Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Proof I've had a productive time to update blog!

So yep, it's been a good & productive summer overall. Except, of course, for the whole awful "heat" issue that seems to accompany every summer, turning what would otherwise be an enjoyable time of year into sweaty, sticky misery. I'm learning to take the good with the bad....despite feeling like a suffocating Butterball turkey from June-August, summer is admittedly the best time of year to be productive. (That's one a-them there "lessons from the farm" I'd have to say...."making hay while the sun shines"...and that sort of thing).

There have been a lot of "firsts" this year. First time raising poultry (chickens and quail). First garden & flowerbed. First time home-canning veggies. First set of hunting dogs (Pointers) started & sold on my own. First of "my" started pups sold at the kennel. First "real" hunting dog purchased for myself with the proceeds from the sale of the Pointers and the started pup. With the progress I've made this year, next year promises to bring even more "firsts" plus I'll be able to build on the work I've done & things I've learned this year.

Here's a rundown of the summer's highlights:
Chickens: Easier than I thought it would be; and more fun than I'd hoped it would be! Three roosters, 20+ hens, and four female ducks have made it to maturity. 3 accidental deaths, one mysterious disappearing duck....but otherwise, all the other birds are thriving. The roosters are quite vocal and good at announcing the presence of anything "unusual"....and the pen is far enough away from the house that I can truly enjoy the crowing as a pleasant "ambient farm noise" addition.

The hens & ducks began laying eggs in early August, just in time for my mom's first wonderful visit to our humble home! She enjoyed collecting eggs and I enjoyed sharing the experience with her. Our refrigerator is now OVERFLOWING with eggs even with Fred eating plenty and us keeping our favorite dog-training neighbors in constant supply. Our so-called "Easter Egger" chickens are defective, laying brown eggs instead of blue ones. I knew blue eggs weren't a guarantee since EE's are "mutt" chickens, but I'd hoped for at least one or two hens with the blue egg gene. Oh well, all the eggs taste the same anyhow.

Quail: First hard lesson learned- QUAIL AREN'T CHICKENS. They're wild (Bobwhite) flighted birds that'll escape all but the most secure enclosure. Don't be lazy, don't skimp, don't assume an enclosure is "good enough" without going over it with a fine-toothed comb. QUAIL-PROOF YOUR QUAIL HOUSE, THEN PROOF IT AGAIN. I lost 15 quail (at $5.50 a bird!) because I was lazy and failed to Think Things Through Thoroughly.

Once I got past that bump-in-the-road, however, I've had no major problems. I even managed to raise a batch of hatchlings to maturity with a 60% survival rate (60 out of 100); which is about average according to some breeders I've talked to. Even accounting for feed costs, raising the hatchlings ended up being cheaper overall than buying mature birds from breeders. The hatchling success & cost savings has even sparked an interest from the trainer I work for; it sounds like we'll have a joint-effort at raising a huge batch of hatchlings next year?

Gardening: An excellent exercise in patience...something I've truly appreciated since patience has never been one of my strong points. Lots of initial hard work; interim maintenance (weeding & fertilizing) not so difficult, overall a satisfying reward in the end!

Lettuce was a waste of time- it bolted & went to seed in the heat before I even got a 2nd bowl to eat. My watermelons grew nicely but have all been attacked by a mysterious garden pest- golf-ball sized holes gnawed in one side and the melon eaten hollow, always before they're ripe! Has to be some kind of critter with "teeth"...there are definite teeth marks....Rabbit? Squirrel? Who knows, but I think a fence is in order next year. My tomatoes were ALMOST a failure, but have finally produced some scraggly-looking fruits that are finally ripening, not even a month before the first usual frost date. Next year I'll spring for the more expensive, "older" plants like my neighbor did....they'll have gotten 3-4 pickings off of their plants by the end of the season!

Peppers, zucchini and cucumber were a big success- but then, they're easy to grow in this region. I especially liked the organic "lemon cucumbers" I tried. They're weird looking but DELICIOUS. Definitely a repeat for next year. My purple cabbage has put forth a good effort, but it's nearing the end of the season and the heads aren't even close to the size you'd buy in the grocery store. Not sure if I'll bother with it again; we'll see. Corn and pumpkin seeds were planted, but never took hold- the resident "13 Lined Ground Squirrels" ate all the seeds. Again, a fence & some good "critter repellent" are in order next year to keep them at bay. Same critter ate most of my sunflower seeds; fortunately ONE giant sunflower made it through and is currently towering a good 7 feet over my propane tank with a full head of seeds. Most will be eaten; about 1/4 will be dried for planting next spring.

