Country Living Series

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Baker's dozen...

A few weeks ago (July 8, to be exact), I noticed some eggs tucked under the feed bins in the barn.


But as I reached down to pick them up, I noticed something funny about the bucket lying next to them. See the feathers?


My first thought was, "Uh-oh, a dead chicken." But when I put my hand in the bucket, I got soundly pecked.

Make that a setting chicken. She was tucked away fairly securely, so we left her in the barn (as opposed to buttoning her up in the chicken coop every night) to see what we should see.


Setting hens leave their nests at least once a day to eat and drink, and they have a distinctive clucking noise they make while doing so. A week later when I heard those particular clucks and saw the ruffled hen gobbling some food, I took advantage of her absence to count the eggs: 16.


Yesterday was something of a rough day -- very hot, with three young cows that persisted in pushing in/over/under/around a particular fence to lunch on the neighbor's lawn. I was slathering myself in sunscreen preparatory to heading out in the hot sun to work on the fence line (again!) when I heard -- peeps.

You guessed it, the hen had hatched out a baker's dozen (13) chicks, and looked just as pleased as a hen can look.


She had no problem hiding all her babies under feathers, despite the heat.



We always keep chick starter on hand, so I filled a chick feeder and got them some water, and mama settled right in teaching her babies all about consumables.


Whenever another chicken (or rooster, in this case) got curious and came too close, the mama would poof herself up in the fashion of a strutting tom turkey: "Stay away from my babies!"


Here she ruffles up against Smoky, who raised her own clutch four years ago (see the story of Smoky and her Bandits here, here, and here). Smoky is now quite the senior dowager hen, sweet and friendly and still my favorite.


One little chick seemed weaker than the others. At first I thought it was because he was the last one hatched, but it soon became apparent he simply wasn't as strong.


Mama hen spent the day getting used to her brood. She shows every sign of being an excellent and attentive mother.




Incidentally, these are all Jersey Giants, and I have never, and I mean never, seen a breed so inclined toward broodiness. I had hens going broody all winter and all spring, and I always tucked wooden eggs underneath them because I didn't want chicks born in cold weather. As for this batch, the mother hen couldn't have timed it better weather-wise.

A neighbor came over, and when we showed him the chicks he was delighted. "Aha!" he exclaimed. "Sustainability!" Broodiness has been bred out of so many chicken breeds that finding a hen who will hatch her own eggs is increasingly rare.

I love how the babies tuck themselves into the mother's feathers.



The rest of the flock was curious about the newcomers, but no one dared mess with the protective mama.


The babies got the hang of drinking right away.



Evening came with some dramatic clouds.


Not wanting to risk the hen and chicks staying in the barn overnight, I put hardware cloth in all the chinks and openings around Polly's pen to keep the babies in (and predators out). Toward dusk, I asked Don to help me gather the chicks and hen and put them in the pen. However the hen had re-tucked herself back in the bucket for the night, so it was a simple matter to carefully lift the bucket, with the hen and all the chicks, and transport it into the pen.

The following morning, when mama and the babies were out of the bucket, I cleaned it out. Besides eggshells, there was the remains of one chick who had started to hatch but didn't make it.


I cleaned the bucket and put fresh hay inside.


Also, I examined the little weak chick. Not only was it weaker, but it had an internal organ outside its body. It was hopeless for the poor little thing, so I removed it from the rest of the chicks and tucked it under a box in the shade, where it could expire quietly. Mercifully it didn't take long to die.

But the other 12 chicks are healthy and hearty. During the day, I put this firescreen around the door to the pen -- not because the other chickens would bother the chicks, but because they would greedily gobble up their food. At night I remove the screen and close the door.


So there you have it: a dozen more birds for our flock.




Statistically half of these will be roosters, which will allow us the chance to butcher them. We embarked on this Jersey Giant experiment to see how they would behave as a combination egg and meat bird. So far I'm impressed: they're excellent layers, cold-hardy, extraordinarily prone to going broody, and good mothers. The final remaining test is to see how big they dress out after butchering.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What if they don't listen?

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a YouTube documentary based on Everett S. Allen's 1976 book "A Wind to Shake the World: The Story of the 1938 Hurricane."


Largely forgotten now, the 1938 hurricane is "estimated to have killed 682 people, damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at US$306 million ($4.7 billion in 2016)." This tragic event was one of the most damaging hurricanes prior to Katrina, and the book's author was a young reporter, literally on his first day on the job with the New Bedford Standard-Times and wondering what his first story would be. Despite the slightly ridiculous overly-dramatic narration, the documentary --which was made in 1988 -- is fascinating.


