Sunday, September 6, 2009

USDA Grade "Tiny"

Gingersnap, our 22 week old golden Campine pullet, laid her first egg today. She is our smallest pullet and we think she is the cutest too.

Here is her little egg next to a large one that one of the Orpingtons laid. She's our only white egg layer. Derek said he's going to have it for breakfast tomorrow morning. He better fry up a couple extra ones or he'll be hungry within an hour!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Future Twelve Acres Trees

This is my bounty of locally collected acorns and nuts so far this fall. I am a big squirrel right now, going from location to location collecting nuts from trees as I go. In the basket are Bur Oaks and Black Walnuts. The tray is holding Shagbark Hickories on the left and Ohio buckeyes on the right. The buckeyes are a first for me. I have searched for these and had a hard time finding this particular species. Yellow buckeyes are easy to find, but Ohio buckeyes are not quite as common around here.

Don't those Buckeye seeds look prickly? I was surprised at how sharp they are as I gathered them. I am planting them far from the house so that I won't step on any of these prickly landmines. I think they would make a wonderful burglar deterrent, although most burglars don't go running around barefoot in the middle of the night.

As soon as the protective husks are off they are ready to plant. I will check the nuts for signs of mold, rot or borer holes and discard any that are affected. The rest will be planted immediately so that they can go through the necessary winter stratification that will crack the seed hulls and allow germination to take place. It's especially important to get the buckeyes in the ground as soon as possible because if they dry and shrivel up the embryo inside probably won't germinate. I always plant two seeds in each hole just in case one is bad. The trick is to space them a few inches apart so that if both germinate I can remove one without risking the other's root structure.

I am lucky in that I will be young enough to watch any trees that result from these seeds grow into adolescence. My grandchildren will get to see them in their full glory. Growing trees from seed, while easy, requires patience and a vision for the future. I've always equated growing trees with a deep sense of hope.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Year In Eggs

It's official, the year of counting eggs from my 14 layers is finally over! I have completed the chart, at right, so that you can see how things turned out. If you're thinking about getting chickens or are just curious about how many eggs a hen can potentially lay, it will give you an idea of what to expect.

My girls averaged 18 eggs per hen, per month which is a 58% lay rate per month.
I have 5 Buff Orpingtons, 6 Black Australorps, 2 Plymouth Barred Rocks, and 1 Buff Plymouth Rock. Four of my hens went broody in May and June which reduced their production dramatically. I went from about a dozen eggs a day down to about 7 on average! When August rolled around, some of my hens began to molt which also slowed production. Hens normally molt for the first time when they reach 18 months of age.

Recently a young woman asked me how many chickens she should get to start her own backyard flock. I told her to buy almost twice as many chicks as she wanted to produce the number of eggs she wanted each day. In other words, if she wants 3 eggs a day, she should buy about 5 chicks. If she wants a dozen eggs a day, some for herself and some to sell, she should buy about 20 to 22 chicks.

Of course, there are a number of other factors that influence production, such as age, breed, number of daylight hours, but I shant go into that here. All that information can be found online, but until now I had never seen any data about rate of lay during a one-year period.
So there you have it. I hope it is as interesting to you as it was to me. I'm just glad I don't have to count eggs every day anymore!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Duck Eggs

Can you tell which one is the duck egg? My ducks lay jumbo eggs and I like to use them in cakes. They seem to make cakes more moist. I can't explain why but that's been my experience. Duck eggs are also more nutritious than chicken eggs. For a comparison of nutrients, click here.

While we're on the subject of duck eggs, I woke up this morning to see that Macaroni has 10 brand new fuzzy babies under her. There are 3 yellow ones and 7 dusky gray ones. I'm going to sell this batch of ducklings. I've got enough in the freezer and ducks are no fun to butcher. Chickens are much easier. It's impossible to scald a duck carcass--they're waterproof! DUH!

Here's Macaroni with her new babies.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Some Favorites

My favorite native American wildflower is the purple coneflower. They are so beautiful and so easy to grow, no garden should be without at least one clump of them. I always grow mine from seed and have never had to buy a single plant. They do really well in Ohio clay and just glow despite the heat and sun of late summer.

I only grow the species, Echinacea purpurea, and none of the frou-frou hybrids. Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn't be caught dead with hybrids in my garden. Yes, I'm a plant snob.

