Archive for April, 2009

Of All the Gall!

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

While tucking the chickens in the coop the past two nights, I noticed one of my Golden Penciled Hamburgs in a nest box. I thought she might be starting to get broody, but this morning when I let the chickens out of the coop I found her – dead in a nest box. She was one of my soft shell layers, and I checked her vent just last night. There was dried yolk and egg white on the feathers under her vent, but the vent itself was clear. I was upset that I lost her, and absolutely baffled about what could have caused it. So, next to sticking my finger up chicken butts on a routine basis, I did something I never thought I would. I cut her open. Her abdomen was filled with yolk and egg white, but other than that, I saw nothing that would raise a lot of concern. I’m no necropsy expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve studied the subject a little and was hoping something unusual would catch my attention. It didn’t.

You may recall I lost another Hamburg that died quite suddenly last year. I have no idea what happened to her either. It makes me sad to lose a chicken, but I know that sometimes these things happen. I hope this is just a rare, odd, occurrence.

On a lighter note, the pups and I walked down to get the mail today and on the way, I noticed this in one of our cedar trees:

Cedar Rust gall

How very odd. When I flipped one of them up, it looked like an alien blob.

Cedar Rust gall

A little later, I found the same thing on another cedar.

Cedar Rust gall

In a weird and scary kind of way, I thought they were actually quite pretty.

Cedar Rust gall

And I noticed this slime on the trunk of the trees:

Cedar Rust gall

I carefully backed away and ran in the house to google this orange/slimy/spaghetti looking goo. As it turns out, those big orange blobs are Cedar-Apple Rust Galls. And that goo on the trunk? That’s Cedar-Quince Rust. These are both a type of fungi. And they are neither one cool to have. Both can eventually kill their host. The Cedar-Apple Rust Gall is especially worrisome. It is a two host fungi. It depends on both the cedar tree and the apple tree. We have many cedar trees, and only two apple trees – which is apparently enough for this fungus to live. In the early nineteen hundreds, the Cedar-Apple Rust fungus was apparently decimating the apple orchards in Virginia. So much so that the Cedar Apple Rust Act of 1914 was passed. This act required any land owner in Virginia that had a cedar infected with the cedar-apple rust fungus, and living within two miles of an apple orchard, to chop the tree down. I am not kidding. It was an official ordinance. As far as I can tell, this ordinance was never repealed and remains in effect today. Not that it pertains to us. We live no where near an apple orchard. But it is rather disturbing that we have trees with this fungus. It’s cute and all that, but it’s still a fungus. And it’s still not cool. I mean we do have two little apple trees that were likely the result of a bird pooping seeds out of it’s little butt. And now I learn these orange blobs of gall are a threat to our little apple trees. *sigh*

Mother Nature can be a real buzz kill sometimes. But she happens to rule around here, so I’m trying to figure out a way to live peacefully with her. And I’ve learned she doesn’t negotiate. At all.

Bee Free,

You Can Make Those Things?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Have you ever had your taste buds set on something for supper, only to find you are missing a key ingredient? That happened to us last night. We had some leftover steak and all the fixings for fajitas and decided that was exactly what we would have for supper. I love fajitas and was really looking forward to it. I began going over the ingredients in my mind…

Steak. Check.

Onions. Check.

Bell peppers. Check.

Seasoning. Check.

Cheese. Check.

Sour Cream. Check.

Flour tortillas. Uh oh. Flour tortillas? Where are those flour tortillas? I could have sworn I put them right here. “Bernie? Do you know where the tortillas are?” We went through the refrigerator, freezers, and food shelves. No flour tortillas! *Aaaargh* I really wanted fajitas, darnit.

So, as in every critical dilemma I face, I turned to the internet. I was fairly certain that someone, somewhere had posted a recipe for home made flour tortillas. I had no idea what would be involved in making a tortilla, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be too difficult.

Texas Rolling Pins came through for me. The ingredients were minimal and the directions for making the tortillas were easy to understand. The only thing I had difficulty understanding was that it called for using a comal. I had never heard of a comal, but a link was provided and after clicking on it and seeing a picture, I realized I actually OWN a comal! Well, maybe it’s not a comal, but it’s darn close and it worked perfectly. See?


