About my bras

Today’s post is for the ladies. Hope you enjoy!

Today I washed bras. You know what happens when it gets really hot outside and all your bras need washed at the same time – all thoughts of handwashing those delicate things goes out the window. So I washed a whole load of them, in the washer that’s out in my garage. Waited until it was finished, and then gathered them out of the washer to bring inside the house to dry. So far so good, right?

On my way, a freakishly huge spider dropped from the ceiling onto my arm. I squawked and started swatting at it, sending my entire double handful of wet bras flying – straight into the bin of hay I keep for the rabbits. Seriously. If I had intentionally thrown them from that distance they wouldn’t have all gone in!

So now I’m looking at all my clean but still wet bras covered in little bits of hay. **Sigh** The general consensus on my facebook page is to rewash all of them. BUT the one other farmer-lady who commented said to use masking tape and just remove the hay bits. Wonder whose advice I’m going to take?

Life has been crazy lately – but more updates are coming soon!

 

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Plants in my straw bale garden – and what I don’t know.

Woo-hoo! I finally have over half my garden planted. That’s an exciting milestone for me, given that the seeds I started indoors all died. Sheesh! I started over with plant starts. Some organic, but not all. I did what I could to have an organic garden, but $1.49 per start vs $7.00 per start tipped the scale more toward conventional ones. At least the growing conditions will be organic for all of them, regardless of how they started.

row of tomatoes in my straw bale garden

Row of tomato plants in my straw bale garden

So far I have seven tomato plants – regular tomatoes (Better Boy and Early Girl), roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, purple tomatoes, and yellow tomatoes. I have NO idea if the different colors taste different from each other, but this is the year I get to find out! They are all still small, but one already has blossoms on it. No idea why, hopefully that is heralding a good growing season for tomatoes.

I have three green bell pepper plants, and one sweet yellow pepper plant. I only like the green ones in the bell pepper family, but my husband likes them all, so I include a few extra for him. I’m still looking for a healthy jalapeno pepper start, but have not found one yet. The green peppers I have are all California Wonder, I have no idea what it is about them that makes everyone around here carry that type and only that type.

I have six bunches of three onions apiece. Don’t know why they’re sold like that, but there was no way of separating the individual onions without tearing roots. So I left them that way. I want to be sure they have enough room to expand as they grow, so they are planted in the 3-inch space between the bales of straw. I just filled it with compost and topsoil, and used loose straw to hold it in place.

The tomatoes, peppers, and onions together will be made into a BUNCH of salsa. We eat salsa like it’s going out of style, and we love my homemade pico de gallo and salsa. So whatever we don’t eat fresh will likely be made into salsa and canned for storage. If there is anything left after that it will likely be dehydrated for later use in stews.

I have lots of green beans, specifically bush beans. I already have lost count, I think about 10 plants. I want to get more of those, because I have such lovely childhood memories of home canned green beans. The texture was difficult to get past, but once I did that the taste was so wonderful. This is what I would love to have so much of that I can preserve enough to eat all year.

I have one chunk of “volunteer” beans. They sprouted in my compost pile from large whiteish-colored beans. I have NO idea what kind of beans they are! But beans are beans, and they must be edible since they sprouted from a restaurant’s kitchen scraps. So the chunk of compost came out in one piece, and I put it into an empty spot in my garden. They’re beside the green beans so they can make use of the trellis with them if they need it. I’ll know what they are and how to prepare and eat them after they produce. A little mystery is nice to have in life, isn’t it?

One of my favorite vegetables is cauliflower. Drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with garlic and rosemary, and baked in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes – YUM! So it’s no surprise that I have six cauliflower starts in my garden. I want more, but cauliflower isn’t my hubby’s favorite vegetable, so I’ll have to see how much room I have left when I get everything we’ve agreed on planted.

I have barley, too. I was feeding my chickens some barley and I wondered if it was alive enough to be sprouted, so I tried. Dumped a handful on a plate and added some water – and they sprouted! They grew so quickly that the roots quickly tangled, and I had to move them in one sheet to a planter of potting soil. When they had grown about 4 inches tall I dumped them out of the planter and into an empty triangular space in my garden where some bales leaned against each other. The picture didn’t turn out though, I’ll try again when it’s taller and looks a little less like a patch of grass between three straw bales.

