Monday, June 30, 2014

A break from chickens -- how about ducks?

Mutter duck has been sitting and sitting and sitting on eggs.  Throughout the past week, every now and then, an egg would be found next to the nest; sometimes cracked open, other times not.  Being the analyzers that we are, we tried to hypothesize what was going on.
At first, once the 28-day incubation period passed, we were worried that she sat on the nest of eggs too late and many of them were "dead"  :(   However, the three eggs we've found cracked open, off the nest (one as recent as three days ago), all showed signs of a developing duckling.  Did Mutter sense it had died and kicked it out of the nest?  Maybe.  I'm wondering though....... she would often leave the nest very early in the morning for a short water break.  I'm wondering if the Drake was raiding her nest during that time, cracking open eggs and kicking them out... ????  Would a Drake do that?  Would another female duck do that???  I really am a bit confused.  AND worried (at the time).

But not so worried any more!
FINALLLLY, the day has arrived that we've been pacing back-n-forth for!

One of the lil' ducklings has been hatched!!!  Mutter was being super motherly and extremely protective!  I was trying my darndest to get a picture of the duckling when I checked her during feeding time.  My goodness!  I couldn't get a picture!  She had the duckling tucked well under her (the top picture was the best I could get at that time.)  BUT, when I went out about 15 minutes later to show to girls..... the lil' guy was sitting, as cute as can BE, right next to Mutter!  She has three more eggs left under her;  naturally we're hoping all of them hatch out :)

In the afternoon, I did take about an hour to sit and relax with some new yarn I wanted to try.  We are in need of some new dishcloths, and ladies talk up about using cotton yarn for that purpose.  I've never used cotton.  It's definitely a different feel in the hands;  stiffer.  
The cloth ended up getting about 1/3 of the way done before my eyelids simply wanted a rest!  Paul and I were both up at 5AM and were starting our activities by 7AM.  A lil' rest at 2PM was an okay thing.

It was finished later on as I was sitting around our campfire.  It's stiff and the jury is still out about how good the yarn works for dishcloths.  Dare I say that I actually need to do dishes now in order to try it out???

There simply is no such thing as too many pictures of campfires!  And there is NEVER any such thing as eating too many marshmallows and/or s'mores!  ;D

Okay...10 more minutes, and then Paul and I are heading out to start our Monday!  Today's task:  butchering chickens!   The MEAT birds -- not any of our layer 'pets.'  The meat birds are bred and raised for the sole purpose of ending up in the chest freezer.  They are NEVER named in this household.  They have been at the stage of "barely able to walk" for the past week.  Truly; that's how they're bred!  They are fast growers (10-14 weeks) and BIG!  We'll be sure to weigh on of the breasts again.  Last year (if I remember correctly), we had one that weighed just over 2 pounds!  That's ONE side; ONE breast!   Thankfully, I'm merely Paul's helper assistant;  I don't get very hands-on with the butchering task. 

So, the chicken coop is being put on hold so that Paul can check the butchering task off of his list.  And then Paul heads back off to his shift work tonight, so the coop will, in fact, be set aside for a few more days :\  
Patience, dear grasshopper.  Right?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

New chicken condo - under construction

The 14 new chickens are celebrating their 7th day with us.  The transition has been reasonable, but it's time to get them permanently settled into their own coop.  Egg production has been kinda off due to the stress.  These 14 have not been given access to the coop we have attached to the run; we've shut off the access door.  I few of them have figured out how to fly up and out of the run, and I THINK they've figured out how to get into the coop from the main coop door that we've been opening and closing everyday for our original flock.  Some of the nesting boxes in the coop are being used that haven't been used before, and.... there have been more eggs in the coop than what our flock is able to produce.  But mostly, any eggs that these chickens are laying are scattered around the ground in the south chicken-run.  That's not okay.

These poor girls -- truly.  Stress doesn't help ANYONE, not even chickens!...
But, the stress isn't just affecting the new chickens...

... Cassie started cleaning up the north chicken-run on Friday, which will be the run available to the new chickens once a new chicken coop is made.  She came across a collection of eggs.  I am almost completely positive that these are Big Mama's eggs;  she's only one of two of our chickens that lays green eggs.   We left them alone, and when I went back to check on them yesterday (Saturday), there was another egg added to the 'nest.'  Poor Mama.  She's stopped using the nesting boxes.  I can only imagine why -- she has a favorite box, and it was occupied the other day by one of the new-chicken escapees.  

