February Update: Another Early Spring

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 in Farm Blog | 12 comments

This winter many parts of the country have been entombed in bitter cold, and record snowfall. As such, I’m almost afraid to say that so far our winter has been incredibly mild. We have had a few storms pass through, but our temperatures have been spring-like for weeks, soaring past the 80-degree mark for a number of days this month.

The advantage of our unseasonably warm winter has been that we’ve been able to cross some projects off the list during our relatively quiet time of year.

Our first priority this season was to install a new dedicated hay storage shed.

This area is easy to access with the truck, so we decided it would be perfect for our new hay storage shed

This area is easy to access with the truck, so we decided it would be perfect for our new hay storage shed

Having an area devoted to feed storage, and nothing else, means we can actually use the workshop again!

Having an area devoted to feed storage, and nothing else, means we can actually use the workshop again!

The shed was installed a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, which gave me some time to actually get a coat of paint on it before the next round of rain. I used this as an opportunity to test out a potential new house color, as I figure it’s much easier to repaint a shed if I hate the color, than repaint the entire house! After a few tries, I finally found a yellow-based color I like, and it’s so much cheerier than the drab tan our house currently is. Hopefully this summer we’ll get the house painted to match.

Yellow is not the easiest color to work with, but after a few tries, we finally found a color we liked. This color is called 'Barley Grass'.

Yellow is not the easiest color to work with, but after a few tries, we finally found a color we liked. This color is called ‘Barley Grass’.

It was a tremendous relief to have the shed in place, so our stored hay could finally be moved out of the workshop, and it also holds a lot more bales of hay than we could store before. At least this year, if we find good hay with the ongoing drought, we can stock up!

Another task was to get some of the garden areas spruced up. The native garden area in front of the house was getting rather overgrown, so it was good to beat back some rampant growth before the plants bloom and push new growth in the spring.

We had enough rain in December, that this year our endemic manzanita (Arctostaphylos pajaroensis) we planted a few years ago, finally bloomed!

We had enough rain in December, that this year our endemic manzanita (Arctostaphylos pajaroensis) we planted a few years ago, finally bloomed!

After their hair cut our native deer grasses (Muhlenbergia rigens) look a little Dr. Seuss-esque at the moment, but they’ll look better once the new growth pushes in.

The native deer grasses (Muhlenbergia rigens) look much less shaggy now

The native deer grasses (Muhlenbergia rigens) look much less shaggy now

The native sages, and monkeyflower were so overgrown in this part of the garden, that I’d almost forgotten what our fountain in the garden looked like, but after some weeding and trimming at least now I don’t wince every time I walk up to the front door.

Weeds abated, and plants pruned. At least now it looks like someone lives here.

Weeds abated, and plants pruned. At least now it looks like someone lives here.

Last year we installed a new low retaining wall along the edge of the workshop, and we planted that area with a mix of native sages, deer grass, lavender, and rosemary, all of which are quite deer-proof here.

Nothing like having the deer test the garden before it's even planted!

Nothing like having the deer test the garden before it’s even planted!

This newly planted area is directly opposite the goat pasture, but even after we’d planted everything, it still felt like there was something missing. Even though it’s a rare occurrence here, it seemed this would be a great place to sit down, and relax. Somewhere to watch baby goats bouncing around in the green grass.

At least now we'll have somewhere comfortable to sit and watch from while the goats zip about

At least now we’ll have somewhere comfortable to sit and watch from while the goats zip about

After some hunting, I finally found a bench that looked like it would fit in perfectly.

Our new teak bench

Our new teak bench

We’ve tried some more economical benches in some of our previous gardens, but they never seemed to hold up for more than a season or two, so this time we chose to go with a more traditional and robust teak garden bench, and even had it customized with the Farm’s name.

The bench was engraved with the Farm's name

The bench was engraved with the Farm’s name

This bench is as sturdy as it is beautiful, and we’re looking forward to getting some very good use out of it this spring, and for many more to come!

