Archive for June, 2009

For Everything There is a Season

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

It’s been a tough week on the homestead. I’ve struggled with posting on this blog and exactly what I was going to write about. I still don’t know. But that’s never stopped me from posting before, so I guess we’re all going to figure it out together as I write this.

A week ago Monday I noticed one of my White Faced Black Spanish hens walking and running a little funny. I didn’t give it too much thought. She ran right up to me for her treats when I headed out in the afternoon, and even if she had an odd gait, she made it to me just fine and gobbled up her treats. But in the late evening, I spotted her laying down outside the coop – something that is very unusual for her. When I stepped outside to check on her, she tried to get up and come to me and kept rolling on her side. I helped her up and watched her a few minutes. She could not stay on her legs and kept falling over.

I brought her in the house and put her in a pen in the spare bathroom. I was hoping some rest and special attention would help heal what ever was wrong with her. Her appetite was great. She ate, drank, and pooped normally. She even laid two eggs during the week. She had no symptoms of illness – she just couldn’t stand on her legs. She didn’t act as though she was in pain – in fact she spent most of her time trying to figure out how to get out of the pen the first day. I finally had to leave her in the dark so she would stay off her legs.

As the week progressed, her legs seemed to become more and more useless and she became more and more restless. I gave her 1/4 aspirin each day in the hopes that it might help with any swelling or discomfort. Bernie scrambled her an egg each morning and I added yogurt and cheese to it. I hand fed her each meal on my lap and she seemed to love the attention. But she was getting no better and I knew it was unfair to keep her in a pen the rest of her life. I knew I was going to have to put her down, but I kept praying things would get better. Finally, by Sunday, I had no doubt what needed to be done. And I knew I was going to have to do it.

Bernie never really wanted to get chickens. He grew up working on farms and he never cared for chickens. He doesn’t even care to eat chicken. But he knew I wanted chickens, so he acquiesced – with one stipulation. These were going to be my chickens and I was going to take care of them.

So even though Bernie had worked on farms as a kid and was the “axe man” when it came time to cull chickens (and I thought my summer job working as my dad’s secretary was the worse job ever!), I knew I could not ask him to put my chicken down. I knew I was going to have to do this on my own.

So I didn’t say a word to Bernie. I took my beloved Black Spanish into my shed, where I had driven two nails in my work bench. I gently laid her down and slid her neck between the nails. She was amazingly calm. I grabbed her legs, stretched her out, held the cleaver above her neck, and then stood exactly in that position for a full five minutes. Is this cleaver sharp enough? Is my aim going to be good enough? What is that awful pounding noise? Oh, that’s my heart. I wonder how hard I have to come down with the cleaver? Why am I so light headed? Oh Lordy, I forgot to keep breathing. I wonder if I should even be using this cleaver? Maybe I should go ask Bernie if it’s sharp enough.

So I picked up my Black Spanish and cleaver and headed to the back yard to find Bernie. And as soon as I laid eyes on him, I burst into tears. Between sobs I asked him if my cleaver was sharp enough. I could tell by the look on his face that he was about to tell me he would take care of this issue, but for some utterly stupid reason I blurted out “I’m going to do it! I really am. I just need to know if that blade is sharp enough”.

Bernie went into his shed, got a hatchet, and sharpened it on his bench grinder. He walked to a tree stump in the back yard and hammered two nails in it for me. He asked if I was ok and I said yes. He handed me the hatchet and went back into his shed.

When he looked outside at me 10 minutes later and I was still standing there with the axe poised over my poor chicken’s neck, he walked over to us.

I looked up at him. “She’s asleep. I think she passed out from boredom.”

“I can see that”, he replied.

“I think if you will hold her legs, I can use both my arms and chop her head off.” I was trying to convince myself as much as him.

