Posts Tagged ‘farmhumor’

“Duck Fat” by our Guest Blogger

Our 13yo daughter graces us with another blog post today.


Established fact: Grown Muscovy Duck drakes are usually too heavy to get very far off the ground. Obviously, this goes for flying down, too. Doc, our drake, has problems with understanding this.

Doc, aka "Garfield."

While our 4 duck hens get to party on the barn roof, Doc is left all alone, on the ground. He’s too fat to get anywhere. This has earned him the nickname of “Garfield”. Then, oh joy, we got Sunset and Saphira, two younger Muscovy girls who have not yet gotten their flight feathers. Now Doc has someone to play with.
Unfortunately, the duo is learning to fly. Doc watches wistfully as they get farther and farther off the ground. They are soaring high above his golden record of 3 feet.

Sunset (front) and Saphira (back)

Then Doc discovered a secret. By hopping to the lower roost, and flying clumsily the rest of the way, he could get to the wall where his girls spend the night. It was only a matter of time before he discovered the ladder.
And then, he did.
We were making applesauce. After putting the mixture into the food strainer, we are left with warm skins and cores. A little mushy, but wonderful smelling. The horses absolutely love this. We have figured out the safe way to give it to them is being on the other side of the fence, preferably with the apple mush in a bucket. At least, if you’re the type of person who values all five fingers.

I don't have a picture of Jasper chasing apple peels, but he looks something like this.

For the daredevil, the unsafe way to give it to them is when they are in the pasture, or you are actually in their stall, and you are giving it on the palm of your hand. This results in getting chased back to the gate. A horse in full gallop is probably going to beat a person on foot.
So we walked into the barn. I shined my light on the ladder to the loft to see if the barn cat would favor us with a visit. Instead of a large black cat, I saw a large white and gray duck. You guessed it, Doc.
He had apparently hopped up the ladder, one rung at a time, and was on one of the highest rungs. He had forgotten about how when he lands he falls on his face most of the time. At this hight, he might break his beak.
I climbed up the ladder thinking, Hey, I’ll just carry him down. No big deal. I climbed up the ladder, and reached for the chest. At a startled hiss, I decided that carrying a 25-pound flailing duck down a ladder is most likely not the best idea. So, I sent my sister back to the house while I held one hand on Doc’s chest and the other on his wings to keep him from flying, or as Woody from “Toy Story” would say it, “Falling, with style!”
Dad came in, reached up, grabbed the unsuspecting duck’s legs, flipped him upside down, and set him in the duck stall. Doc hated the flip-upside-down-thing. He was helpless at the time, and I don’t think he will be climbing up the ladder anytime soon.

(Mis) Adventures in Long-Distance Horse Trailering, Part 2

Last time, you may recall, we had just finished the first long day of our cross-country move with our family, goods, and two horses.  Texas to Missouri had taken us a bit longer than we’d expected but it had been relatively smooth.  Zip (our Quarter Horse) had taken the situation in very good stride, while Jasper (our Haflinger Cross) was much more perterbed.

Not his favorite place

After getting the horses settled into the horse motel – I’ll write a review sometime, as they were great – we settled down for the night in the luxurious Motel 6 just down the road.  Soon we were fast asleep.   For some reason, I woke up at 2am, thinking something wasn’t quite right, and since I couldn’t figure out what that something was and couldn’t fall back asleep, I slipped out of bed, tossed on my clothes, and drove down to the stables to see if the horses couldn’t sleep either.

Zip was just fine – relaxed, leg cocked, hay feeder empty, water half-gone. 

Jasper was not just fine.

He was neighing, pacing, circling, and otherwise working up a pretty good sweat.  He hadn’t drunk much water, and really hadn’t touched his hay at all.  He was not in his happy place.

He calmed down quickly when I started talking to him, and when I figured it was safe I got in the stall with him.  Although he wasn’t pacing or neighing, he still was sweating, snorting, and breathing pretty hard.  Most importantly, he had the “wild eye” – that look horses get when they’re scared or worried.

