Goals For 2018: Ducklings!


Alas, this is not my duck

This time of year, if the temperature is right, we can hear the first of the season’s honeybees out buzzing around.  The frogs are starting to chirrup in the lengthening twilit evenings, and the chickens are clucking and scratching and crowing all the day long.  But there is one sound lacking here on the farm, and without it this place just doesn’t feel or sound complete.

I’m talking about the quacks and burbles of ducks.

When I was a little girl, my mother would regale my sister and I with tales of hatching a duckling in her kitchen oven when she was a child, and how wonderful and sweet that pet duck was.  He would follow her around and wag his little tail whenever she gave him treats.  I was captivated by this story, and by ducks themselves.  There’s just something about them, from their smiling bills to their happy bottom-heavy waddle.

I just love ducks!

I also love that I get to tell you that this spring we’ll be adding ducklings to our farm, including one of each type of:

  • Welsh Harlequin
  • Silver Appleyard
  • Pekin
  • Fawn and White Runner
  • Chocolate Runner
  • Cayuga
  • Buff
  • Blue Swedish

I’ve reserved a late March hatching of eight eggs and I honestly just can’t wait!


Also not my duck

Why are we getting ducks?

There are lots of reasons why adding ducks to a homestead is a good idea, not least of which is because they’re just so adorable as babies and entertaining as adults.  There are some great websites out there that go into all this in a little more detail, but here are the main reasons we’re getting ducks:

Eggs:  Ducks produce far more eggs than the average chicken,  as many as 350 per year from the more prolific breeds.  As an added plus, those eggs are bigger and have higher nutritional values than chicken eggs.  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a duck egg, so I don’t know what I’ll think of the taste.  But my tentative plan is to use them in my burgeoning baking hobby, as their higher fat content should make baked goods fluffier and richer.

Pest Control:  “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency” — Bill Mollison.  I can’t remember the first time I heard that quote, but I do know that it’s genius.  The chickens have been OK when it comes to eating pests, but they disdain slugs, caterpillars and many of the other bugs that wreak havoc in the garden.  They are darn picky.  Not so, ducks.  They will happily and enthusiastically eat all those buggies that the chickens won’t, especially the slugs.

Gentler on Land: This is the big, number one reason we’re getting ducks (besides the cuteness and indulging my childhood fantasies)!  The chickens are no better than pests themselves when it comes to destroying the vegetable garden, or any landscaping, or just the lawn.  They’re not picky when it comes to scratching things up and they do it exceptionally well.  Now, I know that ducks, too, can destroy delicate seedlings in the garden, and will make mud holes anywhere given half the chance.  But overall, everything I’ve read agrees that ducks are much less destructive.

Hardiness: I live and garden on the northern Oregon coast.  I’m a bit inland from the ocean, but not enough to make any real difference in the weather.  It can be wet and cold and miserable here for more than half the year.  The chickens hate it.  Hate it.  There are some days they don’t come out of their coop at all – they just huddle together in their filth – which can obviously negatively affect their health.  We always have to keep an eye out for sickness and signs that the chickens are suffering from any infections.  Ducks, on the other hand, have an internal temperature of 107 degrees (Fahrenheit), which means that their bodies are pretty much inhospitable to parasites and bacteria.  And bad weather doesn’t phase them.  It’s raining outside?  Perfect!  It’s cold outside?  Who cares!  Ducks just go with the flow.

ducklingsNow don’t worry!  The chickens aren’t going anywhere!  Well, OK, to be perfectly honest we are going to move them down to the lower field, where the orchard will be.  All fenced in it will be about half an acre or more, and it will give them much more room to roam.  They’ll still get loads of delicious table scraps, and we’ll still use their eggs.

Meanwhile, we’ll convert their current coop and run to accommodate the ducks, and we’ll be able to give the ducks straight access into the garden once the plants have reached a certain height.  That way they can do their pest control thing, and keep me company with their chortles, quacks and honks.

The perfect soundtrack to working on the farm.

