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Archive for the ‘animals’ Category

White chickens lay white eggs, and brown chickens lay brown eggs.
Not true! The color of the egg is determined by the color of the hen’s ear lobe. White ear lobes indicate white eggs, and red or pink earlobes indicate brown, blue or green eggs, depending on the breed. Some brown breeds, like Rhode Island Red, will lay brown eggs, but other varieties of brown hens don’t. Cuckoo maran hens, which have black and white speckled feathers, lay dark brown eggs, with shells so dark in color they are called “chocolate” eggs.

So does that mean that green chickens lay green eggs?
Sort of. Araucana hens will lay green, blue, and pinkish beige eggs. They do not have green, blue or pink feathers. Look at their feet! Instead of white, yellow or gray, their feet are blue or green, ranging from pale to deep in color.

Speckled eggshells mean the hen was stressed.
Maybe. Certain breeds consistently lay speckled eggs. Or the dark brown speckles could be tiny flecks of blood that were deposited on the egg as it traveled through the oviduct. It just happens sometimes, no worries. The hen is ok and the egg is good to eat. If a hen is stressed, such as when she is moulting (seasonally shedding feathers) or getting henpecked (ever hear of pecking order? it’s real), she will stop laying eggs for a while.

Farm interns Donna and Jon pack eggs.

A blood speck next to the yolk of an egg means that the egg is fertilized.
Not true! It means that a little bit of blood got inside the shell as the yolk was developing. You can tell if an egg is fertilized only if you hold up the egg to light (candling) to see if an embryo is forming. The egg needs to be incubated in warmth (under the hen in a nest, or in an incubator) for the embryo to develop.

An orange yolk is more nutritious than a yellow yolk.
Mostly true. But, some breeds, like the araucana, lay eggs with a light colored yolk. A deep yellow or orange yolk egg generally comes from a pastured or free range hen, which has a chance to eat a variety of nutritious things, including plants and bugs. Marigolds have carotenoids which make egg yolk color darker. An orange yolked egg is not necessarily fresher than a lighter yolked egg.

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Durian the cat liked to follow me around on the farm and tell me things. I will miss our conversations.

Durian the cat is dead. He was killed in his sleep the other night by a wild dog that crawled under the car where the cat was sleeping. The dog went for the cat’s throat, slashing its jugular, and the cat didn’t have a chance. It was dragged by the dog to the other side of the carport and left to die.

Durian was one of the many cats that lived at Farmer Margie’s farm. She and her husband Nick have taken to sleeping lightly, with one ear open for any sign of approaching wild dogs. Even in his sleep, Nick heard barking and went out into the dark night at 1:30 am to drive them away.

Outside, he heard a cat scream, searched, and found the lifeless body of Durian. It was a thrill kill. Those wild dogs had blood lust and killed just for the sake of killing. They might have come to kill chickens, and found the cat instead. They ran away when Nick came on the scene.

Those wild dogs were once somebody’s pets. Small, cute, pampered. Or maybe yappy, nippy and unmanageable. In any case, their owners decided they had enough. Why dump dogs out in the countryside instead of take them to the shelter where they can be adopted? Some people foolishly think that domesticated animals can “fend for themselves” if left to run loose.

And they are partly right. Wild dogs do learn to fend for themselves. Their instincts kick in and they kill. Rats, possums, chickens –and cats. Sometimes to survive, and sometimes just for the thrill — the sheer wild crazy excitement of tearing a victim animal apart.

The killings at Bee Heaven Farm started a few years ago, and increased in the past several months. In an earlier attack back in October, wild dogs tried to get at chickens that live inside a mobile coop called a chicken tractor, but the dogs didn’t succeed. Farmer Margie lost dozens of chickens in similar previous incidents this year and last, and as a result egg production is way down. Animal deaths on the farm are not only heartbreaking but also have an economic impact.

