Tag Archives: dogs

Mountain Farm Morning

Where is the camera when you need it?  I opened the back deck door to let the dogs out and caught just a flash of movement across the side of the deck.  It’s size told me it was either a mouse or a chipmunk (the farmers up here call them ground squirrels).  Below that edge of the deck is the retaining wall that son and DIL built during construction.  It is a beautiful piece of stonework that gets covered each spring and summer with Hairy Vetch and Virginia Creeper.  The doors out onto the deck are a full story above the ground, though the deck itself is only 3 steps up.


Beneath the deck there is loose rock tossed in to help with erosion and to keep the weeds down.  I’m sure that it is a great hiding place for all sorts of wildlife, more or less protected from the cats.  As I stepped to the edge of the deck to see if I could spot the little critter, the chipmunk scurried quickly across the deck and through a space I can barely stick my fingers through and down under the deck.  They are cute, but destructive little critters, I hope it doesn’t take an interest in the Direct TV cable that is fastened to the front leg of the deck, travels along the lower edge of the deck then follows the flashing across between the basement and ground floor of the house to where it enters.

Breakfast prep was started as I put some of our fresh eggs on to boil for the pups and me.  My morning ritual includes cleaning up their feeding area, two plastic trays on a bath mat to catch at least some of the food and water that the big guy slings around when he eats or drinks.  His tray always has a cup or more of water and a dissolved kibble or two floating around on it.


Once their area is cleaned up I call them back in to eat, only as I stepped out to call them, leaning around the west end of the house from the front porch as that is where they always return to be let in, I heard a racket of turkey chatter and dog barks and spotted the dogs both chasing a wild turkey across the near hayfield as the hen took flight and landed way up in a tree on the edge of the field.  Shadow once she stopped bounding, couldn’t even be seen in the tall hay waiting for good days to cut and bale.  Ranger continued to stare longingly up at the tree where the hen continued to cluck.  Hopefully they didn’t disturb a nest, but if it is in the hayfield it will suffer destruction as soon as Jeff comes to mow the hay.  Finally I got them back in the house and breakfast eaten.

Then it was chicken care time.  I filled the pans with mash, millet and sunflower seeds to take out to the two pens and just as I stepped out, I heard the rain moving over the ridge and through the trees in my direction.  Raincoat collected just as a torrential downpour started.  Chickens had to wait for it to subside at least a bit.  We are in for a stormy day.  A good day to sew, knit, spin, and read.  Tonight is Knit Night, hope it isn’t storming too badly when it is time to leave.


Farm Chores and Relativity

For several years, we have had a burn pile of scrap wood collecting near a huge nut tree and a rock pile.  It makes mowing that area difficult and haying that area impossible.  A couple of years ago, I placed a Craigslist ad for free lumber and siding and had a few takers that reduced the size of the pile some.  Two years ago, the neighbor that hays our fields came over and removed cedar trees that had grown up in the hayfields that we had just been mowing around and while here, he stacked the scattered parts of the pile more compactly and cleared up some rocks that were also an impediment to the mowing and haying.  Every time we think to burn the pile something gets in the way.  You have to dedicate an entire day to the job as it has to be watched constantly and a hose needs to be nearby to squelch any errant flames.  We will plan the burn after a heavy rain only to have several days of too much wind.  Today was perfect.  I had mowed two brush hog widths around the pile, a couple hundred feet of garden hose were connected to each other and the yard hydrant and we set the pile ablaze.


The burn was a little slow starting but once the two sides merged, we were a bit concerned as the flames leapt dangerously close to the lower branches of the nut tree.


We hosed and watched for hours as it burned down, never both of us leaving at once.  Unfortunately, much of the wood contained nails, screws and large fasteners that hold our logs together, so now that the fire is out, there is much cleanup to do so we don’t pop a tractor tire on a spike.  We also discovered a pile of large rocks under the burn.  They are perfect to use for the retaining wall at the end of the garden, but it will take both of us and the tractor bucket to move them and they need to cool first.

I have oft mentioned the pups.  Big dog, little dog.  Ahh, no, Big Dog, Bigger Dog.  The Shepherd weighs about 75 lbs., the Mastiff a slight 210 lbs.  She is the dominate one.  She can run under him, grabs him by the legs and pulls him down, but he is so gentle and tolerant of the behaviors.



Easter Sunday on the Farm

Today is beautiful, no Easter snow, thank goodness.  Bright sun, azure blue sky, calm wind, and grass, oh my it has grown in a week.  It must be at least a foot high in the back.  It will have to be mowed this week or we will start bringing ticks indoors and I don’t want that.  I started the tractor and used it to move some compost and some old wood a few weeks ago, so I know it is running.  The lawnmower for right around the house hasn’t been started yet, but it was only used a few times after it was purchased late last summer, so hopefully, it also will run.  Fuel is needed for both and since it is Easter Sunday, that purchase will have to wait until tomorrow or the next day, though the little general store/gas station in the town is open today.

