Archive for March, 2009

Never a Dull Moment on the Homestead

Monday, March 30th, 2009

For a Monday, this has been a pretty exciting day on the homestead. This morning as I let chickens out of the coop I thought “I am tired of keeping those two mama hens caged with those babies.” So I decided to open their pens and see what happened. They’ve been so bad about viciously attacking each other that I did not hold much hope today would be much different. But it was different. Very different.

When I opened the two pens the mamas both came out into the coop. They both called their babies out. It was a little cool this morning, so within just a few minutes, they both went into the SAME pen and laid next to each other, with babies tucked beneath them. I was shocked, to say the least. These are the same two little hens that left each other bloody each time they were let out of their pens in the past. For some reason, today was the day that they decided to get along. I was just tickled pink.

Every 30 minutes or so I would run out to the coop and make sure I still had two alive mama hens. Around 10AM, I ran out to check on them and got just inside the chicken run when I looked up and saw this:

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Those mamas had those little chickens out in the chicken run! And they were having the time of their lives. Those babies ran and flew and scratched and pecked and played like crazy. Amazingly, every once in a while one mama would have all five chicks looking for food with her while the other mama took a break and stretched her legs alone for a while. There was no fighting between them at all. You can not imagine my relief. I was worried those mamas would be penned up when their babies started laying eggs!

Everything was going along wonderfully. I could not have been happier. Then early this afternoon, Bernie and I were standing in the kitchen talking when something caught our attention out the window. Duke was balled up with what we thought was Bobby Lee, rolling around on the ground in front of the chicken run. I opened the door just in time to hear one of the loudest, most gawd awful sounds I’ve ever heard. As I ran out into the yard, I startled Duke and he jumped back and let go of a huge chicken hawk! I could not believe it! Duke had attacked a chicken hawk, and he beat the snot out of that thing. That chicken hawk took off flying like a bat out of h-e-double-hockey-sticks and as far as I know that thing is still flying. I am so proud of my boy! When I first walked out he had his spurs sunk into that chicken hawks back, and his beak was holding the back of the hawk’s neck.

I am certain the hawk came in for one of the baby chicks. Thankfully, they were in the chicken run, which is covered with a shrimp net. Apparently, when that hawk came down Duke was on him quicker than flies on poop. Those chicken hawks are fast – but not as fast as my Duke!

For the rest of the afternoon, Duke stationed himself inside the chicken run. He was ever vigilant.

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Just look at how puffed up and proud he is. He did quite a bit of strutting around.

Everyone was understandably quite upset after the chicken hawk incident. Most of the chickens were hiding under my garden shed. A couple had run into the garage through the door Bernie had left open. All of the chicks were just fine. And Duke appears to have no damage at all. I was sure to give Duke a bunch of shrimp and rice we had leftover from supper last night as a special treat for being such a brave, heroic rooster. And, like the gentleman and good rooster he is, he called his girls over and they ate most of it.

A few of you have written to tell me I should get rid of my roosters, or pen them up to prevent them from damaging my hens’ backs. Yes, roosters can be frustrating and even challenging at times. But this experience is exactly why I will not do either of those things. I love my roosters and they serve a purpose. They look after the flock and they take care of their girls. I can sew chicken saddles to solve the rooster tracks issue. And besides, the girls look quite fashionable in them.

And while we’re speaking of chickens, I noticed today that one of the White Faced Black Spanish chicks is one of Duke’s babies. Duke is a Silver Gray Dorking and he has five toes. Looky here:

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Five toes! There is only one other chick that has five toes and I know is Duke’s. I’m not sure how dominant that five toe thing is in the genes. I’m guessing it’s possible he is the father of more of the chicks, but they didn’t get his five toe gene? I’m really not sure. I would be surprised if he isn’t the father of most of them. Duke is very “affectionate” and, although he has his favorites, he’s not very discriminating, if you know what I mean.

Diesel and Dolly are doing so well. They are the smartest, most affectionate little puppies. Little? Did I say “little”?

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Lordy, that’s a good looking crew there. I could just kiss the fur right off of their faces. All three of them.