So it's time!

The coop materials were purchased on Thursday and much of the construction was done on Friday.

Cassie is developing into an excellent "farm-hand."  And I think she's been newly motivated by our Agriculture teacher...

... Being a 7th/8th grader, Cass is new to the FFA experience.  Our Ag teacher visits students in the summer; those interested in taking on projects, etc.  She visited us Friday morning; did a walk-around to see everything we offer and what Cassie could potentially concentrate on during her first true year of participation in/with SAEs.   "Poultry Production" is one area of interest -- certainly!

Documenting aspects of projects is important ---  PSSHHT!  Got that covered!  Pictures are always being taken around here.  And documented!  LOL.
So, once the Ag teacher left, Cassie grabbed the hand clippers and started trimming up the north chicken-run.  This will be the run that will be accessible to the new chickens once the new coop is completed and attached to the run.

A room with a view!  There are different opinions in various 'how to build a chicken coop' articles about whether or not coops 'need' windows.  This lil' addition is a simple, inexpensive slider variety.  It'll offer light for the chickens AND ventilation.  Would YOU like to live in a place without windows???   Silly, right?  Of COURSE we want to see light... and have air movement on those warm days!

Wouldn't you agree, Paul??

Once the new coop is done and placed alongside the north chicken-run, our plan will be to transplant the new chickens into the north run, and into THEIR coop-condo!  The south-run coop access door will be opened up again, and hopefully, our original flock will notice they have their original access to the coop again.   And they'll all live happily ever after! ???

Our flock wanders the yard during the day.  Maybe 1-2 weeks after settling into their new environment, the new chickens will be given access to the yard.  I really don't know how/if the two groups will eventually get along and play nice.

And THEN--- we'll have our nine chicks to deal with too!  I didn't record when we received them, but I think they are about 16 weeks old (give or take 2 weeks).  They currently are housed in a moveable ground-coop;  no nesting boxes (they don't need them yet), but no roosting bars either.  Their housing will be next to problem-solve.  I THINK we'll put them back into the south chicken-run (we kicked them out when we got Steve, the rooster), and give them access to the original coop.  We simply need to be sure Steve plays nice with them!!!!

And not to forget the NINETEEN eggs that are in the incubator!  LOL.  Oh boy! 
Cassie and I candled them on Friday (day 9).  Many, if not all (?), showed signs of growth and development.  It was kinda cool to watch the movement in the eggs, seeing the embryo dart around the egg!

Our chicken whisperer.

And, as much else is going on around the house...


Combing through weeds...

Finally finding the tiny green onion sprouts...

... treating the goats to our weeds

... picking strawberries

PROCESSING the strawberries!....


and stirring to make a couple batches of jam.

And fitting time into Friday night and all-day Saturday for a 3rd/4th grade Softball tournament. 

The days are filled with happy and fun living!  That's for sure :)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Strawberry wine -- maybe? HOPEFULLY!

I think this picture truly says it all!  The late nights and early mornings of summer are starting to catch up with this lil' girl.  I'm surprised I'm not more wiped out than what I am too.  Waking between 5-6AM every morning;  staying up well past 10PM --- and going nonstop inbetween! ;)



And THAT, my friends, is the biggggggest difference!  

Cassie put some hours in with the FFA Ag teacher this morning, helping weed the school gardens and flower beds.  I picked her up at noon;  we ate a lil' lunch, and then she was out with me in OUR gardens, weeding.  I had tilled up both gardens completely, but a few small patches needed our attention.  
Today:  we weeded the lettuce patch;  I had already finished the dill, tomatoes, peppers, beans and potatoes.  
The lettuce patch has taken up the location where our Heirloom Roma tomatoes were last year.  Some may know this already, but I didn't really grow up with gardening knowledge -- it's all been self-taught/learned over the past 10-or-so years.  Heirloom variety seeds were my new knowledge just a couple of years ago.  I never really paid attention to seed packages -- have you?  Did you know that Heirloom varieties will regerminate in future years if any seeds dry and fall to the ground???  Now I know.  And now I know why certain tomato plants over the years have popped up in various spots in the garden, year to year.

