Category Archives: Chickens!

Feathers and Fluffballs

We’ve had a whirlwind few days with chicks hatching and cheeping day and night.

Seven eggs had hatched fully by the end of Tuesday. It was getting a little crowded in the incubator, so we decided to risk  the 8th egg in order to get the other chicks in their new home, under a heat lamp and with food and water.

The incubator is temperature and humidity controlled to mimic the warmth of a mother hen sitting on her eggs. Once the egg has a pip, a small opening for the chick to work its way out, opening the incubator exposes the egg to dry air.

Drying the pip could make it more difficult for the chick to break through the egg without assistance.

The final egg had pipped before we opened the incubator, so we knew the risks.

After we had settled all of the chicks, we sprayed the sides of the incubator down with water to try and keep the humidity in and put the lid back on…and waited.

In the wee hours, the final egg hatched and a scraggly, wet little chick stumbled into the empty shells on clumsy claws. We let its feathers dry out a bit, before moving it with the others.

The boys and my nieces have named them all…although the names have changed frequently since we moved them.

Here’s the final list…for now.

Yellow Feather
Nita
Cheep Cheep
Sir Hubert McFeatherington
Fluffy
Fin
Cheepy
Flappy

A few of them have a couple gray dots like their father and they all have big feet with feathers on their legs.

This has been an exciting and amazing project for the boys. Joe has been so careful and gentle with the chicks and the eggs. He lets us know when it is time to leave the room so “the chicks can sleep”.

We’ve also learned a lot about the chicken…from anatomy to the lifecycle to how the chicks are able to go a few days without food and water.

I think the best part was when I asked Joe if he wanted to look at a piece of shell under the microscope.

While we were oohing and aahing over the little yellow fluffballs, my niece asked me “what if they are all roosters?”

Hmm. I didn’t consider that eventuality. Didn’t I order all hens? I’m sure Pecky and I talked about it, didn’t we?

Feathers and fluffballs
Yellow chicks with small gray dots
I hope they’re all hens

Hatching Our Own: Step 1

This week, we will start incubating the fertilized eggs we’ve been collecting.

Pecky and 5 hens have been separated for just 2 weeks. We gave them about a week to get settled and then started to collect the eggs for incubation rather than eating.

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Once we have 12 and I’ve tested the incubator, we will be ready to start the process.

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The incubator I ordered holds 9-12 eggs, automatically turns the eggs and keeps the temperature and humidity at the right spot…at least that is what is advertised. I’ll have to report back on the success.

The boys and I are very excited to get this started. Every time I collect the eggs from “Pecky’s Girls”, they ask if there are baby chicks in them yet.

We’ve talked about the life-cycle of a chicken, but we will delve deeper as we go through the process.

Pecky and his girls
Separated from the flock
A science project

Stripes

Last year, we slowly moved the chickens from the pasture to the kitchen garden. We started in August and moved them every few days until we were ready for them to do their work.

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At first, we didn’t notice it. The grass had yet to recover from their trampling and tilling. Sometimes we’d left them t0o long in one spot, so it was awhile before the grass grew back.

Then, one day, Ray looked out over the yard and saw it. A green path from the pasture to the kitchen garden. The path the chickens had created. It looked like one big, vibrant green, curving stripe.

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I wish we had taken pictures at the time. It is still visible, although faint in this brown, gray winter grass.

If we didn’t know the effect the chickens had on our soil before, we had concrete proof now.

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Animals, be they chickens, goats, rabbits or cows, are very beneficial to the garden, the homestead and life in general.

We saw a bright green stripe
Winding through the yard
From chicken feet and claws
Scratching without pause

Helping Hands

Although gray, the temperature is pretty mild so the boys and I went outside today to do some chores we’ve, er I’ve, been putting off.

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We moved some straw from the chicken coop to the herb spiral and started to cover the whole with wood chips.

This will keep the soil nice and moist so that, come planting time, it will be loose and easy to work with.

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The cats were a big help.

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The chicken coop was in dire need of a cleaning, so we shut the chickens in their run and got to work.

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While I scraped and pulled all of the dirty bedding out, the boys helped spread it in the spot the chickens had just vacated.

