Monday, September 29, 2008

Mossy

I was searching for Fathead minnows at the pond's edge when I looked down and noticed this beautiful moss growing on one of the big limestone rocks. Isn't it beautiful? Even the moss is showing autumn colors.

























I custom ordered this decal for the chicken coop door. My goal is to remind the male types (particularly the largest one) to enter the coop quietly. Startled hens are not happy hens!



Gertie looks happy, although she did scold me for getting too close with the camera.






The chickens are enjoying this autumn day. They like searching for frogs and bugs in the cat tails. I love to sit on the lawn and just watch them forage. It gives me such a sense of contentment and peace.




Sunday, September 28, 2008

Have You?

Have you hugged your chickie today?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Weather Report

Today's weather report is brought to you by the birds of Twelve Acres.

























Mostly cloudy today near the southern shore of Lake Erie with northeast winds 15 to 20 miles per hour...

























...with gusts up to 40 miles per hour!

























Ladies, you may want to reconsider wearing a skirt today. It might get blown up by the wind!



On the lake and bay, cloudy and cool with water temperatures in the 60s and minimal waves.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lily's First Egg

Lily is my biggest pullet. She's a Black Australorp and weighs right around 8 pounds at 22 weeks of age. Today I found her on top of the nest boxes trying to wedge herself into a corner. She scratched at the top of the box and I knew what she was up to. I picked her up and put her inside a nest and left the coop. A few minutes later I peeked in to see if she had stayed in the nest and she had.

My mom snapped this picture of me holding Lily this morning. This is the bird that hated people when she was a baby. I had read that pullets become very friendly when they mature and begin laying. This must be true. Lily comes over to be picked up now. But she doesn't like coffee! Look at the size of the shanks on this girl! She is so big that she sometimes sprains her hocks when she jumps down from the roost. I worry about her size and whether or not it will lead to problems, but hopefully she'll grow out of it.

She layed this pretty, speckled, dark little egg. Such a small egg from such a big bird. I hope she continues to lay dark eggs, it sure is pretty! Good job Lily!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Welcome Fatheads!

Today was Fish Day! Every September our local Soil and Water Conservation District has a fish sale for those who wish to stock their ponds at a bargain price. Fender's Fish & Llama Farm (interesting combo) brings two aerated trucks all the way from Baltic, Ohio to sell their fish. They grow very strong, healthy fish!

Last year I stocked yellow perch, red-ear sunfish, channel catfish and amurs (grass carp). When I got my order form this summer and read that they were offering fathead minnows (oh JOY!) I ordered 500 of them along with 50 more red-ear sunfish. I had been looking for a cheap source of fathead minnows for the pond for over a year and couldn't find anything less than $300 for 5 gallons! The SWCD sold them for 7 cents a piece this year, so they only cost me $35! Here is what 500 fathead minnows look like.


Fathead minnows feed on aquatic plants and they multiply like rabbits. They provide food for larger game fish like my large mouth bass and yellow perch. I released them into the aquatic plants so they would have instant cover from the big fish.


Next, I released the 50 red-ear sunfish. This species doesn't care much about feeding on bugs like their blue-gilled cousins do. They'd much rather eat fresh water crustaceans, like snails. Snails can carry a worm-like parasite which will infect the fish and make them unfit to eat. So the sunfish act as the health department in the pond! Here is a red-ear sunfish. See his little red ear? That's how they got their name.


I wished all the new fish good luck as I set them free in the pond. I will be paying very close attention to the fish populations next spring.

Mr. Bull Frog seemed very uninterested.

Phragmites australis

Deceptively innocent looking isn't it? Don't be fooled. Phragmites australis is an invasive species of reed grass that crowds out native species and eventually takes over any wet areas it can sink its greedy roots!

I didn't know a thing about this aquatic plant until I moved back home last August. My cousin talked about it and how he has to burn it each year in our drainage ditches to keep it from blocking them completely. I began to notice just how prevalent this species is. It is in every single body of water I've seen in our area! It has taken over the wildlife area in the Toussaint River and now the native grasses are gone.

I've learned that there are only two ways to control it: pulling by hand or spraying it with a strong concentration of RoundUp. I use both methods and it's still a constant battle to keep it under control. Pulling it without gloves leads to tiny cuts all over my hands that make it look like I lost a fight with a razor blade--very painful paper cuts all over my fingers that lasted for days! I don't like using RoundUp but I will as a last resort. It also helps keep the cattails under control. Cattails are another non-native species hailing from England, but they are much easier to control and much less insidious! Phragmites doesn't need much water to grow. Just an inch or so of standing water is enough to get it started!

