Thursday, May 29, 2008

Discoveries

I discover something new and interesting each day on the Twelve Acres. I was looking at this red anenome today and wondered why they're called that. They don't look anything like the anenomes in the sea! Upon closer examination, however, I discovered that indeed they do. These anenomes were a freebie I got with one of my orders this winter. I hope there is a nice variety of colors in store for me.

It was a perfect day for a walk in the fence row. I wanted to check on the progress of my wildlife garden and just enjoy the trees with their fresh leaves growing. While I was out there I discovered what looked like a crime scene beneath one of the four nest boxes we installed this winter. I found cream colored egg shell the size of a small chicken egg. Wood duck perhaps? And what's with the nest material on the ground? Did a predator raid the nest in the night and eat the eggs?

I looked up at the nest box and saw what looked like dried blood on front. What happened here?

Less than 15 feet away was this large patch of downy feathers. It looked like the typical scene when a raccoon or hawk tears into a bird. There are feathers with tan bars in this mix. Raptor feathers? I have several Red-Tail Hawk feathers on my desk that are the same shade of brown. I could find no carcass anywhere near the nest box, so I assume the predator carried it off or ate the whole thing.

If you think you know what invaded the nest, please leave a comment. I wish I could have seen what was/is nesting in this box. It certainly laid a large enough egg to be a duck of some kind. The entrance hole to the nest box is 3" in diameter.

When I was hanging laundry yesterday, I looked down to discover this tiny nest on the ground beneath a spruce tree. It's made of very fine fibers and lined with what appears to be white cat hair. It might be too large for a hummingbird. What could it have belonged to? Let's hope it builds another nest to replace it.

Speaking of hummingbird nests, I'm convinced that there is a nest located in the Norway Maple out front. I see a female zip in and out of the tree to drink at the feeders. If any other hummingbirds try to feed, she chases them off with a sassy tongue lashing! I watched her cuss out a Robin this afternoon after it landed in "her" tree! Those little hummers sure do have their fair share of gumption!

Blogs That Make My Day

I've been trying to come up with a way to highlight some of my favorite blogs. Then my fellow blogger, Kathie, nominated my blog for an award for being one of the blogs that make her day. Thank you Kathie! Not only am I honored that my blog makes your day, but you've given me an easy way to bring attention to some other bloggers out there, some of whom aren't well known!

The rules for this award are:

1) Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make me think and/or make my day.

2) Acknowledge the post of the award giver Thank you Kathie! Kathie's blog is Sycamore Canyon and her photography is delightful.

3) Tell the award winners that they have won by commenting on their blogs with the news!

Here are my five choices:

Homesteading Hickory Hills - Ron will make you think and keep your life in line with your priorities. We all need at least one friend like him to keep us balanced. He is living the life we all should be living; he lives his life by his own standards. AWESOME READING.

The Official Poultry Bookstore - written by professional journalist, Christine Heinrichs, this blog is rich with information about chickens and chicken breeds as well as issues that affect chicken owners. Short, sweet, yet packed with usable information. A real gem of a blog!

A View From The Green Barn - Ron and his wife, Ruth, journal their activities on their Michigan farm. Ruth is a fantastic photographer and she contributes the photos to Ron's humorous accounts of their projects and pursuits. Ron is always working on a project and their lives remind me of ours here on the Twelve Acres. Always makes me smile!

Losing Our Shirts, Keeping The Farm - In the dictionary under "Determined" the definition states "see Nancy Chase". I stumbled across her blog while searching for "farming" and have been hooked ever since. Together with her husband, Ken, Nancy is successfully running historic Ingleside Farm where they raise Icelandic sheep and Pinto Sport Horses. Brew some coffee and plan to be fixated to your monitor for several hours when you start reading Nancy's blog!

Sycamore Canyon - Kathie is an avid birdwatcher and her photography is just amazing. Her sense of timing is perfect and she captures her favorite subject doing things most photographers can't. I love reading her personal accounts of her birdwatching trips. She lives in one of my favorite areas of the country, the desert southwest.

I hope you'll visit the blogs I've chosen. I read them every evening on my days off and each one makes my day!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Chickweed

Last night while doing my online reading I ran across some information about chickweed. I learned that it's sometimes used in salads as a "wild" ingredient. Vitamin rich chickweed can be steamed or cooked as an ingredient in soups, but probably the most popular culinary use is simply as an addition to green salads. Harvest the plants when they are lush, green, and full, including the tender stems, buds, and flowers, right along with the leaves, as they’re all edible.

