Category Archives: Stone Soup Diaries

Porch Chickens

Chickens,backyard chickens,free range poultry

Truly 'Free-Range' birds

With all the kerfuffle about the meaning or “free range” and setting humane standards for production egg layers and meat birds, I have provided a few images of what a free range bird looks like.

As in free. To range.

These are some of my porch chickens. Because, you know, they’re free, to range…



Free Range rooster in the literal and figurative sense of the word

Looking to score some pesticide free apples...


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Filed under agriculture, Animal Welfare, Back Yard Chickens, Chickens, Chikin TeeVee, Food, Locavore, Poultry, Soup Of The Day, Sustainable Agriculture

My Chicken Hound

Retiree ‘Cotton’ helps drive the chickens home to roost. The chokeberries across the way are their favorites, putting the birds at risk for predators, including careless cars.

Driving poultry isn’t a very traditional job for a Pointer, but he loves it and it allows him to express his natural desire to hunt for and locate game. He’s still pretty steady and he still quarters, even though he hasn’t been ahead of a gun in quite a few years.

When the weather is bad, we send him on to locate the birds and round them up to their shelter. He doesn’t mind, since he is rewarded with his favorite shirt and a cozy place by the big couch. A priveledge few others get to enjoy.

He has successfully tracked truant birds and has learned quite on his own how to turn them towards home as opposed to drive them further afield.

I take him for granted. Like a favorite jacket or my car keys. Always there, always ready to do…SOMEthing….

Career disruptions, injuries and finances kept this dog from being great.

A sire of champions when he, himself is unfinished, protector and companion to my only child and demonstration dog/helpmate in the training of thousands of dogs over the course of the last eight years.

His uncanny ability to read dogs and his tolerance for puppies and foolish youth are legendary and the most valuable asset in my training arsenal. He is an indespensable, integral component of my personal success as a dog trainer and he deserves more credit than he’s gotten.

My best friend and one of the most versatile dogs I have ever owned.

Good boy, Cotton.

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Filed under Back Yard Chickens, Chickens, dog training, Hunting Dogs, Poultry, Soup Of The Day, Uncategorized

Why Mike Rowe is a hero

Mike Rowe

In order to be green, you gotta get brown

I love Dirty Jobs. The TeeVee show and the actual thought of going out and getting my hands dirty.

Let’s face it. When we bought this place, we knew it was going to be hell to pay to get it into any sort of shape for living let alone self-sustenance.

Every time I have to go outside and slog through the swollen creek in fear of losing my garage or free a door for the chickens to roam across the landscape, I think about the millions of unsung heroes, workers across the globe; pressing on in their daily chores to make our lives easier.

In a conversation I was involved in with some associates, I came across this and discovered that Mike is well, interesting. Ever since his episode on the Green movement I figured there was more to this guy than being a talking head.

With candor, he admits to the human failing  of simply being wrong and admits with eye opening clarity the danger of believing everything without question, or experiencing first hand.

Well done, Mr Rowe.  Well done indeed.


Filed under agriculture, Animal Rights, Stone Soup Diaries, Sustainable Agriculture

Snowpocalypse 2010

Mid Atlantic record snowfall

The view from my back porch

My garage doubles as a coop for my 25 laying hens who are woefully unprepared for this record-breaking snowfall in the Maryland area, as was every other living thing. The temperatures they don’t mind. It’s all the silly white stuff they have to walk through.

Too busy to have bothered to take pictures of the ‘big dig’ five days later, we are again able to reach the outside. The birds are less than thrilled.

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Filed under Chickens, Stone Soup Diaries

Adventures behind the dashboard of a Ford Expedition

We had grand plans for last weekend. I had purchased Motorcycle Safety Training for my husband’s birthday so that we could ride together occasionally and relieve some of the monotony of being the sole employees of a small business.

