country cacklin's

January 2012. It already the new year. After 4 years we are feeling at home. I missed my spring installment and am late for the fall one, so this one is pretty long. Plus, I have redesigned the page. The picture above is our homestead, unlike the previous design.

Most of the smaller images have larger versions linked to them.
Click on the images to see the larger version.

::  WEATHER
This fall and early winter have been mild. I think I'm getting used to the cold weather. While out working in 30 degree weather, we had to strip off our coats. It has gotten cold enough for Danny to finally don long pants. He is even wearing overalls in order to look the part. He likes to walk around in shorts long after everyone else had piled on all their winter wear. He is also starting to look like Santa Claus with his long gray beard, and has enjoyed the responses from the kids.

We have had just a couple of dustings of snow so far. I love walking in it when it falls all soft and fluffy (when there is no wind!). It is so peaceful. Now I know why people talk about weather all the time.

We had a couple notable weather events during the year. This part of the country doesn't normally get a lot of snow. Usually no more than 5 inches at a time. Last February we got a wild blizzard that left behind more snow than we've ever seen here.  Danny couldn't get down the road to work plowing snow--We were literally snowed in. Although it was only about 12 inches of snowfall, the drifts were pretty deep. The worst part is trying to take the dogs out to do their business. Buster doesn't care and just goes bounding out into it. The others need some encouragement. Aiko has trouble walking and it is a challenge getting her out. She also has the worst feet to clean and the snow packs between her toes and turns into little ice balls until she can't walk .

We ended up with a 5 foot drift in front of the barn doors. And there was at least 2 feet all across the south side of the house, over the air conditioner and in the basement stairwell. Danny used the tractor to clear the driveways and make a path to the chicken coop. I spent several hours shoveling snow off of the back porch and steps, and around the doors to the barn. There was also a bunch of snow IN the barn that snuck in through all the cracks and crevices. I had to clean it all off of my workbench and clean up the bigger drifts that had piled up in various places. I hope that doesn't happen again any time soon. At least, the activity works off a few of the winter calories caused by sitting around too much. Such a strange sensation to be hot and cold at the same time.

At the end of June, Danny's sister and her 2 young teen daughters visited. The girls set up tents outside, but we got rain and wind and the tents blew down and got all wet. It was a good thing that they chose not to sleep outside the next night. We were awaken by strong straight-line winds. At least 40+ here and up to 80 elsewhere. There was a lot of damage across the middle of Missouri. As we drove around the next day, we saw a lot of downed and broken trees and a few structures as well. We got lucky again. Just a few branches around the house. A large oak fell down over our fence-line at the other end of the property. Firewood! That is the scariest weather we have had here yet. We got quarter-sized hail for the first time since we've been here, as well. Fortunately, it didn't mess up the garden.

Summer was pretty hot again, which I like but Danny hates, but it was also very dry. The ground got so hard, there was no way to do several of the projects we wanted to get done.

::  PROJECTS
Last January, we spent a few days rewiring the original ungrounded outlets in the house and put up new fluorescent lighting in the basement. It feels like no one has loved this house for a long time.

In June, we finally refinished our Living room & Dining room hardwood floors. Pulling up the boring beige carpet was going to be the first thing we did when we moved int, but it kept the house a little warmer during the winters. When we pulled it up, we saw that the original hardwood floors were really in pretty poor shape. They were gouged and gappy, with water-damage and not the least bit flat. Plus, there were 3 areas that had to be filled in. The floor still looks like the waves in the ocean. Danny calls it character. It doesn't look too bad if you don't look too closely. I'm still happier with the wood than the carpet, but they sure do show dust and dog hair better. I got all the walls painted while everything was out of the rooms,. Although I couldn't wait to strip the carpet out of the hall, refinishing the floors in the rest of the house will have to wait. In order to do the hallway, we won't be able to get to the bathroom or bedrooms 'til it's dry.

