Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Yearly Nursery Trip With Mom

Above is my Eastern Redbud in full bloom. Every year, my mother-in-law and I make a trip to our favorite local nursery, Brubaker's Acres. We spend a few hours looking over all the plants and have a good time enabling each other's gardening habits. But we exhibited great self-control today and didn't drive away with a truckload of plants! I finally got to shop for plants to put in my large cast iron kettle out front. My grandma used it to make apple butter when I was growing up. Now it decorates the approach next to the garage. I am going with a purple and yellow color scheme and the kettle is now filled with chartreuse colored potato vines, vibrant purple pansies and burgundy coleus. The center plant was tough to choose. I wanted something that would grow tall but I didn't want to buy the typical spike plant. I chose to plant a dill in the center instead and it looks really nice! The frilly foliage is light and delicate. My mother-in-law thought the white flowers would look really nice in the summer. I'll post a photo in a few weeks after the plants have begun to fill in.

Before I left this morning I went to check on the chooks. I went into the coop and saw the chicks divided into two groups. I immediately felt something was wrong because it was very cold this morning and all of the chicks should have been near the heat lamp. I looked at the birds that were huddled away from the lamp and sure enough, one of them had its vent bloodied by pecking! I was heart sick as this was something I was hoping I wouldn't have to deal with. The really surprising part was that it was one of the Barred Rocks, which aren't near the bottom of the pecking order by any means. Thank goodness I caught it in time before she was seriously injured. I washed her vent and applied some ointment.

I was in a hurry to get going so I asked Jim to get the cat carrier to separate the chick from the flock. I gave her a bowl of water, a handful of feed and some bedding and latched the door. She didn't seem to mind being confined at all so I left for my mother-in-law's, still worried. When I got home I checked her and she was doing just fine. I feel confident that this little girl will heal up in a few days. I'll let her rejoin the flock when she's better. In the meantime, you can be sure I will spoil her. She gets a handful of fresh grass a few times a day and she got to join three other chicks for "yard time" while I planted my new plants this afternoon.

Why do birds do this to each other? It seems such a cruel behavior to me. But the more I learn about chickens, the more I realize how much we are like them. We are cruel to each other for no reason at all, but when we are threatened in any way we run to each other for safety in a panic. The flock mentality doesn't just exist in birds, it exists in our society as well.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Day Off From Everything

For the first time in months, I have absolutely nothing to do today! No trees to plant, no mulch to spread, no one demanding my attention. Jim is out mowing the lawn and I'm about to *gasp, wheez!* take a NAP!

Earlier we were out in the chicken coop caulking gaps in the boards and I snapped this cute picture of Rocky sitting on his shoulder. The little bugger has grown quite a bit since he first stumbled into our lives. Jim is very attached to him and I have to admit I like him too, as long as he isn't nibbling on my ear!

The chooks have graduated to the big kids feeder. I'm glad they did, I was getting tired of filling the little baby feeder twice a day! I can fit 30 pounds of feed in the big feeder. I bought feed yesterday and noted that it hasn't risen in cost since last year. I braced myself when they gave me my total at the cash register but was shocked when the price hadn't changed at all. I bought 50 pounds of cracked corn for $7.34 which is exactly what I paid for it last fall. So it seems the grain prices at the elevator are holding steady, thank the Lord!

Here, Rocky tries to show the girls where to put the eggs. Squirrels are gravity-defying creatures.

I thought I'd post some photos of two of the named chicks. The first one is a friendly little Barred Rock named Betty. Notice her stripes showing on her wings. The Rocks started showing their stripes after 5 days. Betty loves to sit on my knee and take naps and sometimes she'll come up to me and practically beg to be picked up! Such a contrast from Roo, the BR who avoids people like the plague.

The second chick is Violet, who was named on Saturday. She's a medium sized Black Australorp with a quiet, calm temperament. She also finds her way onto my arm or knee when I'm out in the coop. The chicks are 16 days old today and have most of their body feathers, which are gradually making their way through all that baby fuzz.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Two-Week Mark

My 27 chicks are two weeks old today. I am amazed at how much they've changed since I first got them. They've replaced most of their baby fuzz with their first feathers and they are getting very adept at flying. I snuck out to the coop just now to check on them as I do each night. This is how I found them--in a circle with their rumps toward their heat lamp! Silly chooks!