Hey – a big shout out to the five bloggers that signed up for the Pay it Forward. If you get a chance, check out their blogs!

Foothill Agrarian
Path 31
Rhymes with Vanilla
Me and My Girls
Bless Ewe Farm

Bee Free,
Penny

Pay it Forward

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Pay it Forward concept. It basically involves giving something and expecting nothing in return, and instead asking that the recipient do the same, in kind, for someone else. So the person doesn’t “pay back” anything to you, but he/she “pays forward” to someone else.

I have to tell you, the first time I was the recipient of a Pay it Forward type gift confused me beyond comprehension and left me somewhat frightened. Now that I think of it, it may not have been the result of the Pay it Forward movement. It occurred several years ago when the whole Random Act of Kindness thing was gaining notoriety.  At any rate, the concepts of these two are about the same, and whatever it was, it confused the ever-loving snot out of me. So I’m going to tell you about it.

Several years ago, I traveled each week to Topeka, Kansas for my job. I actually did this for about three years. And now that I think about it, this may explain my tendency to be a recluse and never leave the homestead. At any rate, because I had to spend all week there, I would take the latest possible flight on Sunday night to Kansas City, Missouri and then drive the 60 miles or so to Topeka. After flight delays and eventual arrival at the airport in Missouri, I would go to the car rental place and pick up my rental car. By the time it was all said and done, I would often end up driving to Topeka from the airport in Missouri late at night. There was usually very little traffic and it was always very dark.

On one particularly dark, misty, drizzly night, I pulled into one of the toll booths along the journey with my $.85 in hand. As I went to pay the toll booth attendant she said “No charge. The car in front of you paid for it.” I gave her a blank stare for a few seconds and then said “Who was it?” She said “I have no idea. They just said the next car is paid for.”

I am not usually a suspicious person, but it was late at night, I was very tired, and I was a female traveling alone. Plus the whole thing was just weird.

“Well, what did they look like?” I asked her. I figured I may know the person. Perhaps it was someone I worked with that just so happened to know I was behind them. “I honestly didn’t pay any attention.” she responded. “Well, how did they know I was behind them? I haven’t even seen tail lights ahead of me for a long time.” At this point, the toll booth lady was getting just a little annoyed. “Look, all I know is the person a head of you paid me an extra $.85 and told me that the next car to come through the toll booth is paid for. That would be you. Your toll is paid.”

We stared at each other a few seconds. “Was it a male or a female?” She sighed. “It was a male.”

“Was there anyone else in the car with him?”

“No.”

“Did he say my name? Did he say he was paying for Penny?” She actually rolled her eyes at me.

“Well, how do you know he was paying for ME? Maybe he thought a friend was behind him. Maybe he was paying for someone else.” I honestly thought she was going to flog me at that point. Instead she said, with a definite tone of finality, “Your toll is paid. Would you like a receipt?”

“But I didn’t pay.” She whipped out a receipt, shoved it in my hand, and said “Have a nice night.”

I pondered on that incident for weeks. I just could not figure it out. I finally decided someone really was just trying to be nice. Whoever it was could not have known the tailspin it would put me in. Certainly that was not the intent. So, if you’ve ever been on the road to Topeka late on a dark, misty, drizzly night and decided to be kind and pay for the car behind you, thank you. I still think of you often. And will you please send me an email and identify yourself? Please? I’m still rather confused.

I told you all of that to tell you this: While visiting Mainelyewes blog recently, I took Kelly up on an offer to participate in a bloggers Pay it Forward. Perhaps, in the deep recesses of my heart, I feel the need to rectify my suspicious, reluctant acceptance of a similar gift many years ago. I’m not sure. But I do know that when I read about this offer, I immediately thought “What a wonderful idea!”. In these difficult and somewhat scary times, I think Paying it Forward is a great way to possibly brighten someone’s day. So I agreed to participate. And yesterday, I received this wonderful Pay it Forward gift:

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Goats milk soap, lotion, and body butter hand made from Mainely Ewes Farm. And they are absolutely wonderful!