Will anyone else be starting a flock (or is it a brace?) of ducks this spring?  Does anyone who already has ducks have any pointers for an excited new owner?!


Rowanberry Bubblegum

IMG_2342.JPGThis dog.

Did I ever tell you that when we first got Rowan, we put her crate in the girls’ bedroom so that she would bond with them and think of them as her “flock” and protect them from all the coyotes and bobcats and bears and cougars that roamed the hills?


Well, we did.  Having no livestock more precious than our free-ranging children, we decided that we had to somehow train her to protect them.  And what better way than to have Rowan – an 8-week-old puppy away from her mother for the first time ever – sleep in our young children’s bedroom?  Fool-proof!  Except, as soon as the lights went out Rowan started crying and then the girls started crying and then everybody was crying.  I’d run in and take the puppy out to potty and shush the girls and then try to quietly put the puppy back in the crate and 45 minutes later the whole charade would start again.  Finally, at about two in the morning, I decided I was an idiot and dragged the kennel out of their room, down the hall and into my room.  I fell asleep with my hand in her crate that night and many others, petting her softly and making those quiet mama-noises that all babies, regardless of species, seem to appreciate.

And that was it.  From that moment on, I was hers and she was mine.

IMG_4167Except, she’s also all of ours.  A true family guardian.

Six months have gone by and that tiny little puppy has blossomed into a massive, courageous polar bear of a dog.  Granted, she is still very much the pup at eight months old, but her personality and character are already there for us to see.  She is sweet and loving and fearless in her quest to protect us from all the dangers (real and imagined) that surround us on the farm.  Actually, sometimes she’s quite afraid (I can tell by the way her tail is tucked tight underneath her) like the time she first saw our Halloween jack o’ lanterns lit on a dark night.  But even afraid she meets all potential threats head on with her big, deep bark, ready to fight if she has to.  She is utterly brave.
IMG_2113 (1)Does she wander, the way most websites claim her breed does?

Well, yes, but in the same sense that I, too, wander around when I’m outside.

We don’t have any fences around our property, but we do have a sort of natural boundary in that the five acres surrounding the house is ringed by forest.  She often trots that perimeter during the day, checking to make sure all is as it should be.  She investigates strange noises and smells, and sometimes finds something good to bring back to her special “treasure spot” and chew on.  She visits her friends across the street, Max and Sophie, an Australian shepherd and an Australian cattle dog, and she’ll go on walks with the neighbors if she happens to notice them going by.

But she knows where she lives and she always returns.  In fact, as soon as dusk falls she usually asks to come inside, where she spends her evenings happily in front of the fire and begging for belly rubs.

IMG_4280Does she bark constantly?

Surprisingly, no.  In fact, Una and Juniper, our sheep dog mixes, make most of the annoying racket in the house.  Inside, Rowan hardly ever makes a peep.

She barks more when she’s outside, as she should.  Sometimes when we let her out at night she’ll run the wooded perimeter just barking barking barking.  We don’t know if she’s seen, smelled or heard anything in particular or is just giving a general warning to any and all critters that might be thinking about coming onto her property.  Regardless, that’s pretty much her job and I don’t begrudge her for it.

IMG_1831And it turns out that Rowan didn’t need to sleep in their room or be trained to bond to Avery and Iris.  She has adored them from the first.  If they are outside, she is close by.  Sometimes she’ll join in their play, and sometimes she just keeps a benevolent eye on them.  She knows when the school bus is coming, and is always first to greet them, tail wagging, overjoyed to be reunited with her girls after a long day apart.

I couldn’t imagine life without this dog anymore.  Of course, she has her (extremely trying) moments, as all pups do, but I think it’s safe to say that Rowan has more than delivered on her breed’s promise.  I have no doubt that her companionship will only get better as she ages, and that there will always be room for a Great Pyrenees in our family.