I've noticed some differences between the breeds. I think the smartest chicks are the five Barred Rocks. They are quick and sharp and seem to be more in tune to their instinct to forage. When I take a few chicks into the lawn for "yard time", the Barred Rocks are the quickest to set off away from me to start foraging. They are the boldest with me with the exception of one (Roo). Tonight, one of them bit my finger and I had to hold that bird for a while to reassert myself as the Alpha bird in the flock. The biting stopped after that. I can count on the Rocks to come right up to me each time I enter the coop.

The Buff Orpingtons' blond color fits their behavior. They don't start foraging for food until they see others do it. Only a few of the 13 Orpington chicks are drawn to humans, the rest stay a safe distance away. The little male Orpington is the sweetest chick of the whole flock. He loves to sit on my knee and is very calm and docile. As long as that doesn't change he'll be one of the roosters I end up keeping.

My favorites, the Black Australorps, are the most people-friendly. Only two or three of the eight Australorp chicks stay at arm's length when approached. Even the male Australorps are very friendly and tame. And everyone's favorite chick, Roseanna, is the first one to run up to meet whoever enters the coop. She gets a lot of the worms I find by being so bold. When I find a worm while gardening, I just walk over to the coop and put my hand inside. Whoever gets there first gets the worm. (The early bird gets the worm, right?) And that bird is usually Roseanna.

Another of the chicks got named today. She's a very calm and gentle Australorp and I named her Violet. It just seems to fit her personality. She's very unassuming but usually finds her way into my hand after a few minutes. As I transplanted daffodils today I had Roseanna and Violet with me. They followed me all around as I worked. Any worms I dug up went straight to them. They were wonderful company!

I think I've developed the best way to choose which birds get kept and which get eaten. The chickens that avoid us or any that become mean will be the ones we butcher. That way I don't have to worry about our favorites ending up on the butcher block. I want chickens that are calm and approachable, not timid or mean. Derek is very set on keeping his baby Roseanna and he's even fond of Roo, the big, shy Barred Rock. I told him that as long as Roo doesn't get mean, we'll keep him/her. Hopefully that little chicken will turn out to be a good laying hen. He/she will sit calmly in my palm if it's on his/her terms, but not if I try to pick him/her up.

Watching these chicks grow has certainly been very entertaining and educational. It's been a very good experience so far and I'm so glad that I haven't lost any. Chickens are really very funny! I'm really surprised at how tough these babies are too. They went out into the coop at four days old with only a 250 watt heat lamp with the night temps in the 40s and 50s and did just fine. As soon as they've got all their body feathers and the weather permits I'll remove the heat lamp for good. These babies have weight to them now and their curious pecks can really hurt! I think they've found every mole on my arms and ankles by now!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Spring Sunset

It's a peaceful spring evening and I am outside on the back deck enjoying my new fire pit and a pretty sunset. The birds are singing their evening serenades and the bull frogs are tuning their banjos. I love this time of day when the creatures go to bed, the air calms and the colors wane. I am enjoying the crackle of a pine wood fire and the smell of wood smoke wafting through the air. My senses are calmed and soothed by such pleasurable surroundings. It's moments like this I thank God that I'm alive.

This afternoon I planted lettuce and spinach seeds. Since I don't have a conventional garden I decided to use them at the front of the flowerbeds as edging plants. Granted, lettuce and spinach make odd edging but once we've eaten them all, they will be gone. I also planted some tomato seeds at a corner of the back deck and placed a tomato cage above them. It's a hot location, something tomatoes are fond of.

A Bald Eagle flew over our field tonight and I just now saw a Red-Tail hawk soar just feet above it, heading to the windbreak to roost for the evening. How lucky I am to have so many large raptors feel this safe here on the Twelve Acres! How many people get to see a Bald Eagle fly through their back yard so regularly?