After making the big martin house show in previous chapters, Danny came up with the idea of making custom Martin houses that look like miniatures of people's homes. The first one he made is of the next-door neighbor's cute yellow bungalow. Next was our house. And, I drew up plans of a barn and farmhouse to use as standard models that we could take to fairs to sell. After our neighbor posted a picture of hers on Facebook, another neighbor dropped by to ask Danny to make one of his house. His first commission! Then two other neighbors contracted to have theirs crafted. We set the barn model out front for traffic and received another commission. We got a reprieve from the xmas deadline, but I have been helping him push to get 2 more completed. Although the materials don't cost much, Danny doesn't earn much based on the tons of hours he spends on them. Still he takes great pleasure crafting every little element. We put up a website in hopes of attracting more business. Take a look at CustomMartinHouse.com

In the fall, we finally heard from the State Department of Natural Resources about the funds for the water and cross-fencing improvements. They provided a plan that needed to be completed before the end of the year. The first stage was to install 2 tire tank waterers and one frost-free waterer. We will have to use rural water to supply them instead of a pond or well. The first step was trenching. We rented a ride-on trencher and spent several days trenching a 6" wide by 3' deep trench and laying 1600 feet of water pipe. Danny rode the trencher as it inched along through the rock-hard dry soil. I followed along and glued up the water pipe. You can tell when I drove the trencher by the big S-curve in the trench. We wanted to leave it uncovered until it was all done, but the cattle are very curious about anything new and followed us around. When one fell into the trench, we worked late that day covering it up. We're not used to working that hard. It's exhausting!

On the side of the house, where we hook up into the house water, we had to dig 2 big holes by hand in rock hard clay where the trencher wouldn't reach. At least it rained a little the previous couple days, and I watered it a little more. Neither of us were looking forward to drilling the 2 holes through the concrete block foundation. Danny had to go to the store 2 times after we broke 2 bits, but the third was the charm.

We were so tired and sore, but there was a lot more to do. Once the trenches were dug and filled and the plumbing was all in, we made the gravel pads for the tire tanks. Danny used the tractor and I used the shovel. Brains versus brawn. If I was more coordinated we could switch tools, but I need the exercise anyway.

The tires are then put in position and filled with about 6 inches of concrete. Danny mixed it all bag by bag as I leveled it in the tank--around 16 bags for each. I got the easier job this time because I could fit inside the tire. Even more fun was pouring the pad for the frost-free. We calculated it would take 20 bags of concrete and brought 22 bags to be safe, but, of course, as we reached the last bag, we realized we still needed more concrete. I made record time racing the 30 miles to the store, and 30 miles back with more concrete. Over night, the cattle investigated and left their little hoof print signatures all over the pad.

Once the watering system was finished and approved, we began the fencing. The plan breaks our 80 acres into 5 pastures of about 9.5 to 12 acres each, minus our home and yard. We needed to run just under a mile of single wire electric fence. We placed 20 wood posts at the gate openings, waterers and at the ends of the runs. Then pounded in fiberglass posts at optimal intervals to keep the wire as close to 32" from the ground, across the rolling terrain. The most challenging parts were through the woods and across the draws at the bottom. At least its easier this time of year due to less vegetation and bugs. To finish the system, we had to trench wire across 5 gate openings, wire the controller in the barn, and sink 3 ground rods behind the barn.

This fall, we started the front deck project by pulling it all off since it had become unsafe. The steps on the poorly constructed deck had all but fallen off, and the decking had big holes in it. I have revised a new plan many times over the past year, as we waited for a good time to start building it. We got a deal on a large amount of used cedar and deck lumber which prompted another redesign. Fortunately, we rarely use the front door. We want to get the footings in before it freezes and then build it on nice winter days. Work and all the other projects keep getting in the way.

::  WORK
Danny got a part-time driving job in July. He goes from here to Fort Dodge in Iowa (north of De Moines). About a 5 hour trip one way. He picks up waste from the Purina plant and takes it to be plowed into local fields. It is a long day and he has to get up at 1 a.m. It is probably going to get harder with the winter weather. Fortunately, it is usually only a couple days a week and the money is decent for this area.

I have been working on re-vamping a couple websites that I created several years ago. Everything changes so fast in the computer world that they were very out of date. I still get occasional drafting projects but wish I had more. So check out my portfolio website: I Like It Design.com and tell all of your friends.

::  PETS
On Nov 19th, Danny picked up a stray dog that was wandering around down the road. I didn't want to keep him but Danny didn't want to take him to the shelter. He appears to be a Chihuahua/Beagle mix. He seemed pretty well behaved. Very attentive and eager to please. Loved to be petted. He would wander off if we didn't keep an eye on him. And he liked to sleep on the couch when we weren't watching him.

