Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bernie is a Fence Spoolin' Fool

Today is a big day on the homestead. Bernie officially finished fencing in the yard around the house. When we decided to move here, we cleared a chunk of land in the middle of our property, and since we never had it officially measured, I'm really not sure how large it is. I would guess maybe an acre or an acre and a half. I do know that we bought over 1200 feet of field fencing, and Bernie used most of it.

I don't know if you've ever worked with field fencing, but I have to tell you that stuff is heavy. Really heavy. In fact, when we bought it, they loaded each bale of it in the back of our pick up truck using a fork lift. It didn't take Bernie long to figure out he was going to have a heck of a time running that wire alone - especially because the vast majority of it would be in the woods. He thought about having a fence stringing party, but couldn't think of anyone he disliked enough to invite. He really didn't want to do that to a friend. He checked with several stores to see if they make something that will help spool wire, and the only thing they suggested was a piece of equipment that requires a three point hitch. Not only do we not have a three point hitch, there is no way a vehicle sporting a three point hitch would fit through the woods where he needed it.

So, as he usually does when he's in need of a home made tool, Bernie went to Tex. He told Tex he would like to build a fence spooler. Something inexpensive, strong, and disposable, since it would only be used to run wire for this fence and then likely never be needed again. Most importantly, it had to spool by having a spinning bottom to rest the bail of wire on. And, as he always does, Tex designed and built the perfect tool.

And here it is:


And here's how it works - see the big piece poking up in the middle in the above picture? Well, Bernie lays that down towards the ground and "threads" in the bale of wire. Like this:


Then he stands up the whole thing, with the longest leg of the spooler pointed toward the direction he will pull:


Then he grabs the end of the wire and begins to pull. The wire bale rests on steel plates that actually rotate, while the base remains firmly in place:


And he pulls, and pulls, and pulls:


I'm not sure Bernie could have fenced in the yard without the Tex-O-Matic spooler. While it was still a great deal of work, the spooler helped immensely. Especially in places like this - which is typical of where he ran the fence other than the short piece beside the drive way:


So, thanks to Tex's creativity and Bernie's hard work and Incredible Hulk muscles, we now have a fenced in yard! I really love the way Bernie ran the fence through the woods. I know it was a lot of difficult work for him, but there are very few places we can actually see the fence when we look around the yard. It feels a little less confining. It will also allow the dogs we get shortly to have plenty of woods to run around in, while being restricted to the yard area of our property.

By the way, as soon as we finished up the rain barrel, we went into a near drought. But we've finally gotten rain the past couple of days, and the rain barrel has about 25 - 35 gallons of water in it! It works like a charm.

The chickens are doing great. Duke is figuring out how to act like a rooster and spends the majority of his time looking out for his girls - and the girls just love him. He crows off and on all day now, making sure that everyone knows he's large and in charge. It has gotten extremely rare that any of the chickens challenge him these days. Even Lucy-fer has realized she doesn't stand much of a chance against Duke. She now focuses her aggression on poor little Bobby Lee. They are about the same size, but Lucy-fer beats Bobby Lee out in the ornery department. So far, she's nothing more than annoying. I've reminded her daily that we will not tolerate mean chickens on the homestead, and casually mentioned how much we love chicken noodle soup. She clucks and bawks at me, but I've noticed she's not pushing the envelope on it.

We leave in a couple of days to head out west and visit Bernie's family. I really can't wait to see them, but I'm very anxious about leaving the homestead. I shouldn't be. We have a wonderful woman who will look after the place and take care of the chickens and cats while we're gone. And Bernie's family is a hoot. I really love spending time with them. Besides, Bernie thinks I need to work on my social skills. I think he's concerned that my communication level is eroding to clucks, peeps, and occasional crows.

