Sunday, July 27, 2008

Summer Morning

I love blue and purple in the garden. I came home this morning and captured some of my flowers in the morning light. Here is Cupid's Dart.

"Milky Way" morning glories growing on the handmade trellis given to me by my sister-in-law for a Christmas gift. I made the gourd birdhouse this spring. "Milky Way" is an heirloom variety.

A bumble bee enjoys her nectar breakfast provided by this Liatris. It's good to see bees of any kind. They're very scarce this year.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Summer, Country Style

This morning Derek and I raked out the chicken run while Ian mowed and bagged some fresh grass clippings for them. I figure if we have to mow the lawn, we may as well feed the grass to the chickens. The chickens found a lot of grain they had missed when we removed the old clippings and what-not. Then they enjoyed the fresh grass clippings when we were done. The old clippings are now sitting in a pile next to the berry bushes where I can apply them as mulch.

While the boys worked on removing some Virginia Creeper vines from the spruce trees in the back yard, I hopped in the truck and drove to Tri-County Tire where I picked up two truck tire inner tubes for the pond. When I was growing up we had inner tubes to play with in the pond and I remember I had a lot of fun with them. They're a lot more durable than the cheap inflatable ones they sell for pools. If you've got boys, you need tractor/trailor strength inner tubes! They will last for several seasons.

After dinner, I sat in the chicken run, determined to get videos of crowing roosters. (Well, actually they're cockerels since they're under a year old.) Anyway, I captured the three top roosters crowing! It's interesting to note that Silver, the Silver-Spangled Hamburg, has a higher-pitched four-part crow while the Australorp (Achilles) has a three-part crow and the Barred Rock (Roo) has a two-part crow. Achilles has the deepest voice too. Here's Silver and Achilles announcing their virility. Derek swears he saw Rudy crow for the first time this morning. He doesn't seem interested in the video though.

Roo's got somethin' to say too. (And so does goofy Derek in the background!)

I wonder why roosters crow. Though some claim to know why, do we really know? I think it has something to do with flock cohesion as well as a show of strength and vitality. Roosters, in general, do not crow all day long. I notice them crowing in the morning, at noon, in early afternoon and again in the early evening. I keep looking for an event that sets it off but nothing seems apparent. Even roosters that don't have to compete with others within a flock will still crow, so it must have some significance for the entire flock. What do you think?

Another interesting behavior roosters exhibit is the "tough guy" posturing. They strut right up next to each other, close enough to brush feathers with their opponent. They raise their outer wing and stand straight and tall trying to look as big as possible. If the other bird yields, all is well. If not, they're bound to spar. Achilles does this sideways "tough guy" dance to me regularly, but I'm onto him. I know that this can be the beginning of aggression if I don't keep him in check. If he gets too close or too uppity, I raise my hand above him and he stops with a submissive look on his face. If I can do so without causing a commotion, I'll reach out and pick him up, cradling him like a football. He settles right in and lets me stroke his back and scratch under his chin. He doesn't mind much if I fiddle with his comb either. I keep my eye on him when I'm around him and I've warned the boys to do the same. Roosters don't know they're birds. In their minds, they're bulls!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Day of Relaxation

Since it's my birthday I decided to not do anything today. I spent my morning reading emails, then took a long nap at noon. When I got up I walked around outside with my camera and captured a few images of the landscaping and the chickens. Jim said he wanted to do something for my birthday but I insisted that we didn't. Just spending the day the way I want to is a gift. I told him I want to treat birthdays like the native Americans did. They didn't keep birth records and didn't celebrate birthdays. I can't help but think they were happier for it too.

These photos show a raised mound by the driveway that we created last fall. For years, I'd had this mental image of a kidney-shaped mound that hugs the curve of the driveway. The barrel was my mom's, the big boulder came from the pond when it was dug, and Jim and I built the bird house together last fall. I planted a White Birch sapling on the left and my favorite Purple Coneflowers and Liatris for the foundation planting. There is also a clump of ornamental grass near the barrel and the bright blue flowers are Lobelias. I will get to see the coneflowers bloom next summer.