The chicks are now more than 6 weeks old and did fine in the coop while I was away, in spite of several below freezing nights.  Last night they were all on the perches in the coop, lined up like big girls instead of huddled in a corner.  Today they are getting outdoor time.


Though they still sound like chicks, they look like small chickens.  They poked their head from the temporary pen into the permanent pen and promptly got pecked.  Now the hens and Cogburn have lost interest and the chicks are foraging the long grass for new treasures.


Shadow and the chicks being desensitized to each other.  She would lie down quietly by the pen until I moved and then she bolted away.  Since the electric fence is now only around two sides of the vegetable garden, the dogs can get right up to the chicken pens and they weren’t used to being able to do that.  At first the chickens are alarmed, but I am trying to get the dogs so they don’t activate prey instinct when the chicken flap and run, I would like for the chickens to have some free range time without being chased by the dogs.  She did really well and the chicks quickly ignored her.  The dogs need to learn that they are farm dogs and can’t chase everything that moves or flies.

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And of course there is time for tug-o-war with the big ball on a rope.  Ranger was working on drop it and leave it, then I would throw it out into the yard for a chase and tug session.

Life is an adventure on our mountain farm.

Sore Muscles, Stink buds, Silly puppies and Showers

Our beautiful 3 days are over and rain is expected for the next two days followed by cooler weather for a week, maybe winter cold weather.  It is probably good that it is too wet to work outdoors today, my sore achy muscles need a recovery period.  Though we have a treadmill and hand weights in the basement rec room, I am much too sedentary during the cold months, enjoying walks in the snow or on a crisp clear day, but certainly not getting the exercise that I get during the growing season.

We have had the chickens for just over a year now and it has been about a year since we put the coop in place, unleveled and poorly fenced.  Late last spring, eldest son came to do some work with us and he helped me level the coop the best we could using car jacks and a 6 foot pry bar to raise it up on blocks.  The fencing has evolved from a small square of poorly erected garden fence to the present design of a much larger rectangle with 4 foot wide runs that extend down two sides of the garden, forming a large L at the end of the rectangle, welded wire fence on heavy T posts.  After the coop was in place, I saw a design that ran a 3 foot wide run all the way around a garden with the coop and the compost bins at one edge.  Unfortunately, the coop couldn’t be placed where that would work at the time and now that the area is leveled near the bins, the coop can’t be moved, so it will have to be as it is, though that design also serves to keep deer out of the garden.


Every fall we are invaded by these nasty pests and a few wasps.  They manage to get inside in spite of the windows being shut and locked and all winter I capture and destroy them until I think that most are gone, then April arrives and they crawl out from under window sills, behind baseboards and who know where else and again we are over run.  They are a major pest in SW Virginia and seem to be getting worse.  You can’t squash them and vacuuming them can only be done with a vacuum with a disposable bag as they live up to their name, Stink bug.  Last night I must have captured at least 20 and several more this morning.  They don’t fare well in soapy water and can easily be knocked into a paper cup of it to be flushed away.  They are an invasive species and seem to have no natural predators here.


This is our 210 pound puppy’s favorite position.  His breeder says that his father does the same thing.  Such a silly dog.  Surprisingly, the German Shepherd in the background chose to gnaw on a bone instead of attacking him as she usually does when he rolls over like this and she can get the upper hand.

Today is going to be a quiet day of rest and recovery.  The dog hair needs to be vacuumed, but other than that I am going to read, go to my spinning group and fix dinner.  After 3 long days of hard labor, I think that is enough.

Here we go again!

Yesterday was in the low 70’s and sunny, today in the mid 60’s, but a front is roaring through, house shaking wind, torrential rain this afternoon, and plunging temperatures.  We took a day trip today to two Harley Davidson shops, each more than an hour from here for Jim to check out new and used motorcycles with a bit of size to replace his Honda Rebel starter bike.  We got back just in time to pick up our generator and take it to the repair shop and drive home in the worst of the rain.  The generator that we bought 7 years ago was used during construction of the house prior to the electric service being brought down to the house site.  Since that time, it has sat unused in the barn.  It is a sizeable unit and was unfortunately stored with some fuel in it.  We have had several times when having it functional would have at least provided us with some light and ability to keep the freezer working.  It seemed like we should deal with it, so it has gone to the shop to be cleaned and tuned and hopefully made fully functional again.  We would like to have it tonight.  The thermometer plunged 20º in the hour after we got home.  It is falling into the teens tonight and staying near freezing tomorrow daytime and back into the 20’s tomorrow night.