Our objective was to finish the course together (I had previously gone through the training when I bought my bike several years ago) so that we could license Peter on Monday and hopefully, be looking for that second bike by the week’s end.
We have friends and co-workers that ride and done safely, riding is an entertaining way to spend the precious few discretionary hours we have available, relieve a little stress and provide an alternative means of transport for at least one of us in case our only operating vehicle breaks down.
Simultaneously, my truck Rocky (our only operating vehicle), began to show some ‘issues’. A ten year old Expedition with well over 200,000 hard earned miles; he was aging less than gracefully and I figured I was facing some eventual repairs.
I believe in running vehicles until their wheels fall off, reattaching them and running them some more, like until my feet fall through the floorboards.
Yes, I am cheap.
In the past, I had done much of the repairs myself as the lack of money prompted me to learn a few things about cars.
If desperation is the mother of invention, I am The Mother.
Many years have passed since the days of tuning or rebuilding my little six bangers, installing mufflers, thermostats, water pumps and changing brakes. Cars have gotten more complex and well, I have gotten a little older, occasionally have much more discretionary income to hire a trained mechanic to do it for me and (up until recently) always had an alternative means of transportation.
And since you cannot carry a dog on a motorcycle, and since my business is dog concentric, it is important to have at least one fully covered, operating vehicle that will fit at least one human and one dog, preferably in a crate.
The Rock had been problem free up until about 1oo thousand miles when some of the cylinders started to miss and a novel-to-Ford-Trucks-and-SUV’s-issue with shallow spark plug holes prompted a top engine rebuild (to the tune of over 4 grand) about 3 years ago.
He got a lot of new stuff. The one thing he never recovered was adequate controlled heat. The thermostat was new, the engine was new (the top portion anyway), everything was just fine otherwise.
From a truck that had cab heat capable of initiating climate change entirely on his own, Rocky developed a small problem. From little, to absolutely no heat. The colder the weather, the less heat he had. Defroster worked. Somewhat…
Since the truck ran fine otherwise, I couldn’t have cared less. Passengers in my truck were advised to dress warmly in the cooler months, and since there eventually was enough heat thrown through the firewall once you got up to speed, controlled heat became a non-issue.
Until last week, before the Motorcycle Safety Training.
On occasion, I drive to Frederick Maryland to train at Lily Pons with my friend, colleague, occasional employer and mentor, Pat Nolan of Ponderosa Kennels.
On one particular occasion, I had stopped at the Starbucks Coffee on the way to the Pons when the temperature gauge spiked to ungodly levels and I pulled off to park, calling Pat as I wanted to inform him that I was going to be a little late.
He was kind enough to meet me at the Starbucks and offer his assistance; a trip across busy route 85 to the BP station for a gallon of coolant.
By the time we got back, the truck had cooled sufficiently for the gauge to read normal.
I added the coolant, looking for leaks (none, anywhere) and went my merry way.
Drive home; no problem. Several hundred miles later, no problem. Four days later, the same thing happens again.
Added coolant (still no leaks) and off I went. Like a fool trusting faith, I went to the Pons several more times without issue. Almost a hundred miles, round trip from my home each time.
I went to the grocery store last Monday and realized that I had a problem. A BIG one.
Still no leaks, but now the cab was pervaded by the stench of coolant burning off the block. The sickly sweet odor was accompanied by the powerful heat coming off the firewall when none of the vents were open. When the vents were open, I got bupkus for heat or defrost and the temperature indicator skyrocketed into the red zone.
Ugh. Heat Core. The only thing not replaced be either of the mechanics when I got the compression issues from the spark plug debacle three years ago.
I had been warned, which is why it came to mind immediately. My realtor’s husband, also a mechanic; suggested it to me when I had complained about all that money spent on fixing the truck and now I had a vehicle with no heat. Since the coolant blowback had circulated throughout the engine, the likelihood was that the heat core that regulates and controls the heat for the cab was probably affected, or would be, all other things being equal (or all other things being new).
I stopped off at Schnauble’s Automotive in Westminster to ask what it would cost to fix it. Several dated transmissions on news groups and list-servs had quoted some prices as cheaply as 300 or 400 dollars.
Louis Schnauble is a wonderful and honest man. When I can afford him, he is the only guy I will let touch my vehicles. He is a prince amongst mechanics, a rarity and a blessing.
Knowing that the damn thing was located next to the firewall, I doubted that it would come in at any of the prices I saw, so I asked.
A minimum of $1200.00.
For a part that costs around $50.00.
We now, officially, had a dilemma.
Right before the Safety Training, which I had planned, plotted and saved for as a present to my husband.
I could milk it for the two classroom sessions, held at night and only a few miles from home. But the Saturday and Sunday Range time on actual motorcycles was in jeopardy. I was tempting fate each and every time I drove Rocky. Anywhere.
And no other vehicles to drive. It would have been fine if I had a passenger pillion on my bike, but it is a solo seat, made for just one rider.
I told Louis I would let him know. I thought to myself that there is no way in HELL I could cough up that kind of jingle on such short notice, that it would take more than two days and I would be totally without transportation (unacceptable to a person like me, who sweats at the very prospect of not being allowed to drive) for more than a day or two and that this particular price quote was simply outrageous. Over a grand to replace a fifty dollar part?
My husband and I sat in the truck and looked at each other for a second and decided then and there that we would do it ourselves. We went to the local NAPA store for our heater core and determined that we could get it done on our own. My dilemma remained, would we do it in time for the training?
Friday is the interim break between the classroom training and the range training that started on Saturday morning. If you are late or miss any of the training, you cannot continue at all. If you go to the classroom portion, you can neither be late or miss the range portion of the training. You lose your money.
I was already in for almost 600 dollars. I would lose it if we did not complete. No excuses, no second chances.
On the other hand, if we did not get Rocky fixed, we would be without transportation, to the store, to work, to get cigarettes, anything.
We chose survival.
I had found some on-line resources for DIY’ers here and here.
Friday morning, I ran all the errands we would need to start our task except for the most important ones. I didn’t get an adequate supply of either cigarettes or beer. Additional incentive to get this job done and right the first time.
Dunno about you non-smokers, but for you smokers, you know what I’m talking about. The beer was celebratory for the successful completion of our task. The cigarettes were not only to keep us sane, but to prevent us from killing each other.
So we started.
We disconnected the positive battery cable so the airbags would not accidentally deploy while we were dislodging the dashboard from the firewall. We drained the radiator and started to rip Rocky’s guts out.
I had a client stop by Friday afternoon (about 6 hours into the project) who doubted our sanity, let alone our ability to actually get the job done.

