Category Archives: Animals

One Week to the Next

This weekend was not exactly balmy, but it was warm enough to continue melting the snow.  What a difference a week makes during spring in Minnesota!  It was only 9 days ago when we were dumped on and school was canceled because of all the snow. (See my last post).  Besides a few random piles here and there, all the snow is now gone.  Hooray!  (It is Minnesota though and more snow over the next month is a definite possibility).


Last weekend our vegetable garden had a foot of snow covering it.  Today?  No snow in sight and the rhubarb is even peeking out of the soggy soil.


The chickens were finally able to escape the coop and do some free-ranging after a long winter.  They headed for a dirt pile that we have and got busy scratching and doing whatever it is that chickens do.DSC_0115

The warmer temps allowed us to get outside and start working on all those spring chores.  I spent a lot of time walking around with my garden shears and cutting back various plants, like the Annabelle Hydrangea along the pole shed…

DSC_0110…And the ornamental grass, Sedum, coneflower, and miniature Joe Pye weed along the granary.

DSC_0120Jesse helped me clean up our raised beds with strawberries and blueberries.  We raked out the dead leaves, pulled some random weeds, and raked up some pine needles to freshen up the mulch.  This will be our third season with the blueberry plants and we are hoping that some of the big bushes finally produce a good amount of fruit.

DSC_0118We also found time to prepare for our baby chicks that are due to arrive some time at the end of next week.  They will be inside the house in this box for the first five days so that we can keep an eye on them and make sure to keep them warm and drinking water.

DSC_0122Jesse also cleaned out the brood boxes for his beehives and they are all ready for the new bees. We are not exactly sure when to expect them, but likely at the end of April.

Spring is definitely rolling along here in Minnesota and we could not be happier.  🙂



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Filed under Animals, Chickens, Daily life, Flower, Gardens, Vegetable

Signs of Life? Or Not.

We were blessed with a beautiful spring day here in Minnesota with temperatures reaching into the 50’s.  Finally!

It was a gorgeous day to get outside and start checking for signs of life around the farm.

Since the snow finally started melting, Jesse decided to make his way out to the beehives to check on them.  After 50 plus days this winter of high temperatures not even reaching zero degrees Fahrenheit, our expectations were very low about the likelihood that our bees survived.  When our bee supplier called in January, we decided to play it safe and order two more nucs of bees to install this spring to make sure we were not left without any bees.  As it turns out, we made the right decision!


We knew it was a bad sign this afternoon when Jesse pulled the covers off the hives and we saw the carnage of dead bees on the inside hive cover.  There was also an eerie silence that was a tell-tale sign that the bees had not survived.  It was the same scene when he opened the second hive.

No survivors. No signs of life.

We will start fresh with new bees this spring.  Again.


Our snow cover was melting quickly today with the warm temperatures.  The turned soil is starting to reveal itself in the plowed field next to our house.  The neighbor planted a bean crop last summer and plans to re-seed an alfalfa crop this spring.  This will delight our new bees.

3Wherever we wander on the farm, including out to the bees,we can always count on Sofie being somewhere close by.  She is a constant sign of life on the farm, even in the bleakest of times.  Dogs are such comforting companions.

4After visiting the bees, I trudged through the heaps of piled snow to get to the edge of my vegetable garden to take a picture.  With a solid foot of snow remaining within the perimeter, there is sadly no sign of life here.  It is hard to imagine that in a few short months this will be green and brimming with new growth and possibilities.

The warm temperatures today did manage to stir awake the juices of the maple trees.  We ventured in to the woods and discovered the first signs of the sap running.  Although it was not a very productive day (only about 1 gallon), it is a start.

6And after this long winter, I will celebrate any sign of life that reveals itself around here!

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Filed under Animals, Bees, Daily life, Maple Syrup

Woodland Carpet

Spring time brings with it a beautiful display of woodland flowers in the woods surrounding our house.  Wildflowers carpet the ground and because the mosquitos haven not yet hatched, it is still enjoyable to stroll through the woods and take in the views.

I wrote a post a few years back in which I identified some of the flowers growing in the woods.(Woodland Wildflowers)  I could not resist photographing them again though. They are just too inviting.

Sanguinaria canadensis, or Bloodroot.

Claytonia virginica, or Virginia Spring Beauty.DSC_0333

At the time I took the photos in my earlier post, the Trilliums had not yet bloomed, so I did a later post featuring them. (Trillium’s Turn).

For some reason, this year all the flowers seem to be blooming at the same time.  Maybe the late spring?

Trillium grandiflorum, or Trillium (Large-flowered Trillium).


I came across one flower that I did not photograph or identify in my earlier post.  I headed over to the Minnesota Wildflower website again to help with identification.

Uvularia grandiflora, or Large-flowered Bellwort.


I spent some time photographing this flower when I noticed this big bumble-bee enjoying it.  I found it very relaxing to sit quietly among the flowers in the woods watching the slow and methodical work of the bumble-bee.DSC_0348

And finally…a stroll in the woods with my camera is always peaceful, but rarely solitary.  Eventually the animals always decide to check on me and see what I am doing.

