Archive for the ‘Country Living’ Category

Snakes

August 24, 2010

Earlier this summer we bought some snake videos for Moira, our resident herpetologist. I bought a set of four DVDs about reptiles, but she is really only interested in the two about snakes. One day we were watching the video that features Jules Sylvester. In this video he visits various places around the world, wrangling and rescuing snakes. The kids decided we should go outside and hunt up some snakes, so we went out to the garden. Aidan was getting a bit frustrated because he couldn’t find any. As I was explaining to him that you can’t just decide to hunt snakes and then magically find them, he magically found some. They were under a big piece of cardboard that was out in the garden area.

One snake was a good sized garter snake. I wasn’t sure what the other two were, but they were not any of the four venomous species found in Illinois. So the kids “played” with them. They carried them around, took them up to their dad and showed him, and had a great time. Until Aidan decided to see if one of the snakes had fangs and put his fingers in the snake’s mouth. The snake bit him, naturally. He was pissed and crying and bleeding a tiny bit and telling me we should cut the snake’s head off. I could hear Moira crying in the distance and I thought for sure that Aidan had done something to the snake and she was upset because she loves snakes so much. Much to my surprise, Moira was also in favor of cutting off the snake’s head (it’s times like this when I know they actually do love each other!). We did not cut off the snake’s head and I explained that I didn’t think a snake deserved to have its head cut off for biting a finger that was jammed into its mouith. The snakes were released and that was that.

Fast forward to yesterday. Aidan is mowing and he excitedly hops off the mower to tell us he found a snake. Before I can say anything or get over to him, he is picking up the snake. I told him to hold it properly by its neck so it couldn’t bite. At first glance it was not anything venomous. We shouldn’t have cottonmouths this far north. We probably shouldn’t have copperheads, either, but I think we might. Anyway, it was not a copperhead and I am 98% sure I could identify a copperhead if I saw one because they are very distinctive looking. I still wasn’t sure what it was, so we put it in a big, blue plastic tub and looked it up online. This is what it looked like:

A young snake

Picture of a snake we found in our yard

A snake we found in our yard

So I have no idea what kind of snake this is. I’m pretty sure it’s not venomous because it doesn’t have a “button” at the end of its tail. I know some snakes that it is NOT, but not what it is. We took these pictures and then released it down by the creek. So, any ideas? I’ve looked at pictures of snakes that live in Illinois and I can’t figure this one out. The problem is that snakes don’t all look the same, just like people. So one picture of a snake is not enough. I really need to find a naturalist or someone nearby to help us identify snakes.

UPDATED: My best guess at this point is that this is a bull snake.

*And just in case you are wondering, yes, we have talked about safety with snakes. But sometimes kids need to learn on their own. Aidan learned that snakes do have teeth and they will bite you, especially if you put your finger in a snake’s mouth.

Cacophony

April 1, 2010

From dictionary.com

ca·coph·o·ny   [kuh-kof-uh-nee]
–noun,plural-nies.
1. harsh discordance of sound; dissonance: a cacophony of hoots, cackles, and wails.
2. a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds: the cacophony produced by city traffic at midday.
3. Music. frequent use of discords of a harshness and relationship difficult to understand.

I’d like to add another definition:

4. The sound a flock of chickens make early in the morning when they sense a predator, whether real or perceived.

Confessions of a Chicken Keeper

January 20, 2010

I have learned a lot about chickens. There is no doubt about that. However, I have much to learn, as I’m sure many beginner chicken keepers do. So here are some confessions (and yes, it’s another list because this is on my mind but I really don’t have the time or energy at the moment to flesh it out more).

