Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “toads”

Guide to Spring

In Missouri, you can’t count on the weather to tell you what season it is. It might be 65 degrees in December; it might be 35 degrees in May. Strike that. At some point, it will be both of those things.  But despite the fact that I never seem to know when to pull my head out of the covers, the earth knows when to stretch. The flora and fauna know when to peek out and then get busy.  From one moment to the next there is a shift, the light turns white and crystalline bright, and suddenly you’re late for Spring! Here’s a lovely, quick little visual guide to my cues this time around the wheel…

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Lambing season is in full gear–31 and a few still due. No bottle babies this year, which was a major Phew! The garden has had a generous helping of sheepy compost and a tilling or two. And if it ever stops raining on my days off, I’ll plant some seeds… I have so many seeds to plant. So, so many.

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Super exciting things are in the works on the farm. And in my life. I don’t want to jinx anything, so we’ll wait to talk about it until the will-be becomes the is. I hope all your springs are pleasingly full of potential and the emergence of glorious creative goodness. And seeds. And if you’re very lucky, lambs. ;)

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live happy,

dre

 

 

Song of Toads (aka Pool Party)

I love toads.

Absolutely love them. Mating season has been in full swing here at the farm, and I got a few close-ups with the local toad residents, most of which I think I’ve correctly identified as both Eastern American toads and Dwarf American toads.

Our conservation department has a great little pdf that describes many of the 26 species and subspecies of frogs and toads found here in Missouri.  For most of the toads, mating season is in March, April, and May. It is the male toads who sound the mating call, the unmistakable trill that announces both the arrival of spring and the season of love.  Here are the links to some short clips that I took of male toads calling (wordpress was uncooperative with imbedding):

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The males tend to be smaller than the females, as you can see in these amphibious bow-chicka-wocka-bow pictures below:

Unlike frogs, whose eggs tend to form clumps or masses in the water, female toads release their eggs in long continuous strands. These strands can range anywhere up to 60 feet long! Here you can see the toads laying eggs in their natural habitat, a lake. They also like the still water of ponds, low ditches, and large puddles.

And now you can see the toads laying eggs in their preferred habitat, our swimming pool cover. It gets filled with rainwater and melted snow, and since there are no fish to eat the tadpoles, the toads congregate in this giant, safe “puddle” every spring. On this particular day, the toads were many. I stopped counting at 50. You can clearly see the long strands of eggs in this photo.

Approximately 1-3 weeks later, depending on the temperature, the eggs hatch into tadpoles. Many, many, many tadpoles. I’m pretty sure there are about 8 million of them in the swimming pool right now.

And even a few in the lake, lol.

Not all of them will live. In the lake, many will be eaten by fish, turtles, and other predators.  Much of the water on the swimming pool cover will evaporate in the warming sun before the tadpoles fully mature. In the past, I’ve collected all that I can reach and transported them down to the lake. Of those that do make it out of the water on four little legs, many will fall prey to snakes, turtles, and small mammals. But the quick, the cautious, and the lucky will survive to complete the cycle again next year.  And potentially, the next 40 years after that. Toads can live for a very long time.

There is a lot of lore surrounding the toad. In Europe, toads were believed to carry the spirits of witch’s familiars and to be symbols of the devil. In China, the three-legged toad, Jin Chan, was seen as a symbol of prosperity and was associated with the full moon.

This male toad doesn’t actually have three legs, he just had one tucked back underneath him. And since he doesn’t have any gold coins falling out of his mouth, we can safely assume he is not Jin Chan. Pity.

My favorite author of Ozark traditions and lore, Vance Randolph, wrote down a number of the superstitions surrounding toads that he collected from the locals in his book Ozark SuperstitionsHere are a few excerpts from that work:

“It must be admitted that some of the items in this collection are folktales rather than superstitions proper. That is, they are not really believed by intelligent adults, but are repeated to children just as parents elsewhere tell the story of Santa Claus or assure their offspring that rabbits lay parti-colored eggs on Easter Sunday. The old sayin’ that killing a toad will make the cows give bloody milk, for example, is probably just a way of teaching children to let toads alone; the farmer knows that toads destroy insects, and he likes to see them around his doorstep on summer evenings.”

