Posted in Animals/Chickens

Ducks on the Homestead

I love walking out onto the back porch and being greeted by the ducks. Sitting with my cup of coffee in the mornings watching them splash in their swimming pools and quacking at the goats and wagging their tail feathers (they love the goats!) just makes me happy.

It looks like we may have one female and two males. Sandia is a little louder and smaller. The boys, Serrano and Big Jim (all named after New Mexican chili peppers) are quieter, bigger, and less agile.

We chose Pekin ducks this time around. We always had Runner ducks and they are hilarious to watch as they run by, a herd of bowling pins quacking along. We never did have ducks past five months of age because inevitably, we would have to move and circumstances would require us to re-home them. We chose Pekin ducks because they are suppose to be friendlier and more pet-like. Ours are very sweet but they have no desire to be snuggled. Pity. They are so dang cute!

Farm ducks lay anywhere from 60-200 eggs a year. The eggs are larger, and I hear quite good for pastry making. I suppose you could eat the ducks themselves, but we aren’t really into eating our animals around here. The boys are pretty docile. My runner males were a little nippy with the chickens but were excellent companions to the female ducks (hens).

They sleep in a large dog kennel with an old Mexican blanket over it to keep wind and rain out of the holes. They go in on their own at night and we close it to protect them from marauding predators in the night. My past ducks did not go in on their own and had to be herded into the chicken coop at night. I am this group likes their shelter.

We buy an All Flock feed that the chickens and the ducks eat. Ducks love fresh veggies chopped up and put in their swimming pool. Lettuce is among their favorites. They don’t have teeth, so smaller pieces are best. They eat by nibbling then drinking, so leave their food near their water. They will chomp on weeds, sometimes dragging them to the swimming pool.

Homestead ducks don’t typically fly, but certainly research duck breeds before choosing one. Some are dual purpose (meat and eggs), some are better egg layers than others, some are better at flying over fences than others, some breeds are more docile than others. Our Pekin ducks are considered dual breed. They were readily available at the feed store in the spring. Ducks are sold straight run, which means not sexed. Pekin ducks lay 150 eggs per year.

In the Appalachians, homesteaders would pluck the ducks of their down feathers once a month or so for pillows and mattresses. Just grab them and pluck ’em. I very much doubt we will be doing that here though.

Ducks are excellent insect control. They dig into the mulch and will eradicate eggs and bugs. They can clear a field of grasshoppers. I will employ them in the fall since they ate my tomatoes this week and were promptly evicted from the garden.

Ducks are very easy to care for. Eggs, entertainment, and bug control are all great reasons to get ducks for your homestead.

Posted in Animals/Chickens, Farming

Natural Insect Control (cont.) and Before and After Pics (so far)

Yesterday, while lamenting the incredible overpopulation of destructive bugs, I posted a picture of the gardens with three adorable ducks sitting outside the closed kitchen garden gate, practically yelling, “Put me in, Coach!” They were employed this morning and have been doing a great job eating grasshoppers. I am afraid they take way too many breaks to go swimming. I think they will really help us out though.

While they attacked grasshoppers, I turned my attention to squash bugs. They are easy to catch with tongs and then drop into soapy water. Look on the undersides of the leaves for tiny red eggs and scrape them off. Spray the base of each plant with a 27 oz water bottle filled with a teaspoon of castile or dish soap and 15 drops of peppermint essential oil (thanks, cousin Janet!). It makes the little buggers come out so you can catch them and repels them from the plant (for awhile). Grasshoppers hate the spray too but they come right back and they are harder to catch. So, that is the ducks’ new job.

Sandia, Serrano, and Big Jim (named so because they love chili peppers!) save the potatoes from grasshoppers!

We always used to shrug and count on next year. We never proactively fought for our gardens. We didn’t have to. But these days are a little weird, y’all, as you may have noticed. Empty shelves, rioting, and social media craziness makes us homesteaders sit up and take notice. Might be a good idea to fight a little harder to feed ourselves. This is our first year on this particular homestead, and I know from experience that the third year of compost and growing is really the very best. So we will get there. We have come a long way on this little homestead in the past eleven months.

