Bright Sunday for a visit

Members of the Ottawa Presbyterian Church, Ottawa, Ohio, spent a couple of their Bright Sunday (the Sunday after Easter) hours on The Quarry Farm. This was yesterday, one day before heavy rain, and the during the warmest, sunniest bit of the weekend. The cold winds settled and the sun shone upon their arrival at Red Fox Cabin.

The 25 or so adults and children were the first to join us after this long, harsh winter. They were also the first to visit after the final stretch of fence was strung, just the day before, around the farm animal sanctuary. The gates held Beatrice in, although she, Buddy, and the goats were waiting at the north gate to greet each and every outstretched hand.

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Winter news

2014 Winter NewslettercoverS'moreWith temperatures above 0°F and sun overhead, the visuals are breathtaking on the banks of Cranberry Run today.

Turkey track

Goat-tracked corridors criss-cross the upland sanctuary. Wild turkeys are on the move on the paths as these elusive birds forage in the floodplain and on the cover of the 2014 winter newsletter. Click of the cover to the left to read more.

Hope to see you under the stars later this month. Don’t forget to RSVP.

One pumpkin to go

Inigo and FezzikHours before predicted temperature drops, 25 m.p.h. wind gusts, rain, snow and sleet (sneet), Inigo and Fezzik are finishing off the last of a frost-softened pumpkin. Marsh (upper right) worked his way through the dregs of another inside the paddock. Beatrice is just out of the frame, strings of orange squash trailing from either side of her jaws.

NOAA tells us that this latest roller coaster ride in the weather is due sometime this evening. For now, the air is mild enough for the hens, geese and goats to forage, and for Jo to caw at them from her window.

They do know something is coming, though, without Internet access. The animals are connected to everything in a way that humans lost long ago. So we watch them dance across the browned grass as they snatch seeds and midges that hatched in the warmth of last night. This is one clue that cold and wet is on its way. Another is the very fact that Marsh is in the paddock and not lazing with the other goats under the pines. He is keeping close to the shelter of a warm donkey and an east-facing outer wall.

One pumpkin is in storage, so to speak, under the roof of the pavilion beside Red Fox Cabin. That will be a treat to put out when the weather breaks on Sunday. That’s what the National Weather Service predicts, anyway. We’ll watch the animals on Saturday and let them make the final call.

You don’t have to be a star (but it’s really fun)

The new greenhouse north of Red Fox Cabin was of interest to the Owens class as they are considering one of this size for a butterfly house.

The new greenhouse north of Red Fox Cabin was of interest to the Owens class as they are considering one of this size for a butterfly house.

Been awhile, but with good cause. Seems as though weekly (or biweekly) posts may be the new norm of spring at the Quarry Farm.

On May 29, seven people from Owens Community College, Toledo Campus, drove down I-75 and made their way here, despite the Road 7L sign being missing from the turn off State Route 12. Jeannie Wiley Wolf, Findlay Courier reporter, almost didn’t find us to do an interview for an article that appeared in that newspaper on May 28. Steve says the sign mysteriously disappeared some time ago. Anyway, Owens’ Associate Professor Joanne Roehrs got the van here.

Owens2The students are working to obtain the Urban Agriculture and Sustainability Certificate, a new offering at Owens. All of them have sweat-equity in the urban community gardens in Toledo, especially in the Robert J. Anderson Agriculture Training Center and greenhouses (900 Oneida Street; Toledo, OH 43608) which are projects of Toledo GROWs, the community gardening outreach program of Toledo Botanical Garden. The Anderson Center is used as an educational forum for Owens Community College students who are studying urban agriculture. The Center is also an open-air classroom where under-privileged youth are educated on growing sustainable nourishment.

