Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Super blood blue moon

Did anyone catch the lunar eclipse this morning? It was a triple whammy: A super moon, a blue moon, and a blood moon, the first time all three events have coincided since 1866.

Last night when the moon rose, it reflected off some puffy cumulus clouds. Trust me, it looked a lot cooler in real life -- the camera couldn't do it justice.

Early this morning, a bit after 4 am (and yes, I was up anyway so I decided to photograph what I could), the eclipse started.

It wasn't always easy to get a clear shot, though I finally found a tripod, which helped steady the camera in near-darkness. I also kept having to dash outside (it was 25F) because the view from inside the house was being blocked by some tree branches.

This is where it started looking cool.

Unfortunately some cloud cover moved in, so a lot of the totality was lost.

Then the clouds cleared up and dawn started breaking.

I caught the waning eclipse just as it started to set behind the hills.

Finally it was nothing more than a bright sliver.

Yep, pretty neat stuff.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Where's Sparky?

This morning I went about doing the usual barn chores: release the chickens, open the corral gate, check the water tank, and finally pitch hay into the feed bins for the cows.

Two cows (Matilda and her adult calf Amy) stay in the barn, so that leaves four cows (Polly, Pixie, Victoria, and Sparky) under the awning. But this morning, only three cows showed up for breakfast. Where was Sparky?

Somehow I knew. I grabbed my camera and headed down to the woods. Sure enough, there was Sparky, standing protectively over the first calf of the season. The baby was already dry and on its feet, meaning it was born overnight.

We know all six of our cows are due in about the next month or so, so we've been watching udders. Usually a swollen udder is a telltale sign that birth is imminent. But I ask you, does this udder look swollen to you? Yeah, didn't think so. Can't even see it among all the fur.

At any rate, considering it's January, this little girl -- yes, it's a heifer -- couldn't have been born at a better time. Yesterday was cold, rainy, and nasty. The rain moved out overnight, the temperature hovered just at freezing but not below, and today we actually had weak sunshine and it rose to 40F.

While Don had his morning coffee, I cleaned Matilda/Amy's pen and made it ready with fresh food and water. Then we went out to fetch the calf up out of the woods. Naturally Sparky had moved from the original spot I saw her, but after beating the property for fifteen minutes we finally found her conveniently closer to the barn. I scooped up the baby while Don herded Sparky and opened gates. Within a remarkably short time, Sparky and baby were safely in the barn.

Ah, nothing like a little meconium to start the day.

It's a beautiful, healthy calf, and Sparky is a good mother.

We spent the day addressing the logistics of mid-winter calves. I'm grateful our winter is mild (unlike last winter) and we have no snow on the ground at the moment. But we can't have calves in the feedlot, which drains poorly and gets knee-deep in mud during wet weather. Our plan is to fence off the awning and open the gate to the driveway area, which is rocked and firm. This would give the animals access to the barn awning for food and shelter, while giving them room to roam around the driveway to stretch their legs and let the calves gambol.

For the moment, Sparky will need to stay in the barn until we have the driveway cow-proof. Don put the tractor to use and cleaned out under the awning...

...while I cleaned out another pen in the barn and made it ready for Sparky and baby to spend the night.

The pen is small, but now it has fresh bedding, water, and hay. We'll be playing musical cows for a few days, but as long as everyone has shelter, that's fine.

We're expecting three to six inches of snow over the next few days, so I'm grateful Sparky had her baby when she did. In fact, the first snow squall moved in just as we settled the animals for the night.

(What's not really visible in this photo is the wind blowing sheets of snow sideways.)

Looks like we'll be doubling our herd in the next month or so. Okay ladies, who's next?

Meanwhile, I thought about naming the new baby Hickory. She is smoky-black at the moment, but I suspect she'll turn dark brown as she gets older.

The first of six calves. In the middle of winter. Oy vey.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Q&A: Cooking and bulls

Questions from a reader:

What's your favorite meal to make and why? Favorite dessert to make? Favorite thing to can? What item couldn't you live without? How hard is it keeping a bull for breeding? Have you ever tried AI with your cows?

Favorite meal: Hmmm, I have several, but one of my favorites is chicken piccata.

Favorite dessert to make: Trifle.

Favorite thing to can: I don't know if I have a "favorite," since I'll can whatever needs it. Perhaps a better answer is what do I find most satisfying to can? That's easy: Whatever we grow entirely ourselves, whether it's corn, peas, garlic, tomato sauce, blueberries, pears, apple pie filling, strawberry preserves, plum butter, etc.

What item could I not live without? My husband (wink).