Bernie grabbed her legs and I grabbed the hatchet with both hands raised it above my head, and then began hyperventilating. After several minutes Bernie said “Penny, do you want me to do this?” I felt a rush of relief. “I’ll hold her legs” I quickly answered.

I grabbed my little hen’s legs and turned my head. And with one loud thud, it was over. My White Faced Black Spanish never felt a thing. I, on the other hand, felt everything. I was relieved that it was over. I was sad that this had to happen to my Black Spanish. I was happy that Bernie rescued me. I was disappointed that I didn’t see this thing through by myself. I burst into tears and Bernie held me as I sobbed my heart out.

Later Bernie said to me, “Well, we both learned something today.”

“Yea, we learned that I’m a wimp”

“No, I already knew that. I learned it was unfair of me to expect you to kill your pets. I’m sorry.”

We talked for a good long while about the whole experience. And we agreed that when it comes time to cull all the cockerels I ended up with from the hatches this year, he will be the “axe man”, and I will hold their legs. In the end we’ll have several chickens in the freezer, I won’t have a nervous break down, and Bernie won’t have to see me cry. Not a bad deal.

Bee Free,
Penny

This is the Way We Do Our Chores

Friday, June 19th, 2009

One of our chores on the homestead is checking the mail. It’s a big chore, and we take it very seriously. So each evening, we head down the driveway.

pups

We romp around for a while.

pups

We wrestle a bit.

pups

We do a little lounging while mom gets the mail.

pups

pups

We stop by the creek for a sip of cool water.

pups

pups

And then we search for hidden treasures.

pups

There’s got to be a hidden treasure.

pups

Found it!

pups

Hey! Just who’s hidden treasure is it, anyway?

pups

We stop and look at the pretty Indian Pipes.

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe

And we find some neat mushrooms.

Mushroom

Mushroom

Mushroom

We dig and sniff around for anything we might have missed.

pups

And when it’s time to head to the house, we sit back and smile with satisfaction at the great job we’ve done at our chore of getting the mail.

pups

Bee Free,
Penny

I Raised You Better Than That

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

My introduction to raising chickens began with a trip to the post office to pick up a little box packed with 27 two day old chicks. I’d never owned a chicken before and as I opened that box and saw 27 iddy biddy little faces staring back at me, I was overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility knowing that each and every one of them would be dependent on me for their survival. I took that responsibility very seriously. Some of you would say I took it TOO seriously, but that’s not the point of this post.

I fretted, worried, and fussed over those babies obsessively – and well beyond babyhood. And, ok, I STILL do that today, but that’s not the point of this post either.

I’m getting to the point. I promise.

OK here’s the point. I think. After watching my broodies with these six hatches this year, it occurs to me that mama hens don’t offer just a whole lot of babying to their biddies. Those babies are expected to hit the ground running – literally. They get quick, sharp pecks when they get out of line and they get left behind if they don’t keep up. I am sometimes appalled by all this.

Two days ago one of the broody moms took her chicks into the woods and one of her babies was busy scratching and pecking in the run and missed joining the procession as mama marched the others out of the run. When the baby realized she had missed out, she began screaming bloody murder at the top of her lungs. Mama began her dust bath and looked back at her chick as if to say “Well, figure out how to get your little fuzzy butt out here”. I just couldn’t hold my tongue.

“YOU were NOT raised that way! I would have NEVER left you behind like that and I would have NEVER let you cry like that. Where did you learn that type of behavior? Honestly! I raised you better than that!” But even before I finished my scolding, mama hen was rolling her eyes and settling down deeper in the dirt.

Yesterday the hatch before last was exactly 2.5 weeks old. They are still babies, for heavens sake! But as I went into the coop to tuck everyone in last night, I saw this:

Baby Chicks

No more piling into the nest to sleep at night. No more cuddling with mama and basking in her warmth. I almost grabbed every one of those babies and let them sleep with me in the bed. But after waking up with a baby goat next to him, Bernie has kinda laid down the law about who sleeps in our bed at night and, although I find him unreasonable on this subject, I figured I better not push it.