We had 4 dogs at this point. We named the stray "Jay" because he responses to "hey". He's odd, he doesn't know how to play with our dogs. At times, he sits there all hunched over and forlorn-looking. He wasn't entirely house-trained and peed, first in the basement, then in the house. The last time he did it, he peed on the cat tree and Danny tried to grab him, which made him submissive pee all over the place, when he got away, I grabbed him and he peed some more. Probably looked pretty funny, except for how pissed off I was. After that, I gave an ultimatum to get rid of him immediately, but he didn't pee in the house after that.

After 5 months, it got to the point where I didn't hate him anymore, but I still didn't love him. He could be pretty cute at times. But, I didn't like the way Buster changed with him around. Buster started growling when I corrected him or washed his feet in the bucket (which he hates). Plus, they would run off into the woods together on our walks. Danny doesn't think the straying is a big deal, but I do. Jay's hunting prowess was very disturbing. One morning, they came out of the trees and Jay had a squirrel in his mouth. Buster and Sammy chase them, but have never gotten close to catching one. On another occasion, he came back with half a rabbit in his mouth. A couple days later, he brought either the other half or another one.

They all chase rabbits but don't generally catch them. Unfortunately, one day last Spring, Buster surprised a baby one in a nest and killed it before I knew what they had found. I don't mind the mice, but hate it when they kill bigger things. Buster came in from the field one day. He had his mouth clamped shut and I noticed a tail hanging out. Usually, he will just swallow it whole rather than carry it around. It's so fun living in the country.

After looking for Jay's home, I placed an ad on Craig's list to find him a new home. One woman took him home but brought him back the next day because he growled at her son and cats. In June, we finally found a good home for Jay. It was close to the point where I wouldn't have minded if he stayed. I hope he is happy in his new home. At least Buster stays in the yard with Sammy instead of straying into the field.

Danny had to put Aiko to sleep on April 7. She was almost 13 years old and had been having trouble getting up and walking for some time, plus she was partially deaf and blind. It was very painful deciding at exactly which point it was too hard for her to get around. It was very sad around here for awhile. She left a big hole in our household.  Although the initial pain fades, we still think of her often and try to remember the good times.

More sad news. In October, Sammy stopped eating and started breathing funny. We thought it was pneumonia but it turned out to be cancer and we had to put her to sleep on November 4th. She got sick so fast, It was hard to believe, but they said she'd been fighting it for some time until it went into her lungs. We cried all day. Danny brought her home and buried her in the backyard with Aiko. In retrospect, she had slowed down a lot this last year but we expected her to be around a lot longer.

We figured Buster would be lonely so we took him with us to the Humane Society the next day to pick out a new companion. They didn't really have any information about her. Based on what we first saw at the shelter, we thought she was older and would be a calming influence on Buster. Now we think she is around 2 years old and is a pretty crazy, energetic dog. She was not fixed and they would not let us take her home, so she was spaded the next day and spent her first day here still woozy and vomiting from the anesthetic. She wasn't house-broken and peed several times on the rug before we convinced her she should go outside. It's a good thing I don't like that rug much. She doesn't bother the cats, and is still learning about the chickens. However, she doesn't like to come when she is called and goes racing around, eating cat poop and running next door to say hello to the neighbor's dog, so she needs to be on a leash in the yard. At first, I thought she was a beagle mix. Now I'm not sure what she is. She looks similar to Jay in color but she is closer to Buster's size than Jay was. We have named her Sophie.

::  CATS
Abby outweighed Kitty-kitty at 8 months and they were constantly fighting. For some misguided reason, we hoped the girls would get over their dislike of each other if they had a male presence around the house. So, on August 12, we adopted a new cat from the Linn Humane Society. They thought he was about 2 years old, but the vet thinks he is about 5 or 6. We named him Boris because he has long canine teeth like a vampire. I know Boris Karloff played Frankenstein, but Lon Chaney wouldn't make a good name. The other kitties just hissed and growled at him. He stayed mostly in the basement for a couple of weeks but finally started coming out more often. I let him outside and he stayed close by. Buster was fascinated and Sammy chased him when the cats would growl (she's the self-appointed peace-keeper). It seemed, at least at first, that he wanted to be friends with the other cats but they would have nothing to do with him. He was a very mellow fellow.