Chickweed is reputed to have many medicinal properties and is often recommended as a weight-loss aid and for skin irritations. In addition to using the fresh leaves, it can also be dried for use in making herbal teas. The plant is sold in capsules and tinctures, and used in formulas for poultices and ointments.

Chickweed grows everywhere on our property. I find it near the pond's edge and in our field. After learning that this "weed" is actually nutritious and that it got its name because (drum roll please) chickens like it, I decided I'd do some weeding today and feed the weeds to the chicks. I got Millie and Sweet Pea out of the run and took them with me. I filled my metal bucket three times with chickweed, plaintain (tough to pull), lamb's quarter, dandelions, and henbit (deadnettle). The chickens loved their fresh, organic salad!

If any of you want that little Barred Rock rooster in the upper right hand corner of this photo, you are welcome to come and get him. He's mouthy!

This little cedar bed was a gift from a friend back when I was raising Redworms (Eisenia fetida) in my basement. He lives out west and is very involved in recycling and composting. He sent me a very nice, large red cedar worm bin too, which I still have even though it's empty right now. I may not get back into worms, but I have the bin in case I ever decide to. They are very low-maintenance, but my chickens are eating all the kitchen waste that would be fed to worms, so I really don't need them.

[Side note: if you search for Eisenia fetida or Eisenia hortensis some of the images you'll see are mine. I was known as the "worm photographer" about four years ago. I photographed them to help educate others about composting worms. At the time, there were very few good images of worms online.]

In keeping with my purple/yellow color scheme for the landscaping, I planted some dainty little yellow and purple annuals in the bed. They'll look better when they fill in in a few weeks. Both are hybrids and of course I didn't save the tags.

I think the bed looks quite charming next to the little chicken coop. And what do the chicks think of it? Well, they think it's just dandy!



Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cats and Chickens

My post about Sweet Pea and Gertie's encounter with a fierce jungle cat generated some interest and I want to take this opportunity to elaborate a bit on the topic. OK, so it wasn't a fierce jungle cat, just my Mom's Maine Coon mix, Beau. He is a reformed city cat and has adapted to life in the country quite well.

There is another cat who lives here on the Twelve Acres. He's my old buddy, Tyson. I adopted him from the Humane Society 11 years ago and he's gone everywhere I've ever lived. He's missing two of his fangs and he's an old man; not much of a threat to most critters. But he does exhibit the stalking behavior common with most domestic cats, even though he disdains the chicks.

When the chicks were only a day old, I introduced them to Tyson. I held him gently but firmly in my left arm while sitting on the floor. I held a chick in my right hand and put it close enough to Tyson's face for him to get a good sniff, but far enough away that he wouldn't be able to snatch the chick if the desire struck. It went well. Tyson's ears pricked up in keen interest and he got the distinct "predator look" on his face that cats get right before they grab their prey. I talked to Tyson and let him know with my tone of voice that the chicks were off limits. Tyson's body language changed from "predator" to "passive" within seconds. He's a smart cat and he knows me, so when I set boundaries, he's a good boy and respects them. Beau's not quite as sharp, but knows when he's gone too far by the sound of my voice.

To err on the safe side, no cats were allowed in the house unsupervised for the four days the chicks were inside. They were moved to their coop at five days old, so the cats were allowed back in after that. I checked on the chicks each night before going to bed, and I would let Beau in with me sometimes. He was more interested in checking out the coop's interior than snarfing down a fluffy chick, though. Did I mention he's not very sharp?

Now that the chicks are 6 weeks old and have grown larger, the cats don't exhibit that hunting behavior anymore. Now they are just content to sit and watch "Chick TV". The chicks are still alert as ever and sound the alarm whenever they see a cat, but the cats aren't a threat. I had to be vigilant the first few encounters, but now I forget about the cats wandering around in the yard.

Cats can be taught that the chicks belong to you and are off limits. Introducing them carefully and asserting yourself as the dominant critter will work. The lessons may have to be repeated several times, but the cat will learn. Something that would work really well for training cats to leave chicks alone would be an accurate squirt gun. If the cat gets too close, a shot of water in the face will instantly associate a very unpleasant experience with the chicks.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Eye Protection

Anyone who's ever had chickens will attest to the fact that they won't hesitate to peck your eyes if given half a chance. I'm dumb enough to have been pecked in the eyeball three four times. It's a good thing I have a responsible adult looking out for me or someone would find me on my back, twitching in the chicken run.

But I digress...

Mom and her roomie came over for dinner tonight and she stopped at the chicken coop first thing. She wanted to have a chat with her buddy Sweet Pea.

