Our Brilliant Dog Maggie

Some of you know about the new puppy we got . . . well, she isn’t new now.  Maggie Mae is almost a year old now; we got her last October, and she is easily the best dog I’ve ever owned.  I absolutely love that dog, and there is no hyperbole in that statement at all.

Maggie is a Northwest Farm Terrier, a fairly new breed, about 30 years in the making, a cross between an Airedale and some other type of terrier.  She weighs about fifty-two pounds, and her breed is bred for herding on farms.

Now I knew that going in, but there is a huge gap, sometimes, between knowing something and KNOWING something.  I had to see it to fully appreciate it.

Out on the farm where the majority of our 100+ plus chickens are located, there are also peacocks and guinea fowl. They are great birds to watch, but they also have no boundaries, so they are constantly eating the chicken food we leave out for our birds.  Now I love all manner of living things, but I’ve got a problem with spending money feeding those winged bandits.

Enter Maggie!

It took us about two days to train Maggie that peacocks were unwanted in the chicken area, and the word “train” is used liberally.  We pointed at a peacock, told Maggie to “get it,” and within two days she would chase the peacocks out of Chicken Town.

Same thing with the guinea fowl.  Maggie sees one of them, instantly goes into her crouch, and slowly herds them out of the chicken fenced area.  Once they leave the fenced area Maggie leaves them alone.  It’s really pretty remarkable to watch and remarkable to think about, that somewhere in her DNA is a herding instinct.  Mind you, she never hurts the birds.  She just scoots them out of the chicken area and then sits back waiting for the next intruder.

Hopefully a protector

Three weeks after training her to do that, there are no peacocks or guinea fowl in the immediate vicinity. The dog established territory, the birds learned, and all is well in my world.

Best dog I’ve ever had.  She and I are going to grow old together, and that thought gives me great comfort.

 

A NOTE

Tiny house update . . .  We are also thinking of a yurt. Actually I like the yurt idea more.  Maybe I have some Mongolian in me?

I finished the big chicken coop and started in on, and finished, a smaller version…a studio as opposed to a two-bedroom…Chicken Town is taking shape, thank you very much.

I’m really not sure how many chickens we have. Over one-hundred for sure.  Some of the new ones out at the farm are into hiding their eggs now. Every day is an egg hunt for me, roaming around looking for the prizes.  I’m sure the chickens are laughing while I search.  Silly human!

And wouldn’t you know it, Maggie knows how to hunt for eggs. She will find one, put it softly in her mouth, and bring it to me all proud-like, wagging her tail . . . she literally learned from watching me collect eggs.  Remarkable . . . what a dog!

Raspberry Season Has Arrived!

Yum!

Bill

 

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Downsizing Big Time!

We are getting close to a big decision.

Tiny houses . . . Bev and I are seriously considering selling our home and moving into a tiny house.  We’re looking at a year from now, which gives us more than enough time to make it happen, and I’m still not certain that it will happen, but we are talking about it like it will happen.

If it happens it will happen out on the farm where we keep our chickens.  The more Bev and I talk about the future, the more we come to agreement that we just have too much on our plate and we need to start simplifying our lives. We really don’t need this home we are living in.  We certainly don’t need the mortgage payment.  Like many across this country, we are one serious illness away from having major financial problems.  And as much as I hate to admit it, I’m slowing down. It’s too hard to take care of this house, the upkeep, fixing problems, and also write, take care of chickens out at the farm, and stay involved in the management of the farmers market. Something has to change!

Sell this house….completely pay for a tiny house….not have a mortgage, thus saving $1000 per month….it sounds damned good to me right about now.

What was the tipping point?  We had a clogged kitchen sink.  We weren’t able to unclog it, which meant calling a plumber, which meant a sizeable bill, more money tossed down the Money Pit and for what?  Save up more money just to use it to pay for another repair?  It’s a never-ending circus and we are no longer interested in buying a ticket to that show.

So we are seriously tossing the idea around in our brains.

The picture of the bus is the site where we would put the tiny home, nestled under towering fir trees, a spit and a holler from the chickens and horse pasture, a quarter mile from the busy road….heaven!

Just thought I’d share with you.  I’ll keep you updated.

Bill

Where Are Those Damned Eggs?

Busy, busy, and more busy!

If you have a farm, or dabble in it in an urban setting, you understand about busy this time of year.