While on the Quarry, Roehrs and her Livestock Animal Husbandry students focused on the organic gardening projects, the wild bee boxes and the farm animal sanctuary. They study beekeeping through the hives at the Anderson Center. We were able to tell them what not to do with bees, from firsthand experience, and of plans for new bees in 2014. Beatrice of the whirligig tail was our model sanctuary adoption success story as she greeted all with charming, intelligent porcine loveliness.

If you are, or know of someone who is looking at new, relevant career option investment, this is a program to explore: http://catalog.owens.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=3&poid=634&returnto=158

From that point until 11:59 a.m. on June 6, preparations were made for the arrival and tour of 90 individuals, mostly K-8 graders, from Columbus Grove Local Schools’ after-school summer program. For coverage of that Quarry Farm landmark event, I’ll let the press do the talking. Diane Myer of Black Swamp Raptor Rehabilitation Center, Stacey Cook of Hometown Station WLIO, Nancy Kline of the Voice and Alex Woodring of the Putnam County Sentinel, volunteers Cathy, Shannon, Jonelle, Brendon, Cherie and Dakota, you all wear superhero capes. As long as the links hold, here’s the news from June 6:

Putnam County Sentinel: http://putnamsentinel.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=15695

The Lima News/Putnam Voice: http://www.limaohio.com/news/putnam_county/article_8053fd5a-cf9d-11e2-807c-0019bb30f31a.html
plus photo gallery: http://limanews.mycapture.com/mycapture/enlarge.asp?image=47607266&event=1665851&CategoryID=65761

Couldn’t ask for more. Maybe sleep. But that’s OK, more than OK. As WLIO’s anchor Jeff Fitzgerald noted, “They say it should  be shared.” And we do.

Snow Day

This morning, bands of clouds the color of dust stretched from the horizon to the sky. I know that sounds strange: of course the clouds stretched to the sky. What I mean to say is that the clouds didn’t lay horizontally across the heavens. No. Instead they seemed to start at some point on the horizon and launch themselves into space, like rocket trails or streamers of toilet paper. And when I say that they were the color of dust, I don’t mean gray. They were more beige with a little bit of peach thrown in, somewhere between a very light brown and red. And even though they weren’t red, I couldn’t help but think, “Red sky in morning, sailor take warning.”

As it turns out, that was more than a little melodramatic. But even so, the day had its moments. Every little bit a snow squall would blow through with heavy flakes swirling about making it hard to see, or with small, hard, almost-pellets of snow that would sting your face and hands. And it’s been cold, and growing colder as the day progresses. Thankfully, we held our Backyard Bird Count event (and more about that tomorrow) before the worst of it rolled in. Short, hard snowfalls offer interesting opportunities photographically, so we decided to take a few shots of the animals that live close to the house. These, then, also give us the chance to relate an anecdote or two, to introduce you to some of the animals that live here.

So. Here we go.

Gigi

Gigi

Gigi and Louise are two of four geese that live here on The Quarry Farm. Anne brought them home from Van Buren State Park near Findlay. She was there to give a presentation on water quality and macroinvertebrates about a year and a half ago when the naturalist who organized the event, Natalie Rossman Miller, conscripted Anne in an effort to trap two geese that were dumped at the park. Suffice it to say that, ultimately, they were successful, and Anne brought them here. Gigi is an Embden goose and, despite the name, entirely male (we’re not great at sexing birds at a distance; we once named a rooster Miss Kitty). Louise is an African goose and very much female.

Louise

Louise

These two, along with Henry, the other female goose (I know, I know) on the property, serve as our early warning system. On those occasions when the mail carrier has a package to bring to the house, or American Electric Power has come to read the meter, or someone has simply come to visit, these three make enough noise so that, even in the house we know that we have guests. And if we’re being completely honest, they make enough noise so that our neighbors a quarter of a mile away know that we have guests.

While we’re on the subject of geese, here’s Johnny. Johnny is a Canada goose. He was found oiled in Lima, Ohio. A local veterinarian took him on, cleaned him up and treated him for about a month before calling Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. Over the course of that time, Johnny imprinted on humans.