Bee Free,

Friday, July 18, 2008

Weird People, Chickens, Rain Barrels, and Me

I seriously don't know how time gets away from me so fast. I've got a ton of pictures to upload to the Back to Basic Living website, a new page on canning that is almost complete, and a page on putting together a rain barrel. All I need to do is make a little time and finish all these things up and get them uploaded. The problem is that I seem to have so many projects going on at the same time around here that I never finish one before I've started another. I'm sure I could use a lesson in organization. Or maybe a lesson in focusing. Probably both. Maybe I'll start an online course.....

I had to go into the D.C. area last week for work. I started working from home about a year ago, and I rarely have to go into the Big City, so I shouldn't complain. But I will.

I had to spend two days in that madhouse. A friend was kind enough to put me up for a night so I didn't have to get a hotel. That was the nicest part of the trip. The work days were long and it cost a fortune to eat breakfast and lunch there. And I don't mean to be ugly, but those city people can be just plain weird. Honestly. I worked in D.C. for several years, and I always knew the people could be a bit odd, but I guess in the interest of self preservation, I tended to ignore or overlook it. I suppose it is a matter of surviving in such a crowded area that makes some people become completely self absorbed and totally unaware of their surroundings. No eye contact. No acknowledgment of another's existence. Bumping into people without an apology. Talking on cell phones at the top of their lungs in the middle of a crowd of strangers. IPod ear buds fastened securely in their ears to remove them, if only mentally, away from all the people. Not everyone is like that in the Big City of course, but there are enough of them to send me high tailing it back to the homestead with more resolve than ever to never leave here again. And with a new appreciation for my chickens. Maybe I'm the weird one.

[NOTE: Because I know some of the people from my work read my blog, please let me say I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT YOU. I'm talking about the other people. You are wonderful. Seriously. Unless you happen to be one of the ones I don't like.]

Speaking of chickens, they are getting big! They will be eight weeks old tomorrow. They're learning to cluck, but they haven't given up peeping yet. So the chicken yard is routinely filled with noises of peeps, clucks, and an occasional crow. Very cute.

I have a bunch of pictures of the chickens to upload to the website and I'll try to get that done soon, but in the meantime I wanted you to see how big Duke and Bobby Lee are getting:


Look at that comb and those wattles! I swear that Duke just makes me swoon. Bobby Lee is a wiry little thing. I think he looks a bit like the Road Runner. He's handsome and I think he'll really be a sight when he fills in and matures. That's watermelon at their feet. Those chickens love watermelon. They get really excited when they see me coming with it. They even act like they love me when I show up with watermelon, so I make a point of giving them a few slices everyday. Of course they'd act like they love Atilla the Hun if she showed up with watermelon, but I don't like to think about that.

Bernie has been stringing the fencing wire. He's got about 1/4 of it finished. He and I worked on putting together our rain barrel last weekend. I was going to write that this is another project we have yet to finish - but Bernie went outside and finished it while I was typing. Yay! Here's a picture of it:


We had to install the rain gutters on the front and back of my garden shed (and yes, by "we", I mean Bernie) and then put together all the fittings for the barrel to make the intake portion, and the drain on the bottom of it. I have to tell you it was like a scavenger hunt at Lowe's to find all the fittings to concoct those things. But it was kinda fun. I'm working on a webpage to describe what we did, with pictures of each step, in case you are interested in a rain barrel for your place. Ours holds 305 gallons and we plan to use it for watering the garden.

I made some soap last night - Cucumber Melon. It smells heavenly. I haven't made soap in a little while, so I decided that since I'm swirl impaired even on a good day, I would just stick with something a little more basic and make it all one color. It's a light, refreshing pale shade of green.

We've been busy around here, and we're loving every minute of it. I suppose it would be nice to actually finish a few projects, but then I worry we'd miss something else that's fun and just waiting to get started. I think I'll go discuss my options with the chickens.

Come to think of it, maybe I really am the weird one.