My cousins are out enjoying this lovely weather too. I hear them going around the family property on their four wheeler. I checked all the trees I planted and so far it looks like they are doing well. I lost a few that were planted last November, but they were free so I'm not upset about it. I planted 6 white birch trees yesterday before I went to work and I used them to replace those that didn't make it.

On a very sad note, Oscar was ousted from his nest box yesterday by Starlings. I was so upset! I put a bounty on those Starlings though, and rest assured, we will kill them. I am not worried about Oscar and his family. There are plenty of cavity nests all around the property. It's just that I was hoping I'd get to see him and his mate raise a brood so close to the house. I absolutely despise Starlings and I'd like to slap whoever it was that decided it would be a good idea to import them from England. They are a scourge to our native cavity nesting species!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

They Grow So Fast!

The bird on the left is a Black Austalorp named Roseanna; the one on the right is a Barred Rock. I took these photos on Sunday when the chicks were officially one week old. They no longer look like teeny puff balls on legs. Now they have taken on a definite "bird look". They have become braver out in the coop. When I spend time with them I sit on the floor and let them come up and perch on me. In the morning it seems that I help provide a higher position from which to jump off and flap their wings in their morning exercise routine.

Silver, our free mystery chick, seems to enjoy perching on my head at times. He is a Silver-Spangled Hamburg and is maturing faster than the large breeds. I've read that he'll reach 5 pounds at maturity while the large breeds will outweigh him by another 3 to 5 pounds! You can already see his adult pattern coming through as his feathers develop. His eye is also larger than the others. Perhaps this is what makes Hamburgs especially alert? I am hoping he will turn out to be the "watch dog" of the flock, alerting the others to danger.

What's really interesting to me is watching their individual personalities come through. Some avoid humans like the plague while others run right up to meet us when we open the coop door. Some immediately fly up to land on my lap while others are content to peck at the floor around me. Birds are so funny, especially chickens. I could spend hours with them if only my schedule would allow it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

So Many Critters!

We have so many critters,
This place is a zoo,
If you had this many,
What would you do?

Rocky the squirrel is doing really well. He's accepted us as his surrogate family. Like any baby, he is either eating or sleeping. Here my mom is pictured holding Rocky in one hand and a Black Australorp chick in the other. She made the cute curtains for the chicken coop which can be seen behind her.

The chicks are growing in leaps and bounds. They are one week old today. The girls have almost all of their wing feathers and are currently sprouting cute little tail feathers while the boys are still working on their wing feathers. I learned that this is one way to tell the difference between the two in some of the heavy breeds. As near as I can tell, I have at least five roosters out of 27 birds. Let's just keep our fingers crossed that they all turn out to be nice boys so I don't have to turn them into soup!

Oscar the owl continues to guard his nest box faithfully. Starlings can be spotted in the mornings at the entrance hole trying to scare him off. But he holds his ground and they give up quickly. He must scare the bejeebers out of them because I can see them flap their wings as if they're startled before they fly off. Hurray for Oscar! I love having a bad-ass owl nesting here!

I went out to check on the chicks this afternoon just as the sun was beginning to set. I interrupted a Sharp-Shinned hawk that had just caught its evening meal. As the hawk flew off, I saw a female Ring-Neck Pheasant run into the field, limping. It seems I came outside just at the moment that the hawk pinned the pheasant. If I had come out a few seconds earlier I might have gotten to see the hawk catch the pheasant. Seeing the pheasant was injured, I followed her into the field. She let me get very close and at one point I had my hand one inch over her back. Something stopped me from dropping my hand to catch her though. I decided to let things be and not interfere. I'm sure the pheasant has been finished off by one of our many resident raptors. Sometimes it's better to let nature take its course. It's hard not knowing the outcome, but at least I know that the pheasant will not go to waste out here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I'm Ready For Eggs

My chicks are only 5 days old and I'm ready for eggs.

I have a credit card that gives me credit each time I use it. I received a coupon from them today letting me know I had $25 to blow online, something I've been waiting for. I went to Amazon's website and ordered my Calphalon 10-inch omelette pan and an egg cookbook, "The Good Egg: More than 200 Fresh Approaches from Breakfast to Dessert". Let's go girls!

