Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Came Early

I WAS going to title this post "All I Want for Christmas Is a Damn Egg." Having diligently tended my cluckers for the past seven months with nothing to show for it, I had become duly discouraged. But events have transpired to make that message mute. I won't lie, I thought this day would never come. I even considered the possibility that I may have purchased a flock of duds. I then entertained a series of paranoid delusions that infertility perhaps may be contagious - I suppose that's a tale I should save for my memoirs. Nevertheless, though the ladies showed every indication that they were ready to start their laying careers, I had resigned myself to an eggless life.

For the past few weeks, Fruit Loop, who lives up to every last letter of her name, has been terrorizing the yard with obnoxious clucking that borders on rooster crows. I threatened the stew pot to no avail. She continued marching about with her shrill squawking "BRRRWAAAAAAHHK brahk brahk brahk brahk!!!!" I made the mistake of attempting to pet her while she was roosting in the coop to which I received such an eardrum splitting "PihkaaaaaAAAAAWK!!" that I'm certain I will require hearing aids in the near future. Since her arrival at Itty Bitty, Fruit Loop's comb and wattles have grown threefold. I knew both the borderline crowing and growth of headgear were good signs of eggs to come, but every day I would check the nest and yard for little white or brown gifts and... nothing.

Someone had suggested putting fake eggs in the nest to encourage the girls to do their stuff. I pulled out some of Ute's plastic Easter eggs and placed them in the laying box. I only had colored eggs, but I assumed that wouldn't matter; the point was for the ladies to GET THE POINT! Those pink and yellow eggs laid in the box for over two weeks getting kicked around, popped open, pooped on... nothing.

This past week I even contemplated dressing up as a rooster to give the girls some motivation. Whenever they see me coming, both Eggo and Fruit Loop have taken to doing that special crouch that allows the rooster to mount and do his stuff. I usually give them a few firm pats on the back, pull their tail feathers up, and give the tail a little shake. They seem to like it and give themselves a good feather ruffling when I'm done. In my mind, I'm just trying to loosen up those eggs to let them come down. But I guess from the chickens' perspective, I probably seem more like a rooster doing "it" to them. Oh god, I feel weird now that I said that, not to mention a bit pervie.

Last night, when I was putting the hens to bed, I checked the laying box to see if it needed a cleaning. And lo and behold, there was a real, live, perfectly formed egg resting in the box right next to the impostors! I'm not sure who laid it, but I suspect it was Fruit Loop as it was a darkish brown. I ran inside with the biggest shit eating grin, announcing to the Disgruntled Farmhand that we were now officially the proud owners of EGG LAYING chickens. I held that egg in my hands for a solid 10 minutes, turning it over, shaking it, feeling the weight of it in my palms. It was by far, the most beautiful egg I had ever encountered. I think I'll use it to make a coffee cake for Christmas breakfast.

Happy Holidays to each and everyone of you from all of us here at Itty Bitty!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Get Yourself Some Grandparents for the Holidays

That's my Nona and Pops. I stole them from my friend Kd. She ran off to New Zealand to raise cows and chickens or crayfish or something and just left the grandparental units by the wayside. Imagine abandoning a perfectly good Nona and Pops like that! I figured since they were essentially free for the taking, I'd snatch them up. Wouldn't you? Look how cute they are.

We went to visit Pops for his 90th birthday and bring over some homemade treats that I had canned over the summer. After all, I owed Nona since she gave me all of her canning jars, and we're not talking a couple dozen here. I inherited her entire stash! (It's not like Kd was going to bring them to New Zealand.)

In her prime, Nona was the absolute queen of canning. She has my mother whipped, hands down. Every summer Pops would dig up the sizable backyard and plant loads of veggies. Nona tells me they would can over 100 quarts each of tomatoes and string beans. That should give you a clue as to how many jars I've got squirreled away. Total score!

I called Nona to ask if we could drop by and the tone of her gleeful response I can only liken to when I tell my 6 year old daughter that we're going to Fairyland. I instantly remembered that Nona and Pops no longer have family members living nearby and that visitors are scarce. This is all too often the unfortunate circumstances for the elderly in modern society; family moves away and friends have either passed or are not mobile enough for visiting. When I was very young, my parents would take me and my siblings to visit some of the older folks from our church who had a hard time getting out for Sunday services. It was part of my parents' commitment to community, but they also reveled in conversing with folks who had a lot of life behind them and could spin a good yarn. In our fast-paced urban lifestyles, we've let go of this practice, much to our cultural detriment.

But I didn't visit Nona and Pops out of some guilt-laden fear of myself becoming old and alone, or for the vulturous prospects of snagging some more canning loot. I sincerely enjoy Nona and Pops company. The first time I met Pops, or Papa but I like to call him Pops, Nona was fiddling with some pills and Pops turned to me and stated very matter of fact "She has to take those so she doesn't get pregnant." I laughed so hard I nearly choked on the piece of bread I was munching. My uproarious laughter at this dry comment bordered on rude, but I couldn't help myself. That was some funny stuff. I've heard tell that Pops doesn't always know what's going on these days, but I suspect that he just chimes in when he has got something important to say. And I could talk to Nona for hours about the old days in Oakland and San Lorenzo, where they have resided for the last 50 years. Nona tells me about the orchards that used to be scattered throughout the area, the canning, gardening, and sausage making that she would do with her Portuguese mother-in-law. She gives me updates on her at least 40 year old tortoise named Georgia, who is currently hibernating and who, I was told, once disappeared for over two years and then turned up again one day roaming around the backyard.

Nona and Pops are a funny, good-natured, kind pair whom it is always a pleasure to visit. They even sent me a birthday card! They're the best. We hope to get the entire Itty Bitty clan over there before the holidays.

And no, you cannot have my Nona and Pops. I stole them fair and square. If you need a Nona and Pops, go out and get your own! There are plenty out there and I'm sure they would love a visit from some young whipper snapper such as yourself. The holidays are the perfect time to adopt a grandparent.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank a Farmer

If there is one golden nugget that I hope readers get out of this blog, it is that farming is tough, regardless of scale, and that we as Americans pay far too little for the food we eat given the amount of work that goes into production. In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to step up on my soap box and give everyone a good stern lecture on the topic, but one of my farmers, the guy who has been putting food on my table for the past 13 years, beat me to the chase.