I included on zucchini plant. It’s an experiment to see if I can grow plants in a straw bale that is stood up on end (instead of laying flat on the ground). I won’t mourn the zucchini if it doesn’t make it, but it can help suppliment the rabbits’ diets if it does grow. Again, NO idea if this will work, but it was worth a try and it would be great to know if standing bales on end would work for some areas with little square footage of ground.

And lastly are the herbs. Rosemary, dill, thyme, basil, and chives. I have never been good at growing herbs, not even the “easy” home kits of them they sell for children. But these haven’t died yet! I’m rather excited about that.

Still on my list to get and plant are peas (hopefully sugar snap), more beans, more green peppers and onions, and all the leafy greens that won’t go in until the cooler weather starts. Lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, swiss chard – ones like that.

Want to see more pictures? Here are the best ones so far:

row of herbs in my straw bale garden

Row of herbs

bell pepper plant in my straw bale garden

Bell pepper

Bush bean start in my straw bale garden

Bush beans

"Volunteer" beans in my straw bale garden

The “volunteer” beans

Cauliflower growing in straw bale garden

Cauliflower start – so tiny!

tomato with blossoms in my straw bale garden

Tomato plant, with blossoms

Zucchini in my straw bale garden

Zucchini plant – and yes, that’s a rabbit behind it.

Defining success

I found this image the other day, and was struck by how true it is.

define success

Success is defined as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.  So in addition to having to decide if you have accomplished your aim or purpose – you have to know exactly what that aim or purpose is!

In my old rectangular life, I was a business analyst. We did all the paperwork, tables, lists, and graphs that would show what was needed in order to accomplish our client’s goals. Then we tracked what was done, compared it to what should have been done, and ultimately decided whether what we had done was good enough to present to the client. And of course in order to even START any of that we had to understand, in detail, to the n-th degree, what it was that our customer was actually trying to accomplish.

Defining what they wanted done often took WAY more time than the client expected. For instance, a client might want to sell more widgets. (It’s always widgets, isn’t it?) That sounds great! So how many do you sell now? They often didn’t know. Too many would be in production, or ready to ship but not sold, or out on consignment, or purchased on credit, or something else not cut and dried. And that makes it complicated to even try to figure out how many they sell now. But you have to know what TODAY is like, and have a way to MEASURE today, before you can begin to figure out how to make it better.

And once the client figured out how many widgets they are selling currently, we’d ask how many more they wanted to sell. They often didn’t know. So we’d say – is selling one more per month enough? Of course the answer is NO. If they’re paying for experts to help them sell more, they want to sell significantly more. But they don’t know what that means to them. Some have a nice, round number in their head, like 20% more. OK – can your manufacturing facilities handle producing 20% more? Do you have enough space? Do you have enough employees? Do you have enough raw materials?

Just the path to figure out what someone wants to accomplish is harder than it seems. Even when that “someone” is you.

And so it is with self-sufficiency. Or homesteading. Or farming. Or whatever it is you call what you are doing that makes reading this blog interesting to you.

What is it you want to accomplish? I wanted to spend less money, use and eat healthier things, and be less dependent on mass consumer products. But have I accomplished that? I certainly hope so! But I have no facts or figures to back that up – yet.

The path to success isn’t linear. My rabbits did well for a while, then didn’t. I feel I have learned all I can from rabbits, and will be dissolving my rabbitry. Is learning all I can a success? Or is choosing to stop a failure? That depends on how I define my goal, doesn’t it? I started a large garden last year with high hopes, but then ended up in the Philippines with my husband instead. My garden died, except for the swiss chard and brussels sprouts. I love swiss chard and brussels sprouts, and got them with no work whatsoever, so is that a success? Or because all the other veggies died, is that a failure? Or maybe my family is my largest goal and so spending 5 weeks with my hubby instead of being separated from him was the largest success possible? This year’s garden is going to be huge, and I might literally run out of room before I run out of seedlings to transplant – again, is that a success because of the size or a failure because I may have overbought?

It all depends on your goals. And an acceptance that the path to ultimate success in anything – farming, self-sufficiency, and even family – is not a linear progression. Ups and downs are to be expected. Shooting off the graph into 3D land can happen at a moment’s notice. Your path won’t look like anyone else’s. It will be unique to you, your current state, your goals, and your road to getting there – and will depend completely on how you personally define each of them.

