Tag Archives: Kitt

Vent Sexing and an Egg Hunt


I have absolutely no idea where our hens are laying.

I think about this fact as I use two eggs for chocolate chip cookies and open our usually full 18 pack only to find 12. Time to go on an egg hunt — one that I am willing to gauge will not be successful.

We have three Rhode Island Red hens that in the summer we allow to roam free. This fact makes my hippie-heart proud. I often sit on the front porch and watch the birds pecking their way over our front lawn.

Chickens

My hippie-side gives way to the carnivore, however, when our free range hens stop laying in the coop — and start laying in different places all over the barn. We then have to search in all of the crevices and all over the hay to find where the hens have decided to lay. Unfortunately, we often miss a few spots causing my husband or father-in-law to be pelted with frozen eggs mid-winter as they pull hay to feed it out to the cattle.

We started our chicken collection with a dozen chicks about three years ago. Chicks are extremely fragile, and my husband ordered that number under the assumption that a few would die. Laying hens at their peak, after all, lay one egg every 25 hours.

No one eats that many eggs.

All of the chicks (of course) survived — with one of the so-called “hens” a rooster. This is normal, I have found, as it is difficult to “sex” chickens. One of the main ways that “chicken sexers” determine the sex of a chicken is to squeeze the feces out of a young chick and look in its anal “vent” to see if there is a small bump which would indicate a masculine bird. This is called “Vent Sexing” — I just call it plain icky. Check out the Dirty Jobs video if you need a visual of the practice. If you aren’t eating, of course.

We decided, after an inundation of eggs, to give a few hens away. We kept five and the rooster. I am not sure why we kept the rooster, save that he was a beautiful and somewhat docile bird (rare for a rooster, I have learned). I say “was” as we sold him along with a son that he helped to create after a particularly harsh season of hen gang-rape. Our poor hens had no feathers on their backsides after repeated attack by the two roosters. Two even died.

So now we have three happy hens that produce just enough eggs for us to consume. Just enough, that is, unless we can’t find them.

Right now, our barn looks like this —

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which is making it a little difficult to find any eggs.

As I entered the barn, I inched by the wagon to search all through all of the former laying spots only to find the singular egg that was left to ensure the hens continued laying in that spot — obviously, a practice that does not always work.

Frustrated, I left the barn empty-basketed.

I think next time I will take Kitt with me — she is much better at finding eggs. It must be the farm blood in her.

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July 11, 2013 · 7:48 AM

Sorry, Colorado…You Got Nothing On Maine


This post may offend my Colorado readers, and for that I sincerely apologize. The guilt of holding the truth in has been eating at my soul. Not really, but I don’t like to talk behind backs, and I have been talking behind the back of my former state for years.

The produce in Colorado doesn’t taste as good as the produce in Maine.

There. I’ve said it.

During my time in Colorado, I spent over a decade visiting farmers market after farmers market only to find that the tomatoes grown in the Rocky Mountain soil don’t have the rich, tomatoey flavor of those grown in my home state. The cucumbers aren’t quite as juicy. Even the flowers (save the high-desert sage) do not emit as much fragrance. Perhaps it is my own bias. Perhaps it is because my present home in Maine has so much more water. Regardless, the only true “produce” that I heartily miss from Colorado is the roasted green peppers (I know — the best of those come from New Mexico, but at least Colorado has some! Do you know how hard it is to make a good green chili in the state of Maine for the love of all that is good and holy?!?!?)

This brings me to the produce that tastes better in Maine (in my not-so-humble opinion): STRAWBERRIES.

Mid-June in Maine brings U-Pick hours at strawberry farms all over the state. This year, I loaded Kitt up in the car at 6:30 A.M. and drove to a favorite farm: Stevenson’s Strawberries in Wayne, Maine. Kitt had never been to the fields before, and I have to say for 3 1/2 she showed amazing discipline. She didn’t eat a berry until she filled the small bucket that she carried into the field. Of course, after the bucket was topped off with “Kitt-sized berries” she sat in the middle of a row and became eerily silent as she shoved berry after berry into her face. I offered to weigh her on our way out, but was told there was no need.

Strawberry Farms are like crack dealers. They really are. Get ’em hooked young and they will be coming back for years!

After an hour of picking I ended up with 23 lbs of luscious berries.

