Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Welcome to Covington, where organic farming practices go to die.

Ok, so maybe living on a farm opens one up to finding humor in some odd situations and circumstances. After all, it's not like we have a lot of water cooler gossip or a strange person in the cubicle next to us telling us "I believe you have my stapler." After four years of spending the majority of my time dealing with the issues of poultry, ponies and veggies it seems that my world has shrunk just a bit. Thank GOD.

Last year's garden was a success (almost, until I made a tactical error in leaving town for a few days), so we decided to put a larger one up this year. Because we broke ground on an area never before planted, we knew a soil test was in order. We got the results and recommendations for amendments back last week, and the search for an organic source of 15-15-15 commenced. Interestingly enough there was not a recommendation for lime. In this area of the country the soil is so acidic, the joke is if you bought a bag of lime here and had it sampled, the UT Extension office would recommend you add lime to it. I suppose starting from scratch with a fallow piece of land that was the secret. I'm just happy to have one less thing to add! I was grateful to be living in an area that is habituated mostly by farms because I just knew that finding my 15-15-15 would be a snap! I felt so sorry for all you "city folk" who probably have to search far and wide for an organic source of fertilizer. Some of you probably even have to resort to ordering it online, thus negating and environmental offset you hope to gain by gardening organic by having to have it shipped across the country. Such a shame! Tsk tsk tsk.

I popped in to our local Stockdale's Farm Supply, a subsidiary of the Farmer's Co-op and made a bee line to the gardening area. To my surprise, they carried no organic fertilizer of any kind! They do carry organic pest controls though, so good on them. In looking around at all their other soil amendments I noticed that there were no organics at all. It was no huge shock, as Stockdales caters to the local farmer, and this particular farming community is not exactly at the forefront of the organic movement. Change comes slow to places where life is slow. Just ask President Obama. But I digress. Next stop was Home Depot. As much as I prefer keeping my dollars in the local community, sometimes I'm left with no choice. I needed some organic potting soil anyway and knew they carried it, so it was not a wasted trip.

Now I don't know what things are like at your Home Depot, but let me tell you in ours it is looking pretty grim. We suspect they are going to go under any day now. What tips us off to this is there is no new merchandise coming in, the parking lot is almost always deserted, and every time we go in there are no less than five employees waiting at the front door to assault you with a manic "HI! WELCOME TO HOME DEPOT! WE ARE SOO GLAD YOU DROPPED IN! WHAT KIND OF HOME PROJECT ARE YOU WORKING ON TODAY? MAY WE HELP YOU FIND SOMETHING? PLEASE? PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE?"

I may have exaggerated that....a little. But not much. So in I go, this time happy that I can oblige them by actually having something they could help me with. I smiled back at the first attacker and said sure, I was looking for organic fertilizer. The helpful employee chirped merrily that they sure did have fertilizer, in all shapes and sizes and for any, any ANY GARDEN!!! I smiled back again (in case you ever visit Tipton County you should be aware there's a smiling requirement) and followed the aforementioned chipper employee to the garden section, where she pointed out the Miracle Gro.

Now, there's not-quite organic, and then there's Miracle Gro. Though they do have an organic line, their more well known products definitely take a "better living through chemistry" approach. Sure, you might get a pumpkin the size of a VW bug so long as you aren't concerned about sustainable agriculture, but more importantly, why?

Anyway, I reminded the employee that I was looking for organic specifically and was met with a blank stare. Eventually I just said thanks, and I could take it from there. Of course there was not anything available fertilizer wise, but they did indeed have organic potting soil for my potting projects. I went to the check out line and told the cashier I wanted ten bags of organic potting soil. The cashier was all too happy to ring in the potting soil. The Miracle Gro, of course. So I reminded her I wanted the organic potting soil. Blank stare before she actually said:

"I don't have a button for that. We must not carry it."

Now, considering the fact that I had just walked past the stack of organic potting soil in the gardening section, I just smiled (albeit this time through gritted teeth) and said I'd get them to ring it up in the gardening section.

As I walked for the third time past the slew of employees I was again barraged with "WELCOME TO HOME DEPOT! WHAT KIND OF PROJECT CAN WE HELP YOU WITH TODAY?!?!?!?!!"

I managed to not point out that I had just walked through their gauntlet not twenty seconds ago, and certainly had not come up with another project in the meantime that needed their urgent attention. But it was tempting.

