Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Contest!


The new year is beginning, and what better way to enjoy it than to follow it with "A Year at Busy Solitude Farm"?!  I made these calendars for family and friends, and now I invite any reader interested in having one to participate in our Calendar Contest.  Entries close at 11:59 pm on Friday, January 7, and I'll give one away on January 8.  Come back here to find out who won!

Enter now by commenting on this blog entry (no, don't post on Facebook, it won't count!).  Tell me what story this past year you remember most, or who your favorite Busy Solitude critter is.  Or just say "I want to win a calendar"!  **Don't forget to sign your post, or I won't know how to tell you you've won!!**  To be honest, I'm not sure how I'll pick the winner.  Other blogs do it randomly, but sometimes when I enter I think "my entry is the best, what does a random picker know?"  But I'll definitely be mailing a calendar out to some lucky reader in a week or so!

Here are just a few months to whet your appetite!  Good luck, and happy new year!

I broke down and used a random number generator.  You all are too nice, and I liked everyone's comments and enjoyed seeing what you remember from 2010 at Busy Solitude Farm.
So without further ado, comment number 18, TONY is the winner!  Please e-mail me privately at to give me your mailing address.  Congratulations!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Will Egglebert Retire?

Egglebert came to Busy Solitude Farm in the first chicken year.  I had ordered four Cuckoo Marans pullets in a joint order with a friend.  It soon became clear that one of the four was more manly than the others.  No problem, thought I, every flock should have a rooster.

As the chickens of reached maturity, Eggy came into his protective own.  He would chase me out of the barn willingly enough and without provocation. The summer of 2007 brought his first chick, when Chick-Chuck hatched to the ill-fated yellow hen who was murdered just weeks later.

The next year I added a second rooster to the flock, hoping to boost the number of chicks we could hatch.  Tweedledum was a fighter and eventually had to be dispatched to keep peace.

Which leads us to the latest development.

My naivete about hatching chicks failed to acknowledge that 50 percent of them would be roosters.  After a fruitful 2010 of hatches, there are a total of five roosters in the barn, and only one new hen.  (There are also two male ducks to one female duck, alas.)  All was well for a while.

But yesterday someone attacked Egglebert.  I think it was his son, Eggy Jr.  When I came into the barn I discovered Egglebert with his head and neck stuck through the gap of the gate.  He'd tried so hard to get out that the gate was jammed and it took some maneuvering for me to open it.  He stayed so still I thought he was dead, but when I turned my back he sped out the gate into the greater barn.  I fed the hens, then looked around and found him hiding.  He was petrified.

I let him stay out there for a while, placing food and water near him.  Then later in the evening I retrieved him (by then he was standing up) and moved him into the isolation pen in the coop.  Eggy Jr. raised a ruckus when he saw his father returning, and Egglebert was clearly frightened until he recognized that he was protected from attack.

So now I have a situation that must be addressed.  If Egglebert would graciously step down as top rooster, would Eggy Jr. allow him to stay?  I watch enough PBS documentaries to know that some species allow that to happen, but some don't.  Will he need to be separated for the rest of his life?  If so, the configuration of coop space needs to be rethought.

For the time being, Egglebert will stay in isolation.  I will acknowledge that five roosters is too many in my small flock, and something will need to be done.

But for now, it is Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas at Busy Solitude Farm

U:  "Uncle Oskar, is it true that Santy Paws flies around the whole world tonight, bringing presents and biscuits to all good dogs everywhere?  What time do you think he'll get here?"

O:  "I must explain, Ulani, that he sees you when you are chasing the cats.  Or eating chickens.  Or stealing food off the kitchen counters.  Santy Paws sees everything."

U:  "Oh.  I didn't really want to meet him anyway."

Merry Christmas from
all of us at Busy Solitude Farm!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


My book group meets at 5:30 today.  My plan was to put sweet potato chips in the oven at 4:00, then get cleaned up and organized to venture out in the snow.  But my plan was changed.

The video shows the beginning of the saga.  About five 'til four I took the dogs out in the yard.  We looked around some to see how much snow is down.  Near the barn I noticed an unusual chicken sound.  Usually that means one of the chickens is picking (sometimes literally) on another, so I went into the barn to investigate.

