summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sights and Sounds

Yesterday, my walk was totally worth my effort.


As I neared the pond, actually within feet of the water’s edge, a heron flew up just about in my face.  I was surprised as was that heron. The shore at that particular location was hidden from my view because of a slight slope; thus, initially I did not see the heron nor did the heron see me.  I had never been that close to any heron before and the intimacy, the detail of the physical bird, was amazing.  Unfortunately, I had to look fast as the heron made its way quickly, in his mind, to safety.


I proceeded a few more feet and could now see the shoreline.  I noticed some unusual motion.  I was observing bobbing heads though unsure of what kind of heads.  In an instant, six dark birds took to the air and flew in the same direction of the fleeting heron.  I made a mental picture of the unfamiliar species of bird - a water bird, smaller than a mallard, no duck-type bill, and all-over dark plumage.  Later, back at the house, I would retrieve my trusty Birds of Virginia Field Guide and ID the birds as Pied-billed Grebes, a wonderfully new, to me, species to add to my personal birding list.


As I watched the grebes fly away, I noticed the resident Belted Kingfisher arrive, lighting on the nearby electric line.  I moved inside the pond house and stood in the doorway of the pond-side door to get a better look from my somewhat hidden location.  But, the kingfisher had left its perch.  Then, I saw a fluttering shadow on the mirror-like surface of the pond.  I looked up to see that kingfisher flapping in place several feet above the water.  In a second, that kingfisher dove into the water making quite a splash.  As she withdrew from the water, she made her way to the fence and was just about to land on a fence post but decided to find a better option.  I watched as the kingfisher circled back and was just about to land on the bench of the pond house until she finally saw me only two feet away standing at the open door.  Once again, without stopping, she circled back and landed in her favorite walnut tree. 


Again, within moments of that close encounter with the heron, I have a close encounter with a kingfisher.   I was having a lucky day…more of a jackpot kind of day.


I left the pond house and slowly made my way around the pond trying to get nearer to that walnut tree.  One step too many caused the kingfisher to leave and fly over to the bench at the pond house.  Darn!  I was just at the pond house.  I do believe this bird is playing with me.  I continued to watch the kingfisher.  She flew to within feet of my location, did her little flutter in place and returned to the bench.  I think this bird and I are becoming friends.


Before leaving my position just below the walnut tree, I looked up and noticed a strange object hanging from a branch.  At this time of year, the walnut trees have already dropped about 75 to 95 percent of their summer’s leaves, so the branches are well exposed.  My conclusion was that this object was a pendulous nest.  What else could it be? I am guessing, by descriptions I have read, that this is probably an oriole’s nest.  But, I am only guessing as I have never seen an oriole’s nest.

Any verification?  Any guesses?


Just beyond the pond, I met up with the gathering bluebirds.  I do not see the bluebirds daily, but they have been a regular at this location for a couple of months.  The flashes of brilliant blue are magnificent to view.


One bird sighting is exciting, but all these exceptional bird experiences at one time were just about incredible.  


The last leg of my walk, up the steep Incline, was unnoticeable today as I replayed the recent moments over in my mind.


It was only 9:00 AM and my day was already full with delight.


Today, on the other hand, began much differently.


I was awakened by the chilling howling of coyotes.  This howling has become an everyday event starting as early as 2:30 AM, but easily occurring as late as 6:00 AM.


When the coyotes are really close to the house, Sammy goes into quite a barking tirade himself adding more noise to what should be the quiet hours of the day.  If the coyotes are further downhill, I can, at times, hear Avalanche, our sheep guard dog, bark in low woofs. 


My hope is that the response of our dogs is enough to keep the coyotes from killing any more our sheep.  (Note: This spring our flock was greatly reduced to nightly coyote killings.)

And, I once again, get any early start (4:30 AM to be exact) to my day - UGH!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Birds, Birds Everywhere

Some days are good for birding and other days are not.


Yesterday was an extremely successful bird watching day.