Anyway---while Cassie and I were weeding the lettuce, ......(shhhhhhhh, don't tell Paul)....... I transplanted 5 (or 6??) rouge Roma plants into my tomato patch. :D  I am now MAXED along the tomato fence line that we set up at the beginning of the garden season.  In fact, I probably have a couple too many along the fence, but....**shrug**... we'll see.  I'll sweet talk 'em into growing tall, and big, and they'll play nice with each other.

The strawberries were next on the list to tackle today.

Cassie was excited to see this one reach ripeness today;  she eyed it up the other night when we were picking.  Talking about a mutant!

We picked another 4 containers today, reaching almost 4 1/2 pounds.

Paul mentioned strawberry wine the other night and he looked up the recipe.  It called for either 3 or 4 pounds of strawberries, so this picking will (hopefully) get processed in order to start a batch of wine.  Wine-making is Paul's baby, but I'd like to follow along with the process this year.  It's a bit secretive and mysterious to me!

Happy Thursday -- golly.
I seriously just typed Happy Wednesday;  these days are starting to blend together!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Celtic Solstice progress, and more(?) chickens

With Cassie away all day with her FFA group, chilling and playing at Valley Fair, and the other two girls still in summer school classes, I decided to make today a ME day.  Truly.  I can't remember the last time when I had a day off -- ALONE.  And I think I've actually managed the feeling of guilt quite well today.
No garden.
No laundry.
No cleaning.
Not even emptying the dish washer.

I'm catching up on blogs and emails.
I've enjoyed wanderings outside, spying in on the chickens.
And I turned the sewing machine on for a couple of hours.

Celtic Solstice is getting bigger... slowly.  The first border was attached before turning the machine off for lunch.  And now that lunch is over, I'm thinking of putting my feet up, turning on some background noise, and spending the next few hours with some crochet.

On the way upstairs, I peeked in on the incubating eggs...

...having realized too late about candling the duck eggs, I grabbed a flashlight to do a quick check on our eggs entering day #7.

Oh.  My.
ALL NINETEEN of the eggs showed signs of blood vessel networks!  I'll candle them again in three days to see if the embryos are developing before I worry too much that we'll have another 19 chickens joining our flock soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Strawberries, and the Chicken Story

As hoped, our strawberries are starting to come into full swing.  This first lil' teaser handful was picked last Friday before heading out of town.  I knew we were going to need to get into the patch Sunday evening after returning from the Farm trip.  And certain enough, three quart containers were picked, cleaned and mashed up.  Today, Cassie and I picked a second time and filled 4 quart containers.  We're going to have plenty of strawberries this year for jam, jelly, wine (?), freezing...... what else can you do with strawberries?  We've never had a patch like this before. :)

Only after-the-fact, did I think about taking a picture of my breakfast this morning!    I figured with a dozen eggs in it, a slice of angel food cake and strawberries was perfect for the start of the day.

Over the weekend, I spent much of the time on the lawn mower at the Farm, or on the big tractor mowing part of the field.  But Saturday evening was spent on the porch swing, relaxing, and listening to the races happening a few hundred meters down the road.  The evening was GLORIOUS!!!

Sunday was filled with big plans and ambitions!!!  
A family friend contacted me via FB last week, asking if we wanted to adopt their 14 chickens.
Oh! Boy!  Would I!

Shortly after 1:00, we headed out from the Farm.  The trip was a quick 20 minutes, and when we arrived, Ms. Becca was awaiting.

I can only imagine how difficult this was for dear Becca.  She's raised them for the past few years, adding a few more girls to her henhouse each year.  When we caught the first chicken, I asked Becca who she was, what her name was, if she had any special needs and/or talents.  After loading the first few, Becca started sharing openly on her own about which chickens get along, which need to be separated, and all the silly quirks of personalities of these beauties.  She held Ruby for the last few minutes while we were settling all the carriers back into the van.  Ruby was definitely loved!  Becca informed us that Ruby will happily sit on your shoulders while you walk around, and she'll be the one to come a'running when you crouch down.

Lucy was another loved chicken -- she was given her own small carrier for the ride.
And how did we travel with 13 hens and 1 rooster?  We had two large dog carriers, one holding 3 chickens and another holding 4.  Rex the Rooster was given his own small carrier, as was Lucy.  Two other medium sized carriers held the other 4 chickens (2 in each).  The entire back, left side of the van was organized with seats in the sto-n-go, so room was actually quite adequate.  I LOVE our sto-n-go option on the Town-n-Country van!

