The Killer

Today I would like to tell you about my beloved monster, a husky named Nukka. Please note that this post contains some graphic imagery in both pictures and words, so carry on only if you are strong of stomach.

This is Nukka. And this is a story of a monster, reformed.

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Back before we lived on this property, Greg and I lived in an apartment. We’d been living together for about a year, and we had two wee little pet rabbits and one big ‘ol dog named Persy. Greg grew up with a Jack Russel as a kid that was a nightmare. It would bite him and literally eat his homework. He did not like dogs, but after a year with Big Dog he had grown quite fond of them, and we decided to get a puppy together.

There was some drama and a falling out with a very negligent veterinarian, but ultimately we ended up with Little Dog. Nukka is a 40lb AKC husky. People are surprised because she seems small for a husky, but she is breed standard. Huskies seem to have one of two personalities. Either they are graceful, serious, intelligent, devoted dogs…. Or they are absolutely nuts, mouthy, wild, neurotic, and not necessarily too bright at all. We were hoping for the first. Nukka was the second. Alas, but her love of live was infectious and we loved and love her anyhow. She was a permanent fixture of our home, from the moment we brought her home.

When we moved to this property, we acquired rabbits and then chickens in somewhat short order. And in somewhat short order Nukka devoted herself to destroying them. She would chase them through the cages and try to bite them. It was a monumental effort to keep her from killing everything in sight. Sometimes we won. Sometimes she did. For a bit, she seemed to be killing every kit that slipped it’s confines. It was a problem. I was heartbroken. How on earth could I keep animals without having her kill them? How could I keep her on a farm at all? No matter how hard you work there will always be something that slips up eventually and something will die for your negligence.

And I speak of this in casual or perhaps inoffensive terms, destroying, chase, bite, kill… But these don’t do justice to describing her shockingly brutal actions. She picks animals up and shakes them with extraordinary violence, snarling, beating them on the ground, biting them over and over again. It happens in seconds. Bones snap, skin tears, a drumming sound as the animal hits the ground while being shook as hard as she can. It’s a terrifying sight and when a rabbit is caught this way it screams. Rabbits scream, and it sounds so horrible and almost human. It’s like it cuts a hole it your soul. It’s heartrending. It’s painful. It must hurt terribly, though in reality it’s over as quickly as it starts and takes no longer than broomsticking or other methods of dispatch. Even large hens don’t stand a chance. Their hollow bones simply shatter and they fall with shocking ease as their rib cage simply collapses in her jaws. I will not shy away from this, it is a disturbing sight.

Over the years, we have kept our monster in check, with ever-increasingly tight fences, cages, leashes and ropes. We have a tie-out in our back lawn wrapped around a central tree that we can hook the dogs to in a pinch. We’ve had to use it on our monster more times than I can count because she could not be trusted to leave the animals, secure in their cages even, alone. We even purchased (though never used) an electric collar. We had to find a way to keep her from eating our animals. We were struggling. We were constantly trying to train her to leave the animals alone.

Then, a breakthrough, two years back. A chicken got out and Nukka charged. “NUKKA NO!” I shouted across the lawn in the most angry voice I could. She stopped. She looked at me. “Nukka! Come here!” I said cheerfully. She turned back to the hen… “NUKKA NO. Leave it. Come here!” This time, she turned around and came back. For the first time in her life she didn’t attack and kill my chickens. Many kisses and treats were given that day.

After that it was like something had clicked in her. To this day the rabbits are still a process, but the transformation was dramatic. Some animals are off limits. No chasing, no killing, no biting. She stops. She leaves it. She comes to me when I call.

She’s still a monster, though. The last year has been a brutal one for local animals. You see, last year we had a problem with a groundhog. Groundhogs are HUGE. They are hulking, massive creatures that you really don’t get an appreciation for until you are staring an angry one down, it’s massive front teeth chattering, both of them yellow and each one as wide as your thumb nail. A bite from those teeth could break small bones and will rend flesh as easily as any dogs. The rabbits have given me a healthy appreciation for teeth like that.

This groundhog slipped into our garage one day and we used a broom to show it the door. We like to be polite to animals who aren’t bothering us. We let the bluejays rip up our trees and pull strings for their nests, and we were happy to let the groundhog leave under the same fence it came in.

