There’s a snake in my coop!

Theres a snake in my coop!

Theres a snake in my coop!

I have mentioned before that I am a city girl living in the country these days and I have mostly gotten used to the random wildlife encounters – giant spiders the size of my hand, weird bugs, gopher tortoises digging holes and the occasional snake in the yard…. But I have to confess I was surprised and proud of my recent reaction when nature got a little closer than expected…

Eric the snake wrangler

Eric the snake wrangler

I went out late one afternoon to collect the ladies eggs from the coop and when I opened the second nest box a giant snake was looking me right in the eyeball! Did I scream? Did I run? Did I faint dead away of shock? Nope, remarkably, I did not!

hiding in the coop after I chased him away from the eggs

Hiding in the coop after I chased him away from the eggs

I dropped the lid, yelped and took an involuntary step backwards – then promptly opened it back up again so I could take a picture LOL. (You got to identify these things so you know what to do…)

Scarlet King snake - thankfully not a coral snake

Scarlet King snake – thankfully not a Coral snake

When we first moved in, we saw what we thought was a Coral snake on the front step and scared to get too close we took a picture and looked it up – fortunately it was just a Scarlet King snake – harmless but it looks a lot like the deadly Coral snake on first glance. They both have red, yellow and black stripes but the order is what is important.

Red next to black, friend of Jack
Red next to yellow, kill a fellow.

Words to live by people….

Gopher Tortoise on the pool deck

Gopher Tortoise on the pool deck

Eric did see a Coral months later, mostly however we see Black Racers which are likewise harmless – this one was new to me so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I opened the box and took the picture he was clearly trying to move away – I think more frightened of me than I was of it – just barely LOL.

Golden Silk Orb Weaver Spider - beautiful but huge!

Golden Silk Orb Weaver Spider – beautiful but huge!

I chased him off before he ate any of our eggs and sent the picture to Eric who was on his way home. When he arrived a few minutes later he got the grabber and went to investigate.  (I may have been able to chase him but I draw the line at actually trying to pick him up – we all have our limits and thats what husbands are for LOL)

Sand hill cranes - my fav Florida bird

Sand Hill Cranes – my fav Florida bird

At first, we thought he was gone, but I saw him up on the top rafter – Eric managed to get him out and was astonished that it was at least four and half feet long – I don’t think he believed me when I told him how big it was LOL

possibly a mole king snake... not sure LOL

Possibly a mole king snake… not sure about this one LOL

After a little research we discovered that is was a yellow rat snake (some people call it the chicken snake since it likes eggs and will eat chicks if available) Fortunately all our ladies are likely too big to be in any danger from a snake and he can eat as many rats as he can find – even thought Catness, our badass barn cat, doesn’t leave much room for that LOL

Deer in the pasture

Deer in the pasture

Haven’t seen him since – Much prefer the deer and Sand Hill Crane sightings LOL

Black racer staring in the window at me...

Black Racer staring in the window at me…

Black racer on the pool deck

Black Racer on the pool deck

 

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Checkpoint Chicken

New to raising backyard chickens, we had underestimated the inconvenience of having them share space with our dogs. Turns out they poop an incredible amount and two of our dogs decided rolling in chicken poop was absolutley the most fun a dog could have!  At least until they tried to come near us and the screaming, holding our noses and dumping them in the bath commenced – then it wasn’t quite so much fun – not for them or us. Still the horror of frequent baths did not deter them from running back out next chance they got – rinse and repeat…

Posts are in - laying out the baseplates - the taller posts are for the gate

Posts are in – laying out the baseplates – the taller posts are for the gate

Added to that challenge, we also were letting the dogs out in the morning first, then the chickens and waiting till they went home to roost to let the dogs back out – as the days got longer this was more and more impractical and who has time for a juggling act like that?

Alright chicken this is the last time you cross the border without showing me some papers

Alright chicken this is the last time you cross the border without showing me some papers

So I devised a cunning plan to save my sanity – divide the back yard in half – East and West separated by a fence and gate – Checkpoint Chicken!

Last weekend, Eric and I did the obligatory Home Depot run for supplies and I drew up one of my famous scribbled plans on paper for what I wanted to build – you know the ones my husband hates because it is not a blueprint with measurements, front and side elevations and a supply list….