By the way, that’s Pico on the roost below the babies. Isn’t he turning into such a handsome boy? He’s a little horn dog, but he’s still darn good looking. The hen’s aren’t impressed with him though. They deny his advances as much as possible and beat the holy living tar out of him on a regular basis. Although I think a couple of them are coming around to his charm.

While I don’t always agree with their methods, these mama hens appear to be doing a great job raising these babies. I’ve offered advice and tips to them, but it falls on deaf ears. Hard headed little snots. I just don’t know where they get that from.

I hate to end this on a sad note, but earlier this week a Golden Penciled Hamburg came up missing. Bernie and I searched every inch of the yard, surrounding woods, and building on this place and could not find her. I find myself looking to see her rejoin the flock each day, but so far there has been absolutely no sign of her. It’s possible she wandered out of the fenced in yard and became a snack for a hungry animal, although these Hamburgs are extremely loud and we heard no sounds of distress the day she disappeared. I suspect she likely suffered the fate of the other three Hamburgs I’ve lost, but laid down to die somewhere we couldn’t find her.

The Golden Penciled Hamburg is a beautiful breed and they’ve added a fun dynamic to this flock, but I have no desire to add anymore. Losing four has been heartbreaking and I am fairly certain their deaths have been from genetic causes. I have three left. I hope they are around for a while.

Bee Free,
Penny

Hamburg Heaven and Indian Pipes

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Just as my other hatches, this last hatch happened at day 20. Yesterday, all four of the eggs the broodies were setting on hatched out. The broody Hamburg has concerned me all along with regard to exactly what her mothering instinct would be. Hamburgs are notoriously NOT a broody breed, and she wasn’t the best broody I’ve had. When I took her off her nest each day, she would often stay outside for about an hour. When she went back to nest, she would get on the wrong one. I made her set on fake eggs and let the Phoenix broody hatch out the four eggs. I just didn’t trust that Hamburg.

Well, after the eggs started hatching, I put two of them under the Hamburg and she seemed to be doing great with the new babies last night. This morning, however, I found one of her babies in the far corner, and the Hamburg kept pecking the baby when it got close. I took that baby and gave it to the Phoenix, who was more than happy to have three to tend to. So the Hamburg has one baby – and I will say she is a ferociously protective mother of that little baby. Every time I try to lift her a little to look at her baby she screeches and pecks the snot out of my hand. The Phoenix broodies are protective too, but they don’t react as vicious towards me.

Hamburg with chick

She is truly in heaven with that little baby. And the Phoenix is doing wonderfully with her three. The nine little 2 and 1/2 week old babies are learning to free range with their mamas and loving every second of it. And it’s getting difficult to tell the difference between the older, 4ish month old chicks and the adult chickens. They grow so fast.

It’s been raining steadily all day, but that didn’t stop Diesel and Dolly from demanding to go on their daily mail run. I put on my rain gear and we took off for the mailbox. On the way home, Diesel and Dolly decided they wanted to go off road and walk through the woods to the house. As soon as we got a few feet from the road into the woods, I began seeing the most beautiful plant – everywhere. I thought it was a fungus of some sort as it was growing out of fallen, rotting pines and on the forest floor. And it was white. A beautiful, white fungus looking flower thingy. These flowers were growing in clumps and those clumps seemed endless. They decorated the woods beautifully on such a rainy, dank day.

I didn’t have my camera with me because it was so wet and rainy, so I picked one and brought it to the house. Look at this pretty little thing:

Indian Pipe Flower

(Forgive the background – I held it next to the window so I wouldn’t have to use a flash and inadvertently got The Big Top in the picture.)