Bee Free,

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rooster Adolescence and Lucy-fer

Yesterday our chicks turned exactly seven weeks old and it's been exactly one week since Duke figured out how to crow. I let the chickens out of their coop about 6:30AM and went into the house to make them some yogurt. As I was standing at the kitchen sink, I heard the distinct sound of a crow - but it was not the shrieking three syllable crow we've grown accustomed to hearing from Duke. It almost sounded like the honk of a goose in comparison - and it seemed to have an extra syllable. We listened to it several times and became convinced it could not be Duke. It sounded nothing like him. Perhaps Bobby Lee had learned to crow - or maybe we were mistaken about one of the hens?

As it turns out, Duke is going through adolescence and, quite literally, his voice changed overnight. Friday, he sounded like this. Saturday, he suddenly began sounding like this:

Don't you just love watching him gear up for his proud crow? And that crow now sounds a little more like "cock-a-doodle-do". It is music to my ears.

You may also notice that he no longer scares the other chickens with his crow. The hens actually seem quite enamoured with him now, and when he lets out his new sounding crow, several typically crowd around him.

Duke is such a handsome boy. I'm also very pleased to report that even though he is growing up and becoming quite the ladies man, he still remains a mama's boy and will sit on my lap and allow me to love on him for hours.

The chicks seem to change daily. They are feathering out and acting so grown up. Duke and the White Faced Black Spanish chicks have always been the tamest and most comfortable with me, but in the past week or so it seems that all the chicks have gotten a lot less skittish when I enter the coop or the chicken run.

Lucy is..... well, still Lucy. I now call her "Lucy-fer". She continues to challenge all the other chickens and bully them when they come to me for treats or to play. She has gotten very aggressive with her pecking and has managed to remove a mole from my leg and she attempts to remove my fingernails when I'm hand feeding the others. I lift her face up by putting a finger underneath her beak and make her look at me while I scold her, but as soon as I finish, she goes back to what she was originally doing that got her into trouble. I gently thump her chest with my hand when she gets aggressive towards me, but she seems to think that is a game. *sigh* Even though she can truly act like Lucy-fer, she can also be sweet and will always have a special place in my heart. My little runt is growing up - and she's doing it with a vengeance.

We've been busy, busy, busy on the homestead and I'll write more later in the week on that subject. I'll also get some new pictures of the chickens up on the Back to Basic Living website.

I hope you all had a wonderful 4th of July weekend!

Bee Free,

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

And Now.... The Moment We've All Been Waiting For......

I present to you...... Duke the Roo, performing his first public solo:

Is he not the cutest little thing you have ever laid your eyes on? He is so darn proud of himself. I'm proud of him, too. He let out about 15 of those little gems and I caught every one of them on video. But I decided to spare all of you and only show a three second clip for his big debut. By the way - you may notice he is standing all alone in this video. His crowing still scares all the other chicks half to death.

I'll admit, he needs to work on it a little, and he's been practicing his little heart out. Not bad for a little six week old cockerel!

I'm sure you are not nearly as impressed with Duke's new found talent as I am. It reminds me of my first solo in the third grade Glee Club. I sang "All Creatures Great and Small" in front of an auditorium of parents. Certainly the only reason I was chosen to sing a solo is not because of my lovely singing voice. I was the only third grader that would belt out any song I was asked to sing. I was loud. REALLY loud. Our music teacher used me as an example of how to make your voice "carry". And man, did my voice ever carry.

At any rate, when I finished my first solo, the audience wildly applauded. In hindsight, I'm not sure if they enjoyed the song, or were just so darn happy it was finally over. My mother was just beaming. Afterward, she gave me a huge hug and told me several people commented that they had no idea I could sing so well. She was incredibly proud. You would have thought the Angel Gabriel had just come down from heaven above and blessed her with a song from On High. In reality, I'm pretty sure I sounded very much like Duke does right now. But parents have special filters in their ears and eyes, and often don't hear and see things concerning their children quite the way others do.

I think Duke has quite a lovely little crow going on right now. And come to think of it, he does have a Gabriel type quality to his voice......

Bee Free,