On September 19, Abby disappeared. Just a day after we lost a chicken. We will never really know what happened to her. I looked around for signs but found nothing. She may have left because of Boris, but I don't know where she would go around here.

After Abby disappeared, Boris would stalked Kitty-kitty. The house was filled with blood-curdling screams on a regular basis and Boris always had a scratch on his nose or worse. K-k slunk around the house and hid in the bedroom most of the time. I decided it was getting worse and not better, so we found Boris another home. The minute the new owners left, K-k came out the the bedroom. She had a little kitty celebration that night. I'm still amazed at how quickly she knew.

::  CHICKENS
We do enjoy our chickens. It is hilarious to watch them run around. They look like feathered dinosaurs. This batch got along pretty well. I'm glad we got a rooster. He takes good care of the girls. They aren't terribly cost-effective but chicken feed is, well, chicken feed. We end up eating too many eggs. We do sometimes sell the extras to the neighbors, which helps pay for feed. All six chickens made it through last winter. Danny put a heat lamp in the coop and it helped  a lot. During February we often kept them in the coop all day because of the cold weather. If we let them out, their combs would get frost-bitten and they don't like to walk in the snow. We would let them out when it was relatively nice outside.

In the warmer seasons, they run around and eat bugs and what-not which cuts down on what we need to feed them. They don't much like being picked up and run away from us--especially the rooster. We tried handling them more when they were chicks but it didn't help. They don't seem to like to spend time in the coop during the day and rarely use the nest box in the coop, but they are always there in the evenings. We had tons of eggs throughout the Spring and Summer. It is like an easter egg hunt trying to figure out where they have decided to lay.

In June, we lost our oldest hen--the last from the original group--to a truck. She was the sweetest of the original group. She gained higher status with the younger chickens and got rather bossy, but she was still special. When she developed a cough a couple times, we went to the trouble of taking her to the vet. We still miss her.

In late September the sounds of coyotes howling and yipping were common and they were coming closer to the house. On the 18th I found a couple piles of feathers that was all that was left of Chicken Little. Special K, the rooster, was also missing and I didn't expect to see him again either. That left us with 2 hens. Whitey and Brownie. The next evening when I put the chickens up, I found K in the coop. We tried to get a closer look at him the next day, but he was even more skittish than usual (to be expected). He had lost quite a few feathers around the neck and may have had a wound. Although he seemed sore and didn't crow for a few days, he regained his health. All three began to molt shortly after that and now they all look fresh and shiny. We didn't get any eggs during their molt. It's just wrong to have to buy eggs when you own chickens!

On December 16, as I was walking to the shop, I noticed a pile of white feathers, and then another. I alerted Danny and went to look for the chickens. I found Brownie and Special K, but knew already that Whitey was gone. It all happened in the short time between Danny going to the shop and my following him. Whatever it was, came right into the yard and grabbed her. We thought it may have hidden in the burn pile in the yard so we decided it was time to burn it--Nothing ran out though.

We got 4 more hens on December 31st to keep the last two company. Brownie's not too pleased but Special K is happy. Two of them are a new variety for us--They are called Ameraucana or Easter-eggers because of their green eggs. Danny has been enjoying his green eggs and ham.

::  CATTLE
Last fall, after we sold the steers, we removed the barbed wire fence around the backyard. We wanted to move it in to give us more pasture. But, also to give us less to yard to mow! We finally got the new electric fence up in May, just in time to get steers again this year. We had to buy 3 different groups and ended up with 21 steers. Most of them didn't have eartags so it was hard to tell them apart. A day or two later, one was missing. We are pretty sure he slipped through the fence and went to live with the neighbor's herd. Since it is hard to separate one calf, she said he could stay there. We spent the summer trying to spot him. He should be the only steer. It's hard to tell one black cow from another.

Although most of the herd were all black, this year we had one Red Angus, who we called Little Red. He was smaller than Big Red from last year, but he grew quickly. We also named number 32, Brutus, because he was bossy from start. He was also the one most likely to be found on the wrong side of the pond fence.

We sold the cattle at the end of September and actually made money this year. That will help with buying cow/calves next February.

::  GARDEN
By May, Spring was really popping. Everything was so green. The leaves on the trees so fresh and new. The irises blooming everywhere. The grass in the pasture was already 2 feet tall. I finally got my veggie garden in late May. Although I'd seen many gardens started, it was a cool Spring so, for once, I didn't feel too late.

