Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Predatory poultry and wood-whacking wives
The new chicks, a combination of Golden Comets and Araucanas , are now big enough to be let out of their chicken tractor to forage. They're quite entertaining to watch as they run around the dooryard in one giant pack looking for bugs and succulent greens.
The additional benefit of course is that their consumption of grain has decreased to less than a quarter of what it previously was.
Free range chickens are a helpful part of the farm ecology. We don't get very many garden slugs, for instance, because the chickens have access to a patrol area all around and right up to the garden fence. They also clean up wood ticks, which helps keep us from getting Lyme disease.
But we don't allow them actually in the garden, where they attack our plants. We have a poultry-proof fence around it. And when our neighbors decided to plant a garden close to our property line, we opted, with their permission, to put a fence around that patch too, with a gate, so the chickens could continue to range free.
In a different department of Womerlippi Farm Enterprises, the firewood pile is growing quite nicely, despite the current hot temperatures.
Yesterday, looking for easy gains perhaps, I logged a large, around 15 inch DBH ash, which then got hung up in a similarly sized dead elm, a real widow maker. The elm had to come down, since it would spread the Dutch Elm fungus, but I'd been avoiding it until it snagged the ash.
This situation sent me back to the shop for my hard hat, and made me wish Aimee hadn't gone to work. They call these dead trees in the woods "widow makers" for a reason, and I should know. Once, years ago, I was hit on the head by an 80 pound hickory branch falling forty feet from the top of a dead tree. As the tree was being cut, as it began to move, the dead branch snapped off and hit me really hard on the head. Luckily I was wearing my helmet, but I still was so dazed I couldn't walk, only crawl to the farmhouse, and was seeing stars as I called the ambulance. I'm sure without the hard hat I would have been killed.
I didn't have any broken bones -- the hard hat saw to that. But I had whiplash pains for several months.
In this case, there was no choice but to cut it without benefit of a safety person. I was careful, and fairly circumspect, not rushing the job and keeping a sharp eye on the elm's movements. But it came down safely enough, bringing the ash with it. The weight of the ash actually helped bring the elm down nicely. Elm and ash together made for three or four trailer loads, of which two were bucked up and brought up right away and split despite the heat. Ash needs to be split the day you cut it if you want an easy job. I got the split logs stacked nicely and covered, then let the sheep into the woodlot area to clean up the ash leaves and help me see where the smaller pieces could be cut out.
Later this week I'll go back for the smaller ash branches and the elm logs, which I'll buck up in very short lengths to give me an even chance to split them. Elm is very hard to split.
I'm fairly fussy about how I cover my firewood these days. You want see-through material on top -- that lets the sun in but keeps out the rain -- and you want space between the rows and open sides so air can circulate. It makes all the difference to the speed and quality of seasoning to do it right.
I left one knotty ash log for Aimee, who since she's been working out regularly has begun to enjoy such things. But she wouldn't let me watch her split it, let alone take a photo, so this sly shot out of the porch window will have to do.
And yes, that thermometer does read 95 degrees. That was in the sun. the high yesterday at the Bangor airport was 91, which probably translates to 89 here three hundred feet higher. With 70 percent humidity, this is as hot as it gets around here.
Plenty hot enough, believe me.
No break in the heat and humidity is forecast until a cold front is expected Friday.