This little spot of wildflowers follows the curve of the driveway. A white birch is to the left and is already 8 feet tall after only 2 years! This little bird house was our first project when we moved in three years ago. I love it. Tree swallows successfully raised their young in it this spring and it is currently inhabited by a large group of paper wasps, which are welcome in my garden because they are one of nature's best organic pesticides! I often weed within one foot of the bird house and they never bother me. I've even supported myself by grabbing the wooden post but they seem to know that I mean them no harm and they ignore me. I often find myself extolling the virtues of wasps as a gardener's friends to those who fear them. Mud daubers are equally good at killing insects, although they specialize in killing only spiders which they place in the cells of their nests for their larvae to feed on. Gruesome, but true!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lofty Hope & Dream

Derek took his first instructional flight today in a Cessna 172 with Rex Damschroder as his instructor. He'll be 15 in November and his goal is to earn his student pilot's license by his 16th birthday. He can then earn his private pilot's license at 17. Rex reported that Derek has a natural ability and did above average in some of the skills!

I didn't get a photo, but there are two DC3s at the Fremont Municipal Airfield, both of which dropped paratroopers at Normandy on D-Day. One is in the process of being restored. Also, one of the NASA astronauts who is currently in space earned his pilot's license at this very airfield.

The poem, High Flight, has over the years become a mantra to pilots. It is reproduced here as a tribute to, and in memory of pilots of all generations.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941

Monday, June 29, 2009

My How They've Grown!

This bright orange lily bloomed today. It's so bright that I can even see it from a distance. My lavender plants are so lush and beautiful right now. I planted a dozen more this year I love them so much. The bees love them too.

Macaroni's babies are three weeks old and so fun to watch. I got a video of them eating coon tail in the pond today. Murphy and Macaroni are keeping watch over them, although Murphy doesn't like them getting too close to him. The hens have started laying eggs again, which I found out quite by accident. They're using the same nests that they hatched their babies in and I happened to notice the eggs while looking under the front porch. I gathered them all though, I've got enough ducklings.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Rolls Along

I had my back surgery June 18. Everything went really well. The surgeon removed some arthritic bone from my spine that was putting pressure on my left sciatic nerve. The first few days were rough but I'm feeling better now. I am taking it easy and Jim has been very good (too good) at doing things for me. I nicknamed him Nurse Ratchet. The boys are away on vacations of their own and it's been just the two of us. I have to admit, I'm really liking it! I can't believe how much less I spend on groceries!

The ducklings are growing and growing. They will be ready for butchering in a few short weeks. I've got 15 of the fuzzy little things and I plan to keep one or two hens. The rest will feed us. I gave away 3 of my adult drakes and things have quieted down as a result. My two adult hens seem relieved! I have a nice pair of Cayugas and an equally nice pair of blue Swedish ducks. Sounds like a nice flock size to me.

Baby chicks are also growing. I am only going to keep two of the seven: the little silkie and Ollie's firstborn, a little barred rock mix. She's cute and she was the first chick to hatch at Twelve Acres so I simply must keep her. I haven't decided on a name for her yet, although Scooter seems to fit her. She zips around like nobody's business!

We're living our lives day to day--enjoying picking vegetables from the garden, collecting eggs and watching nature all around us. I enjoy the simple things of life; they have so much more meaning than material things. It's a paradigm shift for me and I'm embracing it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Violet's Babies

Violet's babies hatched Sunday. She brought them out to meet everyone today. The little white one is a Silkie, the red one is a Rhode Island Red. The largest black/cream one is an Australorp. The remaining two are Australorp/Barred Rock mixes.

There are no more hens sitting on eggs now. I may let a broody hatch some eggs later this fall, but we're done for now. My back surgery is the 18th and I won't be able to look out for broody hens for a while.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lunch Time

Lunch time for the kids while mom rests by the irises. The drakes watch from the water.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Macaroni's Babies

They were out when I got up this morning. Fourteen little fuzzballs so cute I can hardly stand it. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Twelve Acres Maternity Ward

We've got more babies than you can shake a stick at right now. Ollie's been scratching up a storm all day today showing her babies how to forage. I watched her catch a big worm that was obviously too big for the babies and she ate it herself. The little red chick managed to poke through the fencing then poked right back through! They scoot around like little water bugs. In fact, I'm thinking of naming the little black one Scooter.

