The Birds and the Bees

Our bees arrived!  Robert has been an apiary enthusiast since seventh grade so he is beyond thrilled to finally have a hive going.  We checked on them yesterday and it’s amazing how much work they’ve been able to do in a span of a few short days.  We had to tear out their honeycomb because they were building it perpendicular to the frames — we hoped they would free build their honeycomb (to make for easier harvesting) but they might need a little direction from us with regards to how they hang their sweets.  Hosting them here on our little farm is a dream come true.  And since some of you demanded baby critter photographs, here are a few of those, to boot!  Though, as you can see, everything is growing up pretty quickly around here.

I thought I would include a picture of Tater Tot with the turkey-lurkeys for you.  This is the first time I let them out in the yard to free range and so it was Tater’s first encounter with them.  Some of you have asked about how we deal with bird dogs who come from really strong hunting bloodlines (which is to say they have an immense predator prey drive) and free ranging birds in the yard.  I do have a couple of thoughts to share on the topic.

Tater Tot is now 5 years old. If I didn’t have complete control of him in situations like this it would be a total failure on my part with regards to basic obedience training and establishing general pack order with my dogs.  If you don’t want your dogs to kill your yard birds, if you want them to come when you call, if you want them to abide by the rules you have set for them, you need to have some basic obedience training in place, but to be honest, the more obedience work you are able to do on a regular basis, the better.  Dogs come from wolves!  They thrive on a sense of place within their pack.  Obedience training is one of the best ways to build bonds with your pup as well as give them that sense of place that will help them to feel and behave like secure individuals.

I always say, if you have a dog that is acting up you can almost always solve the issues by exercising it more (go beyond the off-leash, downtown dog park) and working with it more (obedience training).  These things benefit you, too.  My dogs get me outside every single day and engaging with them, asking them to work for me and along side me has made our relationships rich and sacred.

As I said, we’ve had Tater Tot for 5 years but I do yard training with him on a regular basis because he needs it.  He has a very strong and stubborn personality paired with completely insane hunting drive.  He needs a tune up every single day.  To give him a tune up I simply dedicate time every day wherein we get to focus on each other.  If I am running, I heel him while I run (though we run on single track or two track on public lands where he can run free and wild).  While we travel together like that, I practice casting him off, recalling him, woahing him and running past him a full 1/4 mile before releasing him from his woah command, etc.  If he is being rotten to the cats or to the other dogs, instead of trying to reason with him like some folks do with their dogs (???), I take him straight outside and I challenge his mind with some obedience training.  I can turn his attitude around in a couple of minutes by simply refreshing his sense of pack order and pushing his mind a little.

I can’t yet trust him with the turkeys, but soon he’ll ignore them when he’s sharing the yard with them.  In the meanwhile, I sit with him while the turkeys range within his reach, I speak to him and let him know I am watching him.  I request a little self-control from him and he does a great job.  He completely ignores the ducks unless he is with me while I am herding them into their pen in the evening.  Then he’ll actually help me herd them a little bit, with the aid of voice commands from me.  He’s such a smart little pup.

Farley ignores all the new critters while Penelope is curious about them and wants to give them all the flea nibbles…which looks a little like she is tasting them so I have to tell her to be gentle.

As you can see, the duckos have grown amazingly quickly.  They have many of their adult feathers and they discovered the trout pond yesterday and to say they are thrilled with their swimming space would be a total understatement.  They add so much to the immediate yard here.  I am glad for their company.

This week, I’ll be busting my own chops trying to get the gardens in.  Wish me luck!  I’d like to have all my seeds in the ground by the weekend and since it’s still very cool at night, tomatoes, et al, can wait another week…and they have to wait another week, anyway, as I’ll be off on another shoot shortly!  I’m doing my best to roll out of bed at 6AM here, every morning, there’s so much to do.  And when I lay down to sleep at night, I sleep like a rock.  It’s delicious.  And simple.  And I like it.


Open Eyes

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I’ve wanted a flock of laying ducks for YEARS.  Supposedly, they are gentler on a yard and garden area — chickens tend to really disturb their free range areas since they dig for bugs and dirt-bathe on a regular basis — but I’ve also read that ducks lay larger and creamier eggs than chickens do.  How delicious does that sound?  We have a great duck habitat here at the farm with a really beautiful, deep pond that’s crowned with an enormous weeping willow (which we call Grandmother Willow).  I can’t wait to watch them waddle and paddle about our property.  They’re going to thrive here.

What stopped me from having laying ducks in Pocatello was a wildly omnipotent next door neighbor who had peculiar animal care habits.  She made it her day job to monitor how everyone on the street was tending to their pets and animals and reported everyone in the neighborhood to the police at some time or another for “animal cruelty and animal abuse” — it was never warranted.  She also trespassed in our yards to tend to our animals while we were away from our properties (on trips to the grocery store or jaunts to different states or countries).  She poisoned plants in my yard that she didn’t like.  She threw loaves of bread over the fence between our properties because she didn’t think I was feeding my dogs enough food.  The list of weirdness goes on and on and to be frank, one of the reasons we sold our property in Pocatello was simply to get away from her.  As some of you know, we were very fortunate to privately sell that property to good friends of ours and they’re now having to deal with the same neighbor issues.