I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on.  The change in scenery didn’t make sense as the cause.  Jasper’s not a nervous horse in general, and he hadn’t shown any signs of anxiety earlier in the year when we’d changed from his old herd to the pasture he’d lived in for our last months in Texas.  No coyotes were howling nearby.  Even if there had been, Jasper is a herd defender – the kind of horse that moves towards a threat, not away.  No problems with his legs or hooves.  No injuries.  I attributed the nervousness to leftover stress from the trailer ride, so I decided I’d get him out and see if he could walk his nerves away.

I slipped the halter on, clipped on his lead rope, and walked him down the wide aisle and out of the barn.  As soon as we stepped outside it was like a switch turned off.  He calmed down immediately.

Hindsight is 20-20, but unfortunately it only works when the event is behind you.  As soon as I looked up and saw the stars, and heard Jasper’s breathing slow down, I got my hindsight.

You see, Jasper spent at least the past several years, and I’ll bet all the time before that,  in a pasture.  In fact, the place we bought him from in Oklahoma had the herd out in a large pasture with only a tree-line barrier for shelter. 

Picking up Zip and Jasper in Oklahoma

The large pasture we’d kept the two of them in over the past few months had a 3-sided runout shed available, but we had noticed that even during a severe snow and ice storm, neither horse had gone in the shed.  We’d arrived that morning to find them chasing each other through the snow, their backs covered in ice.  Hoofprints up to the entrance showed that they’d taken a look at the shed and decided they’d rather hang out in the open.

Like ice off a horse's back

For all we know, Jasper had never ever spent any appreciable time with a roof over his head, much less walls around him.  Making him do this for the first time after a long trailer ride, in a strange barn… well, that was asking a bit much of him.

We had a long day of driving ahead of us, and it was about 3am by this time, so I needed to get him back to bed so that I could do the same.  We had a long day of driving ahead of us.  I walked him back into the stall hand fed him some soaked hay, then backed off to watch him for a bit.  He seemed pretty calm, so I headed back to the truck.  I waited a bit, didn’t hear any neighing, and so I continued on to the motel for a couple more hours of shuteye.

The next morning Jasper seemed pretty well-sorted, though a bit more excited than normal.  We figured that was just nerves from the night, and as my wife and I hooked up the trailer, the girls took the horses out to lunge them and get some energy out.  They hollered that he was pretty jumpy, and so my wife went over to help.

I turn around just in time to see him hit the ground.

(Yes, this is a “hook” to get you to read the next one, but I know lots of you are soft-hearted, especially when it comes to horses.  Spoiler alert – if you go to our farm’s webpage you’ll see that Jasper is doing just fine today)

NATO Peacekeeping, Family Harmony, and Automatic Chicken Doors

I spent 10 years in NATO assignments, so I’m pretty acquainted with the challenges of trying to accommodate seemingly incompatible desires.  Hey, if I could somehow deal diplomatically with both sides of the Aegean Sea dispute between Turkey and Greece, I should be able to figure out a farm, right?


OK, we’re not talking international incidents, but our chickens did provide us with a challenge, caused (as most challenges are) by competing agendas:

1.  We want to raise our chickens in a natural, free-range environment (for all of these reasons)

2.  We want our chickens to feed us, not the local predators, and

3.  We want to be able to leave the house every once and a while and not have to chase the chickens inside before we leave, or wonder if we remembered to close the door for the night, or have to rush back home to close the door before the raccoons, possums, and skunks start prowling.

As I’ve said before, I’m a gadget guy, and we tend to accumulate gadgets that don’t necessarily save time or effort.  However, every once in a while, I do find a gadget that does some good.  In this case, it was a gadget that met all those agendas… an automatic chicken coop door.

I’d heard of them before – pretty cool gadgets that open the door in the morning to let the birds out, then shut in the evening when they’re roosted to keep them safe for the night.  I put on my Google-Fu gameface and went to work.  Sure enough, I found all types of doors available… simple to complex, hinged doors, vertical sliders, horizontal sliders…

… and they started at about $200 shipped, and went up almost to $400.  Ouch.

Undeterred, I added “DIY” to the start of my search string.  And boy did I find some great designs.

