A Little Behind

Everything has been in a flux this year. Joy and sorrow in close succession. One day things will go very well, the next the dreaded raccoons will return. One day someone will say something monumentally foolish and fill me with dread and the next I will feel a lot of love and gratitude.

One example of flux this year was the weather. This was an extremely cold spring. The reason being the activity of the sun. The suns activity influences weather on earth and we’re in a period of extreme inactivity. In fact, we’ve been in a low point for sun activity for a little while now. Unlike the last time of such extreme sunspot activity, however, our climate is a bit warmer. So snows in late June are unlikely and we’re unlikely to see the famine they saw that year… At least, not until the sun acts back up and we all dry out like a raisin.

As if to prove the point that it’s not all about the sun spots this week has been in the mid 80’s, dry and sunny. This after weeks of rain and even snow might technically balance us out. Average temperatures for the month are supposed to be in the 60’s. The second week of this very month saw three snowfalls. That’s the sixth most snowy may on record ever. (Not as impressive as our near yearly setting of record high months, mind you, but impressive none the less.) I have to keep reminding myself “Getting the garden in two weeks after the last snow fall IS a reasonable time frame!”… But on the calendar of the year this should have been done nearly a month ago.

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We’ve installed new hardware in the chicken coop. A thick wooden post secures the pop door and chains through loops with latches secures the nest boxes. Every time the raccoons come we secure things more, but they’re clever. We’ve lost 3 hens this year.

We’ve also been cleaning animal skulls lately. We’ve had a rabbit who was not a very good mother lose most of her kits. This isn’t uncommon – I know this is something that can happen. So for Yule one of the things I asked for was a dermastid beetle colony. Dermastid – or flesh eating – beetles are used in taxidermy for cleaning bones. I was graciously purchased one by G. I’m lucky to have such an understanding partner and they’ve brought me a lot of excitement and joy. I’ve been raising up this colony out for a couple months now and I recently set them upon the skulls of some of our rabbits, one skull from an 11 week old fryer, and a few from the failing litter.

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Left to right, a 20 week(ish) skull found in the compost last year, an 11 week skull cleaned by beetles, a 10 week(ish) skull found in the compost four years ago fashioned into a charm, two 4 day kit skulls and one two day kit skull. Ruler is in inches on the close side.

Cleaning the skulls so the beetles can work is tricky. You have to remove as much soft tissue as possible before putting it in. The rule of thumb is “If you touch it and it wiggles still, cut it off.” This means everything from the tongue, soft pallet, eyeballs, brain, etc. I’ve been butchering rabbits for years now and have never experienced anything quite as visceral as cleaning a skull for dermastid beetles before. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Turns out D is an old hand at this sort of thing though. He did research on rats eyes for diabetes and learned to extract the eyes and later the retinas with a scalpel. Taking that a bit further to other areas of the skull was a simple extension. He does the bulky parts of the cleaning now – skin, eyes, mouth – and then hand the skulls to me where I extract the brain and more delicate soft tissues with a pair of forceps tweezers. On the baby skulls the bone is so delicate it feels thin like paper.

The beetles then did their jobs admirably. I’m glad to have them and equally glad to have G – the sort of partner who is willing to buy his lady flesh eating beetles for the holidays. The goal is to cast these skulls in resin forms or seal them for jewelry. On this homestead we strive to use every part of the animals we raise. Every time we lost a kit it felt like such a failure. At most the best we could do would be throw the bodies to the birds. Most of the time we composted them. Not only was it a loss of life but a pointless one at that. Now we have at least some use for them. We’ll obviously only take the ones that can’t survive. Even these kits were given a fighting chance – days of trying to force nurse them with mom on her back to no avail. The milk just wasn’t coming in. It’s still sad. But this gives them a little more purpose to their short lives than to simply die and not be honored in any way.

So life is trucking along. And I’m excited to finally have plants going into the ground! Maybe later I will be able to share not just the fruits of our.. Well… fruits. But also how some of the casting turns out with the skulls.