Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dora's Very Bad Day

You remember Dora, don't you?  She's one of the three hens from our first year of keeping chickens.  She and Reba and Red literally rule the roost around here ...never letting the three newbies we added last spring forget who is in charge.   Well, she had a rather traumatic day last week when a Red Tailed Hawk tried to make her his dinner.

I happened to be home and just happened to look out the back window in time to see the hawk pin her to the ground and to witness her desperate struggle to get free. I was about thirty yards away but slammed the door behind me as I came out of the house, hoping to startle the hawk and scare him away.  I yelled and waved my arms as I came out and the hawk finally let go of Dora and took off when I was about halfway down the hill to them. 

Feathers were everywhere, it looked like someone busted open a feather pillow in the middle of the yard.  Dora was lying where the hawk left her, limp and not moving.  Her eyes were closed and I thought she was gone.  But when I touched her, she opened her eye a little and made a weak attempt at a cackle.  I picked her up and just cradled her for a minute, trying to let her know she was okay now.  Her little chicken heart was just a fluttering.  I carried her to the little brood coop and set her on top so I could check her over.  She couldn't even stand, she was so weak, but I felt her all over and found no puncture wounds at all.

This is the last thing she might have seen or the last thing her feathered friends might have seen before the attack.  A bird of prey zeroing in on it's target is an awesome and beautiful sight ...unless you're the prey.

Poor Dora was just scared to death.  I'm sure she saw her little chicken life flash before her eyes when she was underneath that big hawk. 

Satisfied that she was not physically wounded, I carried her with me and searched the coop and the yard for the other five chickens.  I finally found them hiding underneath some equipment in the awning next to the shop.  Thinking they were all okay, I left the dog in the chicken yard to make sure the hawk didn't bother them and took Dora into the house.   Our dog is a Boxer and that's not your typical livestock guardian breed, but she's an exceptionally good dog and she's been around the chickens since they were just pullets and she was just a pup.  She would never hurt them.  If she ever tangled with a hawk, she might be hurt but so might the hawk and I was hoping the hawk would be smart enough to know that. 

I fixed Dora a temporary nest in my laundry basket with newspaper lining the bottom.   She still wasn't able to stand, but she seemed more alert and 'talked' if I got out of sight from her.  She seemed to want me to stay with her so I carried the basket with me as I worked around the house for the next hour or so.  By then, she was starting to stand and though still a little unsteady on her feet, I felt she might be better off down in the coop.  I popped a bag of popcorn before I carried her down there ...a treat for her and bait to help me get the other five out of the awning and back into the coop. 

When I carried her back down the hill, I set her in one of the nest boxes Yeoldfurt built last summer, thinking she would feel safer in close quarters.  I gave her a handful of the popcorn and she went right after it, so I was pretty confident she would make a full recovery in time. 

Coaxing the other five hens out of their hiding place in the awning and back into safety of the coop proved to be a bit of a challenge.  We originally only had three hens but we bought some new chicks last spring to enlarge the flock and as replacements for when the original three hens were gone.  The older hens tolerated the newcomers but just barely.  Before the hawk attack that day, you never would have seen the older hens mingling with the younger hens.  Though they all share the coop at night, the three older hens would be on the roost and the three younger hens would be wherever they could find a spot.  But there was definite segregation going on in there.  So to find them all huddled feather to feather, beak to beak in a two-foot square space told me they were traumatized as well.  Dora was the one that was attacked, but they witnessed the attack and they were traumatized.

Microwave popcorn is a real treat though and the familiar sound of me shaking a bag was too much for them to resist.  I stood at the doorway of the awning shaking the open bag of popcorn and four little heads popped up from behind their refuge.  I tossed a handful at my feet and started backing up the hill toward the coop.

Chickens are highly motivated by food and they're also highly competitive about food.  All it took was for one of them to make a move toward the scattered popcorn and the others wouldn't be able to resist making a charge themselves.  As soon as they were in sight of me, I tossed another handful and they ran toward me halfway to the coop and real safety.   I wasn't counting heads at this time.  I was just intent on getting them to the coop.  Once inside, I scattered several handfuls of the popcorn for them and started counting.  I came up one short so I counted again.  Still one short.  One of the younger reds was missing.  Dora was still in the nest box and seemed okay so I locked them in the coop and went back down to the awning.  I looked high and low but found nothing.  Then I walked the yard, checking every clump of grass, every nook and cranny that could possibly conceal a hen.    