By the time I got to the gardening center my patience was at an end. I approached the garden center cashier and told her I wanted ten bags of the organic topsoil. And...I swear I am not kidding...she looked up from the bag of organic potting soil that she was using to transfer seedlings with and asked her partner:

"Do we carry organic potting soil?"

After much explanation and my nearly frantic gesticulations towards the stack of organic potting soil I was standing beside, I was rung up for my ten bags of Organic Choice Potting Soil. Brought to you by the fine folks guessed it...Miracle Gro.

Oh, and that organic triple 15 fertilizer? Never found it. I did find a cocktail I will be mixing myself. Of course, I had to go all the way to Memphis to find it. It seems the only way an organic farmer can get their soil amendments is to order it online to be shipped thousands of miles, or drive to the "big city" we've all moved away from.

I suppose today qualifies as one of those "I wish I was David Sedaris" days. There's a Pulitzer prize winning humorous essay in here somewhere.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Volunteers, anyone?

First off, I promised to share both triumphs and embarrassment as I write this blog, and boy do I have an embarrassment.

Maybe it's my impending senility or my uncanny ability to wreck a bowling ball with a bucket of grease, but I managed to dig up and destroy the internet cable we had buried in the yard while planting the raspberry bushes. To Michael's credit, he did not curse my face anyway. Rather, he maintained his calm and spent the day running a new wire. I sure hope our raspberries come in gorgeous, because I'm going to make him his very own raspberry pie.

We're still awaiting the first peeping sounds from our eggs in the incubator, and I find myself obsessively peering into the window every time I walk by it. I wonder what the dogs will think if/when they do hear little peeping sounds coming out of if. This will be a great experiment as I have three groups of youngsters coming in to the farm in three different methods. I intend to watch closely to see which birds are the most successful. This should help me determine the best ways to maintain and grow our flock.

Method 1: Incubation from fertilized egg, imprinting and hand rearing.
Method 2: Allow broody hen to incubate, hatch and raise chicks on her own (obviously the most natural method).
Method 3: Ordering chicks by mail from our favorite hatchery, Ideal Poultry in Texas. We have 24 birds (Buff Orpington and Barred Hollands) coming in May.

Now on to the nitty gritty and shameless call for free slave labor:

The demand for compassionately produced eggs is without limit, it seems. And there are certainly enough people in our area who could use the free eggs to help ease the ever-increasing financial burden of feeding their families. To meet this demand we need a new/larger chicken barn or an addition to the converted shed we are using now. If you or someone you know is a good carpenter/handy man type interested in a little volunteer work building it we'd sure love to have the help.

Unless we are able to maintain a larger flock the ideal pasture conditions we strive for, this year's hatching will be our last until after our senescent birds die off. I won't toss Henny Penny into the pressure cooker just because she's a bit long in the beak. I figure she's done her job for us, so we should take care of her when she needs the favor returned. This limits the size of our operation due to the cost ineffectiveness of this practice but it is the more compassionate practice, and that's the entire point of this project anyway.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shooting stray/free roaming pets is NOT our idea of a good day.

Some people have phobias of flight, snakes or crowds. My phobia is dogs in pain. I simply cannot deal with a dog's suffering. The sound of a dog's cry causes a visceral reaction that I have no control over. From that first "yipe" sound, the bottom drops out of my chest and I simply weep openly and uncontrollably. Those of you who know me personally know this is saying a lot. I am not a weepy kind of person by any stretch.

The past few days have been extremely difficult for us. No sooner had I finished my last entry about the dangers of free roaming and feral dogs when there was a commotion outside by the chicken house. Peeking out the windows, I saw the same pack we've been having problems with on its way to the hen house. Michael, who had heard the commotion as well, grabbed his rifle and headed outside. As he did so, he called to me "Are you in the house?" Because I was still getting my shoes on, I told him yes. Thinking I was going to stay in the house, he went to do what we had agreed must be done. Knowing my nature when it comes to dogs, he hoped to spare me from the sight. What a good man I married.

Unfortunately I suppose I wasn't thinking. When I got my shoes on, I grabbed some peanut butter to bait the trap to capture one of the dogs and take it to the shelter. I guess the reality of the decisions we'd made and what Michael was about to do just hadn't sunk in. I rounded the corner just as Michael took the shot. It was a very quick death, but unfortunately it was not the instantaneous one that Michael intended. Rather, it took one more shot. But in those moments between the two shots, there was the screaming.

