Baby Steps…and Baby Invasions

So, before I fell super sick, we were working on about 2463 projects, all of which are in various degrees of planning or completion. Although most of the daily “stuff the Mama does” has gone undone in my absence, we have been making some progress on some other things.
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The tractor is once again operational. We’ve upgraded the starter and alternator to a 12 Volt system, and as a result had to put in a new ignition switch as well. Figured if we were going to replace it, we might as well prevent the problem from occurring again. Once my honey got all that done, the first of the produce beds got disced, so we are one step closer to planting!

If the weather would only cooperate a little more, it would be lovely. We had a series of unexpected crazy weather days last week. As in, literally 68 degrees one day and wet slushy snow the very next morning. We lost some plant starts, not enough to make me cry, but enough that it was a loss. One of our favorite local farms, Bennett Orchards, got hit far harder than we did. After a six hour stint of temps in the 20’s, despite smudge pots and helicopters, they lost their ENTIRE 2016 peach crop. We pick and buy bushels of peaches and blueberries from them each year for canning, I’ll miss them a lot this year. Thankfully, so far it looks as if the blueberries came through the freeze.
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And our Flemish Giant Rabbit doe appears to have some surprises in store for us as well. She has taken up fur pulling and nesting, and trying to rip my fingers from my hands when I feed, water and clean in her hutch, so it seems she may have already been bred and kits may be imminent. She’s not typically nasty, the rabbit growling and snarling are kind of scary.

The off-the-farm work boss called us last week to remove a large swing set from one of their rental properties, due to concerns about its age, insurance, and the potential for injury to some vacationer’s child. Since the components of the swing set were pretty well thrashed, we decided to save the frame to build a new chicken coop / tractor. I’m hoping to get a jump on that project this weekend, we’ll see how I feel.
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Ryan’s personal 7-egg incubator that he waited so patiently for has epically failed to hatch anything at all. It will likely be trashed after one more attempt with just a couple of eggs to insure that it’s incubator error and not ours. That was a disappointment, but he took it in stride. Having new babies hatching in the big one softened the blow. The season’s next large incubator hatch is due Sunday.

We’ve been peddling a few chicks from home, it’s been nice to have clients and visitors to the farm again. With me being sick, that extra few dollars here and there has sure been a help, too. Our first two hatching egg sales on Ebay have been completed (with a third preparing to sell in just a few moments)  and Ry’s birds now hopefully have offspring growing in Massachusetts and Oakland, California at a school!

We have some new breeds of chickens / chicks. Some Silkies, Lavender Aracaunas, and Blue Laced Red Wyandotte bantams have arrived! The first four of our Black Copper Marans chicks are doing quite well, too!

In our most exciting and happy news, one of my grown children’s families will be coming on the 7th of next month for an extended stay. The babies are invading! They’ve been toying with the idea of a permanent move up this way for quite some time, and recent events in the neighborhood they live in gave them a few more reasons. Dad’s already secured comparable work locally, and my girl and I are making plans for some much needed support for her, and possibly school. I’m excited to have a partner for the shop, and it looks like her artistic and crafty talents may get a pretty serious workout this year. Additionally, the extra hands around here will be a blessed relief, and I think we will make much more progress than I planned on for this year! Now, to figure out where to put six more bodies in this camp!

Hope everyone is enjoying the change of seasons, hope things are going well for all!

 

 

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Grandmuffin Madness

I’ve been a little lax with the posting of late and I apologize. It’s been an uber-busy week.

Terminal broke-ness resulted in me actually having to go and work this week…like, GASP…outside the farm. It was heinous and horrible, but necessary, I’m afraid.  Good timing, though, with my wee man being out of town. Cleaning super funky rental units crawling with insect life that the tenants chose to not take with them for the move for your part time boss will distract you from anything else you’d be prone to put at the top of the whine list. Like missing your 8 year old, who’s off on a Dad visit.

I joked with the boss this week I was going to fire his exterminator and put diapers on a tribe of my chickens and turn them loose in the next one to deal with the insect pets. I’ll call them the “cockroach containment unit”. Environmentally friendly. Chemical free. What’s not to love? Oh, yeah…free feed in the form of pestilence and disease with six legs. Ok, maybe NOT my million dollar idea.