Sweet Pea quickly hopped up Mom's arm and ended up on her shoulder. What chicken could resist such tempting eye wear? Just look at all those glittery do-dads!

Mom's sunglasses protected her eyes from the inquisitive Miss Sweet Pea's sharp beak, but they did not protect her lower lip. Yes, Sweet Pea bit Mom's lip!

"Here Sweetie, let me adjust them for you!"

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Yard Birds

The Red Jungle Fowl faces many perils each day of its life. Hawks, minks, and jungle cats all love chicken for dinner. Here Sweet Pea and Gertie discover they are the object of one such cat's attention.

The alarm is sounded and together the girls bravely investigate further. How to eliminate this threat so that they can continue enjoying their day in the yard?

Simple--kill it with cuteness. Works every time!

They peck the carcass to make sure it's dead, then go about their business in the yard.

Feeling good about their brave attack on the beast that threatened their lives, they stretch their wings and announce themselves victorious!

Sweet Pea says, "I am chicken! Hear me cluck!"


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Moonlit Pond

video

This is my one night off this week, and as per usual, I'm using it to relax and prepare my body for a 48 hour marathon at work. I do this every other week and the older I get, the harder it is to recover from it. Needless to say, Jim and I are pushing hard for an independent life through his new business and my desire to homestead.

As I look out the window I am enjoying this moonlit scene. The sparkling water is our pond. You can just make out the spruce and pine trees that make up our windbreak if you look at the center. And if you listen closely you can hear the sound of the wind blowing through the pine trees. My grandma enjoyed this sound too and it's one of the reasons I've chosen to name the Twelve Acres "Whispering Pines Farm". This is one of those nights when I'll wait till 2 a.m. when everyone else is deep asleep and wrap up in a quilt, go outside, and listen to the night while breathing in that sweet country air. Pure heaven!

We have a pair of Barn Swallows nesting in the security light above the east end of the house. They are welcome to raise a family of voracious, insect-eating youngsters. In fact, they can raise two broods as far as I'm concerned! It's a welcome sound to hear their alarm call when anything gets too close to the nest. It's funny to watch them dive-bomb the cats too! They chose a good location for their nest; it is the lowest foot traffic area on the property.

The chicks are fast asleep in their little coop. Derek and I spent time checking leg bands tonight, replacing any outgrown cable ties with permanent, 3/4" leg bands. The Australorp pullets are large enough to keep their leg bands on and Sweet Pea (Barred Rock) is just barely large enough. Little Betty will have to wait a bit longer--she's my smallest bird and the band slips right off her foot still. The next time I get chicks, I'm going to order some smaller leg bands to fit the awkward teenager phase so I don't have to use cable ties again. Roo, the Barred Rock rooster, is sporting his bright red leg band on his very large left shank. I hope his shanks don't get much larger or I'll have to either buy a goose sized band for him or let him go without one altogether. It'll be easy to tell him apart from the other chickens, so if I have to, I'll opt for plan B. He's a really large bird and I'd guess his weight at over a pound at 6 weeks old. Now that's a rooster! He's a sweet boy too, and doesn't harass the pullets like the Australorp roosters. I have to give Derek credit for working with Roo and taming him down. Roo owes his life to Derek. He was slated for butchering up until two weeks ago! But now, he's a sweet boy with a good temperament, so he gets to stay with Betty and Sweet Pea. Lucky Roo!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Feathered and Warm

Tonight while holding my big Barred Rock rooster chick, Roo (left) I noticed that even though it was chilly, he wasn't shivering and his feet were warm (I took that photo last week). It was then I realized that I was keeping the heat lamp on the chicks for no reason. I took the 250 watt heat bulb out of the reflector and replaced it with a 60 watt incandescent bulb, which I will only use when I need the extra light to see. The chicks are fully feathered now and have proven to me that they can maintain their own body heat. When I hold them, they don't shiver or puff up to stay warm anymore. The temperature in their coop is 55 to 60 degrees at night.

Last week, during a particularly chilly 40-degree night, the outlet the heat lamp was plugged into quit working and needed to be reset. I'm not sure what the actual electrical term is, but if it was a circuit breaker, the term would be "blown". Anyway, the chicks went the entire night without their heat lamp because I was at work and didn't know the light wasn't on. I came home in the morning to find them all alive and well, but I plugged the lamp into a different outlet to turn it back on anyway.

I thought to myself, "You know, they really don't need the lamp anymore. You're doing this for yourself, not them." Today Roo confirmed what my gut was telling me last week.