I discovered two chickens absolutely squished under the ramp that leads to the outside.  Why had they gone there?  Was one attacking the other?  The red hen's wing was caught in the space between the ramp and the wall.  All the other chickens were very agitated, squawking and clucking and running back and forth.

Of course I had to leave the pen for a minute to get a pitchfork with which to pry up the ramp, freeing the red hen.  The young white chicken was stuck under there with her.  What on earth?

I picked up the red hen, who seemed to be relieved to be freed.  Then all the chickens came running into the part of the pen I was in.  What is going on?  I carried the hen with me into the other side of the coop.  That's when I saw the hawk.

Yup, there was a hawk inside the chicken pen.

I quickly shooed the chickens into the far side of the pen and blocked the door between.  There are still open spaces, but that seemed a bit safer.  Then the hawk swooped at my head.  I hadn't anticipated that!  While I looked around for a stick or something to shoo it along, it flew out of the pen into the other part of the barn.  That's when I got this picture.

OK, here it is cropped:

Is that a Cooper's Hawk?  It was about the size of a crow.

Anyway, there are vents along that wall between the ceiling and the outer wall, and the hawk must have escaped up into the upstairs of the barn.  So I raced over and opened the Dutch door, hoping if it came back down, it would leave.

I climbed up to have a peak upstairs.  I never go there, there's nothing up there but a bunch of dust and bird poop from the sparrows (who may be leaving if the hawk takes up residence).  At first I couldn't see anything, even with my flashlight.  Then I saw a form perched on the far side.  I took a picture, and while you can't see anything in it, you do see the reflections from two beady eyes.

Back down I went, raced into the house to get my gun.  My staple gun, that is.  Because you see, every winter I put heavy plastic up all around the chicken's pen to reduce drafts.  And I hadn't done it yet this year, but it was clear that some heavy plastic across any openings could be mighty helpful in deterring this hawk!

You know that the plastic was all balled up in the corner of the barn, covered with a summer's worth of heavy dust.  Blech.  But I went forth and got it all up.  And I stuffed empty feed sacks in any spaces I could find between the ceiling and the wall.

At one point while I was stapling, the hawk returned, swooping right at my head.  I screamed and chased it out of the barn.

When last seen, it was fleeing over a snowy field.  But will it return?

Update 9:45 pm.  I went to check on the barn before bed.  Sadly, I think the red hen is dying.  I discovered she has a hole in her back, presumably pecked by the hawk.  I set her in the isolation pen under the heat lamp because I couldn't bear to take her outside in the blizzard while there's still life in her, but I expect she'll pass by morning.  Further update Monday morning.  The red hen's life passed away over night.  Rest in peace.

Have a Pac-Man Christmas!

After much struggle to get a single strand of lights around the little pine tree in the yard, I finally broke down and got a couple of those shrub light blankets.   Seemed a piece of cake until the timer switched on and I discovered...

Someone took a bite out of our lights!  Now a blizzard is bearing down on us, so I'm not certain if I'll be able to get this fixed, or if I should just enjoy having a "special" tree this year!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Bedtime Tour

In the chilly darkness of this winter evening, I decided to take a few photos of the chickens at bedtime.  They all roost by the time it gets dark.  I like the peacefulness of the barn at bedtime.

The ducks huddle together on the floor for bedtime.  Ari is well protected by her posse of Wacky Quackers.  It appears that they take turns sleeping and being watchful, all to the benefit of Ari.

Mama Hen roosts with her two "chicks".  I believe the white one will be (yet another) rooster, and the stripey one is a girl.  This is a first for my barn, that a hen remains family with chicks this large.  Normally by this time the mother has pushed them away to begin their independent existence.  This hen even lets them try to nest under her still!

Spot and his girls roost up high on the edge of the isolation pen.  He's grown into a beautiful rooster.  His feathers are silky soft, and now that he has claimed the girls who were chicks in the spring, he's settling into his roosterhood.