How hard is it keeping a bull for breeding? Not hard, if you have a tightly fenced bull pen. Over the years we've had our bull loose with the cows, and the result is indiscriminate breeding whenever a cow is in heat. (Not to mention the occasional indiscriminate breeding with a neighbor's cow.) We like our ladies to calve during warmer months, i.e. between May and August, so it helps to keep the bull in his pen at other times.

The pen, obviously, has to be stoutly made. Even then, escapes happen.

I should point out we only keep Dexter bulls, which are fairly good tempered (for a bull). And at the moment, we are bull-less.

Have you ever tried AI (artificial insemination) with your cows? Yes, back when we lived in Oregon and didn't have room to keep a bull. Our success was mixed: Of the three times we tried it, two failed and one worked. AI is wonderful if you're set up for it, but in this deeply rural area, having an AI expert handy exactly when a cow is at the right spot in her heat cycle is not easy. For us, it's far, far easier to keep a bull, especially now that we have a place to put him.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Yikes! Forgot to list it!

I've been completely remiss. The latest Back-to-Basics bundle has been available for the past week, and I totally spaced it (we've been busy!).

These bundles are astoundingly comprehensive. Subjects including cooking from scratch, do-it-yourself, food storage, natural remedies, preparedness, homesteading, frugal living, gardening, natural living, and natural parenting.

This year's Bundle contains 53 authors; 59 ebooks, courses, or videos; and a number of bonus offers (a canning bundle, an essential oil bundle, and discounts or freebies for such things as custom tea blends, health foods, and some cool paracord Celtic knot necklaces -- I'm a sucker for Celtic knot anything).

However due to my laxness, the last day for purchasing the Bundle is (cough cough) tomorrow. Sorry about that. The cost for the Bundle is $39.97 for online access, $64.97 for a USB flash drive, and $69.97 for a flash drive plus online access.

Sorry I didn't list this earlier, but please go take a look at what they have to offer. I think you'll be impressed.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Q&A: Jersey Giant chickens

Question from a reader:

I've been wanting to buy some Jersey Giant chickens for a while now. When I saw you got them I was thrilled. Could you tell me how they are doing? How do they deal with Idaho winters, their temper, how many eggs. Are they overall a healthy chicken? Would love some feedback on that. Thanks!

We've Jersey Giants for almost three years now. So far we've been very satisfied with them as a breed.

The females aren't especially large -- the same size as our one Black Australorp hen -- but the roosters are very big. At the moment we have way too many roosters -- five -- two of whom are our "herd sires" and the other three of whom we're waiting to reach their full size to butcher. We haven't butchered any of our own birds yet, but these boys look like they'll dress out at about ten pounds or a bit under. Jersey Giants take about nine months to reach their full growth, but unlike the fast-growing Cornish Crosses, they stay healthy instead of having their bodies fall apart.

We have not found the roosters to be at all aggressive to people; which, considering their size, is a durn good thing. The roosters tend to fight with each other, so one of our future projects is a rooster house where we can raise young roosters away from the older boys (and the hens) until they're of butchering weight.

The hens lay brown eggs, sometimes faintly speckled, of regular size (not especially big). They're just as good layers as any other breed of hen we've ever had.

One advantage of the ladies is they go broody at the drop of a hat, which is why I've taken to calling Jersey Giants the triple-purpose breed: meat, eggs, broodiness. Having hens so willing to hatch and rear their own chicks is a great contributor toward a sustainable chicken venture, IMHO.

While this winter has been fairly mild so far, last winter was quite bad: Lots of snow, lots of cold. The chicken coop is not heated, and the birds all did fine.

They're a healthy breed and we haven't noticed any problems with how they grow or mature. Overall I've been quite pleased with Jersey Giants, and I'm sure we'll be even more so when we get into full meat production (hopefully this year).

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Q&A session?

A reader just posted the following:

Patrice, this is off subject but would you ever consider a post that just answers questions? We are about to head up to Idaho for our fourth time in as many months and planning a move. But as you wrote that you were driving a 2k car, we are completely ignorant as to what vehicle we need in Northern Idaho. I was assuming a heavy 4 wheel drive but it doesn't sound like that is what you drive. Many other people probably have questions also. Thanks.

Hmmm. This might be an interesting idea. Does anyone have questions they'd like me to answer, to the best of my ability? (I reserve the right not the answer anything I don't want to, LOL. You can't have our bank account number, for example.)

To answer this gentleman's question: We live 1.5 miles off-road, meaning we can easily get snowed in during wintry weather (until some hardworking neighbors team up to plow everyone out). We've always used smallish vehicles that are high-clearance, four-wheel drive, and hatchback (the better for loading chicken feed or wood). Until it died, we had a Hundai Tucson that was the toughest little beast you ever saw. Armed with studded tires and chains, it handled all kinds of hairy road conditions. That said, we also know when to stay home.