It's worth noting one of the reasons the hurricane was so devastating was the lack of early warning system. It struck almost literally from a clear blue sky, and within hours hundreds of people were dead and thousands of homes destroyed.

Remember that point: no early warning system.


What struck me most in this 1988 documentary was an interview with a weatherman named Bruce Schwoegler with WBZ-TV (at about minute 42:00 in the documentary). He makes mention of Hurricane Gloria in 1985, which at the time was described as the "storm of the century" by the media.

Armed with the best technology 1988 had to offer, Mr. Schwoegler says:
The hurricane of 1938 is extremely important because it should have taught us lessons, and it didn't. Some of those lessons involve the media. I've got all the bells and whistles here -- radar, satellite pictures, computers -- and I'm going to be conveying the very latest information on any major storm that comes our way to the public, directly, immediately. That's my job. However ... what if they don't listen? What if, because of scares from the media in the past -- storm of the century! Gloria, heading toward New England! -- what if such scares have created callouses? 'Hey I'm tough, I've lived through Gloria, I can handle this one!' -- or another callous: 'Hey, those weathermen, they're gonna blow it again, I'm gonna keep that house on the south coast here for another week, I'm not leaving' -- what if that happens?

In spite of all the modern technology that I've got here, all the latest knowledge that I'm pouring forth on the tube -- what if they don't buy it because of all this 'Boy who cried wolf' in the past? If that's the case, in spite of all this modern technology, we're going to have a major catastrophe on our hands.

We have more people living along the coast. We have more infrastructure developed along the coast -- real estate, condos, three feet above sea level. What does it mean when a big hurricane like the storm of '38 hits that coastal zone? ... A lot of people just don't understand the tremendous force in nature. ... And in spite of me telling them that it's coming our way, they're going to be out surfing. Not realizing they're going to be blown away, and the water is going to rise 20 feet in the storm surge, and that all their escape routes are going to be cut off. And all this [early warning system] has to be done well ahead of time because if it isn't, they're not going to get out if the waters continue to rise.

So we're facing a very delicate situation. A catastrophic situation. If and when we get another hurricane of 1938 -- and you can bet that we're going to get another one, sometime, who knows when -- you can bet that it's going to be one of the biggest stories, not only of that year, but of the decade and perhaps even the century.
What Mr. Schwoegler is referring to is commonly called the Normalcy Bias, sometimes termed the "It can't happen to me" syndrome.

In a blog post, "Self sufficient man" Tim Young discusses what he calls the "deadly grip" of the normalcy bias:
Normalcy bias is simply the belief that tomorrow will be pretty much the same as it is today, and it has a firm grip on our psyche. When presented with sudden change, unprepared people seize up and the normalcy bias renders them unable to cope. As you’ll see, at no time is this truer than when their lives are at stake, for normalcy bias gets people killed.

I believe it is also the reason why so many people fail to prepare for disasters and life-changing events. ...

[T]he barrage of so many doomsday predictions paralyzes the majority of people. Rather than taking steps to prepare, they simply ignore the threats, essentially burying their heads in the sand. ...

The problem is that “most people go their entire lives without a disaster,” according to Michael Lindell, a professor at the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center at Texas A&M University. “So, the most reasonable reaction when something bad happens is to say, this can’t possibly be happening to me.”

We have every imaginable early warning system clanging bells at us regarding the economy and the dangers our nation faces ... and yet people can't even spare the money for a bag of extra beans for their pantry. At what point do we give up trying to warn them?

Take a look at this sobering article on how the middle class in Venezuela is liquidating their life savings just to buy a bit of food to put aside. Remember, Venezuela is currently experiencing 700 percent inflation.

Referencing a young couple named Tebie Gonzalez and Ramiro Ramirez, the article notes, "[W]hen the Venezuelan government opened the long-closed border with Colombia this weekend, the couple decided to drain what remained of the savings they put away before the country spun into economic crisis and stock up on food. They left their two young sons with relatives and joined more than 100,000 other Venezuelans trudging across what Colombian officials are calling a "humanitarian corridor" to buy as many basic goods as possible. 'This is money we had been saving for an emergency, and this is an emergency,' Ramirez said. 'It's scary to spend it, but we're finding less food each day and we need to prepare for what's coming.'"


But of course, this could never happen here, right?