I however had a crystal clear plan in my head – I wanted a wood and wire fence so we could grow climbing plants on it – nothing could be simpler, right?

Coming together - all the wire panels are up

Coming together – all the wire panels are up

Actually day one went well even though Eric wanted to do a simple straight line fence and I wanted an angle so the gate opened up into the rest of the yard – I had a vision people! Straight lines are boring! LOL Florida’s sandy soil took it easy on us and we only had to move one post a little to avoid some massive tree roots.

capping off each panel with a 1 x 4 notching around the posts - looking good!

capping off each panel with a 1 x 4 notching around the posts – looking good!

The next day started out great we got the baseplates in and leveled them, close to the ground so no chickens or dogs could squirm under. We had a little issue deciding on the best way to frame in the panels so we could attach our field fencing without it looking ugly but we figured it out and the panels went up pretty easily and neither of us tried to kill the other – at least not with any real effort…

Fence done - now for the gate

Fence done – now for the gate

We did some nice detail on the top, capping each panel off and notching it around the posts – this was beginning to look like we knew what we were doing…

Gatsby and Charlie patrolling the perimeter before the permanent gate went up

Gatsby and Charlie patrolling the perimeter before the permanent gate went up

Then we got to the gate – the original plan was for lots of vertical 1 x 2 pieces on a 2 x 4 frame however it quickly became clear that it was going to be too heavy – the 1 x 2’s were completely warped and our nail gun was acting up. It was late in the day, we were hot and cranky and had just reached our limit so I tacked a piece of field fencing over the gate opening for the time being and went back to the drawing board.

building the gate frame

building the gate frame

I decided a lighter frame of 1x 4’s with the same field fencing would be a better solution – so back to Home Depot we went the following weekend to pick up new supplies. We found solar post caps for only $4, which I was convinced was a mistake since the plain wood ones were $8!!!! Whatever –  no one stopped us for shoplifting as we walked out the door with our $4 deals. We also picked up a guide to help us drill angled holes in our thinner wood frame. The right tools can prevent and frustration and family dispute – trust me!

Gate & solar caps installed

Gate & solar caps installed

The frame came together pretty quickly and we stapled the same field fencing on to match the rest of the fence. Add some hinges and a latch and we were off to the races – Checkpoint Chicken is now fully operational – show me your papers!

Close up of solar caps from hell

Close up of solar caps from hell

Next up was trimming down the fence posts and adding the solar caps which should have been an easy task except we found out why they were only $4  – they were too tight to fit on the posts without Herculean effort!!! We had to sand the suckers down and my poor husband used brute force and muscle to get them on – most people probably returned them but Eric is nothing if not determined LOL Once on, a couple screws hold them in place (my job) and they give off a nice glow in the evenings.

Part two will be building the trellis over the gate – but that will have to wait for another post LOL

All in all, I am delighted with how it turned out and my life is much easier with separation of dog and chicken – they can both be out at the same time and our dogs no longer smell like chicken poop 3 times a week. A blood pressure lowering solution all around 🙂

Chicken Update – Eggs! – or at least one

First Egg!!!!!!

First Egg!!!!!!

Today was the big day after a week or so of thinking about it our Leghorn laid our first egg!

Foghorn - our Leghorn who laid the first egg today!

Foghorn – our Leghorn who laid the first egg today!

For the past week or so my husband has been obsessively checking in on the chickens – we knew it could be any day now. This morning Foghorn the leghorn started sing the egg song  (seriously look it up –  its a thing LOL) and scratching around in the nest boxes so we were very hopeful and sure enough when we went out to check on her – there it was – our first fresh egg from our own hens 🙂

First egg in the nest box  - I am so excited to have been home to see this

First egg in the nest box – I am so excited to have been home to see this

Still warm and actually larger than I expected. The proud mom is doing fine and got some yummy treats for her hard work

Buff Orpington fluffy chicken butt LOL

Buff Orpington fluffy chicken butt LOL

I have been home sick all weekend but I am actually almost glad I caught this wretched cold from my last business trip – since that was the only reason I was at home today to witness this momentous occasion LOL

More pics 🙂

Lily - our Barred Rock

Lily – our Barred Rock

"Not Legorn" - we think she is a Delaware

“Not Legorn” – we think she is a Delaware

One of the two Black Sex Links

One of the two Black Sex Links

Cleo - Our Rhode Island Red and Buff Orpington mix

Cleo – Our Rhode Island Red and Buff Orpington mix

Grand Chicken Coop Caper

The Chicken Palace

The Chicken Palace

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had planned to only have 4 chickens so I bought a small chicken coop kit to house that sensible number of chickens to be but then apparently chicks are like Pringles – you can’t have just one and our plan for only 4 turned into 14 – don’t judge me!