For the most part, the two-hour trip went quite smooth.  The chickens hardly made any sounds, but.... they certainly challenged our limit of smell-tolerance!  LOL.  At one point, I DID hand over the air-freshener spray to the girls to give the van a slightly more pleasant smell.

We arrived home and unloaded the chickens first thing.  We hadn't really put much thought into where the new crew was going to live and sleep for the short-term.  For now, they are living in our southern chicken-run with a simple hodge-podged shelter area until Paul is able to build the new coop -- Thursday or Friday, I'm thinking.  

Judy L blogged about a couple different groups she has of chickens.  Groups of chickens can't just be thrown together.  Take a look at Steve the Rooster pictured above.  First, recall that he's new to our family just a couple of weeks ago himself, BUT he has transitioned beautifully with our 4 hens.  However...  he was cawin' and cacklin' and fluffing up when Lucy started taunting him through the fence.  Directly behind Lucy is Rex (the red rooster), and behind him--the white chicken with the black tail feathers you see -- that's Patti.  I think she's the alpha-hen!  When I visited the yard a bit after this picture, Steve was back at the fence; this time with Patti on the other side -- and the two of them were actually coming to blows with each other.  Patti would lunge a peck at Steve -- nail him on the head -- and Steve would retaliate by kicking up his spurs to attack her.  Instead of hurting her, though, he actually made himself bloody by attacking the fence.  Again, and again, and again.... I don't know how long it went on for;  3 minutes? 4? 5?  Eventually, they separated.    

Since then, Steve has kept his distance from the fence.  I also noticed a small limp in his step Monday morning.   All in due time, we hope.  But for now -- our chickens and the new group remain separated.

With all the excitement of getting them settled, and then picking strawberries, and unloading the car, and starting laundry, and unpacking, .......

... Paul rolled in from work carrying a package of goodies!  He was able to swing by our incubating buddy on his way home from work to pick up our share of the duck hatchlings!  So, while I brainstormed on chicken housing, Paul and Cassie started setting up a simple duckling establishment.  

It was after 10:00 before we all finally washed up and settled in for the evening.  ((although, I did head back outside around 10:20 to check on the chickens!  All was well)).

Monday morning, I rose with Paul at 5:00.  When he left for work at 5:45, I headed outside and did a lil' walk-about.  The chickens were all awake and accounted for.  
A bit later -- 'round 6:30, I decided I needed to head back out, just to make sure they were all still safe.  LOL.  Plus, I needed to open the coop door for our other chickens since we took away their in/out door by closing off the chicken run door.  
Rex the red rooster is the biggest rooster I have ever seen!  I mean -- he's easily TWICE the size of any other chicken we've ever had.  Patti, the large white/black chicken, isn't a small thing either.  Again, after observing the group together for a couple of days now, I think she's the ol' mother hen alpha-female of the group.  

And naturally, the girls are loving having another 14 pets around the yard!

Ruby really is a shoulder-percher!

And we think Elvira is too!  LOL.
I don't remember all the names of all the chickens, but there are a few who stuck with us.  
Ruby, the shoulder percher (red)
Daisy, the lightest red chicken
There are two other reds, but we don't remember their names.  Renaming will occur soon.

Elvira, the only white chicken

Patti, ol' mother hen (okay, that wasn't her real name -- we don't remember -- but she reminds us of a Patti;  named after a coworker!  LOL.)

Lucy, a black/white speckled chicken (gah!  I can't remember her breed!)
There is one other speckled chicken too, but lighter.

There are four black chickens, two of which were brooding at Becca's.  However, neither are showing signs of sitting on eggs right now.

And then there's a tigery-looking feathered one.  
Eventually, all of the chickens will get defining names -- I really wish I would have taken pictures of all of the chickens with Becca as we were loading them. :\  Hind-sight!

And JUST when I think we finally have reached some calm waters in the chicken department... 

OUR Red Mama decided to create some drama!
I didn't witness anything, but when I was walking from the garden this morning, I noticed her marching her way across the driveway, and.... she wasn't completely RED anymore!  I cocked my head to the side, and wondered what on earth.....  it looked almost as if... she had been dipped in a bucket of black paint. ???

