Fall 2015 newsletter

Fall 2015 TQF Newsletter-1The Fall 2015 newsletter of The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve and Conservation Farm is here, “hot off the press.” Have a click and read all about it. You may see yourself or someone you know in the pages.

So much has happened in the past three months, especially in September. Despite the cooling temperatures, we have plans for more this winter. Stay tuned to our website and Facebook for Star Walks and programs.

See you on the trails, with boots on.

Another Hour On a Different Day

Seven months ago, I took an hour and wandered through the wild part of The Quarry Farm taking pictures. It was June then and the temperature beneath the green overhang of the woods was pushing 90 degrees. All manner of birds and insects were buzzing, chirping and flitting about and the sky was clear and blue.

Today was a little different.

While there was blue sky to be seen, it was through ragged patches in the cloud cover. There were birds, as well, but they moved about only as needed, making quick trips from the tall grass below our house to the feeders hanging from the cherry tree off our north deck. The temperature was in the middle teens with a wind chill of negative one.

Like I said, different.

Wild TurkeysEven so, there was a lot to see. It all started with Anne exclaiming about turkeys. The Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Wildlife released about half a dozen near here some ten years ago. Over that decade, they’ve flourished. We’ve seen flocks of more than a dozen moving through the brush below our house and on the other side of Cranberry Run. Today, there were four of them as close to the house as I’ve seen them. In all likelihood, they were eating the seed that had fallen from the feeders.

LollyLolly, an American Bulldog mix that we adopted from the Allen County Humane Society shortly before Christmas, joined me on the trek, ranging ahead of me, then back, sniffing at everything and exploring every nook and crannyTurkey's Demise that caught her eye. To the east of the quarry, she brought to my attention a former member of the flock of turkeys that had passed through our yard earlier in the day. It had been there for some time and there was no sign of the cause of its fate. There are any number of predators that could have killed the bird: foxes, hawks, eagles, raccoons, the occasional coyote or dog and, of course, us. Humans.

Trees in WinterThe trees that are filling in the wooded area of the property are mostly sugar maples, though there are plenty of honey locusts, walnuts, sycamores and buckeyes, as well. In the summer, their leaves shade the ground below and, at least psychologically, provide some relief from the heat. In the winter, their branches scrape at the sky, catch at the clouds and capture a weak winter sun. The visuals are stark, these dark branches against the fleeting gaps of blue where the clouds are torn apart by the wind. It’s clear why winter trees, stripped of their softening leaves, are often described as skeletal. Even so, it’s beautiful, this contrast of dark on light, darkest brown on blue.

The big back field, over eleven acres of grass grown rampant and thorny brush, is brownTeasel and dry and bitterly cold. There are constant rustlings in the dead undergrowth: possibly the wanderings of mice, voles or field rats. More likely, though, these sounds are the scraping of dried plant against dried plant, pushed together by the wind. Most common in this field of brown are the spiky heads of teasel. They rise up above the dead grass in clusters of two or five or seven or more.

I’ve managed to photograph quite a bit, though possibly more interesting are the things that I’ve failed to capture. Like the pair of bald eagles that rose up out of the southern part of The Quarry Farm and looped over my head while I stood in the back field, hand in pockets against the cold, camera in its bag. By the time I got it out, the camera, they had soared the better part of a mile away to the east. Or the four white-tailed deer that Lolly scared up. All I saw of them were their flashing tails as they bounded leisurely away from Lolly’s spirited chase.

The CabinBy the time all of this has happened, the wind has found both Lolly and me. My hands and face are numb and slow to respond. Even Lolly’s had enough, leading me back to the path that will take us back to the house. I would say “home”, but we are already there. Even here, in the cold.

After all, every bit of it, every twig and branch and frozen patch of ground, is The Quarry Farm.