In order to deal with this complete lack of restraint a larger coop was in order. We decided to reuse what may have been an old dog run that the previous owners had left in the backyard. A nice big 10 x 10 x 6 ft high enclosure with gate – all we had to do was build a coop onto the side of it and we would be off to the races!

Love love my nail gun

Love love my nail gun

After some online research I sketched out the perfect coop for our needs – Eric kept asking for “detailed plans” and I was all like “no need –  we can wing it – this will be fun!” Two trips to the hardware store later we were mostly still on speaking terms and we had just about managed to get a basic frame put together.

This Chicken Palace will be hurricane proof due to Eric’s love of lag bolts – this is what happens when you don’t give your husband detailed plans, measurements and front and side elevations LOL

Basic Frame

Basic Frame

I had the perfect plan in my head of course but building this in the backyard with a fairly uneven surface was a little tricky – but hey – its for chickens if the floor slants a teeny bit I doubt they will mind!

The first weekend we got the thing mostly framed in before the heat was too much and we went inside to the glorious AC. A busy work week followed and we had no time to touch it.

Rafters up

Rafters up

The following weekend we finished framing in walls and then started on the the roof rafters and shingles – of course we ran out of shingles right at the end but between the heat and the damn mosquitos eating me alive we were done.  I had to fly to Phoenix for business for a week so once again we were on hold – the chicks kept getting bigger and we were anxious to get them out of our garage….

Roof Shingles

Roof Shingles

The following weekend we had stormy weather and all we managed to do was get the doors on – the rest of the time we spent painting the master bedroom (the whispering scribbles could no longer be ignored…)

Doors on

Doors on

Finally the weekend of the 4th we put our noses to the grindstone and busted it out – these chickens must vacate the garage. The black sex links are escape artists and I would frequently find them running lose around the garage!

Shingles and nestboxes

Shingles and nestboxes

The heat and humidity are crazy this time of year an naturally everything takes a little longer than you think – frankly we have probably made the Fort Knox of chicken coops due to paranoia that raccoons will eat them LOL  I put up some nice cedar shingles since it is in my backyard and I will be looking at it every day I wanted it to be attractive.

Interior view

Interior view

Finally on Sunday – hot, dirty sweaty, exhausted – we transported the chickens out to their new home and they love it!!! It was fun to watch them explore their new home and find themselves a nice spot for a dustbath  – of course we feed them some grapes as a treat 🙂

Whole new world

Whole new world

Chicken liberty –  garage reclaimed for humanity – husband and wife still speaking – success all round LOL

Time to explore

Time to explore

Chicken Adventures

Chicken TV

Chicken TV

So I had planned to be all organized blogging about how the house and land projects in order etc – but to hell with that – Chicks happened! LOL

We had planned on getting a couple chickens for the eggs and after doing some research I wisely decided that 4 was all we needed and that we were not going to raise baby chicks because of the amount of effort and observation they needed – I would just buy 4 pullets (for the uninitiated that means female chickens that had not quite started laying yet)

This was clearly a smart plan since we are busy and this would be the first time keeping chickens. I ordered and nice smaller coop kit online – a chicken tractor to be precise – one that you can move around the yard so they can have fresh grass to forage on. My teenager built it for me and now all I needed were some chickens to put in it.

Chicken Tractor

Chicken Tractor

I quickly discovered that getting small numbers of pullets was not as easy as I had hoped – scarce as hens teeth, if you will. Larger minimum orders or people just selling straight run chicks (unsexed – you don’t know what flavor they are till they grow up) which doesn’t work for me because I do not have the heart to kill the roosters for meat

Then a couple things happened – first the house we just purchased has a fairly large chain link enclosure – might have been a dog run or something and I had the genius idea that I could turn that into a nice chicken run if I just built a coop onto the side of it…. I also found a lady online close to me that has a small chicken farm that was willing to let me pick out as many female chicks as I wanted and on top of that we visited a feed store that just got a bunch of young pullets in stock…..