So here’s the deal – the first five people to comment on this blog post and say you would like to participate in this Pay it Forward will receive a gift in the mail from me. I will send each of you handmade soap, lotion, and a home made food item. If you’d like to participate, please do not email me. You must post a comment to this blog and tell me you’re in. I will mail your gift within one week of your comment. Feel free to comment regardless – but if you do want to participate, please be sure to state that in your comment.

There is a small catch. You must have a blog and you must agree to Pay it Forward by offering a gift to five people on your blog, who will agree to do the same on their blogs. This is, after all, what paying it forward is all about.

The gift you offer doesn’t have to be something you make. You can offer anything you like. It certainly doesn’t need to be expensive. I’ve read other blogs that offered chocolate candy, a book, fruit, items unique to the blogger’s region, etc. The purpose is not to see who can come up with the most wonderful gift, but rather to brighten someone’s day with a small act of kindness. Sort of like paying the toll for the car behind you. Only not as creepy.

So, my blogging friends, are you in? Would you like to participate in a spirit lifting act that will make you all warm and fuzzy inside? Just be one of the first five bloggers to comment on this blog post and let me know you’re in. I’ll send you my offering and you can Pay it Forward. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Bee Free,
Penny

The Greenhouse is Finished!

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Friday, Bernie finished the greenhouse. Yay! Saturday we filled in around the ground we leveled and added gravel to the floor of it.

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As the sun heated it Saturday, the windows were streaked with moisture.

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And the auto vent at the top opens and closes beautifully, depending on the temperature. There’s another vent on the opposite side that can be manually opened and closed.

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And the white thing on the lower left that I thought was some kind of fan?

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It’s actually another vent. The louvers can be manually opened and closed to allow air flow.

There is no question these vents are needed. I suspect that as the weather warms, the double doors will be open most of the time. Even with the temperature in the 40s Saturday morning, it was balmy enough in the greenhouse to force us out of our coats.

I immediately began moving in the potted plants I over-wintered in my garden shed. I’m not sure many made it through the frigid weather of this last winter. But I did see new growth on my butter fly plant.

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Today I’ll be filling peat pots and planting vegetable seeds and hoping for the best. I can’t wait to play in the dirt.

Diesel and Dolly spent the majority of the day romping around the yard, chasing each other, and eating chicken poop. The fun ended when Diesel decided to give into temptation and chase chickens. One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. They were both sent inside to reconsider the whole chasing chickens thing.

I tried letting the two broody mamas out in the coop with their babies for a while yesterday. It didn’t last long. Broody1 started clucking for her chicks to come eat and Broody2’s chicks responded by running over to see what Broody1 had found. That set Broody2 into a jealous rage and resulted in another brawl. I got them separated and back into their pens, but not before combs and wattles were bleeding. *sigh* I have another plan to get these two out with their chicks, but it’s going to take some patience and time. Neither of which I have much of right now. But I’m tired of cleaning messy pens every day, so I’m willing to work on it.

Today we’ll be adding chicken wire to every plant in the yard, and around the garden area. The chickens do a great job at turning the soil, but they have no regard for the plants in it. My bulbs are starting to pop out of the ground, and the chickens just love the green leaves. Free ranging them has been a wonderful experience and I just love having them run around my feet when I’m out in the yard, but it certainly comes with a price. Maybe the chicken wire will slow them down. It’s more likely I’ll be battling chickens for my plants all year.

My niece confessed to me that she does not read every word of my riveting, completely enthralling blog posts. But she does look at the pictures. Can you imagine? In all fairness, she is a city girl with absolutely no interest in any activity that does not take place in an environmentally controlled setting, let alone activities that involve exposure to insects, dirt, or animal poop. She is like her Aunt Penny in so many ways, but she did not inherit my love of gardening and other outside activities. She is over 30 now, so there is little hope she will ever appreciate these things at this age, but I am determined to at least cultivate her interest in what I am doing. So now a little quiz for my Non-Reading-I-Only-Look-at-the-Pictures-in-Your-Blog niece – which potted plant has new growth? Read through this blog and call me with your answer. I may have other questions for you as well. I am, after all, your favorite Aunt. And I am interesting, dammit!