Today the chicks moved out to the coop. The weather is nice and warm and is going to stay that way from the looks of the weather reports. The chooks have their 250 watt heat lamp to keep them cozy and the coop is comfortable. I should know, I've been checking them about every half hour! I miss having them in the house. It was nice to hear their little peeps in the background. But they were ready for the coop. As soon as I released them, they ran around like crazy kids that have been cooped up for too long! I laughed out loud as I watched them zip around, tiny wings a-flappin'!

Tomorrow I'll get them out to play in the green grass again. I've been getting them out in small groups and letting them forage in the lawn each day. I am amazed at how good they are at honing in on the slightest movement from the tiniest of bugs. I watched as three chicks feasted on little winged ants today! The Barred Rocks seem especially adept at foraging followed by the Black Australorps. The Buff Orpingtons are content to let others do most of the searching, then they zoom in like laser beams once something has been found!

What wondersome creatures.

OK, it's time to check the babies again!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Buff Orpington Recess Time!

Yesterday, all of my black chicks (Barred Rocks & Black Australorps) got to play in the lawn. Today it was the Buff Orpingtons' turn. They weren't nearly as adventurous as the other chicks. They pecked around in the grass a bit, then eventually they all ended up in my lap!

It's funny how the differences between the breeds becomes noticeable as soon as you separate them. The Orpingtons seem very sweet, quiet and shy while the Australorps are much bolder and outgoing. The Barred Rocks are somewhere in between. And then there's our one Silver-Spangled Hamburg, who marches to the beat of his own drummer. He's the smallest of the flock but in his mind, he's the largest!

Tree Planting, Phase III

I planted the rest of this year's trees today. I ordered 50 evergreens (30 Norway Spruces, 10 Colorado Blues, 10 American Arborvitae) and 1 Arnold's Red Honeysuckle from the soil and water conservation district. I got one extra Colorado Blue Spruce, which was a nice freebie. Who doesn't like Colorado Blues? One of my garden mail orders showed up while I was out planting, so I also planted two Manchurian Apricots and one dappled willow. The apricot trees went out in the windbreak in a sunny location and the dappled willow went next to the dock by the pond. It was one of those trees I saw in a catalog and wanted to try. Hopefully it won't try to take over like some willows do.

To get an idea of the area I'm trying to plant, take a look at this previous blog entry. The empty area in the top right corner of the satellite photo is what I'm trying to fill with trees. I got about half of the area filled now, the rest will have to wait until next spring.

Here is the empty area from the front of the house. That brick house across the street belonged to my grandparents. Now my cousin, Sandy, and her family own it. Sandy is happy that I'm replanting the windbreak too. It will give them the privacy they had before the tornado tore the trees out in 1996. The huge gap between the three pines on the left and the two pines on the right is what I am planting.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Enjoying The Chicks

We are having so much fun with the new chicks that it ought to be illegal. We find that we have to tear ourselves away from them just to do basic functions, like eat and sleep! This is a terrible, terrible addiction and chicks should come with a warning label of some sort!

This cute little face belongs to Roseanna, Derek's favorite. Do not look directly into her eyes. She will steal your soul!

Too late!

We've split the chicks into two groups to venture outside: yellow chicks and black chicks. Today the black chicks got to go outside to play in the fresh, green grass; tomorrow the yellow chicks get to go.

Tomorrow is the third stage of my tree planting. I have to pick up 50 evergreens and one Arnold's Honeysuckle from the soil & water conservation district. I've got my rows marked so all I have to do is dig, plant and mulch. Should be fairly easy.

I just have to figure out how to tear myself away from the chicks long enough to get the job done!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Meet The Chicks

Finally, my babies are here! I ordered 13 Buff Orps (one roo), 7 Black Australorps (one roo) and 5 Barred Rocks (straight run). I received 27 chicks, with one clearly the oddball "rare" chick they throw in for free. I don't know what the other extra is, but hopefully it's one of the breeds I ordered.

Hubby and I think the freebie chick may be a silver spangled hamburg. Opinions? It's clearly smaller than the rest of the gang and much more active. It also has a more upright stance. It's back is mottled, not barred. Also there is a light greenish/bluish tint to the legs.

