The Farm Report: Critters, Critters Everywhere

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.


72 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Critters, Critters Everywhere

  1. Drew @ WIllpower Is For Fat People

    … regular and thorough tick checks.

    Hold still honey … still looking … stiiiillllll looking …

    Oh, and instead of a small cow have you thought about a goat? Mmmm, feta.

    A goat is a possibility too, although I’ve heard they’ll chew up anything they can reach.

  2. Susan

    You say you have turkeys coming on to the farm? What ever you do, DO NOT FEED THE TURKEYS!!!!! Unless, of course, you want literally a large flock pooping on everything that they can roost on. This would include your front porch; and it is rather large deposits that they make. The babies are sure cute though. 🙂

    I won’t feed them, but I may decide to thin the flock come Thanksgiving.

  3. Lepoth

    The farm is looking better and better!

    Just make sure you don’t have too many people over at once…

    Here’s how it works in the minds of government officials: If you have 25 relatives over for a big Thanksgiving dinner, you can be trusted not to serve a meal that will kill them. However, if you have 25 customers over for a big dinner, the only thing that prevents you from poisoning the lot of them with spoiled food is a slew of government regulations that must be followed.

    So if we have a big Fat Head party on the farm someday, it’ll have to be free of charge.

  4. Dan Hall

    My ex, who either freezes in fear or runs screaming at the sight of any insect, stumbled on this today. I doubt she’ll be able to sleep well tonight.

    Heck, it might just get me to run away screaming.

    If I see one of those flying around, I’ll not only scream like a girl, I won’t leave the house until an exterminator assures me they’re all gone.

  5. Matt Eggleston

    Chickens are big eating machines too, and you won’t believe the good flavor all that protein and fat gives to the eggs and meat.

    Also, a spritz of Raid will kill a wasp, just not fast enough for me! Wasps and ticks are two biggies that make me want to get an armband with “WWGT?” (What was God Thinking?) on it.

    I want the wasp dead ASAP, before it has time to counter-attack.

  6. cTo

    OMG, the chicks are sooo adorable 😀 Reminds me of raising chicks when I was a kid. Your girls will LOOOVE them!

    They already do.

  7. Carrie M

    Tom, I’d like to recommend food grade ditomaceous earth (DE) for the bugs (including the ticks!). Make sure it’s food grade, not the “swimming pool” kind. 🙂 I’ve used it on my garden plants as well as for flea/tick prevention. I read today that a mix of 4 Tablespoons/gallon of water can be used to spray on wasps/other nasty bugs. It’ll dry them out without hurting the humans/fuzzy critters.

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll pass it on to the farm lady.

  8. hausfrau

    Guinea Hens are even more effective at devouring the tick population than chickens. They are’nt entirely domesticated and are avaricious foragers. They also will warn you about any strangers on your property. They have a particular warning call for strangers. Just an FYI if your new batch of hens doesn’t make enough of a dent in the tick plague.

    The guineas are our intended tick-eaters. They’ll have the run of the property, even though we know we may lose one now and then to predators. The chickens will be fenced in with movable fences.

  9. smgj

    Naaaw…! I’m green from envy. 🙂
    For the mice I’d recommend 1-2 cats. Not only do they hunt, but the presence also work, probably by smell.

    And DO report if the guinea fowl really reduces ticks… if that’s so I see guinea fowl in the future here in Norway as well.

    I’ll post updates.

  10. Katy

    This just landed in my inbox and I thought of you:

    The Keep Your Distance Bug Vacuum offered by Hammacher Schlemmer.

    You may have to modify to gain a bit more distance, or just give it to the girls to use for you:-)

    Does it have a 50-foot extender?

  11. Dan Moffett

    Thanks for the work you are doing. It has been a big help to me in my weight loss journey.
    I’ve lost 155 pounds in the past 24 months. My journey was brought about by the sudden death of my wife of 37 years from diet related causes.
    I knew that diets didn’t work so I set out to educate myself on health and nutrition. Your movie and web site were amount the great sites I’ve found.

    Because of my weight loss folks want to know HOW. I’ve put my story down in a blog. I include links to your movie, lectures and blog on my site.

    Thanks again and keep up the good work.

    Dan Moffett

    I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your wife, Dan. I can’t imagine what life would be like without Chareva.

    Keep it up with the blogging. We need the Wisdom of Crowds phenomenon working in our favor.

  12. Mike G

    Hi Tom,
    I just watched “Science for Smart People” and found it very informative and entertaining – so thank you! I just ordered the DVD, as well as “The Diet Debacle.” I’ve been using “Fat Head” as an instructional tool for a few years now in my biology classes. My students “get it,” but the adults around here do not. But I’ll continue to teach the actual science, using your DVD’s, and not let the adults (the nursing staff, athletic trainers, health teachers) get in the way.

    And I’m with you about the wasps! If I kill the “nesters” in early spring (with the big black Raid can), then we don’t have them the rest of the year.

    If I knew where the nests were, I’d do likewise.

  13. KRS

    You won’t need those “guard dogs” once the guinea-fowl get a little older. Guinea-fowl are the greatest alarm system you will ever find.

    I’ve heard that. But if a large predator comes around — two-legged or four-legged — I want large dogs on patrol.

  14. montanamomma

    Wen have a Buff Orpington rooster and he is the handsomest, mellowest rooster I have ever met (although if bothered, he will react appropriately). We also have one Buff Orpington hen who is such a good momma that she stole someone else’s egg and sat on it and hatched a chick that she raised herself. When we replace this current group of hens (mostly Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds), we may get all Buff Orpington chickens. The rooster is assured of a long and healthy life here.

  15. Osama Elmageid

    I just learned a lot of about chickens from this blog: Guinea fowls that can eat wasps. I’m glad you’re enjoying farm living, low carb style.

    A couple of days ago, I saw one of my rottweiler pups pounce on a wasp and eat it. I was waiting to hear the yelps of extreme pain, but nothing happened, so I think perhaps that wasp (which was parked on the patio and didn’t move during the pounce) was already dead.

  16. Cookie

    Not sure if you’ll get this but a great way to keep mice away is plant mint around your house. I have spearmint and peppermint, there are other varieties. Mice don’t like it. You can also use the oil indoors as a deterrent while the plants are growing. Peppermint oil smells great. Just put some on cotton balls and rub on doorways etc.

  17. Lindsay

    Hi Tom,
    I have a wasp killing trick that you might like. My brother made this when we were kids and would leave it on the patio so we would have less wasps near the picnic table and BBQ. To make it you need a bucket ( we used a 4L icecream bucket which means we ate 4L of icecream at one point :P) any relatively small bucket will do, nothing too deep, you may need to poke holes in it so the wire you add later will just skim the oil. You can even decorate it. Fill the bucket about an inch deep with canola oil [I imagine other heart healthy oils like corn oil would work too ;)]
    Then (this is the weird part) you take a hot dog and put a wire through it as if you were going to roast it at a camp fire. Add the hotdog wire to the bucket just skimming the oil and when those little guys fall for your bate and their wings touch the oil they will be stuck in the bucket!

    Amazingly the hotdog help up for about 6 years! At that point the oil was so full of bees we tossed it.

    I like it.


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