But Friday, all was once again right with the world, Ryan was back home, and my eldest and her hubby and brood of four girls were coming for the weekend. I have been covered up in glorious girly grandmuffin madness all weekend long.

Sometimes I feel like since we didn’t go anywhere or take them to DO anything that I’ve failed at Me-mawing. But the weather was icky, it rained all day Saturday and today was a frigid windy mess. And I found out that as usual, I worry too much, because they mostly just had a blast.

We had eggs hatching in the incubator and we wore a trench of a path from the back door to the incubator / brooder shed with flashlights checking on the progress of hatching peeps. Teagan, my eldest granddaughter, the self proclaimed “chicken mama”, spent a large portion of her weekend on egg collection duty and incubator watch. She takes these duties very seriously.
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We had Easter Bunny tracks through the kitchen this morning, and a two acre egg hunt this afternoon. We’ll be running over the un-found eggs for months to come with the tractor.image

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I occasionally refer to my grandgirls as feral children when they’re here. In the most loving way, of course. Mostly because they walk through the door with the confident assurance that they know exactly who is running the show from that point on, and it is no one over 4 foot tall. They have one of two speeds on this farm at all times. Full tilt boogie and comatose exhaustion. There is no happy medium.

The shoes come off for the duration of their stay and the dirt begins accumulating on tiny faces. The back door never stops swinging and is rarely shut properly. There is very little that a pouty face and threatened tears won’t get you. Or get you out of. Or tiny arms slung around your neck, laden with motives because why should we not have candy before breakfast? The popsicle stash ebbs and flows in great waves. We eat what we please, we play till we crash from exhaustion, and then we get up and do it all over again. Bedtime? What’s bedtime? Pap and Memaws = anarchy. We have soup for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. There are toys in every square foot of the house and stray socks and blankies and stuffed animals, and we all love it. It’s completely unorganized chaos. It’s glorious.

And thankfully, my daughter and her husband accept that. Or they’re just tired. Either way, I love them so much for allowing me to turn their kids into a tiny tribe of anarchists when they come through the door. I miss them already.

 

 

 

Squishy Egg

This morning, one of our Rhode Island girls laid a soft-shelled or “squishy” egg. This is a fairly common occurrence, especially in newly laying pullets, or can sometimes indicate a calcium deficiency in a hen. So I thought I would take a minute and cover egg issues for those who have yet to have the joy of reaching into a nest box and shrieking like a teenaged girl when your fingers touch something, well, gross.
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Squishy eggs: Often a new layer issue but can be indicative in an older hen of a calcium deficiency, or something lacking in the diet. Our particular completely squishy egg had no white, only yolk. No chance of hatch, and I’ve personally never attempted eating one for fear that bacteria could have made it through the membrane.

The next day a second, half squishy egg was laid by likely the same hen. The portion of the shell that was complete was so thin you can see in the photo where my finger went through it, simply by picking it up. This one was all white. No yolk.

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Wrinkled eggs : These can happen when a growing pullet is just starting to lay, or if there’s been some upset or interruption during the egg forming process…the egg can come out with little ridges, usually only at one end. Perfectly safe to eat, and we’ve had them hatch in the incubator as well.d117c0d2_22466_100_5470.jpeg

Under / oversized eggs: Under sized eggs can be from the size of a marble on up…again, usuall newly laying chickens, or sometimes an aging hen. They can be perfectly normal inside, all yolk and no albumen (white), or the reverse, no yolk with all albumen…these are sometimes referred to as wind eggs, fairy eggs or fart eggs.  The over sized variety will often contain a double yolk, and very rarely, an egg inside another egg. You can safely consume all of the above, should you desire to. However, undersize eggs will almost never hatch, because they only contain albumen or yolk, rarely if ever both.  Hatching double yolkers “twins” can be done, but is very rarely successful.

Wind eggs: see above…an egg with no yolk. Never tried eating one, but they definitely will not hatch.