There’s no place like home.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

Spring Babies and Spring Fever

Summer is filled with gardening, preserving, get togethers, coffee on the porch at sunrise, and blessed warmth. Autumn brings with it the first fire in the hearth, flannels, and skies filled with stars, majestic colors splayed upon the trees. Winter brings holidays and rest, crafts by the fire, and a bit of cabin fever. Spring is the loudest season. It bursts forth with wild temperatures, hints of summer, reminders of winter, plants expand and burst with new life. Ready to shake off the winter doldrums, spring teases with ideas of planting and sunshine. She can be finicky, but she does bring us one of the greatest gifts, baby season.

From my bathroom I hear the gentle chirping of cotton ball sized chicks and the splashing of half pint ducklings.

Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones

Baby goats on their last week of bottles yell incessantly from their pasture to remind me. Their calls suspiciously sounding like a loud, “MOM!” They hop on their dog and play Jackie Chan off the chicken coop.

Taos

My eight month old Siamese gets cuter and louder each day. She can play fetch with a milk jug ring for hours. Seems like I got a Border Collie instead of a kitten. Her sister delights us as well.

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I am always a bit crazy in the spring. Spring fever is a real thing, folks! It is always the time that my mind races with ideas and dreams and future plans. Usually once the garden is in full swing I calm down, but this year with the lockdown, Lord, I am even worse! Let’s see, I am registered for full time classes at the local college to start in the fall (though the debt certainly is freaking me out), I have devised a business plan for a whole new apothecary set to open down in my neck of the woods, and of course, the quarter acre garden and all the land’s inhabitants I have brought home!

I do wonder if anyone else is like this in the springtime. My husband is so beautifully steadfast all year. It is easier to take a breath and live one day at a time with so many darling babies here. Blessed Spring.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

Baby Goats Join the Farm

It was nearly five years ago. As we stood outside in the dirt of the prairie, the wind howling, watching our animals being trucked away one by one to new homes, tears ran down our faces. We were leaving the world of farmers and joining the world of the homeless. We prayed that one day we would be able to hold a baby goat again, to feel the breeze around us as we surveyed our vegetable gardens, to hear a rooster crowing as the sun rose over the horizon somewhere in the country.

We moved from friend’s house to friend’s house, diligently working, to apartment, to owning a home in the city, to homesteading that piece of land (not able to have goats in the city), working harder, purchasing land in the country. Our own. Our own land in the country. Where we could have goats.

Doug was insistent that we adopt boys. Boys are fairly useless in the traditional farming model. A few will become studs or maybe a lucky wether will be a companion animal, but by and large, boys are meat. And if there is not enough demand for goat’s meat, they are thrown in dumpsters. It was hard to choose who to save.

So, these two will be wethered (neutered) and will hopefully live a long, happy life prancing around the farm, entertaining visitors and being apart of the family. I was worried about our Great Pyrenees, how he would take to them. He sniffed them thoroughly, then went off to protect the fortress. They will all be just fine.

We are all smiles, babies in our arms, bottles in the fridge. Feels like a farm.

“What have you done?” – Socorro
Posted in Animals/Chickens

Life With Animals

The last two homesteading books that I have read were great to read because they outlined clear and practical guides to subsistence farming and homesteading without the use of animals. In the books, Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self Reliant Gardening and Helen and Scott Nearing’s The Good Life, the authors are/were all vegan and I appreciated reading books where the authors were successful and offered approaches that I have, and will continue, to utilize on my own homestead. To continue taking the cruelty out of agriculture.

There was only one thing missing from the books. Because the authors did not use animals on their homestead and were vegan themselves, they saw no reason to keep animals at all, not even dogs and cats. Valuable resources wasted on animals and keeping animals just to do so seemed unnecessary. Have you ever walked into someone’s home and it’s really eerily quiet and clean? And then you notice what’s missing? No dogs, no cats, not even a parakeet? To us, animals make a homestead a home as much as each other’s company. Animals add so much joy to our lives.

Each year that we tick off as another that we have homesteaded, we make our own way. We learn from others, we experiment, we make lots of mistakes, we make heartbreaking decisions, and we move forward creating the life that is best for us. I considered starting a non-profit animal sanctuary but I decided against it for a few reasons. I have many friends that have sanctuaries. 1) They have a lot more land than I do and I would be very limited as to whom I could take. 2) My friends have to hustle for donations constantly. 3) People are really cruel. They call these sanctuaries and make threats about what will happen to the animals if the sanctuary doesn’t take them. No thanks. I wouldn’t be able to handle it. And 4) These are pets to us. Our past goats and sheep followed us around our farm just like little puppies. We enjoyed them so much and will not be giving up ones to come. We want to adopt a few bottle babies. Raise a few chicks and ducklings from birth. Just as we go to the shelter and choose kittens that need us most. We bring in animals young and slowly so that everyone adapts well. And then they live here their whole life and are loved ridiculously well. That is our sanctuary.