Terra Firma Farms
in Winters, California has been supplying me with delicious, organic fruit, veggies, and nuts with their CSA program for over a decade. If we are what we eat combined with the fact that every cell in our body is replaced within 7 years, then I have been completely remade from Terra Firma soil. Paul Holmes (Pablote), Paul Underhill (Pablito), and Hector Melendez are my farmers and I owe my life and health to their hard work and the work of their employees. Literally. In this week's farm newsletter, Pablito sent along a message that eloquently sums up all the things I wanted to preach from my soapbox. So instead of putting it in my own words, I'll share his:

This week, thousands of farms workers will be deported, having spent the entire summer and fall helping put food on the plates of American eaters. With the recession causing massive unemployment, the Department of Homeland Security appears to have stepped up efforts to find and arrest undocumented immigrants - "illegals". Yet unemployed U.S. citizens are not lining up for their jobs. It is true that competition has increased for farm jobs, but that's because former farm workers who moved into construction and other boom-related industries have returned to their roots in agriculture. The vast majority of farm workers, as always, are undocumented.

The sad history of our country is that the first Anglo settlers here would not have survived the first few years without the help of Native American[s] who showed them how to farm, hunt, and fish here. Yet once they had gleaned the important information from the natives, the Europeans set about conquering and exterminating them.

Without the skills, experience, and knowledge of mostly Mexican farm workers who tend and harvest crops across the U.S., our food system would collapse. Yet it is our official government policy to pretend that valuable agricultural workers are actually criminals who must be expelled. Thanksgiving seems to me like a great day to communicate to anyone enjoying the bounty produced by America's farms that whatever their feelings about immigration, we all need to display more respect and appreciation for everyone who helps put food on our plates.

My daughter's grandfather began his migrant farm career at the tender age of five. His family was very poor and they worked from sunup to sundown picking grapes, staving off hunger with cigarettes and gum. For those of you out there who think that illegal immigrants don't have a valid place in our country, you are clearly mistaken. Without the work of families, like my daughter's relatives, you would not be paying peanuts for the food on your table, if there were food at all. This Thanksgiving, as every year, we will be off to Fresno to spend the holiday with that very same man who toddled through grape vineyards as a child. Thank you Pablito for reminding us to honor the important role that my husband's family has played in the history of our country. We here at Itty Bitty have tremendous gratitude for all that you and your employees do.

And a huge amount of appreciation goes out to all the farmers who contribute to the health and well-being of our family, specifically Marin Sun Farms for the ethically raised meats that we have been receiving for almost a year and a half now, Phan Farms for your incredible edible eggs that we buy while waiting for our ladies to lay, Twin Girls Farm for your great fruit and pomegranates, and the $1 a pound organic fruit and nut people at the Alemany Farmer's Market (you know who you are).

If you are lucky enough to know the person that grows your food, send them some praise for their efforts. We owe them that much.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On a Bread Roll

I recently picked up a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, irrespective of my skepticism regarding its lofty promises. Bakery style batards, baguettes, and ciabattas with such little time and effort? Show me the money!

I must admit that the authors, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, really figured this one out. All you need are a few simple ingredients and tools: flour, yeast, salt, water, pizza stone and peel. This no knead method uses a yeast based wet dough, which is stored in the refrigerator for up to 14 days. The longer the dough sits, the more of a sourdough flavor it takes on. The only shortcoming to the method is that if you use the dough within the first couple days of mixing it, it has more of a yeasty taste rather than sourdough flavor. But in my opinion, this is a trivial drawback given the fact that the bread practically makes itself.

Once every week or so I mix up a double batch of the dough, which makes about 8 loaves. For the past few weeks, we've been enjoying fresh baked bread nearly every day. I'm practically considered a saint around here! Practically. Almost. Well... not quite. Okay, not really at all. But the heavenly scent of the bread baking has gotten me out of Dutch with the Disgruntled Farmhand more than once. I'm calling it "the miracle method".

Speaking of books on bread, look what I ran into while thumbing through the Farm Journal's 1969 tome on the subject:

Eww! Of all the ads to put in a book entitled "Homemade Bread", and right next to rye bread recipe! How 70s.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Meet the New Poster Child for Urban Chicken Farming

Yesterday, I let a guy from Getty Images come take some photos of me and the farm. Today, I wake up to find my face all over the internet! I'm in the Star-Telegram (photo #7), Jezebel, and even the Washington Post (photo #8). Then I Googled my name, which I like to do from time to time to keep tabs on myself, just to see where else I might turn up and holy sheep shit, I'm practically viral! Okay, not really, but I am on NPR, Zimbio, Tree Hugger, Life ... the list goes on and on. Amongst my interweb meanderings, I also stumbled upon this article about myself. If you could peer through your computer screen and look at me right now, you would see a slack jawed woman, who hasn't even bothered to get out of her jammies, completely confused as to what has just transpired over the last 24 hours.

In almost all of the captions, you'll notice that they read "many Americans... have started to raise chickens in their urban yards to try and save money on food costs during the economic downturn..." The pure irony of this is that in most images, I'm holding Miss Golden Toe herself. And just so you can fully appreciate this sardonic moment, I'm going to cop to the amount I paid to have that toe "fixed". $200. That's right ladies and gentleman, I paid $200 for a vet to essentially clip off the chickadee's nail and supply me with outrageously over-priced meds. You see now how she'd have to lay a couple golden eggs to actually earn her keep around here?

But lesson learned. When this past week I accidentally ripped the dog's toenail off by stepping on his foot while wearing clogs, I didn't bother with the vet. With a little hydrogen peroxide and triple antibiotic ointment, Mr. Tinks was right as rain. However, I should warn you that if you do stop by the farm for a visit, please keep your toenails as far away from me as possible. I seem to be on a roll.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Love the Ladies

My parents were in town this weekend visiting from Nebraska, but that didn't stop me from pursuing Mission Pick Up Chicks. Nothing was going to stand between me and some new cluckers, not even family obligations.

On Sunday, we packed ourselves into two vehicles for a gorgeous drive up to Petaluma. The air had the crispness of fall, yet a skin tingling warmth from the sun's rays. I was excited to bring my parents along for this adventure; I wanted them to catch a glimpse of some of the more exciting moments of my urban farm life. My mother had grown up on a dairy in Southern California and clearly remembers her mother, Gertrude, raising the farm's chickens while harboring a seething disgust for the creatures. I suppose they are not for everyone. Though I am quite enamored with them, which was evident to my mother by my more than jubilant mood on the hour plus journey.