Daisy's got six fuzzy butt babies to take care of now. I was duck midwife last night. I had to help two ducklings get out of their shells. It was amazing! One of them is the brightest yellow one. I think it's a little hen because the whole time I was removing bits of egg shell for her she was screaming for her mommy as loud as she could. Hen are much louder than drakes, even at a young age. Two of the ducklings had birth defects and I had to euthenize them--not easy, but the right thing to do. I found one dead near the pond's edge this morning. I'm not sure what happened other than an accidental drowning. The remaining six are energetic and the apples of their daddies' eyes! It's heartwarming to watch the ducks' family unit. The drakes accept the ducklings into the flock and are so happy to have Daisy back with them. I can tell that they miss having the hens around.

Macaroni has a nest full of fuzzy yellow puffballs now. I think all 14 of her eggs hatched. There are so many little heads in her nest that I can't count them all! She's not bringing them out just yet, but hopefully tomorrow she will. She's going to have a whole entourage following her around!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Greeting the World

Ollie got her babies out to meet the big wide world today. She's being a very protective mother. She's teaching the babies what to eat and I've seen the black one drink.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ollie's Firstborn

While we're waiting for Daisy's babies to hatch, here's a video of Ollie and her first chick. Her mama was obviously a barred rock and you can see the telltale spot on top of its head. Are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'? Girl! I put some feed in the corners of the nest box to make sure the little cutie got some food in her belly.

Ollie's got another baby under her too that hatched this morning. It's a reddish color with some black markings on the wing feathers. Mama must have been one of those Golden Comets that's a cross between a leghorn and a New Hampshire, or whatever cross they use to make those red layer hybrids that are all the rage. The fourth egg doesn't show any signs of hatching yet. I'll give it another day.

If this chick is indeed a girl like I think it is, we're definitely keeping her.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ollie Has Babies!

I woke up at 6 this morning, very early for this night owl. The first thought on my mind was that I had to check on my hens. I put on my bathrobe and slippers and headed straight to the chicken coop. I let all the hens out to forage then checked on Ollie. I listened for the sound of peeping and I heard it! Faint peeps were coming from under her! I lifted carefully and found a dark chick, just barely dried. How exciting! Ollie is doing such a great job.

I went back to bed after trying in vain to get photos. Have you ever tried to photograph chicks under a very protective hen? Lemme tell ya, it's darn near impossible! And if Ollie wasn't such a nice hen I'd have bloody hands by now! She tolerated my poking and prodding but just barely. After my nap I finally managed to get some decent shots. Here are the first chicks' legs. I wanted a photo of its face though.

There, that's more like it! Its mama must have been an Australorp.

I could also see that another egg had been zipped. The chicks' beak was poking out and it was breathing. See the white egg tooth on the end of a black beak? Hatching is hard work! Come on little fella, you can do it!

The other two eggs have not pipped that I can tell. I'm afraid to do too much poking around in there for fear of killing them. I hope you enjoy the photos, I risked life and limb taking them!

Daisy's clutch is due to hatch today too. I haven't heard a single peep. She's sitting like a statue and hasn't taken a break at all today. I'm thinking there's something going on but I can't see a darn thing. The drakes are beside themselves with nerves.

OK, maybe they're not that nervous, but I think they sense that something is going on. Waterfowl form very tight bonds as a family unit.

There's not much to do when you're waiting for babies. You can knit booties, clean house or, in our case, plant trees. Betty was a bundle of nerves too, so she helped me plant some trees by the chicken coop.

Hang in there Betty, the babies will be here soon!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Waiting for Peeps

I don't know which is worse - waiting nine months for a baby to be born or waiting 28 days for ducklings to hatch. Tomorrow is Daisy's hatch date, Saturday is Ollie's and Macaroni's. I'm on pins and needles waiting, something I'm terrible at doing.

I've read that if you listen closely you can hear the chicks peep to their mama's through the egg shells when they're getting ready to hatch. I'm listening closely to all three hens' nests. You should see me, kneeling down above the sidewalk and deck with my ear to the floor like an Indian listening for thunder in the distance. I haven't heard anything yet.

I've moved Violet to the floor beneath the nest boxes. Her hatch date is June 15. Violet is low in the pecking order and not very good at defending her nest. The other hens were getting in there with her and laying eggs in her nest. I don't know how many times I had to haul a hen out of there and put Violet back in! So now she's got a private nest to herself and no one can bother her. She wasn't keen on the box at first but now she's content. Earlier this week Poppy got in Violet's nest and stepped on one of the eggs and broke it. I was so upset. I had that girl's neck in my fingers but didn't do it. She's a good layer. An airhead, but a good layer. The egg that was broke wasn't one of the Silkie eggs.