I had a woman get mad at me last week at the farmers market because I sold out of eggs. “Well hell, lady, I don’t lay the damned things. I can’t do anything about the fact my pullets haven’t started laying yet!”  I didn’t say that but I sure wanted to.

I have sixty pullets out at the farm and they are still about a month from laying eggs.  It’s frustrating because I could be selling those eggs right now but, seriously, frustration is a part of farming.  Also at the farm are fifteen older hens who are already laying.

I have twenty babies in cages about ten feet from where I am writing this. I just turned off their heat lamp for the first time and they are confused.  They won’t start laying until September at the earliest.

Outside we have eight older hens foraging for food.  Four of them are from the original six we began with four years ago.

And outside there are 100 quail; only six are laying as of today.  Again, frustration!

But then tomorrow, or the next day, or in a week, everyone will start laying at once, and I’ll be knee-deep in eggs.

My incubator broke down, so I’ll have to spend the money for a better one so I can hatch eggs in the fall and winter.

And today I begin work on the next chicken coop out at the farm.  I have no carpentry skills or training. I learn as I go . . . Youtube is helpful, as is determination.

The farmers market is going okay.  It keeps me busy for sure, and will continue to do so through the end of September, at which time I’ll take a deep breath and relax for a day or two.

And so it goes!

I love it all!

I’ve been seriously blessed.  Considering where I began, how I began, an unwanted blind baby in the foster system, to today, a man loved with an overabundance of riches . . . I’m just strolling in clover, my friends.  It’s hard to imagine life being any better for this old man.

Bill

Making the Right Choice

I talk to chickens!

I talk to our puppy Maggie!

And what’s more, I’m convinced they understand me and, at times, talk back to me.

Am I crazy?

Hopefully a protector

Every day I head to our son’s farm where our chickens graze.  I take Maggie with me.  For an hour I walk around filling up feed dishes, filling up water receptacles, and making sure there are no problems.  For that hour I keep up a constant discussion with the birds and with Maggie.  Just another crazy old man out talking to the animals, our worst nightmare when we are kids growing up.  Lol

But the thing is, I don’t think it’s crazy.  In fact, it seems like the most natural thing in the world, being the Chicken Whisperer.

I’m not talking about walking around saying “hi girls, how ya doing,” or “get the hell out of my way you stupid bird,” but things like actual conversation, “well shoot, girls, it looks like rain, I’d better put up more shelter, would that be all right with you?” or “would you mind if I moved this platform over there so it gets more sunshine?” like I really expect them to answer me.

 

Bev and I are kind of out-of-control.  For a couple years we just had our original six chickens.  Then we had a couple orphans we took care of. Then we worked out a deal where we could raise chickens on the farm.  Now, four years later, we have over one-hundred chickens with more on the way.

Whisper . . . whisper . . . whisper!

 

And I swear to the gods Maggie understands me. I don’t know if I’m more worried about her or me.

The Markets on Wednesdays are long days. I pick up product at the farm at seven…start setting up the booth at eight….take down and help with cleanup until three-thirty.  Since the Market was yesterday, I was dragging butt today.  I went out to the farm,  fed and watered everyone, and then I laid down in the pasture, under a hundred-foot fir tree, with Maggie’s head in my lap, and watched the branches blow in the breeze.  The sky was robin-egg blue. The clouds were wispy.  The breeze was gentle, pleasant, and soothing.

Yes, I have a ton of chores to do and yes, some of them need to be done yesterday, but when it is all said and done, and I’m no longer of this earthly existence, I’d like to be known as someone who chose a warm spring day under a swaying tree over finishing one more chore.

Have a great weekend, unless you’ve made other plans.

Bill

Waiting for Eggs

Ungrateful brats!

I feed them, I care for them, I spend countless hours providing shelter for them, and all I ask of them is that they lay an egg per day.

And still they make me wait!

The quail and chickens are delaying my marketing plans.

I have almost 100 quail, and five of them are laying right now. The other 90 have decided to take their time and enjoy the spring.

We have over one-hundred chickens, and only fourteen of them are laying.  The others are too young and won’t be laying for another few weeks.

Ingrates!

Don’t they know I have customers waiting for eggs?????

Hopefully a protector

I’m laughing while I write this, so don’t panic.  That’s just the way it goes with animals and birds.  They follow the beat of a drum I’ll never hear, and I have no say in the matter.  Kick back and chill, Bill, it will all happen when it happens.  In the meantime there are fifty other chores I can work on.

