Dewey Dude the Chick Sitter ;) (or How to Harden Off Your Chicks)

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Recently I started taking the chicks out to the greenhouse during the day.  I set up Dewey Dude’s puppy crate with some branches for perching and wrapped chicken wire around the crate so they couldn’t slip out.

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My scruffy little chicks checking out their new daytime digs

 

They’ve got their food and water and can even nibble on some Swiss Chard that’s growing close to the cage.  They’re still protected from any serious wind, and the top of the crate is covered so there’s shade as well.  This allows them to slowly get used to outdoor conditions, as they get some sun and a bit of a breeze, but nothing too intense.  Plus they can eat all the bugs they can catch within the crate- yum! LOL  Just like hardening off plants, young chickens need to slowly get used to outdoor conditions.

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“Hey, not bad!  Food, water, perches, fresh air, greens- yeah this is nice!”

 

I started them off with a few hours and gradually increased the time in the greenhouse to most of the day, bringing them back inside in the evening.  They really seem to enjoy having room to run around and spread their wings, and they love the perches.

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“Thanks Mom- we like this set up!”

They’re still kind of skittish, but when I just hold my hand in the crate for a few minutes the bravest ones will come over and check me out.  Then I pet them and scratch their little chests, which they really like.

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Dewey Dude, the official Chick Sitter

And Dewey Dude has become my official Chick Sitter 😉  He leads the way when I take the chicks (in a box) from the house to the greenhouse.  Then he keeps an eye on them once they’re in the cage.  During the day he frequently checks on them just to be sure they’re OK.  They seem to like him too- they’ll come over the side of the cage where Dewey’s at and nibble on his nose or toes 🙂  He doesn’t even mind when they do that!  He is such a good dog!

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“Don’t worry Mom, I’ll keep an eye on the girls”

There’s that guarding instinct in action 😉  I still have to watch him when the chicks get excited and start fluttering around, because he wants to paw or mouth them, and it wouldn’t take much for him to accidentally kill them.  As he gets older (he’s 11 months old now) he does get calmer and better able to control himself.  I’m sure the day will come when I’ll be able to allow him to be among the chickens unsupervised.

The next move for the chicks will be out to a separate enclosure within the big chicken’s pen.  When the little ones are about the same size as the big girls I’ll allow them to fully integrate, but when they’re so much smaller the big girls could hurt them.  Chickens can be surprisingly mean.  This is the first time I’ve tried the dog crate in the greenhouse for the chicks (I forgot we even had it until we got Dewey Dude- LOL).  Last year I let the chicks “free range” in the greenhouse, but that had it’s drawbacks.  They ate too many greens and damaged what little lettuce I had growing in there, and they were very difficult to catch when it came time to go back to the house in the evening.  Each year I learn more and figure out better ways of doing things.

So that’s what’s going on with my little feathered friends right now 🙂  Before you know it they’ll be all grown up and laying eggs for us!  And my sweet puppy is so happy to have such an important job- he’s the best chick sitter I could ask for ❤

~Michelle of CreativeCritters
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It’s Time For Spring Chicks!

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Yep, it’s that time of year again- time to start raising the next batch of chickens.  In the past Sal has gotten 6 or 7 day old chicks from our local feed store every other year or so.  This time we’re doing it differently and have decided to get new chicks every year so there won’t be any reduction in overall egg production as the youngsters grow to maturity and the older hens stop producing.  Our 7 Rhode Island Red chickens from last year (now 1 year old) are still producing reliably and haven’t started to molt yet, so we should have plenty of eggs until the little ones are ready to start laying.  This year instead of our usual Rhode Island Reds we got 6 White Leghorns.  The Reds lay brown eggs and the Leghorns lay white eggs, so we’ll be able to know who’s producing and how much.