Have you ever heard a dog screaming his last? Have you ever seen it jumping and twitching as it tried in vain to escape the bullet that had created the fatal wound? Not just an obviously wild looking beast either, but a dog that would look perfectly at home lying on your couch with you and watching television or chasing a ball you've thrown. It is a mental picture and a sound that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

After a few days spent in the emotional equivalent of the fetal position I decided to spend some channeling this negativity into some attention grabbing and trying to do all that I can to help stop these tragedies from repeating themselves. I wrote a letter to the editor of our local papers, but since we do not pay to subscribe they will not accept it. I'm not big into the waste of newsprint (sort of defeats that whole sustainability idea don't ya think?), so I gave it a pass. Instead I will contact those few people I do know who have press access and see if they have any interest. Perhaps I can talk some local civic clubs into accepting me as a speaker on the issue. Whatever it takes to raise awareness anywhere and in any way. After all, this is not just a local issue. A national geographic article as long ago as 2003 reported the feral/stray dog problem as a national crisis.

Farmers who shoot dogs are often portrayed by well-meaning but uninformed animal lovers as heartless profit-driven sociopaths whose main source of entertainment is the suffering of any living being other than themselves. I once fell prey to such an ignorant way of thinking myself. It's easy to do when one lives in the suburbs and and is blissfully unaware of the difficulties and very real dangers farmers and ranchers face from feral dogs. After all, what could a defenseless dog do to a grown man? A dog that looked just like the dog asleep on my couch could never be a threat, could it? Let me be clear. A pack of stray dogs, however cute, is indistinguishable from a completely feral pack. They are often mixed breeds and may look deceptively like the family pet. But this is not Fido, or a little lost helpless doggie. This is a wild animal that will kill livestock (or your beloved pet) not even out of hunger, but in the spirit of play. Just last year, a Georgia couple was killed and partially eaten by stray dogs that a well-meaning neighbor had been feeding. Even closer to home, last year Michael personally witnessed a pack of dogs attempting to pull a child off of his bike. Fortunately he intervened in time and saved the boy (though the boy had to be stitched up).

I can only speak from our own personal experience, but I can assure you that shooting dogs is the last thing we want to do! We are not the canine's equivalent of the bogeyman, anxiously awaiting our next opportunity to have a little fun by killing an innocent animal. We simply have no alternative. If you can find one that we haven't already thought of and had to abandon as not viable we'd love to hear it. Here are the alternatives we've thought of and had to scrap, and the reasons for scrapping them:

Alternative 1: Talk to the owners. Reality check: We did, they don't care. Nothing was changed. Dogs continue to breed freely, come onto our property and try to kill our chickens our chase our horses. Chasing large livestock may seem like harmless fun to the uninformed. After all, what kind of damage is one dog pack going to do to a 1900 pound belgian draft horse? Consider these headlines. Dogs maul, kill horse. Dog Pack Kills Two Horses. Rottweiler Pair Kills Pony. Not to mention that if my horses got run into the street by a pack of dogs and were hit by a car what sort of injuries the driver would sustain (often such accidents are fatalities to both horse and driver).

Alternative 2: Trap the dogs and take to the shelter. Reality check: Our shelter is not a no-kill shelter, and those we have taken have been immediately destroyed. In addition, it is not open 24/7, and we have so many dogs coming in that we would have to have a full time holding area to keep and feed them while waiting for the shelter to open. All so that they could be destroyed anyway. Frankly, I think that scenario of being trapped and hauled into a strange building filled with the smells of terror, piss and shit before having a needle shoved in the arm is much more cruel than a shot to the head.

Alternative 3: Find no kill shelters and take the dogs there. Reality check: Last year when we trapped two puppies starved nearly to death in one of our pastures, we tried this approach. Not one shelter in the neighboring 3 states would take them. Even if they would, it is not my full time job to be a dog taxi. Would you be willing to quit your job and spend your days driving dogs from state to state to find them shelter? Well that's great news because I will offer you a room in our guest house and you can get right to work. You see, I can't do it myself because the hours I would spend in the car being a dog taxi are hours my animals are unattended and vulnerable to the rest of the packs coming in. We did keep one of the puppies, by the way. Her name is Jinkies, and she's currently asleep in Michael's arms.