For those wondering -- this is what 23 lbs of berries looks like. OK -- perhaps minus a pound from my munching on the way home.

For those wondering — this is what 23 lbs of berries looks like. OK — perhaps minus a pound from my own munching on the way home.

Many of you may be wondering, “What in the hell do you do with 23 lbs of freaking strawberries?!?” The answer is a lot.

I saved 3 quarts for fresh eating. Do I need to tell you why?

I froze 7 quart bags to be used in a blender later. HELLO strawberry margaritas and daiquiris. Oh, and smoothies for Kitt, of course. Frozen berries also make one helluva good strawberry shortcake mid-winter when the days are about an hour long. Thaw out frozen berries and welcome in summer sunshine.

I used 8 cups in a Fresh Strawberry pie, which I would show a picture of, but we consumed a great deal after dinner last night, and the pie is a bit of a mess.

Then comes the jam.

It’s true. I make jam. So unlike me, but I eat A LOT of jam, so I have found that the best way to keep myself in it without spending my entire paycheck is to make my own.

I prepared myself the night before with supplies:

I know, I know, how "farm-like" of me. Perhaps this place is getting to me.

I know, I know, how “farm-like” of me. Perhaps this place is getting to me.

I decided on two types of jam: strawberry and strawberry-rhubarb. I harvested the rhubarb for the latter from a small patch beside our former garden. Check out my “Gardening Attempts” page to see how that is going.

12 cups of strawberries, 2 cups of rhubarb, 12 1/2 cups of sugar, two pots, infinite episodes of “Bubble Guppies” for Kitt, and 10 minutes in a boiling water canner later, this is what I had:

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The two jars on the end are actually for the fridge. The jar on the right wouldn’t fit in the canner, so I decided just to eat it. I filled the bowl on the left with scrapings from the bottoms of the pot. Can’t let good jam go to waste!

Can’t wait for blueberry season. Sorry Colorado, Wild Maine Blueberries are even better than the strawberries. Don’t believe me? Come on out in late July, stay for a while, and see for yourself.

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June 27, 2013 · 5:40 AM

No, Honey, You Have to Stand Up When You Do That


I was raised in a household of women. I mention this only because men in many ways are a mystery to me, as I am sure women are for most men.

My lack of understanding came out yesterday when I was outside working on our raised beds, replanting some of the seed that the flooding rains washed away. Kitt looked at me and said, “Mommy, I have to pee.” Wondering when children stop telling their parents this, and then realizing that I still say the same thing to my coworkers, I nodded and told her to come back out when she was done.

She then began to pull down her pants in the middle of the backyard.

“What are you doing?!?” I screamed out at her, incredulous.

“Well, I want to pee in the grass.”

“Honey, there’s a perfectly good bathroom in the house. Please make use of it.”

“But I WANT TO PEE IN THE GRASS!”

“NO. INSIDE.”

She ran off towards the inside. A few minutes later she came jogging back towards me smiling.

“Did you go inside?”

“No. I went in the front.”

“Ugh, why did you do that? I told you to go inside.”

“Daddy taught me how.”

Of course he did. My first thought was of the DHS worker who was going to knock on my door because I obviously was not taking care of my 3 1/2-year-old daughter, my second was the memory of Xandy relating to me how he showed her how to pee in the barn.

“You know that she is not a boy right. She just can’t stand up and pee.” I had said to him at the time.

“She’s fine. She likes it!” He told me. I think I told him that no girl likes peeing all over herself because she is standing up straight, and he nodded and walked off like he usually does.

Now, a couple of years later, as I sat rocking on the front porch with my sister-in-law (whose idea it was for this post), I noticed that Kitt had pulled her pants down and was sitting in the grass on a hill in the front yard.

“What is she doing?” I asked my husband as he walked toward me.

“Peeing.”

“But she is sitting down in the grass!”

“Yeah well, she was having a tough time standing up so I told her to sit down.”

“HoNEY, that is NOT how girls pee outside. Seriously. She has to lean.”

He answered with a nod and a “It’s a work in progress.”

It sure is.