I post this entry as a public service warning. If you see anything that even closely resembles this plant growing on your property do what you can to eliminate it before it gets out of control!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On Eagle's Wings

Being situated where we are between the Toussaint River and Lake Erie, we are directly in the migratory path of thousands of raptors that take this route each spring and fall. Got a thing for Red-Tail Hawks? Come on over! Wanna see some Bald Eagles? No problem!

The raptors are on the move this time of year. They've spent the summer raising their chicks and now it's time to fly to their wintering grounds to fatten up again. Earlier today I heard the chooks scream in the front yard. When I went out to investigate I saw a male Cooper's Hawk fly away. He tried to get one of my chickens, but they are very alert and they got under the porch safely. When he flew away he looked back as if to say, "Oh don't mind me. I'm just passing through."

This afternoon I heard a warbling scream coming from the back yard and knew it was a big raptor. I grabbed my camera and headed to the back deck in time to capture this Bald Eagle soaring on the thermals overhead. He was heading south and I watched him circle and spiral from the north edge of the Twelve Acres to the south edge. Big raptors can only migrate when the sun heats up the earth and creates thermals. They soar on the rising warm air which allows them to conserve their precious energy instead of wasting it flapping their wings.

I'm still choked up.

How many people get to watch our nation's symbol soaring directly above their own home? I am one of the lucky ones.

These shots were iffy at best. I was aiming almost directly into the sun and I was going blind!


video

Yard Birds

I awoke to a beautiful day today well rested and ready for my week off. I got myself together and checked for eggs while the coffee brewed. Betty was busy laying an egg and I left quietly without disturbing her.















It's partly cloudy today and the air has that wonderful fall crispness with a nice pine aroma mingling with the sound of chirping crickets. I don't have much to do today besides washing the linens, so I'm having fun taking photos of the yard. Of course, there are yard birds wherever I go.
















The soybeans are just beginning to yellow. It won't be long before it's time to harvest. And then there will be an open field seven acres in size. I wonder what the birds will do with all that open space?

Violet and Betty were practicing their synchronized grazing. Betty is a bit off I think. But that's normal for Betty.














I hadn't seen the ducks feeding so I strolled to the back yard to see what they were up to. They were no where to be seen and I couldn't hear them. Were they napping? I called to them as I approached and then they started popping out from under the spruce trees. There they were! Good morning ducks!
















They waddled up to me eagerly, expecting me to pour some cracked corn on the ground for them. No corn this time, sorry! They are five weeks old and almost their adult size. Their voices are still changing; some of them peep while the rest of them quack. One of them sounds like an old Model T horn.
















The chickens had to follow me, of course. They've learned that if they follow me around the yard they might end up with a tasty treat such as a frog or tomato worm. As the chickens approached the ducks, they each kept to their separate groups but got close enough for a social call. They grazed for a while together and then the ducks went for a drink at the pond's edge.

















Silver seems to be unsure of how to handle the ducks. He's the leader of the chickens, but does that mean he should lead the ducks as well? He approaches with wings flapping as if to announce his omnipotence. They don't notice. They're too busy grazing.
















He tries coming closer and giving them "the eye". It has no effect and he seems to be frustrated. He gives up on the ducks and goes back to bossing the chickens around.






Isn't he handsome?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Good Day to be a Duck

It's raining here at the Twelve Acres. Not one of those light rains either. We're getting a constant, soaking rain. I'm taking advantage of the weather and staying indoors today to rest and recuperate after a hard week at work. The ducks, on the other hand, are out foraging in the yard. When I took this picture from the front porch they had just finished playing in the puddles in the gravel driveway.

I'm putting my feet up and listening to the rain splash in the pond. Now all I need is a servant to bring me my coffee.

Friday, September 12, 2008

My New Best Friend

Anyone who has chickens knows how destructive they are. I love my chickens but I don't want them destroying the hundreds of dollars worth of landscaping plants and pine mulch I've invested in and planted in the past year. I had to come up with a solution to the problem that specifically addressed the digging issue. I didn't mind them being in my landscaping (free organic fertilizer and insect control), I just wanted to stop them from dust bathing in it.

Fencing was out of the question. I want to be able to see my plants and I want an open feel to the planted areas. I live in the country and don't want to feel any kind of boundary around the house. I had my fill of fences in the city. I priced the automatic sprinklers that turn on as soon as movement is sensed, but these were beyond what I was willing to pay for chicken control. And who wants to stare at one of those ugly inflatable "eyeballs" with the little mirrors glued to them that are supposed to scare off birds?

I spent a lot of time watching the chickens trying to understand what attracted them to my planted areas and what might deter them. In war the saying is "Know thine enemy". (Well, we're not exactly at war, but I did sick Derek on the chooks with a super soaker once.) I spent a lot of time considering my options and weighing the pros and cons.

