Archive | May 2014

Babies–One Week Old

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The baby chickens and rabbits were one week old yesterday when these photos were taken.  The chicks are growing wing and tail feathers and the bunnies (fawns) are just beginning to open their eyes.  One chick didn’t survive, so there are sixteen baby Ameraucanas.  The fawns are angora/Rex crosses.  There are seven of them, five white albino and two that look brown or silver agouti.

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Both sets of babies have grown about half-again the size they were at birth. They fit neatly in the hand.  The dark bunnies remind me of chinchillas.a3  So cute.  Soon they will be able to see mom and jump out of the nest box after her.  Then she will have little peace as they will want to nurse all the time.  Most mother rabbits are very firm about when fawns are allowed to nurse, but the little ones are persistent.a4  In the photo at left, the glimmer of the white baby’s eye is just visible.

Today the chicks were moved from the house to the barn and given a large exercise pen.  They are excited to have so much freedom and are testing their new wing feathers.  Before long they will run around the barnyard.

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Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle

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Can’t say enough good things about my Dr. Cook’s bitless bridles.  Here, my 25 year old three-quarter-Saddlebred mare, Vista, models her English Leather version.  I’ve been riding with the bitless bridle for over ten years.

I decided to try this bridle after having many bridle problems with Vista.  I purchased her as a ten month old filly and trained her entirely myself.  Horse training is a hobby of mine.  From day one Vista resented the bit.  She never settled to having one placed in her mouth or moving with one.

We tried several bits including snaffle, pelham and full double bridle.  All resulted in head tossing and bit chewing.  Finally we tried a hackamore.  Vista was slightly happier with this but spent a lot of time blowing her nose.  Hackamores control the horse by putting pressure on the nose and cutting off the wind. The problem for Vista was not my hand pressure.  She just plain did not like any of the head control options I tried.  She was happiest when I rode her with a halter and lead rope. Never any head tossing or nose blowing.  I was not comfortable taking her outside the pasture with this arrangement.

So I began researching bridle options and found Dr. Cook’s Bitless bridle.  What a relief for both horse and owner!  Beginning the first time she wore this bridle, Vista liked it.  No head tossing, no endless blowing of the nose.  No more struggle to get a bit in a recalcitrant mouth.  Only perfect response to very slight pressure.  I sold all the other bridles and bits and got an extra Dr. Cook in beta, a rubbery plastic leather-like material that can be dunked in water to clean.  We use the beta when it’s rainy or particularly hot and sweaty.

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The bitless bridle works by applying pressure to various points on the head.  I have ridden many horses over nearly forty years of horsemanship, using a variety of bits, and find the bitless bridle to give better control with less effort.

The bridle is used exactly the same as a bitted bridle and can be direct or neck reined.  Vista is trained for both methods and is very responsive to the bitless bridle.  Head set is achieved the same way as with a bitted bridle, with flexion at the poll and a soft head (rather than mouth) easy to attain.
 

The nose piece rides slightly lower on the face than a regular bitted bridle.  The chin strap is just tight enough to get a finger under.  The bridle has two sets of cheek straps.  The second strap runs under the head, crossing over and exiting at the ring on the opposite side of the face near the mouth.  The strap folds over as it exits the ring so that the back side of the strap shows, the only odd thing I find about this bridle.  It’s pretty easy to overlook a little reverse side of the leather for the great benefits to horse and rider.

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I have been training my six-year-old half-Saddlebred mare, Maddie, exclusively with a bitless bridle. She will never know the unpleasant feel of metal in her mouth if I have anything to say about it. She is very respectful of the bridle and has never given me any trouble with control. Here is Maddie getting her nose in. She won’t be ignored.a8

Here is a link to the Dr. Cook’s site: http://www.bitlessbridle.com/
I am not a salesperson for this bridle, nor have I been compensated in any way by Dr. Cook’s. I just want to share my success story with using this product. Both bridles I own are very well made and worth every penny I spent.

Dutchman’s Breeches

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In mid-May we are treated to the annual display of the Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) wildflower.  Aptly named for the shape of the flower, the plant is a relative of Bleeding Hearts and in the same family as opium poppies.  All parts of the Dutchman’s Breeches plant are poisonous, containing toxic alkaloids with narcotic effects.  Another name for this plant is Staggerweed.  Cattle and horses ingesting the plant develop staggering, tremors and convulsions, although not usually life-threatening unless there is repeated exposure.  Sheep appear to be unaffected by the plant’s toxicity.a2

If you don’t try to eat this plant, it is very easy to enjoy its beauty.  The delicate little white pantaloons dangle from racemes about 8″ long.  The feathery, fern-like leaves are very decorative.  The plant is fragile and will die out if the habitat is disturbed.

On our farm, Dutchman’s Breeches grow along the banks of Martin Stream, a small river that meanders for about one-half mile through the property.  Every year the stream floods, covering the area where the breeches grow with a foot or more of water. a4 A thin layer of sand is deposited, creating a perfect habitat for the plant.

