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Archive for the ‘Fauna’ Category

After our recent post about the copperhead, we thought we’d let you know that we don’t think every snake is bad.

Here a “good” snake we found sunning himself on top of an old tree stump. Speckled King snakes are known for eating for rodents and if the opportunity strikes (pun intended) they’ll also eat venomous snakes — like those nasty copperheads.

Speckled Kingsnake On Stump 1

Speckled Kingsnake On Stump 1

As you can see we didn’t find him very far from the tipi.

Hope he’s hungry!

Speckled kingsnake on tree stump

Speckled kingsnake on tree stump

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Guess what we found in the strawberry patch? YEP! A copperhead snake.

I was gleefully harvesting some of our bountiful crop of red, ripe strawberries — thinking  about making some preserves to serve with hubby’s biscuits. The plants have really done well with all the the new organic matter that we’ve added to the garden bed. As you can see in the photo they’re pretty thick and you have to really reach in and search around for the ripe strawberries.

I was just about done, as you can see from the full container of berries) at the bottom of the photo, when I thought to myself, “I sure hope snakes don’t like strawberries.” It was just about a minute later — I was actually getting ready to harvest the last plant in the patch — when I noticed a copperhead snake curled up next to it. YIKES!

Fortunately, Bob was working right next to me so when I shouted out, “COPPERHEAD!”, he jumped up and kept an eye on it and I went and grabbed a hoe that we keep handy by the garden gate.

Dead copperhead snake and strawberry patch.
(Click image for larger view.)

This is the second one we’ve killed in just a week or so. Bob was scything some of the tall grass south of the garden when Blaze starting barking like crazy. He made a joke that she’d probably found a copperhead snake. The first time he checked it out it didn’t see anything but then Blaze moved about a foot away and started barking again he moved the grass around with the scythe and saw it WAS a copperhead. He quickly pinned it down with the scythe blade and I brought the hoe so he could use it to chop the head off.

I think I’m going to have to be like the Fat Broad from the B.C. comics and get me a snake stick to check the patch before I go to harvest next time 😉

Hmmmm? Are fresh, ripe strawberries – grown without pesticides – really worth it?

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OK. OK. I know we just got our chicken flock started so you’re probably wondering why we didn’t wait awhile to get some ducks. Well, the story goes like this…

The morning we picked up the baby chicks from the Post Office the lady who got the box for us asked if we only raised chickens. We explained that we were newbies and this was the beginning of our flock but that we eventually wanted to have some ducks too. The truth of the matter is that we wanted to see how we did with the chickens AND the ducks we wanted were a little pricey especially with the shipping.

Well…. as luck would have it… her mother-in-law had 12 three month old ducks for sale. Six of them were the breed we wanted – Khaki Campbells – 3 drakes and 3 hens. She also had 4 Indian Runners (2 drakes and 2 hens) and a pair of Swedish Blues. Mom-in-law wanted $7 each – you pick or $6 if you took them all. We said we’d think it over.

There are several reasons why we wanted to have some ducks (along with our chickens) here on the homestead. One is that ducks don’t stop laying during the winter months like chickens do. (Chickens typically stop laying eggs when the days get shorter in the winter.) Duck eggs are more nutritious than chicken eggs. AND… they lay at night — just in time for fresh egggs for breakfast!

Another advantage is that when you put the ducks in the garden for pest control they won’t scratch it up as much as the chickens will. Although sometimes we’ll want to use the chickens to till up the garden beds for us… more on that later.
 
Anyway… we talked it over and decided that this opportunity was too good to pass up. We took all 12 of them!

When we first brought them home and put them in their pen they were really skittish about us getting close to them. After a day or so they’ve figured out that we’re the ones who feed and water them. Some feed along with some fresh cucumber and tomato bits from the garden go a long ways towards influencing your friendly neighborhood homestead ducks 😉

Last night we decided to go ahead and see how they handled a little “free range” time. They LOVED it! They stuck close to the water source and when dark came they happily waddled back into the pen.

Bevy of Ducks On The Homestead
(click to view larger image)

I guess we’re officially poultry farmers now!

P.S. These guys are sooooo funny! I’ll get some video uploaded SOON!

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The baby chicks are really growing!