Listeria sucks! A bad word for a bad disease.

Listeria has claimed the lives of more than half my rabbits. A nasty disease, it can kill within 48 hours of the first symptoms. The cure is massively massive doses of antibiotics, and only works in a fraction of infected animals.

It works so quickly that in the first two rabbits to succumb to it, I never even saw the early symptoms. The first I noticed, the first rabbit was sitting hunched as if in pain, with her heads pressed against the corner of her cages. When I picked her up, I noticed she was extremely skinny despite having eaten her food regularly. Within an hour of being seen like this, she was dead. I had no idea what caused it, and skimming my medical information for rabbits didn’t yield anything that seemed like it. So I thought perhaps the tapeworms that I’d been dealing with had something to do with it. Or the cold snap we were in. Or maybe she’d dumped all her food instead of eating it, and the wild birds had cleaned up the evidence. I really didn’t know.

The second rabbit succumbed about a week later. Again this one was hunched in pain with his head in the corner of his cage, and again he was extremely skinny despite leaving no food in his bowl. He was dead by morning. This time I went online and posted what symptoms I knew on a rabbit-savvy internet bulletin board, and someone suggested I check out listeriosis. The symptoms fit to a T. https://www.addl.purdue.edu/newsletters/1997/winter/listeriosis.shtml

I started putting my hands on each rabbit every day, and paying extreme attention to each one’s behavior and possible symptoms. I found two more with looks and behaviors that matched listeriosis’ early symptoms. One of the rabbits with the early symptoms died 48 hours later. The other had developed more pronounced symptoms.

I knew this could seriously impact my herd. Listeria in rabbits is originally contracted from food that spoils in certain ways. It can also be passed from animal to animal with a fecal-oral contamination. (That means one rabbit gets another rabbit’s feces in her mouth.) So I made changes to reduce or eliminate the chances of transmission via that fecal-oral route. I also took stock of where their feed was coming from, and made changes in where I got their green feed.

Two other rabbits caged nearby developed early symptoms anyway.

So today I bit the bullet and culled most of my rabbits. All the rabbits that were symptomatic were from the same bloodline, so that bloodline is now gone. It comprised well over half of my rabbits. I am left with three Angora rabbits that don’t produce offspring. One proven American Chinchilla doe. And two Silver Fox does that are new to my herd. (Notice I don’t have a buck in this herd? He was the second one to pass. Grrrrr.)

So, Listeria sucks. I’m still not sure how it’s getting transmitted. Perhaps the squirrels that run between the cages? I don’t know. I just know that my herd is down to three breeders. And no buck. I have no guarantee I stopped the progress of the disease, either.

Remember this post? http://rantingaboutrectangles.com/2012/05/11/when-to-throw-in-the-towel/ Sometimes things happen that take the decision away from you.

Algebra in farming

I was never good at math.  The times tables baffle me. I know it’s just straight memorization, but all those repetitive numbers just get jumbled in my head. I can usually do one or two problems, but give me one of those speed tests where you have to solve 100 problems in a set amount of time, and all the problems start looking the same to me and I have to start *counting* to keep things straight. Which means I fail all of those because one just can not count quickly enough to pass them.

But I had a marvelous math teacher in 7th grade. Wonderful. Mr. Bordelmay. He taught me in remedial math. Those same stupid speed worksheets, over and over. But what he noticed was that while I was failing the speed tests, I was always aceing the extra credit questions – and they were complicated word problems requiring logic to solve. He went to bat for me and got me moved from 7th grade remedial math to 8th grade algebra, skipping pre-algebra entirely. Like he once told me, as soon as I was permitted to use a calculator in my math, I did just fine!

So why is today’s math problem stumping me? I must be over-thinking it.

I need to worm my rabbits. I have seen evidence of worms in their droppings. The information I can find on line told me I wanted Panacur for rabbits, at a concentration of 18.75%, administered at one click per 2.5 kg of rabbit weight.

OK, that’s not bad, except I can’t find Panacur at that strength anywhere local, and I’m not paying for shipping from England. I can, however, find Panacur at a concentration of 10%.

