Friday, October 26, 2012

Our Buckeye Chickens Are Five Weeks Old!

Our eggs arrive safely!
Today marks the five week birthday of our Buckeye chicks. 

They came to us still snug in their eggs, wrapped in bubble-wrap and nestled in shredded newspaper from Crains Run Ranch in Ohio.  Judging from the box, the Post Office did their best to shake them up, which definitely reduced their viability, but no eggs were broken, and 10 out of 24 managed to hatch and survive their first few days.  I am told that this is considered a GREAT hatch from mail-order eggs. 
Eggs in the incubator with automatic rocker and humidity sensor
22 days later they start to hatch
Then into the brooder to stay warm while they grow
This is the first hatch-ling (shown above) at 2 days old
10 days old (getting feathers!!)

Four weeks old (head feathers coming in)
17 days old (tail and shoulder feathers!)

So, my ten little peeps are in the brooder right now and in the next two weeks they will be ready to get out and stretch their legs.  I  hope to have their coop ready in the barn by then. 


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Winter is Here!

Our Halloween pumpkin covered in snow
I am sitting here at my desk watching fat little snowflakes drift down from the sky.  The trees are already covered with fluffy pillows of the stuff, and where there once were areas of dirt, gravel and pine needles (not to mention hay bales, wood piles, and potted plants) there is now a sea of white.
Kim's motorcycle waits for space in the garage!

Our house with cargo trailer in front
This is my first winter here at Sundog. My first winter ANYWHERE that has SNOW, in fact!  I feel like I could watch it come down for hours on end.  It is mesmerizing.

It has been snowing for three days now, so we have accumulated about 18 inches at this point.  Walking through the drifts to feed the horses and fetch materials from the garage and basement has given me an idea of what the next six months are going to be like, and all I can say is YIKES!

I actually like walking through the snow, as do the horses and dogs.  My boy Cody loves to catch snowballs, and our older hound-dog, Tulip, cannot get enough of "porpoising" through the drifts.  She doesn't seem to need to have a direction.  She just jumps in and keeps going!  The horses dig through the snow with their nose, taste it a bit and throw their head around.  The chicks are too young to go out in it, but I am looking forward to seeing their first responses to it too.

Even the cold is not a problem (so far).  Put on enough warm clothing, and you look forward to the snow!  No, the biggest problem I see is the digging.  EVERYTHING is UNDER the SNOW!  To go down the stairs, you have to dig them out (or you can just sweep the snow off the stairs if you keep up with it, but take one step, and you compact the snow so only digging will work). Want some firewood?  Dig it out.  What to drive down your driveway?  Dig it out!  Hmmmm.  This is going to take a little more planning and patience than I thought, but the good news is that I will get exercise this winter!

We are suppose to have sun again in a few days, so this snow will soon be gone.  However, it was great "practice", and I have already gotten together my list of "must do's" before the real winter storms hit!

I see my last communication was way back in August!  Well, a lot has happened since then!  We have made great progress on the barn, taken down a number of trees that were threatening to fall over onto our house, gotten most of the electrical system repaired, and hatched out our Buckeye chicks!  But I will save these stories for another post.  Looks like I am going to have plenty of time to write!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cheveyo and Kahuna Kai Arrive August 25th

Kim and I had a great time in Reno this weekend at the Wild Horse and Burro Expo.  We traveled there specifically to pick out our new horses.

As many of you know, wild horses are gathered from public lands by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) when their numbers exceed the carrying capacity of the land.  The BLM contracts with a variety of people to care for, and in some cases train, these horses in preparation for adoption.

One of the best programs we have found for training is offered by the Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City, Nevada.  Inmates participate in a program to learn how to care for and train wild horses using natural horsemanship training principles (not all programs use these gentler training techniques).

Kim and I traveled to Carson City earlier in the year to witness how well the horses were trained before they were adopted out, and came away VERY impressed.  This weekend, we checked out their latest graduates and found two that were perfect for us!

Cheveyo with his trainer, Ken
The horse I adopted was named Oreo Cookie by his trainer (Ken) since he is a chocolate brown Appaloosa with a white blanket.  However, his slight roman nose, stocky build, and white blanket dappled with black spots remind me of an American Indian war pony.  Since this rugged look contrasts sharply with his gentle and calm nature, I decided to change his name to Cheveyo, which is Hopi for "Spirit Warrior".