I can’t believe how much they have changed! Of course, like all young things they each develop at their own pace. Some of them are almost completely feathered and other still have quite a bit of down. Their constantly preening themselves.

The chicks with the most feathers also have more tail feathers and larger combs. We’re thinking that these are cockerels and the less developed ones are hens. If anyone out there knows if our reasoning is correct let us newbie chicken farmers know for sure 😉 If we’re right then it looks like we have 8 or 9 cocks and 17 or 18 hens.

4 Week Old Speckled Sussex Rooster

Their foraging abilities are getting better and better every day. Even though there’s plenty of food available in the feeders they’re constantly prowling the perimeter of their pen looking for tasty bugs to eat! I pity the ant that gets too close to the edge of their pen.

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We had someone contact us recently asking how we were dealing with the ticks and chiggers. Let me just say that we’ve won a couple of battles but the war is still ongoing.

If you can’t handle the nasty bugs then homesteading isn’t for you! We picked off the first tick about the end of March and haven’t had a “clean” day since. You don’t want to hear how many we’ve picked off one another 😦 Not to mention how many we’ve picked off poor Blaze.

We do “Tick Patrol” several times a day. The goal it to get them off as soon as possible!

As you can tell from our previous posts, we’re not too crazy about spraying a bunch of chemicals on our skin so that rules out that option.

TICKS

One of the natural options that I read about for Blaze was a supplement called Ledum PAL. After some more research I found out that it was also good for us two legged dogs — us people that is 😉 It’s good for insect and other puncture wounds.

Then we read about using sulfur to reduce your desirability to the little beasties. The article I read in Mother Earth News suggested taking it internally. One-eighth teaspoon every day for a week, then three times a week, then once a month. Supposedly then made you taste so bad that the ticks would walk around on you but not latch on. This worked… mostly!

We’ve also made a solution using aloe vera gel and the sulfur and applied it directly to our legs, arms and neck area. We use this solution mostly when we’re planning to go into the wooded areas of our homestead.

We’ve started using Oil of Oregano as an antiseptic agent. We put a drop of it on any attached ticks that we find. I should mention that they don’t seem to like this stuff much….. too bad! Sometimes it will actually make them back out on their own. Then they’re toast!

We’ve begun using the sulfur solution on Blaze with good success. We add a few drops of Oil of Oregano which makes her less likely to lick it off. We also add a little bit of vegetable oil to it to help it stick better. This has drastically reduced the number of ticks that she gets – especially between her toes and foot pads.

I found a recipe for natural tick repellant which contains vegetable oil, aloe vera, geranium essential oil, and lavender essential oil. I haven’t tried it yet but it probably smells better than the sulfur solution 😉

CHIGGERS

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It was bound to happen.

Today we were cleaning up some of the piles we had left over from scything last week. The grass and stick piles have been laying there undisturbed and given the fact that the weather was a bit chilly I thought it would be a good idea to rake them up a bit instead of just sticking my hands into the piles… just in case some critter had decided to take up residence.

Good thing I took this precaution because sure enough… as I turned over the third pile there was a copperhead snake laying there and it was a pretty good sized one – about 2 to 2 1/2 feet long.

Now I don't mind having good snakes on the homestead but not poisonous ones!

YUCK! BAD SNAKE!

We pinned the snake down with the rake and used a shovel to cut off it's head. 

Fortunately — for once — Blaze wasn't the first one to find this critter. She was off exploring and didn't get in on the action.

Sorry, no pic. We wanted to get rid of it before Blaze figured out what we were doing.

You might want to do a quick Internet search to make sure you can identity the poisonous snakes in your area.

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Our little Blaze is a very curious puppy. She's constantly exploring her territory. Today while we were working in the garden Blaze, who was close to us, starting barking like crazy at something she found in the grass— just like the other day when she found the turtle.

We could see it wasn't another turtle and, of course, we went to check that it wasn't a poisonous snake. We're not too worried if it's a snake as long as it's not a poisonous one except that we don't want her to kill the good snakes 😉

Anyway, this time it was Mr. Toad. Isn't it cute?

Toad 
(Click image for larger view.) 

Blaze was VERY curious but don't worry we didn't let her hurt it.

Blaze_toad 
(Click image for larger view.) 

Toads are great to have in the garden because they eat bugs, especially slugs and snails.

Hmmmm? Maybe I should build him a toad house?

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