The offending part is in the black box on the right of the image. It sits on the cab side of the firewall, the connectors and hoses sit on the engine side. The vast majority of our time and effort went to the installation of the heater core itself. The aspect of removing the dash and reinstalling it correctly, although time consuming, was not difficult. Wrestling that stupid core was. It took two people 14 hours with no prior mechanical training or experience beyond little DIY projects to get the whole job done. The largest chunk of time was figuring out how to get that heater core connected to the other side.

Everything is almost back together here, minus the interior console and the glove box. Total time to this point was about 13 hours.
Yes, we ran out of cigarettes. We were reduced to smoking butts until we got a reprieve from a neighbor looking to buy 8 dozen eggs just as we were finishing up. Thank God! We would have certainly perished without him! He probably would have perished had he not been bearing cigarettes!
I did lose the money I spent on the Motorcycle Safety Training, but we learned some valuable lessons and gained an immeasurable sense of pride and accomplishment.
Not that it is my intention to deprive my mechanic of an income, one which he richly deserves. I am just a dog trainer, fraught with all of the concerns a weak economy threatens. I need to conserve. So in the spirit of becoming more self sufficient, my husband and myself have decided that we will do much of these auto repairs ourselves. Next is the air ride suspension springs and bags on the rear end.
The Safety Training will just have to wait til spring!
The rains started just about the time we finished up. We didn’t kill ourselves or each other and we did manage to get those celebratory beers, along with our own supply of cigarettes. I took my guys to Five Guys for dinner.
And Sunday, we returned to Valhalla where we slept and feasted.

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Filed under DIY Car repairs, Stone Soup Diaries

More Chikin Tales

The girls are in full production now. We are getting on the average, about 2 dozen eggs a day. Occasionally we will get two yolkers, a variety of sizes from very small;

They have even been paying for their upkeep, with 8 to 10 dozen eggs a week going to friends, neighbors and co-workers for donations of a few dollars or egg cartons.
They roam the property eating bugs and grass, help with training dogs not to be rude to fowl and fertilize ground that was otherwise barren and wasted. They fertilize a lot of other places, often discovered too late by the pedestrian as they enter the house and look at the bottoms of their shoes!!

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Filed under agriculture, Back Yard Chickens, Chickens, Chikin TeeVee, dog training, Food, Locavore, Poultry, Stone Soup Diaries, Sustainable Agriculture

Alas, alas. My kingdom for an egg.

So, it’s finally happened. Our 4 month wait for the fruit of our labors.

We had our false starts. A week ago we came upon an empty shell and began combing the grounds for eggs ever since.

So here it is, our little pearl; found nestled atop the straw bales behind the pen.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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Filed under agriculture, Back Yard Chickens, Chickens, Chikin TeeVee, Food, Locavore, Poultry, Stone Soup Diaries, Sustainable Agriculture

Dear Blog, Please forgive my absence…

No, I am not dead, although for a few days I either thought I was going to die or actually wished for it.