Kim adopted a beautiful Buckskin who was named "Big Kahuna" by his Hawaiian trainer, Ryan.  Big Kahuna means "the best of the best" in Hawaiian. A very fitting name for this wonderful horse, but Kim wanted to emphasize the magic he weaves over everyone who meets him, so he will now be known as Kahuna Kai, which means "Wizard !" in Hawaiian.  I was not at all surprised that Kim ended up with a horse touched in some way by Hawaii as it is her favorite place in all the world.  Perhaps she should have named her new boy Kismet!

Kahuna Kai with his new love, Kim

The Barn Is Nearing Completion!

Ever since we arrived we have been working on renovating our barn.  Previous owners had added a loft apartment that was poorly constructed, and allowed the foundation to become undermined.  The electrical system  had been eaten by pack rats and the water line had frozen and burst the pipes as well. 

New foundation being poured

Concrete floors go in for tack room and office
All of these problems have now been  corrected and a new roof is going on as I type.  Good thing, because our horses are arriving next Saturday!
Tear out of the upstairs apartment is nearly complete

New shear panel and vapor barrier go on

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We're Here!!!

Kim and I have finally moved in at Sundog Ranch.  It has been a long time coming, and we could not be happier.

Life in the country is wonderful.  We have been especially impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of neighbors as far as 40 miles away!  Here are just a few of our experiences:

Horse Trailer Breakdown:  Kim and I were hauling our newly renovated horse trailer to Sundog when, just 40 miles from our destination, it broke a hub.  We were very glad we only had household goods, not horses, in the trailer.  The second bit of good news is that we broke down right across the street from the Triple J Ranch, whose staff and owner came to our rescue by moving the trailer to a safe place at the ranch and giving us the name of a great mechanic who could fix it.  It is being repaired as I type. 

Tire Repair:  Kim's beloved Gator ran over a screw last week and decided to keep it embeded in one of its tires. We noticed it when all the air ran out.  No matter.  We took the flat tire to Less Schwab in Alturas.  To our surprise, they repaired it for free!

The Wave:  There is a lovely habit in the country.  When you pass another car face-to-face on the road, you waive. Simple.  Lovely. Friendly. Hard to get in the habit of when you come from the crazy, impersonal freeways of the big city, but our new neighbors are teaching us by example.

Tom, Our UPS Driver, Stopped By To Welcome Us to the Neighborhood!:  Well, that is the whole story, but we think it is extraordinary.  Kim is a retired UPS Driver, and she was known for her friendly and helpful ways. She would often take her breaks while visiting with her customers and their dogs (her weakness), but we are a long way up the hill for the UPS driver to just "stop by"! We told him to call ahead next time and we would send him away with some fresh mountain spring water or a cup of coffee. We can do "country friendly" too!

Driving a Skid Loader:  The latest adventure has been with heavy equipment.   We hired a great local company, A&M Plumbing, to repair a variety of plumbing problems on site.  One of these  involves digging a 150 foot long trench to reconnect the barn with our water supply.  Billy, the owner of A&M Plumbing, has been driving his family's back hoes and skid loaders since he was 10 years old.  He is a whiz on this stuff, and he shared the fun by allowing me to jump on his skid loader and take it for a spin!  Life is good in retirement land!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Love the Internet, I'm Just Say'n

I don't even know where to begin about how much I appreciate having the Internet as a source for information and a vehicle for communication.  I love reading the blogs of folks like me, who are trying something new and sharing their experiences.  I also love finding free plans and little gems of information like how to build barns and hay sheds, or simple windmills and water pumps. Then there are the chat rooms where you can ask questions and a total stranger will offer their advice, much of which is very good!

I don't think moving out to the hinterlands would be nearly as fun or inviting if I did not know that the Internet would be going with me.  Sort of an electronic umbilical cord to what I have come to view as the best of civilization.  Oh, yes, there is a lot of junk on the Internet as well.  Forgotten bits of information, misinformation, and lone tirades of angry people.  There is also electronic illness and disease in the forms of worms and viruses, because there are always ill people that cannot resist inflicting chaos and confusion on others.  However, unlike the world that is largely in the news, dramatized in sitcoms, or put into feature length film, I find the world of the Internet is largely full of good people doing interesting things.   It is sad we are all so busy trying to make ends meet that we don't get to experience more of people's lives directly, but I think the Internet evens the field a little, and brings more of us together in constructive ways than any other medium I have experienced.