The lavender, sage, and Ceanothus should start to fill in this spring, and provide a welcoming place to sit down

The lavender, sage, and Ceanothus should start to fill in this spring, and provide a welcoming place to sit down

However, before we can sit in the sun and relax, we decided that this year we really needed to bring some younger poultry stock to the farm. Our existing flock of hens is aging, and eggs aren’t as plentiful as they once were. We also lost the Farm’s iconic Dark Brahma rooster, Frodo, in December during one of our severe storms, and the farm just hasn’t been the same without him.

A young Frodo, in all his feather-footed glory

A young Frodo, in all his feather-footed glory

So, in early February, we brought some new chicks to the farm. We were so enamored with Frodo, and his gentle demeanor, that this time we chose to go with an entire flock of pure Dark Brahma hens, and a replacement Dark Brahma rooster.

One of our 3 day-old Dark Brahma chicks

One of our 3 day-old Dark Brahma chicks

This is a slow-to-mature breed, so it will be some months before the new ladies start to lay eggs, but hopefully by late summer this new flock will begin to lay, and we’re really looking forward to seeing them all feathered out later this spring!

In the meantime, the goats are looking as if they’re about to burst as we prepare for our 2015 kidding season. This year, though, we have some additional spectators on the farm, who perhaps are also anticipating our new spring goat kids. Since mid-late January we’ve had a number of encounters with Mountain Lions. Until recently we’d only ever seen a single Mountain Lion on the farm. However, in January, Mr. CV encountered not one, but TWO, lions just outside on the slope near the back door to the house. He was taking the dogs out for one last evening trip, and suddenly noticed he was being watched.

One of two Mountain Lions on the slope behind the house on January 21st (click image to enlarge) This shot was taken with a 35mm fixed portrait lens...NOT a zoom lens. It was that close.

One of two Mountain Lions on the slope behind the house on January 21st (click image to enlarge) This shot was taken with a 35mm fixed portrait lens…NOT a zoom lens. It was that close.

After that encounter I deployed our remote critter camera, to see if these big cats were just passing through, or if they were spending more time here than we realized. After a couple of additional encounters since then, where the lions somehow managed to evade the camera, a few nights ago we finally captured this footage…

Interestingly enough, the first lions (in the photograph above) were not wearing tracking collars, but the cat on the video can clearly be observed wearing a tracking collar, and is being tracked by the Santa Cruz Puma Project. This cat was obviously very VERY interested in one of our turkey pens, and between this collared cat, and the pair observed in January, we’re starting to think the farm has become quite popular with the local predator population. Its efforts were unsuccessful this time though, as we do strive to build robust pens here to protect our animals, but we have changed our chore routine on the farm, and now all farm chores are completed before sunset, and not started until well after sunrise. This definitely is less convenient, especially during the shorter winter days, but for now, it’s a necessity.

However, these recent Mountain Lion sightings here do finally help to explain our absence of deer that I posted about in December. I knew something was amiss. I have little doubt that our missing deer herd is due at least in part to the increased presence of these cats, and perhaps because the deer are now gone, our livestock and poultry are looking that much more interesting to the cats that wander through.

I’m not sure why there’s suddenly so much increased lion activity here, and I admit, it is truly awesome to see these lions up close, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m also a little concerned. With kidding season upon us, we’re going to have to be extra aware of our surroundings, and ensure that our herd is protected and safe.

With the hay shed installed, and the workshop now devoid of hay, this season we moved the kidding stalls up to the workshop as it’s closer to the house, so we can limit the amount of running around in the dark on the farm when the does are in labor at all hours. New stall mats and pens were installed, and a brand new barn camera system was configured over the pens.

The barn cameras allow us to monitor the does for signs of labor, without being excessively intrusive

The barn cameras allow us to monitor the does for signs of labor, without being excessively intrusive

Yesterday morning, the first doe scheduled to kid, Lotus, was moved up to her new private suite, along with Minnie for company.

We expect Lotus to kid sometime this weekend.

We expect Lotus to kid sometime this weekend.