The wheat field north of us was harvested this week and now the chooks are busy eating all the wheat that was left behind. Isn't Silver handsome with his big rose comb, speckled breast and jaunty tail? We saw two Silver-Spangled Hamburg roosters at the fair last night, but they weren't nearly handsome as our boy!

I finally got a decent picture of Rudy, our Buff Orpington rooster. His curved sickle feathers are taking shape and he's got a new growth of gleaming golden hackle feathers coming in. He's going to be a real knockout when he's mature! He's 14 weeks old now and still hasn't crowed. Some breeds mature at a slower pace than others, and the Orpingtons are slower than the rest of the breeds in our flock.

The Australorps have matured the fastest. The pullets are four pounds now, except for the smallest one. Here's a video of Fern enjoying herself in the wheat this afternoon. She has the loveliest leg color, a deep black offset against bright yellow. (That's Rudy's fluffy butt in the background!)

The Australorps are just what I had hoped they would be: big, black birds with bright red combs. They look wonderful foraging out in the yard. They contrast nicely against the bright green grass. I love my colorful flock!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Frog Legs Anyone?

The rains in Ohio have finally subsided. However, the impact of the excessive rainfall is easily observed all around us. Alfalfa and corn fields have areas where the plants rotted to the roots. Instead of level corn fields we see undulating crops due to the low spots holding water and stunting plant growth. The wheat harvest is in full swing and it appears that little damage occurred to the wheat. It was finishing just as the rain began in June. The farmers simply had to wait for the ground to dry enough to harvest without getting their combines stuck in the fields.

We have an abundance of frogs this year. All one has to do to find them is walk in any grassy area. Young leopard frogs leap out of the way when we walk in the lawn at dusk. Tonight I saw one fall into the basement window well on the south side of the house. When I looked into the window well I could see it was filled with baby leopard frogs. I asked Jim to help me get them out. We checked all the window wells and filled the bottom of this ice cream pail with them, along with three crayfish. How many frogs can you count? Tomorrow I will feed them to the chickens for a protein boost. I watched one of the Buff Orpington pullets catch a little frog Tuesday morning and was amazed at the predatory instincts chickens have. It's a darn good thing we're bigger than them or they'd eat us for sure!

We went to the county fair this evening after enjoying a good meal at the Chinese restaurant in town. When I was a kid, the fair seemed much larger. I had goats and rabbits entered and I spent the entire week at the fairgrounds. I slept on a lawn chair next to my dairy goat, Nikki. I loved fair week!

We enjoyed looking at the 4-H chickens tonight. There were two equally impressive roosters; one a Rhode Island Red, the other a very large Black Australorp. Derek kept saying that he wanted to keep Achilles, one of two of our Black Australorp cockerels. I said "Don't get your hopes up." But after seeing that big shiny black Australorp with the huge bright red comb and wattles, I decided I've just got to see how that boy Achilles turns out! I told Derek we can keep Achilles with one stipulation: if he ever shows aggressive behavior toward any of us, he's dinner. This applies to all of the chickens though, so he accepted that. Achilles is already the tallest member of the flock. If he adds meat and feathers to that frame, he's going to be at least a 10 pound Australorp! He does something that none of the other roosters will do. When he finds food, he announces it and the pullets come running. He then lets them have first choice. I'd heard about this behavior but hadn't seen any of the roosters do it until this week. I wonder if the other roos will eventually do it.

While I'm on the subject of rooster behavior, I've made some observations about each one. (I have way too much time to sit and watch chickens on my days off!)