I took that picture after I had made the tortillas, so try to imagine it without all the flour on it. Oh, and for those of you that disparage my pack-ratiness (you know who you are… *ahem*…..Frugalmom and my dear sister), I’ll have you know that thing was a hand-me-down that I’ve owned for over 20 years and never used. But I just KNEW it was worth keeping and would one day come in very handy. So there!

At any rate, I followed the recipe and directions and in no time I had 12 of the most delicious flour tortillas I have ever tasted. Seriously.


OK, there aren’t 12 tortillas in that picture because I took it after we had eaten. But you get the idea. And now I have 8 of these little gems in the refrigerator, waiting to be gobbled up. They won’t have to wait very long.

We’ll never eat a store bought tortilla again. These babies are just that good.

Here are a couple of notes on the recipe:

I used six tablespoons of oil and one cup of water. After mixing, the dough was too sticky and I ended up adding about 1/2 cup more flour to get the right consistency. I think I will use only four tablespoons of oil the next time, and start out with 3/4 cup water. If it’s too dry, I can always add more water.

Home made flour tortillas. It’s what’s for supper.

Bee Free,

Bed Side Holster and Chicken Drama

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

We’ve been having fairly nice weather on the homestead for the past week or so, but yesterday and today have been absolutely beautiful. It got up to around 95 degrees yesterday, and today is looking about the same. Bernie built three more benches for me to put around the creeks so I can sit in the shade while the puppies splash around and play.

One rainy day last week, Bernie decided to make a bed side holster. We certainly don’t worry much about anyone messing around here at night, but we have been startled awake by the occasional bear looking for a midnight snack in our yard. The bed side holster allows his gun to be readily accessible – and it’s always a good idea to be prepared for things you may or may not expect. Bernie’s bed side holster is really nothing more than an old license plate and a defunct ankle holster that he riveted to it.


It only took him a few minutes to make, and it works like a charm.


Friday night I came up one short on the head count when I went to tuck the chickens in for the night. I looked around through the woods and could not find her. We eventually found her in the garage. She had apparently sneaked in there sometime during the day, and managed to knock over a lawn chair we had sitting against the wall. She was trapped between the folded legs and looking pretty puny when we found her. I freed her and put her in the little infirmary I built in the coop. She was very thirsty and spent quite a while drinking water. Both of her wings were hanging limply by her side, dragging the ground. I was a little concerned, but the next morning when I checked on her, she had laid an egg and was fussing to get out with the others. I released her and she spent the day free ranging with the rest of the flock. Both of her wings still hang down a little, one more than the other, but they seem to be getting better. This morning they aren’t hanging quite as low as yesterday, and I am hopeful she will be back to normal in a few days.


I’ve still got one Silver Leghorn laying soft shelled eggs. Of the 19 laying pullets, she’s the only one that continues to have this issue. I leave crushed oyster shell down for them 24/7 and feed them back egg shells each day. They free range, and have a good quality layer feed available at all times. I hope this girl’s little egg making parts get it together soon. Here’s a picture of the egg she layed yesterday afternoon. I’m squeezing it a little so you can see how soft shelled it really is.


It’s Sunday morning and the day is warming up nicely. Time to get outside and get busy. Diesel and Dolly love yard work, but we’re having a hard time getting them to understand that the pile of twigs and branches we are gathering needs to remain a pile. Each time we put something in that pile, one of the pups will grab it and deposit it right back on the lawn – tail wagging the whole time. It takes longer to clean up the yard this way, but it sure makes it much more entertaining.

Hey – do you “tweet”? I’ve finally given in and joined the Twitter community. Great way to see at a glance what’s going on with friends. If you are interested in following my tweets, just go to Twitter, search for miss1cent, and then click “follow” – or click on the “follow me on Twitter” link in the sidebar on my blog page. Twitter is free, easy, and kind of fun! I tweet when the blog is updated too.

Bee Free,

Coop Poop Boogie and Love Those Shoes

Monday, April 20th, 2009

For each person that keeps chickens, there is probably just as many variations in chicken coop designs and management techniques. When we built our coop, we based the design on one that would be as predator proof as possible from the many predators in this area and one that would provide adequate protection from the elements that are typical for our area. Our coop sits above the ground, with about a foot or so between the floor of it and the earth underneath. The coop flooring is treated OSB, and I chose the “Deep Litter Method” (DLM from here on out) for coop poop management.

