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Henry after a recent bath outside the paddock

We’ve spent a good bit of time this past month improving the stall situation for Henry, our Tennessee Walker.  Our 200 year-old bank barn has seen a lot of use over the years, and was not the ideal location for boarding a 27 year-old horse. Tammi and I did some brick and cement work in his stall so we could level the entire width of the floor.  We purchased some mortar at Home Depot, and I set about mixing it in a plastic tub, using a garden rake. Tammi observed nearby, and came over to ask a question.

“Don’t you want to use a hoe?” she asked.

“A hoe?” I said. “What do I need a hoe for? I have a wife!”

“Huh?”

“The rake will do fine, thanks,” I said. “Let’s start stacking some bricks.”

We had a large number of bricks laying about the barn. I had used a number of them to extend our walkway from the kitchen to the garage. Now, we were using them to build a low wall in the stall, to the level of the main floor. We then filled in behind it with some extra pavers and bricks.

Henry enjoying the green grass of home in the upper pasture

The next day, our neighbors (Todd and Lisa) came by — Todd with his John Deere front end loader — and began filling in the rest with a mix of dirt and stone that had been refuse piled in the lower pasture when we had the driveway paved. It was the perfect fill. We then put the rubber mats on top and Tammi and Brandon spread the bedding.  Henry now had a nice level stall in which to lay down — and not trip.

Todd also helped to fill in the paddock with this harder material which has proven to be much better (less muddy) when it rains.

 

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Three years ago, we planted several fruit trees on the property in addition to the existing large smokehouse apple tree. We hoped to get some fruit we could can and use throughout the year. The peach trees yielded a peach or two each last year, and we thought they were going to be duds. But, this summer, they really took off. Before we knew it, there were hundreds of peaches on each tree — making such a heavy load that some of the limbs split, and others hung to the ground. We realized we had been very poor at pruning — something we will pay more attention to in the future.

This last week of July seemed to be the very best for peaches on the one tree. We picked a full basket on Wednesday evening, and then collected some canning supplies at the local supermarket. The recipe we used can be found here:

https://happymoneysaver.com/canning-peaches-no-sugar/

We wanted to can them without extra sugar, and settled on this lemon juice, honey, and water approach.

Tammi and I decided we would do the canning together. If you ever want to test your marriage, this is a great way to do it. Two spouses stand on opposite sides of a table, knives in hand, with boiling water nearby. If the atmosphere would get a little too heated, there were certainly sufficient weapons to take out the frustration!

Like a good husband, I listened to Tammi’s idea about how the process should work — and we set about it. First, the jars were boiled, and the lids and rings simmered. Then, the peaches were quickly dropped in the hot water, and then icy water. This made it real easy to remove the skin – just like rubbing down a new baseball on the pitcher’s mound. So, I pulled out the peaches from the water, did my skin-removing rub, and quartered them. Tammi did the rest of the cutting and the filling of the jars.

“Your squeezing the peaches too hard,” said Mrs. Knorr, concerned about the destruction of some of the fruit in my large hands.

“I’m sorry, dear, ” I said, juice dripping from my palms. “I’ll be more gentle” — smirk on my face. Then, I ladled a couple more out of the hot water into the cold.

“There, see …,” I said. “I prefer to handle two at a time.”

This received a glare and then a smile, and then we had a good laugh.

One basket of peaches filled about 10 pint jars. Next, we added a tablespoon of lemon juice to each, and then the honey and water concoction. On went the lids and rings, and into the boiling water for 15 minutes.

While this first batch boiled, we went back out to the tree and picked another. We were able to fill it quickly, and then began pruning back the tree. I am hopeful to repair the one split at the trunk of a major limb — it was really sappy.  We’ll see if bungee cords do the trick.  From the pruned limbs, we figured we recovered another half of a basket — and we haven’t touched the second tree yet!

Next, we pulled the jars from the boiling water and let them cool.  All of the lids sealed nicely!  Tammi then took some of the remaining sliced peaches out to her horses, Henry and Lakota, who loved them!

The following morning, we repeated the process with the additional basket of peaches.  We were much more efficient this time, and had a lot less waste. It seems a basket of peaches = about 12 pint jars or 1.5 gallons of sliced peaches. I’ll report back on how they held up — and how they tasted!

We have the second tree for next week. The fruit on that tree wasn’t ripe. It should yield at least another basket — and it too needs a pruning.

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Tammi got her lifelong wish earlier today when we drove in the F150, horse trailer in tow, to a farm in Leesport, PA, Berks County. There we acquired Henry, a Tennessee Walker and Lakota, a painted standard breed. The two fellows were reluctant to go on the cart — but eventually were coaxed to do so.  After loading up two trucks with saddles, supplies, and tack (sister Alice helped), we made the ninety minute trek back to the verdant Cumberland Valley.

Our first discovery upon opening the trailer gate was a large pile of scat — presents from long ride.  I was immediately reminded that removal of said scat was to be Tammi’s daily chore from here on out. These are HER horses after all!  I was proud to have backed the trailer in straight!  Anyway, I did help walk Henry off the trailer and into the paddock, where Alice took over, helping him get accustomed to his new home.

Tammi, meanwhile, struggled a bit with Lakota, the younger and more ornery of the two.  But, once he saw Henry, he calmed down, and two equine friends chomped on the green grass of their new home, settling in.

There is a lot of work ahead, and hopefully some great rides.  We’ll keep you posted.

Henry, enjoying some of that green grass of home.

Lakota with Tammi, getting used to the new surroundings.