One of the best sources of information I have found on the Internet are University websites.  For instance, I was looking for building plans for a simple hay shed, and eventually came upon a site hosted by the University of Tennessee Agricultural College that has a bunch of plans for everything from chicken houses, barns and fencing to hay and equipment sheds.  All accessible for FREE.  Life is good, and so is the Internet!

For those of you who have not looked at my right-hand blog column recently, you will see a series of websites, blogs and books that I highly recommend.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What About Fire?

Perhaps our biggest safety concern in the mountains (surrounded by pines and not much else) is FIRE.  We do have a fire station just up the road that is manned during the summer, but there is a lot of forest, and professional help can only go so far.

Reading up on this, it appears we have two choices in the case of fire:  abandon the property or stay and fight.  Though staying to fight sounds dangerous, lots of people are killed abandoning their property because their exit route can be cut off by another fire.  There is only one paved exit off our mountain, and it is long and winding.  So, there will be no sprinting to safety.  The thought of trying to leave that way also makes me uncomfortable as we will have no idea what waits for us down the hill.

However, Kim has asthma, and the merest whiff of smoke can cause problems for her.  I cannot fight a fire on the ranch without her help, so any plan we have will need to address this.

Finally, we will have a lot of lives to protect when you consider our dogs, horses, chickens, and perhaps a few cows and pigs.  Too many lives to haul down the mountain in one trip.  So, staying to fight may be the only strategy I can live with, and I suspect that, in the end, saving our buildings will be the key to everything.

So, I will be researching strategies and opportunities over time and recording my findings under "Fire Protection".  Please take a look if you are interested in this topic, and if you have anything to to add, please comment!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Other Preparations for "Home Defense"

Least anyone feel Kim and I are trigger happy, let me tell you a little about our ranch wildlife philosophy.

We are practicing permaculture on our ranch.  That means, our primary goal is to figure out how we can live harmoniously with the wildlife around us (see the "Sundog Permaculture" for more background on this concept). In fact, ideally, we want to figure out how the wildlife can HELP us do what we want to do.  For instance, a raccoon family in the area is likely to keep other raccoons away. Kill the raccoon and you only create an opportunity for another raccoon to move in.  Same with wolves and bear.

Even if we were not interested in permaculture, Kim and I LOVE wolves, foxes, raccoons, bears, hawks, squirrels and all the other animals that surround us.   Killing them is the LAST thing we want to do.  The problem is, once they get a taste of chicken (or fruit, in the case of the vegetarian "preditors"), it will be very hard to keep them from coming back for more.  So, our FIRST task is either to make it very difficult to get that FIRST taste or to have enough to go around!

BARRIERS:  Our property will be surrounded by a five foot woven wire fence.   Though no fence will keep a determined animal out, it will keep our animals in and help take them out of the "easy meal" category.  Since most predator attacks occur at night,  all of our smaller animals (and our horses) will be in a secure barn or coop at night.  Our important food crops will also be protected (from the cold and the nibbling mouths of wildlife) by greenhouse walls.  Finally, our chickens will have plenty of tree cover during the day to reduce their daytime visibility from the sky (where hawks will be hunting).  Their dark plumage should also help them avoid detection to some degree as they will blend into the shadows and pine needle ground cover.

DOGS:  Our next level of protection will come from our dogs.  Kim and I have four dogs all told.  Two are Australian Cattle Dogs, who take guarding our property from unknown humans very seriously.  The other two are Catahoula mixes, and they are excellent hunting dogs that love to chase squirrels and do not like other predators on their property.    All four dogs will be patrolling our property, backing each other up, and their scent will be on everything.  We are hoping that between this and the barriers our livestock will be reasonably safe, and squirrels and other rodents will be keep in check to some degree.

BIOLOGICAL VECTOR CONTROL:  We are depending upon our chickens (an perhaps pigs) to help us keep rodents and bugs in check as we will not be using pesticides or poisons of any kind. We will also be encouraging bats and birds to live on our property as well.  The more they work, the less we have to!

MOTION DETECTORS:  Our barn and chicken coops will also be protected from predators through the use of motion detectors that turn on lights and/or water pistols. Hard to keep your concentration when you are being soaked with cold water or illuminated so all can see!  These signals will also likely start the dogs to barking, which is an added deterrent.