But little did we know we’d created a problem for ourselves as the groundhog began eating our garden to the ground. Heavy logs blocking gaps under the fence were insufficient to keep it out. And I watched with sorrow as my cayenne plants and corn were devoured by hungry jaws every morning.

Then, one day, the dogs went out at the same time as the groundhog. And our monster decided she had found her calling. She grabbed the groundhog and to my great distress began an epic war with even Big Dog getting angry and joining in. Together they tried valiantly (and in vain) to dispose of the hulking beast. They’re thick bodied and Nukka is not actually a big dog. No amount of biting or shaking deterred this hog. It kept coming back and the dog’s efforts to remove it got more brutal. At one point the whole chicken fence was torn down on one side as the groundhog broke through it and the dogs followed, straight through the whole flock. Chickens went flying in the air all around Nukka, the monster, the killer of chickens, yet she touched not a feather. She had had her eyes on a different prize, the groundhog pinned in the corner. Another time each dog had half of it and they were biting and pulling but it broke free. Yet another time Nukka flipped it over, dived in and tried to rip it’s stomach apart, earning some small, bleeding bite wounds for her efforts. Somehow the groundhog lived and still walked away. Despite being hurt she tried to dig under the fence to follow it. Groundhogs were now The Enemy. Nothing else mattered. When the dogs were let into the lawn to pee and play, their first order of business was scouting for the groundhog and attempting to kill it. Bathroom breaks only came after their lawn was secure.

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The groundhog ran into the back corner of the pen because it had dug a hole as an escape route. I had blocked the hole with logs and it became trapped. The dogs broke down this fence and another section to get at it.

Nukka’s rage did not stop with the groundhog, though. She also took on predators attacking the birds and simply any wild animal that dared cross our threshold. She dragged possums out from under chicken coops to drop (still very much alive, just playing dead) at my feet, and once I watched with horror from the other side of the lawn as she snuffed the life out of a stray kitten that thought my chicks looked like a snack. (The rest of the kittens got live-trapped and rehomed that month and the mother cat got fixed and returned to keep other strays away. Huge shout-out to the awesome rescue lady who helped with that when other rescuers turned me down.)

These incidents layed the groundwork for her efforts this year. And while part of me is heartbroken by the loss of life, I can’t help but be impressed by her. Her efforts have saved as many lives as they take.

This year, Nukka proved herself to be the most reformed monster of all. She’s killed more animals this year than ever before, yet just today she stood sniffing the ground for rodents while the ENTIRE flock of chickens loosed themselves from their pen not 3 feet away from her. I was terrified for them. I watched her. She saw them, she sniffed them, she knew they were there, and she just didn’t care. She wanted to find a mouse instead. I was so proud (and terrified). I called her away and she came right up to me, her tail brushing the chickens as she ran past. The chickens were put away, the fence repaired, and not a feather was harmed.

But the rest of the animals around the lawn…?

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They have not stood a chance.
My dog is a legend. Many dogs chase squirrels. Nukka catches them. Songbirds too.

And the groundhog saga? It continues as well. And the groundhogs are none too pleased about it.

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That is a groundhog, a baby one. The groundhog from last year was a mama. And she was back. My garden demolished. My peppers (once again) devoured. The dogs remembered, though. And they were angry. Both of them were enraged. I can only assume they remember being bit from last year. They killed two baby groundhogs and beat the mama groundhog up so badly that she hasn’t been back at all since. Even after the baby ones were dead they wouldn’t stop trying to rip it in half. Even Big Dog stood barking at the dead groundhog for minutes. Even after it was buried in the compost pile they did not give up trying to dig it back out to bite it some more. It took them the whole day to calm down. I have never seen them so angry.

And the tiny animals? Have you ever seen a dog throw a live vole eight feet across a lawn just for the joy of it? I have. That vole got away, I heard it squeaking still very much alive afterwards. Some of them have not been so lucky. Baby wild rabbits have also paid dearly for trying to eat our garden this year. Nothing is safe.

And lastly, Nukka has taken on another kind of monster entirely as of late. And she’s been getting better at it.

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We had 16 rabbit kits and 40lbs of wheat berries, until these monsters got to them. Now we have no wheat berries and 4 rabbit kits. We are waging a war, and our monster’s killer instincts have gone from being our greatest source of losses to our best defense against future losses.