  • Roo - (Barred Rock) Appears to be the top bird in the flock. Crows very loudly and with gusto, "RRRR-RRRRRrrrrrrr" throaty three-part rhythm. Largest bird in the flock. In regards to food it's every chicken for himself. Gentle with the girls. Very hard to catch, hates to be held anymore. Vigilant of danger and announces any threats.
  • Silver - (Silver Spangled Hamburg) Appears to be second in command beneath Roo. Crow is higher pitched, clear, loud four part rhythm, "Cock-a-doodle-doo". Only rooster with a four-part crow. Gentle with the girls but keeps them in check. Friendly with us but wary of being approached. Seems to be concerned with flock cohesion and acts as lookout, sounds danger alert. Can be held on his terms. Shares food with the others but doesn't announce it.
  • Achilles - (Black Australorp) Vies for second in command with Silver. Firm with the girls but not vicious. Role is protector of the flock. Any bird in distress will make him come running to investigate the disturbance. Shows little fear of us and might have a tendency toward aggression if not reminded of who's the boss every day. Gorgeous, big, black cockerel with huge red comb and wattles. Can be picked up and held. Crow is throaty and deep "RRRRRR-RRRRRrrrrr", three part rhythm. Announces any food he finds and lets the girls have first pick.
  • Rudy - (Buff Orpington) Lowest in rooster pecking order. Very sweet natured and friendly. Likes some attention and will stand calmly while being petted on the breast. Very nice to the girls and us. Easily handled. Gorgeous, shiny golden rooster. Has not crowed yet. No clear role within the flock. Shares food with the others but doesn't announce it.

I have two more roosters but both are slated for butcher so I'm not making mental notes on them. It is interesting to see how each one has his own personality and how they interact with each other. Anyone who spends any amount of time with his birds can tell you about each one. It's a lot like watching children grow up but at a much faster pace. Tonight at the fair we saw a pen of chicks that must have been less than a week old. I said, "Remember when our chooks were tiny fuzz butts?" I can't believe how fast they grow.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Handmade Gift

Our 50th family reunion was today and my cousin across the road hosted the party at her house. It was nice to see family again. Even though we've been back home for almost a year, I still hadn't seen all of my relatives again. Depending on the relative, that can be a good thing!

My birthday is Saturday and my mom presented me with this very nice king size quilt that she made for me. It goes with the rooster pillow she gave me this spring. Isn't it colorful and interesting? That's what I like about quilts; they are never boring. This one will be cared for and handed down as a family heirloom. So maybe some day my grandchildren will wrap up in it while I read "The Lorax" to them for a bedtime story. It is the perfect weight for a summer-weight quilt.

I found Rocky invading the bird feeder in front of the house this morning when I came home from work. I reached out to pick him up and he grabbed my finger and scared me. I got his food dish and he dove into it, ravenous. After he ate a few peanuts he calmed down and started burying peanuts in the grass. He was very cute patting the grass down on top of the peanuts with his little squirrel paws. It didn't take long for him to jump on my shoulder. I placed my hand over him and carried him inside and woke Jim. The first words out of his mouth were "You found my little friend!" We hadn't seen him for about 5 days and we miss him when he's not around. As always, we fed him a good meal. He ate half a dozen pecan halves in the kitchen, then Jim took him out to the shop where he could get a long drink and snuggle into his hammock for a long nap. Jim is keeping him indoors overnight and will release him again tomorrow.

By all appearances, Rocky seems to be doing very well on his own. He has kept his fat layer and his fur is nice and thick. He has bright eyes and lots of energy--all signs of a healthy critter.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Free Roto-Tilling Service

There is a bare patch of earth next to the front porch. I haven't bothered to plant anything in it because Jim and I are planning to extend the front porch to make better use of the shadiest part of the yard. The chickens discovered this lovely dust bathing area today and proceeded to dig three large bowls in the soft dirt. They were in chicken heaven! If you've never seen chickens dust bathing, here's a demonstration courtesy of Roo, Achilles and their girls.

Achilles has just recently begun to crow. I'm still trying to capture a crowing rooster on video but their crowing practice is sporadic at best. They began crowing at different times and Rudy has yet to be seen trying his lungs out for size. First to crow was Roo, our Barred Rock, followed by Silver, our Silver-Spangled Hamburg. Then Achilles started this week. I wonder if Rudy will feel competitive and start crowing soon. The chickens will be 13 weeks old in two days.