On the other wing of the coop, these two old birds roost up high.  Eartha and the Ameraucana are from my first chickens here, in 2006.

Beneath them on the window ledge are (yet another) white cockerel and the gold hens.  (There is a sheet of plexiglass on the outside of that window, they are not sleeping exposed!)

And finally, Egglebert, Eggy Jr. and the rest of the flock.  Chick Chuck sleeps on the far end of the top rung, next to Egglebert.  Then the Isa Reds sleep one or two levels down.  And...  What's this?

[In reviewing this photo I realized something was wrong.  That hen on the ground is not taking a dust bath.  She is dead.  She was also one of my original chickens here.  I guess the cold just got to her, and she died.  As soon as I realize, I rushed out to the barn to remove her.  The other chickens were not in the least bit upset.]

So much for the peaceful bedtime tour!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Walkies

When cabin fever sets in, there's just one solution -- WALKIES!  Oskar and Ulani tolerate only so much couch time before they begin to call out to their brethren.  Bark!  Bark bark!  Bark bark bark bark bark bark bark!

It's tedious.

So even in the midst of a 8-12 inch lake effect snow event, I find it most useful to grab a leash and take them for walks.  Oskar is much slower than Ulani these days, so taking the dogs for walks means they each get one mile and I get two.  Our house is situated on the west end of our walking territory.  That means that if we head east, the first half of the walk is with the wind.  Doesn't take a genius to realize that means that the second half of the walk is into the wind.  Every time.  The alternative is to walk north or south.  When we do that, one cheek gets the wind going, the other coming back.

It's invigorating.  Really.

Today Ulani's walk was uneventful.  We raced out half a mile.  Then we raced back to the house.  Even she seemed more determined than normally to come straight home.

I decided to walk south with Oskar.  It's a shorter distance, easier for him.  We walked down no problem, reached the house where he sniffs whatever's left from their Monday morning trash pickup.  But the road was covered in ice, and as we headed back north, he slipped and fell.  Since he usually walks a bit behind me on the return trip, the first I knew of the problem was that the leash went taut.  There was an oncoming truck.  I quickly moved into the road in front of Oskar and the truck pulled into the other lane.  I had to give Oskar a belly lift to get him up with four legs under him.  He stomped a few times, then we headed out again.

The rest of our walk was uneventful.

Now the dogs have had their supper and they are dozing.  The house is peaceful.  And my cheeks are almost back to normal.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Taking Charge!

Tonight Oskar took charge.  No more stinkin' cats in the bed!  Bring me a drink!  Or a bone!

Monday, November 29, 2010

A New Bed for Oskar

Our house is built over an unheated crawl space.  Because of this, the winter temperature of the floor tends to be as much as ten degrees colder than the air.  Add to that the fact that I keep the thermostat at a conservative 60-68 degrees, and you'll realize that the floor can be darned cold!

Oskar has always preferred sleeping on the floor to being on the bed.  Except in the winter, when he climbed up on the sofa to curl up and snooze.  This year his arthritis seems to have taken his ability to clambor up.

I thought about getting him a heated dog bed, but I think it might be too much for a dog who never even had a bed of his own.  So I got him a fleecy crate liner with a padded edge.  Thought that might give him a small space heated with his own body heat.  Want to see it?

Oh, right, that's Abe.  Here's Oskar.

Yeah.  So far he has no interest in the new bed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ulani: Come into the kitchen!

The counters have been cleared off!


Please, I would be SO thankful for a cookie!

Monday, November 22, 2010


It's a tradition.  Thanksgiving week I bake Weihnachtsstollen.  Yesterday was the day.

I met my first Weihnachtsstollen in 1979 when I was doing a semester abroad in Germany.  I lived with an elderly woman who had survived the firebombing of Dresden in the second World War, then escaped with her husband and the clothes on their backs just ahead of the Iron Curtain.  Grossmutti, as I called her, baked her stollen (which is also known as Dresden Stollen) in late November or early December, then placed the well-wrapped loaves "im Kammer" (which meant in the unheated vestibule closet) for a few weeks. 