 

I was watching a next door neighbor go off to work the other day, to a job he does not like.  Me, I sipped on my mocha, smiled, and went to the office to write.  Around eleven I stopped writing, had lunch with my wife, and then worked with animals on the farm in the afternoon, all while our faithful puppy Maggie looked at me like I am the most important person on the planet.

Life has never been so good!

 

Spring finally arrived!  Seventies this week and thank the gods for it.

Which, of course, means more outdoor chores.

Life has never been so good!

Welcome to my life!

Bill

Chickens Are Hatching

The Silkies are coming!

Silkies are a particular breed of chicken which I find to be adorable.  If you’ve raised chickens before perhaps you know of them. They are tinier than normal chickens, and they lay tinier eggs, but they are funky-looking in a very cute way, and I just find them to be a very enjoyable chicken.

Anyway, I have twelve Silkie eggs in the incubator, and they are due to hatch tomorrow.  I’m excited about their arrival in a way only those with chickens could understand.

And then on the 16th my Cream Legbars are due to hatch.  We are going to raise Cream Legbars because they lay the prettiest blue eggs you will ever see, and they demand a pretty good price since hardly anyone in our area raised them. They are in high demand and we should do pretty well with them. I have twelve more Cream Legbar eggs I need to put in the incubator today for a hatch twenty-one days from today.

Exciting times!

Of course that means I need to build a new coop, but that’s a labor of love and I enjoy doing those projects.

I just finished a quail tractor for the farm.  We’ll move that out to the farm tomorrow and introduce some quail to a new home.

And the farmers market opens next week, where we will sell quail eggs, chicken eggs, and the goat cheese from our son’s farm.

Ya gotta love spring, even though here spring is a bit damp and chilly.

We aren’t even close to planting our garden.  We have the strawberries planted, and potatoes and garlic, but I’m afraid we are a bit behind on the rest of the garden . . . maybe this weekend if I can get the taxes done quickly.

That’s about it from our little slice of heaven.

Bill

 

 

Building Community One Day At A Time

Farmers’ Markets and community . . .

One only has to look at the small town of Steilacoom in Western Washington to see the connection.

Every Tuesday during the spring and summer, the Steilacoom Farmers Market is open for business in this city by the bay of 6,000 residents.  A street is blocked off in the early morning, preparations are made, stalls are manned, product delivered, and for four hours in the afternoon, the city residents gather for the Market.  When the Market shuts down for the day there is a concert in the adjoining park.

A town of 6,000 . . . I worked a stall at that market two years ago, and I do not exaggerate when I say there are easily two-or-three thousand people who attend that farmers market each week.

Think about that . . . between a third and a half of the city’s residents attend a market, each week, in the middle of a workday.

Community!

During that summer I never once saw an argument.  I sure as hell never saw violence.  What I did see were people coming together in a spirit of friendship. What I saw was a community working together for the common good of all. I saw smiles, I saw conversation, I saw bonds being formed, and I saw commonalities explored.  There were no heated discussions about politics, no protesting, and no exclusion.

There was just community, something sorely missing in our society these days.

That’s what I hope to accomplish as the President of the Tumwater Town Center Farmers Market this year and in the years to come.  I want that market to be a central meeting place for Tumwater residents. I want it to be a safe place where, for four hours, the madness of the world is shut out and only community exists.

Support your local markets! Get out and meet your neighbors.  You all benefit when you do.

Why I Love Farmers

I was talking to the Washington State Department of Health the other day about our upcoming Farmers Market, hopefully stirring up some interest in it, telling them what we have that’s new this year, and explaining to them why I think markets are important.

I told them about visiting my grandparents’ farm back in Charles City, Iowa, back in 1955 when I was seven years old.  It was a magical visit for me. The farm seemed like a fantasy land, the acres upon acres of corn growing tall, the mysteries of that big old barn, the lightning bugs at night and bullfrogs croaking as I slept . . .

My grandfather took me out in the fields one day.  He knelt down on the ground and picked up some dirt in both hands; he put that dirt to his nose and smelled it, then looked at me.

“This is soil, Billy,” he told me.  “It is a living thing, and my job, as a farmer, is to keep it alive so that it grows corn.  My job, as a farmer, is to grow the best corn possible, because my neighbors trust me to do so.  They trust that when they sit down for dinner, and eat my corn, it will be the healthiest, best corn they have ever eaten.  That is my promise to them; I have staked my word and reputation on that promise, and a man is only as good as his reputation.