And now another of my Australorps is broody, this time it's Iris. I don't think I'll indulge her though. My back surgery is June 18 and I won't be able to look after chicks then. I might let a broody hen hatch some eggs after that though. Lily's been plucking her belly feathers lately and she may go broody. She's my biggest girl and could easily cover a dozen eggs. We'll see.

I'm hoping that I'll be posting pictures and videos of baby ducklings tomorrow. In the meantime, Betty and I (and little Scarlet) are just waiting...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Final Countdown

Photo: My chooks last April when they were a day old. Ollie's in there somewhere!

In less than one week the first batch of Twelve Acres chicks and ducklings will be either hatched or hatching! I can't think of anything more exciting than the impending arrival of babies. I've been raising animals of one kind or another since I was old enough to hold a puppy (thanks Mom) and nothing beats babies being born!

Ollie's such a fantastic broody hen that I wouldn't be surprised if her chicks hatched a day or two early, a common occurence when a hen is allowed to follow her instincts undisturbed. There is nothing better for hatching eggs than a good broody. Read this great article, "Let Mama Do It". But it seems we people aren't content to let our hens hatch eggs. No, we have to complicate things because, darnit, we can do it better! Or we're bored, or we just want to invite disaster. Whatever the excuse may be, I'm about fed up with the people at Backyard Chickens. Want to see just how bad people are at hatching eggs? Take a look here. If you've never been to BYC prepare yourself and make sure you aren't drinking anything that might hurt as it shoots through your nose at the speed of sound. I'm not a violent person but I really think some of those people should be slapped and have their chickens taken away from them. Truly they are obsessive-compulsive about their chickens.

I'm happy to let my hens do the job of incubating. They are doing it a thousand times better than I could ever hope to. God saw fit to give these gals instincts to do things no other creature has taught them. I am amazed at how they know exactly how long their breaks should be. I watched Violet today as she took her break. As quickly as possible she did the following: pooped, dust bathed, ate, drank, hopped back on the nest. And she did it all within a short period of time. I didn't teach her to do that! How does she know how long she can be off the nest? Someone tell me!

While she took her break I quickly candled her eggs. This is the fourth day of incubation for her clutch of eight. Wouldn't you know it? Every single egg has a viable embryo growing in it...including those darn Silkie eggs! *Groan* I commiserated about that fact with Jim tonight on the front porch as we watched a passing rainstorm blow through. He said I could always give them back to the lady who gave me the eggs. She only has one roo and two hens. A nice thought I think! That is, of course, if I can keep Derek from falling in love with the darn things. Or worse, me...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Candling Results - Day 12

I took this photo of my ducks last July when they were 3 days old. This is what's in store for us!

We're almost to the mid-point of egg incubation here at Twelve Acres. I was fortunate to be able to candle Ollie's and Macaroni's eggs today. I had no luck at all getting pictures though. Try as we might, we just couldn't get a decent photo.
I'm no pro at egg candling but at this stage of the game it's very easy to tell if an egg is good or bad. Good eggs are so filled with chick or duckling that they appear to be solid inside and show a very large, dark shadow along with an air cell on the large end of the egg. Bad eggs show nothing at all and sometimes you can still see the yolk. I removed any bad eggs I found and cracked them just to be sure. I had 100% accuracy! Here are the results so far.

Ollie (Buff Orpington hen): 4 good eggs, 2 bad

Daisy (Cayuga duck): 10 good, she removed 4 bad ones herself

Macaroni (Blue Swedish duck): 15 good, 1 bad

I will candle Violet's eggs in about 10 days and find out how many good ones she's got. She's setting like an old pro.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Violet's Setting

This is Violet* and she's been acting broody for about a week now. She seemed to hem and haw about it at first, which is normal. She developed a 'tude and the characteristic "poofing" that only a broody hen (or a tom turkey) will do. A hen won't get serious about incubating eggs until she's laid a clutch worth her effort. Unfortunately with layers you take the broody's eggs each day when you gather eggs, so they don't get a chance to accumulate. Then when it comes time to start incubating the hen's left with an empty nest. It's easy to find some fertile eggs for her in a pinch though. Around here, there's plenty of chicken owners who are more than willing to share their eggs with my broodies.