So the math problem should be easy. What measurement of Panacur 10% do I need to use to replace one click of Panacur 18.75%?

Except then I need to know what a click is. The instructions don’t say. There is a photo of the syringe in question, it looks like there are 16 indentations on the handle of the syringe. So, it’s reasonable to think that each indentation would cause a “click” sound when you hit it while depressing the syringe. So the next step gives me the number of grams in the syringe tube (5 g) divided by the number of clicks (16). That’s .3125 g (313 mg) of Panacur 18.75% per click.

OK, I could do the math now. What measurement of Panacur 10% do I need to use to replace 313 mg of Panacur 18.75%?

The answer is 599 mg of Panacur 10%! Woo-hoo!

Now, that’s 599 mg of Panacur 10% per 2.5 kg of rabbit. And I only know what mine weigh in pounds. *Sigh* More math.

And even after I know the dose per rabbit, I need to be able to *measure* that amount. I need a scale that measures milligrams, which I don’t have. Or I need to know how to convert the milligrams into millilitres so I can measure it into a syringe.  That requires knowing more things than I know. And it requires even more math.

At this point I should have just ordered the stuff from England. It would have arrived before I could figure out the math for the dosage of the stuff I bought locally!

The troubles with winter

Brrrr! It’s cold here today! There is a storm warning, and the sheen of white on the ground isn’t frost, it’s ice! Of course, it’s winter and all to be expected.

But winter brings more trouble to a farm than just a low thermometer.

Bedding for animals becomes necessary. Rabbits live on wire floors which become ice cold when the temperature drops. So hutches get a layer of straw for bedding to give the animals somewhere to stand that doesn’t suck the heat out of their bodies.   Of course, that adds to the chore list because the rabbits tend to soil it. And wet bedding doesn’t help them stay warm at all. So it must be removed and replaced on a regular basis.

Freezing temperatures freeze hoses. So the setup that works so well in summer – running long hose lines out to the animals – doesn’t work most days of the winter. The hose freezes solid and doesn’t defrost until at least two days of above-40 temperatures. So water must be toted out to the animals in gallon (or larger) containers. Now, there IS an easy way to fill a five-gallon bucket when the hose doesn’t work. But it’s still harder work than just using a hose.

Use a dustpan to fill a large bucket. Image courtesy of lifehacker.com

Use a dustpan to fill a large bucket. Image courtesy of lifehacker.com

And not just hoses freeze in winter – water in bowls freezes too! Leaving animals with nothing to drink. In summer one bowl of water per day is enough, but some days in winter are cold enough that the water freezes before the animal can drink enough to sustain it for the day. So water must be toted more often the colder it gets. And don’t fall into the trap of trying to use hot water to make it stay wet longer. Did you know hot water freezes faster than just moderately warm water? It’s true! http://chemistry.about.com/od/waterchemistry/a/Can-Hot-Water-Freeze-Faster-Than-Cold-Water.htm

I even had eggs freeze once! In the shells, in the chicken coop. There is so much water in the egg white and yolk that freezing forces the shell to crack, making it unsafe to use the egg even after it thaws. When I get those, they get fed back to the chickens.

Then there are the cold-weather diseases. Cold weather reduces the body’s ability to fight disease, even in animals. So just like humans have cold and flu season in the winter, animals are often more susceptible to illness in the winter as well. I had a rabbit die just yesterday that was apparently healthy the day before. The main culprits in winter are the sheer cold, dehydration, or bacteria/viruses.  You can give your rabbits warm places to go, but you can’t make them stay there. You can give them water repeatedly, but you can not force them to drink. And you can maintain a closed herd, but you can not give 100% protection against bacteria and viruses. Animals are often just more susceptible to dying in cold weather than warm.

Shorter days make chickens stop laying. Their egg-laying cycle is affected by the length of the day. You can put lights in the chicken coop, but that has a fire risk attached to it. And then there is the thought that while you *can* make a chicken lay year-round, does that have an effect on how many years they can continue to lay? I’m not sure of that, but figure that nature is often correct when it wants to take breaks, so I do not light my chicken coop. And instead of four eggs per day, I get five per week in the winter. Oh well. They’ll lay more often when the longer days return.