“This is a community, Billy; not the city of Charles City but the community of Charles City.  We look out for each other here in God’s Country.  I know that old Mister Jacobs down the road will be selling potatoes this fall which are healthy, and he knows the same about my corn.  He knows that if his son gets hurt I’ll be there to help that boy, and I know that if I ever really needed something that Mister Jacobs would be there to help.

“That’s why I love what I do, Billy.  That’s why I love being a farmer.”

Those words echo in my head each day I go out to feed my birds, and that is why I think farmers markets are important. They help to build community, even in the advanced year of 2018.  Perhaps, more than ever before, our country is in dire need of that sense of community.

Please, support your local farmers.  I really don’t want to live in a world where the small farmers no longer exist.

Bill

My Wife’s Brainstorm

Bev had an idea.

It was a cool idea.

It means work for me.

I don’t mind at all.

The picture you see is part of our son’s farm about four miles away from where we live.  It is a working goat farm on ten acres, but the section I want you to pay attention to is in the photo, the section that borders the driveway.  I would guess it is about 100 yards in length; maybe seventy-five, and about thirty feet wide.

In the background of that picture is a structure, a 10’x20’ aviary where Bev and I keep fifty chickens.  Behind that are two smaller chicken coops where another twenty chickens call home.

As you look at those structures, move your eyes back towards the camera position, all that unused land, that is where Bev’s idea took wings.

Bev wants to build a Chicken Town on that land.

That’s right, I said a Chicken Town!

See, the thing is, Bev and I love chickens.  To us they are the perfect animal/bird for any farm or urban farm.  Provide them with protection, water, and food, and they are really pretty self-sufficient.  They just spend their days pecking around the yard or farm and laying eggs. Sure, you probably won’t find yourself cuddling with a chicken, but a dog can’t lay eggs, either, so there you go!

Anyway, we have discovered that there is better money in chickens than in quail.  We can easily sell free-range chicken eggs for $5 per dozen in our city. We can incubate eggs and sell pullets for $15-$20 each, and that price goes up for rare breeds.

So we are building a chicken town.  It will include a number of chicken coops, one for each breed, and a fenced-off enclosure for each coop.  Bev will be planting raspberries for the chickens to roam through, and there will be a walking path for visitors so they can roam Chicken Town with their children and enjoy the birds.

When will the town be completed? Hell if I know, but it’s going to be great fun building it.

I just thought I’d share that with you.  In the meantime, while I “peck” away at the project, we have over sixty birds laying eggs for the farmers markets this summer.

Life is good in my world.

How about yours?

Bill

In Need of More Stamina

Soon to be a greenhouse

The quail are outgrowing the cage.  It’s time to move them outside.

Of course, that means moving the pullets out to the farm, and that means making sure the farm enclosure is critter proof and ready for fifty chickens.

There’s always something!

Bev came back from the farm (her son’s farm, but we use part of it for our birds) with a new idea. I usually start shaking uncontrollably when Bev has a new idea, because it means more work for yours truly, but truth be told I don’t mind it at all.  It’s fun to see her excited about her new ideas.

This new idea involved raising more chickens, not just egg- layers but different, exotic breeds, and turning part of the farm into a Chicken Land for visitors to see and enjoy.  The kids have been slowly changing their farm into a tourist farm, holding classes, having goat yoga sessions, and producing less goat cheese.  It’s a logical move for them because, honestly, taking care of a full-time working farm is backbreaking, unforgiving work for little financial reward.  So Bev’s idea fit well with the direction they are taking the farm.

Which means more work, of course, for yours truly.

And I love it!

I just wish I had the stamina I once did.  My workdays are shorter than they once were.

Buttercup is on the left

Anyway, this weekend I need to work on building a quail/chicken tractor for the new Chicken Land, and I also need to put the finishing touches on the new nesting boxes in the chicken aviary . . . and then move the fifty chickens we have here at our house out to their new home on the farm . . . thus making room for the quail.

Whew!

Good news: spring has arrived. Temps in the 60’s this weekend.

Which means we are getting closer to planting season . . . which means finishing chores in the backyard so we can plant.

Whew!

When I was younger I wished I had twenty-five acres to work.

I don’t wish that any longer.  LOL

Bev found a cool idea online, a strawberry tower made from plastic milk crates.  It’s so easy it’s ridiculous, and it looks like it will work just great.  Add that to my to-do list.  Look it up on YouTube if you get the chance.  Here’s the link.

What am I doing sitting here writing.  I need to get busy!

Bill