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This one was MASSIVE!

So while Nukka is still a killer, a monster in her own right, constantly set on the violent destruction of other species, she has really found a place on the farm. I no longer question her role on the homestead. She truly is reformed, walking right past the farm animals, her brood, her wards, without a care in the world. They’re off limits and she has greater ambitions. Her face says it all. Her eyes filled with excitement, she destroys only the disease-spreaders, the garden-wreckers, the kit-eaters and the chicken killers. She does not even try to eat them. She just kills them quickly, drops them and leaves them for me to dispose of safely. It’s the hunt that she lives for, and loves. And it’s the hunter that we need right now.

She’s still a killer, she will never not be. But I love her deeply. And I couldn’t be prouder of my little monster.

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Composition is Hard

I have a lot of things throughout the week I find myself wanting to write about but I never get around to doing so. Almost always this is because while I want to make updates and express my thoughts, the act of composing them into coherent posts is something I find challenging. I’m much more of a do-er and a talk-er than a writer. I always have this desire to bring my jumbled thoughts together into cohesive dissertations and highlight my life with lovely pictures at just the right times to emphasize what’s been happening in my days on my little farmy.

I wonder if I can just get away from that sometimes. I wonder if people would care or if it would motivate me to update things more frequently. I am considering a more regular format for my blog to simplify things. A format where I talk about my farmy, the progress and challenges of a short time period, and then put more personal notes and ponderings at the bottom. Then, once a month, I upload and post picture to the blog without any words at all.

This month has been tricky. We have managed to deter the garden pests only to be encountering the livestock ones. We lost a few birds to a metal grate that fell off of a window, some insufficiently secure broody pens, and some night-time marauders. But those issues were easily resolved and the birds replaced. A bigger problem is the rats.

Our garage has slowly devolved into severe disrepair over the years. Spiders have taken up every inch of it (and are now trying to spread into our house). A friend once brought me a small truckload of crumpled horse feed bags after I mentioned I was considering making feed bag totes, not realizing he’d brought me nothing but a cartload of trash that he expected me to store for future use. Cardboard boxes and packing materials of all kind just did not get taken care of and would be deposited into the garage unceremoniously, not even broken down. If it was my “farming stuff” and there was no immediately obvious location for it, people would just throw it into the garage without caring where it ended up (and I would wonder where it went!). Scrap wood, some with nails still sticking out, would fall from it’s location propped up against walls and take up residence on the floor behind cages where they were out-of-sight out-of-mind. And the hay bales have not been being used very quickly this year… I have a paranoia about how much I should/shouldn’t be using. I am not using nearly enough. Next year I need a stricter budget and schedule for hay use as I should be out right now (ordering fresh) and instead I have another 8 bales left. And as a result of the general neglect, the feed bags, the tall weeds we love to see the flowers on that feed local bees, the poorly maintained log piles, etc. we have developed a rat problem. A rat problem that turned 16 rabbit kits into 5 in two days without a shred of evidence and ate through 30lbs of wheat over 2-3 months, and may have nibbled holes into some parts of our garage and house. I do not feel like spending an extra $100 to feed that rats each year and need to cease the rampant destruction of my property.

So we are on a full offensive to destroy the rats. We tried traps for some time to no avail. We cannot poison them… It could kill our dogs or our chickens if either were to find a dead rat that was poisoned. But we have the dogs involved now. Remember waaay back when I was having a lot of trouble with Nukka as she did her best to destroy every animal on the farm? That attitude has not gone away over the years, though it is now tempered greatly towards the chickens and rabbits. She now has a job, an important one on the homestead, a role I always hoped she’s someday grow into, as protector of the homestead. She’s been focusing on garden pests (specifically, baby groundhogs lately) but now she has a more important job; protecting the livestock.
Armed with vaccines, flea meds, sharp noses and sharper teeth, our hope is to drive the rats into the open where the dogs (ok, really, just Nukka) will ultimately kill them. We’ve been cleaning the garage for several hours every week, filling the trash and recycling bins with feed bags that became nesting material, and random farm things I’m uncovering that the rats have ripped apart. (All the while saying to myself “How did THAT get out here!? I know *I* didn’t throw these out here!”)