The farm animals might contribute by donating their wool (they are getting sheared anyway), their eggs (they just walk away from them anyway), and their antics. We make sure we make enough money to take care of them, just like our indoor animals. But there is no cruelty here, no using animals for meat or dairy. Some people watch cable television, some people like fancy cars, we like to watch animals play. It is worth the money.

The other animals that we welcome are of the wild sort. I have a good bird guide near the office window and provide bird seed for the many wild birds that visit. We see traces of deer that came through in the night. Foxes live over the hill. Hawks float above the trees. Our Great Pyrenees keeps everyone safe on the ground from behind his fences. I enjoy the world so much better surrounded with animals.

A homestead does not have to use animals for food. A homestead is more of a home with animals as family. There is more than one way to homestead and farm successfully. Find your path and find your joy.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

Cuddlewell Mission

One day when we were quite a young couple, snuggling and giggling, I said to my husband, “You cuddle well!” He said, “That will be our last name!” And so it was. Mama and Daddy Cuddlewell.

Our children were told that their actual, secret last name was Cuddlewell, as we would snuggle them. Andy, Shyanne, and Emily Cuddlewell. Even today, that is our name.

Our animals carried the same family name, Ichabod Cuddlewell, Clara Cuddlewell, and so on. I recently told my granddaughter about her secret last name too. She laughed and wondered if I was serious. Maryjane and Ayla Cuddlewell. And so it goes on. Our secret family name. We cuddle well.

Many years ago, when were trying to come up with a name for our own land, should we ever get it, Doug nonchalantly said, “Cuddlewell Mission, of course.”

In our hearts, everywhere we have lived has been Cuddlewell Mission. We tend to rescue the animals that need us. The cross-eyed cat with the spinal injury, who lived and played and cuddled for thirteen years, Clara. The retired racing hound, Bumble Bear. The tiny, Siamese kitten that we are still bringing back to health, Taos Mouse. The blind chicken, Heihei. This is a sanctuary. We have always had a sanctuary.

We got off track, somewhere along the way, with books and studies and farmer friends. We went from friends aren’t food, to maybe we were wrong and that is how it is supposed to be, then to regret and heartfelt wisdom. Just because it is how has always been, doesn’t mean that it is how it should be moving forward. We also used to keep slaves, beat our children, and ate cockroaches. We humans can move forward and do things better when we see the error of our ways! We can create a new normal. A new this-is-how-it-should-be. We would never allow an assembly line of shelter dogs, swinging from one leg, having their neck sliced, then being cut open before they were dead, cut up and packaged and put in the store….what are we thinking? Cows and pigs and even chickens are sentient beings. Look into the eyes of any creature and see the life there.

I’m not here to convince you one way or another, I just wanted to tell you about Cuddlewell Mission and how we have arrived here. With land and places for animals. A sanctuary for people and animals. A safe place to commune with nature and not fear for one’s life, and if you are human, maybe have a cup of tea. Yes, this is a mission. We are home.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

The Wishy-Washy Writer (and kindness to all)

This is the story of a wishy-washy writer (therefore all her business is out there confusing the world) and her battles with what is right, and what makes us well, and what serves the most people and animals, yet finding what is beneficial to us (because if we aren’t happy then we can’t inspire others).

This is the story of a wishy-washy writer who was vegetarian for twenty-seven years, vegan for two, then on-and-off again meat eater-then-vegan since. It is about this time each year that I become fiercely ill. My body absolutely rebels against its half a year of animal products. One year it felt like I had a hole in my stomach. One year the gout was terrible. Then there was the chronic swelling of my lymph nodes for over a year. Then the intense stomach issues. This year I am on my third week of hives and stomach issues. Every year in my journal I write, “Next time I want to start eating meat again…read this!” But alas, we inevitably go on vacation, go to a friend’s house, read a book about being a locavore or the poisons of processed food and we are back to a freezer full of meat, pretending to be pioneers until I get sick again and neither of us are feeling so hot.

