Bait and Switch

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Tuesday, May 31, 2011 8:03 AM

So PB, my buff orpington, has decided to go broody. 

Yesterday I gave strong consideration to stuffing the seven chicks I have in the house under her.  But I'm heading out for vacation soon and my friend Tina has offered to babysit the chicks at her house with her son Ezra.  Since these are actually replacement hens rather than meat birds, I want them to be handled a lot.  So off to Tina's they will go.

But what to do about PB?  I could just let her sit until she figures out she isn't going to hatch anything.  But that would be a waste of a perfectly good broody.  So instead I decided to stuff four duck eggs under her, two from this morning and two from yesterday.  Considering that Jack has been going at it with Mary and Bonnie on a regular basis, they should be fertile.  I have my fingers crossed that this will work.  Even if PB were to reject them once they hatch, having her incubate them for me will be nice.

Dreaming of roasting a duck over the fire pit.  Mmmmmm....  I suppose it's too soon to start looking for some tasty recipes.  I know, I know... Don't count my ducklings before they hatch.  *sigh*

Havens Court Barnyard - It's official

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Monday, May 30, 2011 2:57 PM

Yuppers!  The goats, a couple of chickens, and I are heading up to Lake Tahoe for the Valhalla Renaissance Faire.  I'll be running a petting zoo which I'll be calling Havens Court Barnyard.  Name recognition you know.  I'm super excited!  I'm debating about taking the ducks, but I think I'm just going to leave them at home this time around. 

I hope to earn enough to pay for the fancy dancy new solar powered electric fence I purchased.*  It not only will keep the goats in, but it'll keep the bears out!  That and any unruly drunken guy stumbling through the campground at 2 AM. 

*Cute girl not included.

Goat Games!

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Friday, May 27, 2011 8:56 PM

After dinner and just before dusk, it's always time for Goat Games in the barnyard.  Tonight it started out with Chobe and Remi.  Then Remi decided he wanted to play with Snow.  She's a goofball and loves to play.  Finally Nali decided she wanted in on the fun as well.  Just another typical evening at Havenscourt Homestead.

Here's a short video for your evening enjoyment:  Goat Games

Ghetto Pool

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Saturday, May 21, 2011 1:23 PM

My neighbor Karina and her girlfriends wanted a way to beat the heat today, so I offered to build them a ghetto pool.  What's a ghetto pool, they asked?  It's for when you live in the ghetto and can't afford a pool.  Of course, we don't live in the ghetto.  But they had a ton of fun in it, especially when I added a bottle of bubble bath!  Click here for more pictures:  Getto Pool

Bunny Romp!

Posted by Kitty Sharkey 8:28 AM

One of the most common questions I was asked during the Bay-Friendly Garden Tour was if the rabbits are ever allowed outside of their cages.  The answer is YES!  If I didn't have a way to allow them to stretch their legs, run, jump, and have some fun, I wouldn't have gotten them. 

When it's not raining and I'm out in the garden, they take turns in the side garden.  It's a beautiful morning, cool and dry.  So Delilah and her three doelings are out enjoying some exercise and exploration.

Excuse the unsteady video.  It's hand held and I haven't had any coffee yet. 


The Good, The Bad, and the down right UGLY

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, May 19, 2011 1:20 PM

First the Good News – After several days in the infirmary (cage in the living room), Lily is back amongst her flock. I noticed her limping a few days back, so I quickly took action. Flipping her over and checking her feet I saw it - the dreaded Bumble foot. This is the first time I’ve ever had to deal with it. I remembered reading Heidi’s post over on her blog, The Itty Bitty Farm in the City. So I pulled it up and re-read it. Then it was off to my wonderful reference guide The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow. Treatment plan in hand, I took a quick trip to the pharmacy for supplies.