“There is a very widely known superstition that to kill a toad will make one’s cows give bloody milk. Most people think that nothing can be done about this, once the toad is dead, but Otto Ernest Rayburn found hillfolk in Arkansas who claim to be able to repair the damage, particularly if the toad was killed accidentally. “Get seven pebbles,” says Rayburn, “and throw them over your left shoulder into an open well at sundown. The milk will be all right after that.”

Randolph recounts a few ways for getting rid of warts, one of which requires this gruesome deed:

“Or one may kill a toad, rub its intestines on the wart, then bury the entrails under a stone. All this must be kept secret, otherwise it won’t work. The boy who acquainted me with this method still had several large warts ; when I asked why the toad’s guts hadn’t cured them, he explained that he had told his mother what he was doing, in order to escape punishment for killing the toad. The mother was opposed to killing toads in the dooryard ; she said it was an unlucky and senseless practice and might make the cows give bloody milk.”

That treatment is only to be outdone by the cure for a goiter. The instructions said to bake a toad in the oven until “the oil ran out of it” and then to apply that oil to the goiter daily. Ew with a capital EW! I mean, not only to kill a toad like that, but then to ever use that oven again for anything ever. Just say no to baking toads, people.

On a happier note, it was auspicious if a newlywed couple saw a toad immediately after the ceremony. And I do like this little saying that someone mentioned their father always said,

'Safe as a toad in god's pocket.'


Toads are also seen as symbols of transformation and secrets. This I can understand. They really are quite remarkable.


Peeps and Peepers

The chicks are growing fast and feathering out more and more each day.  They are approximately 3 1/2-4 weeks old now and have a scruffly, rumpled appearance that is pretty darn cute.  It’s been a long, long, long time since I helped raise chicks, so I’m not sure if chicken temperaments differ greatly among breeds at this age or not.  These little Buff Orpingtons are chatty, curious, brave, funny, and friendly.

I love them.

This week in chick raising required some housing changes. We had a waterer malfunction, which soaked their big cardboard box.  So, both a different waterer and a different house were needed.  Also, these chickies are turning out to be surprisingly adept at catching a few feet of air when they want to—which is anytime they’re not sleeping or eating. I guess it’s not unlike a baby reaching its milestones—crawling, sitting up, walking—at some point, chicks want to fly and they want to perch. I discovered that they had acquired this new skill when I walked into the front porch and found one perched on the top edge of the box, which at 18 inches tall, I thought was high enough to keep them in. Wrong.

So, my dad and I brainstormed and decided that our large wire mesh dog crate would be just the right solution.  It’s roomy, which will allow for a few more weeks’ growth; it’s completely enclosed with strong narrowly spaced wire which will keep them in safely; it has a slide out tray bottom which is easy to clean; it is easy to safely affix their heat lamp and perch in; and best of all it repurposed an item that wasn’t being used.  Free is good.  Also, after reading some ideas for bedding, I switched from leaves/straw to old towels.  While they don’t get to have as much fun scratching, the towels are absorbent and easy to change and wash frequently to keep their enclosure clean, which is important not only for their health, but for ours since they are in the house.  The towels also are textured enough to give them some grip, which is important so they don’t develop spraddle leg, which can happen if their bedding is too slick.

In addition to their feeder, they have a little treat container where I put fresh greens, fruit, and the occasional bug or worm in.  They go NUTS over their treats. It is a riot. They also have no hesitation about eating out of my hand or perching on my arm.  In fact, if I talk to them or put my hand in the cage, they run up to me (presumably because I’m the treat dispenser).  I pretend it’s because they love me back.

Chicks need to be protected from drafts and also from small chihuahuas named Teddy, so I wrapped/taped some cardboard boxes around the cage.  It just so happened that the boxes I had on hand were Milk-Bone boxes.  So the chicks get to stare at dogs all day anyway, lol.  They don’t seem to mind.