After driving them from the wood pile by tidying that location, we are now trying to drive them from the garage by tidying it as well. It’s much slower going. We’re only permitted so much trash space by our city in any given week. Right now we’re borrowing space in the garbage cans from next week to take care of this week’s cleaning. This is years of random buildup of stuff that just never gotten taken care of. The differences have been astonishing so far.

And so progress is being made. But it does seem sometimes that right as I get on-top of one problem, another one surfaces.

But at least the bees are doing well. We are feeding them and they are enjoying it. I hope the hive continues to grow. They’ll need all the workers they can get for when the Asters start to bloom and our lawns start to become covered in all kinds of bees for the fall nectar flows. They are the most docile bees I have ever met. I can handle the hive without gear if I take care and don’t do too much. I hope that doesn’t bode ill for their livability. Good luck, little bees! Keep on truckin’!

Puppy Problems

Lately we’ve been pondering a third dog. We’re going to be trying to move onto a rural piece of land in the next year or two, and were considering wanting a herding dog. Even in our current situation a herding dog could be handy (for those moments when I’m alone and trying to corner that one rabbit that slipped out or trying to get the chickens out of the garden, etc.) and we want a third dog anyhow. So why not have a pet that can work with us sometimes?

But a full blown, AKC registered, purebred border collie or Aussie from herding lines whose parents regularly herd hundreds of sheep seems excessive for our small operation. So I started trying to reach out to rescues instead. Many of these herding dogs end up in pet homes that just can’t handle them, but also aren’t ideal for big farms. They’re extremely smart, active dogs that need something to do to harness their instincts. They end up chasing cars, herding cats and kids, and chewing things apart because their energy and instinctual needs are not met. We not only have an outlet for those herding instincts, but also are used to running our dogs through the wringer. Agility, hiking, dog parks, fairs and festivals, camping, swimming, two hour walks through the neighborhood… Our dogs go everywhere and do everything. On their off days they “only” run and wrestle in our back yard (which has a 6′ fence) for an hour or two and get a half hour of people play time. We can handle high energy dogs. As for training… Smart dogs? Check. Active dogs? Check. Neurotic dogs? Check. Aggression. Check. Guarding? Check. Killing the livestock? Check. We’ve tackled it all and our dogs have come out happy, healthy and well-behaved. We know how to manage problem dogs.

Rescuing seems ideal to me. We could provide a nearly perfect home for a rescue dog. But we’ve been running into snag after snag.

Most border collie rescues want fees just to apply for a dog, let alone adopt one.
One “national” Aussie rescue doesn’t even operate in our STATE.
Most rescues aren’t getting back to us, some have turned us down BECAUSE we have a farm. They see out 30+ animals not as livestock, but as “pets” that are being hoarded and bred like an animal mill.
One rescue had the balls to ask $650 for a nine week old corgi/aussie puppy. I could literally buy a quality AKC aussie with shots, hip, eye and MDR1 testing plus a great lineage for that price. No amount of “your dog comes with shots and is fixed” is worth $650. Sorry, getting a dog fixed is $100, shots are $50. Where’s that other $500 going to exactly?

I mean, it’s easy enough to just buy a dog. And we could do that. But we’d like to give a dog that needs a good home, well, a good home. We’re one of the most dog experienced homes you could get. We’re happy to pay a reasonable fee, home inspection, fill out applications, someone is home almost all day every day, we have a trainer planned, we have a fenced in lawn, blah blah blah… We know the drill, we’re OK with the drill, we’re confident in ours being a great home. I feel like our two, healthy, smart, active and well-adjusted dogs prove that. So it’s frustrating.

If these dogs need homes so bad… Why are we being turned down or asked to pay purebred dog prices?

We’re going to keep trying to rescue for a while. We’re in no hurry. But rescues pushing people to turn to breeders is going to give rescues a bad name. We’ve got a forever home open and waiting for a forever pup. How about approving us for a dog to fill it, huh?

Catching Up

Folks on here are pretty great. I vanish for a while and people express concern… It makes it feel like the past year of blogging was really worth something! Well, I basically got sick of talking about my life for a while. Homesteading can be rough and when you have losses and low production it isn’t very fun to be reminded of it constantly.  Things are looking a bit better right now and so I will probably go back to writing at least semi regularly… Thanks so much for your support!