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June 20, 2013 · 6:59 AM

REST is a Four-Letter Word


Whenever I meet someone new and I tell him or her how I live on a farm, I am still amazed at how many people tell me, “Oh, I have ALWAYS wanted to live on a farm. It must be so nice.” I nod and smile and think, “They have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.” This may or may not be true, but at least it makes me feel better about the times that I get frustrated living here.

The thing is, living on a farm has never been a dream of mine. A place with a small garden and some land, sure, but a running cattle farm? Never. That is not to say that I am not grateful for the beauty and tradition of this place, quite the contrary. It is only to say that when I thought about where I would be at forty I never thought that I would be dodging chicken droppings in the garage and shooing barn cats off my kitchen counter. Just saying.

Farming, I have discovered, is something that many romanticize, but only a few are actually made for. This is because most of us are lazy. Offended? Think about it. If you are a farmer, and want to run a sustainable farm, REST is one of those four-letter words that you can’t repeat around your kids. After dinner, there is no settling down in front of the TV to catch up on the latest episode of C.S.I., there are fences to be walked, things to be fed, manure to be cleaned. To put it simply — there is WORK to be done — a four-letter word that is welcomed here on the farm.

I am a hybrid. A farmer’s wife who sometimes likes to lay in bed and watch Grey’s Anatomy. In my defense, teaching takes a lot out of me. Perhaps some day I will start a teaching blog that shows just how much work that we do and the emotional toll that it takes upon us, but this is not the time nor place. My goal here is to show what life on a little farm is actually like — with a little sass thrown in.

Long-time readers may remember that every year my husband and his family go on a camping trip up to the northern parts of Maine. While this is not the only time during the year that I am left to tend the farm, it is the only time when his father is also not around in case of emergencies. This makes me fully responsible for every cow, chicken, pig, cat, dog, and kid that lives here.

It is stressful.

This year Xandy planned his trip from Thursday to Sunday, a mere four days. Four days. I can do anything for four days, at  least that is what I told myself at the onset of this year’s camping time. Before the trip, Xandy leaves a list of names and numbers in case there is a “Cow Emergency.” The list includes neighbors who are willing to help if the herd runs into the road and the large-animal vet who is willing to come out if one of our cows goes into a particularly difficult labor. Someday I will describe what one of those particularly difficult labors looks like — as I have helped my husband by kneeling in the manure pit, pulling on baling twine tied around a half-birthed calf’s legs. But that is another story.

This story begins on:

Day One: Thursday

After Kitt and I visited the local farmer’s market so that Kitt could get her sugar-fix from the Amish bakers and I could get my carbohydrate fix from the Good Bread Guy, we came home to begin our solo time on the farm. I walked into the house only to be greeted by the ringing phones in the kitchen — yes two, see my post about my husband as an anachronism to catch up.

Xandy’s sister was heading up to the camping spot and wanted to know if the cows were ok.

“I just walked in the door. I have absolutely no idea how the cows are doing.”

“Well, dad and Xandy said that there are two cows that are ready to calve out, so they just wanted me to check in.”

“Two WHAT? They didn’t tell me there were two. I don’t know which ones are even still pregnant.”

She laughed, “I’m sorry, dude. I am just doing what I am told.”

I know that feeling.

“Let me get the cordless. I’ll go check.” I turned an episode of Dinosaur Train on for Kitt, threw my purple gum-rubber barn boots on (which I received from Xandy as a birthday present), and walked out back to find the cows.

The herd was miserable as we were in day two of a five-day heat-wave. All of them looked at me, panting, bleating, pleading — please make it cooler. Sam, the calf Kitt named after one of her classmates, pushed his way up toward me looking for food. His mother is gone (not actually — she is in our freezer — another long story), and Sam is now a “bucket-fed baby” meaning that he gets a bucket of milk-replacer every night. He looked at me and gave me a “mea0000.” I told him he would have to be patient.

Under the barn ALL of the cows looked to be nine-months pregnant and miserable, but none seemed more miserable than others, so I told my sister-in-law that they all seemed to be OK, and then I headed back into the house to get Kitt to actually feed things.

“I’ll help, Mom. I know what to do.” And she did — as most nights while I cooked dinner, she heads out with Xandy to “feed things.”