Bee Free,
Penny

Peep, Peep!

Monday, March 16th, 2009

The mamas and babies are doing great in their little pens. I’m hoping to let them out in the next couple of weeks. I hesitate because yesterday, as I was cleaning Broody2’s pen, one of my Silver Leghorns hopped right into the pen with her. She poked around a bit and then began pecking the babies. Well, I don’t need to tell you what a Mother-From-H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks Broody2 can be. She was all over that leghorn like a fly on poop. She looked like something out of Matrix. The pen is only 4′ X 4′ and I was concerned for the babies – which were running around screaming like their feathers were on fire and trying desperately to stay out from underneath mamas feet – which were incredibly busy delivering kung-fu type kicks to the leghorn’s head. It took me a minute or two, but I finally captured the leghorn and tossed her out. Broody2 stayed ruffled for quite a while after that. Lordy. That girl is a feisty one.

Here’s Broody2 with her babies:

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And here’s Broody1 with hers:

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I took these pictures Sunday, and all of the peeps were one week old Sunday. Except this one:

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She was born the day before. She’s the White Faced Black Spanish/Phoenix mix. I think she’s looks like a little penguin. A cute, kissable little penguin.

Amazingly, after the whole big brawl we had in the coop when these two mamas faced off last week, Broody1 and Broody2 spend a lot of time snuggled up to each other with only the wire fence between them. They sleep this way each night and cluck softly between themselves. I’ve seen no sign of aggression at all, and I’m hoping they’ve kissed and made up at this point.

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This isn’t a great picture, but you may be able to see the two of them better in it:

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Those little Phoenix pullets are sweet little girls. They get some kind of fierce when another chicken gets around their babies, but I pick up their little peeps and the mamas fuss a little, but never go all ninja on me. Good little pullets. Great little mamas.

And I have to tell you, it makes me smile each time I walk in the coop and here “Peep. Peep.” I had forgotten what a sweet little sound that is.

Bee Free,
Penny

How Does this Whole Chicken and Egg Thing Work?

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Since I’ve started raising chickens, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people concerning eggs, and I’m guessing most people that raise chickens get similar inquiries. I’m going to dedicate this post to answering the questions I am most frequently asked about my eggs, and addressing a few things that you may find of interest. For those of you that raise chickens, feel free to chime in on this post’s comment section and share additional knowledge, or share answers to questions you frequently receive.

OK, here we go.

Question: Do you need a rooster to gets eggs from a hen?

Answer: No. The eggs will not be fertile, but a pullet or hen can lay eggs without a rooster around.

Question: I cracked open an egg and found a red spot in it. Does this mean the egg was fertile?

Answer: No. The red spot you sometimes find in an egg is something that occasionally occurs when the egg is forming in the oviduct. This is typically called a “meat spot” or “blood spot”, and it is usually a small piece of tissue or speck of blood from the hen. It is harmless and safe to eat. If it grosses you out, just remove it. You will not normally find these spots in store bought eggs because the eggs are screened by high tech equipment that detects these types of things and discarded.

Determining if an egg is fertile can be accomplished by looking at the blastoderm. The blastoderm is a small white spot on the surface of the yolk. You may have noticed this small white spot in store bought eggs. The white spot may look like a white dot and it is easily removed in infertile eggs. If the egg is fertile, there will be an expanded ring around the blastoderm. This is often called a bulls eye, because the ring resembles one. I don’t have a great picture of this, but I do have one that may help you determine the difference:

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See that egg in the middle? Notice the spot on it? Maybe you can see it better in this picture:

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Notice that it is not a clearly defined white dot? It looks expanded, and you may be able to notice the bulls eye appearance. This is a fertile egg. It is perfectly safe to eat and does not affect the taste.

Question: Why is the yolk in your chicken eggs so much more yellow or orange than store bought eggs?

Answer: Free range chicken eggs typically have very yellow or orange yolks because their diet allows them to ingest many nutrients from various plants that provide carotenoids, which is responsible for the yellow color of yolks. Quality chicken feed will also provide carotenoids that can result in eggs with a deeper yellow or orange color.