DISTRACTION: We plan to have a number of fruit trees on our ranch, which we know will attract birds and squirrels.  However, we will also be planting a number of lower-growing food crops underneath the fruit trees, some of which will provide food we are not interested in at the same time the fruit trees are ready.  This "polyculture" approach to farming should serve to distract bugs, squirrels, chipmunks and birds from the fruit we want to some extent.

SHARING:  We plan to plant far more fruit trees and berries than we need so we can afford to share to some extent. 

OTHER STRATEGIES:  We will keep looking for other strategies that require little energy on our part to be effective.  Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!

Recent target practice with a Glock, 17 shots/17 hits!
Hand guns and rifles are among the many tools that Kim and I are becoming proficient with in preparation for ranch life (much to the relief of my father and brothers).

While they are thinking of our safety from imaginary marauding bands of cutthroats, Kim and I are more concerned about protecting our livestock (and ourselves) from four-legged predators like foxes, raccoons, wolves, lions, and bears (which really are there and might very much like a chicken dinner).

However, what can be imagined can also become reality.  Though we are fortunate to be moving to an area that has had little but petty thievery  in its history, it pays to be prepared, and it never hurts to have skills even if you never have to put them to the test.

So, in the spirit of "the disasters you are prepared for never happen", we are becoming proficient at handling and shooting a variety of guns, as well as learning other less lethal home self-defense skills and strategies.  My instructors tell me I have an aptitude for it, though I am not sure how to take that.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Our Horses Are Going to Come From Nevada!

Horses are on the horizon for us, but probably not until this Fall.
Hank Curry, the trainer in charge of the Mustang Training Program

The Mustang Training Center at the Stewart Conservation Camp, a Men's Correctional Facility in Carson City, Nevada
Kim has always dreamed of having a Mustang, but we were worried they might be too much horse for us.  Many of our friends and family members have warned us to stay away from them saying they are too wild to handle, skittish, and small.

At first, we were dissuaded, but we took an opportunity to fly to Carson City Nevada where there is a Mustang training program at the state correctional facility.  The inmates learn to gentle and saddle-train the Mustangs (a way to keep them busy and learn a trade), and then (after an intensive four month program) the Mustangs are auctioned off to the highest bidder.  Bids range from $150 (the starting bid) to $4,000 (a rare high).

What we saw on our weekend trip was nothing short of amazing!  Sixteen horses were up for auction. Every one was beautiful, well mannered, and quite well saddle trained.  We had the opportunity to meet all the horses, nose to nose, talk to the trainers, ask all the questions we wanted, and then see all the horses perform in a group exhibition before the auction.  It was a beautiful sight to behold, and it was hard to remember that these horses had never been handled just four months before!

The Mustangs in formation after the exhibition ride
When the bidding started, each horse was brought out individually and his rider put him through his paces in front of the crowd (all the horses were geldings in this auction).  All the horses circled the arena at a trot and canter, changing gates and direction with ease and with very little direction from their rider.  They all stopped on a dime, backed up well, side stepped beautifully, stood still while being mounted, and allowed their hooves to be picked up without any trouble.  Many of the riders demonstrated that their horses could also be ridden bare back, remain unconcerned even when flags and ropes were waved over their head and in the face, would stand still even if you mounted on the wrong side, would follow the rider around the arena if they dismounted and let the rains drop and walked away, would turn any direction the rider pointed to while the rider was on the ground not holding the reins, helped open gates with the rider mounted, and allowed the rider to dismount by sliding off over their rump without any concern.  Two even allowed their rider to stand on top of the saddle and lay prone on their bare back with their feet on top of the horses head!  All without flinching or shying in any way. 

As to size, the smallest was 14 hands (which did seem a little small for us), and the tallest was 15.3 hands (a little BIG!).  Most were about 14.3 hands, which seemed just right.  We were assured by all the riders and many spectators that any of the horses (even the 14 handers) could easily carry an adult rider without any concern.

The Love of Kim's Life - Dollar the Mustang
Though Kim and I were not there to bid on any of the horses (since our facilities are not ready), both of us fell in love with all the Mustangs after seeing these demonstrations!  Kim's special favorite was Dollar (shown in the adjacent photo).  Though his photo many not show it, Dollar was especially charismatic and playful.  He loved people coming up to him and showed it.

The most surprising thing about the day was that most of the horses sold for less than $500!  They were all worth over $1,000 given the skills they demonstrated.  Apparently, it is a sign of the times, economically speaking. 

So, we are now convinced that we can and will be able to handle horses trained by this facility, and we will be back in October to pick out our two Mustangs!