One of the dilemmas I faced with my chicks was whether or not to feed them medicated feed to prevent coccidiosis.  After reading a lot about this, and all of the semi-contradictory information about what to do, I decided that I would do the medicated feed this time around while I get comfortable with chicken issues.  My hope for the future, however, is to only use medications on an as-need basis.  Next up: getting the big coop ready for chicks. Oh, and we dug the incubator out of the barn for kicks… I’m on the fence about using it, though.  I figure, why bother trying to do a job that a broody hen will not only do happily, but better than I could ever do?  We’ll see.

So, that was the peeps.  And here are the peepers.  And pickerels and leopard frogs and toads.  Now you, too, can enjoy the sound of the Ozarks in spring! I took this film real quick on my way out to put up the sheep for the night. I love the sound. Love it, love it, love it.  And so I want to share it with you.

Be well.

Vernally Obliged

Happy day after the vernal equinox!  Here are some perky and punctual jonquidils that opened up just yesterday.  Even though the world still seems half asleep, everything is stirring.  The sap is rising, metaphorically, and circulating literally. I feel this in me, too. A few weeks ago, I was compelled to visit my favorite local herbal shop for some spring tonics. I’ve been drinking blood cleansing teas made of nettle and burdock, red clover and violet leaf.  I am craving all green things, to eat all the green. I often eat according to what colours I’m hungry for.  It’s a fun and pretty darn informative way to get intuitive feedback on what one’s body needs. Just listen. It will tell you. This year is all about listening.

Usually, I notice spring first with the change in the angle of the sun and the restlessness of the breeze. This year, though, spring has rung in with sound.  The frogs are out in mighty chorus—the spring peepers, pickerels, and southern leopard frogs—announcing that spring has arrived. The toads will be next, and then later the bullfrogs will add their baritone to the summer sound.  A pair of barred owls have been conversing like love struck teenagers every night for the last week.  Wild ducks have been visiting the lake, and just today, we saw a blue heron circling above.  And what else has come to roost at the farm this spring?

Chicks!

Meet the 4 Buff Orpingtons. Question. What do you do when you spend several years dreaming about raising chickens and reading books on raising chickens and deciding that the perfect chickens to raise would be Buff Orpingtons, and then one day you go into the local farm store for some Sav-a Lam and see that they’re stocked with all manner of poultry and waterfowl—which you are, of course, obligated to peruse—and amongst the countless pens of countless Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds and sex-linked this and thats, lo and behold there are four lone Buff Orpington chicks tucked in a tub in the corner?  This is not a trick question.  Clearly I was meant to take them home.  The end.

I will go back for some Leghorns.  Lol.  In a week or two, they will go live in the chicken house with the rest of the flock, but for now they are in their cozy box in the front porch where I can listen to them peeping as I work on various projects. What else? Gardeny goodness. I planted a millionty seeds and am curious to see how they fare starting indoors.  I will bore no one with photos of a table full of little cups of dirt. Garden plans are being tilled in the fertile fields of my mind. These plans involve raised beds, fencing, and part-time garden-wandering chickens… If I’d been here in time, I would have prepped the garden in the fall. As it is, I am very late and will have to make do with what I can get done in the next month. No need to feel bad about it though—something will grow.

The sheep are enjoying the first nibbles of spring grass.  Here you can see a very chubbeh Phillip in the forefront. He is such a pet.

We are very seriously considering adding a couple wool sheep to the farm to try out. (By which I mean for me to play with their wool). I’m looking at Clun Forest, Romney, and Cheviots, but am listening to any and all advice from those with wool sheep raising experience.  A shepherd/spinner friend has also recommended Montadales and Coopworths.  I am unfamiliar with both.  So far, I am most interested in the Cluns as a hardy dual purpose sheep, but have never seen or felt Clun wool.  Anyone?

Finally, Ronin is a happy farm dog.

Be well and listen hard.

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