With the strong wind, we again face the threat of loss of power.  Though we and the dogs would be uncomfortable, we would survive it well, the 5 day old chicks would not.  I moved their set up into the basement as the basement having 3 walls underground hold its temperature better than the rest of the house.  I also turned the thermostat up to warm the space more and have brought in wood, paper and kindling to start a fire in the wood stove if the power fails.  The chicks will be placed as close as safe to that stove in hopes that they make it.  At less than a week old, they need 90+ºf temperature and that will not be able to happen for the next 36 hours if the power fails.


The other preparations for storms have also been handled.  The guest bath tub has been filled.  Extra straw placed in the chicken coop.  Wood brought into the garage, fires laid in the fireplace and the wood stove, just awaiting a match.  Oil lamps filled, batteries in flashlights and lanterns checked.  I keep hoping that the prep will ensure that the power stays on.  I would rather be ready and not need it.  

Next time we are threatened, hopefully we will have our generator back and will fret a bit less, but we still will have no heat and no water if the power fails.  And tonight I will not sleep well, I never do when the wind howls even though there are no trees near the house.  There is a shed roof over the heat pump to protect it from snow slide off the roof, but I always fret about it’s stability in high wind.

As the temperatures were falling and the winds rising, the dogs again decided it was time to wade in the muddy creeks in the sinkhole.  I am not amused with this behavior.

Winter will end, I have confidence, but as it darkens, it has dropped 30º already and it is sleeting.  After much coaxing, the chickens have been closed up for the night.


Another beautiful day, a ride for Jim, some free range time for the flock, a trip to town for me to deliver a few items I sold on Craigslist and to purchase a 50 gal plastic (Christmas Tree) storage tub for the 4 day old chicks.  When we brought them home on Sunday, I took the bottom half of a large plastic dog crate and cable tied the door in place.  That was set inside a large dog wire kennel cage set up in the garage and the heat lamp hung over it.  I realized that was too drafty and we are expecting another temperature plunge tomorrow night, down into the teens and the garage will be too cold even with the heat lamp.

The new set up can be brought into the house if necessary without getting pine shavings and chick poop on everything.  I don’t like them in the house, but if it is below freezing while they are this young, they will come inside.  The large storage tub having sides keeps the pine shaving contained and helps retain the heat.  An old clothes drying rack with the lower bars removed gives me a structure with metal bars that sits astride the tub and the heat lamp can be dangled over one end of the brooder, giving the chicks a warm spot to go when they are cold and enough space to get away from the heat if they are too warm.

They will stay in the garage tonight and during the day tomorrow, but they will then be brought in for two nights and a day until we have another bout of milder weather.  I will be glad when my hens can start raising their own chicks without my help.



Once Jim was home from his ride, we turned the pups out to roam and romp our farm for a while and they disappeared.  It is rare for them to leave the property, but since there has been very little leash time this winter, both are more stubborn about coming when called, especially if they are well away from the house in one of the fields.  After they had been outside for at least an hour and had disappeared from view I started calling, walked the long uphill driveway to check mail, still calling, walked over to look down into the sinkhole area still calling.  No response.  After getting in the car and driving up to the nearest main road, back down and around the perimeter of the two large fields calling and not seeing them, I walked back to the sinkhole.  Both creeks are flowing strongly into the sinkhole and it is wet and muddy.  The dogs finally wandered up, wet and muddy and quite content with themselves.  No way I was letting either of them back in the house I had been cleaning all afternoon, so both got hosed off at the yard hydrant and that water was cold.  Then both tied to heavy furniture on the front porch until they partially dried.



At least it was 73ºf outside.  I finally dried them off with beach towels and let them back inside.  So far we haven’t figured out how to keep them out of that part of the farm and as soon as it is consistently warm, we need to get back on leash work to remind them who is in charge.

Life is an adventure on our mountain farm.

Spring time? We wish!

A week ago it started to snow and snow it did for 30 hours, a record breaking snow, more than a foot and a half.  Last night it rained and this morning, the remaining snow was spotty.



We loaded the dogs in the Xterra and drove an hour southwest of here to the Harley Davidson shop to get more body armor for Jim’s jacket.  He wants desperately to ride, but the roads are still too wet and muddy.  Ranger was allowed to go into the shop with us and as usual, his 200 pound bulk attracts attention and everyone wants to have their picture taken with him, to give him love which he reciprocates with kisses and smiles.  Shadow was leashed and made it as far as the foyer before her shyness kicked in and she began to tremble.  One clerk came out and gave her some loving too and she finally came in too, but hid behind me.  The dogs love the rides and the plain hamburgers that they get as a treat.

Today is 60ºf outside, very springlike.  While we were gone, it melted most of the remaining snow.



We have one more day of this then it rains and cools down again with another snow storm due early to mid week next week.  We will take what we can get.