Even if we have no livestock (or kids) to guard.


skunk-1545541.jpgAs I was driving into town yesterday I passed a dead skunk by the side of the road.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for members of the weasel family, and I’ve also always thought skunks were very cute, so I was a bit sad as I drove by the flattened mound of fur.  However, I also told the girls how glad I was that none of the dogs had been sprayed by skunks in all the long years that I’ve had them.

Famous last words.

Una got skunked last night.

Seriously, the real-life foreshadowing of this whole event was uncanny.

It was just a matter of time, I knew that.  As my sister said, when you move to the country it’s practically in the fine print that someone is going to get sprayed by a skunk.  And yet, I hoped. I thought maybe my dogs were too smart to mess with skunks.  After all, we’ve been 11 years incident free.

Nope.  Not so.  Not anymore.

Behold a stinky dog:IMG_2215.JPGOh, the smell.  I don’t even know how to describe the smell of freshly sprayed skunk juice to anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure.  It’s a little bit like sulfurous rotten eggs, but worse, like sulfurous rotten eggs mixed with sickly sweet decayed garbage mixed with burning tires.  And it gets everywhere.

Una was in the house for less than a few seconds before I realized she’d been sprayed and scooted her right back outside.  But the smell stayed.  And it moved!  It seemed to get stronger!  It went upstairs.  It went behind closed doors.  It made the girls cry even though they were already in bed, with the covers up over their heads.

Skunks really are formidable little creatures.

Poor Una had to spend the night in the greenhouse while we figured out what to do.  I felt a little badly about making my elderly dog sleep outside in the unheated greenhouse, but that’s what happens if you get sprayed by a skunk in this family.  Persona non grata until the stink is gone.  To that end, this morning I did a little research and found this recommended recipe online:

Homemade Skunk-Off

  • 1 quart (4 cups) hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 tsp dish detergent

Wearing rubber gloves, I lathered this concoction into her fur and then rinsed it out, and followed with a full shampoo using her regular soap.  It seemed to work, but we were outside and it was cold and I couldn’t quite be sure, so I put her in the garage and ran to town to pick up a bottle of Nature’s Miracle Skunk Remover.  Another bath and the old girl is back to smelling mostly okay.  If you are brave enough to stick your nose into the fur on her chest you will probably pick up a slight undercurrent of sulphurous rotten garbage and burned rubber, but she’s back to sleeping in the house without driving us all away with her stink.

While I was out, I also stopped by Costco to stock up on hydrogen peroxide and baking soda.  I have this feeling that this won’t be the last time that there is an offensively smelling dog on my doorstep.

Oh, our animals.  They keep life interesting.  Or something.

Introducing Rowan

StockSnap_DYL2LXSRIU.jpgThis is one of the things I remember from when my daughters were newborns – being awake, unwillingly, at 3:00 a.m. and trying to shush a wide-awake and inexplicably crying newborn.  Wishing for all the world that babies were as easy to take care of as puppies.

Now my girls are seven and five, sleep through the night, and tend to their needs by themselves most of the time.  But yet, for the last few nights, there I was again.  Blearily awake in the early hours of the morning with a whining baby.  Bumbling through the darkened house.  Begging her to go potty out here and not in there.  Hoping  and praying that she’ll go right back to sleep when she’s done, so I can grab a few more blessed hours myself.

Granted, this baby is a puppy.  My wish of seven years ago come back to haunt me because, as it turns out, babies and puppies are both essentially the same level of hard at 3:00 in the morning.

RowanRowanberry (Bubblegum) the Brave.

Just plain old Rowan, if we’re feeling casual.

Rowan is the newest addition to our family and our little farm-in-the-making.  She’s a Great Pyrenees/Maremma mix puppy; commonly known and referred to as an LGD or Livestock Guardian Dog.  Like their name implies, these are dogs whose purpose in life is to guard livestock.  It’s what they’ve been bred for and done successfully for thousands of years.