  • Our chicken coop is not sufficient for Illinois winters.
  • Or, at least it isn’t sufficient for roosters.
  • My roosters have frostbitten combs and wattles.
  • We had a bunch of eggs freeze because only the kids could get to the nesting box (Tim fixed that so that we can now get eggs, too)
  • I had a sick hen and I don’t know what was wrong with her.
  • She got over it, whatever it was, despite a lack of intervention on my part.
  • I can’t really tell the hens apart, except for:
    1. Miss Ducky, an orpington with oranger legs than the others
    2. Lula Mae, the only New Hampshire hen we have left
    3. Chicken Joe, our New Hampshire rooster
  • I have too many roosters.
  • My 3 Orpington roosters are all named Chuck Norris, even though I could probably tell them apart by now if I tried harder.
  • They really don’t have enough roost space.
  • They are roosting on the roosts Tim made, but those roosts are hooked up to a ladder and they roost on the ladder, which means they also poop on each other.
  • We actually forgot to close them in one night. Tim and I went out to close them in but they weren’t in. So it was actually a miscommunication and neither of us took care of it.
  • I didn’t realize we forgot to shut them in until the next morning when the roosters were crowing right near the house quite early in the morning.
  • They are all unharmed, amazingly enough.
  • They are eating feed from the farm supply store instead of the more natural, healthier feed Scott the Farmer was bringing me.
  • I want him to bring me that feed, but he thought I didn’t because I kept buying the feed from the store because I kept running out.
  • I haven’t talked to him about this yet, despite the fact that it’s been a month or longer that I’ve been using the feed from the store.
  • I am totally getting more chicks next spring so that we have eggs in the winter again.
  • Yes, I realize we are totally lucky to have eggs in January.
  • Lula Mae is finally moulting.
  • She doesn’t look very pretty.
  • She’s still my favorite, but please don’t tell the other hens.

Winter Highlights

January 19, 2010

This seems to be the time of year where everyone is thinking of spring, of the warmth, the sunshine, the new growth. I am pining away for that just as everyone else is. But I thought it might be nice to write something about the best parts of winter. Some of these are not specifically winter-time activities, but are things we are doing lately. It can be hard to find ways to pass the time, especially for Aidan, who is very much an outdoor kid! So here is a list of what I am enjoying about winter:

  • Freshly fallen snow
  • Ice on tree limbs
  • Deer trails
  • Chicken tracks in snow
  • Chickens standing on one leg
  • Sledding
  • Snuggling under blankets
  • Playing board games and card games with the kids
  • Dressing up barbies
  • Sitting by the fireplace, getting warm
  • Kitty prints everywhere
  • Hot tea
  • Chili and cornbread, soups, and other cold weather foods we barely made in Phoenix
  • Vacuuming to warm up
  • Baking
  • Making hot cocoa for the kids
  • Having cats all over me, keeping me warm

What are your favorite things about winter? Or are you wishing spring would just show up already? 🙂

Like boxes of poop in your house? Get a cat!

January 11, 2010

Yesterday there were 12 cats living in our garage where they were safe and warm. Now they will be sleeping in the shed, hopefully, so they will stay somewhat warm. The garage was OK but they pooped everywhere. And I mean everywhere! They pooped on top of Tim’s tools, under the mower, in any box that was halfway open, on any cloth or container that looked interesting. Tim is finally sick of it since they are his tools, and he does live right above the garage. So he threw them out today and cleaned up a bunch of poop. Anyway, here are the cats that are currently outdoor only cats:

  • Mama Cat*
  • Scotchy and Little Gray* from Mama Cat’s first litter
  • Stinky* from Mama Cat’s second litter
  • Toby, Butch, Hannah Montana*, and Big Eyes* from Mama Cat’s third litter
  • Swirly Junior from Little Gray’s first litter
  • Goose, Oscar, and Gunny* from Little Gray’s second litter

The following cats are indoor/outdoor cats. They are mostly indoors at the moment because it is so cold.

  • Vicious from Mama Cat’s second litter (obviously he’s turned out to be a sweetie or he would not be in the house!)
  • Tubby Boat* and Captain Gray from Little Gray’s first litter
  • A picture of a cat named Miss Tubby Boat

    Miss Tubby Boat

The following cats are indoor only cats, including the two we brought with us from Phoenix.

