crisp topped with vanilla ice cream.

Today, we spent about half an hour and picked almost 2 gallons of berries from the trees located a few yards off our front door.  Krista is planning on making jam which, after researching online, many people love.  These wild berries aren’t sweet, but when sugar is added, the flavor of the berries are enhanced, but not overpowering.  The Saskatoon berry is kind of like a watered down blueberry.  We only had a few  blueberries on our plants in the orchard this year, so the Saskatoon berries are a real treat.

Our summer weather could easily explain the arrival of our Saskatoon berries.  This year we have not experienced an extreme heat wave like last year.  June was wet this year, but  did not drown out the plants as it has done in years past.  May was nice and warm, allowing the blossoms to be pollinated following a nice wet and slowly warming April.  The conditions of this year’s summer have been perfect for the Saskatoons.

 

 

Our gardeners, the chickens, and other tales

The course is set... We pounded some fencing stakes, used a little bailing wire, and bought the cheap plastic fence which is all we needed to guide the chickens from the coop to the garden.

The course is set… We pounded some fencing stakes, used a little bailing wire, and bought the cheap plastic fence, which is all we needed to guide the chickens from the coop to the garden.

When picking out our flock 4 years ago, my wife and I went to the local co-op and chose several varieties; Buff Orpington, Red Sexlinks, Amber Star, Ameraucana. We have since settled on the Buff Orpington since they seem to be the most easy going and don’t tend to pick on the other chickens.  My wife’s favorites are the Ameraucanas, they lay pretty colored eggs and seem to snuggle in when held, but they are not large egg producers.  The layers were the Amber Stars and Sexlinks, but the predators took out the amber stars quickly and a few of the Sexlinks act like predators by picking on the other chickens.  We now have a somewhat peaceful chicken community because we added only Buffs and Australorps into the mix two years ago.  We live in N. Idaho and they all handle the cold.  The worst cold snap we have had these past two winters were in the  negative teens.  Of our original flock four years ago, we still have nine of the nineteen chickens.  The only variety that has not been sick or died in some tragic way has been the Ameraucanas, however, they are the least aggressive, shyest of our flock and were picked on ruthlessly by the others.

This year we are butchering our older birds and canning the meat.  They are no longer producing eggs frequently enough and seem to be a drain on the chicken feed.   We found a person who will butcher each bird for three dollars.  I have butchered several chickens in the past and don’t really enjoy the process.  In a pinch I could do it, but to pay someone else to do this deed is worth it to me.    If I was working from home full time, I would most  likely butcher my own chickens.

For our new batch of chicks this year, we have decided to try two different breeds Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rock. We have to keep the chicks warm, but without the extra electricity to run a heat lamp.  The chicks will be camping out behind our wood stove until their feathers develop. Our son has decided to be the chicks’ Papa and spend some extra time holding them to help raise a people friendly flock.

The many loves of Dobie Gillis... My wife and I named our Black Australorp rooster, Dobie Gillis because he likes the ladies.

The many loves of Dobie Gillis… My wife and I named our Black Australorp rooster, Dobie Gillis because he likes the ladies. All the chickens love the garden and are doing an amazing job preparing the ground for planting.

While preparing for our new chicks to arrive, we are also having our ladies prepare our garden for us.  I built a run from the coup to the fenced garden and the chickens are able to run back and forth from the garden to the laying boxes in the coop during the day.  My son and I throw some scratch in the garden beds.  The chickens race over when called and go to work tilling up the garden bed for the day.  We love that they are doing all the weeding and tilling of the soil for our future garden. The chickens also seem really happy to not be cooped up.  We began to keep them in the coop and their chicken run versus allowing them to free range.  When the chickens were  free ranged, predators would sneak onto our property in the evenings and chickens would disappear.

On one particular event, I found several feathers in the trees about 100 yards away from the house.  Our dog tracked the scent around the feathers and followed a trail until she pointed her nose up a tree.  The only animal we know that would stealthily take a chicken like that and climb a tree with the prey to eat all the while leaving a trail for the dog to travel is a mountain lion, which we do have in our area.

Maybe we didn't think this through... This is a dramatized photo of our 3:00 am mountain lion wake up call. We haven't been visited since; guess we scared it off. However, we have thought out the process before we jump out of the house on the offensive. No animals were harmed or shells loaded during this photo.

Maybe we didn’t think this through… This is a dramatized photo of our 3:00 am mountain lion wake up call. We haven’t been visited since; guess we scared it off. However, we have thought out the process before we jump out of the house on the offensive again. No animals were harmed or shells loaded during this photo.

Four years ago, when we purchased our first flock of chicks, we had a mountain lion visit our home’s front door at 3:00 am in the morning.  I was awoken from a dead sleep from a cougar scream at the front door.  It must have been frustrated that the chicks were protected by a barrier it couldn’t penetrate and let out a scream.  I ran for the  shotgun.  My wife grabbed the flashlight and we headed for the door to put an end to our unwelcomed visitor.  We jumped out of the house in our pajamas and rubber boots.  I pointed the barrel of the gun and my wife pointed the flashlight somewhere else.  I then quickly moved the gun to aim where the flashlight was pointing, and my wife quickly moved the light to where the gun once was pointed before.  I was really glad that cougar had become bored so quickly and left.  My wife and I now have our flashlight and shotgun movements choreographed for the next visit.  We were and still are city slickers, but we are also brave and foolish at heart. This would not be the last time I would reach for the shotgun.

Another time a distant neighbor’s dog came on the property and killed one chicken and attempted to kill another for sport.  Dogs are my favorite animal, but I was going for my gun when the beast wouldn’t leave the chase alone.  In Northern Idaho if you can’t keep your animals from causing a nuisance on a neighbor’s  property, their lives are forfeit.  The dog escaped, but it wasn’t long before he disappeared from the neighbor’s property permanently.  If the dog was a nuisance to others on the road as well, it is probably buried on the property of whoever was packing.

Cheep, cheep... as krista holds the peeps, one Rhode Island Red and the other A Barred Rock.

Cheep, cheep… as Krista holds the peeps, one Rhode Island Red and the other a Barred Rock.

Our new chicks arrived Thursday, April 14th.  We picked up our son after school and had him help us get the chicks.  He didn’t really show much interest, but appreciated tagging along.  This year’s Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks should add a new diversity to our flock.  We should also be able to easily identify the old birds from the new flock, which will make culling the older group easier in the future.

Last night was a difficult night as we gathered our 9 remaining  chickens from our original flock of 4 years.   As I type this, my wife is driving them to the butcher with an ominous thunderstorm rumbling on the horizon.  With the drops of rain hitting our cheeks, it becomes indistinguishable from the tears.    I justify this last act, knowing to keep them they will eventually die from old age or an age related illness.  What makes this so hard is they were our fist batch of chickens, and we called them all by name and knew each of their quirky personalities.  Perhaps, culling the flock will get easier with time.