Johnny

Johnny

In addition to that setback, Johnny also has a congenital wing defect; his left wrist never developed properly and consequently the end of his wing protrudes at a right angle to the rest of his body, precluding any possibility of flight. In Johnny’s plus column, however, is one of the sweetest dispositions of any animal, anywhere. This bird just doesn’t know the meaning of ill-tempered. When we pull into the drive, he greets us with a honk characteristic of all Canada geese, then rises up and beats his wings.

Little Red

Little Red

Nearly a month ago, we were provided with the opportunity to expand our flock of chickens.  A local farmer received an unexpected bonus shipment of pullets that increased his flock beyond his capacity to safely maintain. We took on fourteen of the hens, the most the farmer would allow us to acquire. In the overcrowded conditions to which the birds were temporarily subjected, they inflicted no small degree of damage to one another. Feathers were pulled loose until many of the birds were half-plucked. Their skin was raw and sore and, in some cases, infected. Despite our best efforts, four of the hens died. But, being the kind of people who believe that the glass is half full, ten survived and are thriving. One of them, a Rhode Island Red, is particularly friendly. She’s the first to bound out of the coop each morning and will run across the yard to greet us when we arrive back home. We call her Little Red.

(from left) Buddy, Marsh and S'more

(from left) Buddy, Marsh and S’more

Finally, at least for the purposes of this post, there are the boys: Buddy, Marsh and S’more. Marsh and S’more, two Nigerian Dwarf goats, came to us first, arriving in July of 2o11. They came to us from a family in Cincinnati. Although the family loved them their two large dogs didn’t and made life miserable for the brothers. In seeking a home for them, they contacted the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and through them, us. Buddy, a miniature donkey, came from closer to home. A Putnam County couple kept Buddy as a companion for their horse. When it became too difficult for them to continue caring for the horse, they found it a new home. Sadly, the people who took the horse weren’t interested in Buddy. According to his old family, without companionship, Buddy began to waste away. They contacted us and Marsh and S’more became Buddy’s new buddies. And while they get along phenomenally, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have issues. Jonelle Meyer, a young woman who volunteers here at The Quarry Farm, recently told us of one such incident. As she was currying Buddy, the goats kept wandering up looking for attention. Buddy grew increasingly impatient with this until finally, when S’more refused to take the hint, he reached out, took the brush from Jonelle’s hand, smacked S’more in the face with the brush, then returned it to Jonelle so she could get back to what was really important: taking care of him.

Three Goats, Two Humans and the Very Small Car

Goat CarFive years ago, while bringing Anne home from a stint on the EPA  vessel Lake Guardian, her car, a seven year old Toyota we bought used to begin with, gave up the ghost in dramatic fashion. As we came into Findlay from the east, the car gave a thump and a shudder and began belching thick, black smoke.

We limped into town and into the first car dealership we came to, then walked the roughly half-of-a-mile down to a second, having seen nothing we were interested in at the first. There Anne spotted a Scion xA and almost immediately fell in love. We had her old Toyota towed to the dealership and used it as a downpayment on what she now fondly refers to as her “little rollerskate.” If you’re unfamiliar with the xAs, they’re a smaller version of the current xD and similar in shape to the Honda Fit. In short, they’re microSUVs.

We’ve hauled just about everything in that little car: hawks, falcons, vultures, pigs, dogs, cats, ducks, geese, foxes, opossums, crows, owls over a dozen species of songbird, 55 gallon aquariums, bales of hay and straw and the list goes on. Most recently, Anne’s Little Rollerskate faced what we thought would be its greatest challenge: three pygmy goats.

