“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 27, 2010

Back in January at the Maryland Horse Show, I learned about horse swirls. I had never thought anything about them before that. Horse swirls are the swirl of hair – much like a cowlick- that forms a whirlpool pattern of hair on a horse’s forehead.

Julie Goodnight was giving a demonstration on round penning with a spirited two year old palomino that a young woman brought to her for training at the show. The horse was cooperative, but far from submissive. He’d dance around a bit, pull at the lead, not give attention, and in general, test Julie’s resolve and patience.

After a few minutes of this, Julie turned the horse to the audience and leaned in to take a serious look at the horse’s forehead. Then she said, “Yep, I knew it! This one’s got two swirls!”

That’s the first that I had ever heard of horse swirls…

Julie went on to explain that a horse with one swirl on it’s forehead usually means that it has average intelligence, is most of the time calm, and easier to train. But a horse with two swirls is smarter, a bit more nervous and independent, and a bit more challenging to train and handle….

And all I could think of at that moment was that when I got home, I was going to go straight out to the stable and check my horses’ swirls – and the first horse on my list to check was going to be Zippy!

I pretty much figured that Louie would be a single swirl – he’s Mr. “plod along” without too many surprises. Patrick too, I figured would be a single as he’s sort of the same as Louie. Mostly quiet with all the patience of the late Mr. Rogers.

And yes, there was Zippy, with two swirls. Zippy, the horse that opens stable doors, charges the goat, snarls at chickens, spooks when a leaf falls from a tree, and generally likes to be in charge…

So I guess I agree with Ms. Goodnight! You can judge a book by its cover, if the cover has swirls!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

February 20, 2010

The "log hive" did not survive.

The hive just didn’t seem right the other day. Something drew me over to look at it and the entrance was crowded and blocked with dead bees. It’s not abnormal to have dead bees out side the hive, but usually they are pushed out of the entrance by the bees inside. That is a sign of activity. But no bees pushed these out…

I pushed off the bales of straw that I had put around the hive to help insulate it and protect it from winds, and pried up the cover. This time, no bees rose up to protect the hive, like they had back in January when I slipped in a frame of honey and got stung. I looked down through the tight spaces between the frames to see if there was a ball of bees, but there was none. The spaces between were empty.

There was only one thing left to do and that was to lift out frames and see what was going on. I found the bees dead, piled up on the bottom board.

I am still in a bit of shock. I was almost certain that these gals were going to make it. When I last posted about them, I called them survivors….

After I made that post, the weather got very, very, cold and for two weeks the temperatures hardly ever climbed above freezing. The bees just froze. There just were not enough bees inside the hive to create the necessary body heat to keep the hive from chilling down for that length of time. They just couldn’t keep up with the cold.

The whole experience that I have had with this cluster of bees really underscores how they could not survive man. Their home was destroyed by chainsaws and then they were soaked down with “Raid”. The refugees were left too few and too weakened to make it. Loss of habitat and the misuse of pesticides seem to be our ways of ignorance these days. And bees are only one of the infinite numbers of species affected.

Have we become so disconnected as a culture to think that we can survive without natural things? I think that this ever stretching separation will eventually become the crevice we cannot cross…and then, finding ourselves alone in this world, we too will die.

Note: I have two remaining colonies, and I am hoping for the best. Quite a few of the other beekeepers in the area have lost hives due to mites and / or starving due to lack of reserves. It’s proving to be a hard winter on bees in our area.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 13, 2010

It’s been said that “you never quite know someone until you have lived with them”. That’s how I am beginning to feel about the chickens who I have given a temporary residence to in the stable midway until the weather breaks and I can rebuild their coop. I thought I knew my chickens, but….

These gals are driving me a bit up the wall, and I think that poor old Zips is ready for therapy or Xanax if not both! And Louie and Patrick are not too far behind us.