Recently ZeroHedge posted an article entitled "If you can't touch it, you don't own it." Quoting from the article:
Presently, the UK, EU, US, et al, have created a level of debt that exceeds anything the world has ever seen. Historically, extreme debt always ends in an economic collapse. The odoriferous effluvium hasn’t yet hit the fan, but we’re not far off from that eventuality. Therefore, wherever you live and invest, a spike such as the one presently occurring in the UK could result in you being refused redemption. Should there then be a concurrent drop in the market that serves to gut the fund’s investments, you can expect to sit by and watch as the fund heads south, but be unable to exit the fund.

As stated above, excessive debt results in an economic collapse, which results in a market crash. It’s a time-tested scenario and the last really big one began in 1929, but the present level of debt is far higher than in 1929, so we can anticipate a far bigger crash this time around.

But the wise investor will, of course diversify, assuring him that, if one investment fails, another will save him. Let’s look at some of the most prominent ones and consider how they might fare, at a time when the economy is teetering in the edge.

The article concludes by advising, "This evening, take account of all your deposits and investments and determine what percentage of them you do truly own. If you decide that that percentage is too low for you to accept, you may wish to implement some changes... before others do it for you."

There's only so much emergency responders and early-warning people can do. After that, it's up to individuals to take personal responsibility for their health and safety.

Just sayin', folks.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Hi! I'm Rat Fink Barbie!"

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Hi! I'm Rat Fink Barbie!"

Another new avian visitor

I was weeding the corn the other morning when I heard a raucus bird call, and a showy creature landed on the post right near me, not 20 feet away. Unfortunately by the time I reached for my camera, it had flown to a post across the pond, which is a shame because otherwise I could have photographed its very pinfeathers.

At any rate, I was utterly entirely baffled by what this new bird might be.


I noticed it was able to ruffle its crest. It was showy and lovely.


By this point all you avian experts are shouting, "It's a belted kingfisher, you dufous!" And you'd be right. But despite years of working as a field biologist, I'd only seen this species once, from a distance, as it dove for fish. Never up close.


So it was quite a thrill to consult my bird book and confirm its identity.


The description points out the rusty second band on females. I had a brain fart when I first put up this blog post and thought they meant an additional rusty band (see photo at very bottom), but as it turns out what I saw was a female.


The bird hung out around our pond for a few minutes before taking off. Sadly I doubt I'll see many more since we don't have any fish in our pond. No doubt she'll be off to greener pastures, or at least bluer waters. Either way, I'm glad I had the camera on me when she flew close.

Update: Here's a photo off Google images showing a male and female. Yep, ours was a female.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cherry purée

After netting our little cherry bushes a couple weeks ago...



...it was time to draw back the veil...


...and pick some cherries.


This is the first year we've had cherries from these bushes. The fruit was beautiful, but I was disappointed by the taste. These are sour cherries but with a high sugar content, and I was expecting, I dunno, sweet cherries, I guess.

Nevertheless I picked the first crop and re-veiled the bushes until the rest should ripen. I got a solid bowl-full.


Next I had to figure out how to stone them. I don't have a cherry stoner (though I'll probably get one in the future), and a quick internet search revealed a chopstick would work in a pinch. And so it did, though it was laborious.


Not great, but adequate for my immediate needs.


However it was messy messy messy. Protecting clothes (apron) is vital.


Tossing the pits into a large bowl splattered cherry juice everywhere, and poking the pits out of the cherries splattered more juice. Trust me: apron, old shirt, anything.


Next step, the food strainer. I first used this tool last year when straining tomatoes, and it worked beautifully. The instructions specifically state it's necessary to remove the stones before puréeing cherries, hence the chopstick option.


I didn't have many cherries, so this step didn't take long. It did splatter some more, though. I tell ya, don't have anything nearby you don't want stained when processing cherries.


I ended up with a bit over a pint of purrée, so I put it in the fridge until the rest of the cherries were ripe. A few days later I picked the remaining fruit, unnetted the now-bare cherry bushes, and puréed the final (tiny) crop.

Final haul for our first year of harvesting cherries: two pints:


These I labeled and put in the freezer until I have enough fruits to combine into a canning session.


I started out being disappointed by the sourness of the cherries, but after puréeing them I've changed my mind. Sure, they're not the best for fresh eating, but the purée is absolutely phenomenal and the smell is divine. Sweetened just a bit, the purée can used for sauce (ice cream, anyone?) or juice, and it's loaded with nutrients. So, no complaints.

That said, we did some research and found a sweet cherry bush we'll order next year, and give that a try. Variety is the spice of life, or so they say.

By the way, this was a day's haul last week: last of the raspberries, half of the cherries, and the blueberry bushes are just starting to peak.