Dutchman’s Breeches like moist, fertile, shady places. The seeds are disbursed by ants who prefer to nest in sandy spots.  The photo at right is of a beaver dam on Martin Stream.  The river is about thirty feet across at the dam.  Dutchman’s Breeches are visible in the lower right hand corner.

The plant produces an edible, fleshy growth on each seed called an elaisome.  Ants love this food and carry the seeds to their nests where they consume the elaisomes and discard the seeds in their waste piles.  The seeds have a perfect situation: underground burial on the fertilizer of ant waste.  The plants emerge from small bulblets and are perennial.  The flower nectar is deep inside each bloom. Insects with long proboscises such as bumble bees pollinate them.

Dutchman Breeches grow in spreading colonies and can carpet an area.  Stumbling upon such a place on a spring walk is truly an uplifting experience.a3

 

Star Magnolia

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So proud of my baby star magnolia!  This is its third year.  The first year it was one foot tall and gave me one lovely flower.  Last year it grew a foot and made three flowers.  This year it’s about three feet tall and has eight blooms.  So very pretty and the flowers smell lovely in the bright sun.

Magnolias are an ancient family of flowering shrub or tree.  Their leaves and blossoms are waxy.  The plants evolved before bees developed so it is theorized that beetles or other walking, chewing insects pollinated them, hence the plant needed to be tough to withstand damage.  In the photo above you can see the legs and feeler of a beetle on a petal.  The flower form is very old.  There are reports of fossil species from the magnolia family dating to nearly 130 million years ago.  The dinosaurs enjoyed the magnolia’s fragrant show.

Star magnolias are robust and can survive the northern chill that would destroy their southern relatives.  The flowers for the next season are formed during the summer and winter over in fuzzy little pods called bracts at the ends of the branches.  This past winter the temperatures briefly dipped to twenty below zero with no apparent ill effects to the plant.

The tree blooms before the leaves develop, so the form is an open framework covered with large, bright white flowers.  Each night the blooms close, much like a water lily.  In the full sun they open and emit a powerful, delicious scent that vaguely reminds me of white pond lilies.

I sure hope my little tree continues to thrive.  Many people in the area have star magnolias blooming on their lawns so I have every chance of success with mine.  We live in a colder-than-average microclimate here at the farm so I keep my fingers crossed every winter.
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Here are links to a couple interesting articles about magnolias:
http://ferrebeekeeper.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/flowering-magnolias/
http://www.adonline.id.au/plantevol/tour/angiosperms/

Wildflower Walk

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Trillium bloom

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Trillium

The two major early wildflowers found in our woods are in full bloom.  Trillium and trout lilies spread throughout the shady undergrowth, providing a perennial show.  Trillium are named for their three maroon petals.  Trout lilies have mottled leaves that resemble the side of a fish.  The lilies are also called dog toothed violets, why, I’m not sure.

The lilies grow in huge communities, carpeting the forest.  Clumps of trillium occur with three or more stems in a bunch, one flower per stem.  Some trillium bunches become large, expanding around the parent. Others grow in solitary clumps.

Trillium are known as Stinking Benjamin due to the scent of the flowers.  They smell like carrion and must pollinate via the flies that breed on the dead.  As children we would dare each other to smell the flowers.  Now-a-days I know better, they are foul in odor.  But, very pretty to look at and one of the constants of spring.

Trout lilies

Trout lilies

Chick Hatch

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The chicks have hatched, and with seventeen active and healthy, a great result.  Most are from eggs I purchased from Ameraucana breeders in NJ and PA.  They hatched well even after traveling through the mail.  Some years none of the eggs I’ve gotten through the mail have hatched.  Most of the chicks are wheaten or blue wheaten color, they are the yellow babies.  There are a few blacks or blues, some brown reds and maybe a silver.  We’ll see exactly what colors are there when they feather out.

Most have already survived two days.  The first three days are the most likely time for a newly-hatched chick to die.  Ones that make it three days usually live to adulthood.  These little guys are sassy and active and eating well.  They think I’m their mother and come running when I call them.

The babies can hear inside the egg so I begin talking to them as a mother hen does, well before they hatch.  A mother hen speaks to her chicks with a soft, low, rapid, buck-buck-buck, clucking.  She also makes a purring sound in her throat that means all is well, we are content, go to sleep.  Chickens make this sound their whole lives when it is time to sleep.

On about day 18- 19 of egg development, the babies turn their beaks into the air cells of the eggs, begin breathing air and can make sounds.  They will answer me when I talk to them like a hen.  By the time they hatch, they are looking for momma, and they see me talking to them.  When I make the contented sound, they copy me and settle right down.  By the time the babies are grown, they are very attached to me and follow me around.  I enjoy being a mother hen.c2

 

Visit To My Spring Garden

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Tete-a-tete daffodils

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Pink primrose

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Yellow jonquils

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First narcissus

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Pink hyacinth

Welcome to my spring garden.  On a sunny day the fragrance of the flowers fills my dooryard.  The bulbs got off to a late start due to chilly, cloudy weather through much of April.  Now with a little warmth and sunshine, the blooms have exploded.  Around my front door I have several rock gardens and a raised bed filled with a selection of perennial flowers that bloom throughout the season.