Question: I noticed that the egg shell of one of the eggs you gave me is rough and sandy feeling. What’s up with that?

Answer: It’s not unusual for new layers to occasionally lay an egg with a shell that is rough feeling. The rough, sandy stuff on the egg shell is calcium deposits that simply didn’t get smoothed out as the shell was forming. These types of shell do not affect the quality or taste of the egg. Below is a picture of one such shell:

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Question: Why are the eggs I get from you so difficult to crack? The shell seems to stick to the something that makes it difficult to get the egg out.

Answer: Beneath the shell of an egg, is the membrane. This membrane is very strong when an egg is very fresh. As the egg ages, the membrane deteriorates. Fresh eggs can be more difficult to crack because the membrane is very strong and the shell tends to cling to it. So take heart – you are getting very fresh eggs!

Question: Does a rooster have to mate with a hen each time before she can lay a fertile egg?

Answer: No. A hen can remain fertile from one mating with a rooster for quite some time, possibly for up to four weeks. This means that there is a good chance that the eggs she lays during that time may be fertile.

The above are the most common questions I am asked concerning my chickens’ eggs. If you have additional questions, please feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to point you to a resource that can provide it.

On a slightly different subject, I found this link from the Mississippi State University Extension Service that does a wonderful job of describing the embryo development in chicken eggs. I found it very interesting and helpful.

Be Free,
Penny

Greenhouse – Part II

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

We awoke this morning to gray skies and the threat of rain. Around 9AM it was still cloudy, but the rain hadn’t started yet, so we decided to take our chances and try to get a little work finished on the greenhouse. By noon, we had built the two sides and connected them with the front and back.

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We decided to push our luck a little further and attempt to get the gables up. We were almost finished when the rain began to fall. Here’s how far we got:

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And here it is from the front:

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We’ve got the doors built, but it’s not time to install those yet. The hole on the lower right side of the front is for a fan that works in conjunction with the adjustable vents that will be on the top. The sides have built in shelves. I’m getting pretty excited to get this thing completely finished!

A couple of you have asked about the amount of labor involved in assembling this greenhouse, and if this is something that one person could do alone. I would not call this project labor intensive, but it is rather tedious. The instructions are clear and accurate, but a word of caution about them – be sure to read them thoroughly. Each step is accompanied with very clear drawings, and I tend to be a “picture” person so I initially made the mistake of focusing on the drawings and not really reading the instructions for each step. But the instructions often include little gems like “Do NOT completely insert connector. Insert only until you hear a click.” Suffice it to say if you connect part S12 to L105 incorrectly in step 2.7, you are not going to figure it out until step 3.9 – and at that point you are going to have to undo most of what you’ve accomplished. Trust me. I know.

As far as the greenhouse assembly being a one person job, I would say absolutely not. The instructions even include a couple of steps recommending two people, but I recommend two people for each and every step. I imagine one very determined, ingenious person may be able to do it, but I can guarantee it would be much more frustrating and time consuming.

For two people, this greenhouse assembly is not a hateful job at all. Once you get the hang of it, putting it together goes smoothly and relatively quickly. The instructions recommend two days for assembling it, and I would say that is accurate. Granted, this means two full days, but I feel certain it can be done in two days. If the weather had cooperated, we would likely have completed putting up our greenhouse today. It’s supposed to be rainy tomorrow as well, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to sneak in a few hours to work on it again.

Bee Free,
Penny

Plan B – Let’s Make Some Egg Noodles

Friday, March 13th, 2009

I took a day of vacation so that I could have a long weekend, and Bernie and I could finish up the greenhouse. But Mother Nature had other plans for the day.

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It seems our weather forecast changed a little yesterday, and I apparently missed the memo on it. The tarp covered lump above the well pump is the greenhouse pieces we assembled last weekend. *sigh*

So we do what we always do when Plan A just doesn’t quite pan out. We came up with Plan B. And rather than working on the greenhouse, we’ll be working inside the house. It needs a good cleaning anyway. The above picture was actually taken around 8AM. It was too dark to get that picture when we arose at 5AM.