Yesterday afternoon, I went over to the coop and pen to spread scratch grain for the chickens and there was one head too many.  A small 5ish pound opossum was in with the chickens scratching for food.  He showed no fear of me, hissing and growling at me as I tried to encourage him out of the pen with a garden stake.  He just hunkered down in the farthest corner under the pen.  With a pitchfork, I dragged him out and penned him down, then grabbed his tail and hurled him as far from the pen as possible.  He landed in the snow, got up and shook off and waddled away.  This afternoon when we got home, I went over to see if he had returned and to collect eggs.  In taking the above photo, I managed to drop the basket with the 3 eggs and broke them all.  Three more hens were in the coop, so there may yet be a few more today.

Life is an adventure on our mountain farm.

And the Day After

The snow finally ended around 5:30 p.m. but the wind picked up and the dry snow is being blown into drifts deeper than knee high.  Our total was around 17-18″ (44+ cm), deep enough that a walk uphill to take pictures of the road and the house from the barn was very tiring.  One of the deepest areas is a shallow rounded cut between the garage and the chicken coop that is there to drain water from the driveway away from the house and on downhill.  I get a bootful every time I go over to make sure the chickens have food and water and to collect eggs, even with my Squall pants Velcroed over the outside of the barn boots which are taller than my snow boots.

Today is clear and bright with a very brisk wind blowing, but the temperature is above freezing.


Several weeks ago, we watched a news item about a snow phenomenon that I had never seen before, or at least not notices.  It occurs when the wind blows across the surface of the snow, rolling it like you would a snowman, sometimes creating solid balls, sometimes a donut or pipe shape.  Much to my amazement when I went over to do morning chicken chores, much more difficult in deep snow, I spotted them in the yard.


The dogs continue to romp and leap through the snow, rolling and playfully attacking each other until they are exhausted.  I haven’t figured out how to get them to “plow” me a path over to the coop yet.  After nearly an hour of moving snow, packing snow down and digging out one of the hay bales, I got enough hay on the snow to coax 6 of the fuzzy butts out to eat and drink.  While busy adding more hay in the run to give them a bit more space to be outdoors, I heard a racket inside the coop and found two hens trying to occupy one of the six nesting boxes together to lay their morning egg.   That was rather amusing but after checking under the one who had claimed it first there was only 1 cold egg, so I guess I interrupted them.  The hay is re-covered as we may get up to 3 more inches tonight.  That chore will have to be repeated again tomorrow.  I don’t want to keep food and water in the coop.  All of the cold weather and snow we have had has taken a toll on the coop’s cleanliness and even the deep litter method struggling to keep up.


. . . The Storm

Two days ago, I blogged about the preparation that we go through each time a storm is expected.  The preparations were completed, tub and jugs filled, dry beans cooked for chili or goulash, bread made, supplies for the dogs and chickens replenished, wood brought in to the garage.  Yesterday we waited, wondering if this storm too would fizzle though the news from southeast of us was showing freezing rain and sleet, we are far enough west in Virginia that we could have only gotten a couple of inches, not the double digit snow that was predicted.

Around 2 pm yesterday, as I was kneading the bread and looking out the kitchen window that faces south, I watched as the snow came over the ridge behind us, moving toward us and it has been snowing ever since.  We had gone out about noon and parked the SUV part of the way up the driveway in a parking pad away from the house.  After I thought the mail had come, I drove my CRV up to the barn and parked it on a gravel pad in front of the barn and walked the rest of the way up to the mailbox.  The contractor mailman drives a 2 wheel drive sedan, so he either had not come or decided our steep snow covered gravel road was not happening yesterday afternoon.



That was only an hour or so into the storm.

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By the time I went out to secure the chicken coop for the night, we had about 5 inches.  By bedtime after watching the Olympics it was up to 7 inches.

This morning before letting the pups out to romp, I went out with a 12 inch ruler that sank into the snow.



Same shot as Tuesday with the addition of the car and the snow.

After the snow pups had their chance, with the snow up to Shadow’s chest



they came in snow coated and worn out and I ventured over to deal with the chickens.  I knew they would not come out of their coop when I opened the pop door, so today until the snow stops, they have food and water in the coop.  As their keeper/feeder/protector/egg collector, they seem to think this is all my fault.   The snow is mid calf on me, over my boots and I returned to the house with a cuff of packed snow inside.


We awoke to it 10ºf warmer than last night, but it is still snowing and we are expecting several more inches.

Today we will play.  Tomorrow our 36th Anniversary was to be celebrated in town at a nice restaurant, but we may have to cancel our reservation and postpone it unless the plows get up our mountain.  So far we still have power, so the conveniences of life are still in place.

We wanted a good snow this year and we have gotten it.  Once this is gone, I’m ready for spring.