 Lily was not happy about me digging around in the pad of her foot. Luckily her infection wasn’t very bad. I finished with a big dollop of triple antibiotic cream, a thick square of gauze, and a good wrap with self adhesive flexible gauze bandage (the most wonderful invention ever for animal wound care ever). This morning I re-dressed the wounds. Everything looked good. I let her back out in the barnyard this morning sporting her slick flexible casts. By going all the way up to her knee joint, she is less likely to pick at it and the other birds are less likely to notice. It’s wrapped between one of her front toes and in front of her rear toe, so she is perfectly capable of scratching and perching without getting any muck into or under the bandage. I was worried about taking my top hen out of action for a few days, but everything seems peaceful in the barnyard this morning.

Next the Bad News – My friggin cats aren’t using their new litter barn like they are supposed to. Gabriel is about 50/50, but Max is being a big stubborn jerk. So I still have to scoop poop off the flagstones near the gate. What is up with my cats? I have a super fancy Cat Genie in the house that cost me a friggin fortune, and a custom made outdoor litter barn for them. URGH! Those boys are going to drive me to drink!

And now for the down right Ugly News – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to blog about this or not. But I’ve decided that I need to get it out of my system, and this is the best way to do it. Special thanks go to Rachel at Dog Island Farm for listening to me vent about this for the past few days. And for those who were included on my original e-mail concerning this issue, I apologize for the cross-post.

Last Sunday, I was exhausted after the Bay-Friendly Garden Tour. The fact that I had spent the past two weeks dealing with a major stressful issue at work didn’t help matters. I spent most of Monday asleep. Tuesday morning I felt chilled and realized that I was running a fever as well. I’ve been over stressed, having back spasms, experiencing blood pressure spikes/crashes, and now a fever. A few days off should have helped

Because of these factors, Monday & Tuesday I did the bare minimum of chores out in the barnyard. Unfortunately I didn't do the one thing that I always ALWAYS do. I didn't stick a finger onto the nipples in the rabbit cages to make sure there was no issue with the water. Tuesday evening when I went out the barnyard, I couldn't figure out why my rabbits were going ape shit, or why they hadn't eaten all their food. Then I checked the water lines. Bone dry. WTF??? Someone had turned off the watering system at all 3 junctions that lead to the rabbitry - on top of the garage roof, at the end of the barn near the orchard, and at the spigot from the house. They were without water since sometime on Sunday. I was very upset.

It probably took me about half an hour to get everything up and running again. I made damn sure each and every one of them drank their fill. Then I went inside and researched dehydration in rabbits. It can cause Gastrointestinal Stasis – basically a shut down of the intestinal track – and kill a rabbit. Home remedies to try first were water (obvious), free access to nonstop orchard grass (not alfalfa), and plenty of wet leafy greens such as kale. Luckily I had put of harvesting my chard until after the tour so I had plenty. I stuffed lots of it in each rabbit cage. They ate it all happily. Wednesday morning there was obvious evidence of fresh perfect poop under each and every cage. I tented the skin of each rabbit and it popped back to the body nicely. Whew! Disaster averted.

I am a person that believes there is goodness in people's hearts. But with all the activity surrounding livestock in Oakland as we work towards a more comprehensive municipal code, I can only suspect that someone with an agenda was on the tour. If an Animal Control officer were to show up at my door for a surprise inspection and find my rabbits without water I would be shut down in an instant. I have been proud to be on very good terms with Animal Control, Vector Control, and now the Planning Department. This discovery makes me ill.

I am kicking myself for skipping this very crucial step in my twice daily routine. I can't believe I didn't check. I am super upset that my animals had to suffer without water for two days. Everyone that knows me knows that I take the utmost care and spare no expense when it comes to my animals. That rabbitry cost me close to $2000.00 when it was all said and done. I didn't just go to the pet store and buy a cage for $49.95. I set up housing for them that was way beyond adequate. And I drove all the way to Oroville in order to get this very very special and rare breed. I would be heartbroken if I lost them due to some activists’ twisted actions.