Isn’t that pretty? Can you just imagine seeing the forest floor covered in those snow white beauties? As it turns out, that’s an Indian Pipe. And it is not a fungus. It’s a flower. This is how the flower part of it looks:

Indian Pipe Flower

Indian Pipes are really fascinating little things. They are plants that produce no chlorophyll, which is why they are white. Although they are not a fungus, they do have a very important relationship with fungus. And apparently bumble bees love them. If you are interested in reading more about Indian Pipes, I think this website offers the most information in an understandable and succinct fashion.

Oh! Yesterday was Bernie’s birthday. I asked him how it feels to be a year older and he replied “I’m not a year older. I’m just another day older.” Well, according to my math that’s A LOT of days!

Happy Birthday, Honey. I love you.

Bee Free,
Penny

Broodies, Mamas, Roosters and The Big Top

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

I let the two broody moms out of their brooder pens with their babies today. I really need to get them out of the brooders so I can put the next two new mamas in them. They are due to hatch their babies out Wednesday.

As usual, these two broody moms just can not get along. They immediately launched into a brawl. I sat out there with them for a while and separated them several times, and eventually Broody1 took her chicks into the chicken run and things seemed to settle. Before too long, Broody2 had her chicks in the run as well. Everyone seems to be getting along just fine now – even if the two broody moms both now have bruised eyes.

Against my wishes, Broody1 has already taken her chicks into the woods, next to the coop. I really worry about them being out there, but they don’t pay any attention to what I want.

mama hen and chicks

They are still all in the woods as I type this. Broody2 has her chicks in the chicken run.

Even though the chicken coop is right next to the woods, the sun shines on it all day long. I normally don’t worry too much about that. In the winter, the sun heats the coop nicely. And in the summer, the chickens spend most of their time in the woods – or under Bernie’s pole barn next to his barn shed. That’s a constant source of annoyance for Bernie, by the way. But it makes the chickens happy, and happy chickens makes me happy, so Bernie doesn’t complain too much. Even if they have scratched out holes the size of the grand canyon under his boat, behind his tractors, and around each support pole to dust bathe in.

At any rate, with broodies living in the coop right now, and new babies staying in there as well, I started getting a little concerned about the sun beating right on the coop all day and raising the temperature inside the chicken coop. I decided to tarp over the shrimp net I have covering the chicken run. Not only would that shade the coop a great deal, but it would keep the chicken run from getting so muddy in the rain. So this morning, Bernie helped me secure the tarp over the shrimp net. It now looks like the Big Top Circus resides in our yard.

Tarp over chicken coop

I know it looks awful – but the coop and chicken yard are mostly shaded all day long now. The chickens seem to like it. Bernie seems to hate it. And I can overlook it since it makes my chickens more comfortable. We’ll take it down in late fall so that the coop will get sun in colder weather and the weight of the ice and snow doesn’t pull the shrimp net and tarp down.

Something I meant to mention earlier about this last hatch is that four of the eggs I put under the broodies were eggs I had stored in the refrigerator from 1 – 3 days before hand. I had heard that refrigerated, fertile eggs will hatch out just fine, and I wanted to experiment with it myself. So I opened one of the egg cartons in the refrigerator, randomly pulled out four eggs, marked them with a different colored pen than the other eggs I gave the broodies, and then put the refrigerated eggs under those broodies. And guess what? All four of those refrigerated eggs hatched just fine. I share this with you in case you have chickens and happen to lose a favorite hen. If you recognize her eggs and have some in the refrigerator, you can take them from the refrigerator and put them under a broody or in an incubator and hatch out her offspring. Be sure to bring the eggs to room temperature before placing them under a broody or in the bator. Otherwise moisture can collect on the inside of the egg and possibly mess up the hatch.

Bobby Lee is still enjoying his Reign of Terror. He really torments Duke something fierce. In all fairness, Duke used to really torment Bobby Lee though. I guess Bobby Lee figures turn about is fair play. None the less, Duke still participates in keeping the flock in line, much to Bobby Lee’s consternation. Pico regularly tries to get frisky with the older hens, and Duke just will not stand by and watch that happen. Neither will Duke allow the hens to fight. While Bobby Lee does seem to be extremely alert and watchful over the girls, he can not, quite frankly, hold a candle to Duke. Maybe he’ll grow into the role.