First, early in the morning while attempting to video record our two rams bashing (and do I mean bashing) heads, I heard the familiar honking of Canada geese.  They were fast approaching.  I quickly switched gears from a shoot directed downhill from my position to one up into the sky.  I was surprised at the number of geese that flew fairly low and openly over my head.  What a gift… a perfect exhibition for the cool, crisp pre-fall day.


A bit later, as I took my morning walk and as I approached the pond area, I notice a large bird flying around the pond.  My initial thought was that I had just disturbed a heron that had been wandering the shoreline in search of food.  Although still quite a distance away, I continued to watch the bird circle until it took a dive straight down into the middle of the pond.  The bird was so quick, that I did not see it take off from the water, but only caught sight of it again once it was soaring back in the sky.  Almost simultaneously, two other birds of the same size and outline of the first flew low away from the pond area, along a tree-lined fence and were soon gone. 

Osprey - there is an unlucky blue gill in those claws

I could not make identification at the time, but after some research concluded that these huge birds were migrating osprey. 

female Belted Kingfisher

As soon as the osprey left, a kingfisher arrived to survey the pond from the safety of a nearby electric line.  This kingfisher was in no hurry to fish and/or eat and she remained quiet and calm sitting on that electric wire.


My daily routine includes feeding the pond fish a few cups of fish pellets.  As I was scattering the pellets over the water from the pond house dock, I noticed a smallish (as compared to the huge osprey) bird feeding along the far shoreline.  Again, just too far to make any sort of visual ID.  So, in leaving the pond house, I walked slowly and quietly near the shore to get as close to this bird as possible.  I got a great look at a gorgeous bird and made some mental notes as well as taking some detailed photos.  I definitely needed my bird book.

Spotted Sandpiper

Walking past the pond and back into the pasture environment, I was accompanied by a bunch of blue birds.  I have met up with the bluebirds on other days.  The bluebirds fly just out ahead of me, never letting me get too close, but always staying within my view.  I could make out males, females and juveniles. 


My walk continued past a small plot of yellow-flowered stickweed.  I caught a slight movement among the flower heads and stopped.  Was that the wind or was there another bird to watch.  Naturally, another bird (still unidentified by me - can anyone help?) wandered from plant to plant finding and eating what were probably the tastiest morsels, seeds.  The bird’s plumage blended well with the coloring of the flowers making it almost invisible among the petals. I try to keep a sharp eye, even though I need to get my eyeglass prescription updated, out for whatever little bit of nature comes my way.  And, I am usually rewarded.
Can anybody tell me the species of the bird?

The bluebirds took their leave and were replaced with loud cawing and flight of crows. 


Yesterday was definitely a great birding day.  Today was not as great as my only wildlife encounters were with the sandpiper down at the pond and those incessant crows flying above.


There is always tomorrow.  And, I look forward to new and old sights and sounds as I proceed through each and every day.
Variegated Fritillary

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fishing at the Pond

Yesterday evening, Glenn and I decided to go down to the farm pond to go fishing .  I enjoy casting out the line and reeling in the lure over and over again…fish in tow or no fish.
Now that is one large mouth!

Glenn immediately caught a medium-sized largemouth bass.  This was the first bass to be taken from our pond. 

We intended the activity to be ‘catch and release’, so the bass went back into the pond.  Besides, that fish was just too small; he needs to put on a few pounds before he can seriously be considered our dinner.


Glenn moved off the dock and opted to fish from the shoreline.  I remained on the dock so that we each had our own, safe casting space.

Be careful Snowball...

Minutes later, Glenn caught a baby largemouth bass and a blue gill.  Both were returned to the water from which they came. 

Buddy decided he did not want to be in the, he stayed out of camera view.
Avalanche, Snowball and Becky's puppy, Samuel

The dogs, now numbering four, all followed Glenn as he made his way around the edge of the pond. Snowball, our Great Pyrenees puppy, was his playful self.  I watched Snowball jump into the air, I saw him lose his balance on the landing, and I continued watching him as he slid down the muddy slope into the water.  This was Snowball’s initiation into our pond.  Snowball quickly got back on the bank now looking more like a mud ball. Snowball did not know how he looked, but he was certainly being more cautious as he neared the water’s edge again and again.
Snowball a.k.a. Mudball

The sky was darkening. It was getting close to time to head back up to the house.  Finally, I got a substantial strike and minutes of reeling and reeling and more reeling.  I caught one of our huge catfish.  I do not like catfish to eat, but they certainly are a fun catch.