This is NOT going to stop me from opening my homestead to those interested in learning more about urban homesteading or seeking advice. I will still be participating in the Urban Farm Tour in June that has been generously organized by Ruby at the Institute of Urban Homesteading. And if asked again, I would proudly participate in the Bay-Friendly Garden Tour again. But I will definitely be much more careful about it in the future.  And I will NOT forget to check the water lines no matter how sick or exhausted I am.

Bay-Friendly Garden Tour - WOW!

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Monday, May 16, 2011 9:17 AM


That's the only word that describes yesterday.  Wow!  After 3 years of converting this foreclosed home into a garden oasis and farm, I opened my gate to the general public as a host garden on the Bay-Friendly Garden Tour. 

What a day!  A little over 300 people stopped by to enjoy my beautiful drought tolerant front garden, explore my edible garden, meet all the critters, and get ideas.  It was a HUGE success!

Personally, it was a very special milestone for me.  When I first bought this place three years ago, there was nothing here with the exception of a huge overgrown tree in the backyard.  And I mean nothing.  I knew I wanted a garden, but had no clue about what else to do in the yard. 

The best advice I got was to stop and observe the property for awhile, to see where there was consistent sun and where there was shade.  The vegetable garden space became obvious very quickly, so I moved forward with that project.  While surfing the net for local resources, I stumbled upon where I bought a discounted compost bin and worm farm.  Exploring their website, I found the Bay Friendly Gardening classes.  Having never really gardened before, I was excited to find this local resource.  And to top it off, the classes were free!  Yes, my tax dollars at work.  Best to take advantage of it.

Six classes later and I was chock full of ideas.  Since then I have systematically incorporated everything I learned into the building of my homestead.  And I mean EVERYTHING.  I took the Bay-Friendly Gardening principals to heart, and they have guided me as I tackled one project after another.
  • Build Healthy Soil
  • Reduce Waste in the Garden
  • Conserve Water
  • Create Wildlife Habitat
  • Protect Local Watersheds and the Bay
  • Contribute to a Healthy Community
  • Save Energy
I jokingly say that before I started gardening here I didn't have a green thumb.  I didn't have a brown thumb.  I didn't even have a thumb.  I had to find it.  The fact is that I had barely grown anything, ever.  I didn't even have success with houseplants.  But taking those classes and then going on the garden tour really gave me the confidence and skills I needed.  Yesterday was the culmination of that journey and a celebration of its success.

Aside from the animals, which were obvious, some BIG hits with folks were:
  • Strawberry pyramid made from fence boards.  There were so many people that asked me how to construct it that I'm going to have to write out directions and post them.
  • Herb Garden made from wine crates. A lot of people asked me where I got them. My friend Eric dumpster dives at a local wine distributor and brings them to my neighbor Gail and me.
  • Bean trellis made from bamboo and upside down tomato cages. I think those things are ugly as hell. But I still found a creative use for them which totally disguise what they really are. I am 100% positive that others will have these in their gardens very soon.
  • Bamboo hoops and garden twine used to build my own tomato cages. So much more aesthetically pleasing than those functional but ugly metal cages.
  • Metal plant tags stapled to the edge of the vegetable garden. It helps me keep track of which varieties are where and which ones produce the best in this location. You just write on them with a ball point pen. I get mine from Foothill Hardware off Bancroft. And yes, if I plant the same varieties I re-use them.
  • The height of my tomatoes!!!  They are a little over 3 feet high.  People were saying theirs were only about a foot tall.  Everything in the vegetable garden was thriving and much further along then theirs.  So many people asked how I got them to grow so well.  One word:  POOP.  Lots of poop.  Okay, composted chicken and goat manure along with fresh rabbit manure.  I cannot emphasize this enough - Amend Amend Amend.  If you want your garden to flourish, Amend Amend Amend.  Not with commercial fertilizers, but with good old fashioned tried and true animal compost.  Poop!
  • Feed bag potato towers. So fun and functional. No, I'm not afraid they are going to topple over, even though they look like they are leaning a bit. Secretly, there are 3-1/2 foot stakes holding the edges in place. I cut the bottoms out of the sacks and rolled them up to make a tube. Then I placed them in the garden, staked the corners, placed the potatoes directly on the garden surface, and filled them with about 6 inches of soil. As the potatoes grew, I just unrolled the bag up the stakes and added more dirt.
  • The library. My inheritance. It was a very special joy to show it off. My dad will be very pleased when I tell him about all the compliments I received.
  • Wood stumps used as a retaining wall in the front yard. One third of them came from a neighbor’s tree that was cut down. The others were free. If you want some, they are always available in Jingle town on Ford Street, kitty corner to the Institute of Mosaic Art. Load up and go!
  • The garden swing.  Such a nice touch!  Yes, it is my favorite spot to just sit and relax.  You can often find my neighbor Gail and I sitting in the swing with a glass of wine in the evening.  We love to watch the hummingbirds and bees as they go about collecting their dinner.  Now that the butterfly bushes are starting to bloom I am hoping to attract some additional beauty to the yard.
I’d like to thank the Academy… just kidding.