This neighbor also had the habit of buying chicks every spring, or new chihuahua-mix puppies, or kittens, or button quail and she’d have them for a while and then they would mysteriously disappear and be replaced with some new baby critter.  I don’t know what she was doing with them, maybe she was drowning them in her bathtub or simply putting them in her dumpster?  She’d also come over and ask Robert to dispatch the animals she was through with, even if they weren’t sick or injured or suffering.  She’d simply get tired of tending them and want someone to kill them for her.  She once asked Robert to take her sick, blind chihuahua somewhere and shoot it because she didn’t want to pay the vet to euthanize it!  I was horrified on a regular basis.

This is all to say, I was afraid to get a batch of laying ducks while living in Pocatello because I knew this neighbor would find them adorable and get some for herself and then ask Robert to kill them in the fall once they were full grown and she no longer liked them or had the patience to care for them.  I loved our little Pocatello farm house with its incredibly prolific yard and its immediate access to the City Creek trail system but I tell you what, I felt a sort of spiritual oppression while we lived in Pocatello.

Anyway, what I’ve noticed so far about ducklings is they are very active, taking only short sleeps every now and again, they consume a shocking amount of water and I’d describe them (no matter the breed) as eccentric!  They’re hilarious!  Our flock now has 3 runners, 1 Swedish black, 1 pekin and 1 khaki campbell — a beautiful assortment.  The pekin and the khaki campbell are straight run (unsexed) so I’m hoping that one of them is a drake.  We’ll be able to tell as their feathers come in.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that one of those quackers has curly tail feathers!

I have to go to Colorado for work this weekend and I’m excited to go but I’ll be so sad to miss a few days with our baby critters.  They’re already such a part of me.

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Baby Announcement


Sometime in January, Sugar Baby had an affair with a manx tomcat from a neighboring farm.  Then she ballooned up.  Then she became restless.  Then one morning, Rob walked into the studio and there were four wriggling kittens under a shelf in my studio.  Imagine that!  Four came out — two tabby and two pinto, a manx and long-tail of each coloring.  The tabby long-tail was a fader.  So let’s talk about that first.

I had a choice to simply let nature take its course and let the fittest survive and the less fit die but instead I chose to feed that sick little kitten with a dropper for a 24 hour period before she finally died, it caused some major sleep deprivation and worsened the influenza I picked up while at home in Saskatchewan but I don’t regret putting that kitten on an hourly hand-feeding schedule.  Here’s why:

  1.  I don’t know if there was something wrong with her physically that caused her to be a runt who fed well at first and then dwindled until she died or if her fade-out was because the other tabby kitten who thrived more quickly than the rest continuously pushed her off her nipple while she was feeding thus inducing her fade.  Was she born a runt or was she made a runt by her litter mate?  Who the heck knows?  But she was certainly our little Wilbur.
  2. I think my job as a keeper of animals is to always do my best by them.  If they get sick, I tend to them.  If I need help tending to them, I take them to a vet.  Simply put, I make myself a factor in the survival of my critters.
  3. I never want to regret NOT taking action for my animals when they are unwell.

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The three kittens that remain are healthy, squawking, roly-poly beasts of love.  They’re eyes should open this weekend and then they’ll become trouble.  Precious, darling trouble.  They’re starting to get mobile and it’s remarkable how strong they are.  I watch them scuffle with each other already and sometimes I help them find their way to nurse and the others will kick at my hand and push with surprising force against my fingers.

It’s been fun to watch a mammal transition into motherhood.  Sugar Baby operates fully on instinct.  She had no midwife.  She didn’t read ten books on what to expect while pregnant and get a ton of (unwanted?) advice from all the women in her life (and total strangers at the grocery store).  It’s amazing to me that she gave birth to these guys on her own, chewed through their umbilical cords, consumed her own placenta for what would have been a huge energy boost for her post-delivery (most animals consume their afterbirth), behaves in a protective manner and guards over them fiercely, slips away once they have fallen asleep to go for a quick hunt or bathroom break, cleans up after them (the kitten nest is totally clean, no urine, no poops, she cleans their bottoms as they “go” with her sandpaper tongue)…it’s remarkable to watch her instincts in full bloom.  As these babes become mobile it will be interesting to see how she changes the way she cares for them and monitors them.

Watching her do this motherhood thing has me wondering if women have these same kinds parental instincts?  How many of our parenting habits stem from reading informational books before we give birth, how many stem directly from our instincts?  When did we stop wandering off into the forest to give birth by ourselves, like a cow dropping her calf in a string of aspen on a mountain slope?  I’m not a mother.  I don’t know how these things work.  I just hear moms go on and on about how you haven’t loved until you’ve loved the child you give birth to.  How much of that love and care is purely instinctual, hormonal, written into female DNA so that there’s hardly any way to undo how we care for our offspring.  Plenty of you are mothers (and fathers).  Tell me about it?  Did you feel any degree of instinctual override when your babies came into the world?