Derek and I were in the yard yesterday and saw something startle the chickens. They all came running out from their favorite napping spot beneath the Arborvitae near their run. Then we saw a big, fluffy tail swishing about in the tree and realized that it was Rocky playing squirrel games! I went over to try to talk him down from the tree but he refused to come down. Darn! I was hoping to squeeze the little fur ball again. Maybe next time.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

They're Nuts!

Rocky came home this morning and we noticed he'd lost some of his fat reserves. I insisted that he stay for a day and eat well before going back out into the wild. Here, Jim and Rocky share a bag of shelled pecans. Those will fatten him up! As far as we know, Rocky's never had pecans before. He absolutely pigged out and must have eaten a small handful of them.

Go ahead, play it again. You know you want to.

Speaking of eating, I made this sign for Jim's business. I thought up the idea at work while trying to keep my mind occupied.

Chickens will eat anything.

I slept late this morning, as I am wont to do on my days off. I woke up briefly, but decided to stay in bed. Derek informed me as I dozed off the second time that Violet and Silver had flown the pen. I made a mental note of it as I drifted back into dreamland. Derek put the birds back in their pen, where they stayed. When I awoke I got my sharpest pair of Fiskars and asked Derek to help me capture Violet and Silver, whom we should have named 'Greased Lightning'. I trimmed the secondary flight feathers of each bird's left wing then let them all out to free range. You can't even tell that Silver's wing was clipped, which Derek was concerned about.

When it comes to chickens, some are much better flyers than others. Those that can fly well can often escape their pens and get into trouble. Clipping the secondary flight feathers of just one wing will help curb this behavior. Some birds still manage to fly if both wings are clipped, which is why I only clipped one.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Good Morning Chickens!

On the weeks I work, the first thing I do when I come home in the morning is let the chooks out into their run. They explode in a flurry of feathers then settle down and get busy foraging. After a bit of breakfast, the birds will come over to me and say good morning and some will sit on my knee or shoulder. This morning, Silver sat on my knee for the longest time just relaxing and being a nice boy.

Derek made an astute observation yesterday. We have 13 Buff Orpingtons. Orpingtons are supposed to have white legs, not yellow. There is this one little "Orpington" with very yellow legs. Here she is standing next to big Roo, who is a Barred Rock. Note the bright yellow legs both have. Derek thinks that the hatchery sent me a Buff Rock by mistake. It would be very easy to mix up the two breeds. What do the chicken breed experts think? Do I have one odd ball Buff Rock pullet? If so, I will keep her.

My big Barred Rock rooster Roo crowed for the first time this morning! I was very surprised and delighted. I was busy sweeping up chicken poo inside the coop as I do each morning when I heard a RRRRRrrrrrrrrrrooooo! coming from the pen. I thought that one of the girls might be getting picked on so I looked out the window. There wasn't any trouble that I could see. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Roo take a deep breath and arch his neck to crow and then he belted out another RRRRRrrrrrrrrrrooooo! My boy was crowing! He was very loud and very deep. I should have known he'd turn out to be a bass, which is good! I chuckled as I watched him make a few more attempts then ran to get my camera hoping to capture the momentous occasion on video. Alas, he gave up crowing practice as soon as I came back. There's always tomorrow, so I'll plan to try again when I get home. In the meantime, here's a video of my nice Hamburg, Silver, sitting on my knee. I love his expression. Doesn't he look like he's saying, "A little more to the left!"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Furry Pencil Sharpener, Part Deux

Excuse me, but could you please help me decide what to use to write a thank you note to the nice people who feed me peanuts and sunflower seeds? A marker? A pencil? How about this nice crayon. Oh dear, I have to sharpen it first.

On second thought, I think I will use a marker. I don't have to sharpen those!