I would like to thank everyone who has volunteered their time over the past 3 years to help out around the homestead, from all the friends who miraculously transformed my front yard in one day to those who have helped with weeding in exchange for a dozen eggs. Each and every one of you has contributed to the success of this place. Thanks to those who have opened their gardens and homesteads to me for ideas, inspiration, and the exchange of information. Sharing our skills and knowledge with each other is one of the best parts of homesteading.

And a special thank you goes to the folks at who teach the various Bay-Friendly Gardening classes and organize the garden tours. I cannot emphasize enough the degree to which those classes and tours have helped to shape my homestead. They provided me with a solid foundation knowledge base and the skills and confidence I needed to get started. I was thrilled to be picked as a host garden. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to people about putting the Bay-Friendly Gardening practices into action and showing off the results. I hope my homestead has inspired those who visited. If they take one idea they saw here and put it into place in their own gardens, then the whole basis for the tour will be a success.

Yesterday was an amazing milestone. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Next month I get to do it all again when I participate in the Urban Farm Tour put on by the Institute of Urban Homesteading. And then there is working with the city as they revise the municipal code concerning urban agriculture.

And so the journey continues…

Sharing my comment on SFGate

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Friday, May 13, 2011 11:49 AM

Once in a while, I decide to make a comment on a post that isn't owned by a fellow urban homesteader.  Today is one of those days.  I spent the morning reading this article, and the 178 comments that had been made to it by folks of all walks of life. 

SFGate - Oakland urban farming prompts plan to redo rules

And so I've decided to share my response here for those of you that may not have the time or desire to shift through the comments for hours on end.  Even without reading the article and comments, you can get the idea about some of the complaints made by reading my response below.  Guess I need to get ready for the snappy responses from those whose only purpose in life seems to be to criticize others concerning affairs of which they have no direct experience or expertise.

I’ve spent the last hour or so reading through all the comments to this article with a mixture of amusement and annoyance.  Full disclosure first.  Not only do I raise fruits and vegetables, but I also have goats, chickens, ducks, quail, rabbits, and honeybees.  They provide me with milk, eggs, honey, and yes, meat.  All of this fits into the backyard of my standard city lot within a regular residential area.  If you drove down my street, you would have no idea what lies behind my fence.  Unless of course you’re one of my neighbors who greet me as I walk my goats the same way others walk their dogs.

As an urban homesteader living in Oakland, I’d like to address a few issues that have been raised by those that have replied to this article in a negative manner concerning livestock in the city. 

1)       NOISE - Yes indeed, livestock does make noise.  My goats bleat to greet me much the same way a dog may bark excitedly when their owner comes home.  My chickens (no roosters!) cluck quietly as they forage around the yard and proudly (loudly) announce the news to the world each time they lay an egg.  The ducks quack in excitement when I clean their “pond” (claw foot bathtub) or give them some feeder fish.  Note: I drain the water into my orchard to provide wonderful fertilizer for my fruit trees.  FACT:  None of my neighbors have ever complained about noise, or anything else for that matter.  The dogs barking in the neighborhood are much much louder than any noise that comes out of my yard.  And it goes on at all hours of the day and night while my animals are all tucked in and sleeping quietly.  Add in the cars cruising down the street with the boom-boom-boom base up so loud that I can feel the vibration, and I’ll take the happy sounds in my barnyard any day.