By 5:30AM, I was making some egg noodles. And, just in case you too planned to put together a greenhouse today, were foiled by Mother Nature, and are having a hard time coming up with a Plan B, I’m going to offer you an alternative and step you through making your very own home made egg noodles.

This is my kind cooking right here. It consists of a whole whopping three ingredients – flour, eggs, and a pinch of salt. I omitted the salt because, well, I forgot. Cut me some slack here – I hadn’t even quite made it through my coffee when I started.

So here’s what you’ll need:

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Two cups of flour (white or whole wheat), four eggs, and (if you can remember) a pinch of salt.

Now, pour your flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and place your four cracked eggs in there. You can use the utensil of your choice to mix this all together, but I prefer to use my hands. It was at this point I wanted to take a picture, but my hands were fully immersed in eggy flour and I couldn’t find Bernie. Just mix the flour and eggs much like you would mix any dough. You want to end up with a stiff and slightly sticky dough. Transfer that dough to your pastry sheet, or your counter. Whichever you use, be sure to lightly flour the surface, and then lightly flour the top of your dough. This will help keep the dough from sticking as you roll it out.

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Now take your rolling pin (or is it rolling pen?) and roll out your dough. The thickness is completely up to you and your preference. The important thing is to roll it out so that the thickness is consistent. I rolled mine out to about 1/4 inch thick. We like noodles you can sink your teeth into.

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Once you’ve got your dough rolled out to the thickness you like, roll it into a jelly roll

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Now you’re going to slice your noodles. You can slice these as thick or thin as you like. Use a sharp knife, or a piece of strong thread. I prefer to use thread. To use this method, slide your thread under the jelly roll and position it at the desired thickness.

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Pull the thread up and cross it over the jelly roll.

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Then just pull it through to slice.

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Repeat until you make it through the entire jelly roll.

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Unroll each noodle and lay it flat on a tea towel or something similar.

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And now you can go clean your house, check your email, write a blog, or go back to bed while your noodles dry for a while. The length of time to dry is going to depend on how thick you made your noodles and the humidity in your house. I’m going to leave these to dry all day and use them tonight in either goulash, or chicken soup. It’s too early for that decision right now.

I guess there’s no law that says you have to dry the noodles first. You could start cooking with them as soon as you slice them, if you like. I’ve heard that some people do that. Oh, and that little bit of flour left on the noodles? Well, it’ll wash off if you boil your noodles in water, or simply add the dry noodles to your soup/stew and the little bit of flour will help thicken it as you cook the noodles. And you aren’t limited to skinny little noodles. You can make your own lasagna noodles with this dough too.

Once they are dry, you can store your noodles in a sealed jar for about a month.

Bon apetite!

Penny

Getting Ready for the Greenhouse

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

This past weekend we leveled the ground for the greenhouse and began putting it together. I had planned to post pictures right away, but between the arrival of the new babies and the coop room brawl, I had to put it off for a few days. Thankfully things have calmed down enough for me to post those pictures now.

Leveling the ground took a little bit of time. This is where we started:

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Thank goodness for Bernie’s backhoe! It did the majority of the work for us, even though there was a fair amount of manual shoveling we had to do to get it completely level.

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Once everything was level, Diesel and Dolly conducted a thorough inspection.

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Dolly approved of the depth of the hole.

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Then they took a break to watch chickens for a few minutes.

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With the inspection complete, it was time to unpack the boxes containing the greenhouse parts.

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Then it was break time.

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We managed to get the front and back of the greenhouse put together. As I mentioned earlier, this is certainly a two person job. It is not difficult, it just requires some you-hold-this-together-while-I-adjust-that. I didn’t take pictures, because nothing is standing yet. We assembled the front and back and they are laying on the ground. The next step is to assemble the sides and then we can put them all together. We had hoped to complete the project over one weekend, and someone that has a fairly level ground to begin with probably could. The leveling took up a good chunk of the first day, so we didn’t get as far along as we had hoped. If the weather cooperates, we should complete this project next weekend. I’ll be sure to post more pictures.