Alternative 4: Find a local animal rescue to take them in. Reality check: We did that. None of them would take the animals, but "encouraged" us to be fosters. We already have 3 dogs (two of which, by the way, are rescued strays). We do not have time, energy, money or room to take more. What was even more disturbing was the instant email inundations I got from these organizations begging me to give a home to yet more dogs they were trying to place with forever homes or at least find temporary shelter. I've had to drop myself from all their contact lists and Facebook invites because I am doing quite literally all that I can do. I cannot do more, and it breaks my heart.

Alternative 5: Find a home for them ourselves. Reality check: Great idea! Thanks for stepping up! How many do you want? And when can you come get them? Point made.

So as you can see, there is not a lot of choice here. The only way to stop the senseless killing of dogs is to stop the problem at its source. It is a multi-faceted problem fraught with ignorance, impractical thinking, apathy and genuine callousness. It is not one that we farmers and rural homeowners can fix ourselves. So rather than blame us or vilify us for having to make such painful choices, how about working with us to stop it from continuing? Here are a few suggestions on how you can help.

If you are a cat/dog owner:

1. Spay or neuter your pet. If you cannot afford to do so, there are low cost clinics sprouting up all over the country. Local readers might be interested to check out the West Tennessee Animal Rescue organization, which has a spay/neuter clinic like this. Some even have free days. While you are waiting for this day, never allow your animal the opportunity to breed. If you cannot afford or unwilling to utilize these options, you should not be a pet owner.

2. Never buy a pet. Instead, adopt from shelters. If you have your heart set on a purebred for whatever reason, there are purebred rescues by the hundreds. If you have any room in your home or heart for more than one pet, every rescue organization out there is literally desperate for people willing to offer temporary homes for animals awaiting permanent adoption.

3. Do not allow your pet to free roam unless you have large amounts of land and are willing to accept the consequences of death by car, coyote or stray dog pack (common even in cities) or other landowners. Understand that if you allow your dog or cat to free roam, you are legally liable for any bite your pet inflicts on other animals or people regardless of the circumstances. You should also be aware that free roaming pet and feral cats are the single biggest cause of damage to small wildlife populations. In Britain it was estimated recently that cats alone are responsible for the deaths of over 70 million small animals and birds.

4. No matter what your reasons, never abandon a pet. Always take it to the shelter to be adopted out or humanely euthanized. Besides the obvious reason that it is cruel to doom your pet to death by starvation or being ripped apart by predators, to release your pet into the wild is only adding to the already unmanageable problems of stray and feral dog packs. These packs are becoming larger and more aggressive and are now responsible for several attacks and fatalities against humans.

If you do all of the above but want to do more:

1. Write your local government to encourage enforcement of leash laws. Where leash laws are not in effect, encourage them to be created.

2. Do not, repeat, DO NOT feed stray dogs or cats. You are not doing them any favors by allowing them to continue to breed more and more and get larger and larger packs. If you have any doubt of this, re-read this post or do some research on the ecology of feral domestic animals. If you see strays, call animal control to have them removed and humanely destroyed. A much better and more effective way to spend your time, effort and money would be to volunteer at or donate funds to your local shelter. Consider that the more financial help they receive, the more animals they can give a safe and secure environment until forever homes can be found.

3. Do whatever you can to raise awareness to the dangers of dumping animals and feeding strays.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Free-ranging pets are a nuisance and a danger.

Yesterday my husband was out doing some farm chores when he discovered that one of the neighbors free-ranging dogs had chewed and pushed its head through our wire chicken fence in an attempt to get the chickens. Fortunately either something interrupted it, or the chickens got so far back into their yard that it couldn't reach them. It left empty handed. However, the hole left behind was just the perfect size for all of our birds to get out and wander out into the horse pasture where they were completely vulnerable. Again they were fortunate that the discovery was made in time and we managed to do a bit of chicken herding to get everyone back safe and sound.

Due to the stress of the day, however, the birds have been put off of their laying. Since we are not a profit driven business (we give our eggs away) and we are not depending on poultry for our entire food intake, this is not a terrible thing (except of course that the birds are obviously stressed). What does make this a terrible thing is the position this puts us in. We've trapped and returned one of the dogs once, explaining the situation but no changes were made. Now we chase the animals away on an almost daily basis. We have no recourse now but the bullet.

