Free Goat Food

The meadow across the street used to be a farm. At one time, strawberries were grown there. Some years, hay. The property passed into the hands of a church, and then to two conservation organizations, and half was developed as senior condos. When I moved here eleven years ago, the field was open. It was mowed, but not during bobolink season.

And then it wasn’t mowed. Invasive plants moved it. The wheelchair path got overgrown.

wheelbarrow and path

Budgets were blamed. The property was a low priority. Now the town and the conservation organizations want to control the weeds with round-up and other chemicals. Which is futile, really. Kill a buckthorn and another will pop up.

There was a meeting last night with the conservation commission and a (well-meaning) representative from the conservation organization. A number of neighbors showed up. We have offered an alternative. A friend with more goats than my two, will be intensively grazing the property. We’ll have a work party to clear old stone walls. We have a reprieve from the chemicals until next spring.

Meanwhile, there are brambles and grapevines, buckthorn, black-eyed Susan and bittersweet.  I know two boys who appreciate such things.

wheelbarrow and goats


Free food for the goats.

goats eating


Horse Training Attitude

What alway attracted me to riding, even when I was a young girl, was the communication that happened with the horse. Some people are into the galloping, the thrill of jumping, the grace of a dressage horse with cadence. Those are all good things, but to me they are nothing without the relationship. Sadly, in the horse world, training is too often done with force and fear. Horses are finely tuned to the smallest nuances of body language, and yet riders resort to yelling – with whips, with spurs, and with severe equipment. In May I audited a clinic given by a well-known British instructor. She trains Grand Prix dressage riders. I watched a student ride a circle around her. They were working on passage – which is a lofty trot with moments of suspension between strides. It looks like the horse is floating, but it requires athleticism and effort. The instructor wanted more lift and energy. She said to the rider, You have to get angry at your horse.


If anger is required to get a good passage, then I will settle for a slow trot.

Horses are large and potentially dangerous animals. A horse will tell a person on the ground what’s what by getting into her body space. Horses have teeth and hooves. They get afraid, they have snits, and they let you know it. When on a horse’s back, the animal will let you know what he thinks by refusing to go forward, or by backing up, or rearing, or bucking, or any number of other moves that a thousand pound animal with four legs and a long neck is capable of doing. It’s the horse’s equivalent of yelling back at the rider.

But what if neither yells? What if the rider pays attention to tension in the neck, to ears that flick, to a softening in the mouth? What if the horse learns what a slight movement in the rider’s heel on his flank means? What if the horse finds the work as rewarding as the rider? This is not to say that the rider should let the horse do what he wants. Under saddle, the horse needs to go where asked, and perform whatever sport is being asked of her. On the ground, the horse must have manners. But, respect doesn’t ever come from anger or abuse. It never occurs because one is “alpha” over another. This is true with people and it’s true with animals. Training can be done without anger; the resulting partnership between horse and rider will be that much more beautiful.

The question is how to get to that place where what you want is also what your horse finds worthwhile so that he willingly goes there. (If you’re not into horses, insert spouse, child, dog, or cat into this sentence.) There are plenty of training systems to choose from, whether it is “natural horsemanship” or “centered riding” or whatever else is coming from the currently popular clinician on YouTube. I believe strongly in positive reinforcement that uses a marker signal for clarity. I use this with my dogs, and they joyfully engage in tasks asked of them. My goats, and even my chickens, cheerfully do behaviors when asked to with this method. So I’ve taken, what is popularly called clicker training, to the stable to use with Tonka. I haven’t been satisfied with the results. I got the behaviors, but I didn’t like my horse’s expression. His ears went back. He was telling me something. I listened. I am figuring it out. We’re communicating, and we’re doing it without yelling.

Terry and Tonka


Note: I can learn a lot from Tonka, but each horse and situation is different. I’m looking for other horses to work with. if you are in my area (eastern Massachusetts) and have a horse, and want me to come out to do some training with the two of you, please email me.

Persistent Broodies

It’s been well over a month since three of my hens went broody. Some hens are persistent broodies. They stay in the nesting box well beyond the three weeks that it would take to hatch eggs – that is if they actually were to hatch fertile eggs, which mine are not. Most of the time, they sit in their boxes without any eggs under them at all.