I had made an appointment to pick up four ladies from Split Rail Farms, which is nestled just outside of Petaluma in a town called Penngrove. In a rare moment of promptness, we arrived exactly when I said we would. Those who know me well will know that this is nothing short of miraculous. The farm headmistress, Jane, had our birds in cages, all ready to go to their new home. Everything seemed so efficient and neat. My mom made some offhand comment that hopefully these chickens would... you know... live. I told Jane that we had lost 6 out of 7 birds. Shocked, she asked if we had lost them to predators. I explained that the birds died of Marek's because of having purchased unvaccinated birds from a lady in - "Cotati", she abruptly answered for me. It seems Jane fell prey to the same swindle I had. Our stories were similar except that she chose to make the trip in person to UC Davis with a live bird. She said a dead bird in the refrigerator made her squeamish. I assured her that I double bagged mine in the fridge before I sent via Fedex.

Split Rail also has a herd of Nigerian Dwarfs. We asked a load of goat questions, which the folks on the farm were more than happy to answer. They were so young for farmers, at least a decade younger than me and my DF. And so incredibly... sweet. I hate to sound so sappy, but they were really really nice folks who kindly took the time to show us around a little and answer any weird query we threw out. We spent a good 15 minutes watching the chickens roam freely through the garden, the goats trot about with one of the farm's dogs, and the flock of wild turkeys frolicking in the background as if they too belonged to the farm.

After a bit of chit chatting we found out that the Split Rail farmers both had jobs off the grange. And then it dawned on me why that magazine, which I always thought should be called "Small Farms", is called Hobby Farms - you can't really make a living as a small farmer. Some folks might be able to scrape by, but they are probably more of a rarity in this day and age. I'm glad to see the younger kids giving it a try. I wish them the best of luck. And if these chickens live and actually lay eggs for me, I will recommend them to all my friends in search of poultry partnerships.

I know, I know, enough with the rambling. You're thinking, "Get to the chickens lady!".

This is Cocoa Puff, the Disgruntled Farmhand's bird. She is a Cuckoo Maran, like Pearl, and will give us those dark chocolate brown eggs.

Here is Ute's lady Fruit Loop, a Welsummer like Miss Lorraine, who will also lay dark brown eggs. She is loud, feisty as all get out, and can take to flight more gracefully than any of the other chickens I have owned. I can only catch her if I corner her under the goat deck stairs.

This white beauty also belongs to Ute and is named Eggo, an Ameracauna who will hopefully give us green eggs. She is the same breed as Petunia, "the Asshole", just a different color.

And finally here is my baby, Pop Tart. She is a Silver Laced Wyandotte and so far seems to be the tamest of the birds. I'm not surprised. Check out her tail feathers. It definitely looks as though she's met with some hen honcho who has been at her like a bully on an elementary school playground.

Speaking of bullying, Sweet Pea is not taking to her new flock mates as well as I had expected. I witnessed her deliver some seriously severe pecks to Eggo, and she chomped down on Pop Tart's behind, holding onto that one scraggly feather she has sticking up back there. I guess the ladies are establishing their pecking order and that's never pretty. Sweet Pea is being territorial, puffing up her chest feathers whenever she gets the chance, and uttering her low, kind of spooky, squawky noises. She appears to want the others to know that she was here first.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Results Are In

Wow, that was fast. I wasn't expecting to hear back from the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab for a couple more weeks. Glad to know that something in our great state is running efficiently. Arnold could take a tip.

This entire chicken ordeal has had me vacillating between various diagnosis, armed only with my online vet education. It's like the blog version of "Stump the Chumps" with the Magliozzi brothers, except I know way less about chicken diseases than they know about cars. Let's see, I started with Coccidiosis, an easily treatable disease so if any chickens had it, it was gone in a week. We could rule that out as my mysterious bird killer. Then I went on to Marek's since the cluckers all seemed to suffer from some kind of paralysis before they bit the dust. This seemed plausible, but since the ladies were supposedly vaccinated and most of the birds died after 17 weeks of age, I began to believe that they had Avian Leukosis, which is symptomatically similar to Marek's but has a 16 week incubation period.

Well somewhere along the line I was right and in typical Tom and Ray fashion, I'm going to blow the brass horns and claim victory. Gertrude died of Marek's, plain and simple. No Cocci, no Avian Influenza, no Leukosis. This was not my fault. Clearly, I was misled. The chicks had not been vaccinated and my hens died of one of the most common and virulent diseases that exists in the poultry world. This is fantastic news! I know you're wondering why I would make such an outrageous claim with 6 dead bodies on my hands. I'll tell you why; I'm not going to have to temporarily depopulate the farm, warn my neighbors, don a hazmat suit with NIOSH/MSHA approved respirator, and decontaminate my property with a turbo anti-pathogenic spray. Marek's is absolutely everywhere and the only proven effective method of controlling the disease is through vaccination. That in itself is a huge load off my mind. And it means I can get new chooks! That is as long as they've been vaccinated as Sweet Pea will remain a carrier for life.

Guess where I'll be this weekend? That's right. Out cruising chicks.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

It's That Time

This time of year in the greater Bay Area, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a pumpkin patch. There's Farmer John's, the Great Pumpkin Patch, Lemos Farm, Arata's (that really great one that has a giant hay bale maze and real live sword fighting), and dozens more littering the highways and bi-ways of our neck of the woods. And of course we have so many since this IS home to the the mother of all pumpkins, the Atlantic Giant, which can weigh in at well over 1000 pounds. Anyone with a kid will find themselves making the yearly trek to one of these festively orange carpeted bonanzas of squash delight. Ironically, I have yet to grow my own pumpkin. It's not like I haven't tried. But something always seems to go wrong. So our little clan joins the hoards in this yearly pilgrimage to pay homage to the gourd.

And what a mighty gourd it is!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Last Hen Standing

As I write this, Gertrude's stiff little body is on its way to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis. After 3 days of hobbling around the coop mostly paralyzed, using her wings, haunches, and beak to ambulate, my beautiful Brabanter finally passed. Ever since Violet and Petunia met their maker, I had planned to send the next chicken that died off to be tested. I found out that UC Davis provides this service for free to folks who own less than 500 birds. Since these tests can be quite pricey if performed by a private lab, I was more than relieved to find out my pocket book wasn't going to continue to take a beating when it came to the chickens. A few plastic bags, a cardboard box, some gel freezer packs and a Jackson to Fedex were all it took to get Gertrude on the way to her necropsy (animal autopsy).