I can't tell the difference between the BR's and the BA's. Can you give me some tips? Not that it matters I guess. In a few days the BR's will be showing their stripes. Wouldn't the Australorps have darker shanks? This one has a set of lungs! I suspect it's a roo based on the white blotch on the top of its head. I have five such chicks, the rest have dark black heads. Am I correct in my assumption?

Lastly, this little chick has chosen Derek. She stuck close to him, climbed on him and nibbled some oats out of his hand. He has named her Roseanna and we think she is a Black Australorp. Derek is so happy that one of the chicks is now his!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Good Day To Be A Duck

It's cloudy, cold and drizzly today. It's a good day to be a duck. This little female Bufflehead has been feeding in the pond for hours today. She's all by herself and according to my bird books she shouldn't really be here this time of year. But maybe she's taking her time heading north. At any rate, she's a new species for me and it's been fun watching her.

Buffleheads feed on crustaceans and small fish. She dives down and leaves a trail of bubbles wherever she goes. She seems to swallow whatever she finds before she lets me get a good look at it, so I'm not sure what she's been catching.

Tree Planting, Phase II

For a gardener like me, having 12 acres of land is pure paradise. It means I can grow as many different trees and plants as my little heart desires. Of course, I take the plants' needs into consideration, but really my options are unlimited. I can order plants without thinking, "But I just don't have the space for that!"

When I set about planning what I wanted to plant my first year back home, I decided to try new species of trees and perennials. I took my time and did my research. I spent the winter months shopping online and drawing sketches of where everything would go. I made meticulous notes for myself on several sheets of notebook paper, such as: "River Birch (1) - shade for master bedroom".

Today, my third tree order from the Arbor Day Foundation arrived. A triangular box with eleven trees and shrubs required my immediate attention. And the weather was lousy. Undaunted, I once again donned my tree planting gear and headed outside. Thankfully, I didn't have 53 trees to plant like I did for the 1st phase!

I have planted two River Birches, one by the master bedroom and one in the windbreak. I chose them for their quick growth, shade, fall color, adaptability and their unusual, peeling bark. I am anxious to see how all the trees I've planted grow this year. Planting trees is an exercise in patience, a commodity I'm usually short of.

Other trees and shrubs that were planted on the Twelve Acres today include:

I'm just a tree plantin' fool this year! I've got 50 evergreens from our county's soil and water conservation district arriving on Wednesday. Grab a shovel and come on over!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Orphan Squirrel

Ahhh, spring! The daffodils are blooming, the birds are singing, and the earth is awakening from a long winter slumber. And all sorts of baby critters are being born. When you live in the country, sometimes those baby animals find their way into your home, and heart.

When I woke up yesterday I heard what sounded like a small raptor screaming in the windbreak. But it was an unusual sound for a bird to make. Maybe it was a baby bunny? I went out to investigate but couldn't see anything but Oscar in his nest box. A few hours later, the noise was still coming from the windbreak. The boys went out in the front yard to play catch and a baby squirrel attached itself to Ian's shoe and hung on until he got to the driveway. Jim picked it up and put it in his pocket. That was all it took.

Jim got a baby bottle and some puppy milk replacer recommended by the vet. He's been carrying the little guy around in his pocket all day and even got up in the middle of the night twice to feed him. He is a cute little bugger but I'm on the fence about having a squirrel for a pet. Maybe we'll return him to nature when he's bigger and can care for himself. In the meantime he's learning how to be a squirrel and how to climb on things (check out those big feet!), how to sit and eat a raisin with his front paws (very tricky because it requires balancing on those huge hind legs!) and he is making chattery little squirrel sounds. Jim is smitten! The boys like to hold him too.

