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!

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

Strutting Roosters and Ryans

My little manchild has gotten rather serious about his chickens. First of all, we woke up yesterday morning to this March Madness. There was cursing. Mine. In fairness to me, it was pre-coffee and I am not ever responsible for what comes out of my face before the coffee goes in it. 20160304_073551.jpg

Heavy, wet snow, coming down in great white clumps. It was a teacher inservice day at school anyway, so there was no closing or delay announcement to wait for. Most eight year old boys would immediately want to get out and play in it. Ryan stared out the window and declared “Naaah. I’m actually kind of tired of snow.” He asked me if his new incubator would come today, and I guessed probably not. We’re waiting on a small incubator I ordered for Ry at a ridiculous discount because it’s going to take forever to get here from the bowels of some overseas shipping system. I really don’t want to fire up and tend our huge cabinet style one for just a few eggs, so I ordered Ryan a personal one. It’s a little seven egg number so he can hatch his personal birds, and be solely responsible. (Without risking that he whacks 300 fertile eggs with an “I forgot” because he’s, well, an 8 year old boy.) But it’s shiny and new and digital and has a fancy schmancy automatic egg turner so he’s a little excited.

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Ryan at 3 or 4, checking “The Beast”…our homemade incubator.

So, since we didn’t have to post up in the front window and watch for the mail lady, we suited up and went off to the Southern States in the next town over. We have new birds from the auction, I was out of chicken meds and running low on feed.  Before we left, I sent Tony up to the attic in search of one of the ancient Little Giant styrofoam incubators we retired a couple of years ago, because patience and shipping through customs are not big with small boys. We set it up to test it and off we went.

Ry and I cruised the “chicken section” and lusted after all sorts of things that had my internal “No” recording working overtime, but I relented and sprung for a 14$ egg candler for him. Mostly because I don’t want my child goofing around with the current system of candling eggs here, which involves  drilling a hole in a metal soup can and using the highest wattage kazillion degree bare lightbulb as a redneck engineered projector.

We came home and trudged across the “frozen tundra” to medicate our quarantined auction chickens, feed, and check for eggs. Ryan has big dreams for this season’s egg and peep sales. He’s going to buy a go-kart with a Jeep body and headlights for his four wheeler and maybe a car, you see. 🙂20160304_080810.jpg

So yesterday was a banner day here. Tony left for work with goods from the farm. Certainly not the first time for that. I’ve seen him sell roosters out of the back of the old Subaru station wagon to the built-in ethnic market that comprises a good portion of his employer’s rental tenants.

But yesterday was new in that, for the first time, the “goods” in question were the first ever batch of eggs from Ryan’s personal birds. They were packed carefully and shipped off to a tenant who pre-ordered them.

T came home from work and presented Ryan with $3.50 and an order for two dozen more for Sunday.

 

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We may have created a monster.

 

Ryan and I spent most of the rest of the day indoors yesterday shopping online for hatching eggs. The go kart Jeep has been all but forgotten. He’s focused on his egg empire now.  I think I’m in trouble.