Bobby Lee is such a good looking boy.

Bobby Lee

And Duke still has his rugged handsomeness.

rooster

It occurs to me that it is a bit like a circus around here with all these crazy chickens. Maybe naming the tarped over chicken run The Big Top isn’t such a bad idea.

Bee Free

Chickens Like to Keep Things Interesting

Monday, June 8th, 2009

If you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you know that I am totally in love with my chickens. They are incredibly entertaining and each has a personality of its own. I love watching my chickens and how they interact. And just when I think I have them figured out, I get thrown a curve ball or two.

In the past few weeks I’ve watched something happen within my flock that I never would have believed if I had not seen it with my own eyes. Duke has relinquished his position as alpha rooster of the flock. Bobby Lee has now taken on that role, and I must tell you I am as heartbroken as I am shocked. Duke has always been such a strong rooster and a fierce protector of his flock. He and I have gone rounds more than once, but I learned to deal with him and accepted his “cockiness” because he has always been so good to the flock and he did such a wonderful job of keeping them all in line and safe.

When there is more than one rooster in a flock, it is common for the role of alpha rooster to be passed on to the next in line as time goes on. This can occur because the alpha rooster is too old, ill, or just plain tired of the responsibility.

Duke is not too old. He is just over a year old. And he’s not really ill. He seems to be fairly healthy. Although I do know that he is quite large and has always wheezed while getting across the yard. Perhaps he just felt he no longer had it in him to be an adequate guard of the flock. Or maybe he just grew weary of the responsibility. I guess I’ll never know. What I do know is that he has relinquished his role as alpha rooster to Bobby Lee.

Duke doesn’t really seem too bothered by this event. He still has his favorite girls that hang out with him and he still sleeps on his same spot on the roost. But he now runs from Bobby Lee, who jumps on Duke when he attempts to breed. And Duke is now the last one in the coop at night, and does not go into the run in the evening until Bobby Lee has gone to roost. As much as Duke seems to accept this, I am having a hard time with it. I do not intervene, and I’ve let nature take it’s course, but it still breaks my heart. I hope Bobby Lee will live up to the title of “alpha rooster”. I think he has some big shoes to fill. Duke does have five toes, after all!

A couple of weeks ago we had a particularly nice day and opened all the windows to let the nice weather into the house. We were sitting in the living room when we heard a quite unusual crow. With four roosters now crowing, and two of them being only three months old, we occasionally hear some odd noises coming from the roosters.

“That must be Jethro or Pico” I commented to Bernie. He looked out the window and said “Uh, no. It’s one of your White Faced Black Spanish Hens. I just saw her. She’s crowing like crazy.”

I jumped up and looked out the window, and even though I did see a Black Spanish right outside the window, I also saw Pico. I was convinced Pico was the one that was crowing.

I’ve heard that hens will indeed crow, but it is usually in the absence of a rooster. I have four roosters, so I simply found it impossible to believe I had a hen crowing.

Well, see this girl here?

Crowing Hen

Yesterday we were outside painting the frame of my new outside sink when we, once again, heard that odd crow. I stepped around the garden shed and looked into the chicken yard just in time to catch that little Black Spanish hen crowing! And she did it several times. This sweet little girl

Crowing Hen

is crowing, for heaven’s sake! I feel fairly certain this event has something to do with Duke stepping down as alpha rooster and the disruption in the pecking order of the flock. Bernie now tells me he is positive he’s seen one of my Phoenix hens attempting to crow as well. Good grief. This flock has gone insane.

Speaking of the outside sink Bernie and Daddy made for me, we finished painting it. Ignore the fact that my garden shed is NOT painted, and just admire the beauty of this outside sink:

Rain Barrel

Lordy, I do love that sink.