As we finished fishing and put away our poles, the active pond scene transformed into a quiet and tranquil vignette…a pleasant ending to a busy day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Refreshing the Flock

I am not a fan of adding fall pullets to my family farm.
But, today, I did.
My current hens are barely laying any eggs.  And, the feed they are consuming is way too costly for the dividends, fresh eggs, which we receive in return.  Even though these hens get a lot of free and supplementary food by way of weeds, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps; the bagged and expensive layer mash granules are eaten much too quickly.
the old hens look healthy and productive...notice their bright red and large combs
but their egg production has been near nil for months - they need to go
Our local coop was advertising pullet delivery for early September.  Pullet orders had to be made prior to delivery.  I did not order any because, like I mentioned, I do not like to have fall pullets.  Spring pullets are more desirable for me. 
Then, I had a change of mind.  I wanted to have a few new layers to replace my old hens.  I asked Glenn to mention to the coop to give us a call if they ended up with extra birds. 
They called. The coop received 100 extra pullets and they were looking for a likely buyer.
I bought 10. They wanted to sell me all 100.

hmmm...fresh young blood to chase

Ten is quite enough to supply Glenn and me, and Becky (her 50 layers were all killed one night about one month ago), and even a few friends if these pullets lay as expected.  But…

let me help, let me help
Fall pullets mature into prime layers during the winter season  just about the time the temperature turns cold and the daylight dwindles resulting in a decrease in egg production regardless of age or condition of the layers. 

notice the small combs on these small chickens...a sign of young, non-laying female birds

There lies the rub. 

So, even though I will have new, young layers, their environment will determine their output.  And, winter output is always lower than that of spring or summer.

That is the reason I do not like fall pullets.  But, in prospect, a few eggs per day are better than no eggs per week. 


Egg numbers will be low.  Feed costs will be high.  But, fresh eggs are fresh eggs.  And, I would rather eat a delicious, home-raised farm-fresh egg than a tasteless, store-bought one.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Yep...That Is The Odor of Poultry Manure

Glenn purchased four truckloads of poultry manure to spread on our pastures.
I think the PC term is ‘natural fertilizer’.  But, whatever it is called…it stinks!
To make matters worse, as the guy arrived to spread the tons of manure, I was just finishing hanging out three full lines of freshly laundered clothes.  And, without a doubt, all those clothes are going to smell just like that ‘natural fertilizer’ - ugh!
This ‘natural fertilizer’ is a boon for our pastures.  The grass thrives growing tall and green and full of nutrients.  Healthy grass eaten by our livestock makes for healthy cows and sheep which, in turn, results in exceptional meat products. 


Using ‘natural fertilizer’ is a beneficial step in our farm management practices.

We just have to live with the acrid odor for a few weeks.  Now, we will also be wearing the odor until the next laundry day for these clothes.  Eventually, the awful stench fades.  
see that pile of manure...a favorite tree of mine use to grow in that exact location
check out a future blog to see what happened to my tree

Glenn affectionately refers to the smell of animal excrement as the smell of money - a concept he garnered from a great uncle, also a farmer, during his youth and has never forgotten.


Well, we are not rich, but some days a person would just rather be a bit poorer.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Blue Bird Baffle

I love to watch birds.


I am quite the novice when it comes to bird watching because I am poor, at best ,when it comes to making identifications based  on songs, calls and even the birds themselves…unless they are the easily identified like the cardinals, bluebirds, blue jays, gold finches, to name a few, by the obvious color of their feathers. I love color!  But, the farm is home to quite a population of those that give me pause and rushing to my bird identification book.  Fortunately, watching, even those unidentifiable to me, is fun and interesting.


Today, I was lucky enough to observe a large (12 +/- male, female and immature)  group of Eastern Bluebirds around our closest bluebird nesting box which is nailed to a fence post only feet from the house.  I was inside the house, but quickly decided to slip outside and to creep as close as I could.  If I scared them all away, then I would try again another day.  They did not scare, and I was able to watch them for several minutes.