Right now we’re a bit thin in the livestock department (heck, we don’t even live on the farm yet!) but we know that one day we’ll have plenty of critters for her to guard.  More importantly, and the real reason we got her, is that we have a couple of free-range children.  These dogs are naturally protective of young creatures in general, and their family in particular.  Our hope is that with Rowan on guard, we’ll be able to worry less about coyotes and cougars and bears when the girls are out playing in the woods; and I’ll feel safer at night from two-legged intruders when Jasper’s away at work.0713 rowan 2We didn’t make the decision to get Rowan lightly.  In fact, we started talking about it back in January, and put a deposit on her months before she was even born.  I’ve researched the breed voraciously, and read all I can on training these kinds of dogs.  But still I’ve been a bundle of nerves the last week.

It’s been more than a decade since I last had to train a puppy, and I’ve never had this kind of dog.  Una and Juniper are both herding dogs, and thrive on having direction and being told what to do.  Rowan is different.  For thousands of years dogs of Rowan’s breed have been expected to think and act independently.  They have been turned out among their flock and left alone to guard and protect them.

I have to remember to keep that in mind while training her.  She’s a little more like a child that way than a dog.  I’ll teach her my rules and I’ll give her the best foundation I can.  But then the rest is up to her.0713 rowanWe’ve only had her for five days, but Rowan is quickly picking up house-training and last night (despite the opening gambit of this post) she only had to go outside twice, giving me a solid five hours of sleep.  It was heaven.

She’s learned her name, and will come when called if I’m proffering the right treat.  She’s learning not to chase the chickens, and to walk on a leash.  She is not learning not to chase the cats; the cats, likewise, are not learning not to hiss at her every time they see her across the room.  She’s also not a big fan of riding in the car, which makes it hard to bring her to the farm with us.  We’ll keep trying though.

She likes to play tug of war and to nap next to us while we read.  She loves to play in the fields, and burrow under drying cut grass.  Avery and Iris throw the grass up like confetti and Rowan smiles with absolute glee as it rains down on her.

I can already tell she’s going to be a very good dog.

A very good dog


Portrait of Una by our friend, Robin Loznak

It’s summer, finally. The days are long, the nights are warm and the flowers are blooming.

I always spend a lot of time during this season watering the garden and Una, my 14-year-old border collie/blue heeler mix, likes to be there by my side. I’d like to say it’s purely because she loves me, but I know she has an ulterior motive. What Una’s really after is fresh food. She will stealthily nose among the sugar snap peas searching for plump pods to clip between her teeth and eat. She does the same thing with tomatoes, strawberries, apples, and blackberries. She only takes the ripe ones, and she only does it when she thinks I’m not looking. This isn’t the first summer I’ve gardened with Una by my side, however.  I know exactly what she’s up to, and used to chase her away with stern admonitions. But this summer, more and more, I find myself pretending not to notice.

She has, after all, spent the last ten years being an unfailingly good dog.

We got Una when she was already four years old. We were living in Roseburg at the time with four cats and a rambunctious puppy, and we hadn’t wanted or needed another pet. I don’t know what brought us to the animal shelter that day in late September, but for whatever reason we found ourselves walking down the long row of chain-link and cement-block cages and frantically barking Chihuahuas, pit bulls and lab mixes. She was sitting politely by the door of the very last cage, silent while the other dogs were loudly trying to get my attention. As soon as I laid eyes on her the hairs on my arms stood up and I heard a voice screaming in my head, “That is your dog! Get her out of that cage and bring her home!” I crouched down and stuck my fingers through the fence, and her tail thumped softly while she smelled me. She raised her bright, keen eyes to mine and gently licked me.

Without speaking, my husband and I both knew our family wouldn’t be complete without her. She knew sit, and stay, and heel – she was the most well-mannered and beautiful dog we’d ever seen. As we filled out the paperwork to take her home, we asked the attendants why no one had adopted her yet. They didn’t know. All they did know was that she’d been in the shelter a month already, picked up without a collar along a road dotted by farms and ranches, and was slated to be euthanized in the next day or two. We surmised she must have been waiting just for us, and all three smiled with relief at such a close call as we headed out the doors to home.