Buddy and Jeff

It’s the little things (that show you care)

Here on the farm sanctuary of the Quarry Farm, you all know by now that we have chickens. Of those chickens, four are roosters. One rooster, Sid, doesn’t count because he is fancy and that keeps him docile and slow-moving. Bernie, Jeff and Ralph are birds of a different feather altogether.

These three probable Rhode Island Reds have three different origins that shall remain a mystery to us. But all three will live their lives together in the paddock with Buddy the miniature donkey and Nigerian dwarf goats S’more and Marsh. Sid has the roam of the rest of the place where he is tolerated by the hens who can easily out-manuever  him. The three other roosters have an easy truce between themselves as long as the hens keep out of the paddock. And when no one is in there with Mr. Shovel.

Unfortunately Mr. Shovel must make an appearance every morning in order to remove the donkey, goat and rooster leavings from the previous day. Bernie, the original rooster, does not care for Mr. Shovel. Nor does he particularly care for the person who is wielding Mr. Shovel.

If you have ever been spurred by a full-grown rooster, you know it results in white-hot searing pain that bleeds like nobody’s business. The kick that accompanies the spur usually leaves bruises. I myself actually suffered my first severe ankle sprain after a confrontation with Bernie. Since chicken dinner is not on the menu here on the farm sanctuary (so don’t even go there) I have learned: A) not to wear bright red around Bernie; B) keep Mr. Shovel between myself and Bernie; C) make sure Ralph is keeping an eye on Bernie.

At first Bernie was very friendly, but sometime during the course of the second year he became aggressive, mostly with me. Steven claims it is because I wore a bright red rain jacket around him. The jacket went to Goodwill, but Bernie still came after me every time my back was turned. So Bernie was banished to the paddock so he wouldn’t go after anyone else. That helped until he took a dislike to Mr. Shovel. Enter Ralph.

Ralph came to live with us about two years after Bernie did. He was adopted with a group of hens, all unwanted by an Allen County landowner. So as to give the hens here a relatively stress-free existence, we put Ralph in the paddock, too. Ralph and Bernie duked it out for a while and Ralph came out on top. Jeff joined the fray some time later the same summer. Ralph remained the dominant rooster, so much so that Bernie’s comb diminished and he became quite tame. For about a season.

This spring, Bernie again decided that I am not to be trusted and indeed am to be chucked out of the paddock at every opportunity. But Ralph doesn’t feel that way. My little red-combed savior will keep himself between Bernie and me, even driving Bernie off to the far corner of the paddock. Ralph will also break up private trysts between Jeff and a hen named Barbara, but that’s a different story.

Just a few minutes ago, Ralph came to my rescue again. After posting this, I am going to take him a slice of yellow squash.

By the way, the photo of the horned worm has nothing to do with this story. Steve took this last week as these voracious creatures were being hand-eradicated from the tomato patch at Red Fox Cabin. I just thought it was a cool shot.

Who Are You Calling Chicken?

There are milestones in all lives: births, deaths, graduations, marriage, love. As much as this statement may sound like the prologue to a soap, these are the events that shape our lives. I’ve experienced all of the above and have to include another: chickens. I’m going to wait a few seconds while you take that in, get whatever comments you feel you have to make out of your system.

Everybody okay? May we move on?

Now I’ll say it again. As much as any other event in my life, chickens have helped to make me who I am, here and now. And, man, did I fight it.

It was Anne’s idea to get chickens, Anne’s and Rowan’s. I had … reservations. Many of them. They smell, right? They’re mean. They’re stupid. They’re noisy. They attract pests. The list was longer, but I’ve forgotten most of it. All of it was true in my head at the time and all of it, as it turns out, was wrong.