Betsy is a bantam White Leghorn. She is seven (yes, seven!) years old, hasn’t laid an egg in a couple of years, but, true to her bantie nature she still goes broody. Her preferred spot is in the rabbit hutch that has been claimed by the Ladies as their favorite nesting box.

in hutch


Sometimes the big girls kick her out while they lay. Betsy lets them know how displeased she is, and then goes right back in to claim the egg after it is laid.

Betsy in hutch



The hutch is not a safe place to spend the night because a predator could get in, so Betsy is put inside of the secure coop with the others after dark. She’s always in a bad mood, and she stays apart from the flock. Which isn’t much different than when she’s not broody!

Betsy on roost



There have been two persistent broodies in the Big Barn, Onyx (a Barnevelder) and Pearl (the splash Cochin.) They’ve been in the nesting boxes since mid-July.

broody hen


Cochins are notorious for going broody, Pearl is very sensible about it. Daily, she leisurely gets up to take a dust bath. She hops out of the nesting box if I’ve tossed something particularly delicious into the compost pile. Although while inside of  the nesting box she’s huge pile of soft feathers, she doesn’t make a fuss when I reach under her to look for eggs.

Lately, she’s been out with the flock more and more. She might be over her summer brood. Maybe.

Pearl in the middle


People worry about their broody hens. They think that they’ll starve. Never fear, the hens do get up and eat and drink, but it’s often when you’re not watching. You can tell by Betsy’s full crop that she’s eating just fine.

bantam white leghorn


You can stop broodiness by putting the offender in an anti-broody coop. But, none of my three broodies were productive layers, anyway. They’re perfectly healthy. I just leave them be.

I expect that they’ll start molting any day now.



Chicken Coop Fly Control

Chickens poop. A lot. A standard-sized laying hen produces as much as 4 ounces of manure a day. Chickens can’t control when they defecate. They go all of the time. They poop when they’re sleeping. It accumulates under the roosts.

manure under roosts

Chicken manure is 75% water. It’s high in nitrogen. As it decomposes, it gives off ammonia fumes. (Which is a good reason to have your roosts well off of the floor of the coop – so your hens don’t breathe in the damp, caustic air while they sleep.)

Flies breed in rich, soft, moist manure.

I hate flies. They’re bothersome. They carry disease. In a rare case, they cause the worst thing ever – fly strike. I do everything that I can to limit the population of flies in my coops.

The first line of defense is the most obvious – remove the manure! I’ve written about manure management here. But, since chickens poop all day long, and you can’t follow them around with a scoop and bucket, you’ll have to take other steps.

Use bedding that is dry and absorbent. Pine shavings work well. A product like Koop Clean, which is chopped chaff mixed with a desiccant, is especially drying. There’s manure right in the center of this photo – dried out and so not a place that flies can breed.

dry manure


If you have dropping boards (or, in the case of my Big Barn, a beam,) scrape the manure off daily. Despite the maintenance, during fly season, I see tiny immature flies on the damp wood.

immature flies

I kill them with a spritz of citrus vinegar.

citrus spritz


This summer, I saw those immature flies on my windows. But, someone else also saw them – these insect-eating insects! This is why I don’t use pesticides. Over the course of three days, these bugs (can anyone identify them for me?) scarfed up the tiny flies, decimating the fly population, and then were gone.

fly eating insects


I’m a big fan of fly strips. Before those brilliant insect-killing insects appeared, the ones hanging over the goat stall looked like this:

full fly strip

Fly strips are very effective! (Just make sure that you don’t hang them where a flighty hen can tangle in them. Read about Florence’s adventure here.)

With all of my management techniques – a clean, dry coop, citrus vinegar, fly strips, and working with beneficial insects, I’ve kept the flies in check. Even late in August when the pests should be at their worst, look at this. It’s been hanging for 24 hours, and it had almost no flies to trap.

empty fly strip


My hens thank me.


Farm Cats Vintage Photo

This photo, circa 1900, shows some classic farm cats. The young woman has an apron on over her everyday work dress – it’s just the place for a kitten to be.

Farm Cats

These cats are likely being fed milk. If they’re lucky, there might be meat scraps, too. Those cats had a job to do. Not only did they keep rats out of the barns, but they also kept the family’s food safe from vermin. Cooked food and baked goods were stored in a pantry. They didn’t have seal-tight plastic containers and refrigerators. (Remember the scene in Anne of Green Gables when a mouse falls into the dessert?) Keeping the mice out of the house was very important work. The cats in this photo look up to the task!