  • Riley
  • Cleo*
  • Booter from Little Gray’s second litter

The asterisks indicate the female cats. Only Cleo is fixed. It is possible that Goose and/or Oscar are female, but I can’t remember as the last time I checked they were tiny and I wasn’t really sure if they were female or not. We should get some fixed, I know. I’d like to get Mama Cat fixed as she’s already had 3 litters (that we know of) and she is not the nicest cat. She can be sweet to us, but she is a bitch to the other cats. She is a pretty good mama cat, at least until her kittens reach a certain age and then she is mean to them. Her kittens are not the friendliest either. Some of them are OK and some of them are mean like she is. Little Gray’s kittens have been really nice so far, but her second litter hasn’t been around us much so I have a feeling they will not be quite as friendly. So I think if I had to choose, I would get Mama Cat and all of her female kittens fixed. I might leave Little Gray and Tubby Boat unfixed as they are both pretty sweet cats. And then, if we need more cats someday I will just take all the cats offered on Freecycle. 🙂

Still here

January 9, 2010

I know it’s been a while since I posted. I don’t even want to know how long! Anyway we are still here. It’s cold and we have lots of snow, but that’s the nature of winter in Illinois. It’s time to start planning the garden, so I might write a post on that. It helps to figure out what to plant more of, what to not plant at all, etc. I have lots of cardboard in the garage just waiting to kill the newly sprouting grass that will be here in the spring. I have a few seed catalogs and they are fun to look at.

It feels like the middle of winter even though it isn’t. The days are getting longer, though, and that is nice. I like the sunshine (who doesn’t??). I keep thinking about how nice it will be to have the windows open, to hear the million frogs croaking and squeaking, and to see the chickens out doing their chicken things. They are all doing well. I don’t remember if I mentioned that Holly died, but she did. So that means that we’ve lost 3 chickens to predators and 1 to some unknown cause. I have no idea what happened to her. We got home one day and she was bleeding and that was that. There was no visible wound and no other chickens were hurt, so we have no idea. I suppose it could have been something internal as she often laid double yolkers.

OK well that’s all for now. I will try to post more often, but there really isn’t much going on. I do have a few posts I could finish up, like why I’m not a vegetarian anymore, posting pictures of Version 2.0 of our lego house, and a post I started about roosters. I have a lot of things in the works, but just haven’t finished them. I might find some time soon, or I might not. 🙂

Making jerky

November 20, 2009

Now, before I tell you all about our jerky making adventures and how to make jerky, I have to tell you that I didn’t really do much of the work. Unless you count mixing the seasoning together and leaving it on the counter for several days until it had to be thrown out because it was disgusting, had Asian lady beetles in it, and had a dirty towel land in it (shh, I don’t think I told anyone else that part!). Other than eating the finished product, that was my only real contribution. Tim did the rest, so I must give credit where credit is due.

This post is more about our learning how to do this rather than being able to teach anyone else how to do it. Keep that in mind, too. If you want to learn how to make jerky yourself, I suggest searching some other sites or good old-fashioned trial and error, which worked for us.

First, Scott the Farmer gave us some venison to turn into jerky. He has particular cuts of meat that he prefers for jerky. That’s all I can tell you because I am not wise in the ways of cuts of meat, especially cuts of deer meat. Second, he gave us the recipe he uses. I will post that and give him credit even though I am not sure where he got the recipe from. I suspect it is not from a cookbook or anything, though.

  • Two cups soy sauce (adjust to taste)
  • 4 oz. liquid smoke
  • 2-3 T worstershire sauce
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups honey

Whisk and let sit.

That’s it. Now there are some other directions Tim found on the Internet, but basically you slice the meat (keep in mind it will get thinner while drying, of course), soak it in the sauce as long as you like. Then put it in a dehydrator or an oven. We turned the oven on to the lowest setting, which turned out to be too high, really. The first batch was in the oven overnight and it was pretty dry. It was still edible, though. The second batch Tim made used more honey and we watched it more carefully so it didn’t get too dry. It was delicious!