So that's it--my chicks are now on their own at night. I bet they're sleeping great in their dark, cozy coop, nestled up next to each other the way chickens are supposed to sleep--not awake and partying all night long! They should be worn out from foraging in their large run for most of the day today.

I have three asparagus plants poking through the soil now. We planted 25 a few weeks ago. The boys helped me dig the trench for them, right on the bank of the pond. I was amazed to learn that asparagus needs to be planted very deep. I hope it turns out to be a good location for asparagus plants. They'll never struggle during the summer drought, being so close to a constant source of water. Yet they aren't waterlogged either, since they are above the level of the pond. When we dug the trench, the soil at the bottom of it was nice and moist, but not soggy. Now that I am seeing proof that they survived the transplanting process, my hunch must have been right. Now comes the hard part: waiting till next year to harvest our asparagus crop. I can't cut any this year because they are getting established. What a shame that we won't be able to enjoy that tasty asparagus till next year!

During my almost 39 years on this planet, one thing I've learned is that my gut instincts are never wrong. When instinct tells me that my chicks don't need a heat lamp anymore, or that the asparagus will do really well next to the pond, I know I can trust it.

*Update on Sweet Pea, the little Barred Rock pullet that was pecked 2 weeks ago. She is doing really well and her vent is now covered nicely with feathers, so no more tempting pink skin can be seen. No one picks on her anymore and she has turned into a wonderfully sweet, gentle little girl. She and Betty are my favorites! If I could have only one breed of chickens, I would choose Rocks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What's Growing?

I wish I knew how to tell the difference between edible mushrooms and poisonous mushrooms. Yes, I have books, but honestly, would you eat a mushroom based on a book's description? I don't think so!

This fungus is growing off the cut stump of a rotted out Poplar tree. We cut it down last fall and the stump was chock full of grubs which we threw to the fish in the pond. We didn't have chickens then, or they would have gotten them instead. I found three grubs this spring and gave them to the chicks, which were really small at the time. I remember that Roo got one and swallowed it with great effort. It nearly filled his crop and left a funny bump on his chest!

This iron kettle is a focal point of the landscaping in front of the house. I am sticking to my purple and yellow color scheme and so far it looks really nice. I am amazed at the variety of purple and yellow plants that are available. My beds are looking so much nicer than the hodge-podge garden I had at our old house. It finally looks like the gardener has her act together!

I decided to use something unique for the center plant. Instead of using the typical spike plant, I stuck a dill in there. It has nice frilly foliage in a cool shade of green, and I can use it in the kitchen as well. I love anything that has a dual purpose.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Chicken Run

The chicks are 6 weeks old now and fully feathered except for their necks. This morning I told Jim that the girls wanted to know when they would be getting their hen door so they could use their new run. That was it, Jim was at it right away! He made a nice door that I can open from the inside by pulling a rope that attaches to a nail on the ceiling. That way I don't have to go into the run to open the door. Nice huh?

The run is shaded by pine trees and it measures 20 feet by 23.5 feet, lots of room for a small flock.

The chooks were nervous about venturing outside at first. Little Esther, the small but adventurous Buff Orp, looked left, then right, then proceeded to march down the ramp. Rudy, their rooster, followed suit and soon they came out one by one. Not all the chicks came out, but most of them did. The slow pokes came out later in the afternoon.

While they were all outside I closed the hen door and cleaned the coop thoroughly. I removed all the old bedding and used it to mulch our 11 blueberry and 9 raspberry bushes. I dusted the flat surfaces inside and removed the spiderwebs. After adding a new bag of pine shavings, the coop looked brand new!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rainy Sunday

It's cold and rainy today, a good day to stay inside in my PJs, wrapped in a quilt. I see a Great Blue Heron fishing in our pond. I hope he catches a few blue gills, we have too many!

The chicks are snug in their little coop. Mom came over yesterday for dinner and we visited the chicks while she was here. She gets a kick out of them and remembers the white ones they had when she was a little girl. She played with them too.

Mom had questions for me about the chicks and I did the best I could to answer them. She wanted to know how to tell the difference between the boys and the girls. I showed her the difference between the dark Barred Rocks (female) and the light Barred Rocks (male). The two Barred Rock chicks near the stump in this photo illustrate the difference. Then I picked up an Australorp rooster to show her his really short tail and thick shanks. Their voices are also very different, something we noticed from day one. And in the large breeds especially, the females will get their feathers much faster than the males. This is especially noticeable in their second week. The females will look nicely feathered out while the males are still in the awkward phase with both fluff and feathers.