One had an electronic schematic involving diodes, transistors, limiting switches, solar panels, and a flux capacitor.

I’m a pilot, not an engineer, and I couldn’t afford the Mr Fusion required to run the sun-following solar panel positioner.

The next one used an old-fashioned wind-up alarm clock.  No kidding.

Simple, promising, but it lacked bling, and I worried about Homeland Security knocking on my door.

Here’s one that uses a power door lock actuator to drop the door closed.

Getting warmer, and the “no raccoons” sign was a big plus..  But I wanted one that would open the door also.

Finally, I found one done by the same guy that used a car antenna motor, a lamp timer, and a couple transformers.  Simple and straightforward, and made a cool electric motor noise when it operated.  It wasn’t the kind of status I could get by installing the Cheyenne Mountain blast doors, or the Star Trek elevators with their “swish-swish,” but pretty cool nonetheless.

Now this one used diodes also, but I figured I could bypass that nifty-keen aspect and replace the light-sensitive timer with a manual lamp timer. Winner, winner, chicken dinner (for me, not the foxes).

So, I started shopping around for the components.  Holy diminishing returns, Batman!  We were up past $100 again.

Enter the wonderful folks at, who not only have simple, step-by-step instructions for how to make this, but also tell you how to get the materials for about $50 total.

I ended up saving even a few more $$ when I realized aftermarket Wii controllers are 12v, 3.7A (plenty to run the motor) and were on sale from Amazon for $4 each (and free shipping with the antenna motor)!

Once the parts came in, I essentially followed the instructions and put my door together.  One thing I changed was to use a clear Lexan panel for the door (again, because I found one for cheap).

Worked like a charm… a few mods to make it open and close smoothly and we were in business.

Except the chickens wouldn’t use the door.

Seems they tried to go out while the door was closed, through the crystal-clear Lexan, and bumped their beaks one too many times.  Evidently, they decided that just because a cool noise went off, and it looked like the door had moved, they weren’t going to get tricked by the invisible Lexan forcefield again.

Easy fix – I covered the Lexan with spraypaint (now that I think about it, I should’ve used a “No Raccoons” picture), opened the door, and pushed the chickens out by hand.  By the next day, they’d figured it out.

Everything was now working great.  The door opened in the morning.  Chickens filed out and started reducing our tick population.  In the evening, they filed back in to the roost.  The door closed.  Everyone was safe.  We got to stay out late keeping Tractor Supply and Home Depot in business.  Life was good.

Then we got goats.  Within 24 hours, both of them (these are pretty dang big goats, mind you) had squeezed through the 8.5” x 11” opening to get to the chicken feed, shattering the Lexan door in the process.

However, that’s another story for another day.

Guest Blogger: “Chuck” the Chicken-Duck

Please welcome the Flying T’s first guest-blogger, our 13yo daughter…

I mentally go through the birds as I check on them for the night. 5 ducks. Check. 6 Rhode Island Red hens. Check. 3 Araucana hens. Check. 1 Araucana rooster. Check. 15 Barred Rock chicks. Check.  1 chicken-duck. Check.

You may be wondering about that last bird. No, it is not a new-fangled hybrid of some kind. It’s just a Araucana hen that thinks she’s a duck. It’s true. And it just goes to prove that we didn’t buy chickens just for the farm-fresh free-ranged eggs, we also bought them for the amusement they give.

Daisy... not a Chuck

This particular hen, we think, has had traumatizing brain damage in the past. When she was a chick, just 2 or 3 days old, she got stuck under the gallon water feeder. Really, with 12 chicks jumping around squawking “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”, it’s kind of hard to tell if all of them are on the other side of the cage. This one barely survived. She was held so much during the fact though, for basically an hour or two straight, that she is friendly to this day. She has earned her ticket out of freezercamp, insane as she is.

As I mentioned earlier, she thinks she is a duck. So we call her “Chuck the chicken-duck”. This happened when we first got the ducks a few weeks ago. Layer pellets taste good to a chicken still on grower food! Ever since she learned that this yummy delight came from the grain bin, she follows us around, trying her hardest to “trill” like a Muscovy Duck. They sound like “crrrrrooooooooo”, she sounds like “crrrrooAWWWWWWK!”. But she tries.