With the new biddies peeping, my garlic starting to break ground, and the unusually warm weather we’ve been having, I am beginning to really yearn for spring. I’m excited to get this greenhouse up and get busy preparing for the vegetable garden. Spring and summer are the most productive on the homestead. We need a productive spring and summer in this economy.

Bee Free,
Penny

Who’d Have Thunk It?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

We had quite a bit of excitement here on the homestead yesterday. As you know from my last post, we have two broody moms with five chicks between them. Well, yesterday afternoon I got to thinking that the nest boxes are up about two feet from the ground. It’s not unusual for mama hens to begin taking their babies out of the next within the first three or four days of their lives. I wasn’t concerned about the chicks getting out of the nest, I was concerned that once they did, they would not be able to get back into the nest. So I decided to move both broody moms and their chicks onto the floor of the coop, underneath the nest boxes. And move them, I did.

I sat with the broods for a while and everything went along just fine. Broody1 just sat in a corner with her two little little chicks cheeping happily beneath her. Broody2 brought her three chicks out into the middle of the coop and started teaching them to peck and eat. A couple of hens wandered in and checked out the chicks, and then moved on to the nest boxes. Everything was going better than I had hoped for. I went inside and over the next couple of hours I went back out to the coop about every 15 minutes to check on the situation. So far, so good.

After two hours, however, things changed. Swiftly and dramatically. I opened the front door to walk toward the coop and I immediately knew something was wrong. I could hear baby chicks peeping like crazy, and I could see a huge plume of dust and feathers flying out of the chicken door. I ran to the coop and opened door, and then stood there with my mouth open for a full minute. My two sweet, gentle, lovely little mama hens were in the middle of what looked like a bar room brawl. They were a screeching, screaming, clawing, pecking ball of feathers in the middle of the coop. I could not believe it. I quickly ran in and tried to separate them, and it wasn’t easy. Each time I would get them apart, they would fly back at each other and start fighting all over again. I finally managed to pick one up and as I stood, she had the other in her mouth by the neck. It was awful. I eventually got them apart and put each back in the nests they hatched their broods in. Then I looked around for the biddies. There were two. I grabbed them and put one in each nest box with a mama. I searched all over coop and there was not a sign of another biddy. I began to panic. I ran outside, laid on the ground and looked underneath the coop. The bottom of the coop is covered with chicken wire, but a one day old biddy could very easily fit between the wire. I laid there for a while, desperately searching for a sign of a biddy, but I could see nothing. And I could hear nothing. No peep, chirp, or scurrying. Nothing. I walked all through the woods by the coop searching for them. Nothing. I layed on the ground next to the garden shed and looked underneath it. Nothing.

Bernie was not home during all this. He had gone in to town to run some errands. By the time he returned, I was in the middle of a full blown nervous breakdown. I did my best to explain what had happened, but judging from the confused look on his face, I’m certain I was making no sense at all. I was standing there shaking like a leaf and mumbling something like “It’s hopeless. Hopeless! They’re gone. Gone forever.” when he said “Honey, they couldn’t have just disappeared. Let’s go outside and look together”.

We went into the coop and looked around. Nothing. We went outside and looked under the coop. Nothing. We walked through the woods searching everywhere. Nothing. And just when I began mumbling about the biddies being gone forever again, we heard a cheep. And then another. And it was coming from underneath the coop! I’m going to fore go the details on this. Suffice it to say that 15 minutes and a lot of running around chasing biddies later, we had the three escaped biddies safely tucked in with their mothers.

Two hours later I had built the pen that will house these mamas and babies for the next couple of weeks:

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This is actually two pens – separated by more wire between them. Each is about 4′ X 4′. As soon as it was finished, I placed the mamas and their babies in them. And they seem very happy.

Broody1 got the worst damage during the brawl with Broody2. But in Broody1’s defense, she had been sitting on a nest for six weeks and hadn’t been eating for several days. She was very weak. Just look at her poor bruised eye and damaged comb:

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Poor little thing. Today is the first day she has accepted food from me and eaten in many days. I’m really hoping she’ll start getting back to her old self soon. It was a little cool today, and she has kept the babies tucked up tightly underneath her.