Things have been generally busy here on the homestead. We lost all of the black and copper maran chicks we hatched out due to local cats. My four year anniversary with Greg came and went. We added several new rabbits to the herd and we now boast two rabbits out of a buck from Dave Mangiones rabbitry. We are still building new cages and our PVC shelf in the garage to go with ’em. Our garage is a mess of building right now!
One of our chickens (Tender, the nicer of our Golden Girls) was murdered by our killer husky, Nukka. RIP Tender. You made an awesome Coq Au Vin! Our Husky now wears a shock collar as this is the second animal dead due to her extreme prey drive and there have been far more than two attacks. While we haven’t used it yet it is there if we need it and we have plans for deliberate training sessions in the future, rigged so she associates the shocks with the animals, not us.

Winter is now in full swing here. We have had a lot of snow lately and the past few months as it got colder the rabbits were just not producing. Nobody is sure what happened to give us three months of no rabbits but a week ago Kibbles and Iams popped out 20 kits for us! Yikes! Unfortunately, we lost four rabbits from these first litters of the season. We struggled a bit with the cold last year, and I suspect we will just loose more kits in cold weather than warm. Two of the kits simply got out of the nest box and it is far too cold for them to survive without their siblings. One of the kits was a runt, and didn’t get fed enough. That kit was in a litter of 11, so I cant say I am surprised that one did not get fed. The fourth kit Iams removed from the nest deliberately. It had a large, infected looking lump on its face when I found it. I am not sure how the lump got there in the first place but Iams knew that this kit wouldn’t make it and pulled it out of the nest. This leaves 8 kits in each litter which is still substantial and they are doing great now. I am really looking forward to what the future holds for our rabbitry!

Egg production for the chickens has fallen off. At this point none of the three Australorps are laying, but at least two of them molted also. Nugget is still going strong and laying an egg every couple of days… But her eggs are often coming out strangely shaped, too big, or double thick shells. This is how double yolker eggs are born, but it is also how chickens prolapse and die. Golden comets are notorious for having issues with their reproductive tracts and are twice as likely to prolapse as a heritage breed as a result. But they also lay very large eggs even through the winter. It is a trade off we make with many domestic animals; High, year-round production often means a higher mortality. This is why I only breed my rabbits once every 2-3 months and why many dairy cows die after only three pregnancies.

And speaking of unreasonably productive chickens, we put the last of the Cornish Crosses in the freezer a couple weeks back. This experience has taught me that I do NOT like processing chickens. I have no problem with slaughtering the bitey monsters, nor with gutting them… But feathers are the worst, whether you skin or pluck. It takes forever and a lot of effort to do either and it left me with a large feeling of apprehension every time I had to dispatch another bird. I started thinking that their constant attempts to bite off my fingers were charming and wondering how well Cornish Crosses would lay… All because I did not want to deal with that awful skin. Eventually every one of those chickens met their fate at the end of my butchering scissors, but it was rough. Next time I am taking them to a processor and letting them deal with it. Can I butcher any chicken I need to at any time I need? Heck yeah, but I have no reason to take on that much stress and effort at this point in my life. Some day I will invest in a plucker and then I will consider butchering chickens myself again. For now the ones I did process have gone on to feed some great local people including myself and are delicious!

Our gardens have gone dormant for the winter. I have some root veggies in the ground under the vauge hope they will come back in the spring… The pepper plants were potted and brought indoors and the tomato plants were ripped out and deposited in the chicken pen. The real champion of our garden was our heirloom organic Kale. This plant took the hot and the cold like a champ and are only just being ripped up as the weight of the snow is crushing them, not the cold. The mother rabbits really appreciate the huge hunks of kale they have been getting as a result! I will be planting a HUGE patch of his kale next year and making kale chips. It is very exciting!

And Christmas is on us once again. Some of you may have guessed but I am not Christian. I still celebrate our modern Christmas, though, because I love the ideas behind a modern Christmas. Almost every culture has a winter fesiltival of lights to bring a bit of sunshine into the grey and cold. I love giving and getting presents and I love how many different cultures went into producing the holiday as it is today, from the Christians to the pagans with Saturnalia and the history of the tree and even the contributions of a commercial society like Santa Claus and holiday TV specials! I feel like Christmas is our modern society’s festival of lights and whether you put an Angel, a star, or a peacock on top of your tree it is beautiful to look at. I hope everyone has a happy holiday this year, and whatever you celebrate for your religion I hope you have a Merry Christmas anyhow!