We’ll keep one of these kittens (the pinto manx).  The tabby manx is going to friends of ours in Boise.  The long-tail pinto was claimed by a neighbor.  And that’s that!  I tell Robert every day that I want to keep them all, but I know I can’t.  Fortunately, we have a tsunami of critters arriving here over the next few weeks.  Tomorrow we’ll pick up our ducklings from the post office.  Then our chicks will arrive.  Then our turkey-babies will arrive.  And then, we’ll pick up our bees.


A lifelong dream of mine!

Pinch me.  Is all of this real?  Every single day Robbie walks into my studio in the afternoon, runs his fingers through his hair and simply states, “I’m just outside living the dream, living the dream.”  We had our immediate neighbors over for an official we’re finally moved in dinner on Sunday and one of them asked me if I am happy here and I replied, “I am happier than I’ve been in a very long while.”  And while I haven’t been unhappy, I feel like the cat who got the cream on a daily basis.  And that is that.

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[morning in the kitchen]

[new peach trees for the fruit orchard]

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[Here comes the cavalry!]

We had friends come to dinner last night.  I was so excited to see them.  I feel we’ve been in renovation exile here!  After they left I started thinking about our main group of Idaho friends.  We first met these guys nine years ago when Rob was on a hotshot crew with them in Pocatello.  I think it’s safe to say this crew of boys will always been our life and to our great delight, one by one they started getting married and we love the ladies they’ve brought into our posse, too.

When we lived in Pocatello, we were social instigators.  We loved to throw big dinner parties with loads of food and delicious drinks and copious amounts of dessert and after dinner tea.  We would have gladly gone bankrupt just to host our friends in our home and feed them — it was such a great time and it’s something we still love to do, whenever we can.  To have two of those lifetime pals pop by for dinner last night gave our new little home such a great feeling of love and friendship. We took them for a before-dinner walk out on the land and laughed aloud as all the dogs careened through the sagebrush, up and down the riverbank.  We’re now entering into recruitment mode wherein we try our best to convince all of these beloved pals of ours to buy property near to where the farm is located.  We need them all close by once more, just a telephone call away from joining us for a dinner party.  Wish us luck.

With that said, before our friends arrived with their dogs, Rob spent most of yesterday working on a batch of ossobuco with elk*** and some of my freezer-fresh garden tomatoes from last summer.  We took the recipe from Rohan’s cookbook Whole Larder Love — a cookbook after my own heart.  It’s so beautiful to read through and since it was created by a kindred, I can’t help but to respond to the imagery and the ideas captured on the pages.  Actually, if I were to create my own grow/gather/hunt cookbook it would be a lot like this one, except there would be more working dog photos.  By the way, if you haven’t heard of Rohan, I do recommend his blog as well as his Instagram feed.  He’s talks about important stuff.  All the time.  And I admire his photography very much.

Anyway, Rob whipped up this amazing elk ossobuco bedded on polenta and a chocolate cake to go with and we all ate ourselves silly and then sat and talked with tea and a bottle of lovely, extra dry riesling until Laura and Jeff forced themselves to leave for home.  I wish they could have stayed the night but I shouldn’t get greedy about these things.

To our delight, what we had imagined this home could be when friends and family come to visit became an apparent and beautiful reality last night.  We had a cozy fire in the living room fireplace, both kitchen bar tops were handy food prep spaces, no matter where we were working in the kitchen we had a solid view of our guests and a comfortable conversation distances, our dining room table was a pleasure to linger at, our sofas fat and plush.  In short, we are so glad we made this home what we imagined it could be.  I have absolutely no regrets regarding how long our renovations took or the struggles that came with doing those renovations during what has been a hard, hard winter for this part of Idaho — even now, as I type, it’s snowing steadily outside and I’ll probably need to shovel the walkway to get out to the truck when I drive to the post office at noon.

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I have the studio warming up and am looking forward to creating for most of the day.  Have a lovely Monday.  Make it beautiful.

***Rob had a successful (hail mary) elk hunt this year.  He shot a cow over in the Hell’s Canyon region of Idaho  in late November and packed it out in -22F weather.  I am so deeply grateful to have this meat in our freezer this year.  I thought it was going to be a skinny year for us, and we were so short on time for hunting and food getting and the snows have been so deep and treacherous for upland hunting — it’s been a difficult winter, a true winter, for all the critters, including us.  I prayed hard for this elk of ours and even had middle of the night anxiety about our food stores and empty freezer (!!!) for a few weeks leading up to Rob’s success in the field.  When Rob phoned me to tell me he had a cow down and was coming home I truly rejoiced.