The idea behind the DLM is really quite simple. You start with a clean coop floor, cover it with about four to six inches of litter, and then about once a week or so, sprinkle litter over the top of that to cover the poop as it accumulates. I use pine chips that Bernie chips up for me from fallen pine trees around here. Once a month or so I use a garden rake and stir all that litter around in the coop, just to keep the poop from clumping. On days when we have snow or a lot of rain and the chickens hang out inside the coop, I sprinkle some scratch all through the litter on the coop floor and the chickens stir it for me.  If done correctly, there will be virtually no offensive smell in the coop, and  the litter only needs to be completely removed once a year. If the coop is kept dry, the litter remains dry, as does the flooring beneath it.

I really like using the DLM for several reasons, the least of which is not the fact that it only takes me about 10 minutes each day to clean the coop and replenish feed and water containers. The daily coop cleaning duty is referred to as the “Coop Poop Boogie” here on the homestead, and consists of scraping all poop off the top of nest boxes, nest porches, and roosts, sprinkling new litter on the coop floor as required, filling feeders and changing out water. By the way, the Coop Poop Boogie is not to be confused with the Poop Scoot Boogie, which is performed after stepping in a fresh little pile of chicken poop in the yard on the homestead. Everyday’s a party around here.

Yep, the Coop Poop Boogie is fast and easy, thanks to the DLM. The coop spring cleaning, however, is not. It’s not fast. And it’s not easy. I spent about 4 1/2 hours yesterday spring cleaning the coop, which, among other things, involved shoveling out about two feet of poop encrusted litter. But, with each shovel load, I reminded myself that this one day of pain is what makes the daily Poop Scoop Boogie so tolerable the other 364 days of the year. And I was quite pleased that once all the litter was out of the coop, the floor beneath it and the nest boxes were perfectly dry.

When it was all said and done, I ended up with a mountain of poop encrusted pine shavings which I mixed with straw and leaves and covered in Chicken Poop Tea I’ve been brewing for the past couple of months.   This colossal pile of poop is now soaking in the 3/4 inch of rain we got last night. It’s supposed to rain all day and into tomorrow, and this soaking is just what the poop pile needs. I checked it this morning, and it’s already getting hot. For the next several months I will continue to add straw, grass cuttings, kitchen scraps, chicken poop, and water to this massive pile, and by next spring, I should have a beautiful pile of compost that my garden will enjoy.


That’s the chicken poop pile on the right, and my straw pile on the left.

Composting pine shavings can take quite some time, but by regularly adding chicken poop, straw, and “green” material to it (grass, kitchen scraps, etc.)  and keeping the pile damp, you may be amazed at how much more quickly the composting process occurs. I’ve done this on a much smaller scale and it works beautifully and quickly. Every week or so, rather than wetting with water, I pour a bucket or two of Chicken Poop Tea on it to help keep this compost pile hot. I make this tea by filling a couple of buckets half full with water and then adding in the poop I scoop each day until the buckets are full. I also stir them daily, while holding my nose.  And I keep the buckets covered with a loosely fitting lid.

By the end of the year, I should have a nice, rich mountain of compost. I’ll stop adding chicken poop to the pile and let it “season” until next spring. Chicken poop is extremely strong and will kill plants if applied directly to them without allowing the poop to age and compost. The rule of thumb is: If you can recognized the shape of the poop, it’s probably too “hot” to apply to plants. Allow it to break down completely and NEVER apply Chicken Poop Tea directly on plants or the ground where they are planted. It’s just too strong – but it works great to speed composting in compost piles.

So that’s the scoop on the Coop Poop Boogie. Come to think of it, this all sums up my life beautifully – enriched with poop. Every dad gum day.

While I was out cleaning the coop, Bernie left the dogs in the house to bring me some tools for reconstructing the little chicken hospital in the coop. When I came in for a break he said “Good news! You get to do some shoe shopping!” I immediately looked at the puppies. Neither would make eye contact with me. “I left my sandals by the door when I changed into my rubber boots, didn’t I? How badly did they chew them up?” I asked. “Well, it wasn’t ‘they’, it was ‘him’ and it wasn’t ‘them’, it was ‘it’.” *sigh* “Well, how bad is IT?” Bernie said “You might be able to salvage it. I’m not sure, but I think Dolly stole it and gave it to Diesel. It was in Diesel’s mouth when I found it, but Dolly was looking kinda guilty.”