Wintertime also interferes with breeding. Rabbits even slow down in winter! (Not that they “breed like rabbits” any other time – or at least any time you *want* them to breed.) Whether it is from instinctually knowing that kits have a lower chance of surviving in the cold temperatures, or from the fewer hours of sunlight making them lose interest in doing anything but eating and drinking in those few hours of sunlight, the result is many fewer litters born in the winter.

Winter even freezes compost piles! At least it can if they’re not built large enough or if they’re not working hot enough. Don’t try plunging your turning fork deep into a pile of compost, with your body weight behind it, without first testing to see if the pile is frozen. From experience, suddenly hitting a layer of ice when you expected the fork to keep moving can be painful! A few pots of boiling water poured on the pile is often enough to defrost the ice and get the pile working again.

There is no snow here (or rather, very little) so at least I don’t have to dig my way out to the animals before I can care for them. I had to do that in Colorado, and it adds an extra level of aggravation and danger to everything. Shoveling, not slipping, getting doors open in spite of layers of snow and ice – blech!

So – carry bedding, carry water,  collect eggs more often, check for disease, track water consumption to spot problems approaching, carefully monitor breeding instead of assuming they completed it, watch your footing, and tote pans of boiling water around without slopping it on the pathway … winter is full of chores one doesn’t have to do in the summer.

Nothing alters the rate at which the days become longer, but it’s always a pleasure when the warmer weather returns, even if it’s sporadically at first!

Even best laid plans must have room to change

The dream was to raise Angora rabbits, pluck their wool, spin it into yarn, and sell it. And rake in the money. After all, Angora fur sells for $6 – $8 per ounce! I stumbled across a purebred French Angora doe for $30. She quickly produced an equally purebred litter of eight kits. I fought to keep the kits alive, fostering them out to a nearby breeder of Mini Lop rabbits. I had a lot invested in those Angoras, especially emotionally. But they should have been able to easily pay for their keep, and so they fit in our carefully crafted homestead plan.

But then that plan hit reality. And this week I butchered three more of my Angoras, leaving me with only three of my original eight.

It was the right thing to do. Really, I know this. But letting go of plans is always difficult, isn’t it?

But I was out of cage space, and had to make some decisions. I had to choose between keeping my Angoras, or keeping the does from my recent meat rabbit litter. The Angoras are small, they’re not show quality, their fur is half the length I needed it to be to bring a good price, and they are apparantly sterile (no live kits in a 16 month time frame). And the meat rabbits are large, beautiful, bricks of muscle from wonderful genetics known for large litters and a mom that successfully raised them all.

So I decided that it no longer mattered how well I had laid my plans for the Angoras. The plans were really dreams, and the actual animals I had did not work to change that dream to reality.

Without another source for inexpensive French Angora rabbits, the rabbit plan itself must change so that we could continue to work on the homestead plan. The homestead plan does not allow freeloading livestock!

And so we had rabbit for dinner. And lunch. And dinner. With more in the refrigerator.  It does take a while for two people to eat three rabbits. But at least they’re finally producing something, even if it is just a reduction in the grocery budget. :-)

And the meat rabbit kits look great in the rabbit hutches. Best laid plans – take two!

Midnight adrenaline!

I read once that having livestock was publicly announcing your willingness to run outside, at any hour of the day or night, in any state of dress or undress, to deal with whatever emergency happened. I scoffed at that. Certainly there is time to put on pants or a jacket, right?

Nope.

Hubby and I were getting ready for bed tonight when he heard an animal scream. “Something’s wrong with the animals – they’re screaming” he shouted from the other room. And the adrenaline kicked in.

I dropped whatever it was I was doing, and headed for the back door. Thankfully my shoes were right there and I could step into them without slowing down. But no jacket. No time! The flashlight is *always* by the back door. I couldn’t get the back light on, it gets finicky in the cold weather, so I kept on going without it. Halfway through the yard the flashlight picked up the chicken coop – with the chickens outside in the run.

What? “It’s rabbits that scream, not chickens”, I thought. I had been headed for the rabbits and just happened to see the chickens on the way. But a quick flashlight beam across the hutches showed all rabbits in their cages and quiet. Whatever was going on, it was about the chickens. And with them outside their coop in the middle of the night, whatever was going on was INSIDE the chicken coop.