Willow

Willow

We’ve talked for years about maintaining a small herd of dairy goats, but the closest we’ve come are Marsh and S’more, the two Nigerian Dwarf wethers that have lived on The Quarry Farm for nearly three years now. So, when we were told about these three goats, an intact buck and two does, we contacted the woman with whom they lived. As with so many others, the recession had hit her hard. Having been without work for months and still recovering from a necessary surgery nearly a year ago, she found herself without the means to care for her herd of goats. Most went to a local farm (she lives in Rootstown, south of Ravenna in eastern Ohio), but she was left with these three until she contacted The Quarry Farm.

Alaura

Elora

It was a miserable day for a drive when we left Putnam County. There was just enough snow to make the roads treacherous and it took nearly four hours to make a trip that should have taken only three. Add to that some skepticism on my part that we’d be able to fit three adult goats and ourselves in Anne’s little subcompact and it made for a tense trip.

As it turns out, I should have left my doubts at home.

Martigan

Once we arrived at our destination, we were delighted to discover that the goats were even smaller than we’d imagined. The older doe and the buck, Willow and Madmartigan respectively, stand no taller than eighteen inches at the shoulder, while Elora, the younger doe, is even smaller. Even with a full set of horns, horns that we initially padded turban-like with a towel, Madmartigan could easily stand up straight in the car, and all three were able to move freely around the cargo compartment.

Martigan Home

Martigan

The ride home was uneventful and we introduced all three to their new living quarters. Now they’re permanent members of The Quarry Farm family. And you’re all welcome to come and visit them and the rest of the facility. Just give us a call. We’ll be happy to show you around.

NOTE: Before anyone tells us that we have the wrong kind of goats for milking, we know. The animals that live here on the conservation farm of The Quarry Farm are here because, in almost all cases, they had nowhere else to go and we could offer them a home. Most do carry their weight: goats eat invasive plants, chickens give us eggs, Buddy and the geese guard the property, etc. The pygmies will make it possible for school groups and other visitors to see goats being milked. And we’ll have goat milk.

So. Routines.

Routines. We’re governed by them. The side of the bed we sleep on, the way we rise in the morning, break our fast, brush our teeth, the routes we take to work, slog through the day, reverse the route to work back home, eat our meals, play our games, relax, watch television, listen to music, then climb back into bed. Routines are comfortable. Routines are safe.

But they tend to engender complacency.

And then, all hell breaks loose.

BuddyHere’s a tidbit of information you may or may not know about The Quarry Farm: we practice a pretty rigid little bit of gender segregation where the outside farm animals are concerned. The girls, mostly the hens, live in their coop and are allowed free range of the property, at least the domesticated part of the property. The boys (and by “the boys” I mean Buddy, the miniature donkey, Marsh and S’more, the Nigerian dwarf goats, and Jeff, Ralph and Bernie, three production red roosters) live in a fenced-in paddock on the north side of the property. We keep them contained because Buddy, Marsh and S’more are always up for a short road trip (something the neighbors don’t always appreciate) and because the roosters are, well, roosters. Not only are their affections not always welcomed by the hens, they tend to get a little protective, a little aggressive toward anyone who gets near “their” girls. So there’s a fence. Think of it as a very large, communal chastity belt.

So. Routines.

In the evenings, as the sun begins to set, we work the property: the hens are enticed back to the coop, the duck and the geese are, likewise, encouraged into their shelters and the boys get a little more food, just a little bit of something to tide them over until morning. Yesterday, as we started our evening routine, Marsh and S’more were outside the paddock, roaming the property. While not the ideal situation and not how every day plays out, it’s not unusual for them to go over the wire. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again and there’s a routine for dealing with this, as well. Rather than tend to the chickens before visiting the paddock, the boys get their evening snack first. After all, the girls won’t go in with Marsh and S’more leaping in and out of their coop so we have to lure the boys back to the paddock. We trundle out a flake or two of hay and the boys trot along with us, occasionally rearing up and butting heads and practicing all of the other endearing behaviors that make goats such interesting animals.