All my sensible plans of only getting 4 older pullets went straight out the window when faced with the undeniable cuteness of the week old chicks. I bought eight of them! 4 buff orpintons, 2 black sex links, 2 other hybrids that I have forgotten the names off.

Chicks!

Chicks!

So I brought my chirping cargo back to the house and installed them in the small coop inside the garage with a lamp as a makeshift brooder for now – It’s florida so I don’t need to worry too much about them getting too cold but the first week they need to be at 90, going down 5 degrees a week till they are ready to live outside at about 5 weeks old when all their proper feathers come in.

So we have less than a month to build the larger coop in the yard….. more on that project later.  For now we are enjoying watching the chicken TV – the chicks have their wing feathers and their tail feathers are just starting to sprout.

We have been getting up at dawn to make sure they are warm enough and I have even had to wipe tiny chicken butt to save it from getting “pasted up” – a condition which can kill them – so we need to keep an eye on that runty little one. Six months from now I will have to get creative with egg recipes as we may be drowning in them LOL

Baby chicks trying to roost

Baby chicks trying to roost

New Beginnings – Return from Dormancy

My little slice of heaven

My little slice of heaven

I have to apologize to the people who do come by occasionally and read this blog – I have been quiet for months because life was so very busy. It’s not that I had nothing to say –  just no time to say it…

As some of you may know, after the big cross country relocation, we rented for two and a half years waiting for the right time and place to buy a new home. The search for a house finally kicked into high gear at the end of last year and after looking at what seemed like a million houses we finally bought our 5 acres of paradise.

So much has changed in the past few years of economic meltdown that despite buying and selling many homes over the years, the process this time around seemed much more daunting and difficult.  Luckily we had a great realtor who moved mountains in helping us find the perfect house – I can’t thank him enough!

Making it all more challenging was the fact that we wanted a horse property – that is a niche market – fewer properties out there to choose from – many more issues you need to consider before taking the plunge.

We put offers on two other properties before finally buying the one – I am so glad those other deals fell through, despite the disappointment at the time because the one we bought is absolutely perfect for us. Amazingly enough it was the house I wanted to see from the beginning, but it was in the middle of a short sale and under contract with another buyer so we had never been able to visit it.

Horse properties are tough – we saw some that had great barn facilities but the house was tiny and outdated – or houses that were pretty nice, but that had no barns, fencing and the land still needed to be cleared. We were getting pretty discouraged and thinking about putting the search on hold for a few months when our realtor was suddenly able to get us in to view the house I had wanted to see months ago.

I was prepared to be disappointed – I figured it would be too far a drive, the area or neighbors would be sketchy – the house would probably suck, the barn would be falling down – something…

But instead the drive wasn’t that bad – not nearly as far as I thought, the neighboring homes looked nice and well kept and as we drove up to the house I started to smile – this actually looked really promising. The architectural style of the home was a perfect fit for my taste – the barn looked to be in great shape, everything was fenced and the gates even had a horse on it! (Gotta enjoy the little things)

My Gate :)

My Gate

We checked out the fenced pastures and barn before going up to the house and the smile got a little bigger – but would the house work on the inside? This house had been on the market for over three years and was pretty beaten up on the surface – little to no maintenance all that time meant a lot of repairs were needed.

Fortunately, I can see beyond the cosmetic issues and neither one of us are afraid of taking on a project.

Once inside the main space I was sure this was the house for me – big, open plan living dining and kitchen –  perfect for entertaining family and guests. High ceilings, lots of light, good indoor/outdoor living space. It was as if someone had built it especially for me – I was head over heels in love!

But could we get it?  Still under contract with another buyer, still in negotiations with two banks that held the first and second mortgages – we couldn’t even make an offer till the paperwork was released…. We had a tense few weeks waiting to make our offer and then waiting for it to be accepted by not only the buyer and her lawyer but the two banks had to approve it also. Then the inspections began and the list of broken things mounted by the minute.

We went into it with our eyes wide open – we knew the AC system, the pool pump and windows needed to be replaced or repaired – we knew both the exterior and the interior needed a lot of work. But we knew it was the right house and it was worth the work it was going to take.