Una’s first official act as our dog was to appoint herself the protector of the family. This has meant, through the years, mostly chasing neighbor cats out of the yard and barking ferociously at the UPS man. I know, however, that in her heart she is a bold, courageous and dutiful dog, and that she would not hesitate to protect us from an actual threat. Just a few months ago Avery, my oldest daughter, went to help a neighbor wash his car while I watched from my porch. Una didn’t know the man, and she was not comfortable with him and Avery being so close together without me there. She flew down the street and positioned herself between them – eyes flashing and snarling menacingly at our poor neighbor – and herded Avery home.

Despite being a good dog, Una isn’t always a perfect dog.  She is sometimes distant and proud.  We refer to her as our “schoolmarm” because she cannot abide it when people or other animals have too much noisy fun. She has garnered a reputation as a connoisseur of kitty litter and dirty diapers. More than once in our many years with her, she has come home from an adventure in the woods caked in mud and swamp sludge, and reeking of something long dead. She is most affectionate after killing and eating rodents and snakes – she’ll climb onto our laps, look deep into our eyes and attempt to French kiss us. And of course she has that sly propensity to pluck and eat the ripe vegetables in the garden before I’ve had a chance to.

I’ve been mad at her more times than I can count, but there have been many more times when I felt like she was the only real friend I had in the world.  When I was a new mother and suffering from post-partum depression, she would unfailingly lick the tears rolling down my cheeks while I cried into her fur in the early hours of the morning. She’s listened patiently as I’ve told her my dreams, my ideas, my fears.  Like all good dogs, she never judges. Sometimes, after rooting in the litterbox or barking excessively for no good reason, I remind her how lucky she is that I decided to go to the shelter that day so many years ago. I say it, even though I know for a fact that I’m the real lucky one.


This is Una’s fourteenth summer, and more than likely her last good one. Despite the warm temperatures, her arthritis has begun flaring up. She is stiff and her joints creak alarmingly when she gets up from the floor. Opaque clouds are blooming in her eyes and the black spots on her muzzle and ears have suddenly started turning grey. She doesn’t go on long expeditions in the forest anymore, preferring to nap in a sunny spot close by the house.

These days, while picking peas or any of the other fruit Una likes, I always make sure to drop a handful on the ground for her to find. She gobbles them up with gladness, and I am happy to give them. I know that summer and its fruit, like the life of a good dog, won’t last long.

Or at least not nearly long enough.

(Originally published in The Daily Astorian on 06/24/2016)

Another Nest


Image by Andreas Eichler

“I don’t know if you know this, but somebody else is already living in your house,” our builder said to us.

Eyebrows raised quizzically, I looked at him.

“The barn swallows,” he said, gesturing to the shimmering orange and blue streaks in the air.  “They built a nest overnight!”

And sure enough, there is a little mud-daubed cup near the ceiling in the living room of the new farmhouse.  It is not lost on me that they are building a home to safely raise their children in the same place we are building one to raise our own.  As different as we are, our goals are essentially the same.  Our dreams not that dissimilar.

Still, I know the nest will have to go soon.  Before the swallows lay their eggs, before the windows are installed and the ways in and out are closed to them, I will have to climb up and carefully pry it from the wall.  It’s the kindest thing I can do.  But, for a little while longer anyway, I will stand transfixed and watch the pair dip and swoop through the empty rooms and the unfinished walls.

Energy and graceful half moons in the air; little prayers of hope on the wing.

Notes | 6.27.17

0627 cherry0628 eggsI watched Cherry, our Rhode Island Red, lay her first egg today.  The poor thing looked absolutely bewildered.  She wasn’t even lying down when she laid the egg, she was sort of crouching and grunting (sorry for that bit of imagery, but that is some real-life chicken doings for you).  Wilhelm Von Cocklespurs, on the other hand, was downright jubilant.  He perched on the railing right next to her and crowed and warbled as if he had something to do with it.

Including Cherry’s, I found three eggs today.  They scoff at the nice nest box with the clean and comfortable hay in it that I put up for them.  They prefer cat beds and places unknown.