We're housing him in a spare ferret cage furnished with an enclosed hammock. He crawls into the warm, dark hammock and curls up into a ball with his tail wrapped around his body. It is the cutest thing we've ever seen here yet (it certainly beats the baby snapping turtle Jim found last fall).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cleanup Crew

Derek and I were treated to a rare sighting. Well, maybe it's not so rare, but how many people get to watch two vultures finish off a rabbit carcass in their own backyards? Probably not very many. We watched the first Turkey Vulture circle over the carcass, then land. He cautiously approached, looking for signs of danger. We held very still on the back deck and watched through binoculars. The bird began tearing at the carcass while a second one approached from the south. It, too, circled then landed. The two sparred very briefly for ownership of the largest piece, then the second relented and settled for a hind leg that had been torn off by a previous vulture.

I suppose this makes Derek and I "hard-core" bird watchers. I mean, should we be so fascinated by watching two vultures eat an old dead rabbit? It was a great example of a complete circle of life for us. We've witnessed the entire life cycle from birth to death. And isn't it perfect planning to have a raptor who's only function in life is to dispose of rotting carcasses? For our blessing at supper, Jim thanked God for all the animals we've been blessed with here on the Twelve Acres, and the stewardship we've been entrusted with to manage this land and care for all the animals that share it with us.

Truly, we are blessed.

Oscar Sightings

I've seen Oscar, our Eastern Screech Owl, in both nest boxes. But lately, he's been in the smaller one just inside the windbreak. I wonder if he's chosen it over the larger wood duck box in the fence row? It's very easy to find owl pellets of varying size beneath the smaller box. I found one that was about an inch long and two that were large enough to come out of a Great Horned Owl!

The sun was going down yesterday and I was on my way to work when I glanced out at the nest box in the windbreak and saw Oscar's cute face poking out of the entrance hole. I ran inside and grabbed my camera. Oscar seemed to be watching two things simultaneously; me in the office window and the boys throwing a football in the front yard. The first photo shows him looking at me, the last one shows him looking at the boys. I hated to leave because I really wanted to watch Oscar for a while.

I wonder if there is a nest of babies inside with Mrs. Oscar brooding them? Time will tell!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Chook Cabin

Construction of the chicken coop began in March using lumber salvaged from my workplace. It measures 8' x 8'. We only had to buy four sheets of plywood and a few boards for the trim pieces, the rest of the wood was absolutely FREE! Gotta love that! The door is the former garage screen door that was blown off during a particularly violent wind storm in January. The window is a framed piece of plexiglass with a hardware cloth screen in front of it.

Jim worked very hard on the coop and I really have to hand it to him...he did an excellent job. Notice the little decorative piece at the roof peak. He came up with that design himself. It's the north star above a heart. My cousin, John, helped moved the coop onto its cinder block foundation. Isn't it nice to have a family member with a forklift?

The nestboxes were made from leftover scraps. There are eight total--four on each side. The coop faces south to soak up the sun in winter and is shaded by the shop. There are several pines around the coop that will provide shade for the chickens when they are out in their run. We won't be building the run just yet. First we'll have to cut the hen door and make a little ramp for them.

The chicks arrive next week, on April 14. I'm sure they'll just love their cozy little Chook Cabin!

Thursday, April 3, 2008


As I was planting the saplings in the fence row this week I couldn't help but notice the many woodchuck holes all around me. There seemed to be a hole every few feet that I would almost step in. I told Jim about them later that evening and suggested he let Fritz, one of our 3 ferrets, ferret the varmints out. We discussed the pros and cons and decided that out of all of them, Fritz is the ferret with the strongest hunting instincts.

This winter, Fritz killed two mice for us and earned the title of "Mouse Killer". At 5 years old, he is the second oldest. He's also the strongest and seems to be more in tune with his "inner weasel" than the others.

Jim took Fritz out to the fence row today while I napped and let him run down the woodchuck holes. He said Fritz poked his head out of several holes but nothing flushed out of them. It was disappointing since those giant rats are very destructive, digging their burrows near drainage systems, tree roots and crops. My grandpa spent a considerable amount of his free time trying to keep them under control with his rifle.

Jim said he's going to wait a while then let Fritz try again. I'm sure that eventually he'll succeed in scaring those varmints out of their holes. I've seen Fritz in action and he is absolutely a killer when he wants to be. The photo shows him luxuriating on a lambskin at Christmastime. Don't let his sweet appearance fool you; he's still a weasel!