And don’t worry…. I am sure you will hear from me again soon!

Cleaning Up the Homestead

The past week or so has been a rough one. We have lost three rabbits (all kits thank goodness) due to various circumstances, two of our hens are broody, our garden is doing as well as any plant I have ever raised (which is to say poorly) and there’s so many things that need fixing, cleaning or replacing it’s incredible. And with me teaching a demonstration on harvesting rabbits for a college class in a week everything has to be ship-shape!

First the kits. We lost two from the litter of nine that Purina gave us and one of the boys growing in the garage. One of the younger kits decided to hide under the nest box and was crushed when all the other siblings got in it (or perhaps mom for feeding time). The second one died recently, we can only think it was from heat stroke but we’re not sure. It wasn’t even crazy hot out that day, but I just walked out to find it long dead in the back of the cage. We gave the rabbits frozen water bottles and we’re hoping we don’t lose any more.
The third rabbit we lost was the second smallest of the rabbits in my garage, all boys, growing out for meat. When I put together the grow out crates (Remember this?) I was in a pinch, low on cash, and needed a quick solution so I bought a $13 roll of the sturdiest deer netting I could find and slapped it on with my dad’s staple gun. Well, since then it worked for months. Then when I started getting baby rabbits consistently they started to chew through. None of the previous rabbits figured that out. Some of them would jump out, but not chew through! The last litter was the worst as they chewed about four holes in one cage. Then this litter began working their way through the other cage. One day after putting all the babies back I brought the dogs in the back yard. Nukka was loose as I went to care for the outdoor rabbits. The next thing I hear is a panicked squeal and I am running to the garage, dropping keys and anything else along the way shouting “NUKKA, NO!”. The wild baby rabbits had just been a few days prior.
Turns out the babies had chewed a hole I hadn’t seen and one felt the need to jump out again almost immediately. Nukka picked it up around the chest and shook it. Oddly she didn’t seem to have broken the skin but I knew right away that the rabbit wasn’t going to make it. I set up to butcher it to put it out of it’s misery and at least get some meat out of it. Nukka seemed rightly ashamed. She crawled out of the garage almost on her belly and lay down at my feet as I got close. She almost rolled onto her back to flash her belly, and she clearly knew (this time at least) that she’d made a terrible choice.
When I processed the rabbit I found the wounds; cracked ribs and punctured lungs filled with blood. I couldn’t find any breaks in the skin even though I tried. A few days later we had some roast rabbit for dinner and the chickens got the organs.

So thing #1 to fix; Grow cages. Actually I already did this. The walls are now metal chicken wire and there is a deer-netting roof instead. Since then? No escaped rabbits at all.

Additionally the baby rabbits somehow had been managing to escape the outdoor cages. I feel like there is a tiny gap in the bottom of the cage and they were deliberately jumping out (why can’t baby rabbits know that staying in one place is GOOD?) to explore. We swapped them into the cage above and moved Evo down below. No more escaped bunnies but that still needs to be sorted out some time.

Thing #2 to fix; Outdoor cages. Not actually sure how I am going to do this.

Our one broody hen started laying again just in time for a second one to go broody. That one should be laying again soon and I sure hope it’s today because a THIRD hen went broody just a few days ago. (Actually I think it was the first hen over again. She may be slated for the stewpot.) So we needed a way to confine her.
We also seriously needed a rabbit tractor. Our “broody buster” for the hens WAS our rabbit tractor, but it was also pretty small. Greg and I set down together and made an animal tractor.

Iams, formerly known as Purple, enjoying her time in the tractor. Iams is Purina’s kit kept over for replacing Evo as a breeder.

I just cut and screwed together some random pieces of wood we had lying around. The design is not the most sturdy; some 2X4’s, plywood, OSB and reclaimed cedar all with only 14 screws holding it in place… It’s wobbly but it works and it’s pretty big at 4’X4’X2′. Just a bit bigger than the cages the outdoor bunnies have. (technically theirs are like 46″X44″ or something.) We’re thinking of making a second, smaller one with what wire we have left or even getting more wire and making a bigger one.
At the end of the month our meat chickens will be coming in as well, so this will be essential to transitioning them outdoors and giving them lots of fresh grass to eat. I really want my animals on pasture more!