Then it dawned on me at work this week whilst I sat and watch thousands of feet of conveyor belt go by...BIRD NETTING. DuPont Bird Netting, to be specific. I already had a long roll of it on hand to cover the chicken run in preparation for the raptor migration this fall. I had lots of it left and it seemed to be the best choice.

This stuff is a godsend.

It's durable--I can walk on it and not tear it. The chickens can scratch it and not tear it.
It is UV resistant.
It's flexible and easy to cut into shapes for each area of my landscaping. I had very little waste!
It stops the digging--the chickens can try all they like but they don't accomplish anything with their scratching. The net keeps their feet from moving when they try to scratch just like cement shoes!
It's practically invisible--I can walk around the house and not notice it at all!
It's cheap--I bought a huge roll for $7 at Lowe's.
I have peace of mind! I want to be able to enjoy my birds, not spend my time shooing them away with a broom.

It does take some time to cut the netting to size but I was able to do it on my own. I also had to cut small holes to push my existing plants through. Fortunately I don't have any large plants yet since I just planted them this spring. I simply gathered the plants together in my hand and gently fed them up through the netting. It would have been easier to handle if I had removed my rings beforehand. Bird netting catches everything it can snag. Anchor pins are a MUST. Without them the chickens will be able to scratch up the edges and still dig a hole. The anchor pins keep the netting snug to the ground. I made my own anchor pins by bending 6" lengths of heavy guage wire into a "U" shape. I anchored the netting about every 8" and only in the areas it needed it.

After just one day of having the bird netting down on my planted beds the chickens are giving up. GIVING UP!!! They walk around the house looking for an area to dig into and when they see the bird netting they don't even try! They have learned that the netting is impossible to scratch away. This also means that they spend less time dust bathing in my flowerbeds and more time foraging for free food on the Twelve Acres. The more they forage, the less I spend on layer feed! I can leave them out to free range the whole day instead of making them wait until I have time to sit and watch them. Again, more foraging = less layer feed, not to mention the happy chook factor.

And now excuse me while I do my victory dance!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bad to the Drumstick

Chickens are so destructive! Their mission in life seems to be to till every surface they can get their little feet on. I went out to see what the chickens were up to and to gather the day's eggs. Just look what they did to the neighbors' lawn! How am I ever going to explain this?

The stormy skies rained on us this morning, thank goodness. We still need more but what we got certainly helps.

At least the ducks are behaving themselves.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

From Whence I Came

Don has an old tractor. It made me think about another old (older yet!) tractor that my grandparents had. It's a Case tractor and the manufacturer's emblem shows a bald eagle sitting on top of the world. My how tractors have changed! This old brute doesn't even have rubber tires. That's my Uncle Donn on grandpa's lap. Mom wasn't born yet.

Everything has a history. While I'm not much of a history buff, I do appreciate where things come from and how ideas transform into tangible objects which then evolve over time. My grandparents grew up using horses to pull the plow and thresher. Imagine how luxurious it must have felt to own a tractor after doing it the "old fashioned" way!

If you look in the background you can see some little white dots in the second photo. Those are grandma's chickens. I dare say this agricultural affliction seems to run in the family.

Lastly, here's a photo of my grandpa's youngest brother, Earl, and a friend fueling my great-grandfather's old tractor. Isn't the gas pump neat?

I have many more black and white family photos and I love to look through them once in a while. I like to think about how their lives must have been, how difficult things such as laundry and cooking were, and how easy things are for us now in our automated world. If I could have the opportunity to live like they did for a week, I would. I most assuredly would come back to the future though.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Special Egg

This is a special "first" egg because it comes from a special chickie. My girl Betty (Barred Rock) laid her very first egg today at 21 weeks old. It didn't take her very long either. I went out to check for eggs while dinner was cooking and saw that Betty was in a nest box. She's been checking the nest boxes out the past few days so I figured she wasn't far from producing an egg. I went back in and about 10 minutes later Derek came in the house excited and holding this rather pointy, speckled egg. Isn't it sweet?

So it's official, all the Rocks are laying. I also found a light creamy egg with tiny speckles in the run this afternoon. I suspect it's an Australorp egg but I didn't witness the event so I'm not sure. It's obviously different from the other eggs and it's obviously a first egg. Perhaps tomorrow the pullet who laid it will get caught in a nest box. I'd rather they put their eggs in a nest than in the run. I have a feeling it was laid there because Sweetheart, a rather pugnacious Orpington, was laying an egg at the same time. And when Sweetheart is in a nest don't bother her! The other girls will stand outside the coop as if they are waiting for her to finish so they can get in there and do what they want to do. Picture a line of girls waiting at the bathroom door with their knees crossed!