I kept removing Violet from the nest box today to see just how serious she was about this whole motherhood thing. Each time I removed her she was back on the nest within a reasonable amount of time. I lifted her up gently and checked her belly--no feathers to speak of, which is normal for a broody hen. She's been plucking them to line her nest which explains why I've been cleaning black Australorp feathers out of this nest box for a long time now.

This batch of 8 eggs came from an Asian lady who lives by my mother-in-law. Jim just happened to be at his mom's when I called him and asked him to stop by and ask for some fertile eggs for Violet to set. He asked his mom for something to put them in since he's not in the habit of keeping egg cartons in his truck. She gave him this basket and put a scrap piece of towel in it to cushion the eggs on the ride home. Jim said he enjoyed talking to the chicken owners and when he told them the eggs were for a broody they refused to accept any money for them, a phenomenon known to bird growers everywhere! They also selected a variety of breeds for Violet: Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock, Silkie, Australorp and another that Jim couldn't remember, possibly New Hampshire Red or Welsummer. When he told me he was bringing me two Silkie eggs (I'm holding one of the little buggers in the photo) I groaned, "What am I gonna do with a pom pom chicken?" I'm not a big fan of the frou-frou breeds. Just give me a sound, reliable egg layer with a nice disposition and I'll be satisfied. When Derek heard about the Silkie eggs he immediately got excited and asked if we could keep them. I said, "Let's just see what Violet can do first." Of course you know if she hatches those darn Silkie eggs (which she will just cuz I don't want 'em) I'm doomed to keep them! *Groan!*

In case you aren't familiar with what a Silkie chicken is, you can see some photos here. They are particularly popular as pets because of their sweet nature and they are considered a delicacy in the Asian culture. They have black skin, are small and are not very good layers. But they are excellent broody hens. Just what I need. *Groan!*

Violet's hatch date is June 15 so keep your fingers crossed for her. She's my smallest Australorp but fortunately most of the eggs she's setting are on the small side and she's covering them well. Those Silkie eggs remind me of the pullet eggs my girls first laid. If you're wondering about the red X's on the ends of the eggs they will prevent any confusion at egg-gathering time. Everyone knows that eggs that are marked are fertile and are to be left under the hen.

*Violet was nicknamed "Violent" when she was a teenager because of her annoying habit of pecking me as hard as she could on my legs. Fortunately, she outgrew it. She has beautiful beetle-green sheen to her feathers in the sun and the largest dark eyes of the Australorps. A real looker!

Candled Daisy's Eggs

Last week while I was out working in the yard I noticed our little Cayuga hen Daisy carrying an egg shell in her bill away from her nest under the front porch. It was obviously one of her eggs and she had broken it and dropped it in the lawn. She then quickly went back to her nest and I didn't see her again until evening when she took her incubation break for the day. While she was off her nest I counted her eggs quickly from above. She started out with 14 that I could confirm two weeks ago, and now she had 11! Oh dear! My visions of a huge brood of ducklings were suddenly uncertain. I wondered what that egg carrying behavior was all about. Is this normal duck behavior? Did she know something about that egg that I didn't? Was it a bad egg?

Then this morning Derek and I saw her do the exact same thing. She was carrying off a broken egg, the yolk visibly dripping from the shell. My heart sank. What was wrong with my hen? Why was she carrying her eggs off her nest? I did another quick count and she now had 10 left in her nest.

I did some research and found out some things about ducks that I didn't know. First of all, waterfowl are some of the best mothers on earth. I already knew that, but the concept would be further ingrained when I learned that some waterfowl can sense when an egg is unfertilized or the embryo has died. They then remove the bad/dead egg and carry it away from the nest. It is thought that they do this to prevent predators from being attracted to a rotting egg. Amazing! Not all duck mothers will do this. Domestication has removed some natural instincts from a lot of duck breeds. Given that Daisy won't be a year old until July and this is her first clutch, I must assume that her maternal instincts are especially strong. I've never seen Macaroni, our blue Swedish hen, carrying off a single one of her 16 eggs. So either all of her eggs are viable or she doesn't have the instinct to remove bad ones. Time will tell.

Later this morning we were busy digging a hole for a future tree and I noticed Daisy off her nest again, only two hours after she'd carried off the egg. Truly concerned and wanting to know the fate of the rest of her clutch, I ran inside and grabbed my Surefire flashlight. Come hell or high water I was gonna shimmy my plump rump under that porch and candle Daisy's eggs! Before Jim could stop me, I was under that porch, my feet unceremoniously sticking out.