Look into the hole...see the eye peeking out?

First, one bluebird would fly to the hole of the nesting box, look in, and then fly off.  As soon as this bird left, another bluebird arrived and repeated the action of looking in and flying off.  Only one of the bluebirds dared to enter the box. This sequence was repeated many times over by, what seemed, like the entire group.


I am totally ignorant as to what these birds were doing, but their activity was fascinating to watch.  In fact, I think the birds would have continued, but I took one step too close.  The birds flew off and I was left watching an empty nesting box. 


The birds, as I, will return another day for another amusing moment.  They always do.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Happy Anniversary To Me and Glenn

Today is my Wedding Anniversary…number 38 to be exact.


Nothing celebratory was planned, so Glenn and I decided to jump on the motorcycle and take a short ride through the beautiful Shenandoah countryside.


The air temperature was very warm and the sun shone brightly, but the swirling open air of the bike ride provided a cooling breeze and made the hot situation not only bearable, but perfectly comfortable.


We set out for Middlebrook specifically to have a small lunch at the General Store.  Middlebrook is a very small town.  The main street is flanked with very old and close residences, the library, and the General Store.  We had planned to make this stop for years but we were always on the wrong schedule.  Most of our bike rides are on Sunday afternoons or evenings and the decision to drive through Middlebrook was occasional. Besides, the General Store is closed on Sundays.

Finally, today, the OPEN sign was lit.  Upon entering the store, we were somewhat transported to a past era. Worn, wood floors drew us further inside. Antiques peppered the establishment.  Two of the four tables were occupied by local farmers enjoying a lunch off tractor.  The store was quiet and mellow.  Overhearing how bad the hay crop is, I could completely relate.  We, too, have been under drought conditions most of the summer.  Our pastures dry and grass not growing.  I felt welcomed and at home and hungry.


Glenn and I both decided on the roast beef sandwich with chips - the special for the day.  This was our Anniversary fête.  I was satisfied both in spirit and in stomach. Not only am I a cheap date, but small things make me happy.  Lunch in this little General Store made me happy.

Check out the table cloth...repurposed plastic feed sacks...ain't they cute? I reuse our old feedsacks for garbage bags.  I guess I should rethink my recycling efforts. 

Anniversary festivity was over. The day was gorgeous. We headed back home.


Once we were home, it was back to work. First, we drove over to Becky’s to load our oldest bull and bring him back to the main farm.


Our newest bull, recently purchased in Missouri and trailered back by Glenn, tore a ligament in his rear leg.  The vet called it ‘blowing his knee out’ and ending his usefulness.  The bull, too recent a farm addition to even name,  had only been with the cows, for breeding purposes, for three weeks time and probably not long enough to have bred them all.  We quickly delivered the bull to the stockyard while he was still able to walk; thus, we were still able to sell him.  We recouped a bit of the purchase price, but not all and certainly not the cost of the trip to drive out and back to Missouri.  I have said it before and I will say it again…ain’t farming grand! 


We had a young and inexperienced bull as back-up.  Now, this youngster became top bull for a bit.


But, feeling that the youngster might be a bit inadequate for the job at hand, we brought ‘son of Little Red’ back to finish the breeding of the main herd.


Before unloading ‘son of Little Red’ off the trailer, we had to move the herd into a fresh pasture with the sheep.  Once that task was accomplished, the door to the trailer was opened and ‘son’ slowly stepped out of the trailer.  He ate some grass and strolled around before catching the scent of the herd.  He let out several long and loud bellows as he raced down the hill, trampling several small trees in his path, to meet up with the cattle.  Within seconds, he was checking out the cows and preparing himself for his job.  He was feeling happy, too!


Now, we are off to find Avalanche, our sheep guard dog, and feed her dinner.  She seems to have vanished when she saw the big guy arrive.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

If It's Wednesday

Today is Wednesday.  And, Wednesday is the day daughter Becky chose to be a vendor at the local Farmers Market in Staunton, Virginia.  Staunton’s Saturday Farmers Market is busier and better attended by both vendors and shoppers, but Becky wanted to start slow as this was her first experience as a vendor of self-produced, natural meats which include beef, pork and lamb. 