The lawn and garage are both a mess. I need to clean and organize both. I leave things scattered throughout my lawn as I work and so it looks pretty bad… A milk-jug here, a plastic bag there, a few random empty plastic pots… And the garage is just a bit of a nightmare with all the scarps of wood around!

I have to finish my strawberry bed. A very nice person got me some reclaimed garden brick edgers that make a circle and were foolishly being used for a square bed. I think they will do great around my strawberries. The strawberries have been the best part of my garden lately. They are ever-bearing so they have been blooming heavily for a while and are now starting to explode in big, red, sugary berries. Not enough to do anything with yet, but enough to enjoy. Additionally I managed to plant a few of the tiny, low to the ground wild strawberries in with my big, tall domestic ones and both kinds are spreading! I started with three plants (two domestic one wild) and now I have about a dozen. They have been sending out runners like mad and I am so delighted. Next year I may have enough to make something out of them!

How the berries looked a week ago. I picked the biggest one of these yesterday as it was already red and turning darker by the moment. Best strawberry I have ever had. There are also more flowers now.

The rest of my plants are only doing so-so. We harvested the peas a while back, and we’re hoping they’ll give us a second crop this year. Our arugula and kale are FINALLY coming in to the point we’ll be able to eat them. Our basil is doing fine and my mother gave me some sweet, mild, purple basil so we have a small forest of it. The cucumbers and zucchini are both blooming but the flowers keep falling off. Our big heirloom tomato is FINALLY blooming and I hope to get some big thick tomatoes out of it. None of the tomatoes I started from seed are more than about 5 inches tall. Poo. We went out and bought a whole bunch of discounted tomato plants recently, though, and we’re hoping to get a good fall crop from them!

The carrots are starting to really come in and the beet leaves are huge but I have no idea how the roots are doing. The onions I think are finally starting to grow their bulbs and most of my wild garlic has gone to seed. That’s good because I would like lots of garlic year after year!

Next year I think the garden will do much better. Come fall during the last days above freezing I will till in our brewing compost and scatter some of the worms I got earlier in the year on it. Then next year I will start my seeds early in more optimal conditions, and plant the seedlings in better locations (like the tomatoes in more sun and the spinach in the shade). Next year our garden will be epic. Live and learn.

The last thing that happened recently was the sudden acquisition of 1.5 gallons of mulberries and a whole box of over-ripe peaches. There was only one thing to do… MAKE LOT OF JAM! 😀

My sister and I sat down with half-a-dozen boxes of pectin, two grapefruits and three bags of sugar. By the end of this Monday we walked away with 10 jars of perfect mulberry jam, three jars of perfect peach/grapefruit marmalade, and 12 jars of somewhat runny peach jam. (All these jars are pints, not half-pint jelly jars!) We even tried re-processing the peach jam with more pectin, sugar and grapefruit juice to no avail. It’s just gonna have to be runny. Either way, not only are we set on jam for a year (or three) but we’re giving some to our parents and to the wonderful person that supplied the fruit to us completely free. It was a good (if hot and sticky) time. Next time I will post some pictures of our jam.

As a side note we ended up having to go to Wal-Mart for more jars much to my regret… The Mainstays Wal-Mart brand jars were just nowhere near as good as the true ball mason jars (they had ball jars there but not pints). We’re not sure all the Wal-Mart jars sealed correctly as some took overnight to pull down the lids… And the jars tried to leak air when we first put them in the canner. The ball jar lids pulled down within minutes every time and we didn’t have any such issues. Just don’t bother using anything but ball jars.

Let’s see how much work I can get done today. My demonstration is in one week. It looks like it’s going to be in-person but I could still record it or stream it if there’s any interest in this. I hope I can get everything finished by then! And after that the meat birds come in!

The work is never done…!

Homestead Dogs

Having dogs on a farm is tricky business. When that farm is in the suburb it’s even worse. Most people in farm country understand that farm dogs are just that; farm dogs. The dog does it’s job, and if it can’t it’s not a working part of the farm. It must either be rehomed or retired to the house or something else. A farm dog not doing it’s job is not a farm dog. Especially when it’s a danger to the animals.