But dog dumpers don’t think about the effect their heartless act of shoving an animal out of a car will have on others. Margie is not the only one to suffer losses this year. Her farm manager Sadie wept when wild dogs killed her pregnant pig, right in broad daylight. She tried to run them off but it was too late. In fall, Hani Khouri the cheesemaker had dogs attack several pregnant goats. The does survived the attacks, but later gave birth to stillborn kids. Hani was upset and heartbroken for days. I’m sure there are plenty other attacks that happened in Redland this year that I haven’t heard about.

Durian relaxing at home with his loved ones. Photo by Rachel Pikarsky.

It’s only a matter of time before a dog will lose its fear and attack a human. Farmer Tim Rowan had dogs menace him on his farm, more than once. Now he carries a gun whenever he steps out of his house to work in his field. Even I had a run in with two large dogs that wandered onto Bee Heaven Farm at dusk a couple years ago. I heard a deep throaty growl, turned and saw the dogs. I yelled and managed to run them off, but my heart was racing with fear, and I had dreams about the encounter for nights afterwards.

Next time a wild dog attacks — and there will be a next time and a next time — I hope and pray the victims are not animals I know. Durian was a sweet, much-loved pet, and was my animal friend, too. My heart grieves for his senseless death.

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Hungry critter

Hungry muncher in the bunch of dill.

Anybody have an idea what kind of caterpillar this is? It showed up in the bunch of dill that I was arranging when I came to photograph this week’s share. Despite the attention from my camera’s giant glass eye, the hungry caterpillar kept on munching. I put it on a plant outside the barn. Keep your eyes open because there could be more lurking. Margie said she spotted another caterpillar and picked off another one in a different bunch of dill.

I also heard a cricket chirping in my share box! Haven’t found it yet, and not sure where it is. Always an adventure with farm food!

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Stopped by Margarita’s farm stand on Krome Avenue a couple weeks ago to get some bananas, and saw some potted rue plants off to the side. One had a handsome caterpillar on it, with bright green and yellow stripes, but I put that plant aside. Didn’t want any hitchhikers…

Sneaky giant swallowtail caterpillar browsing in rue.

Discovered the next morning that the rue plant I brought home also had a caterpillar! It was big and had black and white blotches. I knew right away that it was a giant swallowtail caterpillar, much like the one I saw back in May at Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery.

The caterpillar begins its transformation into a chrysalis.

The caterpillar had a good appetite and devoured several branches of rue leaves for the next few days. (Giant swallowtail caterpillars feed only on citrus and rue leaves, so if you want them in your yard, grow rue.) Several days later the caterpillar looked different. It was hanging from a branch with what looked like two strands of monofilament connected to just below its head area, and its tail was firmly wedged against a stem. It had begun its transformation into a chrysalis! The following day the transformation was complete. Its skin had turned dark brown and rough. The chrysalis looked like a bit of a brown tree branch — protective camouflage.

Chrysalis, day 5. That knob of old wood doesn’t look like it would have anything to do with a butterfly.

I carefully clipped the branch it was attached to and put it into a large jar, and with a piece of cheesecloth on top so air could get in. The plan was to take it to a good place with lots of flowers. The giant swallowtail butterfly that would emerge would need sustenance in the form of nectar. In my neighborhood, there aren’t that many things blooming this time of year, and come to think of it, I haven’t seen any butterflies around.

Chrysalis, day 7. Released into the wild. It has acquired subtle green markings.

Farmer Margie offered to host the chrysalis, and I brought it to Bee Heaven Farm. We scouted for a good spot. It couldn’t be near the ground, where something might eat it, and it had to be close to the farm house, where it would be easy to check. Finally we picked a shrubby tree near the kitchen door, and tied the chrysalis to a branch with the cheesecloth from the jar. The butterfly is supposed to emerge after 10 to 12 days. Margie promised she would check the chrysalis twice a day. Hopefully she’ll be there with a camera when the butterfly emerges.

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Hani’s cute kids


The baby goats and their mothers nibble on a royal palm frond. Goats are browsers and will eat all kinds of vegetation.