Becky use to sell pastured eggs too until recently when one night her entire flock of 50 laying hens was massacred by a predator who found a small opening into her mobile chicken enclosure (chicken tractor). The next morning Becky discovered all 50 carcasses lying still within their protective (?) confine. Unfortunately, no chickens…no eggs.


Ahhh…such is the life of a farmer… living the dream.


I, her Mother, go along to help (sometimes hinder) as much as possible.  After all, I regularly rise at 5:00 AM in the morning to begin my day. Why not put my early rise on Wednesday mornings to good use?


Becky quickly realized, on along Wednesday number two of the season,  that the Wednesday market is too slow.  But, she was already assigned to the Wednesday option.


The weekly revenue is not nearly as much as she expected to earn.  When preparation time, driving time, set-up time, selling time, clean-up time and unloading time is factored, the income received is close to pitiful; so much for trying to provide locally-raised, healthy, natural meats at a fair price.


But, there is an upside.


The people on the other side of the selling table, the purchasers, and the people next to our table, the other vendors, are fabulous.  Friendly, interested, informative, helpful, caring and supportive are just a few poignant adjectives.


Do these wonderful people make up for a meager bottom-line?  In a way…YES! 


But, surviving ‘in the black’ and more typically ‘in the red’ for many small farmers is a challenge not only to themselves, but as in my daughter’s case, to the animals she raises. 


Again, I repeat…she is living the dream as are the other vendors.


Wednesday regular vendors/farmers include:  Elizabeth and her fresh veggies;  Sarah and her mélange of plants,  vegetable oddities, flowers and more;  John and his herb bedding plants and aromatic dried herbs; Amanda and her vegetables and amazing baked goods; John and Gloria (with the cutest little kids in tow) preparing onsite an El Salvador favorite - meat/cheese/bean and/or veggie pupusas and my favorite, the Ensalada, a refreshing juice drink spiked with fresh fruit and mint (Wednesday would not be Wednesday without my purchase of this flavorful drink); Jose offering both flower and vegetable bedding plants along with seasonal  fruits and vegetables;  and of course, Becky with her meat offerings of pork, lamb and 100% grass-fed beef.   A few other vendors complete the line-up on a more sporadic time frame.


Check out each vendor. 

Elizabeth enticing Becky into buying some fresh vegetables.

 A picture is worth a thousand words...starting with colorful, flavorful and 'just picked' freshness. Yummy...take a bite!


Sarah and what I call 'her oddities'.  Go ahead...experiment!

John, the HERB man a.k.a. the Wednesday Market Manager
You don't have to be a good cook to enjoy these dried and oh, so very aromatic and so very flavorful herbs.  These niffy jars make great gifts, too! 
Amanda making some last minute display changes as market is getting ready to open.

Home baked goods - eat them now, or later, if they last longer than the trip home.

The grill is heating and almost ready for the start of pupusa making - tasty pockets filled with meat, beans, cheese or vegetables - try all for a super flavorful mouthful. are just going to have to come to the market to try these delicious favorites of the regular market patrons. You, too, will become a repeat customer.  And, John and Gloria provide seating for your convenience. They thought of everything including 'take-away' containers.

My Favorite - I purchase a serving of this refreshing drink every Wednesday - I'm addicted.
More ripe and ready to eat can never have enough tomatoes and Jose has a great selection.

Becky's Barnyard - it is difficult to display frozen meat (stored in the freezer just behind Becky) so she hopes the signage helps inform the public as to what farm products she is actually selling.

Sandwich sign near the road side advertising some of her meat offerings
If you are looking for fresh and tasty food, don’t miss next Wednesday’s Staunton Farmers Market which is located in the downtown Wharf Public Parking area starting at around 7:00 AM and ending between 12:30/1:00 PM, depending on the current crowd numbers, through the end of October.  Plan to arrive early for the best picks. And,
Happy Eating!