A few folks have expressed concern about the method of shipment, particularly with the unpleasant possibility of leakage. To everyone who has been worried for the poor folks who deliver packages (and I'm sure they thank you for your concern), that's what the plastic bags were for. I, too, was a bit uneasy with shipping a corpse, but apparently people do this kind of thing all the time. According to the lady at CAHFS, "You can send it Fedex and don't worry, you don't have to tell them what you're shipping." Phew! Though just to be sure, I did double bag the bird with extra large plastic bags which wrapped around the chook's thin frame a couple times. In the end, it was more like a quadruple bagging.

The exchange with the man at Fedex was a touch... odd. He wanted me to change boxes. I told him it was impossible; the box was carefully packed. "It's fragile," I said. That's not really a lie. He then picked up the box and asked me if it was frozen. I felt my Operation Send Dead Animal was becoming less and less covert with every dreaded question. As soon as my money hit the table, I shot out the door like a shoplifter who had just finished stuffing loot down her pants.

So now we wait. Meanwhile, I can't bear to put poor Sweet Pea in the run by herself. Until we get the results back, she will be hanging with the goats. They seem to get along, though the goats insist on eating the chicken food and jumping inside the coop. Sweet Pea tolerates their poor manners, if only for the sake of companionship.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm Famous!

Well not exactly. But I did get a little bit of press from SFSU's newspaper Golden Gate [X]press. Take a look (it's titled "Urban chickens a growing Bay Area trend"):

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Working It

Am I not one bad ass bitch with my sledgehammer? Look how my muscles are like... rippling and stuff. This is me making a desperate, futile attempt to finish the landscaping in the backyard before the rains come. Oops! I guess it's a little too late for that after the huge storm passed through the Bay Area this week. *sigh*

So now I'm faced with a bit of a dilemma; should I reuse all of those cinder blocks to build my last two retaining walls or should I bite the bullet and purchase those lock in place bricks? I've decided to go with the latter. I really really really wanted to recycle all of those cinder blocks from the original retaining wall that sat smack dab in the middle of the yard. That poor wall has been scrabbling to hold back half the yard on a slope that descends at least 14 feet from the back door to the base of the yard. I painstakingly took the wall down block by block with the intention of building two smaller walls. But here's the problem; to make those walls strong enough to withstand the pressure of the earth behind them, we would need to build a solid base, mortar them together, fill the holes with concrete, and maybe stick in some rebar. The walls would definitely need to be tied in to the existing side retaining walls (we've got a 20 foot one to the west of us. I know, totally crazy!). That's a lot of work and would probably take me 2 weeks or more.

Well we certainly don't have that kind of time anymore to complete the project. The rains are upon us and if we don't act soon, our entire backyard will be washed down into the used car lot that sits directly behind us. Supposedly, I can build a retaining wall with those lock in place thingy-mi-jigs in a day. Wow, that works for me and it sure beats pouring concrete. I won't be reusing, but at least I'll have the place ready for the fruit trees that will be coming in January and I'll be able to plant some fall/winter vegetables. A fabulous perk to living in this area is that things grow pretty much year round. A downside to using these bricks is that I will lose 18 inches in the length of the yard. What's the big deal you ask? That's 37.5 square feet! Do you know how many plants I could cram into an area like that? That's the size of an entire garden bed!

And I had such big dreams for those drab, prison-like concrete blocks! I was going to mosaic both walls with some ocean motifs. The farm was going to have animals, plants, trees, and art all living together in one enchanting, harmonious, utopian splendor! These grand fancies for our tiny plot of earth no bigger than a double wide trailer are now left to rot with all the other dashed dreams... like having chickens that live! *sigh*

Anyone need a bunch of cinder blocks? Well, you know where to find them.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Miniature Houdinis

Last week we found ourselves at the Cotati Large Animal Hospital... again. It seems that the ladies are perfecting some escape artist antics that they've been working on. Ethel has been struggling to nudge past me at the gate and during one instance in which I blocked her from a new life on the lam, she lost her footing on the deck and poked her eye on one of the stairs. I didn't notice anything was wrong until a couple days later when she was having difficulty keeping her eye open and was laying around in the igloo. I also saw that the iris of her injured eye was cloudy. I made an emergency appointment with the vet and north we schlepped.

We didn't see our usual vet as she was off castrating sheep. Instead, we saw Dr. Harlan who gave Ethel a thorough going over at my request. She seemed to have contracted the same cough that Lucy had and I was concerned about pneumonia, a potential problem with goats of this age. Aside from her messed up eye, she was running a fever and had a bit of rattling in her lungs. The doc loaded her up with all kinds of meds: a super strong antibiotic called Exceed, a triple antibiotic steroid boosted eye ointment, and another round of Naselgen. The docs up at Cotati Large Animal seem to be really jazzed about the latter, having given both goats a dose on their last visit and again at this one. I could swear I saw a strange twinkle in Dr. Harlan's eye when he began to sing the beatitudes of this vaccine. He claims it's the bomb in preventing illness and uses it all the time with organic herds. His love affair with this little nasal spray struck me as a bit odd, but hey, to each his own. I, myself, am completely enamored with my totally energy inefficient Wedgewood stove for its ability to dehydrate anything, make yogurt, and sprout tomato seeds. So I don't judge.

I asked Dr. Harlan to check Lucy as well just to make sure her congestion wasn't lingering about. Her temp was normal, but she still had a bit of crud in the chest. We'll keep an eye on her. And since I had the doc there, I couldn't resist asking him about Lucy's very special body part. Lucy, you see, has a double teat and I wanted to know whether or not that would cause problems with milking. The doc said the extra teat had to go and that it would be a cheap and easy fix on a goat this young. He advised doing it now rather than later. I agreed, but was concerned that there wouldn't be enough time thinking that this would be a bit of a "procedure". OK, so the totality of this "procedure" involved me holding Lucy's front legs and vet assistant holding the rear, the vet taking a scissors of sorts and clipping off the adjunct teat, and then giving the fresh wound a good shot with a spray on bandage. Poor Lucy was so shocked by the pain that she jolted and then went completely stiff as if she had given up. Or maybe she was just doing her best imitation of a fainting goat.