The big reveal came the last Advent Sunday before Christmas, when at coffee time she'd bring out strong German coffee and slices of this delicious, yeasty, eggy bread full of dried fruit and nuts.  Resting for those weeks allowed the fruitiness to permeate the sweet bread.  It's fragrant and rich and delicious.  Did I say delicious? 

Baking Weihnachtsstollen is an all day affair.  Simply mixing all of the ingredients together until smooth takes a good long time, even in a mixer.  And it kind of wrecks your kitchen!

Then there are two long "rises" in the bowl.  My dough never appears to rise much.  I always worry about it.  But I think it needs a rest as much as a rise, so I stick with the recipe.

By mid-afternoon the dough is ready to be formed into loaves.  Then the loaves have a rise.  Finally, just about the time I'm making my supper, the loaves go into the oven for an hour or so.  And that sweet, yeasty smell finds its way into every nook and cranny of the house. 

Now you're thinking "start the coffee, the stollen's coming out of the oven!" aren't you.  But remember Grossmutti's practice -- a couple of weeks at least tightly wrapped and stored away.  It's hard, so hard, not to taste a slice right out of the oven, but look at how beautiful it is!

I want to have my stollen as the centerpiece of my Eggnog party table.  So I wrapped it tightly, and now it's sitting.  Waiting.

And so am I.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Fairy Cactus

My cactus spent the summer out on the front porch in part shade.  The day I brought it inside I could already see buds beginning on all the branch tips.  Now it's covered in these gorgeous fairy flowers!

A bit too much back light, but you get the idea.  Of course, sadly, the blossoms will fade and drop starting by Thanksgiving and come Christmas this plant will be set on a shelf, out of the way, just a memory of a spectacular burst of color.

Until next year!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Council of Chickens

I went out to the barn this morning and opened the hatch for the birds to go outside.  No one came.  Not one of them. 

So I looked into the back room to see what was going on.  It was very quiet.  It appears that they were holding a Council of Chickens.  That's Egglebert on the roost at the back, chairing the meeting.  Eggy Jr. acted as bailiff keeping order.  

You'll note that the Wacky Quackers are right before the chairman.  Perhaps they brought a grievance to be reviewed; perhaps they WERE the grievance!

I simply excused myself so that they could take care of business.  I hope someone will let me read the minutes!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Oskar scares Johanna

Oskar gave me a big scare this morning.  After asking to go out in the middle of the night (he is pretty good about going and then coming back in, not playing around), he did not want to get up when it was time to start the day.

Finally I went into my room where he lay on the rug next to the bed with his legs looking uncomfortably arranged kind of leap-frog-like.

"Hey, Bug, it's time to check on the chickens!"  He made as if to get up, but couldn't get his legs under himself.  With some effort I lifted from his belly and held him until he got his balance.  He trotted a little clumsily to the back yard door, looking down the three steps as if to say "can I do that?"  Then he burst out, tripping a bit.

I walked to the barn with Ulani on my heels.  After turning on the hens' light and feeding them, I came out of the barn expecting to see two dogs.  Instead I noted that Oskar was about 20 feet from the house, once again down in a Sphinx position.  When I got to the house I said "time for dog breakfast!" in my cheeriest voice, but Oskar did not get up.

Oskar has never refused a meal.  Not in 12 years.

I brought Ulani inside and prepared their bowls.  She got hers in the house, and I took Oskar's red bowl outside.  But when I put it next to him, he turned his head away.

"Oskar," sez I.  "I see that you don't feel well.  What's wrong, Bug?"  He did not reply.  I tried to think it was ok, despite the similarities to when Oskar's predecessor Buster's spleen burst.  I planned to call the vet at 8 am when they open.  Then I called the vet's cell phone instead.  And then I broke into sobs.  "Oskar's very sick."  Dr. Mike said to bring him straight over.

Getting my boy into the car took great effort.  He had trouble getting his front legs up, when I tried to lift them I made a big muck up of it and he ended up sprawled on the driveway.  Finally he rallied and we got him in.  The drive was tense.

Tammy at the vet seemed shocked to see us under these circumstances.  These circumstances being that she'd heard we were coming, and I arrived red eyed and snotty nosed.  We were quickly put into a room and not long after that the doctor joined us.