Blood Spots: Little blood spot in your breakfast egg? No worries. Lots of people think this is the indicator of a fertilized egg. It’s not. It’s the result of a tiny rupture in a blood vessel in the oviduct of the hen during the formation of the egg. Scrape it off gently with a knife if it grosses you out, carry on with breakfast as usual.

Lash Eggs: Ok, these are just gross and usually very bad news. Not for anyone with a weak stomach, you can read a fantastic article on them Here: Lash Eggs explained. If you find an egg shaped mass with layers of icky, squishy content, this is probably your suspect. Generally caused by a disease called salpingitis. Prognosis for a hen with this condition is poor at best.

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Ashy Eggs: These are eggs that are laid with a chalky or ashy appearance, like a film of sorts over the usual color of the egg. Not a big deal and I’ve both eaten and hatched them.

There are all sorts of abnormalities that can occur during the formation of an egg during its travels through the oviduct of a hen. Most of them shouldn’t alarm you, but lash eggs or a hen that continually produces abnormal eggs should be cause for immediate quarantine or culling, and a vet consulted if the hen is a pet.

~Lisa

 

 

Blech.

Blech. That’s the word for the week. After trying hard not to submit to the mystery bug that rolled through the house last week, my system finally said “That will be quite enough, foolish woman. I tried to warn you.  You will take to your bed and rest. Now.” Illness coupled with crummy gray cold wet weather, prepping to send my youngest on a weeklong visit with his father to VA with the usual dread, and the recent rash of mini-disasters didn’t help. Neither did my current financial status which doesn’t enable me to un-fudge said disasters…or the fact that we’re edging into the absolute busiest time of year here.

My egg eaters seemed to have slowed down. I hope I’m winning the war, which now requires at least four treks across the pasture daily to the new chicken casa to snatch eggs from under indignant hens before they get the chance to destroy them. My winter weight gain can certainly benefit from the extra mileage, but it’s no fun when you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck.

We’ve temporarily put our new pride and joy out of commission. The tractor has thrown the starter and requires a new one. Technically likely our fault, since the bad battery was 6 volts and we were jumping her with 12. This resulted in some electrical bad juju that resulted in this glorious shearing apart of heavy metal parts. Lesson learned. Expensive lesson. She’s getting an upgrade to 12 volt status.

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That nice crack? Nope, no bueno.

Also in the user error department, I just found out today I’ve spent the entire winter feeding a buck rabbit that was originally mistakenly tagged last fall as a doe. Sexing juvenile rabbits is not a skill that I’ve perfected yet (Obviously), but this hit will insure I check again before wintering another buck I don’t need. Not a biggie unless you’re talking about 20+ pound rabbits that Hoover up feed like teenage boys ingest Mountain Dew. Plus this puts us one doe short of this year’s target number of litters.

A long planned and eagerly awaited trip to the feed store Friday resulted in mini-disaster number umpteen. As a result of an incorrect store website, we arrived thirty minutes AFTER opening to discover that the chicks Ryan has waited a month for had all been sold. In thirty stinking minutes. Apparently, the chick pirates were lined up in the parking lot at 6 am and we were not among them.

My middle son reached the magical age of majority (also Friday) which slaps one in the face with the reality that these lovely strands of gray glitter in my locks might not be premature. You start by celebrating your success that they’re now eighteen and you managed to not kill them! This is an epic parental accomplishment, as they send you home with them with absolutely NO instruction manual to refer to. It also provides equal amounts of terror and relief. You’re no longer legally responsible for their actions, and you can now no longer BE legally responsible. You have to hope and pray that you’ve taught them well enough to make the decisions that they’re frothing at the mouth to make.

Justin, below, as a grinning toddler on the beach, (enjoying his big bro’s entrapment) and just days shy of his independence-bringing anniversary of womb eviction.

 

I almost got skunked last night visiting the incubator shed to turn eggs. It’s a small skunk, and was as surprised to see me as I was it. However, it retreated to the safety of what appears to be his den after standing up on his front legs and wiggling and pointing a loaded rear weapon squarely at me. Unfortunately, his den seems to be directly UNDER the incubator shed. And the brooder. So on this week’s fun and games list is to live trap and relocate an angry and petrified skunk. Good times will be had, I’ve no doubt.