Every year, I frantically erase all of the posts from the six months before. When I am vegan, I erase the posts about raising animals for meat and recipes. When I am a meat eater, I erase all the animal sanctuary posts. Vegans (even the word, vegan) can sound annoying and frantic and extreme. I have inspired a lot of people to become vegan over the years and those folks are adamant and heartfelt in their work. I feel the same but then I think it may be so hypocritical. We simply cannot go through this life without causing death to other species. From petroleum use to clearing farm fields, every time you pop an Advil, or buy plastic, we aide in the death of others.

It is easier to just consume animal products. Then you don’t have to be the annoying one at the holiday dinner or the irritated one at a restaurant. You don’t have to get creative trying to make goat cheese out of almonds. I want goats. I don’t necessarily look forward to milking. And in my heart I know that taking the baby away and then sending it to slaughter if it is a boy, and drinking the milk after my own mother’s breast milk has many decades past dried up, is probably weird, if not wrong, and probably not that healthy. I don’t know y’all. Does anyone else have these dilemmas constantly bantering in their heads and hearts?

After I get sick each year, after I take on a plant based diet again, I always get better. Every ailment that ails me heals itself on a plant-based diet. Every time I have meat on my plate, I have less room for antioxidant-rich grains, vegetables, proteins, and fruit. Can you be a locavore and eat a plant-based diet? (And if we are honest, are any of us really eating that local?)

Here is the thing, I don’t even like the feeling of eating gooey, greasy cheese and I don’t even like meat! But it is so easy in our society. On this farm, am I really going to look in the eyes of an infant or old farm animal and decide they are going to die? I don’t think it is right to kill elephants or horses or cats for food….in other places it is acceptable….why do I think some animals are just destined for the plate? I could never look in the eyes of a moose or or deer and pull the trigger to end its beautiful life. I don’t know. These are real battles in my heart and mind and the way a writer delves into those recesses of questioning is to write.

I wonder how many people have chronic illnesses that can be blamed on their food choices, but because it is so hard to change them in our society, they will never make that change or get well.

And wouldn’t I rather be an example of kindness to all?

(If you leave a comment, please make sure it is respectful. There are probably no right or wrong answers here!)

Posted in Animals/Chickens

The Wintry Farm and Kittens

I opened the front door to great heaps of snow. For southern Colorado, this is quite a storm. It is still blustery and the snow is falling thickly with glints of sunlight shining through. It is a chattering 1 degree with the wind. Our farm dog, Gandalf, is sleeping indoors this morning despite his woolly exterior.

The chickens are snug in their coop with the help of a heat lamp. I will need to put on my galoshes and check on their water. One more cup of coffee!

The wood stove has been puttering along beautifully over the past frigid few days and I am afraid that the wood is about run out and another two cords will not be arriving for another few weeks. We do have a furnace, but there is nothing quite like the warmth from a wood stove to really warm the bones.

We have two new additions to the farm that have warmed our hearts. Their names are Taos and Socorro, after two of our favorite places to holiday in New Mexico.

Fourteen, or so odd, years ago, we adopted several kittens over a two year period full knowing that one day we would lose several cats within a few years. We lost four of them this year, my sweet Frankie just a week ago. We have one old kitty left, our beloved Booboo, whom the children taught to come to Andrew’s room if he blasted Bob Marley. We have two five-year old kitties as well. Well, it’s a bit quiet around here when you are used to many more. The silence of winter approaches and we felt we needed a little life and a little fun around here. So off to the shelter we went on the first blustery day and adopted two adorable little girls.

Our farm is humming along with dreams of spring and planting and future farm animals, as the fire in the wood stove warms the brightens house, the snow-light bouncing through the windows and adding a chill to the senses. ‘Twill be a cold night for tricks and treats tomorrow indeed, but in our little farmhouse we are warm, our hearts filled with joy.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

The Duck Healer (and other tales in Cherokee Home)

I was standing in the kitchen of the tiny farmhouse we lived in out on the prairie.  A small school bus turned into the winding dirt drive and proceeded towards the house.  Dust pulled up behind it as it bounced along.  I yelled to Doug in the next room, “Did we have a school group coming that I forgot about?”  He couldn’t remember one either.  I wiped my hands on my apron and stepped out the front door and waved.  The bus came to a stop next to the garden and through the windows I could see that this was one big family.  The children came bounding down the center of the bus and out into the fresh air.  A little girl held onto a large white duck.