Over the next couple days, Lucy was acting up, being a bit more goaty than usual. I suspect she was pissed about that lopping off the boobie thing. She would nibble at my clothes and shoes... while I was wearing them, of course. And she would make a break for the gate, which had never been part of her normal behavior in the past being the shy one of the two. And then last Thursday, I found her roaming around the yard outside of the goat pen. She was racing about, jumping on top of absolutely anything that was higher than a foot off the ground. I have no idea how she got out. Poor Ethel was left alone in the pen, bleating frantically for the return of her pal. Lucy seemed to be enjoying her freedom a little more than I would have liked to see. Looks like we better get a move on finishing the landscaping, otherwise the rains are going to wash all of our dirt piles down to Mission street and there will be goats running wild through the neighborhood. Oy vey!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

That's a Wrap!

The tomatoes on the front porch were starting to drive me nuts. Hand watering the 15 or so plants became too cumbersome of a task, not to mention the constant cleaning that became necessary as the plants began to dry up and drop their foliage. So I harvested all of the remaining fruit, green and red. The red went into the crock pot for an improved roasted garlic marinara sauce. The green became pickles.

I'd been pretty excited about a foray into preserving the green tomato as it wasn't something that I had grown up with. I learned the art of preserving from my mother who spent many a summer chained to the stove, overwhelmed with mountains of fresh produce and several scalding hot, burbling pots. I wasn't allowed in the kitchen during the process: boiling pots + rambunctious children = a trip to the emergency room waiting to happen. But I would hang about the dining room sneaking peeks of the happenings and catching strong whiffs of the overwhelming odors of tomatoes, peaches, pears, beans, pickles, etc. You name it, my mother probably canned it. However, the green tomato somehow eluded her Mason jar menagerie. I thought I would pick up where she left off.

I attempted two different types of green tomato pickles, spiced and dill. Both recipes came from my 1975 All About Pickling cookbook by Ortho Books. The dill recipe called for using the fresh pack method (pack jar with fresh fruit then pour boiling liquid over) and turned out perfect. The spiced, however, instructed to boil the toms for 15 minutes or until fruit is soft. I boiled for a very short time, yet the tomatoes turned mushy to the point of being unappealing. This also happened to me when I made my grandmother's watermelon rind pickle recipe last year. In the future, I think I will use the fresh pack method for all of my pickles and let them "rest" for a couple weeks to allow the flavors to meld. Anyone got any ideas as to what to do with a slurry of green tomato pickle slush?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Farm of DEATH!

Sounds like an awesomely bad B movie, eh? Well if you want to see it, there's a showing going on in my backyard. Yes, dear readers, we lost two more feathered friends, Violet and Petunia. I've only got a couple ladies left and these days I often find them huddled together looking tense, as if the Grim Reaper were hot on their heels. I hate to tell them, I think he is.

Petunia inconveniently kicked the bucket the morning of my daughter's 6th birthday. Ute's present this year? A good lesson in the hard knocks of life. Before rushing off to school, she held a dying chicken in her arms, hopefully giving that bird a comforting send off towards the great hen house in the sky. Raising peeps was supposed to teach my child about the cycles of life. Instead she is getting a crash course in all things death. I am unnerved by the fact that Ute no longer associates chickens with laying eggs, but with looking cute for a while and then suddenly dropping dead. And why wouldn't she? Christ, this season's tomato plants have lasted longer than the damn hens!

Violet hadn't been acting like herself for several days before her death. Nothing too alarming. She just tended to be off by herself, separating from the rest of the flock. And when I would pet her, she would crouch down rather than pushing back up against my hand, which was her usual m.o. I had read that this was a sign that the hen was about to start laying and since the ladies were approaching that time, I didn't think too much of it. Then last Thursday morning I found her sprawled out underneath the feeder. I shrieked at the sight (I am not ashamed to be a shrieker). To add to the gruesomeness of the scene, I saw that she was still alive, gasping for air and unable to lift her head or move her legs. I cradled her in my arms and stroked her until she left this world.

I knew Petunia wouldn't make it more than a day longer than Violet. She had also been acting a little depressed and was no longer living up to her nickname, "the Asshole". In the evening when I was putting the ladies to bed, I was heartened when she executed an amazing 180 on the roosting bar so that she could snack from the feeder without losing her spot. I stretched my hand out to pet my girls before I closed up the coop and Petunia whipped out her wings, sheltering Sweet Pea and Gertrude on either side of her like a good mother hen. And to let me know who was boss, she gave me a peck on the hand. I was thrilled to see her back to her old tricks. But the next morning, I found her prostrate on the floor of the coop, having fallen off the roosting bar, in the same position as Violet with the same symptoms. However, death was not so swift for her. She held on for a solid half hour and when I tried to lay her down so that I could get Ute ready for school, she freaked, squawking as hard as she could muster and moving any body part that wasn't paralyzed. I couldn't let her die in such a state. So I swaddled her in a tea towel, carrying her upstairs like a baby. And that is how my daughter came to hold a dying chicken on her birthday. We used it as a teaching moment, discussing how it was a precious thing to be able to give someone we care for a loving departure. [What? It's not my fault the bird decided to make her exit on this day. I'll put an extra $75 in the therapy jar. It'll pay for at least a half of a session. Happy now?]

Discouraged. Dismayed. Demoralized. Disheartened. Dispirited. Distressed. Why do all of my feelings start with the letter "D". I digress. I imagine that many of you out there might be thinking, "Wow, chickens must be extremely fragile creatures!", or maybe "Heidi doesn't know enough about poultry to pull this off.", or even "See I told you raising chickens in the city is a bad idea." I don't blame you. It's not like I haven't thought these things myself. But I don't think any of them are necessarily true. Chickens are super easy to care for: food, water, predator proof housing, roosting bar, laying box... done! The tricky parts? Predators and disease. There are over 200 poultry diseases and a few of them are some mean ass, fucked up sicknesses (pardon my french). And if you buy your birds from a sketchy breeder, you're certain to have a few nasty illnesses smuggling themselves inside those cute puffs of fluff.

I'm pretty sure my birds died of Marek's, which I have astutely assessed with that online Vet degree I've been working towards. In vaccinated birds, deaths due to Marek's shouldn't surpass 5% and in unvaccinated flocks you might be looking at 60%. According to the breeder whom I purchased the chicks from, all of the birds were vaccinated. I don't know if I'm buying that. I'm probably going to be looking at 80-100% mortality. Gertrude is not growing, though she eats like a pig. And both birds are dropping feathers. That's been the first sign with this bug. I can't know for sure unless I get a necropsy, which would require driving to Davis, paying a fee for the services, and possibly culling one of the two remaining birds. That doesn't sound appealing to me. My killing days are done for now.

