Monday, May 7, 2012

Freegrace Fowl

It's dangerous to be a man bird in the spring and not every boy residing at Freegrace has survived the season.  We knew nothing of water fowl when we took our new friends in after Irene.  They'd behaved so beautifully up until now, giving me no indication that there was bloodshed in our future.  
I did enough research to educate myself on their habitat needs:  bedding, feed, water and over-wintering but I wasn't prepared to be fostering them over a year.  And there's no telling whether, had I known they'd be around this long, that I'd have learned of this ugly instinctual behavior until it started to happen.  I'm used to our hens, and while we've lost a few, I feel I understand their needs and nature.  But not all birds psychologically flock together.  I hope that by sharing some of these experiences, that novice homesteaders interested in keeping water fowl will be prepared when I wasn't.

Ray's been photographing our feathered and furry friends, from the beauty to the fury. 

***a warning to the sensitive, the last picture is of Lonely Boy's injuries.  While not horrible, it's not pretty.  But be assured, Lonely Boy is recovering beautifully.***
Gussy.  She's best friends with Goosie the Canada goose.

One very bright spot has been Goosie, the Canada goose.  She famously left her gaggle and decided to adopt Suzy and her family years ago.  Geese mate for life.  They won't abandon their partner under any circumstance; putting themselves in mortal danger to protect a sick or injured mate.  So it seems that Goosie must have lost her other half and found no reason to continue on the migration trail alone and adopted a kindly farming family.  She steers clear of the water fowl drama, preferring the relaxed company of our foraging hens who have never found a reason to bicker or complain.  If she'd fit in the coop, I'd gladly bed her with the chickens at night.  I know Goosie would prefer it.  
 If you've been keeping abreast of the bird drama, we've had one drake murdered.  A second paralyzed.  A third maimed.  I've been putting the blame on two duck bullies, you can see them below with their lady companion.

But the evidence is now murky.  My neighbor, Julie, lent me a large crate and I managed to pen the two bad boys for a night.  The next morning, out comes the white gander from the communal pen, bloody and battered  This leaves one of the three Toulouse geese to blame (those are the gray geese).  The problem is that Toulouse are much harder to distinguish, sex wise, and it's been assumed by the goose owner that they were all geese, not ganders.  As it turns out, one or more may be a gander and he's defending the nest in the pen where they all bed at night.  As it turns out, this is a nasty business and the guardianship of the clutch of eggs waiting in the nest falls under the militant stewardship of a chosen gander.  We thought the gander was the very large white Swan goose.  We were wrong.
One of our Victorias is a Victor.

The white gander, I've named him Dagwood, is now convalescing with Lonely Boy and his Sweetie Pie.  He's recovering.  His lady friend, Guinivere, has flown over the fencing to visit with him for a spell.  It's all so damn Shakespearean.  
Almost as melodramatic as Ruthie with a bone.

Don't you cross this puppy when she's working on her bully stick, she'll give you the stink eye.

Lonely Boy outside his new digs with Sweetie Pie.
The damage.  The attacking fowl go after a tendon in their victim's neck that can paralyze and ultimately kill the drake (or gander) they view as a threat to their nest.  You can't see the damage to the right of Lonely Boy's neck but I think this is enough to give you an idea of what might happen in one evening among cooped up fowl in the springtime.
And so we continue on, hoping to foster these animals as best we can, reminding ourselves that the animal world is cruel in its own particular way and kicking ourselves for not knowing more in time to stop a great deal of pain.  It's a lesson that I'll take with me as we continue to add to our farm animal flock, not to take on an animal without educating myself on their true needs and particularities.  I'll be the first to admit that I anthropomorphize all animals, to their detriment. I tend to care in a manner that speaks more to a misplaced affection best applied to Disney characters and plush toys instead of caring for them based on their true animal nature. No wonder they refuse to give me a cuddle.
Lesson sadly learned

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Super Moonlight in Vermont

Last night marked the appearance of the super moon. Ray and I ventured outside to take a peek and my sweet husband spent a few hours capturing the beauty and the light.

Barn illuminated.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Harmony for a Day

Today was a reminder that there is friendship and harmony to be found in the world.

Goosie has found a BFF in an Australorp chicken (the black one closest to her) named Gussie.
Lonely Boy and Lady Bird are enjoying condo living, apart from jealous and dangerous drakes.
The geese continue on, always together.  Always loud.  Always proud.
Ruthie's 4 months old.  Still cute as a button.  Here she is waiting to pounce on her BFF, Tallulah.

It was a day of harmony and friendship at Freegrace.  For that I am thankful.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Freegrace Treasure

Our pond was in dire need of a filter.  While the neon green algae isn't unhealthy for our animals (on the contrary, it's actually full of nutrients), we wanted a pond that was both healthy and not the color of Gatorade.  Ray built a super filter from scratch but it requires a behemoth Rubbermaid tub to hold the works and we can't have a rubber tub in the middle of the yard.  So we did what our Vermont ancestors did, we scoured our property for stones to build a dry rock wall.
We have a dry stone wall that surrounds our property.  It dates to the 18th century and spans the property line.   A barrier that old is going to have issues and a few stories.  I'd noticed that we had some lovely stones just along the property perimeter alongside the wall but my worry was that the rocks belonged to the wall, that they'd listed sideways and plopped off to take a rest on the loamy ground. We hefted up a handsome rock and found that instead of having belonged to the wall, it masked a trash pit.  A few centimeters beneath the roots and rolly pollies, a city of ancient trash awaited our discovery.  My childhood dream of becoming an archaeologist was now fulfilled.

pottery, bottles, metal, toothbrushes.  everything that's dug up on the Discovery Channel during Egypt week was in my reach.  Did I harbor a gleefully morbid hope to find a body?  Of course!  