Before the storm and the chickens, the stable was a quiet, settling place where I could go to unwind. I could go there and lean up to any stall door and whisper to one of the horses and hear a breath in return. Or, as I often did, sit down next to a bale of hay and Snoop would rub up against me and give me one of those goat looks that said I was ok in her book. I knew I could always go out to the stable and find peace in this restless world.

But now the stable is the restless world, with nineteen clucking chickens – who never stop clucking! When they are free ranging, chickens are industrious and quiet, scratching and searching for bugs and worms and yummy slug sliders. But now these gals aren’t out free ranging and busy. Instead, they are inside and bored so they just talk and talk and talk. They never stop! Never!

Then they just can’t sit still. They just can’t go roost on a bale of hay. Noooooo! To roost, they gotta “fly” up onto the wheelbarrow, the blanket racks, door handles, water buckets, my shoulder, my head... One gal managed to balance her self on the towel bar on Zippy’s stall door. As she faced the midway, her tail feathers stuck through the stall bars and caught Zippy’s eye. Well, ya know that Zip has two swirls on his head (I will explain that in a later post) and he couldn’t resist plucking out a few of those feathers with his teeth. Needless to say, he seemingly felt a bit of "farm justice" for having been kept awake every night this week by the non stop clucking!

As much as I love the girls – if I didn’t, they’d have been Happy Meal nuggets long ago – I still can’t wait until I get their coop repaired and get them out of the stable. They aren’t the easiest girls to live with! The horses and I want our peace and quiet back, and anyway, Xanax is way too expensive and way too hard to get, especially in horse doses!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

February 7, 2010

We spent most of today digging out – we shoveled off the deck and made a trail for Snoops so that she could come out of her cage and join us. Even with my loader, it took about three hours to get the lane cleared the whole way to the street. Kath cleaned off the cars, and that took over an hour.

After a break, we made our way out to the stable. We cleared the areas in front of the outside stall doors so that we could get the horses out and let them play. Then another hour to clear a path and make a clearing for a place to empty the muck from the stalls. The snow is too deep to make the 100 yard trip to the compost pile!

When we let out the horses, they just started playing! Louie broke into a classic Standardbred pace and raced around the paddock, kicking and playing, dipping his mouth in the snow, gulping it up. Round and round he went.

Zippy was next. I expected him to do the same as Louie, so I was totally surprised when he went prancing out for about ten feet, then bent down on his front knees, and rolled! And when Patrick took off out of his stall, he did the same! After that, Pat and Zip chased and nipped and sparred with each other – all horseplay!

Rose came by to get some pictures, and after a while of watching the horses, we turned to the chickens. I cut the net to get into the collapsed coop and pulled the shed door open. I grabbed chickens one at a time, handing them over to Rose and Kath who took them back to the stable, which will have to serve as their home until winter breaks and I can get the coop repaired. In the stable, they will have plenty of space and will not be hawk bait.

Tonight, the weather people are forecasting that another snow storm will be here by Wednesday, with maybe another significant accumulation. I guess we will just have to wait and see!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

February 6, 2010

5:30am woke up to a wind gust that shook the house, so got out of bed. Cold air is pushing through the door jams, so I built a fire, waiting for light so that I could check on the animals.

7:00am went out – looks like 2’ snow outside the door. Waded out and fed Snoop, who seems not to be bothered by snowy weather. Looked across the field to see that the chicken coop collapsed – the weight of wet snow weighed down the netting to the point that it snapped the support beams and came down. Shed intact. Waded through 2-3’ drifts out to the stable to feed and water horses. Horses are calm and safe. I cleaned up their stalls best I could, and fed and watered them. Could get a better look at the chicken coop from the stable – is in very bad shape – netting torn, boards broken, etc. will wait a few hours until Kath gets up to wade out there to check and feed the chickens – worried that it could collapse even more and I don’t want that to happen without help if I need it. Wade back to the house and make a second check on Snoop – my foot prints from the walk out, almost 2’ deep, are filled back up with the blowing snow in less than the half hour it took to return from the stable. Tried to shake the snow off the netting that covers the duck pen, but so wet and thick it won’t fall through. I expect the net to rip, or cause the pen to collapse before all is over. A quick glance at the bee hives shows that they are snow covered, but no apparent damage.