“Something is wrong with his leg,” she said, looking up at me hopefully, “Can you fix it?”

“What’s wrong with that duck?” I asked, pointing to another one that they had brought with them.

“Oh nothing,” the mother replied, “the ducks can’t be separated or that one yells its head off!”

And so I went about healing the duck’s broken leg.

Cover

My book, Cherokee Home, is my first fiction book, but as all good fiction is, it is nearly entirely based on true stories.

In my book, the main character is an herbalist and her stories are my stories.  The stories of the medicine man came from a medicine man. A dear friend of mine that I spent a summer writing down his stories with as he recovered from a stroke.

Jpeg

My great grandfather was shot in a cornfield in Oklahoma gathering corn for supper one warm day.  My grandfather was only three years old but the family tale states that his father took his own life.  And perhaps that is so, but in that same time, in that same place, Cherokees were being shot or moved to California so that the oil companies could have their land.

I loved developing the characters who were as familiar to me as myself and my siblings.  I remember my mother reading to us at night as we colored in pictures of a coloring book, munching on homemade caramel corn.

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Cherokee Home came out last fall but I never really had time to promote it or to do book signings.  The other day I came across a picture of that duck from four years ago and smiled.

If you want to read a fun book that touches on history, culture, language, and real tales embedded in fun characters that is great for kids and adults alike, you can find it HERE.

All of my books are available at AuthorKatieSanders.com

(It is nearly impossible to get all typos out of manuscripts, but I sure try.  The one typo in the entire book is on the second page.  Lord, I am less judgmental about errors in books these days!)

Thank you all for supporting my writing!

Posted in Animals/Chickens

The Life of Cornish Cross Chickens (on our farm)

I think my husband thought I was crazy as we stood outside in our pajamas, me with a walking stick, at 2:00 am.  This morning, I even googled the sound a raccoon makes just to make sure I wasn’t actually hearing a cat fight.  But I have lived in the country, I know what raccoons sound like and they were definitely outside my window.  But they were long gone by the time we adrenaline rushed it outside, thanks to Gandalf.

The raccoons surely heard about the amazing buffet we were putting on.  I don’t bother closing the chicken door at night because Gandalf is outside.  But, he is not in the chicken yard so the raccoons could have braved up and had quite a feast.  The Cornish girls and their Basset hound-sized boyfriend can’t get up on to the shelves so they are just sitting there in a clump waiting to be chicken a’ la gross.

Last week I went out to the coop and found Dixie.  She was the smallest of the Cornish cross chickens we rescued.  She had somehow died on her back.  Bob (the rooster) sat sweetly next to her.  She had no trauma, she was just dead.  Her vent was clogged, so she probably died of toxicity.  There was no rigor mortis yet, but I still was barely able to pull her from under the shelf because of how heavy she was.  Her legs wouldn’t touch, so I couldn’t use them to help me move her into a bag.  The glamour of a farm wife, I tell you.

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Cornish Cross chickens were developed to be broilers.  At five to eight weeks old, they are processed and become the adorable Cornish hens one might find in the grocery store.  I seem to have imagined that Cornish hens were some type of miniature breed.  Well, now the chickens are five months old.  They are grossly huge.  Their legs are splayed so when they run, they wobble.  They can’t reach their backsides to preen, so we may lose others in the vent-clogged battle.  They don’t seem to have any natural chicken behaviors, like scratching, dust bathing, or running.  I have moved their water thirty feet from the coop to encourage walking.  They are a sad lot.  It is terrible that we humans have done this to a really cool species.

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Bob is a handsome fellow.  His chest is body builder ginormous and shaped like a heart.  He tries to chase the ladies but he can’t catch them.  My hen (honest to God) was crowing one morning trying to teach the young lad but alas, he only croaks and seems to be too tired to crow.

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I am astounded at the difference between my laying hens and the meat chickens.  Perhaps it wasn’t kind to keep them alive after all, but they do enjoy the sunshine and they got a pass.  Living as one of my chickens isn’t too bad of a life.  They bark like dogs and are the size of turkeys.  They have very sweet temperaments.

I will probably stick to the petite laying hens from here forward.  It’s too sad to see these giants trying to be chickens.  But there is still nothing better than sitting out in a lawn chair on a warm evening with a drink watching the comedy show.  Chickens are nothing if not hilarious.