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One of my Rhode Island Red chickens

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Our 6 new White Leghorn chicks

So far we’ve had good luck getting our day old chicks from Olsen’s feed store.  A few days before we’re ready to pick them up I wash the chick cage with soap and water and scrub it thoroughly (I do the same thing before we put it into storage too), then spray it with vinegar to sanitize it.  Their feeder and water container get the same treatment and everything is allowed to dry in the sun.  Sal made this cage years ago, when he first started raising chickens and it has served us well.  By the time the chicks get too big for this cage they’re usually ready to go out to the coop.  There’s a removable tray under the bottom of the cage that we line with paper so it’s easy to clean.  Of course the bigger these critters get, the more often I need to change their paper (they can be messy little buggers!).

For the first few weeks (or longer, depending on the weather) we keep the cage on the island in the kitchen, with the heat lamp positioned over the top.  Figuring out the right position of the heat lamp is a bit of trial and error, but the basic rule is if the chicks are all clustered together under the lamp they’re cold and you need to move the light closer.  If they’re avoiding the lamp and are scattered around the cage, as far from the light as possible they’re hot and the light is too close.  They should wander around the cage comfortably and sleep in small groups all around the cage floor.  It took me a while, but I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out how to keep them comfortable.

The really fun part is always introducing the other animals to the chicks.  I do like having the chicks get used to the cats and dogs so they’re not afraid of them, and having the dogs especially realize that these chicks are not prey, but family members they’re supposed to protect.

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“This thing is fascinating!”

This is Dewey Dude’s first experience with chicks, and I’m making a special effort to get him familiar with them.  He’s getting better with the older chickens, but still wants to jump on them sometimes.  He’s a very skilled hunter (he caught his first mouse when he was just 3 months old, and since then has caught a variety of birds, rodents, and rabbits) so I want to be sure he understands that this is not the same as the critters he hunts.  He’s very intelligent and watches me talking to the chicks and holding and petting them, so that also reinforces the idea that these little things are part of the family and are to be protected.  Ziggi’s been through all this before and really has very little interest in the chicks (or the adult chickens, for that matter).

Then of course there’s the cats.

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Ginko is utterly fascinated with the chicks.  He’s always been a housecat and has never caught anything bigger than a spider, but he’s got some pretty strong hunting insticts.  He’s not quite sure what to do with these things, but they sure do smell interesting!  BTW, I’m very careful that no animals get hurt or stressed out during these little meetings.  I’m actually surprised at how calm the chicks are when I take them out and let them interact with the cats and dogs.  Of course if the chicks were running around the house unsupervised I’m sure it wouldn’t take Ginko too long to figure out what a cat does with a critter like this.  Calcifer, on the other hand, is a complete love.

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I could probably let all 6 chicks cuddle with him in the chair and he wouldn’t mind at all.  He’s actually a little afraid of them when they start cheeping loudly and fluttering around in their cage (they really get excited if a gnat or something flies into their cage!).

And so this is just another sign of spring around here- the peeping of fluffy little chicks on the counter 😉  When the weather warms a bit more we’ll put the cage out in the garage with the heat lamp and I’ll start taking them outside for brief “field trips” to get them used to the outdoors, the sun, the wind, the feel of grass under their feet, etc.  Sal’s going to build them a separate little coop in the main chicken enclosure so when they’re big enough to go out full time they can safely be with the big chickens.  When they’re the same size as the Reds I’ll allow the flocks to intermingle.  If I put them together when the chicks are too small they could get hurt- chickens can be pretty vicious.  And when the Reds stop producing we’ll give them away to someone who wants them for bug patrol like we did with the last batch.

This will be the fourth year that I’ve raised chickens, and each year I learn a bit more.  I’ve already learned that Leghorns spook easier than Rhode Island Reds.  Loud noises have the chicks peeping and fluttering all over the cage, and any time I change the water or feed them they all spaz out- LOL.  They are getting used to me though, and I hope spending  a good bit of time with them will help them calm down and realize I’m not going to hurt them.  They do seem to enjoy it when I hold them and pet their little heads- they close their eyes and get this blissful expression 🙂

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Just hanging out with my peeps 😉

So that’s life down on the farm 🙂  I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post now that it’s getting to be planting season, but I’ll try to keep you all up to date on the latest happenings.  On that note, the seedlings are all doing well.  I’ve got them under lights in the guest bathroom like I did last year (you can check out this post to see just what I did last year https://gettingcreativewithcreativecritters.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/starting-seeds-indoors-the-beginning-of-the-2015-gardening-season/).  I’ve been putting them out in the greenhouse during the day for extra sunlight and that seems to really be getting them off to a good start.  Then I bring them back in before it gets too cool in the evening.