DSC_0359I don’t mind though.  After all, keeping us company is what pets are for, right?


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Filed under Animals, Daily life, Flower, Miscellaneous

Bat Removal and Relocation: Part I

We have a fairly healthy bat population in the hay loft of our barn. On summer evenings, we have stood near the barn and counted well over one hundred bats leave for their evening feed. In northern Minnesota a common bat type is the small brown bat. We have seen a few of our bats up close in the barn and they seem to be the size and description fitting the small brown bat.

Not everyone is comfortable with bats flying overhead at dusk or later sitting around the bonfire, but we have never had any problems. I think everyone is aware of how beneficial bats are for controlling mosquito and bug populations by eating as many as 5,000 bugs each night. Since our hobby farm is located along the Rum River, which has many stagnant backwater ponds, we would like to keep the bats around the farm doing their insect patrols.

While the barn has stood empty and mostly unused, we have slowly been making progress in removing calf pens and cow stanchions so that we can use the space for more garden and farm storage. The bats are mostly self-contained in the loft area of the barn, but from time to time a few of them end up in the lower area. In addition, the gaps in the floor boards of the hay loft allow bat guano to sprinkle down. So we decided that if we are going to continue to upgrade the barn, the bats needed to be relocated. Here you can see the thick layer of bat guano collecting on the hay loft floor.


Here is the main entrance for the bats into the hayloft. You can see the heavy use around the hay-fork rail where they have worn off the paint from all the flights in and out.

entranceAlthough building a bat house is pretty straight forward and something we expected we would do ourselves based on plans in our “Country Wisdom & Know How” book from Storey Publishing, we also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to install the bat house before they began to return from migration. We found a design we liked from a bat conservatory organization in Michigan ( that uses the proceeds from the bat houses to fund their projects. Here is a picture of the bat house we ordered that has the capacity for up to 300 bats. At the bottom there is a green landing mesh that is easy for the bats to land on when they are returning to their roost.box2In the next picture you can see the tight crawl spaces that the bats like for roosting. When they pack themselves into these tight spaces it helps to retain their body heat and keep each other warm in cold weather.insideOur Storey book article on bats recommended “seasoning” the new bat house with guano so that it has a familiar scent. The process was to collect some guano from the hay loft and mix it with some water to create a slurry that could be poured into the bat house. This seemed kind of gross to us, but if it helps to make the bats feel comfortable in their new home then, why not?
guana2Here is our new “well-seasoned” bat house, ready for installation.inside2Our research indicated that to have the best chance for relocation, the new bat house should be located as close as possible to the current bat entrance. Well, that would be high up in the peak of the barn. The extension ladder wasn’t quite long enough, so in typical farm fashion, I placed the ladder into the bucket of the tractor. This type of work isn’t for everyone. We did luck out and it was a glorious warm sunny date for February. Even warm enough to wear a short-sleeved shirt!DSC_0028In order to have hands free for climbing the ladder, we attached a rope to the bat house so that it could be lifted up once I was comfortably positioned at the top.DSC_0031Up comes the bat house to its new location.DSC_0033It was a little dicey to hold the bat house in place and manage the screws and screw gun all at the same time. Note to self: next time start the screws in pilot holes before climbing the ladder!DSC_0036Here goes nothing… not stand under the ladder in case I drop something!DSC_0039

The installation is now complete. It would be nice to have positioned the bat house a little higher, but when you are on the top of the ladder it apparently seems high enough.DSC_0043
The next question to answer is whether or not the bats are hibernating in the barn or if they have migrated to somewhere warmer for the winter. Since our barn has no heating or cows keeping it warm in the winter, and since there is no evidence of bat sounds on warm winter days, we believe that our bats have migrated for the winter and will return in early spring. Our research didn’t offer any definitive answers on hibernating versus migrating for small brown bats, so we will have to keep an eye out for them inside the barn. If there are bats that become trapped in the barn, then we will have to install a one-way entrance so that they can get out but cannot come back in.

Now, what are we going to do with all those other openings in the barn wall that the bats can come through? Guess we have to start plugging them all. Small brown bats can crawl through holes as small as 3/8 inch in diameter, so every hole needs to be plugged or covered.  A sunny day is perfect for finding all the openings. Where to begin?DSC_0051

We decided that it would be easiest, low-cost, and fairly unobtrusive visually to install wire mesh over the openings – especially since there were some very large openings! We had a large roll of wire screen mesh leftover from the screened porch when we built the house. I save everything!DSC_0054

Wire screen mesh can be cut easily with a sharp sheet rock knife along a straight edge. I cut strips that were 6-8 inches wide the length of the screen and then installed them over the openings using a staple hammer. I used a lot of staples to make sure that the bats couldn’t find any new ways into the barn.

We will likely not have covered every possible entrance, but we hope that enough have been covered that the new bat house looks more attractive and they make that there new home.

DSC_0097We should know in a few weeks whether we have been successful!



Filed under Animals, Barn, Outbuildings

If She Only Knew…

Our dog Sofie is a Golden Retriever, a hunting dog.  She lives to go bird hunting in the fall.  Every time the boys get out the guns and their blaze orange vests, Sofie runs to the back of the truck and waits to get in.  She whines and she paces.