Chuck the Chicken Duck

Chuck has not yet started sleeping over at the ducks, but she is close. As it is, she follows them around like they are the Pied Piper of Hamelin. When we fenced off part of the horse’s stall (where the chickens usually come in under the gate) for the goats, Chuck thought it was so unfair that her supposed kin were on the other side of the fence, and she couldn’t get to them. She ran up and down the fence, squawking out her version of trilling. We finally picked her up and let her out with the ducks.

Chuck even joins them for their midday snooze. They won’t let her into their private dog pile in the hay, of course, but she sleeps in the other corner of the duck’s stall, wings folded, head cocked back, imitating the way the ducks sleep.

We are looking forward to more chicken-ducks when Chuck lays her eggs in the duck’s nesting box. Rather like the story of The Ugly Duckling.

Chickens are so amusing.

On Gadgets

It’s a little known fact that the managers at the local Tractor Supply Co and Home Depot franchises have recently seen the same specialist to cure the same problem. It seems their salivary glands go hyperactive anytime they see me roll into the parking lot.

If you have a small farm, you know that there are all sorts of gadgets you can buy to “help” you.  Now, I’m a gadget guy – and my wallet and I are drawn to them like bugs to a zapper – but I’m also honest with myself.  I’m firmly convinced that very few of these machines, slicers, dicers, and automatic car washers actually result in a net gain in productivity, though some of them are just downright fun (as in the “Whiz-Bang Chicken Plucker,” which we don’t currently own… yet).

What’s a Whiz-Bang?  The story about it is on the inventor’s website, with some great photos and descriptions; however, while a photo says a thousand words, a video is even more verbose.  A bit of Google-Fu gives us an example:

Where were we?  Oh yeah, why gadgets rarely result in a net gain:

Say a person makes the US median income – about $45K a year, or $22.50 per hour.  He or she takes pride in his/her lawn and edges it every week from April to September using  an old-fashioned rotary-blade manual push edger for the task, a good workout that takes an hour to complete.  By the way, we’re talking about “a person,” not me.  I don’t edge my lawn.  It’s not visible from the road, I’m not exactly sure how one edges a gravel drive, and my wife normally mows the lawn anyhow… a long story involving lions, beavers, and USAF flight training.

Back to the story.  One day at Home Depot, said person notices that the Binford 2000 gas-powered Lux-o-Edger (with patented dual counter-rotating blades of turf death) is on sale for only $250.  The sales associate expresses horror when hearing about the old-fashioned edger our person currently uses and says “This baby will do the job in half the time.”

Our gadget guy (oops – I just lost the non-gender-specific edge, I guess) buys the edger, gas can, oil, extended warranty, storage cover, and auxiliary lighting system, and laser grass illuminator, checking out for $350.  Over the two-year life of edger (exactly the length of the extended warranty), he also spends another $100 in gas and parts, bringing the total cost to about $450.  In the end, he saves 20 hours of labor (24 minus  the 4 he spends changing the plugs and oil, and sharpening the dual counter-rotating blades of turf death), which at his hourly wage is worth about $450.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to close my Macbook and go spend some time adjusting our automatic chicken coop door.  Maybe I’ll use the tractor to turn the manure pile also, since it’s so much easier than using a shovel.  Afterwards, I’ll go scrounging for a food drum for a project I’ve been considering.  I’ve already got the motor….

Chickens, Lions, and Beavers… Oh My!

Our family has a weakness for free-range eggs.  You may be thinking, “what’s the big deal?  Eggs are eggs,” or “Can you really tell the difference?”  If so, you haven’t had a truly fresh, free-range egg.  I’ll have to save that discussion for a later blog post, but if you’re skeptical, just humor me through the rest of this story.

Anyhow, our weakness for free-range eggs, as well as a desire to be a little closer to our food is what led us to think about bringing chickens to the farm.  As the previous owner had run an emu operation, we had four out-buildings, one of which would be easily converted into a coop.  Space was not a problem – you can raise a small flock in most urban backyards if your city allows it, and we have just under 15 acres.