That doesn’t look very salvageable to me. I realize it looks like something I dug out of the dump, but I LOVE those sandals. I’ve had them for years. They were broken in beautifully and had become the only sandals I wear in the summer on the homestead. Darnit. But it’s my fault for leaving them on the floor and providing a temptation little Dolly and/or Diesel just could not resist. The joy of puppies…….

Bee Free,


Body Language – Some People Should Learn It

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Bernie and I are pack rats and rarely throw anything away. Sometimes this works in our favor. A few days ago I mentioned to Bernie that it would be nice to have a few benches in the yard. Just a few places where we could sit in the shade and enjoy the day. His face lit up as he remembered a pile of old lumber he had stored from over twenty years ago. And within a few minutes, we had two of these in the yard.


He pulled out some logs from the pile he had cut out of trees that fell around here and nailed a piece of treated, near petrified, wood on the top of a couple of them for the seat. I just love these benches.

After being penned in the run for a full week, my poor chickens were begging to get out and free range. It had been several days since we had seen any sign of chicken hawks, so a few days ago, I began free ranging the chickens again. So far, so good.

Friday morning we had an insurance agent stop by with papers for us to sign. I did not give a thought to the chickens being out in the yard, until Mr. Insurance got ready to leave. I stepped out on the porch as he was leaving, and spotted Duke, way up on the hill – at the exact moment that Duke spotted Mr. Insurance. I didn’t like the look on Duke’s face.

As Mr. Insurance opened his car door, Duke was heading toward him. “That’s a big chicken right there”, Mr. Insurance commented, resting one arm on the opened car door, and one on the roof of his car.

“Yes, he is. Well you have a good day.” I told him. I was praying he would leave before Duke got to him.

Duke was within 20 feet at this point, and now he was going sideways toward Mr. Insurance.

Mr. Insurance excitedly exclaimed “Ah, look at that! He wants to go home with me! Don’t you boy? Do you want to go home with me? Yes, you do! You sure do! ”

I did not have the heart to tell Mr. Insurance that what Duke really wanted to do was pen him to the ground and peck his eyes out. Instead, I quickly got between him and Duke and said “Um, you better get on outta here now.”

Mr. Insurance chuckled and as he got into the car and was closing his door, he said “Ah, big boy. You can’t go home with me. You big boy, you.”

Duke was glaring at Mr. Insurance and clearly annoyed that I had prevented him from teaching Mr. Insurance a thing or two about how much he wanted to go home with him.

As Mr. Insurance drove off, smiling and waving at Duke, Duke beat his wings furiously and let out a few crows I’m certain they heard in the next county.

Duke is not a mean rooster. But, as spring gears up, he is a rooster that is full of testosterone, and he is a rooster that is on edge from all the recent hawk activity. For the foreseeable future, I will be certain Duke is penned up when we expect visitors.

Those of you with protective roosters will understand Duke’s attitude and behavior. Those of you without, well….. just let me say that if you see a rooster coming at you sideways, going home with you is likely the furthest thing from his little pea brain. And, unless you want to get up close and personal with an angry roo, it’s probably best not to baby talk him. You really may want to get on outta there.


The chicks are getting so big. Look at this one’s size next to mama.


I suppose we’ll soon know if we have any cockerels in the mix. I’m still calling each of them “she”, but this Duke looking thing has me worried.


Get a load of these Duke feet!


The gray legs on this one tell me this is a Phoenix mix – perhaps even a full bred.


I love my Phoenix chickens. The pullets are pretty, sweet little girls, and they are good layers. The Phoenix cockerel is absolutely beautiful, with a sweet disposition. I think Bobby Lee is a fine specimen.



Phoenix roosters are small and, in nature, size matters. Bobby Lee is second in command to Duke. And, while Bobby Lee is very attentive to the girls, he clearly understands the limitations his size inflicts on him. When there is danger, Duke is the one that will stand to challenge it. Bobby Lee is the one that will herd all the girls to safety – and stay there until Duke let’s him know the coast is clear.