The state of Tennessee (and many others) gives us the legal right to shoot animals on our property regardless of whether or not they are attempting to harm livestock (though these animals obviously are). But legality is not the issue here. What IS the issue is my anger at having been put in this position. We love dogs with a passion. All of our own dogs are rescued animals who live pampered lives filled with love, chew toys, nutrition and the best veterinary care available. I cannot even hear a dog's cry without bursting into tears. Yet so many others think nothing of letting packs of dogs run around creating havoc. We've attempted to find homes for many of the feral dogs that have wandered on to our property, and have even been successful once. But if we tried to do that with every dog that wandered on to our property we would have to stop farming entirely and make feral dog/cat rescue our full time (though nonpaying) job. We simply do not have time to catch and ferry animals to different rescue organizations throughout the Midsouth (because all the rescues in our area were completely full at our last attempt, and our shelter was euthanizing animals immediately upon intake due to overcrowding).

It is not the responsibility of others to keep your animals off their property, it is YOUR responsibility to keep your animals ON your property. The same is true of cats, by the way.

Yes, it's horrible to shoot a dog. But it is even more horrible to have to be the person to do it. It's an image that haunts me, even if my husband has to pull the trigger (I simply can't do it). But is it acceptable to have my beloved chickens ravaged to death? Is it acceptable for someone's grandchild to be trampled by a 1900 pound draft horse trying to escape a dog nipping at her heels? I'd say those two very likely scenarios cause much more pain and suffering than a bullet to the brain of the dog or cat. So save your criticisms of farmers for trying to protect our animals that we love from YOUR animals that you neglect. If your dog or cat is shot on our property, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Today was one of those really weird days that started off as if nothing was ever going to get done, and then suddenly did a crazy Ivan into several things actually starting to pull together. It was one of those much needed days when more things got crossed off my ridiculously long to-do list of projects (yes, it really is an entire page of college-ruled notebook paper) than had to be carried over into the next day. I was beginning to become so overwhelmed by the list itself that I was tempted to just throw the covers over my head and give up, proclaiming myself a complete failure as a homesteader wannabe.

First off was my ridiculous attempt to get our soil sample off to the UT AG extension office in town. Yes, the box instructed me to turn it in there, but the agent told me that this was incorrect and that I needed to send it off to Nashville through the postal service. This would not have been quite so annoying if I wasn't reading the instructions that read "Return sample to your local extension office" on the freakin' box. Not to mention the fact that I had just come from the post office where I'd had to stand in line for a good 20 minutes anyway. All in all I think I spent about an hour and a half just standing in different lines in the same building. Not an easy thing to stomach when daylight is burning, a day without rain is precious, and I've got eighteen point nine bazillion other things to get done. But I sucked it up, breathed deeply, and stood in line. Again. Then screamed and screamed my frustration in the car on the way home.

Oh and did I mention that I had to explain to the agent how to tell if a hen was broody? He'd gotten a call from an area resident about that, and not only did he not know, but it hadn't occurred to him to oh...say...LOOK IT UP FOR HER. I graduated from the same Ag Campus that he most likely did. How is it that I know how to find stuff like that out as the result of my education, where as this professional agriculture extension agent was completely clueless? But I digress. Again.

By the time I got home I was determined to get at least ONE thing crossed off my list other than that blasted soil sample that should have taken 10 minutes but took almost the entire day. Off I went to work on the salad bar for the chickens. What I call the salad bar is really just a small box pen that juts up against the chicken yard. Every few days I move it to a fresh patch of green grass and open the door I've created in the fence so that the chickens have access to it. It's a great way to keep your birds in nice new green grass regardless of what a great job they do in denuding their fixed pasture. Anyway, within minutes I had it moved to a nice fresh patch of grass and my hens were happily scratching in virgin soil. I could feel my tension starting to release. Not only that, but as I was finishing up I heard the unmistakable sound of the UPS truck in the drive. Lo and behold it was the greenhouse plastic being delivered, only three weeks late following the collapse of the warehouse at Northern Greenhouse Supply (with our order inside, of course). Suddenly things were looking up even further.