Maybe the birds were vaccinated and I'm just horribly unlucky. As my dad says, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that the world isn't out to get you." He also warned me that I would need to learn a lot about poultry diseases BEFORE I got the chickens. He's probably sitting behind his computer right now doing an "I told you so!" dance. [You stop that right now dad! I know you're doing it. Not funny!]

I had several email exchanges with the breeder. She told me that she had autopsies on her birds last year and they found Marek's and Cocci in her flock. She copped to both of those diseases when I picked up the second batch of birds, so I'm not going to hold that against her. I'll give her credit for trying to be helpful. But when she told me that she would be relocating her operation and alluded to the fact that it had to do with disease issues, I absolved myself of any potential wrongdoing in the raising of my ladies. She offered to replace my birds, which felt more like she was trying to unload the dead weight (pun intended) to avoid bringing it to a new location. I politely declined, but thought to myself "You couldn't pay me to take your chickens lady, no matter how pretty and tempting they are."

So what am I going to do now? Well I guess I'm going to let the girls live out their natural lives and simply wait for them to meet their maker. One of my fears is that only one will survive and then I will HAVE to introduce at least one new chicken (remember chickens are not loners) to the property. The 2 remaining birds are probably carriers of whatever they have so that means as long as they are around, there is still potential for more losses as they will infect any birds they are housed with. I suppose I will have to cross that bridge when I come to it. I don't think I can deal with one more dead animal. Mostly because I have run out of places to bury them.

Heidi's Hard Learned Top 5 Tips on Purchasing Chickens:

1. Purchase birds from a reputable breeder. Ask around. Don't go with any Tom, Dick, or Harry. Who knows what kind of nasties they have infesting their operation.

2. Buy vaccinated birds. It's not a 100% guarantee, but it could save you some heartache.

3. The bird should look healthy: bright eyes, plucky spirit, no drippy nose or eyes, have meat on its breast (the keel or breastbone should not stick out so much that it feels like a spatula), no pasted up vents, no signs of mites. Have a chicken owner friend come with you. They'll know what healthy looks like.

4. Know how to keep your birds healthy by having some general knowledge of common poultry issues: mites, illnesses, treating injuries, appropriate feed and supplements.

5. See #1.

R.I.P. Petunia and Violet. You were good, and very good looking, chickens.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Planting Trees and Harvesting Tomatoes

Yup, that's me, hard at it getting that Arbutus 'Marina', a.k.a. Strawberry tree, planted in front of our house. This past weekend Ute and I helped put in a bunch of new trees in our neighborhood with Friends of the Urban Forest. We'd been wanting a tree for some time and FUF gives great deals to residents in our neighborhood. They are a really wonderful organization and so incredibly organized. Along with fellow neighbors, we planted a total of 92 trees in the area, many of them going to Monroe Elementary School where Ute is a 1st grader. They had the whole operation running like a well oiled machine. Our little group of volunteers was the slowest by far, but we still finished somewhere around 1pm. What the above picture doesn't show is that right after it was snapped, I pulled that post pounder up too high, raising it up above the post, lost my balance (and if you've ever picked up a post pounder you know why), came careening off the ladder, hitting the noggin of that older gentleman in the train hat who was standing underneath me, all after our planting leader gave us a dismissive lecture about how tree planting is not a really dangerous activity, but if accidents were to occur, it would be when using the post pounder. I love being the example of why safety precautions are in place. I felt just like a toddler after being given that ubiquitous parental lecture "That's why I told you not to jump on the couch!"

Here's a pic of my big girl doing a much better, and safer, job than I.

Here I am, the joyful owner of a new tree.

If you have a program like this in your city, I highly recommend participating.

In other news, the tomatoes are ripening a plenty. In fact, I was able to make some delicious homemade tomato sauce to freeze with all the excess. The recipe came from Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a really wonderful read btw). It called for quite a bit of basil, which I will probably moderate on my next attempt of this concoction. But all in all, the sauce tastes great.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

See This Movie: The Garden

The endless, eternal struggle between landowner and peasant plays itself out in this moving documentary of a group of Latino families who are trying to hold onto their 14 acre urban farm in the middle of south central Los Angeles. I got so fired up I watched it twice, and insisted that Esteban watch it with me the second time. Now he's fired up. If you need to get fired up about growing stuff in your town, don't miss this. You can get it on video or you can stream it on Netflix.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Make Way on the Poop Deck

Our DDF constructed this gorgeous deck in less than a day. Of course, within 30 seconds of being built it was christened "the poop deck" as both goats let out their nanny berry loads. Trust me though, it was amazingly beautiful in that first half minute.

The goats can't get enough of their new play space. They're chasing each other in circles, gracefully launching off the deck and scaring the crap out of the poor chickens. And it's also a great place to take in some sun.

Lucy's upper respiratory infection seems to be clearing up. But I'm a little worried about Ethel. I think she might be suffering from some kind of an identity complex. She seems to think she is a chicken.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Tour of Ghost Town Farm

If it wasn't for Novella Carpenter, we here at Itty Bitty would never know the satisfaction of raising urban goats. I vividly recall the evening some six months ago when I happened upon her blog whilst perusing that infinite maze we call the interweb in search of more info on raising chickens in the city. You see, even though we'd planned on getting chickens for over a year, the Disgruntled Farmhand never wanted the cluck clucks. Whenever the topic would come up, he would spat, "They smell. I want a goat." To which I would retort, "I would LOVE to have a goat too, but we can't have one in the city. We COULD have fresh eggs though." And then low and behold, I stumbled, or more accurately "Googled", upon Novella's Ghost Town Farm in Oakland. She had goats. A few of them. I could scarcely breathe I was so beside myself with glee, reckoning that if she could keep goats in Oaktown, I could certainly attempt it on the other side of the bay. I shouted to the DF, who was in another room getting his Internet crack on, "HONEY, WE CAN HAVE GOATS!" His sheepish, laden with child-like joy reply was barely audible, "Really?" And so began our little adventure.