I do not believe I have ever been that sick in the entirety of my life.

I also hope that I am never that sick again. Now I am left with the remnants of a sinus infection and the copious nose blowing that accompanies this time of year for me.

My chickens have grown up without me, the coop is still not built but they have grazing opportunities during the day where I can keep a watchful eye on the nest of red tails just adjacent to the property.

My girls are not dull birds, they see the shadows overhead and squawk in alarm as they run frantically to the cover of the big Alder behind the house.

The dogs are starting to settle in to the presence of the noisy, fragrant intruders with only the mildest of curiosity; my eldest, Cotton, was accosted by my largest hen when he became to curious for her liking.

He apologized humbly and distanced himself from her chicken rage.

My pup, not so much.

She thinks the birds are of the most entertaining of sorts, passing up the opportunity for a run in the long, overgrown pasture and the stream for a deliberate study of the funny looking not-ducks and how to access them.

No pictures this day, but I am sure more opportunities will avail themselves in the future.

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Filed under Back Yard Chickens, Chickens, Poultry, Stone Soup Diaries

Chicken Adventures

Well, I finally did it. I am now the proud owner of 15 baby peeps. Five Black Australorp and ten Buff Orpington pullets.

My son likes them, my dogs wonder if they would be better served on toast or with au jus. My husband is just rolling his eyes at my most recent hair brained scheme…

The dogs slather over the stock tank with the funny noises coming out of it, my Pointer is correct in his assumption that there are birds in there, but doesn’t seem to understand that I do not need them pointed out to me.

The Pug has taken a deep interest in them, not so much as a potential snack as a genuine affinity for their cuteness.

The Lab thought the stock tank was for swimming in, not raising day-old peeps. She is decidedly unimpressed. Although she thinks they look like they could be much fun.

My son has already started naming them. Omelet is the name of the biggest Buff, and Gloria is the name of the smallest Australorp. She is easily identifiable by the quantity of white on her little flight feathers and around her eyes.

The Buffs are gregarious birds, the Australorps are rather shy and reserved, although they are warming up to the physical handling they recieve daily.

For such little things, they sure do eat a lot. And poop a lot. Fellow blogger Heather Houlihan alerted me to the consequences of paste and how to remedy it’s appearance, so I was cleaning peep poos instead of supervising dog poo for their first few days here.

All are well now, eating, drinking and pooping merrily.

They will be living in their new digs as soon as construction is complete. More pictures to follow.

Eventually, they will be joined by about 25 Cornish rocks for the freezer.


Filed under agriculture, Back Yard Chickens, Chickens, Chikin TeeVee, Food, Locavore, Poultry, Stone Soup Diaries, Sustainable Agriculture

Of Interest to Anyone who Eats Food

I was cruising my favorite blogs and came across this from the VIN News Service.

I am in direct opposition to H$U$ and think they are the Devil’s Spawn but at the same time, I have some pressing concerns about the Nation’s food supply.

Other blogs have addressed this better, addressing the discussion to pet food products with a caveat that the food supply in this country feeds us all. Human and animal alike. A Google search for pet food recall or contaminated food conjures up list after list, page after page, of food products that are additives or whole source foods for humans too.

Agri-business has much to atone for with the recent outbreaks of salmonella in the human food supply, from greens to nuts, including my absolute fave, pistachios.

Aw, nuts!

Who can forget the huge expose’ on the pet food industry only a few years ago? Some news services considered the public outcry an “overreaction“. You know, like, it’s just pets and all… So a few people died. Who cares!!

My concern is that it is beginning to appear with a sinister regularity in our headlines. What people are simply failing to understand is that the affected foodstuff is impacting the consumer supply for every domestic animal and human in the nation.

So where does this alarming and remarkable article from VIN fit?

Lifted directly from the article:

Veterinarians spend their lives promoting the well-being of animals. Yet at the same time, activists appear to be guiding America’s attitudes on animal welfare, experts say, working to erode veterinary medicine’s authority on the topic and divide the profession.”

With a correction to it’s authors; H$U$ and PeTA have no interest in ‘animal welfare’. It is all about animal rights.

An example of this from the article:

While the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) carefully weighs scientific evidence to establish opinions on what’s in the best interest of animals, HSUS and its cohorts are preening their message, using emotion to drown out the more moderate voice of organized veterinary medicine.”