I opened the run and stood in the doorway. Without realizing how useful it was, we had built the chicken coop so one could see inside the pop door from the entrance to the run. I bent over and shone the flashlight beam inside.

Two small red eyes. My heart took an extra-hard thump before I saw the rest of the animal hiding behind part of the perch. An opossum!

I was simultaneously relieved and concerned. Possums aren’t known for attacking people, unless they’re truly cornered and terrified. At least it wasn’t a fox or similar quick-moving and more aggressive animal. But at the same time, I didn’t have room to swing a shovel in the close confines of the coop. I was going to have to persuade slow-moving, comfort-loving, not-afraid-of-humans opossum to leave the coop of his own free will.

Hubby had joined me only half a second behind, coming from a different room. Wearing his boxers. Because, being a good livestock owner, he hadn’t stopped to put on pants! So I had him grab the pitchfork for me, and then hold the flashlight while I opened the chicken coop. (In addition to the small pop door the chickens use, the entire front of the coop opens up like barn doors. I wanted it that way for ease of cleaning, never thinking how wonderful it would be in persuading a reluctant predator to depart!)

First I showed the turning fork to the possum, which hissed at it. Then I poked the possum with it, and it squealed in anger. Ah, finally the source of the “scream” hubby had heard! Maybe one of the chickens pecked it? Maybe it bumped an exposed nail? I poked it again, and the possum bit at the tines of the fork, realizing they weren’t going to move. It ran to the other side of the coop, where I followed it. It ran back to the original side, and into the nestbox. I threw forkfuls of bedding at it, which really annoyed it. Finally it went out the front of the coop and down to the ground, immediately darting behind the door support. I prodded it again and it went up the run fence, pausing at the top where I unceremoniously pushed it over into the brush on the other side. It walked away unharmed.

I want to say I saw the chickens applaud, but it must have been completely in my head because of course chicken wings don’t bend that way. But I closed up the coop, put the ramp back where it belonged, and watched the girls one by one return to the coop to roost for the night.

All but one. Not sure what’s going on with her. I picked her up and saw no blood, no injuries. But she acted a little shellshocked. I gently put her in the coop with her flock, figuring the normalcy of the surroundings might be best for her. Then we closed and locked the door.

We’ll be better now at locking the coop door when it gets dark, rather than when we go to bed. Lesson learned.

Second lesson learned – if you are short on eggs, look for an egg-eating predator. I probably could have caught that opossum several days ago if I had listened to my gut about all the eggs that I thought were being laid but that weren’t in the nestbox when I went to collect them.

Hopefully the short chicken memory will serve my flock well and they’ll be back to normal as soon as they got inside. On the other hand, you can see that I’m still awake typing this out, because the adrenaline needs a bit of time to leave my system.

But hubby did look cute outside in his boxer shorts!  ;-)

The power of compost

Compost is wonderful. I can think of almost no other tool I’d rather have around my homestead. It beats wheelbarrows, hammers, even my favorite cooking pot.

If I did not have compost, I would have a more expensive garbage bill. If I did not have compost, I would have a more expensive chicken feed bill. If I did not have compost, I would have to use more plastic bags (to contain yard waste for pickup). If I did not have compost, I would be contributing more to landfills.

But I *DO* have compost! And it’s wonderful.

Properly placed and used piles of compost are lovely things.

I have more birds in my yard than all my neighbors put together, because compost with a good amount of fresh vegetable parts is more attractive to many birds than a birdfeeder. Seeds from green peppers, peels of carrots, halves of wormy apples. It’s a buffet for the vegetarian birds. And all the worms and grubs attracted to the pile are a feast for the carnivorous birds.

The grass around my compost pile is lush and green. Yes, even in January. The nutrients leeching out of the pile even without help are sooo good for it! So are the earthworms that the compost attracts. Some gardeners pay money for earthworms to put in their yards – mine arrive on their own.

I can take rabbit and chicken manure – that smelly, ugly stuff – and place it in a compost pile with layers of straw and vegetables … and suddenly there is no more smell and no objectionable sight. Certainly beats bagging it up in plastic and paying someone to remove it. And when you live in close proximity to your neighbors and even sight is an issue, compost looks a lot better than plain rabbit and chicken manure, even if it is safe to put directly on the plants.