And to add the cherry on top of this S%it sundae of a week…Yesterday, as T was chainsawing down the line of adolescent trees that now front the property after the inattention of years past, he has hurt himself. Some sort of twisting of his knee that has now resulted in pain, swelling, hobbling about and clicking and popping noises that even I can hear. We’ve cancelled our plans for Easter sunrise church services in the first time ever in the history of “us”, and we will likely spend a good portion of the day at the Emergency Room instead.

I’m going to try and get my motivation back up and running over the next few days. Spring is definitely here and after working so hard to be ahead, it appears we are destined to be behind once again. Murphy’s Law prevails! I hope everyone is having a wonderful and blessed Easter Sunday if you celebrate it, and National Deviled Egg making week if you do not! 😉

~ Lisa

 

The Creeping Crud and Mustard Mayhem

Everyone in the house has been down for the last few days with a wacky combination of strange sinus funk, headaches (mine have been nearly migraine proportion) and just the in general blahs. Hence my absence here for a couple of days. The Creeping Crud got me. I’ve spent them mostly horizontal and the percussion section in my head has made staring at a screen of any sort impossible. Although the Ry-guy hasn’t missed school, he has come home both days and gone to bed. Last night he slept through dinner.

It’s been an unpretty compilation of Pj’s and bedhead, kleenex and coffee chasing cold meds around here. Except for the critters. The have all been just dandy. Mostly. They don’t care when you’re sick. They are hungry and thirsty and demand to be fed.

So I’ve managed to drag my butt and my ten pound thumping head all across all eight acres and do what’s required to stave off the animal anarchy. Also, I can’t speak for everyone, but around here, if you’re not running at one hundred percent, this is the time our animals choose to completely go insane.

I’m not sure if it was my change in schedule, or boredom, or the icky weather, or the moon, or what, but my Rhode Island hens lost their minds. When I went to collect eggs Sunday, there were precious few. There was goop in the nest box, but no eggshells I could find. I thought maybe one of them laid a shell-less egg, or perhaps one got trampled and caused interest, or maybe a resident rat showed up for brunch. I didn’t see any tell tale egg yolk on any of the girls’ faces.

Monday there were NO eggs. We’ve been getting at least 10-12 per day from the Reds, and bam. None. Cleaned the nest box again. One from the Marans pair, for a total of four from this week. Ryan’s small incubator arrived, so we fired that up and got it prepared. I try to use the freshest possible eggs for incubating, and it’s not looking good for the reds at this point.

Yesterday morning, I dragged myself over to feed and got there just in time to hear one of the girls singing the egg song. I peeked over the wall and spotted one of the two Aracauna hens that keep company with the reds peering into the nest box. And she pecked the brand new egg! Then it broke, and what followed was absolute chaos. Suddenly nearly all of the 14 hens descended on that egg like the Mongol Hordes. Houston, we have a problem.

I grabbed that hen and tossed her in with the Lavender Orpingtons over in the new coop. There’s only one hen in there, and she had already laid sometime the night before. The Rabble Rouser wouldn’t get any eggs to destroy in there, and with three roos in there, it’s definitely the eqivalent of chicken prison. That’ll teach her.

I spent the next hour assembling the artillery for the war of the eggs. Time to refer to a method I’ve heard about from older folks for years, but never yet actually had to employ. Plain white wax candle, golf balls, mustard, I need a big needle. Oyster shells from the driveway were pulverized on the back step and put into a small feeder bin, in case this is not boredom related and they’re lacking minerals.
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I blew out several of last weeks eggs by poking small holes at either end. Scrounged for a large syringe, ended up using a turkey marinating injector. I filled all three eggs with mustard, and used a dab of melted wax to seal the holes at either end. And back across the field I went.

I dropped the oyster shells off and planted one of the golf balls and all three mustard filled eggs under the hen currently occupying the box. And waited. When she started singing and got off the box I dashed back in and grabbed the one good egg. Took about 60 seconds after they thought I was gone for a creeping ring of hens to make their way over to the box and investigate.