Broody2 is doing just fine. She eats and drinks and calls the babies out to learn to peck and eat fairly regularly. I had a hard time getting pictures of her babies, but I managed to get this one (there’s one behind her, but you can’t see much of her):

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Awwww. That is just adorable. This is one of the two White Faced Black Spanish mixes that hatched. In fact, I’m fairly certain this one is mixed with Bobby Lee, the Phoenix – notice the darker legs. The other is obviously mixed with Duke, a Silver Gray Dorking. She has orange legs and five toes – another trait of the Dorking.

I was not there when the fight between these two mamas started, but I am certain it had something to do with the babies. I have a friend that says mama hens fight like ninjas over their babies. Well, until you see it, you can’t imagine how accurate that description really is. I hope to never see it again.

I’ve written way more about this than I had planned, or probably should have. If you’re still with me at this point, please allow me to offer you some advice. If you plan to have chickens, read everything you can read about raising them and issues that can occur while you’re doing it. Talk to everyone you know that has chickens and ask them what their experiences have been. And then get your chickens and know that you will be able to write your own book when it’s all said and done. No book and no one can prepare you for everything in your future with chickens. Everyone is different. Every flock is different. They will have a lot in common but trust me, those little chickens will throw you a curve ball more than once. And at the end of the day, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bee Free,

Penny

Population Explosion on the Homestead

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

What a weekend. I’m simply exhausted.

Last night I checked my two broodies to see if anyone layed an egg in their nests that they tucked up underneath them. I noticed that the second broody (Broody 2) that had five eggs under her had an egg with a crack in it. My first thought was “Oh, no. Someone pecked that egg.” But then I heard a little “cheep, cheep” and I realized that an egg had pipped! This morning I awoke to this:

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Now just how dad gum cute is that???? It was all I could do not to kiss that baby chick’s wings right off of her. Later in the day, I found this:

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Be still my heart. I seriously had the shakes just looking at those babies and forcing myself not to pick them up and kiss their beaks slap off. Mama hen actually hatched one more, for a total of three. But I could not get a picture of all of them together tonight. She is just about sick and tired of me poking around snapping pictures tonight.

Naturally, I had my network going during all this excitement. Mama and Cousin Julie suggested I take a pipping egg and give it to Broody 1 to hatch.  But I was worried. Broody 1,is the first hen I had that went broody. She had been sitting on a dud egg for about six weeks. And today was the first day she had gotten off of that egg for about an hour. She desperately wanted to hatch an egg. So I decided to take a chance and I put an egg that had pipped underneath her. And here she is a few hours later – look at the lower bottom portion of this picture:

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I can’t tell you how happy Broody 1 is with that little peep. She actually pecked me when I lifted her to take that picture of her baby. Broody 1 is extremely sweet and never pecks – apparently unless she has a baby to protect. That other egg in that picture is the last of the eggs that were under Broody 2. It had pipped, so I gave it to Broody 1. Hopefully by tomorrow morning Broody 1 will be happily caring for two baby chicks, and Broody 2 will be happily caring for her three chicks.

Lordy, I do love my chickens.

We started on the greenhouse this weekend. Let me be the first to tell you, this job definitely takes at least two people. No doubt about it. We got the ground leveled and the front and back portion of the greenhouse put together. We still have two sides and the roof to go. I’ll post pictures of the progress next week. Right now I’m simply pooped from working on the greenhouse, worrying about hatching little chicks, and trying to keep up with puppies during all of it.

I’ve left the little biddies alone today. I’ve only disturbed them to take pictures. But tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow every one of those biddies gets picked up and kissed. I know some people will swear you should leave baby chicks alone and not touch them, but let me tell you that I kissed every single one of the 27 one day old chicks I started with and I only lost five of them. And I’d like to think those five died from causes other than my kisses. I’d also like to think the 22 that survived are stronger as a result of my kisses. These five little biddies are going to find out. Tomorrow they’re getting kisses. And lots of them.

Bee Free,

Penny