J.P. commented on the last blog post that a broody Hamburg is rather uncommon, and requested pictures. So, just for J.P. here’s my broody Hamburg:

broody hen

This happens to be the very same Hamburg that the chicken hawk attacked earlier this year. Fortunately Bernie and I saw it happening and managed to scare the hawk off before he killed her. She’s still growing feathers on her lower back area.

Here’s the broody Phoenix that is in the nest box next to the Hamburg:

broody hen

You can tell by her chicken saddle, bald head, and the bare marks on her wings that she is one of the roosters’ favorites. Her chicken saddle has a picture of Piglet (from Winnie the Pooh) on it, so Bernie calls her Piglet. She’s a sweet girl and follows Bernie all over the yard, when she’s not broody.

These two broodies are penned in nest boxes because my two brooder pens have the two broodies in them that hatched out the 9 babies a little over a week ago. They’ll be going out of the brooder in about another week, which is just about the time the two newer broodies are due to hatch out their eggs – and then they’ll move into the brooders. This is what I rigged up to close off the nest boxes that have the two broodies in them:

broody hen

I stapled chicken wire to one side of each box, and then just hooked the other side of it to the opposite nest box wall. It works just fine, and the girls seem to enjoy not being harassed all day by the other hens wanting those nest boxes. Once every day or two, I make sure to remove them from their nests so they can eat and drink. None of my broodies has ever been good about leaving the nest once they start setting.

These chickens like to keep things interesting on the homestead. I think they worry I might get bored with them. They leave little chance for that.

Bee Free,
Penny

Rain Barrel and Parents

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

My parents were here visiting us last week. We had a wonderful time, and it was unbelievably difficult to watch them leave yesterday. *sigh* But, rather than focus on how much I miss them, I’m going to show you something my father and Bernie did for me last week. They built this for me:

Rain Barrel

An outside sink! How incredibly cool is that??? It’s attached to the back of my garden shed so I can work in the shade, and it’s hooked up to my rain barrel. Now I can work with my potted plants in comfort and I have a place to clean up the garden veggies before bringing them in the house. I can’t tell you how much I love that little sink. And the coolest part of all is that they used leftover lumber and an old sink that was laying in the cabin shed. Bernie and I started painting it yesterday, and I’ll put up pictures of how it looks once we are finished.

Bernie had hooked my rain barrel to a small pump a couple of weeks ago so that we could attach a garden hose and pump water up hill to my garden and greenhouse. Here’s the little pump:

Rain Barrel

It’s inside my garden shed, under the work bench Bernie built for me. He attached a piece of garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the rain barrel, ran the hose through a small hole in the garden shed, and attached the other end of it to the pump. He installed a spigot outside my garden shed so that I can hook up a garden hose and the pump will pump the water through it.

Rain Barrel

Daddy and Bernie added another spigot above the sink. It splits off of the pump and they ran it through the wall to my sink:

Rain Barrel

I am tickled beyond words with the results. Thank you, Bernie and Daddy! Bernie is now excited to add two or three more rain barrels around the property. He’s keeping his eyes open for small pumps that go on sale.

My parents brought their small dachshund, Oliver, with them for the visit. Oliver is a cutie. He’s a couple of months older than Diesel and Dolly, but he’s MUCH smaller. Oliver has attitude, and he didn’t let his size hold him back. When he wanted something, he went for it.

dolly and oliver

Those puppies played and played while Oliver was here.

diesel dolly oliver

diesel dolly oliver

diesel dolly oliver

And they chewed up lots of sticks.

diesel dolly oliver

And, when Oliver left, Diesel pouted a little.

diesel

We had a great time visiting with my parents and Oliver. The week went by entirely too fast. I’m extremely blessed to have such wonderful parents.

I love you mom and dad.

Parents and me

Bee Free,
Penny