Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chicks, Prairie dogs, Earth Day and Earthbags

Chicks in "brooder"
This past week we received 27 baby chicks in the mail from McMurray Hatchery. Some assortment of Jersey Giants, Cuckoo Marans and a surprise chick. My little surprise chick is yellow with feathered feet. I'm excited to see what it turns into.

It is rather challenging keeping the chicks at the right temperature (95 degrees F) when we don't have much electricity to spare. We can't really afford the energy pull of a 100 watt bulb on our batteries, so we opted for a 40 watt bulb, and keeping the chicks in the well insulated but unused chest freezer over night. During the day, anywhere near the front, south facing, slanted windows provides more than enough heat, in fact, too much and I have to move the chicks around to maintain the temperature at 95F. So far so good. We are on day three and haven't lost any of the little ones.

Freezer brooder, always propped open for air.
Richard has been doing chicken classes for interested folks looking to start their own backyard flocks. It has been going pretty well in our new community. There seem to be plenty of people interested in living sustainably.

Moved the ducks out, sort of...they get to spend the days in the chicken tractor inside the chicken pen, and come in at night. They are almost all feathered out, but the nights are still pretty cold, so we bring them in at night and they sleep in their rubber brooder.
Baby ducks out in the fresh air.

We also hauled our first load of water (1000 gallons) from the community well with our pretty new rainbow truck. That worked well. One of the cisterns here at our house is not pumping into the house, so Richard hooked up a pump he found in our utility room and spent a whole day transferring water from the non-working cistern to the working cistern on the other end of the house. The pump really taxed our electricity storage, and now with the new chicks, the power has been fluctuating on the low side. I'm back to candles and camp lanterns at night.  But, good news...we got our wind turbine and are ordering the rest of the parts so we can get it put up and running. That should help with the power. It seems the wind blows here nearly everyday. Richard used to hate the wind, but now he just thinks of the potential power it can provide.

I attended a couple of Thrive Taos meetings in town, which show a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to attend because Richard works, I have both of the wild ones in tow, and now, they are closing the bridge to town over night for the next month, which leaves us stranded in town or taking one of the two other bridges which are miles out of the way and particularly unsettling for me with the switchbacks and short altitude climb. I won't do it. Scares me...anxiety attacks don't work on mountain roads. So, I'm most likely not going to attend the Thrive meetings for a while, although maybe we can be involved in other ways.

Discovered the Taos Food Co-op through Thrive, and we ordered a bunch of bulk items from Golden Organics. They have all of the flours we need for the kids' gluten-free diets. Wonderful!

Prairie dog burrow in field to south of house.
Richard has been volunteering at Cerro Vista Farm up in Cerro on one of his days off. He just felt the need to farm. In return for his work, he gets a "work share" of produce, which will help us out with clean, organic, locally grown food, since our ability to garden is limited here due to water and space. And, it turns out prairie dogs! It seems there was a reason we found chicken wired buried under the last residents' compost piles. There is a sizable prairie dog colony out in the field beyond our fence. And they have been burrowing into the yard in search of green grass, which there is, although we have not watered what looks to be the former owners' attempt at a "lawn."

Prairie dog burrow in new raised planter.
So now, Richard is putting chicken wire under the planter beds and we have to dig up the three we already put in to line them with chicken wire too.

What do prairie dogs teach us? About about that. In our sustainable, off-grid community, the covenants do not allow for extermination of any of the natural critters, which is great, and I'm trying to find some natural prairie dog deterrents (haven't found any yet). Funny we found a crap load of mouse traps beyond the fence when we moved the llamas out there. Were they trying to deter the little prairie dogs or exterminate the field mice? Maybe it was a vendetta against the huge pack rat that lives under the wood pile.

Baby goats and little kids at Lettuce Grow Farm
For Earth Day (our new Xmas) we took the kids to a cute little farm in town that is focused on Permaculture and building community. Check out Lettuce Grow Farm in El Prado, NM. They played with the baby goats, baby ducks, planted seeds in eggshells, and picked dandelions for the ladybug farm.  We also took them to Twirl, a lovely local toy store with playground and found them an adorable board game focused on gardening. We went by the Fiber Art show in town and had a full day of fun things to celebrate our Mother Earth. I'd like to turn Earth Day into a big holiday in our house, maybe plant more trees and flowers around the house...when we build our own. Give the kids a meaningful holiday to replace the consumerist American holidays we are no longer celebrating (Easter, Halloween, Christmas...anything that requires spending money on things we don't need or want.).

Lettuce, radishes, strawberries.
Our garden is pretty tiny this year with a few raised beds outside and our Earthboxes inside. I don't think we'll have any problem using the share from Cerro Vista Farm.

Up next: more chicken classes, in partnership with Thrive Taos, and on the near horizon, another Earthbag building event! This time we are going to build an Earthbag water catchment cistern. We just have to decide when and where, and collect enough polypropylene bags to get it done. If we close on our land in the next week, maybe we'll do it there. Or maybe at one of the Thrive member's homes. It seems we all need a little extra water here in the arid Southwest, and if we could all build cheap, and easy cisterns, wouldn't that be a great thing!

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