Hani Khouri makes ice cream and several varieties of cheese using milk from his own herd of Nubian goats. He keeps them on his farm in Redland. It’s always fun to visit and take pictures of cute and friendly goats. They, in turn, like to nibble on my shirt and fingers if I’m not paying attention.

The new kids on the farm hanging out underneath the milking stand. The white one still has his umbilical cord. They are about a week old in this picture.

Back in March, Hani’s herd grew to 17 with the arrival of two new kids. They’re both male, which is a problem, because two grown bucks are already in the herd. Hani prefers to keep only one buck with his female goats.

Marylee Khouri holds one of the new kids.

When I went to see the kids, they were only a few weeks old and in that awwww how cuuuute stage. Now they are four months old, bigger but still cute, and Hani is looking to sell them — but only to the right buyer. “Not to eat, and no santeria!” he said. He’d like to see them go to a herd where they can grow up and live out their lives.

If you are interested please contact Hani at www.hanisorganics.com If you are located in Miami-Dade or Broward counties and are interested in purchasing goat cheese, goat milk ice cream, or Mediterranean food, you may do so through his web site.

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So ugly and so big

The caterpillar of the swallowtail butterfly, with evidence of its enormous appetite.

Last month I stopped by Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery, and as usual, brought my camera. I look forward to those visits, because there’s always something new happening. Walking around with Robert Barnum looking at trees and plants never gets old. Robert pointed out something that looked like a massive bird dropping on a leaf, a blotchy browish-black and white blob, and said it was actually the caterpillar of the giant swallowtail butterfly. It was the biggest, ugliest caterpillar I had ever seen. And it had been quite busy, was chewing up large chunks of a Ponderosa lemon seedling’s leaves. In fact, they like eating citrus leaves very much, which could be a problem. Citrus greening is killing local citrus trees, so there goes its food supply.

Touching the caterpillar triggers a defense response.

The caterpillar’s ugly looks were actually its main defense from getting eaten. A bird would look at that and wouldn’t think it’s food. The caterpillar also had another way of defending itself, Robert said as he touched its back. It immediately arched up a bit and something that looked like a red forked tongue came out of one end. It’s called an osmeterium and it gives off a noxious odor to repel its predator. Robert asked if I wanted to smell that finger, but I shied away, no thanks, take your word on it.

That was in May, and by now the caterpillar and its buddies have most likely decimated the lemon sapling and any others nearby, gone through their chrysalis stage (which lasts about 10-12 days) and are most likely now transformed into the giant swallowtail butterfly. The adult butterfly has a wingspan of 4 to 6 inches, and it’s breathtaking to see a butterfly that big in flight.

A stressed swallowtail caterpillar displaying its osmeterium.

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Jeepers, peepers!

Three day old baby chicks pecking at food.

A new batch of baby chicks arrived at Bee Heaven Farm this week. The little peepers  hatched last Monday and arrived in the mail on Thursday. Yes, baby chickens travel by mail! The post office called Farmer Margie at 6:30 in the morning to come pick them up. They were packed tightly in a cardboard box with lots of air holes. They kept each other warm with their own body heat while traveling. So far it looks like all survived the trip.

How baby chicks travel through the mail.

Farm interns Sadie and Mike immediately started holding and cuddling the baby chicks. There’s something about handling the little birds, or just watching them peep and run around, that’s mesmerizing. What’s not to love? They’re so cute and fluffy! The chicks will have no problem getting socialized with all the attention they’re getting.

Mike and Sadie playing with chicks.

Margie got two heritage breeds. The black chicks are cuckoo maran and the brown chipmunk-looking ones are welsummers. When they grow up to be 4 to 6 months old, the hens will lay chocolate (dark brown, that is) eggs. This week 25 chicks arrived, and next week 25 more are coming. Farmer Margie is getting that many birds to replace those killed by feral dogs this past season.

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