So, like most things to do with the farm, we had a family council to decide if we were ready to start a new venture.

Break, break… it’s about time to digress into a bit more backstory.

You may have had the opportunity in your life to take some sort of personality test… you know, the kind of test that tells you what your general personality type is, how you think, how you make decisions, strengths, weaknesses, etc.  There are myriad types – the one the Air Force uses a lot is the “DiSC,” with the categories being “Dominant,” “Influencing,” Steady,” and “Conscientious.”  Personally, I like Gary Smalley’s version, where the categories are defined pretty similarly, but he uses animals to label them – Lion, Otter, Golden Retriever, and Beaver, respectively.

I’m pretty pegged-out in the Lion category, with a good dose of Otter.  Both tend to be visionary and headstrong, not big fans of details, and better talkers than listeners.

In other words, after our family council I walked away figuring everybody was onboard with my vision for this and just as excited about it.  The vision everybody had signed on to was this: we’d start with a small flock, about a dozen egg-layers.  We’d raise them from chicks, have eggs a few months later, and in a couple years when they stopped laying, we’d send them to freezer camp and eventually the stew pot.

About a month later, we’d add a “straight run” of 24 dual purpose Barred Rocks to the flock, raising the pullets to add to our egg production and all but two of the cockerels for slaughter.

With everybody marching neatly behind, I called our neighborhood grain store and put in our order for six Rhode Island Reds and six Araucanas.

Shortly afterward, my wife said, “The kids told me you ordered the chicks.  I thought we were going to come to a family decision first.”

“Uhhh… we did.  Don’t you remember?”

“No.  We decided that we would all think about it, and have another meeting to talk about our thoughts.”

My wife is a pegged-out Beaver.  She remembers things that were said.  She follows rules.  Things usually work out better when Lions listen to Beavers, but it’s not nearly as “fun.”

“Oops,” I said.  “Well, it’ll be alright.”  That’s lion code for “don’t bother me with details.”

In the weeks prior to our chicks’ arrival, I started work on the coop, and planning for the timing for ordering our dual-purpose birds.  We had a couple more family meetings in which we set down the rules, the most important one being that we would not name the chickens.  I knew that if the chickens had names, they’d end up as pets, and when they got old and stopped laying eggs, I’d be stuck feeding them for the rest of their natural lives.

This rule caused a little bit of consternation, so using my best negotiating skills, I compromised.  Each of the three children could name one chicken, but only after the chicks were a bit older and their personalities emerged.  Those chicks would have a lifetime pardon from freezer camp.  Everybody agreed happily.  “Remember,” I admonished.  “No names until later.”

The day prior to the expected hatch date, we went over the rules one more time.  We had the warming lamp, the feeder, and the waterer ready to go.  That morning, as I headed off to work, I emphasized “the rules” one last time.  “No naming… got it?”

My wife got the call that morning that the chicks were in, and to come pick them up.  After scrambling to find a box that would fit in the car to pick up the chicks, she and the kids drove down the road, returning shortly afterwards with a dozen balls of fuzz-feathers and 50 lbs of chick starter.

By the time I got home, all twelve were named.

You might live on a farm if…

You might live on a farm if…

10.  …you normally awake before the rooster (and when he wakes up first you have an urge to reach for the duct tape).

9.  …at least once this week, you’ve been outside in PJs and rubber boots.

8.  …the dockhand at the grain store starts filling your truck with your order before you get to the counter.

7.  …some of your nightmares start with your kids yelling, “Mom! Dad!  The goats are…”

6.  …you cruise dumpsters for building supplies.

5.  …your work gloves wear out too often and always in the same place.

4.  …a police officer has stopped by your house to see if you’re the owner of a horse/goat/pig/cow/llama/emu/etc that’s gone walkabout.

3.  …you scoff when you see “Fresh grade AA” on an egg carton in the grocery store.

2.  …you shower in the evenings.

1.  …at least one member of your family has seriously thought about having you committed.

(Feel free to add your own)