I do love my roosters. And their body language tells me they have no interest in leaving me – at least not to go home with an insurance agent.

Bee Free,

Is There Room in Your Heart and Home?

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

As you know, Diesel and Dolly are rescue pups. They have been the most wonderful addition to our family, and I can not imagine life without them. We found our Diesel and Dolly through Petfinders. Our pups were nurtured and cared for by Our Critters, in Ararat, Virginia. Betty Sue runs Our Critters, and she asked me to pass on some info about dogs and cats at her rescue that are ready to adopt. I will forever be indebted to Betty Sue, Our Critters, and Petfinders for saving and caring for Diesel and Dolly, and so many other wonderful pets. I am happy to relay the following to you, and it comes with a prayer that each of these pets is adopted by a family that can provide the love and care that each of them deserves:

From Betty Sue at Our Critters:

We have many great dogs and cats at our rescue. We can deliver to (or near) any approved home for a delivery fee of $25.00. Delivery is free within a 1hr radius from Mt.Airy NC!

We have the following dogs>>>>>>>>>>

1 yro bloodhound/redbone female ( Ann) Spayed current on all shots adopt fee $75.00

1 6 mo golden r/chow mix male (Newton) Adopt fee $40 plus $60 neuter deposit!

3 6 mo lab mixes ( larry,Moe, Shimp) Has every round of puppy shots. Adopt fee $40 plus $60 neuter deposit!

1 1 yro fox terrier mix 15 pounds ( Khia) Current on all vaccinations…Adopt fee $50 plus $60 neuter deposit!

1 2 yro Catahoula Leopard Dog ( Cowboy) Adopt fee 100.00 neutered current on all vaccinations

3 lab mix pups 3 months old ( Angie, Angus, Albert)Current on all vaccinations…Adopt fee $40 plus $60 neuter deposit!

1 4 mo female special needs husky/gsd female. She has a permanent limp( Bella) has all vaccinations…adopt fee waived but required $60 spay deposit

Dogs Not Listed Yet
3 Husky/Border Collie pups 4 months old. They are BEAUTIFUL babies. These guys will be listed once the weather clears up to allow me to take some nice pictures. Adopt fee $40 plus $60 neuter deposit! These babies are current on all vaccinations and will be altered before they go to their new home.


1 6 yro 17 pound black lap cat ( Anubis). Neutered, litter box trained, current on all vaccinations adopt fee $55

1 6 yro 14 pound white/grey tabby ( Lester). Neutered, litter box trained, current on all vaccinations adopt fee $55
All cats come several new items such as Carrier, Litter Pan, Litter, Scooper, Catfood. The items are FREE with the adoption.

You can see all these animals listed on the our animals for adoption page at or our petfinder site at

PS…we will be in Northern VA Sat April 11th!

Everything’s an Adventure When You’re a Puppy

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Yesterday was a beautiful day on the homestead and we celebrated it by doing absolutely nothing more than enjoying the sunshine and mild temperature.

I take the dogs with me when I walk down to get mail each day, and although it is only 1/4 mile to our mailbox, the pups always manage to take me on an adventure before we get there.

Diesel likes to stop and smell the flowers along the way.


Our walk involves very little of the driveway. We need to do a bit of exploring through the woods. Look what we found off the beaten path.


It’s in the upper left, hanging from that skinny little branch. Last year’s home to a bunch of wasps. (Correction: My father informs me, and rightly so, that this is actually a hornet nest, not a wasp nest) We’re glad we didn’t run into that LAST year!

And what’s this?


Heaven only knows how long that has been propped against the tree. The cedar has actually split, and grown around the top of it.


The first recording of this property was in 1904. Some of the descendants of the first owners still live in this area and we’ve met a couple of them. They tell us this land was home to a lot of livestock at one time, which we can tell by all the fencing we’ve found throughout the property. It was farmed as well. The old timey way. Any ideas what that piece of equipment is? Some sort of hitch for a horse or two, I suspect. I’d love to remove it and display it somehow, but the wood pieces in it are very rotten, and it is securely wrapped in that tree right now.

But no time to dwell on that. The next stop is the cabin. There’s always something to sniff up at the cabin, and the yard is wide open and the perfect place to soak in some rays.