Despite all the obstacles, crisis and last minute panics – the day finally came and the paperwork was finally signed – the deal was done! We moved in Feb 15th and then the real work began because you don’t really own a horse property – it owns you…

So for the foreseeable future this blog is going to be about fixing up our new home, making it ours, painting, decorating, home improvement projects and the trials and tribulations of land management.

This city girl now has a well and a septic system – we have two horses, 4 dogs and are in the process of building a chicken coop.

Its a brave new world and we are loving every minute of it 🙂

Flower filled weekend

New Cattleya

With all the work traveling I have been doing lately I think I was due a stay at home sort of weekend – so although we planned to go to the beach or a theme park,  instead we ended up being homebodies and messing around in the garden all weekend.

Saturday, I went to a local Orchid Show with a friend and of course came back with a couple new plants to add to my collection LOL  I got a lovely yellow green Cattleya and another one (whose name escapes me right now) that is about to bloom and is completely new to me with deep raspberry colored flowers and an odd bulbous base.

I took about a million photos of some of the prize winners on display at the show, but unfortunately most of those were either not for sale or too expensive for me – a very small version of one awesome stripey one was listed at $100 – way too rich for my blood  – I maybe obsessed, but I am not crazy!

Meewon's first orchid

Meewon bought her very first orchid (muahahahahah – evil laugh – welcome to my obsession >8) a lovely yellow Phalaenopsis which is probably where most people start – easy to care for and so very pretty.

 

 

 

 

 

I also picked up a fun plant stand made out of a PVC pipe from a local vendor. It has a solar powered light on top and notches cut into it so you can hold 5 little 6 inch terracotta pots staggered around the pipe – it’s on castors so I can move it around the pool deck to my hearts desire.

Funky plant stand

Originally I thought it would be perfect for Eric, who needs a place to put his growing herb garden but it was really crying out for flowers, so instead we hit a great local nursery about 15 minutes away, the next day and picked some up. I ordered Eric a 5 shelf plant rack for his herbs instead.

Jonathon had been wanting a cactus, so we picked up a couple of those too and he started a cacti garden in a shallow pot on the pool deck. He managed not to damage himself while replanting thanks to some heavy duty gloves and used some compressed air to clean off the dirt from the spikes  – he plans to add a couple rocks to complete his miniature arid landscape.

President Hibiscus

I found a beautiful bright red hibiscus at Lowes for only $15 – which was a complete steal if you ask me! It is apparently a President Hibiscus and has flowers the size of my hand – something I could never have dreamed of growing before moving here and makes me happy just to look at it!

 

 

 

 

 

I could not resist this Stargazer lily either, which is pretty much the best smelling flower of all time!  Back in Washington it was a special occasion, cut flower that I would buy and put in a vase – not something I could actually grow…

Stargazer Lily - nothing smells better...

Everything grows here – it makes gardening way more fun – annuals practically become perennials – even impatience last forever – we even have a Bird of Paradise plant in the yard! We planted our Christmas Poinsettia and it is growing like a weed. We have a tomato plant that is over a year old and still producing fruit… Although we are in a pitched battle with our ninja squirrels to see who can get to them first! Basically we get to eat whatever they leave behind…

Last year I got some Jasmine and Gardenias (which are a really close contender for the best smelling flower of all time) which we planted in big blue pots. (Frankly all our plants are in pots since this is a rental and I want to take my garden with me when we go) I had a tough time with them last year since they got infested by bugs and all the buds dropped before flowering – which was just heartbreaking 😦

Gardenias - also smell beyond fantastic...

This year, however, they are going nuts  – a million buds and now beautiful white flowers that smell completely amazing! So after repotting all our new plants this weekend (we are swiftly running out of space – believe me!) we got to sit out by the pool while I wrote this, surrounded by our lazy puppies  and with the heady scent of gardenias and stargazer lilies filling the air – perfect!

Much better than the usual stinky dog poop smell which is what we normally deal with since we have four dogs in a hot humid climate – occupational hazard I guess.

 

 

Even Coco approved – although this angel face puppy thinks that her poop smells like gardenias all the time. So says the Princess Puppy – best not to argue with her really…

Angelic Coco