Lotus is due to kid Friday, just in time for another round of rain to move onshore, so hopefully her kidding will be uneventful, and soon we’ll have the first 2015 babies of the season to show you!

We're able to keep a watchful eye on Lotus through our new barn camera system any time of day...

We’re able to keep a watchful eye on Lotus through our new barn camera system any time of day…

...or night!

…or night!

For now though, Lotus is relaxing in her stall, and enjoying some peace and quiet. I just wish I could say the same, but my chore list is never complete, so before the kids arrive I should probably get back to work!

12 Comments

  1. Always love reading your updates Clare. Difficult to believe the early spring, and a bit scary to see the cats!
    Alan @ It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening!´s last post…More sprouts

    • Yes, the kitties have definitely managed to get our attention lately. We’ve always presumed they are there, but it’s a little different when you keep seeing them (and especially THAT close, on camera!) Hopefully they’re just passing through, and will quickly realize there’s no point in hanging around!

  2. Yay! It’s kidding season! That mountain lion footage is scary–I’m glad you’re being extra cautious. I always enjoy seeing pictures and videos of your goats. And your bench is wonderful–it looks like it belongs right there!
    Beth @ PlantPostings´s last post…A Tropical Winter Walk-Off

    • I actually stole some time to enjoy the bench for a while today, while supervising the goats out on pasture. I figure I should steal every moment I can to relax…it’s about to get really busy here! 🙂

  3. Yikes, mountain lions! Exciting but scary. I hope your turkeys, chickens and goats stay safe. You too. Mountain lions attack people in California about once every other year.
    Lou Murray´s last post…Spring in southern California and a good Harvest Monday on Wed, Feb 24 2015

    • If for some reason we need to wander around here in the dark, to check on an animal, or take a dog out, we have resorted to using the buddy system. Apparently Mountain lions are less likely to stalk you if you’re with a friend. The question is, which one of us is slower? 😉

  4. The Central Coast Rangeland Coalition will be having a workshop on predation and livestock on April 16 in Carmel. “Protecting Critters On Both Sides Of The Fence: Practical Techniques For Protecting Livestock And Carnivores – Central Coast Rangeland Coalition Spring 2015 Membership Meeting
    – this meeting will focus on non lethal means of reducing predator impacts on livestock.
    http://www.elkhornsloughctp.org/training/show_train_detail.php?TRAIN_ID=CeGXD9D
    Cindy´s last post…Newtlandia

    • Thanks for posting that, Cindy. Certainly for anyone considering starting with small ruminants, that could be a very interesting talk!

  5. Wow! I can see why those big cats have you a bit concerned. Love both your new bench and your shed color. The subtle, muted yellows often seem to have plant names. This one looks similar to the color called Fennel Seed that I painted my living room, and I have Mushroom Cap in my new bedroom. I once made the mistake of buying a paint color called Mellow Yellow, which was anything but. 😐
    Jean at Jean’s Garden´s last post…Winter Light

    • Yes, it took us a few tries to find the right yellow. I’m just grateful that most paint companies now have sample pots. I don’t care how large the paint chip is, until it’s on a wall, in the light/shade you intend to use it, it is almost impossible to tell if you have the right color for that location. I’m also grateful for primer, as by the time I’d tested a few combinations on the shed, it looked like an explosion in a crayola factory 😉 Primer hid it all though, and I love the final result!

  6. I am glad someone had a mild winter….and look at all the new things going on. Love the gardens and the bench….and I know you don’t necessarily love them, but I love those mountain lions as long as they are far away.
    [email protected] Eye View´s last post…Seasonal Celebrations-Spring Awakens

    • I have no real beef with the Mountain Lions. They were here first 😉 I actually take pride in the fact that the farm is home to so many different species of wildlife, and honestly, I never expected to stand 20 feet from a live Mountain Lion in my own back yard! It was quite an experience. But we do have a lot of cautious respect for them, and know that by protecting our own animals from them on the farm, we are also protecting the lions, and preventing them from becoming a nuisance.