Luckily, most of the herd was out on grass, so there was no need to throw down a lot of hay like we have to in the winter. There were, however, two yearling bulls in the barn waiting to be snipped so that they could also be put out in pasture. Xandy assured me that he had put enough hay bales down on the barn floor to last me for the four days. When we walked into the barn, only one bale lay on the floor. One bale and a note:

“We took four bales of hay. We’ll be back tomorrow for 25 more — and we want the greenest stuff you’ve got. Signed Peter and Lisa” (*names changed to protect identity).

So they had taken the hay Xandy had left and wanted more. A lot more.

“Green stuff?!?” I mumbled at Kitt, “It is freaking MAY. How green can year-old hay be? I mean COME ON!”

I gave the remaining hay left on the floor and water to the bulls, and then looked to find “green hay” — at this point drenched in sweat from the 90+ and humid weather.

In the back left corner of the barn I found a wall from floor to roof high of tightly packed hay. I threw Kitt in the grain bin to “play” (or at least not get squashed by a wall of hay) and set myself to work.

I was wearing a tank top and skirt with my boots, and hadn’t brought any gloves into the barn with me — but that didn’t stop me. I wanted to get this done. I climbed the wall, trying to pull down as many bales as I could without causing the entire thing to collapse. I started to envision me, dead, under 50 bales of hay and Kitt stuck in the grain bin eating the grain and the mealy worm that she had found and had let writhe around on her boot to survive. “Mom look, A WORM!” She had squealed with delight when she found it. “That’s good, Kitt. A worm.”

I kept going.

After what seemed like an hour and enough hay chaff in my boots to feed the bulls the next day, I was done. I nodded proudly at the pile and left a note:

“Peter and Lisa, Xandy and Mark are out-of-town for the weekend. This is the greenest stuff I could find. If it is not good enough please check in with them on Sunday. Thanks! Sherry.”

I fed Sam and the barn cats, got my kid out of the grain bin, found some chicken eggs in another bale in the barn, and went into the house to make dinner.

The beer that I drank as I rocked on the front porch later that night never tasted so good. I have to admit.

Day one down. Tune in later for days two through four.

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June 8, 2013 · 9:20 AM

Don’t Let Mom Follow Me


This morning as I sat at the breakfast bar drinking my coffee and deciding what to do for the day, I heard my husband mumble something to my daughter and then head out the front door.

“What did dad say?” I turned to my daughter Kitt who sat in her usual morning spot, my grandmother’s rocking chair in our kitchen.

“Don’t follow him.”

“Huh?” My slow processing speed and years of loud concerts often cause me to ask for repetition.

“Daddy SAID don’t follow him.” She huffed and stuck her thumb in her mouth. I have to work on that damn thumb, I told myself as my husband walked through the kitchen, passed the dining room table, and into the den. He proceeded to then walk by me with the gigantic laundry rack I bought him for his birthday. A picture of the rack follows:

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Let me explain, I know that the expectation is, as a farmer’s wife, I am supposed to love things like housework and laundry. I am also supposed to love hanging clothes out to dry in order to save the environment and propane. But I am the first to admit — I LOVE my dryer. I love that I can throw a load of laundry in and it all comes out toasty, soft, and wrinkle-free.

The anachronism that is my husband, however, takes offense to that, and like a good environmentalist wants to line dry all of his clothes — which during the winter, means on a dryer rack in the den. If I don’t catch him in time I end up with jeans that feel like a starch can has been emptied onto them and bath towels that, well, let’s just say that I do not need to exfoliate if I don’t catch the towels before they end up on the rack.

On this 60+ degree spring day, my husband decided instead of using the clothes line in the back of the house, he would take the massive rack and place it on the front lawn. As he knew what my reaction would be, he told my daughter to run interference.

Thankfully, I was able to stop him from hanging all of our underwear out for all passerbys to see.

“What’s the problem?” He goaded me, knowing full well what the problem was, “It’s sunnier out front.”

“Come on! Everyone will see my freaking bra! There’s a clothes line in the back yard, for all that is good and holy.”

He shook his head and brought the rack to our back deck.

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“That’s it.” I told him, “This is totally going on the blog.”

“So what you are telling me is that you don’t want the thirty cars that pass by our house to see your underwear, but the entire internet is OK.”