But what about Homestead dogs? I let my dogs roam my back yard freely. In general they are good (except that one time Nukka dug up all my corn), and simply having them in my yard every day keeps other animals out through most of the hours, or at least on their toes. Both dogs love to chase birds, rabbits, chipmunks and other wild critters out and have done so several times with a gusto. If they have a job on the homestead it’s keeping the critters at bay. The difference is that Persy, the older and wiser, reacts very differently to the deliberate homestead critters.

Persy, standing with Cinderbunny the Holland lop. These are the oldest two animals on the homestead, Cinder being 7 and Persy turning five nine days from now.

Persy won’t get too close to the rabbits or the chickens if I am around. She has been bitten by both and she knows that I don’t approve of her presence. She and Cinder have been best buddies since the rabbit beat her up as a puppy. Persy will lay down and the lops will literally crawl on her. This happens less now that Cinder is ancient and having health problems.

Nukka on the other hand lacks self control to an extreme level. She’s not quite two yet, so she’s still technically a “puppy”, but she just can’t seem to behave well when she’s left alone even for two seconds. She has broken into the chicken pen to chase the birds, tried to defeather one of the Golden Girls that got out of one one day, she eats any food that is left out, and will go places she’s not allowed (like onto my garden beds) after being told time and time again not to. She does listen when she’s told she’s being bad. She backs, off, she walks away, but she never really submits and within two minutes she could be back at it. Not only is this frustrating, but it has cost us trips to the emergency vet more than once.

A complete 180 from Persy’s calm collection.

In part it is because she has separation anxiety; when left alone she just can’t handle it. She gets destructive. In part it’s because she has a high prey drive. Huskies do and we got her knowing that.

But today she found a nest of baby rabbits. She killed them, all three, before settling down to a snack just as I came out. I was gone for about 3 minutes refilling a water bottle. I’m used to dead baby bunnies by now, even ones torn apart. I have seen far worse out of hamsters that literally rip each other apart. Compared to that these puncture wounds were neat and tidy. But I was not sure how I felt about this.

These were rabbits. I raise rabbits. The way they were colored, these could have been Kibble’s kits. They looked to be the same age as Purinas’s new litter. I wrapped them and the fur their mom had left in cardboard and threw them on the compost; they would return to the earth and the cardboard would keep coons off of them. I soaked the location with my hose, flooding the slight burrow. Mother rabbits hate having their kits messed with. They have a profound sense of loss pre-weaning to the kits dying. So this was pretty depressing.

On the other hand, is this Nukka’s job as a homestead dog? What would I have done if I’d found the nest and the kits were alive? Let them eat my tomatoes and other vegetables the way the chipmunks do? Let them grow until they could run and suddenly find Nukka tearing after them one day anyhow, chasing them away before they are weaned and they ultimately die anyhow? Would I have done away with them myself? I let the dogs roam freely not just for their sake but so they can use all their instincts to chase after and dig out chipmunks and birds (though until now they’ve yet to catch one, only come close). How is this any different?

And the thing is, it was different. Because 80 feet away, my rabbit has a litter of kits just that age. Kits I now know Nukka will eat given half a chance.

What do you do when a dog is doing it’s job perfectly but also wants to kill your livestock? Nukka will gladly dispatch critters that would take my eggs, my plants, threaten my livestock with diseases, etc. She does the job of a terrier. She is protecting her owner’s food stores from animals that would hurt them. And maybe the mother rabbit will learn not to nest in a lawn reeking of dogs. And there are plenty of other rabbits out there too. Besides which, Nukka is a companion animal not a farm dog.

But Nukka will also gladly destroy the animals I raise, giving them neat little puncture holes in their sides with her teeth one at a time before settling down to snack. I tried training her out of this today. She got it… For about a half hour. Then she started staring at the baby bunnies, head down, tail low, mouth half open, not moving… She was stalking them as she watched them in their cage.

The face of a killer!

Is Nukka doing her job being a rabbit killer? I am really not so sure. And if a farm dog were a threat to the livestock they’d be moved away from the livestock. Rehomed. Retired to the house. Our dog is a companion dog, not to be rehomed. And she is retired to the house. The house and it’s immediate land is all there is on a homestead.

We’ll work on it. But it’s quite the conundrum, and I’m not sure what the answer will be until we have the land to segregate the animals more.

Persy, watching the hens with a calm interest. Persy leaves the chooks alone as long as they are on their side of the fence. Always.