I was just about convinced the hawk had made off with the missing hen and that Dora was perhaps the second course that day when I decided to check the awning one more time.  There is some lumber stacked vertically in the very back corner and it's right next to the metal piece that the other hens were hiding under so I decided to move a couple of pieces and see if she might be hiding back there.  Sure enough, when I moved the first piece, I heard a faint chicken gasp ...a kind of 'yikes, something's found me!' sound.  I poked my head back there and shined the little pen light into the darkness and there she was ...wide-eyed and looking very ...well ...chicken! 

I would have thought when she saw it was me and not the hawk or some other scary unfamiliar face, she would have come willingly.  But she was not willing at all.  I had to move several pieces out of the way and make a grab to finally convince her to come out.  It was very tight quarters back there and lousy footing, so I missed when I made the grab.  She darted out into the open though and I went after her, thinking I could either herd her back to the coop or corner her and catch her.  The riding lawnmower is parked smack dab in the middle of that awning though and she used it to her advantage several times to keep me from getting her out of the awning.  She was determined not to go out in the daylight where something might swoop down on her like it had swooped down on Dora. 

I was finally able to spook her out into the yard and once in the open, she made a beeline for the coop.  Chickens are big on personality, not so big on brains ...but they do know where they're safe.  Once they were all back in the coop, I topped off their food and water and went back to the house.  Twenty minutes later, I looked out the back door and the hawk was back, sitting on a fence post directly across from the coop and not twenty feet from where he attacked Dora.  As I watched him, another hawk flew in and settled on a branch a few feet above the fence post.  A mated pair wonder they were bold.  They probably have a nest in the dense woods that border our property.   I couldn't get close enough to get a picture of them together, but this is one of them sitting on the shed roof next to the chicken yard.  I think the Red Tailed Hawk is a magnificent bird ...just not when it's trying to eat one of my chickens!

From now on, if the chickens are in the yard, they will have an MP with them ...Mutt Patrol ...Maggie, guardian of her domain.  Hopefully, she'll never see action.  I'm hoping her mere presence will be enough to deter the raptors. 

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Whack a Mole, Anyone?

You know the old arcade game where, armed with only a mallet, you had to try to whack the mole as he popped up in any one of a dozen places.  Okay, it was primitive by today's gaming standards but could be strangely exhilarating if you are the one with the mallet ...and you were halfway good.  In the arcade version, the the mole won out in the end more often than not.

Since mid-November, it's been one financial crisis after another.  Thousands of dollars in vehicle maintenance and repairs that had to be done to keep the cars running we could both get back and forth to work we could pay the repair bills along with all the regular bills.  Lately I feel like I'm trapped in a Whack a Mole game ...and in my real life version, sometimes I'm the mallet and sometimes I'm the mole.  

Every one of our vehicles cost us something those last two months of 2011.  A couple of weeks ago, the main ride, the '95 Camry with only 130,000 miles, developed a slow intermittent leak at the oil pump which will be another couple of hundred dollars.  But the mechanic said as long as the leak doesn't worsen and we make sure there is always oil in it, we can let that slide for a little while.  So I'm saving ..hoping to scrounge up the funds by March.  Then last Sunday night, I broke a tooth.  Great.  Now I'M falling apart too! 

The tooth didn't hurt when it broke and hasn't hurt since.  It doesn't seem to be hot or cold or pressure sensitive so my immediate inclination was to let it slide for a while too.  But Yeoldfurt's kind of funny about some things and this is one of those things.  He likes his wife to have teeth.  So he encouraged me go to the dentist and see what the options might be. 

Of course, the dentist is all about people keeping their teeth so she wants me to put a crown on it cost would be over $700 even with insurance.  Not happening.  It's a back molar and has a huge filling in it from at least 20 years ago, so I asked her how much to pull it.  She gave me THE LOOK and started telling me about some fancy 'buildup filling' work she could do.  My cost would be $120 with insurance.  She said she didn't know if it would last six weeks, six months or six years ...but when it failed, she could pull the tooth then.  The only guarantee apparently is that the buildup filling would not last forever.  Grumble, grumble.  

The full set of xrays, exam and consultation cost me nothing because the insurance considers it preventive, but apparently fixing any problems are going to cost me dearly.  I guess I should be grateful she found no other immediate problems.  She did say I grind my teeth.  I've never had a dentist tell me that before so I guess it's a new habit I've picked up.  So she wants me to wear a mouth guard when I sleep ...apparently to protect my teeth from each other. 

Great.  I think I am officially old.  My teeth are at war with each other and both sides are losing.  I am still keen on yanking the offending tooth out.  I am open to doing it now or postponing the expense until it actually starts being sensitive.  But it would be $100 (my cost) and problem solved.   It's a back molar so it's not a cosmetic issue and I'm pretty sure I won't starve to death with one less tooth in my head.  The dentist and Yeoldfurt want me to go the 'buildup filling' route, then pull it if that method eventually fails.  But that would cost me $120 now and at least $100 down the road ....allowing for inflation in case the fancy buildup filling work actually lasted a couple of years. 