After a full hands-on exam, he could find nothing obviously wrong.  I left Oskar in their care for blood tests and urinalysis.

Then early this afternoon I spoke to the doctor.  Oskar's had dilute urine and a high white blood cell count, pointing to a kidney infection.  Very treatable.  I picked him up at 3:00 and he seems cheerier already.  Ate his supper and is enjoying some fresh air in the yard.

He wasn't ready to leave me.  Thank doG!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Very tricky!

Oskar loves this song!  He learned it with different lyrics (we called it The Puppy School Song way back when), but I think he just thinks it has a good beat and is easy to dance to!

And Ulani rolls for treats. Every time!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Field Trip: Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski FWA

Last night I had the great pleasure of joining a group to see the migrating sandhill cranes at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana.  Our group was led by the exceptionally knowledgeable naturalist Kip Miller, of Love Creek Park in Berrien Springs, Michigan.  I learned so much from Kip, but any mistaken facts here are strictly my own!

The cranes spend their summers far north -- as far as Canada's frozen tundra.  But as the days begin to shorten, their instincts call them south.  The thousands of cranes who meet up in Indiana are headed to Florida, as were many of the folks gathered on the observation deck.  Other groups might travel to Texas or New Mexico, via another major staging area in Nevada.

We arrived about an hour before sunset.  Initially there were scattered groups of cranes in the field, joined by a herd of deer.  As the minutes passed, increasing groups began to fly in from the southeast and the east.  The sound of the cranes approaching is unmistakeable!

Cranes are omnivorous, eating seeds and grass and bugs and the occasional mouse or snake.  They gather each evening at this field, seemingly sharing the details of their busy days with friends and family, then as dark settles they travel just northwest of where we stood to a marsh.  Cranes sleep with their feet wet.  Who knew?

But until it was dark, we enjoyed the flyovers.

They arrive mostly in family groups.  A successful pair of cranes will hatch one or two chicks each season, so most of the families are three or four together.  As my untrained eye became more accustomed to watching, I could see these groupings.


Kip brought a high powered telescope through which we could see amazing detail on the birds.  The adults have a red patch on their heads.   Sorry you cannot recognize it in my photos!  As they gather on the ground in the field, they do a maneuver where they poke the ground with their long beaks and toss a clod of dirt into the air.  There is also a bit of dancing with their wings whirling around, though at this time of year it wouldn't be a mating ritual, I don't think.

We hoped that the cranes would have a mass fly-up to their marsh for us, but as it grew darker it was clear that they would relocate in smaller groups.  At one point we heard a large group from far across the field make their move -- it sounded a bit like a huge windstorm, and I expect if you are nearby it must feel that way as well!

The birds grew more quiet. The air grew more brisk and I admit I had thoughts of leaving. But then, off in the distance, we heard the start of coyotes calling. Lots of coyotes. A chilling sound of howls and calls among quite a few animals.

The birds heard it, too.

Their chatter suddenly changed tone, and in a rising crescendo, they rose up. Listen.

Simply amazing. 

The cranes gather at Jasper-Pulaski through November, before continuing their exodus to Florida.  Dawn and dusk at the times to experience the greatest activity, and I highly recommend a field trip.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Message to Hens

In the past the chickens have enjoyed spending time outside.  When I would approach their hatch door to open it, they would race up the ramp, jostling to be first out.   Once outside they happily comingled with the ducks. 

Here's baby Spot along with his ill-fated sister.  Even at their young age they loved racing outside and playing in the grass or the mud.

But something has happened.

Now the only ones who race outside are Ari Duckass, the Wacky Quackers, the striped mama hen and her babies, and the roosters.  Why do all the others hang back?

I pondered the question.  Could there have been an incident with a dog or a cat?  Possibly, but the fence does not appear to have been damaged in any way.  Maybe a hawk flyover?  Always a risk, but again, no evidence.  What I needed was evidence.  And then I saw this:

And I knew that Busy Solitude Farm has joined the legions of institutions across the nation that must address the problem of bullying.  And so I say to the chickens,