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Once all the hay was spread and the coop cleaned out, I started to lay more cardboard paths.

The cats, always ready to lend a paw, got involved.

They paced back and forth, inspecting my work and occasionally correcting the placement of the straw or attacking a villainous piece of cardboard that had the audacity to move.

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The boys, after spreading the straw bedding so vigorously, wandered off to dig a hole in the yard.

“We are planting an apple tree, Jake,” said Joe.

I watched as Joe directed the dig. They each took turns scooping a shovelful out and Joe encouraged Jake when he did a good job. I heard him explaining that roots would grow down in the ground from the seed they were going to plant.

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“Mom! There are worms hibernating!”

He ran over and showed me his find.

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Once they were satisfied with the depth of the hole, Joe marched inside to get the seeds. He planted two, “in case one didn’t grow”, and put the worm back in the ground “to help the tree grow”.

He then patted the dirt over it, watered it and marked it with a flag.

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I had not planned on turning our chore day into a lesson.

Joe took the initiative and started the project. He worked with the tools he had, taught Jake a few things about roots and praised him when he did a good job.

He was very proud of his work.

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I was too.

An Opossum Poem

The sound of the door
Sliding’ cross the track
Is soft and just a whisper
But heard by both our cats

A gray streak from the pasture
A dark blur from the yard
Both streaming to the backdoor
Both sprint and run so hard

Sometimes we move too slowly
Both sneaky cats get in
We find them in the basement
Sleeping chin to chin

I let them lounge a little
Especially if it’s cold
I scratch their ears and pet them
A fuzzy cat to hold

They’re great at hunting critters
They’re swell at catching birds
But face them with a ‘possum?
They’re neither seen nor heard

One snuck into the hen house
And filled the girls with dread
The cats were sleeping on the job
All snuggled in their bed

You’d think they would be sorry
You’d think they’d show regret
But they just meow as if to say
“What did you expect?”

The Expert

You have to approach her slowly
Try not to let her see you
Sneak quietly behind her
And maybe tiptoe too

You have to crouch behind her
And softly say her name
And when she starts to walk away
You POUNCE like it’s a game

Then hold her close beside you
And pet her ’til she’s calm
That’s how you catch a chicken
Yep, I’m the expert, Mom!

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Kitchen Garden 2017

It’s only January, but with the seed catalogs beckoning me, I’m itching to get my hands in the soil.

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I know, I know. It will be awhile before that can happen.

But in the meantime…

I’ll be dog-earing the pages in my favorite seed catalogs.

I’ll be making lists for the kitchen garden, the vineyard, the fedge and the swales.

I’ll be looking at last year’s lessons learned and drawing up this year’s kitchen garden, fedge, vineyard and swale plans.

I’ll be dreaming of all the herbs, veggies, berries and grapes that are sure to grow on the homestead this year.

Will this be the year the apple trees blossom?

Will it be the year we finally get kiwi?

Will we, at long last, be cutting asparagus to eat rather than watching (mournfully) as it grows taller and taller so we can chop it down and shake out the seeds?

How I hope it will!

But before I can harvest all of this wonderful produce, the plans need to be drawn up and the seeds planted…starting with the kitchen garden.

The plans this year are not quite as aggressive as the past few year’s have been.

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I’m cutting down from 15 squares, to 8. For the past two years, I’ve let the weeds take over due to time constraints and a little laziness. I’m hopeful that with 8 plots, I’ll be able to better manage the crops as well as have time to do some serious chopping and dropping during the season.

I’m not planting as many tomatoes this year, not because I don’t want them, but because I know we will have a zillion volunteers that will need new homes.

I’ve planned for enough herbs and marigolds to help ward off pests, but the majority of the herbs will be in my herb spiral…last year’s big success.

I’m moving the squash arch closer to the deck. Why you ask?

Well…I did not take the chickens into consideration when I built it smack in the middle of the garden.

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I had to sacrifice the garlic I planted under it so that the chickens could continue their work fertilizing the soil, making it ready for the spring planting…I sure hope they enjoy it.

Kitchen garden plans
Sketched and colored in the cold
Drawn up in the cold

So…Now What?