For a minute, I thought one was going to hop in and take her turn as usual. Instead, she turned around several times, shuffled the “eggs” around, and then she did it. She pecked at one of those eggs a couple of times and as soon as it cracked, there was a veritable riot. All the other rushed over, not wanting to miss out, like a little feathered mob…and one by one, everyone got a beak full of mustard.

Hens DO NOT like mustard. They dove in, got a dose, ran off, and immediately started trying to wipe off beaks on the ground, the roosts, each other. Heads were shaking and there was cackling and carrying on. Hens were running for the five gallon waterer. It looked like the chicken equivalent of pepper spray training day at the police academy. I might have felt a little bad for moment. But I was cold and trying so hard not to laugh because it would just make my head hurt worse. A couple of brave souls went over and took a second try at it, but mostly the chaos was over.

Once the cackling and head shaking had slowed to a mild roar, I went in and removed the soiled bedding and remains of my mean mustard bombs. I left the golf balls in, just to discourage any further pecking. Maybe a sore beak will quell any further investigation.

Here are the un-molested eggs from the rest of the day. I managed to save seven. The top fiver there were an unexpected surprise. We keep a dog run out back with roosters for sale for driveway customers. We put an older black Hen in there last week that we were sure wasn’t laying anymore. When I went in to neaten up yesterday, there were five eggs in one of the boxes!  I’d have let her set them, but she’s auction bound this week. I just might fill an incubator tray this week after all.
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I’m stocking up on French’s, just in case. I once discounted this method as an old wives tale. I have now seen it with my own eyes. Listen to the old folks. They know their stuff.

 

Five Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Had Chickens

Five things I wish I had known before I had chickens. Well, there could be about a thousand…but here are my top five. Which may or may not be useful to you if you’re embarking on a chicken rearing adventure. Lots of people have lots to say about the right and wrong way to raise or keep chickens. In my opinion, well, a lot of them are just as full of fertilizer as the chickens themselves.

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  1. Chickens will eat anything. Including chicken.  Yes, chickens are omnivores. Meaning they will eat whatever is opportune. Including, but not limited to, chicken feed, any other feed known to man, (except rabbit pellets, oddly enough), any kitchen scraps, grass, bugs, worms, eggs, fruit, veggies, weeds, seeds, nuts, berries, other birds, each other, your shoelaces, and should you fall down in the coop and not move for an extended period, even you. I used to feel like I was promoting cannibalism or turning my flock into little Dahmer chickens by giving them leftover nuggets. Not anymore. Last year, I caught my sweet birdies rather effectively dispatching a sparrow that had inadvertently flown into the coop and couldn’t find his way out. After they fought over bits of him for a while, I figured my fears were probably unfounded. There is no such thing as mad chicken disease. Unless you live in the UK, in which case you guys have a weird law that says you can’t give your own kitchen scraps to your own chickens. However, I do stick with chick starter for my wee ones. They’re too cute to turn into cannibals yet.

300x300px-LS-8703a9e3_B004ODP3I8-310U2-JEU-L2. You DO NOT NEED TEN NEST BOXES.  Unless you have literally, dozens of hens. We have one coop that has twenty hens and a bank of ten nest boxes. They will fight each other dizzy over the same one or two, maximum, every single day. Not always the same ones, but each day there is one or two primary targets for egg dropping. Never mind that there are eight with fresh shavings and not a hen in sight, they want the one that is currently full of someone’s feathered butt, and no other will do. Apparently it is the first hen to decide she’s ready to commence clucking out an egg that makes the decision on exactly which box will be fought over today. And there is no word on what, exactly qualifies that first box, but suddenly it is to all the other hens what  Louis Vuitton is to ladies shoes. So when the nice feed store guy tells you you need a full bank of ten nest boxes for your dozen hens, he’s lying, because it’s his job to sell you bigger, more expensive crap than you really need. As a matter of fact, one of our coops has an old tire for a nest box, and one has a dog kennel cab that lost its door. The one we’re building has repurposed cut down 5 gal. buckets for nest boxes. Anything you can put bedding in, that has a lip to insure the eggs don’t roll out…POOF! It’s a nest box.