I carefully picked up the first egg and stuck the large end onto the shining flashlight. What I witnessed created such a rush of excitement that I can only compare it to going down that first hill on a roller coaster. I saw veins (positive evidence of life) and a duckling's bill and what appeared to be a duck foot! I gasped for air in the confined space I was in and set the egg down. I picked each one up quickly and carefully as I could. And in each egg I could see veins, bills, feet and even (OH JOY) movement! I counted out loud each egg that had a viable duckling inside...1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and as I said each number my voice got louder and my pitch got higher as Derek and Jim awaited the final tally above me on the porch. Ten viable eggs and not a single bad one. Daisy did know what she was doing!

Truly I was witnessing the most fantastic magic show on earth-the development of bird embryos right before my very eyes. Words can't describe the awe I felt. My only regret is that I didn't have my camera with me under the porch to photograph those 10 wonderful, awesome, fantastical live embryos inside those duck eggs!

Now, my blue Swedish hen Macaroni has her nest in a slightly easier-to-access location under the sidewalk by the pond. The next time she takes a break from incubation, I'm going to grab Jim and have him lift up the sidewalk so I can candle her 16 eggs. I will make sure to get pictures to share too.

If you've never seen a live chick or duckling still inside the egg you've never really appreciated life in the making. Mammals carry their babies inside their bodies and you can't hold that baby in your hands and marvel at it as it develops. Bird eggs can be held and, with a bright enough light you can see what's going on inside while the babies are developing!

I marvel at the God who created all the living creatures of the earth. His creation is perfect and awesome.

Everything you need to know about candling eggs is here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pigeon Finds a Home

I love a happy ending. Our wayward pigeon found a home today. I called a local pigeon racer and he came out to take the little gal home. His name is Bob Holman and he calls his pigeon loft "Holman's Homers". He picked up the pigeon and told us it was most likely a juvenile hen. He also noted that she is very strong. He put her in this transportation crate and she quickly settled down and seemed to relax.

We noticed there were two more larger crates in the back of Bob's truck. One was empty but the other had 5 more pigeons in it! He took them out and set them on the ground. He said he brought them along for a little exercise and practice. What fun! Bob's loft is only 15 minutes away (as the pigeon flies) and he planned to give these yearlings some exercise and practice. This would be the second flight for them for the day.

He pulled one out so we could get a closer look at it. Isn't it beautiful? The irridescent colors on this bird's head were so pretty in the sun. As soon as I took this picture Bob asked the bird, "Are you ready?" I swear the pigeon responded and began to squirm in his hands. He released the bird and we watched it fly above the Twelve Acres.

Then he knelt down and asked the remaining four if they were ready. They exploded into the air as soon as he opened the door to their crate. I was mesmerized! They circled the property four times then headed due south back to their loft. These birds are athletes and are very lean and strong. Their body shape reminds me of that of small raptors such as sharp-shinned hawks. I was very impressed with them. These birds fly in races that last anywhere from 200 to 500 miles! Bob said he ships his birds for the long races rather than drive them all the way there.

Bob stayed at our place for a long time after he released his trainees and talked to us about them. I learned so much! He said his fastest birds could fly about 70 mph with a good tail wind! He breeds his own racers and said he does pretty good with them. The purse for a big race can reach in the tens of thousands of dollars for the winner. He said that pigeon racing is a dying sport and it really needs some youngsters to get involved. Bob has been racing pigeons since he was 10 years old!

He also explained that the white doves that are released at weddings are not banded because usually the owner does not want them back. That means that the pigeons are left to their own devices. I will definitely not ever hire anyone to release white doves anytime soon because I don't like the thought of those birds suddenly having to fend for themselves when they've been raised and cared for up until that point.

If you ever find a pigeon with a leg band, keep it in a safe spot and call your nearest pigeon club. They can track the owner if you tell them the information on the leg band and then the owner can come pick it up. If it's a good racer the owner will definitely want it back! Sometimes a racer gets tired during a long race and just needs to rest for a day. These birds usually leave within 24 hours and go home. Inexperienced birds can get lost, which is likely what happened with our little pigeon.

I now look at these birds in a whole new light. They are certainly much more than plain ole' pigeons. I hope to see them again soon.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Goodies in the Mail

I have had a busy day taking care of my chickens, ducks and wayward pigeon (at least we think it's a pigeon). During a break between the rain showers I went out to the mailbox. I was pleasantly surprised to find a package from Jess, over at The Beneficial Bee, containing the two lip balms I won in her giveaway last week. It's always nice to find a nice surprise like this in the mail!