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20160905_103233Since my last post, we’ve been preparing for horses.  The sheep and goats were given to a farmer willing to take them on.  The pasture was fallow all summer, allowing it to regenerate.  In the meantime, Tammi found 1800 feet of used triple split-rail fence.  It has a lovely historic look to it, and will enclose the horse pasture.

Stay tuned as we get ready for this new chapter!

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13620099_10208548212417232_9004235683041512233_nTaylor’s birthday/graduation bonfire.

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Example of a Naked Neck Turken (not our photo)

Example of a Naked Neck Turken (not our photo)

She wan’t the prettiest of hens.  No — she was kind of funny looking.  OK — to be honest — she was just downright ugly.  I would joke that she was “coyote ugly,” but comparing anything to those stinking vile vermin at this time is not appropriate.  Back to the naked neck.  She was the last of the flock of 25 hens purchased for Tammi after her mother passed last year.  Tammi was so thrilled when the box of little peeps arrived.  In a few months, they blossomed into an eclectic flock of fancies — 5 varieties in all.  We had the fluffy Delawares and their docile dispositions, and the Black Australorps with their turquoise eggs, and the Americaunas with their pheasant-like appearance, and the Buff Orpingtons and their rich brown eggs — and five goofy looking turkey-like no-feathers-on-the-neck chickens that Tammi declared her favorites — the Naked Neck Turkens.

Every day, for nearly a year, we were overwhelmed with 12 to 18 eggs from this crew — a cornucopia of color.  We purchased a crate of “Local Hens” egg cartons and listed our produce for sale. Everyone who tried them loved them.

“You have the best eggs!” was heard a hundred times. “Can I get more?”

We had a couple incidents over the year.  There was an obvious hawk or owl attack here and there.  The circle of feathers on the ground — in one spot and nowhere else — was the clue.

When the revonations were being done to the summer kitchen this past Winter, one of the workmen reported seeing a “big fox” near the henhouse one day.  This creature was seen a couple times — and the men scared it off.  They boldly decided to begin using the back of our property as their urinal in order to ward off the beast.  It seemed to work.

When the men finished working, we were ecstatic to begin living in our house again.  The new kitchen (see the pics in a prior entry) and the second bathroom were very functional.  We were delighted. By then, we were down to 20 chickens.  We were still retreiving at least about a dozen eggs a day.

Now early March, the ewes began lambing. It was still very cold. There was snow on the ground. That’s when the first attack occurred.  Tammi discovered one of the lambs buried in the snow, its jugular severed by the fangs of a coyote. There were tracks in the snow from possibly two of the canids.  We became very worried about the lambs — especially at night.

Stock photo of a Pennsylvania Coyote

Stock photo of a Pennsylvania Coyote

Over the next few weeks, we lost 5 of our 8 lambs.  Three were killed by coyotes and two were born weak and couldn’t be saved.  Fortunately, three have survived — Samson, the young black ram, and his cousins Delilah (a black ewe) and Ezekial (Zeke), who resembles a highlander.  All this time, the chickens were doing fine — following their routine — which included free ranging during the day and being locked in their coop at night.

Then came Bloody Thursday – April 2.  Tammi returned from work and called saying she saw a dead chicken in the field.  As soon as I arrived home, we investigated and were sickened to find a dozen of our beauties lying dead — scattered about their paddock — all mostly or completely intact. It was like Jonestown — but with chickens.  A quick count showed only four alive — and another 3 or 4 missing.  Tammi called them in, but none came.  Sadly, we collected the bodies and made a pile of them in the compost.  We were down to four — two of which were Naked Necks, one Australorp, and one Americanauna.

The war with the coyotes began.  Those nights, immediately after the massacre, I waited quietly, in the wee hours, with my rifle as the vermin returned to collect their kills.  Twice, I was able to get off shots in their direction.  It was hard to tell, but I may have hit them.  Unfortunately, in the dark, at that range, I could not drop them.  But, they ran off.  And, for over a week, they did not return.

Then, one by one, in broad daylight, a chicken would disappear.  There were no circles of feathers — no evidence of eagles or owls.  One by one, we think, our remaining birds were nabbed in “grab-and-go” attacks by a coyote.  One by one, the Australorp, then the Americauana, and then the Naked Neck — leaving just one ugly Naked Neck — the ugliest of the uglies — so ugly, even a hungry coyote hadn’t killed her, yet.

Now she’s gone. We have no idea where. She never said goodbye. There was no evidence of her death. And, she left us one last brown egg a couple days ago. I just enjoyed it for breakfast, wondering what had come of her. I’d like to think she’s off free ranging like the hen in the Geico commercial.  Maybe she’ll text Tammi — sending some pictures of her travels — but so far, not a single selfie has come across.

No, we fear our last Naked Neck Turken was not “coyote ugly” after-all.  We think she was also nabbed like her sisters.

Now the coop is empty — quietly peaceful.  We just think about Tammi’s mother a lot more.

 

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Words cannot express the shock, dismay, and disgust we felt this afternoon when we realized at least 11 of our beautiful fancy chickens were slaughtered by coyotes — in broad daylight.  It was a beautiful warm sunny day.  Sometime between 8 and 5, a pair (most likely) of these feral canines jumped the fence and began killing indiscriminately. In the end, only four of our 20 birds could be found alive — and one of them was seriously wounded.  Tammi and I quietly picked up 11 carcasses — lovely hens who had until this day provided the most wonderful selection of delicious colored eggs.  Four or five are unaccounted for. Now, all but a few are gone.  Our only recourse is to use the dead chickens as bait to see if the coyotes come back this evening.  Then they will be pumped full of lead, if they can even be seen!

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