I have also been working on a iris garden in the old shed foundation. I have to protect any place where I plant, because the chickens will scratch up any place that has loose dirt. So I put a short fence around it. It still needs to be painted and to plant the West end. I only had a couple of blooms this year. It is a almost a full-time job keeping it weeded.

By July, my garden was just getting started. It was pretty pathetic this year. I tried planting seeds and hardly anything came up, so the garden ended up half empty. The carrots look pretty healthy but they usually don't work out very well. I don't know why i keep trying them. The space is pretty small this year. Getting smaller every year.

I planted (by row): 1. green beans, lima beans 2. Japanese and black beauty eggplant 3. red bell pepper 4. zucchini, watermelon 5. yellow squash, cantaloupe 6. cucumber 7. tomatoes, 8. carrots, green onion. Then there is the herb garden: oregano, sage, chives, dill, cilantro, basil, echinacea.

My garden was a real disappointment this year. Usually it rains enough that I don't have to water, but this year, it was so dry. It is a pain to get a hose out there and I never know if I watered too much or too little. We got lots of cantaloupe. They filled the frig and I froze some to use for my morning smoothie. The tomatoes were ugly and we didn't eat many of them before they went bad. Most of the eggplants wilted before I could pick them. I don't know why. The squash got borers, as usual, and died early on. There weren't enough cukes this year. I had one unusual variety which mysteriously appeared and it had huge fruit, but all of them were bitter. Even the beans, which are the easiest to grow, didn't pan out this year. The carrots were bitter too, but I soaked them in sugar water and they made pretty good carrot salad. It's pretty frustrating but it also seems silly to have all this space and not do a garden, so, of course, I will try again next year.

::  NATURE
Waiting for winter to be over, in early March, there are signs of Spring everywhere. Rain instead of snow. The Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived. The squawking of the geese can be heard from their long skeins in the sky. Danny says it's not Spring until the first Vulture flies overhead--and there they were! The farmer's almanac predicted a snowstorm at the end of March and we got more snow on the 25th.

This year the 17 year cicadas emerged. They are amazingly colored. In June and they were all over the place. The birds and chickens had a field day. The buzzing was not as bad as I expected and they didn't last very long. They lay their eggs in the ends of tree branches. When the young emerged, they left behind brown tips on trees everywhere.

Last July proved to be a very buggy year. Tons of ticks, fleas, flies. But also, a couple neat moths. I have also identified some new birds I haven't seen before. There is an Orchard Oriole that I hear more than I see. Plus, on our walk one morning I got a glimpse of a bird that I guessed might be a Cuckoo. I checked the book and found that they live here. Then, strangely enough, I found a freshly dead one below our bathroom window. I can't imagine why he was dead--perhaps he ran into the glass. They are really interesting and pretty birds with an unusual call. I have seen them in the yard a couple times since.

Most of the other birds have already fledged their babies. There were baby bluebirds, swallows and robins everywhere. Also, sparrows and starlings despite our attempts to discourage them. I rescued a baby robin that had fallen into my little pool. He looked too young to fly. But I warmed him up and set him on the lawn for his mommy to find. He eventually hopped away into the brush and I think I saw him fly away later in the afternoon. I found another baby Robin that Abby was playing with on the back porch. She had a broken its leg and I had to put it out of it misery. It is so hard to have to do it. Hard to believe that I even can.

I made a frame to display some cool moths I found this year. The one in the upper right started the collection by landing in my lap one morning. It is an Io moth. Then Danny found the Luna moth flopping around the porch one morning. I think it was close to dying anyway. Danny found the big one already dead where he works. It is an Imperial moth. The sphinx in the lower left is one of the many that buzz around the honeysuckle like hummingbirds at night. I'm still looking for a Regal moth or it's caterpillar.  I might do a butterfly display next year. We have tons of swallowtails, monarchs, buckeyes, and so many others. I saw 2 butterflies this year, that I had never seen before. One was mostly solid orange with a little bit of black on the fringes, about the size of a Buckeye. I have tentatively identified it as a leafwing but I need to see it again. And another that was similar to a Monarch in size and shape but more gold and brown.

HOME  ::  Chapter 10  ::  TOP