Friday, August 28, 2009

Say Your Prayers

Returning to the house from the barn, I thought I noticed a scratch in my siding. How could that happen?

On closer inspection, I discovered the truth.

The scratch had legs!

Sure enough, a praying mantis! I read that praying mantids can be as big as 12 inches long, and as carnivores, the largest ones eat not only insects but small vertebrates like hummingbirds! Not MY hummingbirds, you don't! But take as many baby mice as you'd like we have plenty of those.

Just look at that coy pose, seemingly reverent. But the praying mantis is a poseur, luring its prey ever closer into the prayer circle until whammo! My research tells me that the mantis begins the meal before the entree stops wriggling, taking the first tender bites from the still breathing throat. My heavens! And don't forget, the female of the species frequently devours her mate, sometimes before "the act" is completed.

Don't let those green peepers fool you, this is one serious insect. Still, seeing it hanging on the side of my gray house, trying to blend in to its surroundings, I couldn't help being fascinated at how this giant bug can hide itself, and wondering just how many mosquitoes it takes to fill a mantis. I might just decide to invite more of them to come visit!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The New Generation Comes of Age!

Yesterday when I collected eggs, there was what I thought was a "fart egg" (remember?). I quickly pondered whether anything had happened to disturb the hens, worried that it must have occurred while I was at work, and went about my business. Then after work today I discovered another small hen -- and a lightbulb went on!

One of the new girls is laying eggs! I did not anticipate eggs for another full month, when they reach six months old, but apparently I have a precocious girl in there.

Now I'm wondering if she is the one who has been so exceptionally resistant to coming into the coop in the evening? Or perhaps that one has begun laying outside and doesn't want to abandon her eggs??!! I'll have to take a good look around to make sure we're not leaving any outdoors.

I haven't cracked the new eggs. Often the little ones are without yolk -- what good is that? But it won't take long until she lays "real" eggs, and frequently, which I know our egg customers will appreciate.


Addendum, August 22. Today I found three little eggs -- I think it's the Isa Brown chicks that are laying!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


You might recall this blond hen. Just a few weeks ago she took up residence in the far-right nest box (see her here). She had six blue-green eggs under her and she gave it the good fight, stuck to the nest, and didn't let any other hens lay there once she had her clutch.

Just today, in fact, at lunch I mentioned to Judith that I was going to have to remove the eggs before one broke and stank up the barn. She asked "doesn't the hen know the eggs are no good?" and I kind of laughed and said "you know the expression 'bird brain'?"

I spoke too soon!

When I went into the barn after work today, this is what I saw:

Yup, now she's in the far-left box. She abandoned the six blue-green eggs on and is now setting on two fresh ones. I don't think Egglebert is fond of the Ameraucanas, who lay the blue-green eggs, so tomorrow I'm going to add in any brown eggs I find. Hopefully that will up our chances of success!

And doesn't it just figure -- if she hatches the new clutch, the peeps will appear just before our huge Labor Day art fair! She seems to be a very responsible hen, I'm sure she'll take good care of her babies, but I'll miss their first steps!!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Guest poster: Oskar

As I enter my sunset years, on the occasion of my eleventh birthday, I have just a few comments. I'm not a dog of many words, preferring actions that demonstrate my thoughts and beliefs.

I believe that everyone should greet the day with a bold walk, absorbing the activities of the night before in deep breaths, stretching the limbs in long strides. A cheery demeanor before breakfast is a happy day in the making.

I believe that each bowl of suppertime contains a life force to be savored while it's devoured. I've never met a suppertime I did not enjoy, nor should you. Food is fuel, not only for the body but for the spirit.

I believe that each of us should indulge our curiosity every day. I examine the grass where a mouse ran, listen to the chickens from outside the barn, observe the cows in the barn across the street. I wonder how their days are, what they are pursuing on their travels, who gives them their suppertime. Using my imagination opens my world, and it will open yours, too.

And finally, I believe that if one lives each day to the fullest, one will enjoy a deep, untroubled sleep each night.

Eleven years ago tonight my sister Charlotte and I were born. Our eight other siblings came in the morning of August 7th. Our mom Leila and Dad Beau have gone on to the Rainbow Bridge, having lived happy lives with their people Veronique, Coleen and George. Now I share my life with Johanna, my niece Ulani, the cats Luke and Abe, and the other critters here at Busy Solitude Farm.

We start our days with bold walks and delicious suppertimes, spend our days exploring, and wind down each evening for good nights' sleeps. Life is good.

Ed. note: Oskar and I have always celebrated his birthday on August 6, perhaps just to irk my sister Melissa, who shares his day. His birth certificate says August 7 because the majority of his siblings came then. We'll be having a special walk this morning, and extra treats.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Barn Life -- The Wild Side

Sure, there are chickens and ducks in the barn, but let's not forget the freeloading Barn Swallows! Every summer a beautiful pair of swallows muds up its nest and raises at least two rounds of these colorful babies.

When they first hatch, it's only the peeping that alerts me to their presence. Then as a week or so goes by, little beaks peek over the edge of the nest, always open to await an insect deposit from mom or dad. The traffic in and out of the barn during this time rivals I-94, zooming up and down the twilight highway to snatch up mosquitos and other bugs. (Would that I had 100 times as many swallows, they might possibly make a dent in the biting population!)

The most magical moment with swallows is fledge day. After observing them for a few years I can notice the morning when it seems all the neighborhood swallows are swooping around my yard. It's a natural demonstration of the idea that it takes a village to raise a child -- they all gather around to show the babies what to do, and to keep them safe while they learn. Each baby steps up to the edge of the nest, clearly concerned about what happens next, then with the urging of the adults takes the first plunge out into the world. First they fly low circles close to the barn, getting the feel of the wind in the wings. Gradually they swoop lower and soar higher, diving and racing and I expect getting luscious beaksful of squishy bugs.

Swallow flight school lasts for a few days, and then one day I'll enter the barn to silence. I don't know where they go when they leave the nest, but as summer winds down I have the promise that they'll return in the spring and do it all again!

Ed. note: I'd hoped to have a couple shots of the family flight, but they are not cooperating this morning. If I get one I'll addend it!