I think the Australorp roosters are going to end up on our table. They spend too much time keeping the girls in line and I don't want my hens stressed with that nonsense. Roo, the Barred Rock, doesn't seem to care much what the girls are doing and Rudy, the Buff Orpington, keeps them in line without pecking them roughly. Silver, the Hamburg, doesn't pay them much mind but he does compete with the other roosters to maintain his status near the top. The top rooster is Hector (above) followed by Achilles, pictured below. He earned his name because one of his toes was dislocated when he came to us, probably due to rough treatment at the hatchery. He recovered just fine though and is a nice boy to us. The Australorp boys are just a bit too rough on the girls for my liking, though. These boys are enormous for their age! They are twice as big as little Betty and Sweet Pea, the Barred Rock girls.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Growing, Growing!

The chicks are almost 5 weeks old and I can't believe they are the same birds I got in April. They change each day and I swear they've gotten bigger each morning I come home from work.

Here, Derek holds Roo in his right hand and Roseanna in his left. I told him he's a chick magnet and he said "Can I get a shirt that says that?" Gives me an idea!

Each of us has a chicken to call our own; Derek has Roseanna, Ian has Rudy and I have my little pullet, Betty. Jim hasn't yet bonded with a bird, but he doesn't spend time with them like the rest of us. Perhaps some day a bird will choose him.

Jim and I put the fenced run in last week. It measures 20' x 23.5' and is attached to the chicken coop. I will get photos tomorrow. I'm planning on letting some of them out to forage in it. Betty and the smaller chicks can squeeze through the 2" wire so I can't put them out and leave them just yet. Also, the hen door isn't cut in the coop, so there's no way for them to go in and out as they please. It makes it a real chore to let them out when I have to pick up each chick, then catch it again when it's time to back in!

Here's my little girl, Betty. She insists on sitting on my shoulder. I broke her of the habit of trying to perch on my head, a big no-no in the bird kingdom. Top bird is me, not Betty! I don't mind her being on my shoulder though.

I'm seriously considering keeping Roo, who was headed for the butcher block if Derek hadn't spent time with him and tamed him down some. Now he's quite nice to be around and doesn't mind being picked up if you move slowly.

I am so glad I ordered some Barred Rocks. I like them so much I'm thinking about getting more next spring when I get my Brahmas and Barnevelders. Maybe I'll try some Partridge Rocks just for some color?

The last photo shows Roo in his handsome plumage. Won't he make a fine looking rooster? He's my biggest bird, too. One of the Barred Rock boys is going to live with a friend from work. He has 15 pullets and no rooster, so I offered him one of my seven. I think he'll like the rooster I give him, he's got tons of personality and is a spunky boy! The smallest BR boy is going to be butchered. My goal is to end up with no more than three roosters: Rudy (Buff Orpington), Silver (Hamburg), and one other, probably Roo. I was going to keep one of the Australorp roosters but they are already acting like roosters at this early age and I don't like them constantly pecking at the Australorp girls. I want my layers to be stress-free and that means minimal attention from roosters. So those Australorp boys better be nice or I'll make a nice roast out of them!





Hawthorns in Bloom

Just a quick entry before I go to bed. I looked out the glass doors while eating dinner last night and noticed that the Hawthorn trees are blooming. After dinner, I grabbed my camera and Derek and I hiked out to the fence row to take photos of this beautiful tree.

Hawthorns are great ornamental trees and they provide large berries for wildlife as well. They also have long black thorns here and there along their branches which adds to their interest. If you are looking for a small ornamental tree for your yard, consider planting a Hawthorn.

Beneath the Hawthorn tree was a dead log with this large bracket fungus growing from it. I thought it was very interesting. One of you mushroom experts will have to tell me what it is.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Apple Blossoms

I wish I could make this post scratch 'n sniff so that you could really appreciate the perfume in the air created by an apple orchard. The trees are in full bloom this week and it's pure heaven to walk among them. The trees are exuding the most heavenly scent! I can only speculate that this must be the closest I'll ever be to the Garden of Eden.



Friday, May 2, 2008

Gummi Squirrels?

Do squirrels like Gummi Bears?

Apparently they do! Don't worry, we only let him have one. Jim was snacking on them and I wondered out loud if squirrels like them.

The little Barred Rock that was pecked Wednesday morning has rejoined the rest of the flock. I picked up some Blu-Kote today and sprayed her vent with it. I let her mingle with the other chicks and none of them paid any attention to her blue butt, so I left her with the others. I also named her Sweet Pea because every time I picked her up to check her I kept saying, "Come on Sweet Pea!" So the name stuck. It fits her personality too.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, here's a bonus picture of Rocky eating his Gummi Bear. Note the wee tongue action!