The girls laid 5 eggs today total. Tomorrow I will cook up our first ever fried egg dinner using our own chicken eggs. They are small so it might take a dozen to do it. Derek had 5 eggs for breakfast this morning.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Drought

I've been biting my tongue trying not to bring up the subject of how dry it is here. It's normal to not have any rain this time of year in northwest Ohio. Last August we didn't get a drop of rain and I don't think we did this August either.

We had record rainfall in July with over 8 inches following an equally wet spring. Our hard pan clay can't hold moisture very long though and I'm afraid those water reserves are all gone. I stand by and wring my knuckles over the 200 saplings I planted in April. I'm afraid my losses are at 10% now, with more to come. I strain my eyes at cloud formations hoping that some water will fall from them. But it doesn't. There are cracks in the soil so big I can stick my foot in them.

The really agonizing part of all this is that there is rain all around us. Take a look at the Doppler radar map and you'll see the remnants of hurricane Gustav making its way in our direction. The red star is where the Twelve Acres is located. But is there any of that life-giving green above us? Nooooooo! We live in a pocket, if you will, protected on the north by Lake Erie. It protects us from the really bad snows in the winter which usually bury places like Chicago and Cleveland. Unfortunately, it also means we usually have a drought every summer. It could be raining like hell 15 miles to the west but dry as a bone here. When September rolls around our rainfall returns to normal and the huge cracks in the ground close up and the grass gets green again. As it is right now, we haven't mowed our lawns in well over a month...the grass is all dead. On the bright side, the drought is saving us money because we haven't had to buy gas for the mowers.

Enough doom and gloom! I have a bit of exciting news. Cheese Doodle (our only Buff Rock pullet) laid her first egg today. It is noticeably lighter than the Orpington eggs with its light chalky shell color. It's a tiny little egg but I'm so happy to have found it. The girls produced 3 eggs today. Don't be fooled by Miss Cheese Doodle's placid countenance. She'll take your arm off if she's so inclined!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ducks Meet Chickens

I didn't have a lot to do this morning so I decided to bird watch, country style. I let the chickens out and watched them as I raked back the mulch they had so graciously strewn about. They wandered into the back yard and nibbled on grass beneath the lone spruce tree. The ducks saw them and I could hear them peeping. I watched and waited to see what would happen next. The ducks got closer and closer and soon they were only separated by the tree trunk. The chickens worked their way back to the front of the house and left the ducks behind. I went in for something to eat and to watch the news.

When I came back out I found the ducks next to the driveway under yet another spruce tree. It seemed as if they wanted to be with the chickens! So I hearded them into the chicken run and closed the gate. I left them together for a few hours to see what, if anything, would transpire. The chickens were not very happy about this arrangement. They kept their distance and didn't act like they wanted to integrate with the ducks. The ducks proceded to clean up the cracked corn on the ground then settled in for a nap in the shade. Later in the afternoon they emptied the chicken's water and headed for their food. Oh no! I herded them back to their side of the pond and refilled the chooks' water.

Now I'm wondering what will happen next. The ducks come up to the house in the evening which we really don't want. They leave a poopy mess wherever they go and they tend to fall into the basement window wells, in which case we have to go out to rescue them and step in aforementioned poo. These ducks are not cooperating with my plans for them to stay by the pond. They don't even seem to be particularly interested in the pond! I attribute this to the fact that they are only a month old and don't have all their feathers yet.

For now I'm trying to give the ducks time to grow up and take to the pond. But what if they don't? Those of you with ducks please give me some advice.

To add to the odd day Gertie left me this shell-less egg. It feels very weird to hold an egg that doesn't have a shell. How did she know it wasn't a normal egg? She didn't deposit it in a nest--she left it where she roosts above the window! I'll let everyone get a good look at it this evening and then I'll cook it up and feed it back to the chooks. I'd give it to the cat but he doesn't like eggs!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Satisfaction

Is there anything more satisfying than providing for yourself? I've always been a do-it-yourselfer. My whole purpose in raising chickens was to provide some food for our family in the form of eggs and an occasional chicken dinner. Egg layers aren't particularly meaty chickens, but you can eat them--especially the roosters.

My lunch today was two small fried eggs laid this morning by Gertie and Sweetheart. Compare them to the slice of toast and you'll see just how small they are! Fresh eggs are so much better than stale store-bought eggs. I remarked to Derek that even the whites have a better, lighter texture and aren't chewy in any way. The yolks are a deep yellow and taste very rich. Sweetheart's was slightly darker than Gertie's.

On this Labor Day I do not plan to labor. I see Sweet Pea is in a nest box right now, so maybe I will be collecting my first-ever Barred Rock egg soon!

Have a great holiday and spend it as you wish!