 

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3. Your rooster is, at some point, going to act like a rooster.   I know, I know… you have raised him from hatch, he rides on your shoulder and gives kisses and understands 47 human words and phrases by your count. I’ve been there. Give your precious boy some time…and some hens. At some point, he will commence crowing. No matter how friendly he is, at some point he will feel the need to assert himself, especially in the presence of other chickens. Do not be as surprised as I was when your precious hatchling suddenly fires all 12 pounds of his substantial feathered mass directly at your face when all you’re trying to do is fill the waterer. The good news is, no one in history has ever been killed by a chicken under normal circumstances. One idiot in 2011 apparently bled out after having an artery severed by his fighting rooster, who had a blade attached to his leg for the purposes of the illegal cockfight, but that’s pure Darwinism if you ask me.

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4.Yes, you DO need a rooster. If you can have one. This only applies to folks like me, who do not reside in suburbia or in a neighborhood that has kindly agreed to allow you to keep 6 hens, no roosters, etc. Now a hen will lay eggs in exactly the same manner without one, they just won’t be fertile. If you live in a rural or “country” area…I highly recommend a rooster or several. Unless your coop is the chicken equivalent of Fort Knox, you will, at some point, have a predator try and scope it out for a free meal. Now, while a rooster may not discourage something larger and more determined, like a coyote or fox (or your neighbor’s beagle) I have seen them run off things that will make an easy meal of eggs, young birds or even full grown hens. (Opossum, Raccoon, even RATS, feral cats, snakes, etc. ) This isn’t a guarantee, your rooster may turn out to be a total bag of apathy or just decide to save his own skin…but it sure helps.

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5.Roosters only crow in the morning. Erm…no. False. Lies. They will crow at dawn, midnight, noon, 3 AM, 8 PM, or, in short, whenever they flipping feel like it. Sometimes they crow just to hear themselves do it. Additionally, for you folks with the anti-rooster HOA or community laws or regulations here’s a cool factoid. Some hens crow, too. Yep, transgender chickens. Sometimes, due to either a hormonal imbalance or in a flock lacking a rooster, a hen will sometimes take on the role of a rooster. She will crow, keep watch, assume the role of protector, and may even go as far as to occasionally try to mate with her fellow hens.

All in all, there’s only so much research a person can do. Chickens are fun. They make eggs, and when they stop making eggs they make pot pies and soup if you’re not anti-meat. They’re entertaining and they can all have individual personalities. You’re probably overthinking the whole chicken raising thing, because in all honesty, if you open the door to the coop right now, they will walk right out and survive quite well of their own volition until they drop dead of natural causes or are eaten by something higher up the food chain, whichever comes first.

The chickens are probably taking themselves far less seriously than we are.

~Lisa

 

Tractor Trials

Well…today started pre dawn with high hopes and much excitement.  It’s now nine pm, the animals are finally all fed and turned in, and we’re falling into bed exhausted and still currently tractor-less. Well, sort of, maybe. Kind of. We left home with a tractor and returned with one less than we left with.

I’ll get into that saga tomorrow. However, seeing as how we were all pretty bummed out at that turn of events, I went to relax in a hot bath and was interrupted by T bringing my phone for an important text message. Which of course, I protested because you don’t interrupt mom’s rare bath time unless you are on fire, bleeding, or Publishers Clearing House is at the door. These are the rules.

See, he’s been watching me battle for two weeks now for some eBay hatching eggs I’ve been lusting after. High end chickens from a line I’d love to own but couldn’t justify the expense until after spring. I set a limit, so I’ve gotten sniped on three consecutive auctions.

So, while I was trying to wash this day off, he was being all sneaky and wonderful. I got a “you won this item” screenshot with this photo.

 

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Black Copper Marans hatching eggs. (Insert my dreamy sigh here)

 

I am a lucky gal,  tractorless or not. And for once I can honestly say I’m glad my sacred bath time was interrupted. ❤ night all!  Hope your day was wonderful!