And now it’s time for our favorite part of the mail fetching extravaganza. The creek!


After a good rain, the creek is filled with running water. It’s not very full right now, but there’s still enough water to make a splash.


Dolly loves splashing.


Diesel ….. not so much.


But he is a genuine boy, and just loves being muddy.


And he loves to bark. Especially when Dolly insists on jumping at him.


And as the mail fetching draws to an end, we need to stop for a little rest sometimes.


And we all go home, content that a little of the property has been sniffed up and explored, and the puppies have gotten a good mud bath.

As beautiful as the day was, the poor chickens could only enjoy it from their chicken run. They spent the day penned up, safe from the raptors that are craving an easy chicken meal. That did not prevent a chicken hawk from stopping by to torment them through the run fencing, though. Poor babies. They’ll be penned up again today. We’re all hoping the hawks find an easier meal and move on. I’m not sure how long I can keep my chickens penned. They complain loudly. I’m resigned to accept the fact that I will lose a couple of chickens to predators – but I am NOT resigned to losing the entire flock. The frequency of the hawks’ visits really worries me right now.

Bee Free,

  • Beautiful Spring – it Can Be Brutal

    Saturday, April 4th, 2009

    The chickens have had a tough week on the homestead. Duke is still our hero for pinning that big chicken hawk down to the ground on Monday, but even a super hero like Duke can’t be everywhere at all times and on Tuesday, we lost one of the Silver Leghorn pullets to a predator.

    I initially suspected a feral cat may have gotten the pullet. We have found a few stalking our flock in the past. I found what was left of the pullet in the woods and it appears she was eaten where she fell. The feathers off her back had been pulled out, and that section was eaten, and there was nothing left to the neck except bones. After talking with several people who have had a lot of experience with various predators killing their chickens, I’m almost certain the culprit was a chicken hawk. The pullet weighed around 6.5 pounds, which is quite heavy for most chicken hawks to carry off. When raptors kill something too large to remove, they will eat it where it is killed.

    My suspicion that it was likely a chicken hawk was further confirmed yesterday. We were sitting in the living room when Bernie looked out the window to the back yard and shouted “Somthing’s going on out there!” He no sooner finished his sentence when both of us were headed out the door. We got to the backyard just in time to see one my poor Golden Penciled Hamburgs being attacked by a chicken hawk. We scared the hawk off, and the hamburg ran under Bernie’s barn shed. There were feathers everywhere. Duke was in the front yard with the new mamas and baby chicks and he was fussing something awful. It took some coaxing and a long stick, but we finally managed to get the hamburg out from under the shed. She was pretty shook up, and a little short on feathers in spots, but she was fine.

    I was quite unnerved by the whole thing, and even though it was only around 4:30PM, we herded up the chickens and locked them in their run. About an hour later, I heard Duke fussing up a storm, and ran outside – just in time to see a chicken hawk sitting by the run fencing, staring at the chickens and scaring them half to death! Thank goodness the run is covered with chicken wire.

    Spring is a wonderful time of year and it is refreshing to see the new life it brings. Babies in the wild are certainly a sign of spring, and with them comes the need for their parents to feed them. Chicken hawks are no different. They are naturally looking for food. They are hungry, and so are their babies. It is an especially dangerous time for free ranging chickens. They are easy prey, and pretty much everyone and everything finds a chicken meal quite tasty.

    As you know, I had a few issues keeping my chickens penned in their run. It was not an easy decision to allow them to free range, but the consequences of keeping them penned were worse than the prospect of losing a few to predators. Now that there are especially vulnerable baby chicks to worry about, the risks are even greater. If you’ve followed this blog for any time at all, you know I am pretty attached to my chickens, and I tend to be a bit over-protective.

    I’m not really sure what we are going to do in the future. This weekend, I plan to keep my chickens penned in their run. I know I can not keep them in there forever, but after such a stressful week I think we could all use a break. Four hawk attacks in five days is a little more than we can handle right now.

    Predators are always going to be a threat when owning chickens. It’s just a fact of life. Every living creature must eat. But I’m not raising chickens to be a dad-gum smorgasbord for all the wild animals in the county.

    I wish I could clone Duke. He’d get the message across. No doubt.

    Bee Free,