Good lord, chicken!  She had found the small container of waste-oil that we had in the garage.  
Have you ever washed a chicken before?  LOL.  Thank goodness she was quite calm.  Dawn dish soap doesn't have the "Save the Animals" logo on their bottle for nothing!  I did the best I could, but she'll probably be a bit discolored for awhile.   I didn't dare take a picture of her once she was sent back outside with her friends;  she looked quite........ ummmm....... well, .... sad, I guess.  I can't really say she looked like a drowned rat.  She certainly wasn't her normal fluffy self.

Thankfully, she dried decently and fluffed back out by late afternoon.

And, of course, there has been plenty of gardening going on.  Tilling.  Weeding.  Watering.  
And chauffeuring girls around to summer school, softball and volleyball events.

Two weeks into summer break, and I have YET to really get much sewing done.  **shrug**
Different priorities right now taking precedence.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Strawberry Patch

Strawberries have been a plant that we've dabbled in over the past few years.  Our first patch was a DISASTER!  {{I'll blame Paul -- he planted them.}}  
I never grew up with strawberry plants so didn't know that they needed as much care as they do -- at least until established.  Little did I know that they also come back every year!  
The first patch was set in small, close rows, and we failed to stay on top of the weeds.  Fencing was placed around the small patch to keep the chickens out, which also deterred me from easily entering the patch for weeding.

Fast forward to 2012.  A local store had some plants on special, so Paul and I purchased two different varieties; 18 plants each.

The 2012 post briefly explains about the Paul vs. Amy strawberry battle...
...{{okay, it doesn't!  But hind-sight -- that's what it should have been called}}...

The 18 plants I planted were starting to shape up nicely in 2013....
Pampered 1 year olds:  June 29, 2013
Paul's patch -- not so.  I don't even have any pictures of Paul's patch;  none that I could find or remember, anyways.  The main difficulty I have with Paul's patch is the location he chose --- well off the beaten path, and far from a decent water source.  Sorry dear -- if you wanted me to help with your patch, they really needed to be closer. 

Paul's patch DID receive some TLC from me last year;  his two rows were condensed to one by transplanting any surviving plants.    This year, they are still alive, but they need some attention.  They really aren't planted in the best of soil -- my opinion, of course.

But MY patch----------

TOOK OFF LIKE CRAZY last Fall!  The cages were added to my patch last fall to keep deer away from nibbling the leaves.  Sadly, the chickens still get into the patch, but.... now that it's grown to the size it is, we may be able to forego the little bit of chicken damage that occurs.

Recall that at the end of May, I tried my hand at extending our/my patch by transplanting some of the daughter/runner plants.  I had never done it before.  I never read up on it.  I just thought-----what's it gonna hurt?  

Holy.  Cow!

Runner off of a transplanted 'daughter'
This here is a picture of one of the TRANSPLANTED plants!  I'm holding up a runner that is coming off the transplanted plant!  If you are new to strawberries -- they don't produce seeds to reproduce;  rather they start growing a runner (or MANY runners) off of an established plant.  

Another one of the errors we made with our first patch was NOT staying on top of the placement of the runners.  Lately, now that I know the new transplants are 'running,' I'm usually checking on them every other day and simply moving them into spots where I want plants to be.  It takes a few days for roots to develop off of the budding runners, so even if I miss checking every other day, I should be fine as long as I'm out at least once a week.

Runners from the established plot
They have a mind of their own -- certainly!  And now that the patch has grown to the size that it is ---- {{whispering}} --- I may truly be okay simply tilling over some of these runners just to keep them at bay!  It's like Strawberry Spaghetti Land out there!

Another tip that is said by established Strawberry farmers is to pinch off any blossoms during the year of transplant (and even the first year of growth).  This helps to promote growth to the plant rather than expelling and sharing energy between establishing a strong plant AND producing fruit. **shrug**
Since I'm not in this for selling -- I'll simply leave the blossoms and take any small fruit that is produced.

A few berries are starting to ripen -- if we can keep the chickens away for now!

So -- after two years of the new strawberry patch -- I'm excited to know that we should have strawberries for many years to come by simply regenerating the patch from new yearly 'daughters'.  So cool!  My established patch should easily be productive next year too before considering tilling it under; and by then, the new transplants this year should be well established two years down the line.  Yup.  Exciting for this hobby gardener.