Hopefully this season will be at least as productive as last!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

2015- A Very Good Year!

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Yes, I know, we’re already two weeks into 2016, so I’m a bit late in posting this 😉  But, as usual, I’ve been rather busy and just haven’t taken the time to sit down and blog.

2015 was a very good year indeed.  The garden did quite well, and for the first time (since I’ve been in Arizona anyway) I started the seeds indoors and allowed the seedlings to mature a bit before moving the trays out to the greenhouse.  This strategy worked very well and resulted in strong healthy plants that thrived once they were transplanted into the garden.

P1030693 There were some insect issues, as usual, but the regular applications of Neem seemed to keep the squash bugs and cucumber beetles somewhat under control.  We’re considering getting Guinea Hens this year and allowing them to free range in the garden.  I’ve heard they’re excellent at insect control and not as destructive to plants as chickens can be.  If anyone wants to share any info on Guinea Hens with me please leave a comment below- I’d certainly appreciate it!

In March we got 7 new chicks to replace our older chickens who were no longer producing many eggs.  We gave the older chickens away to a lady who wanted them for bug control in her yard, so no chickens ended up in the soup pot 😉  I’m not sure if I could actually slaughter our chickens- I do tend to get attached to them, so I’d much rather just find them a new home when we get new chicks.  And our chicks have been very happy and healthy little critters!

chicks 10 days old 3 And now these cute little things are full grown and giving us delicious fresh eggs every day 🙂

Then in April we found out that Sal’s daughter, Christina, was pregnant 🙂  Anna was born in September and both she and her mother seemed to appreciate the gifts I made for her.

The kitty was named Miss Kitty and Christina used the booties and hat and blanket the whole time she was here visiting in early December.  We spent a very enjoyable 5 days together and I had a chance to get to know Christina even better, as well as spending some quality time with Anna.  Such a beautiful girl!

Anna and Miss Kitty In June Sal and I spent 5 glorious days relaxing on the beach in Mexico.  His friend has a beach house in Rocky Point and let us use it for our vacation 🙂  We played in the ocean, had dinner on the beach, and chilled out by the fire at night.  Of course Ziggi was with us and he just completely wore himself out chasing sea birds up and down the beach and swimming in the ocean.

rocky point mexico june 2015 3 The trip to Mexico was one part of my 40th birthday gift.  The second part of my gift came in July.  We’d been discussing getting another dog for almost a year and Sal decided that the time was right this summer.  And so we adopted the sweetest, most wonderful German Shepherd/ Rottweiler mix ever ❤  Dewey Dude has been such a joy and has brought even more happiness into our household.  And I finally have my own dog, which is something I’ve desired for years.  This is what my little guy looked like when we brought him home at 2 months old.

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Dewey Dude

How cute is he?!  And this is what he looks like now at almost 8 months old.

dewey dude.jpg He’s grown into such a handsome dog!  Of course he’s still got a lot of growing left to do 😉  I love this guy so much!

One sad thing this year was that Calcifer got sick and I had to take him to the vet where they put him on antibiotics for an infection.  He hadn’t been eating well and had dropped to just 8 pounds.  I started feeding him kitten chow, which he loves now, and once the antibiotics cleared up the infection his appetite really came back.  Now he’s up to 11 pounds- more than he’s ever weighed!  He looks great and seems to feel as good as he looks.  He’s still eating Kitten Chow (it’s the only dry food he’ll eat) along with his canned food, and he has a good, healthy appetite now.  So what started out as a worrisome thing ended well.