We often take her on walks down the road from our house and if there is a pheasant anywhere in the vicinity, she manages to pick up their scent.  If she is not on the leash, she takes off and inevitably flushes them out of the tall grass.  If she is on the leash, she pulls, tugs and whines for the opportunity to find the bird.

A few Easters ago, we had family over to our house for dinner and an egg hunt.  After dinner we walked around outside, showing the family the various projects we were working on.  To our surprise, a rooster pheasant flew out of the hayfield right towards us and landed a short distance away on the driveway.  Before we could even react, Sofie had spotted the bird and took off after it.  The pheasant took flight and headed for the woods.  Sofie took off in that direction and our oldest went after her.

None of us are sure what exactly happened over in the woods, but unfortunately the pheasant did not survive the ordeal.  Our son saw her disappear over the river bank and she eventually came back up proudly carrying the pheasant in her mouth.  It was a victory for her.  This is, after all, what she is supposed to do, right?  Well, not exactly, especially when it is not hunting season.

Knowing her love of tracking down and “catching” pheasants, imagine my mixed emotions when I glanced out our back living room windows today while working on my computer and saw this…

A rooster pheasant right in our back yard!  I knew Sofie was outside somewhere and I hoped that the bird would go unnoticed by her.

The pheasant seemed unconcerned about predators as it waddled its way through the snow.

I grabbed my camera and started to take pictures.  He looked so stunning with his vibrantly colored feathers against the bright white snow.  He continued to make his way across the back of the house and up along the side.  I started to get nervous for his safety as he moved closer to the house because I suspected that Sofie was on the front porch.

Something eventually spooked the bird however, and he took flight.  As beautiful as these birds are on the ground, they are even more magnificent when airborne.

Once the rooster was safely in the air, I turned to look out the window for the dog.  This is what I saw…

Sofie was fast asleep on the front porch, enjoying the sun, with her beloved deer leg that she salvaged out of the woods nearby.  She had absolutely no clue that this bird, her absolute favorite critter to hunt, had wandered so dangerously close to her.

She must have sensed my presence, or heard the snapping of the camera through the window, because she popped her head up to look at me.


“Ha,” I thought to myself.  “If you only knew.”

Our cat Tiger, on the other hand, he could care less about what is outside during the day.  Especially when the sun is shining and he is laying on the back of a comfy chair inside the house.

His only concern was the noise I was making with the camera.

I was annoying him.

He was tired.

He yawned…

And then he tried to ignore me and get back to sleep in the sunshine.

It’s just another day in the country.



Filed under Animals, Daily life

Pesky Free-Rangers

We have put a lot of work into restoring our chicken coop from its original dilapidated condition.  The result is a very solid, safe, comfortable and cute home for our chickens.  Despite their fancy digs, our chickens love being outside any time there is not snow on the ground.

They spend hours wandering around, digging and laying in the dirt, eating grass, bugs and just doing their chicken thing.  I like the “idea” of having free-ranging chickens and I enjoy seeing them meandering around the farm.

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Filed under Animals, Chicken coop, Chickens, Outbuildings

A Delicate Relationship

Our dog Sofie and our younger cat Nina have what I would describe as a “delicate” relationship.  At times, they seem to be the best of friends.  Nina feels comfortable enough to come and settle in next to Sofie on her bed in the evening.  Sofie, albeit grudgingly, allows her to share the space.

Nina seems to have no fear of the dog.  Sometimes when they are outdoors, the cat will jump out from behind something and attack the dog.  And Sofie is usually very patient and even playful with Nina in return.

But sometimes things change quickly from playing to getting a little rough.

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Filed under Animals

Our “Geriatric” Cat

Last summer, I decided to give our daughter a kitten for her birthday.   Both our dog and our cat were getting older and I thought it would be fun to have a young and lively kitten around for some entertainment.  I found a kitten at the local animal shelter that I fell in love with and decided to adopt (another tabby).  We named her Nina.

Nina is full of energy, playful, and loving.

She’s also a little weird.  I had never seen a cat pant before Nina.  She chases our Golden Retriever around relentlessly until she has to stop to take a break…and then she pants. Strange cat.

She also follows our other cat around and he does his best to ignore her.

At the animal shelter, they asked me if we had any other cats when I was filling out the paperwork to adopt Nina.  I told them about our other cat, Tiger , who will be 10 years old this August.  He was born to a stray cat at the farm the summer we purchased the property and is the only survivor from the litter.  They warned me that “geriatric” cats sometimes have trouble adjusting to kittens and gave me some literature on helping him with the transition.

Geriatric?  Did they really call Tiger a “geriatric” cat?  How can he fall into this category already?  It seems like just yesterday that he was a kitten.

I choose to describe Tiger much differently.  Mature.  Wise.  Clever.

Regal.  Aloof.  Sophisticated.

Above all else, he is a loving cat who knows who he can rely on to sneak him into the warm house in the winter.

So, despite what others might say, Tiger is no “geriatric” cat in our book.

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Filed under Animals