“Exactly.” It is so beyond me why he didn’t understand. I mean who wants this on their front lawn:

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Filed under Farm Follies

It’s OK…They’re Not THOSE Peaches


Placenta Peaches -- 2010

Placenta Peaches — 2010

Kitt showing her true feelings of the trek -- 2013

Kitt showing her true feelings of the trek — 2013

So, our peach tree died. Yes, THAT peach tree. The one that three years ago my husband and young daughter planted above my placenta.

I can’t help but take this a bit to heart. I mean, that placenta nourished my daughter for her entire gestation, and the damn thing can’t even keep a tree alive? Fortunately, my daughter is fine (although looking at her current outfit, you may question my idea of “fine”).

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The Placenta Beech Tree

If I am to be completely honest, my placenta was not entirely faulty. As of now, where the peach tree once stood, a beech tree has taken root.

I know some greater message lies in that tree somewhere — something related to that Rolling Stones hymn about getting what you need, but regardless it is hard not to take the death of the original tree personally.

This year, after enjoying peaches from a friend’s tree, we decided to give peach planting another try. This time (thankfully) placenta-less. Kitt and Xandy “suited-up” and headed to plant out near our apple trees.

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Kitt following her dad to the new planting spot.

"Supervising" the planting process.

“Supervising” the planting process.

The finished product.

The finished product.

This year we are told that we may get a few peaches. After all of this, those better taste like nirvana. I’m just saying.

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Filed under Gardening Attempts

Don’t Eat the Peaches


As I mentioned in my first post, I recently gave birth to an amazing little girl: Kitt. Her actual name is Katharine, but when Eartha Kitt passed away during my pregnancy, I had to convince my husband not to call her Eartha (it was a difficult fight, trust me), and so I compromised with “Kitt.” She is an amazing little girl, and motherhood thus far has been an unexpected albeit wonderful challenge.

Much like it was a difficult fight not naming my daughter after Catwoman (or the big globe at the Delorme store off I-95), it was a battle of what to do with my placenta. That’s right: my placenta. I was completely ok with allowing it to be considered biowaste and having it tossed away or incinerated with all of the other body parts, but my husband had other ideas.

“Let’s bury it under a tree.”

“Seriously? A tree?? What if the dogs dig it up????”

“Come on, it will be fun, then the kid will have her own tree.” That’s right, my husband calls his daughter “kid.” “It’s easier that way…you know, ‘kid’, ‘dog’, ‘wife…’ ” ” Don’t get me started on the last one…

“She can have a tree without a freaking placenta underneath it.”

“It won’t be the same.”

Needless to say, I was not victorious in this battle.

According to my husband, the nutrients in the placenta would make amazing fertilizer for the tree.  So upon admittance to the hospital, he smiled and told the nurse that we wanted to keep the placenta.

“Really? For what?”

I have since learned that some women cook and eat their own placenta (mostly in pill form) to help stave off post-partum depression. I am sure she was wondering if that were the case.

“We are going to plant a tree over it.”

“Of course you are…”

So, the hospital kindly put the placenta in a white tupperware container to be frozen until we were ready to use it. For the entire winter I was then forced to root around the thing when getting meat from our chest freezer. There were more than a few nights when I decided on take out instead of braving the freezer.

This spring I got the chance to see a cow placenta (****WARNING — Next picture is not for the faint-hearted****) While this is not the actual placenta I saw, this is a close facsimile and should help to demonstrate just how disgustuing this whole thing is:

That’s it — that’s what I saw, and that (a little smaller of course) is what my husband was planning to plant under a peach tree for our daughter.

I told him that I would have nothing to do with it. I was not going to hold a shovel, the baby, or any human tissue. I couldn’t help but hold the camera, however. So off we went.

There go Xandy and Kitt, off to plant the placenta, I mean peach tree.

 Yup, that is exactly what you think it is. My tough farmer husband gagged a bit while he was putting it into the ground.

There’s the peach tree getting ready to suck up all of the nutrients I am sure.

There they are — Kitt and her proud papa in some sort of perverted American Gothic pose. It’s officially done. The tree has actually now begun to sprout leaves. I wonder how many years it will take before peaches emerge.

I overheard my sister talking to one of her friends the other day — “If ever you are over to Sherry’s and she offers you peach cobbler, or peach pie, or peach preserves, DON’T EAT THEM!” I was a little offended, I mean –what does she have against my placenta??

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Filed under Gardening Attempts