Spring has sprung in Tennessee, and our little farm is full of critters – some welcome, some not. We’ll start with the “not” variety.
As I discovered recently after spending an afternoon helping Chareva fence off the back yard to keep the puppies corralled, we have ticks on our land. Lots of them. I didn’t notice any while working in the yard, but later that night, as I was sitting at the computer answering blog comments, I felt something akin to a pinprick in my armpit. I couldn’t think of anything positive that would produce that sensation, so I pulled off my shirt and went to the bathroom mirror to investigate. There was a tick, digging in.
Chareva later found a couple of them digging into her as well, and we’ve pulled several off the puppies in the past week. We do, however, have a plan for reducing the tick population. More on that later.
We’ve also had several mice take up residence somewhere in the house. I heard scratching behind the walls now and then and figured it was one mouse, maybe two. We tried setting “humane” traps, but they turned out to be so humane, all we were doing was feeding the mice with whatever bait we put inside. Once Chareva started finding mouse poop inside her kitchen cabinets and drawers (which meant pulling out all the dishes and washing them), she agreed it was time to go lethal.
That was six mousetraps ago. Yes, six. I set a fresh trap late Saturday night, sat down to watch a movie, and heard a THWAP! in the kitchen about 15 minutes later. After disposing of the mouse, I set another one. Another half-hour later, THWAP! So I set another one before bed. Chareva disposed of that one this morning. I hope that’s the end of the slaughter, but we’ll keep setting traps until they stop springing.
The most unwelcome critters of all (to me, at least) are the wasps. They seemed to show up all at once, as if they flew north for the summer on the first warm day. They haven’t built luxury condos in the attic like they did when the previous owner was living here and letting everything go to pot, but they’re constantly buzzing around, looking for a way in. Last weekend, we killed three of them inside the house – two in Chareva’s office, one in the sunroom.
I thought at first we were seeing a lot of wasps simply because we live in the boonies, but I’ve since noticed them flying around no matter where we go. Last week two of them were crawling on the hood of my car when I left my office building in downtown Nashville. When I was parked at a Kroger yesterday, a wasp landed on my side-view mirror and then bounced against the window a couple of times — probably just to watch me jump.
Those of you who read my other blog already know I have a history of run-ins with wasps — two of which led to what are known as the “scream like a girl” incidents in family lore. I hate wasps more than any critter on earth. While we have plans to rid ourselves of other insects with natural methods, I don’t mess around with wasps — I resort to chemical warfare. I’d napalm the little @#$%ers if it wouldn’t screw up our gardens and pastures. Since that’s not an option, we keep a can of RAID handy as our shotgun and a bigger can of Wasp & Hornet spray handy as our cannon.
The first time Chareva went after a wasp with the RAID, she gave it a little spritz and then seemed surprised when the wasp flew away. I stood nearby, shaking my head and wearing my best grizzled-veteran expression, and said (in a voice reminiscent of Nick Nolte), “Darling, you don’t plunk a wasp. That just makes them mad. You have to blast them. Don’t stop spraying until the wasp hits the ground.”
Chareva has been planning for some time to turn our small barn into a chicken coop. Last weekend while I was playing a round of disc golf, I landed a disc near that barn and went to fetch it … then noticed at least a dozen wasps milling around on one side, with more flying in and out. I tiptoed up to the disc as if being quiet would prevent the wasps from noticing me. I also allowed myself to step well away from the barn for my next shot without taking a penalty stroke, figuring no one should have to risk stirring up a dozen wasps just to play by the rules.
(“Mr. Naughton, the bad news is that you’re extremely swollen and it took the paramedics 20 minutes to revive you. The good news is that you made par on the sixth hole.”)
I warned Chareva that we’d need to bug-bomb that barn before she started working on it. She did, wisely choosing a chilly morning when the wasps were docile. Then she got to work on the barn … which brings us to the critters we’re happy to have.
Some weeks ago, Chareva bought 10 little chicks, which up until now she’s been raising in a trough in the basement. Five are Ameraucanas, which lay blue-green eggs, and five are Buff Orpingtons, which lay brown eggs. If all goes well, we’ll be plucking farm-fresh eggs from the chicken coop around September.
Meanwhile, Chareva has been busy starting her vegetable garden in little trays in the basement, building raised beds (and filling them with stuff that doesn’t smell very good) and constructing a fence around her future vegetable garden in one of the front pastures. The bench you see in the picture below is there so she can take breaks while working. The Beware of Dog sign is there because it was already attached to the gate. As much as possible, Chareva has been re-purposing whatever the previous owner left behind – and she left behind rather a lot.
Chareva hasn’t been working out at the gym lately, but she hasn’t needed to. Pretty much all the farm work she’s been doing is physically demanding. While I’ve been sitting in a cubicle programming software all week, she’s been dragging around 100-pound rolls of wire, hefting bags of topsoil, digging trenches, and pounding t-posts into the ground with a t-post hammer. I’ve used that hammer as well, and trust me, it’s heavy. By the time you pound in a few t-posts with it, your triceps have gotten a good workout. Chareva’s as lean as ever, but her arms are like steel bands. If she weren’t so sweet, I’d be a little bit afraid of her.
She finished fencing off the area around the chicken coop on Saturday, so on Sunday she announced it was time to move the chicks outside. Everyone got into the act, as you can see from the pictures below. If memory serves, it was the first time in my 53 years on earth I ever picked up a chicken in my hands … er, gloved hands.
Once the chicks were all in the coop, we dumped the chicken poop remaining in the trough on top of the other smelly stuff in the garden. The farm is mostly Chareva’s project, so she’s been doing a lot of reading up to educate herself. The one lesson I’ve learned so far is that there’s a lot of poop involved in farming.
The chickens are gone from our basement, but they’ve been replaced by these critters: Guinea fowl. Ten of them.
I must admit, I had never heard of guinea fowl until Chareva told me we needed to get some of them. “Why?” I asked. “Do they lay eggs?” Yes, she explained, but that’s not why we want them. We want guinea fowl on the land because they’re bug-eating machines. They devour ticks, roaches, bugs that invade your garden … they’ll even attack and eat wasps.
(They’ll go after wasps?! Okay, that’s all I needed to know. I didn’t think any critter would take on a wasp.)
From what I read online later, guinea fowl are very tough, protective of chickens, and will surround and kill snakes and other predators that get near the coop.
(Yes, yes, very nice … just to confirm, did you say they’ll KILL WASPS? Seriously, that’s all I needed to know.)
So thanks mostly to Chareva’s efforts, the farm is starting to feel like a farm, complete with farm critters. We even had some uninvited (but welcome) guests show up yesterday in our back pasture.
Speaking of critters, Coco and Misha – our ferocious guard dogs – are growing quickly on their raw-meat diet and are already looking less like puppies and more like dogs. They’ve even starting producing deep-throated barks instead of puppy yaps. It won’t be too long before they’re patrolling the land and (we hope) keeping predators away from the chickens.
My other little critters – Sara and Alana – seem to be enjoying life on a mini-farm immensely. They’re crazy about Coco and Misha and are fascinated with the chicks. When we returned home yesterday after running some errands, they bolted from the van and ran to the chicken coop to watch the chickens. This will be a great place for them to grow up.
For my part, I’m looking forward to cracking some of those blue-green eggs into a frying pan.