I received a stick of organic Forty Bee Ylang Ylang (Spring) and a stick of Forty Bee Peppermint (Winter). I have very sensitive skin and mild excema on my face so I can't use anything with artificial or irritating ingredients. I was happy to read the ingredients and see that everything in them is organic and all-natural! They are very smooth and light, not heavy and greasy.

If you'd like to help support Jessica's bee habit stop by her Etsy shop and order some of her wonderful lip balm. Thank you Jess for such a wonderful gift today!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ollie's Setting!

The nice lady who was going to send me 6 eggs for Ollie sent me an email today saying she was reluctant to do so because she thinks her flock had a virus this spring. She didn't want to take the chance of sending it to me and infecting my flock. I was grateful she informed me of this and thanked her for her offer. I told her I would look locally for a flock with fertile eggs. Well as luck would have it, there's a lady just down the road who has a flock with a rooster. She also has a sign in her front yard that says "Eggs $1.75". I looked in my purse. I had 2 bucks in it. Hurray! Off I went to buy some fertile eggs for Ollie.

When I arrived I could see their gorgeous rooster. He looked like a brown leghorn except that he had a pea comb. I will have to research what he could be unless you fellow chicken owners would like to make a suggestion. He looked like this rooster but with a pea comb. I saw 4 barred rock hens, a few black australorps and what looked like red stars or red sex-linked hens. I imagine that's where the two ginormous eggs came from.

The eggs were laid today and were taken right from the nest boxes. I paid a dollar for them. I think I got two barred rock eggs. They were speckled and much smaller, just like my barred rocks' eggs. I also got one that reminded me of Violet's eggs. She's an australorp that lays an almost pinkish-violet egg. We're certainly going to have quite a variety of shapes and colors! I marked the ends of each egg with a big cross so that there will be no confusion about which eggs are Ollie's. I marked the calendar with a hatch date of June 6 which, concidentally, is the same day Macaroni's clutch is due to hatch! Daisy is due two days before. Oy! We are gonna have baby birds all over the place that weekend! Derek put one egg at a time in the corner of the nest box and gave Ollie the chance to tuck it underneath her.

She clucked with delight as she carefully nudged each egg beneath her warm rump. We wished her good luck and left the coop to give her time by herself. Gosh it's a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that big Ollie has a clutch of eggs beneath her and she is content to incubate them. Keep your fingers crossed that we have a good hatch.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wayward Dove

There must be a sign painted on our roof: "House Full of Suckers - Land Here" We were out in the yard this evening and saw this dove in the lawn. He was wearing a bright orange leg band and was obviously domesticated.

He wasn't injured, just seemed to be stopping by for a break. I know nothing about doves so one of you is going to have to help me with identification. I held him for a bit and he sure was strong and kept trying to wiggle out of my hands. His feathers weren't like soft, pliable chicken feathers. They were rigid and stiff for powering through the air. Clearly he was built for flight.

Jim put some corn on the lawn and the dove found it and ate quite a bit. He also got a drink from the pond but seemed unsure of how to approach it - another sign of being someone's pet or 4-H project. As the sun went down he seemed to be trying to find a place to roost for the night after doing some preening.

First he tried to fly into the garage through a window but that didn't work. Then he landed on top of the chicken coop. Not high enough.

He tried the roof of the house. Still not high enough! Finally he settled on top of the barn. If he's still here in the morning I'll call the 4-H bird advisor and ask if anyone is missing a dove.

Sweet Pea asks, "He's not staying, is he?"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ollie's Broody

Ollie finally decided to get seriously broody yesterday. So she sat all day in the nest box on...nothing. I felt sorry for her today and put two golf balls under her. She seems happy to have something to fidget and fuss with. I gave them to her at the edge of the nest box and she clucked happily as she tucked them underneath her warm bottom.

So in about 21 days I should have a lovely pair of Titleists running around the coop. Unless one of you folks out there would like to send me a couple of fertile eggs to put under this determined gal!

These peeps better watch out or Ollie will teach them a hard lesson. Maude seems intent on staring at her.

The peeps are 7 weeks old on Friday and they are learning to be big girls. They've begun roosting on this pine branch a few days ago. Aren't they cute up there? Don't they look smug and smart?