8:00am snow and wind continues. The wind is getting steadier and stronger from the north east, stressing the trees even more. The snow does not shake off the branches, but sticks to them and accumulates, bending them down in contorted, white skeletal shapes. Somehow, small songbirds overcome the wind and perch at the feeder on the back deck.

8:30am there is calm so I take advantage to venture back out to check on the animals. I take a knife with me and use it to cut holes in the netting over the duck cage so that I can reach up through it to push off the snow, hoping to prevent more damage to the frame supports. I figure that it will be easier to re-sew the netting than rebuild the cage. While there, I open up Dukes box and feed him and give him water. Turning to go back out to the stables, I look in at Snoops, who seems content to be curled up in her “dog house”, sheltered from it all. It is an effort, but not overwhelming, to wade out to the stable, but I get there and the horses are all calm and happy as they can be closed in. I can tell they are a bit bored, but I am trading their boredom for their safety. I look out the stable window to the mess that was a chicken coop. Zip nudges me to the side to take a look too. That’s my next job to see if I can squeeze in through the broken boards and ripped netting to the shed. To get there, I find the snow even deeper in the paddock – up to and above my knees. I get there though, and squeeze through and get to the shed door. The girls are safe, have food and water, and a nest for egg laying. But they are clucking and nervous – instinct tells them things are not right. The coop is destroyed – the netting is ripped down, 4x4 supports leaned over , support spans snapped…I will have to begin from scratch and rebuild it. But that will be sometime in the future, after the snow melts. Meanwhile, I will either have to rig up some kind of pen to protect them from the hawks, or move them in with Duke. I will decide that tomorrow when I can really assess the damage and what I can salvage. On the way back, I make a new trail, as once again, my trail coming out has been refilled by the new snow.

11:30am Looking outside and checking the radar we are in a sliver of relief from the snow, but not the winds, which are growing stronger and steadier each hour. It looks as though there will be a heavy band of snow upon us in the next hour. Looking out the house windows, the east yard is littered with tree branches and the coop has caved in even more as the snow adds weight to what was standing. From the front window facing north, branches of the fir tree that begin over ten feet up are bent to the point that there tips are touching the ground. The wind continues to push the snow across the open areas, creating white swirling clouds that twist and turn before smashing into the tree line out back.

1:00pm went back out to check on the horses and Snoopie. I will check the duck and chickens later this afternoon on my next trip out. The storm is beginning to ramp back up – a cold steady wind slinging a fusillade of pelleted snow sideways from the north. Snoops is ok, but I need to clear away a drift at her cage door to get inside where she stays curled up and warm in her house. I gave her a few peanuts as a treat and headed back out to the stable. The snow is deeper, and a huge drift guards the back doors of the stable. I push through and check on the horses. Louie was napping and I woke him with my voice, while Zip and Patrick gave me a chorus of deep throaty whinnies as a hello. They were fine. Its warm in the stable – its amazing how much heat these guys can give off – its at least 35 degrees in the stable compared to the low 20’s outside. I give them each another flake of hay and retrace my steps back to the house…

4:00pm still snowing, but flakes this time, rather than the pellets. Snow just keeps getting deeper and each trip takes more effort to wade through it than before! Made what I hope to be the last time out to check on the animals. All are ok – even got four eggs from the chickens. When we were checking on the horses Patrick pushed his way out of the stall and through the stable door to what he at first thought was great freedom… until he stepped into the three foot drift outside. He just stopped, up to his fat belly in snow, and began pawing the snow to find the ground, looking back at me as if I had played some prank with his green grass. In seconds he turned back, having decided that the stable was not such a bad place to be after all. The song birds are crowded on the feeder getting what they can before dark. The storm is expected to last a few more hours and then taper off. I will deal with shoveling out tomorrow, but for now, I’m calling it a day.