While a beefy pickup truck has its uses -- and we have one -- it's impractical for day-to-day driving. My auto preference is for a high-clearance vehicle as opposed to, say, a low-slung sedan. We currently have two inexpensive vehicles, both costing $2000 from used-car lots: a Hundai Santa Fe (technically Younger Daughter's vehicle) and a 2000 Dodge Durango.

Hope this helps.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What do you DO with all that money?

An article came out a few days ago on how Jeff Bezos, the founder of, is now one of the richest persons on the planet with a fortune of $106 billion.

Putting aside his ethics and morals and other human considerations, this article leads to an interesting question: What do you DO with that much money?

I mean really, what? I realize at some level wealth starts to beget wealth, but at what point is it too much? You could purchase the most expensive houses on the planet, the most expensive vehicles, the most expensive electronics -- and then what? There comes a point where additional purchases make no sense.

Wealth acquisition and distribution is an interesting study. According to Quora:
If you were to redistribute all the wealth in the world equally to everyone, it will eventually come back to the current distribution. And believe it or not, that is not a global conspiracy, but a natural distribution. It was discovered by Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto.

The Pareto Distribution and its evolving variations: the 80/20, which becomes 90/10, continuing to 95/5 and eventually 99/1. This is a universal distribution system and thus also applying to wealth distribution.

The gap is actually getting wider because the wealth mentality creates a positive leverage and an increased upward momentum, while the poverty mentality creates a negative leverage and a increased downward momentum.

In other words the two worlds move apart from each other, as more wealth (growth) is created. This trend is clearly apparent in the evolution of the universal distribution model.
That's nice, but again: What do you DO with all that money?

ThinkAdvisor puts the spending of the richest Americans into 14 categories: Home improvement, household staff, education, gambling, collectibles, clothing, jewelry, automobiles, boats, entertainment, vacation or leisure travel, club memberships, charitable contributions, and political contributions. (More ridiculous examples are found here.)

But once all those things are purchased, are they worth it? I'm sure you've heard this story:
There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village. As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish. The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”

The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”

The businessman was astonished. “Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?”

“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.

The businessman then asked, “So what do you do for the rest of the day?”

The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman. “I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”

The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”

The fisherman asks, “And after that?”

The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”

The fisherman was puzzled. “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”
The topic of wealth came up a few days ago between Don and I when he told me an acquaintance of ours -- who is not struggling financially -- had won $80,000 at a casino and promptly bought a new car.

"That's funny," I said (at the time, we were driving to church in our $2000 car). "A new car is about the last thing I'd spend money on."

Our discussion then turned to what we would do if we had a sudden $80,000 windfall. We grew very quiet for a few moments as we both struggled to come up with something.

"Pay off the mortgage," we both concluded, followed by making a few cosmetic improvements to the house. Beyond that, sock it away for our retirement.

We have no desire or need for household staff, additional education, gambling, collectibles, clothing, jewelry, cars, boats, fancy entertainment, club memberships, or political contributions. It would be nice to do some leisure traveling and have more money for charitable contributions, but that's about it.

Which is probably why we're not rich, either. We simply don't desire it.

Of course, by every yardstick out there, we're really really rich in everything else that matters.

And I'm willing to bet Jeff Bezos doesn't get sunsets as pretty as ours.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The eagle has landed

Over the years, I've tried to make it a policy never to step foot outside without my camera in my pocket. This is because I never know what kind of interesting or exciting thing might suddenly happen, such as the cows playing tag with a magpie.

Well the other morning I couldn't find my camera, so I shrugged and went about my usual barn chores. Then -- wouldn't you know it -- while I was standing in the corral filling the water tank, a bald eagle flew right over my head and landed on a tall pine next to the barn. And I didn't have my camera. It would have been a perfect shot.

I was kicking myself for missing that photo, and once again promised myself to take my camera every time I step foot outside. Which is how, while driving to town yesterday, I happened to see another bald eagle swoop in and land on a tree overlooking the road. This time I was ready.

My usual procedure when faced with situations like this is not to worry about distance, blurriness, or shooting through the car's windshield (as I was doing). It's just to point and shoot at first, then later try to improve the situation and get better photos. That way, if (in this case) the eagle flew away before I could get closer, at least I had a long-distance blurry photo through the car's windshield.

But the eagle stayed put as I got onto the highway, so I stopped on the shoulder nearer the tree.

I took a few photos, more or less identical, then proceeded into town to do my errands. But on the way back, the eagle was still there.

Feeling satisfied I at last got my eagle photo, I went on my way. I got barely a hundred yards down the road when yet another eagle swooped in and landed on a tree across the road.

Y'know, I really love living in Idaho.

And it sure helps having a camera.