By dark it was time to move our broody hen and her two newest eggs to her maternity ward, a small chicken tractor that we use if we need to segregate anyone. For the next three days I will collect all the fertilized eggs laid and place them under her. This is her first attempt at motherhood, so it's quite the adventure. After I got my broody gal settled, I went in to candle the four eggs that I had already pulled and put into the incubator (still intend to put up the peepshow cam, it's on my to-do list!). And there they were, little squirming blobs, the beginnings of new chickens. Hooray!

So as I close this post (I can cross yet another thing off my list in doing so), I'm waiting for our first You Tube video to load. I got our channel opened up just this evening and have been working on trying to post some stuff ever since. Hey gimme a break, I'm technologically challenged and stressed out. Don't make me add "snatch so-and-so bald" to my list.

Anyhoo, the YouTube channel is called ClucknNeigh so that should be pretty easy to find. I hope to have some videos up as links very shortly. I've also put a link to it in our Links section of the blog. And now I can cross that off my list.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is it too early to pass out the cigars?

wwFor the past few days one of my buff orpington hens has gone broody. This basically means that she has decided to sit on her eggs for the purpose of hatching them. I am hopeful that they are currently developing away happily and the end result will be a clutch of peepers that have never gone through the rigors of hatchery practices of being shoved into a cardboard box and shipped halfway across the country via the postal service. While I've been lucky and never had a sick, injured or (worst of all) dead chick arrive at our post office, I can't help but wonder what those first few days are like for them as they are jostled about on the trucks that will carry them to their new homes.

Unfortunately we are not set up to allow her to have the separate private area she needs to properly "set" on her eggs, and because of this it is not safe to leave the eggs in the regular nest box any longer than absolutely necessary. I think that might be a fun project for next year, though. As for this year, that translates to the use of an incubator. I have never in my life attempted this, so I have no idea if we will have success or a smelly depressing mess at the end of it all. But I thought, why not share this first experience with the cyberworld?

Today after I finish this entry, I will be setting up the incubator (we purchased a Hovabator with automatic egg turner) to make sure the temperature is stable and humidity is controlled. Then, if all goes well, I will be pulling eggs tomorrow and putting them in. Michael was kind enough to volunteer to put a web cam on the incubator, thus allowing us our own live peep show. Wish us luck on this new endeavor. I would sure love to be able to breed our own chickens here, thus adding one more step on the chain of raising my animals as compassionately as possible.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What a week it's been! I came up to have our annual birthday party in our cabin in Gatlinburg. Every February I get together with friends from all all different eras of my life to have some completely immature fun. It's a real treat for me to see my closest friends, some of whom never met before we started the annual gathering, all in one place having giggle fits, cooking fabulous meals and generally acting like teenagers together for a few days.

This year was no different. Susan Beasley came all the way from Atlanta, and Sarah Glass drove all the way from Knoxville just to see us for an hour. What a compliment! It was quite touching and made me feel very special.

All was well until the last day of the week, when our plumbing went KABLOOEY! I assumed it was just due to a septic tank overdue for a pump. But of course nothing is that simple. The tank did need to be pumped, so that was timely. But the real problem was the tree roots that had grown into the line. The septic tank guys, who were extremely helpful and worked their butts off, managed to clear the line. I'd recommend them to anyone in the Gatlinburg/Sevierville area. Look up Romines Septic if ever you need some help. But unfortunately, so much pressure had built up behind the roots that the pipes under the house burst. For days all our water had been draining directly into the river!! I'm just thankful we use all plant-based cleaning and bathing products. But I shudder to think of the raw sewage that must have made its way into the water before we caught the problem. Sheesh, a person does all they can to be as environmentally responsible as possible and this happens!

Though I was able to line up a plumber willing to fix the problem, but it still leaves me waterless for almost a full week now. He can't be out to look at it until Monday, so it looks like my quick trip is turning into quite the extended stay.

What I feel the most guilty about is leaving Michael to have to deal with all the farm duties on his own. Not to mention the poor guy just sprained his ankle a few days ago. What a mess! Fortunately he does have friends who are taking up the call and helping him with those daily husbandry duties. I'd say there's a major dinner party to say thank you in our future, if ever I get back! I'm looking forward to a real meal after so many mass market microwave meals! I can't believe I used to eat this crap regularly. No wonder I felt like doody all the time!

In the meantime I'm knitting like a maniac, playing World of Warcraft and watching BBC through Netflix on demand. I'm glad Monarch of the Glen is so addictive.