There is not a lot of consensus over this or any topic that has more than one set of “experts”. Large animal vets are accused of being deep in the pockets of agri-business while small animal vets endorse more humane practices for animals raised as food.

I am on two sides of this argument:

I could give a rat’s arse about agri-business; they have done more to destroy the fabric of the family owned and operated farms and homesteads (of which I am a product) in favor of mass producing a food supply whose very existence endorses dubious practices in husbandry and safety for the consumers of their products.

So. Does the H$U$ have a point? Sure it does. But should they be the ones dictating the practices of agri-farms and food producers?

H$U$ suggests that animals raised for food should be kept in a more ‘natural state’, enabling them to pasture in open areas, be able to move about freely without restraint. Opposition contends that “…such mandates merely trade one set of welfare concerns for another. Animals housed in open systems are more vulnerable to disease, parasite infestation and injury due to aggressive pen-mates. The system also makes it more difficult track an animal’s medical health and care, AVMA officials contend.”

So, who’s right?

The real fear is the ultimate agenda: “… those who liken HSUS to “PETA-light extremism” fear the organization’s fingerprints on agriculture housing bans are a precursor to the group’s ultimate agenda — to end animal ownership and remove meat from the diets of Americans.”

Jack Advent, OVMA executive director stated, “What we do know is that if there is no dialogue, HSUS has stated that they will simply collect the signatures they need to go to the ballot where the electorate will decide on the issues. We don’t want to close the door to something like legislation, which could be far more palatable than what might be on a ballot initiative.”

H$U$’s strategy has clearly demonstrated superiority in the devious department. They have successfully created strategies by targeting communities with a small agricultural footprint where opposition would not be significant, coupled with their appeals directly to the public instead of through introducing legislation which would have likely been opposed by lawmakers and/or lobbyists.

The article states In 2002, voters in Florida — one of 24 states that allow for citizen referendum — became the nation’s first to enact a ban on swine gestation stalls after HSUS waged a two-year publicity campaign and gathered more than 600,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot. Five years later, Arizona voters outlawed gestation stalls by 2012. It reportedly cost Arizona’s agriculture groups roughly $1.6 million in a failed bid to combat the HSUS message. Both states have very little in terms of swine operations.”

Wow, huh?

California’s Prop 2 passed in November with over 63% of the vote, which analysts say will devastate “… the future of the state’s egg industry, and many hope that a bill currently playing out in the state Legislature will level the playing field for California’s producers by imposing free-range requirements on eggs imported from other states.”

Peter Weber, executive director of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association is relieved that similar legislation proposed in Illinois failed in February, stating that It was abundantly clear that this bill plays to people’s emotions. There just isn’t the science to back the need for it.”

The veterinary community’s decidedly neutral stance is pretty ominous. Their inability to come up with a plan of their own allows for H$U$ to intervene where they truly have no business. That the system needs to be changed is not really the issue. It has been clear for years that it does.

The USDA’s inability to adequately police agri-business lends itself to reform. A more proactive role in the safety of our food supply is necessary to assure it “fit for consumption”.

Food is big business, for ourselves and our animals. The two are related. There is not a lot of oversight in the pet food market and precious little effective oversight in the human consumer markets.

Legislation is becoming increasingly restrictive in the production of low-cost food for consumers allowing the slow food and locavore movements to gain momentum. By providing attractive alternatives to agri-business and the food/animal controversy, a locally produced food source encourages consumers to take a more proactive role in policing their own food supply.

It has a far healthier impact on local economies as well and promotes a broader concern for the welfare and safety of our consumer goods.

Sometimes the old ways are best. Supporting the production of locally raised food products has been a cultural icon of the United States since the beginning of our country’s history. Only since the return of the soldiers from WWII has agri-business forced small family owned farms to surrender to a greater demand for goods and monopolized the production of food for the nation.

The government subsidizing of growing ‘more, faster’ has had a profound impact on our safety, our health and the sustainability of our food supply. With the depletion of the aquifers in the Midwest, we face a far greater danger as the agri-businesses loose their ability to maintain high volume production for a teeming nation of fast food consumers.

It is within our ability to make a statement about our concern for the food we feed not only our animals, but ourselves and our children. At the same time, the dictatorial practices of H$U$ is clearly not the way. In order to preserve our rights as consumers and suppliers we must take a more active role in the production of our food supply.

There has got to be a better way.


Filed under agriculture, Canine Nutrition, Farming, Food, Locavore, Pet Food, Stone Soup Diaries, Sustainable Agriculture