The best thing about jerky is that it is a great snack. It keeps well in the car, even in the summer. It’s low in carbohydrates and fat, but high in protein. The problem with store bought jerky is that it is expensive and it almost always contains MSG! Making at home gives you more control over the ingredients you use. And I’m sure there are a ton of recipes for jerky seasoning and there are many stores that sell jerky seasoning packets. I have no idea what is in those, though.

I can say that making jerky was surprisingly easy and super delicious. We have more venison in our freezer that is good for jerky, so we will make some again soon.

Edited to add this link to Making Jerky in Mother Earth News.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade

Catching up

November 3, 2009

We’ve been busy lately, where lately means the last month. Tom was in Puerto Rico for 2 weeks before we joined him there for another week. Now we are back and trying to catch up on life and housework while also fighting a cold.

I have a ton of things I would like to write about: new kittens (they are about a month old already!), another dead hen, more hens laying eggs, roosters not turning out as gentle as you had hoped, painting and redoing the floor of our half bathroom, Puerto Rico, our neighbor not wanting us to have livestock, how we are trying to prevent and combat illness naturally, etc.

But it will all have to wait because first I have to catch up on life before I can catch up on my blog. Plus, I need to catch up on reading some blogs.

Letter to a coyote

October 1, 2009

Dear Coyote,

Do not mess with a woman with PMS and a gun, even if it is a bb gun. Just some advice from a cranky mama who had a bad day. Please pass this on to any other predators of chickens and/or cats.

Thanks,
Cranky Mama

Critters

September 28, 2009

We heard coyotes Sunday morning. When I say we, I mean I heard them, Tim heard them, and so did my mom. They sounded quite close to the house. It was around 4:30 in the morning and that might be why Mo woke up, too. She thought she heard dogs and said she wondered where the owners were. I told her I didn’t think they were dogs. Anyway, the two of us finally went back to sleep, but I kept hearing some kind of scratching going on by the coops. When I looked for tracks today, I didn’t see any by the coop so maybe I was hearing things. I did, however, see something walking around on the sidewalk between the house and garage. I think that was a possum. I also heard something step on a snapper (not the fish, but the tiny bags of gunpowder that you throw on the sidewalk so they pop). I hope the noise scared it away!

The other morning I went out to let the chickens out and there was a raccoon on the ground, dying. It was not dead, it was dying. I say this because I told Tom it was dying, but he didn’t seem to understand. He was in the office telling me what to do and I told him he had to come see it before he started telling me what to do with it. So then he comes down, looks at it, and says, “Oh, it’s not dead.” Yes, I said dying, not dead. So anyway Tim ended up taking care of it. I didn’t hear the whole story, but he used a shovel and moved it somewhere else to let it die, so it wouldn’t die near the house. Apparently he somehow put it out of its misery, which is not something I could easily have done.

About two weeks ago we lost a hen to a coyote. Or most likely to a coyote. Our electrician was working on some outlets in the office (did I ever describe Tom’s super cool office with a view?) and said he saw a wolf by the chickens. However, we don’t have wolves in this part of Illinois, but we have coyotes galore. So most likely it was a coyote, in the middle of the day, coming for a snack. So far they haven’t been back, but the chickens do make a lot of noise if they see something. It almost sounds like the noise they make when laying an egg except much louder and they are all making the noise at once. That was what they were doing when the electrician mentioned the “wolf.” They did it again one morning, but were safely in their coop so i did not go check anything out. And we’ve heard that noise a few other times and gone out and not seen anything. I’m sure they saw something, though. Perhaps their squawking scared off whatever it was.

We also seem to have wild turkeys nearby. We hear them around dusk and I can only assume they are making noises and roosting at that time of night. I wonder if that is what the chickens saw one morning? I can imagine they’d be scared of a wild turkey. Shoot, they are scared of my mother-in-law’s Yorkshire terrier. Speaking of critters I had best go see what the kids are up to. Plus, it is almost time to get the chickens in to keep them safe from critters.