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In October  we took Dewey Dude to Beaver Creek for the first time and had a blast watching him romp and play with Ziggi.  This was also the first time he was allowed off leash on a hike, and he did very well when it came to sticking fairly close to us and coming when called.

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Since then he’s been on several more hikes with us and I feel confident about allowing him off leash when we’re out in the wilderness.  Of course when we’re around other people or dogs I keep him on a leash.   Sometimes he can be a little too friendly, and not everyone appreciates that 😉

In November Ziggi was the one headed to the vet when he cut his leg.  We think he was running past some sheet metal Sal has in the yard and sliced his leg open.  He had to get about a dozen stitches then had to wear the cone of shame for about a week.  The cats couldn’t figure out why the dog was wearing a lamp shade on his head 😀

Ziggi and cats He’s as good as new now, although he does sport a very macho scar on his front leg.  And the incident did prompt Sal to go around the yard and try make all his scrap metal as safe as possible so this wouldn’t happen again.  The dogs just tear around here at breakneck speed, so we have to try to eliminate or safeguard as many obstacles as possible.

And then there was December, and December 23rd, which turned out to be a very important day in our lives (and not just because it was Calcifer’s 6th birthday ;))  That was the morning that Sal proposed to me!  I love this man with all my heart and have had every intention of spending the rest of my life with him, with or without being married, but I really did want to be his wife, rather than just his girlfriend.  And yes, I did cry when he slipped that diamond engagement ring on finger, tears of the utmost joy.  And the days that followed were filled with even more joy.  Later that day we headed out (with the dogs) to the Embassy Suites where we had a room booked for two nights and Sal had arranged a banquet for his birthday (which was on the 24th) that night.  And the birthday banquet ended up doubling as an engagement party 🙂  There was so much love and laughter in that room that night!  Sal’s family is wonderful and I am thrilled to finally become a true part of it.  Most of them have considered me part of the family already, but this makes it official 😉  On the 24th we got engagement pictures taken and then headed over to his brother’s house for the annual Christmas Eve dinner and party- always a fun time!

engagement pic.jpg Oh, and when I was planning my outfit for the Christmas Eve party (before I knew we’d be getting engagement pictures taken), I picked out Gramma’s necklace, bracelet, and earrings to wear with my dress.  Not only did they go nicely with the engagement ring, but it felt like Gramma was there with me, at least in spirit.  I wish she could have lived long enough to meet Sal- I know she would have liked him, and I know she would be so happy for me.

We headed back home Christmas day, taking our time and stopping a few times along the way to let the dogs out to run and play in the desert.  We had a very peaceful Christmas day, and enjoyed being back home.

Then to start off the New Year we put our Christmas gifts to use.  Without planning it his aunts gave us gift certificates for dinner at the historic Hassayampa Peacock Room and his daughters gave a gift certificate for an overnight stay at the hotel.  We had a wonderful  time and I think the best dinner I have EVER eaten!  Life is so good, and I am thankful beyond words for all the many blessings in my life!

Here’s to more of the same in 2016! 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

 

 

Spring Has Sprung in Arizona!

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This is my second spring living in Arizona and I have to say, it’s MUCH better than this time of year back in Ohio (where I lived all of my life until about a year and a half ago).  The winter in this neck of the woods (Dewey, Arizona) was really quite mild, with only a few nights dipping below freezing.  Apparently this isn’t actually normal, but I’m not complaining.  I do remember it being much colder here last winter (the pipes even froze at one point), and it took longer to warm up in the spring.  I know this is a subject of much debate, but based on personal experience, I have no doubt that the climate is changing.  My boyfriend has lived in AZ for at least 30 years, and in this particular house for about 16 years, so he certainly knows what’s “normal” and what’s not.  He says the summers have been getting hotter, the monsoon rains MUCH more intense, the winds are lasting longer and are stronger than ever before, and the winters are getting milder.  Me, I just go with the flow and try to work with whatever Mother Nature decides to throw my way.