But I found pottery tinged with bright blue.
And I filled my bucket with shards of treasure.
And I set aside strange stragglers like marrow bones, glass shards and a piece of metal with a beehive imprint.  

And I found more fiddleheads.  I hadn't expected to unearth more edibles but treasure is treasure.  

YAY!  Food!

During the war of 1812, Freegrace Leavitt famously  brewed potato whiskey at the tavern to great profit. We've been looking for remnants of whiskey production since we started to restore Freegrace and now we have a piece of glass to remind us that we still haven't found any barrels of the good stuff. 

we found ancient toothbrushes.  strangely, they make me feel dirty.

our bounty.

I can't find more of this particular pot but unearthing a small azure shard was heaven.

I also found a bottle top and stopwatch frame.  

We didn't find human remains but a horse mandible will do.

And it's a lovely reminder that life will always find a place. There's a plant growing upside down in this ancient bottle.

All this wonderful treasure found because we were building a pond.  This is the life I dreamt of having when I was a kid.  It doesn't disappoint.

Something Nasty in the Milk Shed

For years now I've wanted to fix up the ancient milk shed.  It sits, quite literally, at the edge of our property, a remnant of the days where milk was stored and sold fresh from Myrtle on the farm's roadside milk shed.  The shed is guarded by wild berry bramble and before the spring rain gives them cause to grow any more prickly, I decide to cut a path and see what needs to be done.

view from the road of the shed with the barn in the background.

This is what's between me and getting into the milk shed.
It ain't pretty but it's a path.
The shed's stone front landing.  Jeepers, I love moss on stone.
Getting closer!

What's this high tech security?

we've gained entry!

ugh.  Looks like goat scat and a skeleton.  Apparently, in the recent past, the milk shed was transformed into a goat party den.  Maybe I'll just put the screwdriver back in place and forget I have a milk shed.

To scrub my mind of the milk shed horrors, I'll turn my sites on the lilac that's ready to come into bloom right outside the barn.

And I'll walk the property perimeter and pick up trash!  

And I'll admire the dry rock fence that still surrounds our property.

Daphne has the right idea.  She's not wasting her time breaking into a nasty milk shed.  She's soaking up the rays.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


With all the beauty and joy that comes with spring, the succulent green of new leaves and the all-out fecundity, I've never seen so much bloodshed and horror erupt from the season of rebirth.

I'll start with the good news.  Things are growing.  Our apocalyptically warm weather has wrought a spectacle of leafy newness that usually holds out until mid-May in these parts. 

My all time favorite:  Broad Beans! 

My friends and neighbors, Nancy & Norm, gave me a monster chunk of their rhubarb.  I'm well pleased.  I've not killed it yet.

June fruiting strawberries going strong.

I planted year old asparagus crowns.  It takes 2 years to harvest asparagus.  That means that by next year I'll be knee deep in purple spears.  Once bearing they will continue providing me with lovely veggies for up to 20+ years.  

But they're sending up a few early shoots.  I'm so damn pleased (1) that I get some asparagus and that (2) I didn't kill them!

Garden Cress.  The lead component to my favorite summertime soup.

Black Currant bush!  I see leaves.  Means I didn't kill it!  Yet.
Green house in full swing!

But with spring having sprung, it has also brought the frisky out of our animals.  By frisky I mean murder.

It began early in the season with the drake we call, with absolutely no originality, Aflack.  His back was poked raw and bloody.  Now if you have chickens, you know the result of having too many roosters to too few hens:  ladies with their backs completely bare of feathers and a few lesions if she's especially unlucky.  But with the ducks, it's the guys who go at each other.  A fight to the death for the ladies' affections.  I use affection very loosely.  There's no affection involved and often there's a bit of drowning thrown in the mix but so far, the duck ladies have survived.

(For those wondering about the geese, they mate for life, so the ganders are pretty chill about the whole spring mating thing.)

I called the owner of the ducks, as I'm fostering them until they can get their Irene ravaged farm back in working order.  She confirmed that it was mating fever and eventually took Aflack away to have spa time.

All seemed well, with only Aflack victim to raging hormones and the water fowl taking to uprooting vulnerable garlic instead of assaulting romantic rivals.

Ducks and Geese love garlic.  Who knew?
And then two days ago Ray runs into the house yelling, "duck down!"  Within the course of a few hours, a strapping drake was laid out on the meadow with his wings akimbo and his back bloody.  He died that evening.

The drakes in the foreground are the perps.  Mean little buggers.

The next morning another drake left the coop, after an evening of hell, similarly injured but still walking relatively well.  I caught him and have now isolated him in a pen and little bit of pasture of his very own.  There are now two very mean drakes left standing, having taken Aflack out, killed another and maimed a third.  I have big love for all creatures.  These two, not so much.

lonely boy in his bachelor pad.

Lonely Boy longing for his lady. They talk through the mesh in hushed tones. 

So it is now my job to arrange the recuperating pen in a manner that is predator safe (at the moment, Lonely Boy is sleeping in a large crate at night).  That way, I can bring his lady love to stay with him.  They miss each other terribly.

Wish us all luck for getting out of the spring without any more tragedy.  And to you, I wish all the happiness of spring without any of the mayhem.