2)       SMELL – Animals poop.  No surprise there.  It’s a fact of life.  Dogs, cats, and parakeets poop too.  We all do.  The difference is that the poop from my animals is used onsite as compost to enrich my soil rather than going into the garbage can and ultimately into a landfill.  Chicken and Duck poop (I just love using the word poop rather than manure) are considered hot manures and need to be composted before use.  I have three compost bins on site for that purpose.  But added into the bin along with the poop is the straw and wood shavings used for bedding.  Composting requires four things:  Greens, Browns, Water, and Air.  When done correctly, there is no smell.  Rabbit and Goat poop are considered cold manures.  Both can be applied directly to your garden without further ageing in the compost bin. 

While on the subject of smell and compost, let me explain the concept of deep litter, also known as a manure pack.  In my goat shed, I practice this technique.  Rather than mucking out the pen every few weeks, I just keep piling on more bedding.  “Oh, that must REALLY smell!!!” you’re saying to yourself.  But the fact is it doesn’t.  Well, actually it does smell.  It smells like hay.  It doesn’t smell like manure or urine.  Why?  Because it’s composting in place.  Any poop is covered with new bedding straw every day, morning and night.  Any urine drains into (not through) the deep bedding.  The hay absorbs it and retains the valuable nitrogen inherent in urine.  Animals housed in this manner are healthier than those that are housed on concrete.  Note that my goats are not confined to the shed.  They go in and out as they please.  But that deep litter provides them with a very soft place to sleep.  And the composting action creates heat which keeps them snuggly and warm at night.

3)       RODENTS and other pests – Yes, food attracts rats, mice, skunks, possums, and raccoons, all residents of every neighborhood in every city in America.  If left out, dog and cat food will attract them just as fast as goat, rabbit or chicken food.  The trick isn’t to control them through poisonous bait that one of the animals might accidentally get into, but rather by keeping ALL food in sealed bins.  It’s not enough to put them inside a shed.  Oh no!  Critters are crafty!  Good quality bins with a screw on sealed lid aren’t cheap ($50 each).  But unless you keep all food locked inside your house, they are a necessity.  Heck, some folks even have mice in their house without owning any pets, but I’m not going to go there.

4)       FLIES - Poop attracts and provides a breeding ground for flies and other unsavory insects.  Dog poop on a lawn or cat poop in a garden (grrrrr!!!) attracts just as many flies as livestock poop in a barnyard.  The answer?  Chickens and ducks.  They spend all day scratching around the yard, spreading any manure that might happen to fall on the ground until it is unrecognizable and reduced to dirt.  While doing so, they enjoy a smorgasbord of flies, fly larvae, worms, and all manner of little bugs that inhabit rich healthy soil.

Concerning points 3 and 4 above, I have welcomed not one, but two officers from the Vector Control department of the City of Oakland into my backyard.  I have to say that they were extremely impressed with all the control systems I have in place to prevent any vector issues such as rats, mice, flies, etc. Needless to say, I passed the inspections with flying colors.  Score = A + +

5)       ANIMAL WELFARE – I am an animal lover.  Always have been.  Always will be.  But I also eat meat.  People often ask me how I can eat an animal that I raised myself, one that I named, loved, petted and cared for.  And I explain that this is exactly the reason that I can.  I know how they lived, that they enjoyed their life and were allowed to express their true nature.  I know what they ate and that they weren’t pumped up with antibiotics and hormones.  I have cared for and nourished them in the same way that they will care for and nourish me.  Then I ask how can they eat meat they buy in the grocery store?  Do they want to know how they are raised and slaughtered?  Or how many antibiotics were added to their food and water because it is necessary due to the unsanitary / unsavory conditions they are forced to live in?  No, I’m not going to go into details here.  Our lovely internet can provide more than enough fodder for that feast.  Let me just say that every time I do cull one of my animals for food that it is done quickly and humanely, with the utmost care and respect for the animal.  To borrow a line from Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm, “Animals on my farm have a wonderful life, and just one bad day.”  But here, even the bad day isn’t quite so bad after all.