When we got back from our vacation in Mexico at the end of February I checked the salad garden in the back and was delighted to see that tiny little lettuce seeds left over from the Fall had started sprouting.  So I planted more lettuce (Oak Leaf, Red Oak Leaf, Romain, and Buttercrunch) and within less than a week the seeds had sprouted.  Back in Ohio I never would have considered planting lettuce outdoors in February!  But look how nicely my little seeds are coming up 🙂

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This is a picture of our salad and herb garden.  Sal built this to keep out all the different critters (rabbits, pack rats, deer, javelina, birds, and more) that would otherwise decimate everything we planted.  Not only do we plant our salad greens in here, but we also plant Swiss Chard, cantaloupe, beets, chives, dill, oregano, jalapenos, green onions, and Hungarian Wax peppers.  And I discovered that you can cut the Swiss Chard back when it starts going to seed and it will regrow without having to plant new seed.  The same goes for green onions.  If you cut them about an inch from the ground they continue to grow, so you can have a continual harvest of green onions from just a few plants, rather than pulling up the whole thing.  It’s funny- I’ve been gardening for about 20 years now and I’m STILL learning new things.

Normally we wouldn’t have started the seeds for the vegetable garden until mid-to late March (at the earliest), but since the weather has been so much warmer than usual I decided to start the seeds in the greenhouse at the beginning of March.  The greenhouse has been very productive all winter as well.  We’ve got LOTS of garlic growing, along with Swiss Chard, more green onions, a patch of oregano, lettuce, beets, arugula, broccoli raab, and even peas.  The only issue we’ve had is a serious attack of aphids, which did wipe out our second planting of lettuce and broccoli raab.  Since the winter has been so warm the little buggers weren’t killed off by the cold and they multiplied like crazy.  I tried the soap and water spray, the Neem oil spray, diatomaceous earth- nothing could bring those suckers under control!  I finally just had to pull up the lettuce and broccoli raab and feed it (and all the aphids living in it) to the chickens.  The chickens were happy and I got rid of the bulk of the insects, so in the end I guess it worked out.  My little lizard, who’s been living in the greenhouse since he wandered in there last Fall, did his best to help control the bugs, but this little guy can only eat so much!

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One thing I absolutely love about gardening here is that we have crops going all year long.  Once the heat of summer hits about the only thing that can handle the high temps in the greenhouse is the garlic, but during the cooler months we’ve got plenty growing in there.  And by the time it’s too hot to grow in the greenhouse, the outside gardens are hitting their stride.  At this time of year the greenhouse is the perfect environment for starting seeds.  I created a nice mix of sandy soil and rich compost to start the seeds in, something Sal has been doing for years.  I used to buy commercial potting soil or seed starting mix, but when you plant as many seeds as we do now that can get pretty expensive.  Sal’s method seems to work pretty well, and this year I added my own adaptations, so hopefully things will work out even better.  Between the two of us we’ve been gardening most of our lives, and when we combine our knowledge and experience we can do some pretty awesome things with plants 😉  This year I added more sand to the mixture since the pots seemed to get a little waterlogged last year.  I also figured out a way to water them from the bottom so the tiny seeds wouldn’t be disturbed by overhead watering.

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I used the plastic drawers from a few dressers I wasn’t using at the moment and fit the various sized pots in there, leaving space to pour water into the drawers.  This is just perfect because it helps retain moisture and makes watering much quicker and easier.  Another change I made was planting certain seeds in “transplantable pots”.  Seeds like melons, peas, cucumbers, and squash don’t like to have their roots disturbed, so by planting them in pots that can go directly in the ground I’m giving them a much better chance of survival with less transplant shock.  I planted the peas in toilet paper tubes, and as soon as they’ve got a few leaves I’ll harden them off and plant them in the garden (TP tube and all).  For the plants that get larger and need to stay in their pots for longer, like cucumbers, melons, and squash, I used the bottom half of my soy milk containers.  With these I’ll simply slice the cardboard to avoid disturbing the roots when it’s time for the plants to go out in the garden.  Once I had everything set up, planted, and watered I covered the drawers with plastic to help retain moisture and heat.  Most seeds need heat and moisture to sprout.