GoatsEverything was going along according to routine: we had the hay and the goats had gamboled along with us back to the paddock and had run on in when the gate was opened. We carried the hay in, spread it out in their shelter and stepped back. Typically, Buddy will wade in at this point and control the feedlot. Typically. And here’s where complacency leaps up and bites: when you add a vowel and the typicalbecomes atypical. Because Buddy’s behavior is so uniform, so predictable, we’re sometimes careless about the gate. So, even as the goats were jumping to their meal, Buddy bee-lined over, pushed on by and out the open gate behind us.

Understand this: Buddy on the loose is a joy to behold and the epitome of frustration. He will trot by within hand’s reach, head high, ears back and then stop to crop grass, waiting until you’re certain he’s going to let you catch him up before taking to his hooves and trotting just out of reach. Watching him, you’ll swear he’s laughing as he passes by, nudging you in the process. And he can do this for hours, leading you on a merry chase across the property and beyond.

Last night, thankfully, it was a short romp.

With Buddy back in the paddock, we were back to routine: making sure the chickens were safe in their coop. There are thirteen hens: Karen, a Production Red; Barbara, a Black Australorp; Big Girl, an Ameraucana; and the ten remaining Priscillas, all of them Hubbard Golden Comets and the first chickens to come to The Quarry Farm. As part of the routine, we count them each night. Thirteen girls in the coop mean that none are at risk from any of a number of predators looking for an easy meal. Thirteen, for us, is a lucky number.

So we counted.

And came up with fourteen.

JeffDuring our episode with Buddy, Jeff made good his escape and slipped in with the girls. He’s done it before and we’ve even allowed him to stay in the coop for a night or two. But, as noted earlier, roosters get a bit possessive and protective of the hens they consider their own. So we decided to catch him up and take him back to his enforced celibacy. Jeff’s a docile bird, so getting him in hand wasn’t terribly difficult. Then it was simply a short walk and a quick drop over the fence. Done and done, right?

Not exactly.

As it turns out, Jeff wasn’t the only rooster interested in busting out. As we approached the paddock, Jeff in hand, we noticed Bernie scratching in the tall grass on the wrong side of the fence. Bernie, too, is a fairly docile bird, so long as there are no hens to battle over and you’re not wearing red. Having said that, he’s a bit less inclined to permit any kind of truly close contact than is Jeff. In other words, he’d greatly prefer it if you kept your hands to yourself and he’ll do whatever it is that he needs to do to keep it that way. For a third party, watching someone chase a chicken is slapstick the equal of anything that Hollywood has ever conjured up. For the one doing the chasing, though…well, that’s a completely different set of experiences. Chickens duck and jive as they run, juking this way and that in a series of quick dashes intended to confuse whatever predator happens to be chasing them. Couple that with the gathering dark and it took a good long while before Bernie was back with the boys.

As is the routine, here on The Quarry Farm.

POSTSCRIPT: Some of you may remember the storm that blew through the region this past summer. Last July, a derecho tore this county apart. While the damage inflicted on our little piece of the county paled in comparison to others, we did suffer one significant loss: Little Chicken.

little chickenLittle Chicken was a bantam hen that split her time between The Quarry Farm and a little-used outbuilding on the property immediately adjacent to ours. She would come most frequently in the mornings and evenings, those times when we put out fresh food and water for the chickens that live here full time. The derecho caused significant injury to her nesting spot, the barn next door, and, after she failed to show up for over a week, we assumed her either an immediate casualty of the storm or easy pickings for some predator.

Last Sunday, we learned differently.

It turns out that Little Chicken, pushed out by the storm, wound up at the home of an acquaintance that lives about a mile away. Whether blown there or because she wandered there seeking new and more appropriate sleeping arrangements, we’ll never know. What we do know is that she’s found a wonderful new home, a home where she’s watched over and cared for.

So, apparently, the old adage is true: it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good. And for the Siefkers, that good took the shape of Little Chicken.

They call her Clucks.