Novella recently published City Farm, a book about her foray into raising livestock and gardening in an urban environment. I anxiously waited weeks for it to come into print and devoured it as soon as it arrived. The story is a fascinating look at one woman's attempt to be closer to the source of her food while living in a blighted, urban ghetto. Her pioneering spirit pours forth from every page as she humorously recounts tales as outlandish as raising 2 full sized pigs for slaughter on nothing but compost bin leftovers from Oakland's Chinatown and Berkeley's chic restaurant district. I highly recommend this read, even if you have no interest in raising your own meat or eggs. As well as being a captivating narrative of a new kind of modern urban lifestyle, her enthusiasm for bringing food closer to home is infectious and relevant to our current societal woes of food security, environmental degradation, reliance on foreign oil, and alienation from basic survival skills.

So of course after reading her book and following her blog religiously, I have been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to visit this little patch of citified grange. Lucky me, as a part of Oakland's Eat Real festival, Ghost Town graciously opened its doors for an all day farm extravaganza, which included a chicken slaughter and goat milking demonstration. I would have LOVED to have stayed all day, meeting like-minded folks, sharing ideas, and learning new urban farm tricks (really got to learn how to milk those goats!), but alas it was scorching hot in the East Bay, there were a ton of people in attendance, which was awesome, but made it difficult to hear, and I had an overheated 5 year old at my side who was adamant to know why we needed to look at some lady's goats when we had two perfectly good ones at home. The overbearing midday sun had turned my brain to mush and I was rendered incapable of reasoning with the small set (let's face it, I struggle with that on a good day). So we skipped most of the "official" tour and opted for a self-guided version. The veggie beds that littered the vacant lot adjacent to the house were lush and enviable,

the baby goats were cute as can be as they gorged themselves on alfalfa directly IN the manger,

and Novella, the farm lady herself, was absolutely charming and personable (with great taste in eyeglasses!).

While she was signing books, I approached her with a small gift from Itty Bitty, a jar of lemon apple butter, kicking myself the entire time for not having brought my copy of her book to sign. We briefly talked about goats and I realized in that moment that I have been a bit desperate for community - you know, like personally knowing a couple other folks whom I can talk to about chicken and goat stuff. It took all of my willpower to refrain from ambushing Novella with a million and one question assault of all things related to backyard livestock. I'm hoping that she will have a workshop on goat husbandry in the near future, as I am particularly nervous about that "goats giving birth in my backyard" thing and could use a mentor.

Thank you Novella for your inspiring presence in this world. You are an amazing lady!

And BTW, if any of you out there know of someone who is raising chickens, goats, rabbits, etc. in the city, trying to grow more of their own food, or just interested in this kind of stuff, please send them my way. I'm lonely. Maybe we could have a potluck or something.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Computer Has a Virus and So Does My Goat

We've been back from vacation for a week and a half now, but you haven't heard hide nor hair from me because my computer has a virus... or two. I think I've cleared up the problem - thank you free anti virus software - so I will be trying to post more frequently to catch everyone up on the haps around the homestead.

Speaking of viruses, one of the goats, Lucy, has had a slight cough and runny nose since she arrived at Itty Bitty. It was such a minor issue that I figured she either had an allergy or was a little stressed by the move. However, it hasn't cleared up and recently seems to have gotten worse. We're talking full blown goat boogers here. I decided to have her checked out by a vet. And here again I found myself in that urban farming quandary: Where in the heck was I going to find a vet near SF that would see a goat? The closest place I could locate with any reliability was about an hour or so away. On Tuesday, I packed up both ladies into a large dog crate and headed off to the Cotati Large Animal Hospital. There was no way I would have taken just the one goat. Ethel would have terrorized the neighborhood with eardrum rupturing bleats. No need to draw that kind of attention. We had a nice visit with Dr. Schroer, who patiently answered all of my dumb goat health questions, which included an embarrassing query about frequent urination (I just HAD to know whether or not it was normal). She gave me a series of antibiotic shots for Lucy, whose virus seemed to be transforming into a bacterial infection, and vaccinated both goats against some kind of nasal worm thing that can occasionally be a problem in herds. I just went with whatever she said because frankly, I'm so done with having sick animals. And FYI, the bill was half of what I paid for the toe incident with the chicken.

After the vet visit, I decided to pick up some supplies at the Western Farm Center in Santa Rosa, since we were in the neighborhood and all. This is my absolute favorite farm supply store. They always have everything I need at a decent price, including organic feed. The staff are friendly and helpful, but most importantly knowledgeable in that uncocky way. If for some reason they don't know something, they'll find someone who does, the antithesis to my experiences at the feed store that is closer to our house in Half Moon Bay, where I've mostly encountered service with an attitude if, in fact, I've received any service at all. The highlight of this trip to the WFC was when Roberto, the super congenial cashier, came out from behind the register to help me load my goodies just so he could sneak a peak at the goats. How charming is that?

Our trip to Costa Rica was fantastic and we are so grateful to Maria and Jeremiah for keeping things up to snuff on the farm. I'm particularly beholden to them for standing in my stead to shepherd Miss Lorraine on her journey to the other side. I was hoping that she would hold out until our return so that our farm sitters wouldn't have to deal with the more unpleasant side of owning livestock. But this was not to be. Sweet Jeremiah held Miss Lorraine in his arms, gently stroking her feathers, as she passed. What an incredibly loving and peaceful death. We should all be so lucky to leave this world with such dignity and grace.

Here are a couple photos of farm animals in Costa Rica. The chickens are fairly similar to ours, but check out those cows!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Greetings, IBFITC readers!
I've been hard at work on the farm with my sweetheart and fully gruntled farmhand, Jeremiah, so I haven't had much chance to sit down and pound out a proper update to the ol' blog until today, our last day!
We were thrilled when Heidi, Esteban the Disgruntled Farmhand (typing 'gruntled' makes me giggle), and Ute welcomed us to their home. We were both looking forward to spending some time out of the 'burbs, frolicking with goats and watching chickens act chicken-like. Since both of us have become interested in the urban homesteading movement (it's big enough to be called a 'movement', right?), we were particularly excited to learn more about what goes into creating a more self-sufficient household. And ooo-wee! We got us an edumacation!