The fact is my animals are spoiled.  I love them all dearly and give them the absolute best care possible.  I have also had a visit from an Animal Control officer from the City of Oakland.  She really enjoyed her visit and was very impressed.  All the animals were healthy and happy.  Everything was clean and in order (NO advanced warning = NO special preparation).  Everyone had more than adequate housing, food, water, and enrichment opportunities.  Needless to say, she was very impressed.  Again, my score = A + +

6)       URBAN FARMING – Does it belong in the city?  And if so, should it be regulated?  Yes and yes.  The city of Oakland is working on re-writing the municipal code section concerning urban agriculture, including livestock.  I recently invited three people from the Oakland Planning Department to come over and see what is possible in the city.  Yes, I said INVITED.  They were here for about an hour and a half.  We walked throughout the barnyard reviewing each species, their housing and food requirements, the automatic watering systems, and any potential health issues for both the animals as well as humans.  We talked about manure management, vector control, and permaculture.  I asked if it appeared I had a fly problem.  One of them noted that they had more flies in their yard and didn’t even own pets.  I asked them to take a good whiff inside the goat shed, at the rabbitry, and above the compost bin.  Any bad odor?  None.  Do all the animals seem happy?  Yes.  Does it seem over crowded?  Not at all.  And then I asked them to, without counting mind you, throw out a figure.  How many animals did they think I had in the barnyard?  The consensus was about 2 dozen.  The truth?  If you include everyone, the baby chicks and rabbit kits, and the two uber cute baby goats, I have 44 animals in my barnyard.  They were amazed.  And they could see how, with proper planning, urban farming smack dab in the middle of the city in a normal old neighborhood can work, and work well.

We talked about the neighbors and my interaction with them.  I explained how my homestead has really built a sense of community within the neighborhood.  Kids come over to play with my animals.  I give neighbors excess produce and eggs.  I even have a neighbor that I give compost to for her garden.  All at no charge, mind you.  I have neighbors that come over and willingly volunteer their time to help with chores, or to feed them should I have need to be away for a day or two.  My goats have gone to elementary schools, fairs, and community events.  And they also are trained therapy animals.

In the end, they asked me if I considered what I have here as a closed system.  The answer is yes, with the exception of animal feed which I must purchase as I don’t have enough room to grow it.  The animals provide food for me as well as others.  They provide fertilizer for my garden and orchard.  They help till the soil and control flies and other pests.  And they provide hours of non-stop amusement and comfort.  I’d rather have a goat than a dog any day.  They are extremely intelligent and provide the same companionship as a dog.  But they also give me milk and fertilize my garden. 

I love my life.  It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure.  But as long as I take all the necessary steps to be a good neighbor and responsible urban homesteader, there should be no reason I shouldn’t be allowed to continue with the lifestyle I’ve chosen.  I welcome regulations that will help define the factors necessary and provide guidance for responsible urban farming while preserving good neighbor relations, responsible environmental practices, and animal welfare.  Working WITH the city rather than complaining about it will go a long way in shaping the world we live in.  Opening my gate and allowing others to observe and experience the joy that comes from owning livestock and running a small farm in the city insures that I stay on good terms with my neighbors and the city authorities alike.  A simple visit quickly wipes away all concerns about the issues I’ve outlined above.

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Tuesday, May 3, 2011 5:05 PM

Hey everyone -
Check it out! 


If you're around on Saturday, come on down to Market Hall and check out this event.  It should be lots of fun.  There will be lots of tasty goat products for you to sample.  And I'll have all 6 of my kids there!

Hope to see you!

Go for the GOAT!!!

Posted by Kitty Sharkey 4:49 PM