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Additionally, I use a mist sprayer to keep the surface of the soil moist.  Once a day I spray them with this Soil Energizer Tonic (from one of Jerry Baker’s recipes).  Just mix 1 tsp. of liquid dish soap with 1 tsp. ammonia and 1 tsp. whiskey in 1 quart of weak tea.  This is supposed to get the seeds growing quickly and keep the soil free from disease.  This is the first time I’ve tried this particular recipe, so I’ll have to see how it works.  I’ve used plenty of other recipes from Jerry Baker before (he’s got lots of gardening books) and they usually work pretty well.  Once the seedlings start to emerge I’ll pull back the plastic so they can get some air flow, otherwise the seedlings can actually suffocate.

There were several different things that I didn’t bother starting in pots, like the beans, beets, green onions, chives, and most flowers.  These seem to do better if they’re planted directly in the ground, and with the warm temps and wonderful soil here they sprout pretty quickly.  Last year we started the beans in pots, then transplanted them into the garden and we ended up losing most of the plants to stress.  I replanted seeds directly in the garden and those plants fared much better.  I always try to learn from experience and improve on what I did last year.  Actually, last year’s harvest was amazing, in spite of a very windy start (we should have hardened the plants off better before putting them out), not to mention really intense monsoon storms.  This year I think we’ll do even better.  I’m learning how to garden in Arizona, which is actually quite different from gardening in Ohio.  Heck, we’re still eating veggies we blanched and froze last summer.  And considering that we’re almost vegetarian (we only eat a little meat once or twice a week), we use a lot of vegetables, all from the garden.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am blessed.  Blessed, to be able to garden the way I’ve always wanted to (I never had the space, the soil, or the awesome greenhouse I always wanted before).  Blessed to have a partner in life and in gardening, someone who shares my love of gardening and thinks along the same lines I do.  Blessed to live in this little bit of paradise I now call home.  I used to dream of having a great big garden, big enough to plant everything I wanted to grow, and a greenhouse so I could grow veggies and herbs in the winter and start my seeds in the spring.  I used to dream of having chickens so I could have fresh eggs, and a big ole farm dog to keep me company while I worked in the yard.  I never knew where or how this might happen, but I just let things unfold as they were meant to be, and here I am, living the life I always wanted.

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Stay tuned for future posts on the progress of the garden, tips and tonics for healthy plants, recipes for all those great veggies and herbs, and much more related to organic gardening.

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing my joy in this amazing life I’m living! 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

First Post on the New Blog

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While I may not be new to blogging I AM new to WordPress.  Since I can no longer log in to my original blog at http://creativecrittersblog.blogspot.com due to email address issues , I thought I’d give WordPress a try and create a whole new blog.  I figure it’s just about spring (here in Arizona anyway), so this is a good time for new starts.

Since I’m still exploring WordPress and figuring things out you’ll just have to be patient with me while I stumble around and make mistakes for a bit 😉 LOL  This blog will basically be a continuation of the original, which still has lots of great content available.  I intend to post about my creative adventures sculpting in polymer clay, sewing and knitting stuffed animals, making jewelry, and other forays into the wonderful world of art and creativity.  Of course I’ll also be posting about my pets!

There’s Ziggi, the half Australian Cow Dog, Half German Short Haired Pointer (and my personal guard dog).

me and Ziggi

And my kitties, Calcifer, a sweet, shy Maine Coone cat, and Ginko, my tubby grey and white clown of a cat.

Calcifer washing Ginko

And then there are “The Girls”, six Rhode Island Red hens that follow me around like I’m their Mother Hen!

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So I think that’s about it for the first post.  I’ll keep it short and sweet until I really get the hang of this site.  So far, I like it =)

~Michelle of CreativeCritters