Contrary to common belief, I was not a farm kid. I grew up in Bodega Bay, which I call a town but the tourist brochures call a quaint village, and my dad was a fisherman. Aside from our kleptomaniacal dog Skipper, thousands of nameless feral cats, and one Muscovy duck named Buddy bought on a whim at the feed store (when I lost interest and realized the duck couldn't live on love alone, my brother rechristened him Guido, took him to his house, and later ate him), we didn't keep animals. I liked to look at them, and like many little girls, I wanted a black pony with a star on his forehead more than anything in the world, but for the most part I viewed farm animals as big, smelly alien creatures who magically provided us with beef and chicken. My sole contact with livestock came when I was a teenager living with my sister, Deb, who for some reason decided she needed to have two goats penned up in the backyard. Their names were Orion and Snowy, and I hated them. Yeah, I said it. I hated them. I don't know if they were mean or just acting, like, goat-y, but no matter what I did, those damned goats would rear up on their hind legs and jump on me, like they were trying to dance with me or something, and then they'd drop to the ground, rev themselves up, and butt me. They wouldn't even let me pet them without butting me. Though I'd expressed no interest in the goats, outside of the desire anyone would have to keep them safe from Chupacabra or goat rustlers, Deb felt that it was my job to take care of them. I'd go outside, grimly clutching the feed bucket, as the goats fixed their walleyed stare upon me. I'd open the gate and BOOM! the assault would begin. I think my sister had purely sadistic motives, because she found this uproariously funny.

I'd related this story to Heidi and her DF, and Heidi was a tidge worried that I may have been too traumatized by my sucky goat experience to take proper care of her farm. But no. I told her that I've grown up and I think animals are fun now, not to mention the fact that her goats are cute, a little skittish, and much sweeter than the snarling beasts my sister kept. Jeremiah was just excited to play chicken farmer for two weeks, and he had no fear of goats to speak of.

We arrived at the Itty-Bitty eager to get our hands dirty. We read through Heidi's instructions, and set about divvying up the chores, though we liked doing the work (and we're still in that gross snuggly stage of our relationship) so much we ended up abandoning the list to do everything together. The work was pretty straightforward--clean food and water for all the animals everyday, rake the pen a couple times. J and I immediately loved the scent of the goat's feed--molasses, corn, oats--and even grew to enjoy the loamy smell of the pen in the morning, earth and dewy straw and sweet alfalfa. The goats weren't down with us petting them, but we were consoled by the fact that they regarded us with curiosity, not malice.
Chickens are amusing creatures, and we enjoyed watching them cluck and peck. That's their jam, you know. I'm sorry to say that Lorraine has departed this mortal coil. She began acting strangely midday Wednesday, and took her last breaths by evening. Jeremiah brought her inside and made her a bed of shavings, and tried to feed her bits of fruit; we knew she might not make it when she took no notice of an earwig crawling over her beak. No matter how large or small the creature, it's always bad news when it refuses to eat. She died a peaceful, natural death. I have to admit that I was terrified I might have to euthanize her, especially after reading Heidi's harrowing post on that subject. RIP, Lorraine.

I guess I don't have anything earthshaking to share on the topic of animal care. It was fun and cute. But I have to say that my experience here has raised a lot of questions about the food I eat and the lifestyle I lead.

With Heidi's permission, I pillaged her cabinets and found homemade preserves, home-canned beets and asparagus, and homemade applesauce. The freezer is full of the meat of ethically raised animals who didn't die in abject misery, stuffed full of corn and drugs before being cruelly slaughtered. Apples from the neighbor's tree are waiting to be turned into cobbler in the refrigerator. Heidi's tomatoes--both home-grown and out of the CSA box--are rich and flavorful. All the great things about ye olden dayes, with the added benefits of penicillin and hair dryers. Cooking next to Jeremiah, I found myself stating the obvious: "Honey! Taste this apple! It's real and tart and hasn't been engineered to do unnatural things! We're eating a REAL apple! Wow!" Poor guy. He's very patient. I've become very aware of the fact that even though I eat quite well--whole foods, mostly vegan (I really love honey), little to no artificial yuckiness--I'm still eating products. My Safeway tomato isn't bland because it's a dud, it's bland because it's been sitting in a greenhouse, artifically ripening. It's the result of a process designed to sell more tomatoes, not provide nourishment. I've already collected a bunch of containers so I can start my own tomato and herb garden, to begin the process of reducing the amount of products I consume.
Most people were incredulous when I told them I'd be farmsitting in the city, especially when I mentioned the goats. People have no qualms about keeping Rottweilers and Mastiffs in a city home, but goats! Well, that's just crazy talk. But the fact is, there's no reason one can't keep a couple of foodbeasts in the city (yes, okay--there may be zoning laws and boring stuff like that. But I'm talking about something DEEPER). There's no reason one can't raise a 3' x 3' patch of corn or make homemade yogurt. We don't have to live the way we were taught, and we don't have to pigeonhole ourselves into city or country boxes.

My homestead may never be self-sufficient, because I am all too happy to pay someone else to make my bread or collect my honey. But I liked the way it felt to peer into the pantry and find a stockpile of handmade food. So, it's baby steps for me--Heidi gave me a home canning kit as a thank-you, and I plan to can the hell outta anything I can find. I'm excited to rehabilitate my plant-killing black thumb, and I have a good lead on a free vermiculture bin so I can rightly call myself a worm farmer.
It's going to be fun.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Should I Get a Miniature Cow?

I know I said that you wouldn't hear from me for a couple weeks, but then I found this article today in Mother Earth News on mini cows and I figured I would share. I so NEED one of these critters.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Digs

We finally finished the new animal area. It's basically a long corridor with a 4.5 foot retaining wall at the bottom of our steep sloping yard. Though it looks a tad prison-ish now, a nice coat of bright green paint will certainly improve the aesthetics. I'll get on that as soon as we return from our vacation in Costa Rica. Though I'm not sure the animals really care all that much about the looks of things, they seem to be pleased that they have a bit more room to spread out. Here's a view from the opposite angle:

The goats are happy.

Lucy keeps attempting to either eat or climb the lattice.

I also just realized that I haven't put up any recent photos of the chickens. And boy are they changing. Check out Gertrude's faux hawk -

She found an interesting spot to roost this morning.

Violet has sprouted a full blown feathered cap. We nicknamed her Phyllis Diller as her hat just looks like something Phyllis would don. I love this picture. You can't see either set of eyes.

I had to really work at getting this rare glimpse of her face.

Sweet Pea is just HUGE compared to 4 weeks ago. She was the smallest of the bunch and now is almost the largest.

And look at those leg feathers!

We will be away through mid-August, so you may not hear from me until then. Meanwhile you may catch wind from my fabulous farm sitters, Maria and Jeremiah, who will be holding down the fort while we're gone. I'm hoping that they will decide to be guest bloggers and give you all a different perspective of the haps around Itty Bitty.