As far as my "FLOWER GARDEN"....well, there was a bit of a learning curve for this Florida girl to TRULY understand the difference between an "annual" and a "perennial". In Florida, virtually EVERYTHING is a "perennial" (with a few exceptions, mostly plants that need coddling if it freezes, or whatever). The concept of "re-planting" something every year was foreign to me. And when I moved to SD, the fact that people here ACTUALLY BOTHER TO PLANT ANNUALS AND RE-PLANT THEM YEARLY was so mind-boggling, that it took a month or two to REALLY sink in! I hit this year's first nursery sale with the assumption that most flowers sold in this area would be "region appropriate" perennials since I couldn't IMAGINE anyone wanting to re-plant a whole flowerbed every year. I eagerly snapped up a bunch of shade-friendly Impatiens- a popular landscape plant in Florida....and it wasn't until I'd spent HOURS digging a bunch of tiny holes for tiny plants that I realized THEY WOULD ALL DIE in about 8 months. Frustrating- and insane that people ACTUALLY do re-plant yearly up here! Later in the summer I planted a couple of Hostas, one of the few shade-friendly perennials for this area- I think that'll be my focus next year, lining the front of the house with more Hostas.

Perennials are DEFINITELY the way to go- I don't mind re-planting a veggie garden, obviously, but flowers are basically useless & they ought to be able to handle themselves, dammit!

Dog training: In late Spring I got two young Pointers from a breeder in Texas with the intent to start them on birds & re-sell them before hunting season. Knew the genetic potential was there, but for various reasons I won't go into here, they just hadn't had the TIME put into them that they needed- and in all reality, at around 1 year of age they were past the "prime" puppyhood stage to introduce birds & field work. Got a heck of a cheap deal on the dogs for this reason, figured "worst case scenario" if they didn't work out I'd find them a pet home & chalk it up to "learning experience". But fortunately the outcome was as good as I could have hoped for!

Took about 3-4 months to get them from overwhelmed, timid dogs who didn't point.....into eager-hunting started dogs with steady points, acclimated to gunfire & started on retrieve. Didn't take long to find a local buyer who was looking for started dogs & was more than satisfied with their apparent ability. Made a good profit on the whole endeavor even accounting for feed costs & vetting. Officially the first two dogs I've trained & sold that were 100% "MY OWN"....though obviously I'd never have been able to do ANY of it if not for the help of my mentor. Easily the highlight of the year as far as my progress as a trainer is concerned.

Furthermore, at the kennel, this year has presented me with a wide variety of valuable learning experiences with a wide variety of dogs- different breeds, different ages, different problems, etc. The client dogs that have come in for training this year have run the gamut from an overdriven, undersocialized, hard-headed Drahthaar to a mellow, soft-tempered Doodle-mix adolescent pup, and everything in between. The resident pups we started last year are all now around 12-16 months of age; all of them with their own individual quirks, strengths and weaknesses. If nothing else these pups have taught me to be very patient, and judge each dog on its individual merits, rather than making comparisons. Some pups "turn on" early, others mature late and end up outshining the early-maturing pup you thought surely would be the best of the bunch. And even with adult dogs, I'm finding it's important NOT to make "snap" judgements based on a first impression- but rather to give the dog TIME to show what he's capable of. Many dogs will suprise you if you give them a chance.

I'm normally at the kennel 7 days a week, give or take an occasional day with other plans or bad weather. And while there is another trainer employed who is primarily responsible for working with the client dogs, I've been given plenty of hands-on time with them to "supplement" the work being done. Nobody's sending me out unsupervised with guns and E-collars yet, but the fact that I've been allowed to do basic obedience & field work with client dogs shows that they trust me not to screw up the simple stuff, at the very least LOL.

Speaking of dogs, there is a NEW RESIDENT here at the Cattledog Manifesto Headquarters. "Ellie" is a 14 month old started Brittany. Excellent bloodlines, works extremely well in the field, has been hunted with before. The opportunity to buy her was too good to pass up. Ellie hasn't even been here a full month, but she is fitting in well, even with Chloe, Ms. I-Want-To-Beat-Up-Everything-On-Four-Legs. I think Ellie deserves her own blog post though, when I have time (and when I've gotten some better photos of her!) More details to come, stay tuned (and be patient, the busy season hasn't even hit yet!)