Hmmm... $120 now with a guaranteed $100+ later or $100 now and be done.  Any money I spend now postpones the needed repairs on the car which, as I mentioned, is kind of important because it's our means of getting to and from work so we can pay all the bills. 

So.  Fix the tooth and postpone fixing the car ...or stay on track with saving for the car repairs and postpone fixing the tooth.  No wonder I've started grinding my teeth! 

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Monday, January 9, 2012

My Version of Tomato Pie

Yeoldfurt posted on his blog recently about the Tomato Pie recipe and how much he liked it.  I had never heard of the dish until a girlfriend mentioned it a couple of weeks ago.  When I first described it to Yeoldfurt, he really didn't act too enthused.  His hesitation made me a little apprehensive, but I made it anyway and he loved it.  He raved about while he was eating and told me I should post the recipe.  Then he ate the whole thing before I got a picture of it.  I was going to wait until I made it again so I could post a picture with the recipe, but apparently KX59 emailed him the other day and is anxious.  So I here it is...

I started with the basic recipe at Simply Recipes website and tweaked it for my own purposes.  This is what it looks like when you make it according to the recipe on the website.

  • 1 9-inch pie shell
  • 1/2 yellow or red onion, chopped
  • 3-4 tomatoes, cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield approximately 3 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup sliced basil (about 8 leaves)*
  • 2 cups grated cheese (combination of sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack, or Gruyere or Mozarella)
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) of Frank's Hot Sauce (or Tabasco)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pie shell in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or longer until lightly golden. If you are starting with a frozen crust, you'll need to cook it a little longer. If you are using a homemade crust, freeze the crust first, then line the crust with aluminum foil and pre-bake it for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes. Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes, using either paper towels, a clean dish towel, or a potato ricer. Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-cooked pie shell with chopped onion. Spread the chopped tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.  In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayonnaise, Tabasco, a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. The mixture should be the consistency of a gooey snow ball. Spread the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.
Place in oven and bake until browned and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes. 
I'm a tweaker when it comes to recipes.  I've been cooking for several decades and been cooking for Yeoldfurt for over 12 years now.  I know what I like and I know what Yeoldfurt likes, so I'm not afraid to tweak.  When I made this recipe, I used a 6x10-inch pyrex baking dish.  Instead of making a pastry pie shell, I sprayed the pan with olive oil cooking spray and layered the bottom with crushed Ritz crackers, about 1/4-inch deep.  I doubled the onions (one whole onion) and caramelized it in four tablespoons of butter.  I poured the caramelized onions and butter evenly over the crushed crackers.  I sprinkled this layer lightly with Parmesan Cheese.  I spread my three cups of chopped, drained fresh Roma tomatoes over the onions.  Yeoldfurt likes anything hot and spicy so I added a well-drained can of Rotel on top of the fresh tomatoes.  Instead of basil, I used dried crushed red peppers (the kind they serve with pizza) on top of the tomatoes.  I used about four tablespoons.  I followed the crushed red peppers with another light dusting of Parmesan cheese.  For the top layer, I mixed one cup shredded Cheddar with one cup shredded Monterrey Jack plus 3/4 cup generic Miracle Whip.  I finished with about 1/2 cup crushed Ritz crackers sprinkled on top of the cheese.  

I'm sure the dish would be good with a pastry pie crust shell on the bottom too.  I was just making it as a side dish and wanted to make it a little lighter.   

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Friday, January 6, 2012

I'm In ...Are You?

On January 2nd, my friend, Lamb, of Frippery Farm fame did a great post about setting objectives instead of making resolutions for the New Year.  The concept is simply to assign a theme as a goal for each month and focus on achieving that goal before the next month rolls around.  In theory, the theme for each separate month will help her achieve "No Waste" which is her main theme for this whole year.  January's theme is "Organization" and she plans to tackle every room, every closet, every drawer. 

When I read her post, my first thought was, 'Great idea!'   My second thought was, 'Yeah, but it'll never happen here.'  I'm not a hoarder, but I am very sentimental so I accumulate stuff very quickly.  I also tend to multi-task so, in spite of my good intentions and best efforts, there are always several unfinished projects around this house.  But my third thought on the subject was, 'Why the heck not?

So today, I was happy to see Lamb's post about the Declutter Challenge from The Single Saver blog.  Signing up for a challenge might be just the motivation I need to achieve some of these goals so count me in!  Read about it here and consider joining us.  I double dog dare you!