And all of those benefits are even before it’s reached the point where it can be used. When everything in the pile is has been composted long enough, it is the richest, darkest, best fertilizer you can use. It looks good, just like expensive mulched topsoil from an expensive garden place. It smells good – musky and earthy and fresh – much better than any chemical fertilizer from the store.

Not to mention you get all these benefits for free! I live in Oregon, so the water it needs falls from the sky, but even in Colorado the water was the only cost. You do have to have a barn fork for turning and aerating the pile, but I use the same one I already had for moving rabbit manure and cleaning out the chicken coop. Sure, you can get fancy and build a compost bin, or get a tumbler, but those aren’t strictly necessary. Mine is a freestanding pile on the side of the yard.

Kitchen scraps and smelly manure disappear into its depths. Birds, worms, and my chickens feast from it. It greens my grass and fertilizes my garden.

Compost is powerful.

I might as well feed them dollar bills

The price of rabbit and chicken feed is rising. A LOT. The drought conditions that affected the MidWest’s corn crop in the summer of 2012 have been trickling through the rest of the feed supply. If there is less corn, then what there is costs more than it did previously. And those who purchase corn to make something else (like livestock feed) have to charge more for the feed to make their own books balance. Which leaves me holding the bag. Literally.

I used to be able to get chicken and rabbit feeds at 16 and 17 dollars per 50 lb bag, respectively. Now it’s 18 and 21 dollars per 50 lb bag. Yep, chicken feed costs $2 more and rabbit feed costs $4 more.

I can find rabbit food at only $3 more, but it is 11 miles away (round trip), which is about half a gallon of gas. With gas at $3.49 per gallon, I’d spend more going to get the feed than I’d save at the cheaper prices. However, when I have to go that way for another purpose, I stock up with whatever I can afford to get.

I have not yet seen an increase in cat or dog food. The cats are currently eating Wellness brand bagged food. I don’t believe it contains corn. But it does contain chicken, and since the cost of chicken feed is up… then the cost of chicken is up. Or if it isn’t up yet, it will be soon! Which means we can expect pet foods to increase in cost, too. I’m currently cooking natural foods for my dog (she’s having some itchy issues), but foods from the grocery store are obviously subject to the same supply chain issues as livestock feeds. Costs are increasing there, too.

I’ve heard people joke that heat costs so much that they may as well burn dollar bills. Well, the costs of feed are going up so much that I might as well feed my animals dollar bills!

Of course we do things to minimize costs. The chickens get our leftovers. They love oatmeal, spaghetti, and random pieces of meat and veggies. It feels good to not throw away leftovers, especially when they’d have to be thrown in the trash instead of the compost. (Chickens can eat meats and fats that the compost pile can’t handle.) Some creativity helps, too – we went to the movies the other day, and bought a large popcorn. So when we left, I used the free refill to have it filled for the chickens! Might as well, since I paid for the privilege of a free refill and the chickens do well with a meal of popped corn.

For the rabbits, I harvest grass and weeds from the yard, and I occasionally receive stale bread from restaurants. Plus the food pantry where I volunteer sometimes receives vegetable donations that are not fit for human consumption. I try to give the rabbits at least one completely free meal each week. It really cuts down on the costs of feeding them. I’m glad I have a very overgrown yard – rabbits love grass and grape leaves.

With the cats, the only cost saving measure I have come up with is to feed real food as treats instead of buying those expensive little foil pouches of cat treats. They already get bagged food instead of canned food, and I just don’t have a well-researched recipe for home prepared food for cats. I wouldn’t lower the quality of the food I feed my pets any more than I’d lower the quality of the food I feed my human family.

I am enjoying cooking for my dog, and it is indeed cheaper than buying the high quality bagged for her. Only a few dollars cheaper, but every bit helps. I’m doing it because she’s itchy right now and one possible culprit is the food she’s been eating. But now that I have my pressure canner it’s EASY to store homecooked food for her, so we’ll see how long I can keep it up. She absolutely LOVES her homecooked food, and she’s doing great on it.

So maybe I can keep food prices for my animals low enough that I feel like I’m feeding them coins instead of dollar bills. It sounds better, anyway!