They came in a little box, delivered via USPS by our local mail carrier, Dorothy. There were sixteen of them. We had ordered fifteen, but somebody counted wrong or it’s the practice of the hatchery we ordered them from to throw in an extra. At any rate, there were sixteen Hubbard Golden Comet chicks in a little container that was half the size of a shoebox. We set them up in a storage tub in the house, dedicating a room to their safekeeping. They were tiny and yellow and fuzzy and cute and busy in their dedication to growing. I found myself fascinated and spent hours watching them, holding them, talking to them. We called them all Priscilla, each and every last one of them, and, yes, there’s a story there, but not one for the telling here, now. I discovered that all of the preconceived notions I had about chickens were, for the most part, wrong. Do chickens smell? Only because their living quarters aren’t properly maintained. If you keep their coop clean, smell isn’t an issue. Are they mean? They give what they get. If you treat them like property, like machines, and take, but never give, then yes, probably. I wouldn’t know for sure. The chickens here are friendly. Are they stupid? Well, they’re not going to be doing calculus any time soon, but, then, neither am I.

Priscilla

They presented us with no problems, no surprises, and eventually we moved them outside to a coop. I was still fascinated, spending hours with them, watching them live their lives. I discovered that, for me, they were more than fascinating, more than simply interesting observable phenomena. They brought me a degree of peace I’ve rarely experienced. They calmed me down. They made me think. They inspired me.

And now there are even more than there were to begin with. Big Girl, an Ameraucana, came to us through Nature’s Nursery. So did Audrey and Miss Kitty. Barbara, Karen, Nancy, Jeff, Ralph, Bernie and Sid all came to us from people looking to find a new home for birds they found they couldn’t handle. Most of these birds are still with us, ranging across the property and perching in the trees. Others haven’t fared as well.

Audrey

Audrey was found wandering along Interstate 75 somewhere south of Toledo. She was so docile when I picked her up from the people that had found her that I honestly believe she’d have been content sitting in my lap for the hour-long drive home (she didn’t; I transported her in a dog kennel). She’d been debeaked. Most hatcheries offer this “service.” A hot wire is used to slice a chicken’s beak from its head. This is done while they are chicks. The idea is that irritable chickens that have been debeaked will do less damage to other nearby chickens and, I suspect, to the hands that feed them. On the downside, this practice can also lead to feeding difficulties and respiratory issues. Even so, Audrey was one of the most benign animals it has ever been my good fortune to meet. She was nearly always the first one to greet us in the morning and would come and sit in our laps. She established a relationship with Buddy, a miniature donkey that lives here, and would spend a part of her day riding around on his back. She lived with us for just over a year before she died.

Miss Kitty

Miss Kitty died yesterday, much to our sorrow. He (and, yes, Miss Kitty was a rooster, though we didn’t know that when we named him) was, we assume, a meat production bird. Initially we believed that he was a Catalana hen (hence Miss Kitty). It wasn’t until he started crowing that we suspected the truth. He grew extremely large extremely fast and, as a consequence, developed a host of physical issues. He was less than a year old when his body simply and finally failed. Over the last few days of his life, all of the hens cared for him. He was never alone, one of the girls was always nearby. They were warm days and dry, and he spent his time lying in the shade of a crabapple tree or under the branches of an elderberry.

Big Girl

And then there are the successes. Big Girl came from a pretty rough neighborhood near downtown Toledo. How she got there is anybody’s guess, but we know how she came to be here. She was rescued by an elderly man who drove off a group boys. They were menacing her with sticks and stones. He called Nature’s Nursery and Nature’s Nursery called us. She was nervous, at first, and maintained her distance. If you took a step toward her, she took a step away. She stayed that way for months. Now she’ll shift out of the way if it pleases her, otherwise we have to step around.

Bernie and Barbara and Karen were part of a flock that kept dwindling, their coop mates the victims of an undetermined predator. Ralph and Jeff were abandoned (Jeff because he crows twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and Ralph, I suspect, because he’s cock of the walk and not afraid to let you know it). While these two do lock horns, so to speak, they spend the bulk of their time pointedly ignoring one another. Sid was simply unwanted.

I suspect that our flock will grow again this year. I sincerely hope so, at any rate. I look forward to it. I gain far more from them than I give.

And I’m not just talking about eggs.

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S’More