From Halloween to Christmas we are in a whirlwind of activity.

There’s food, family and friends.

There’s shopping, cooking, eating.

There’s planning, writing silly stories about elves and–did I mention eating?

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We spend quality time with family and friends and we make resolutions for the upcoming year. Habits we will break, books we will read, changes we will make and skills we will acquire.

We are kept so busy by all of the holiday hubbub that when the sun sets on January 1st, we feel a little lost…at least I do.

What do I do now? Now that Christmas is over and I’m determined to start this year off with a bang? I used to make a million resolutions. All the cliches were on my list.

I’ll start eating right and exercising.

I’ll spend less time on the computer.

I’ll follow a cleaning calendar…ha!

Normally, these resolutions run out of steam after a month…maybe two.

This year, I’ve listed our homestead goals, but I’ve also doused them with reality. I know that I will not complete some of them and I’m ok with that.

This year, I’ve made a few, general resolutions so I won’t feel overwhelmed when I look at my list.

Yes eating right and a cleaning calendar are on my list again, but I’ve removed the pressure and given myself permission to fail…one candybar does not mean I have to wait until 2018 to start all over again.

This year, I’ve asked for help and support from my family, my friends…myself.

Goal #1 – Grow my Blog
My husband is going to help me with this one. He’s going to push me and remind me to share, look for ways to reach more people and provide more quality content via YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Goal #2 – Follow a Loose Daily Schedule
I have one for cleaning, I have one for school and I have one for blogging. I’m going to try to follow them. I’m going to believe that I will follow them. I’m going to know that it’s ok if I don’t follow them exactly.

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Goal #3 – The Garden
Even though I’ve listed this as the 3rd goal, as in previous years, it is the biggie.

So many lessons we’ve learned and so many new and exciting methods to try, plants to sow, trees to grow and processes to implement.

It. Is. Overwhelming.

Overwhelming, but exciting. My seed catalogs have already started to arrive. I’ve started pre-planning in my head and jotting ideas down in my gardening notebook.

I need to map out the kitchen garden. The squash arch will be moved closer to the deck and the garlic will be planted between rows.

I need to research how to make peppers and cucumbers grow in our soil and order seeds. I will not go overboard this year!

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We need to make sure the trees get fertilized and pruned.

We need to continue watching the videos on plant propagation and transplanting so we can implement the methods at the right time.

And the chickens!

We need to butcher a few more to make room for new ladies and fill our freezer.

We are going to try hatching our own chicks this year. It will be a great project and learning experience for the boys (and us). But, since Pecky is a blue cochin and the ladies are pearl white leghorns, we will likely not get great egg producers.

We’ll need to research and order new chicks. I’m not sure we will go with the leghorns again. They are aggressive, peck at hands and they’ve all been really mean to poor Pecky.

Who knew that such cute little chicklets would become such mean little hens.

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So, now what? Now, we plan, we plant, we learn and we grow.

Now what do we do?
Since the holidays are through?
We plan and we grow

13 in 17: No, Really

When I pulled up last year’s list of skills/resolutions we made for our homestead to prep for this post, I was a little shocked.

Shocked because we hadn’t looked at it since I wrote it in January.

Shocked because we’d failed to move forward on 5 of the 13.

Shocked because we barely made any progress on the majority of them.

I felt like we failed Homesteading 101.

Then, I found a post I’d forgotten I’d written. After I re-read it, I went from feeling like a failure to feeling like a success.

  • We planted 65+ trees.
  • We built a new, bigger run for the chickens.
  • We learned that we are not rooster people.
  • We expanded the vineyard.
  • We transplanted seaberries and blackberries.
  • We built a squash arch.
  • We built an herb spiral.

I’ve learned that nothing is certain. That even the greatest intentions can be pushed aside for those unexpected opportunities that pop up.

So this year, I’m listing the same goals and resolutions as last year.

I know other things will come up and we may switch gears to follow something else. I’m not going to feel bad or guilty about failing the skills below because I know that no matter what, we will learn and move forward.

1. Writing
I’ve been submitting to magazines and publishers after learning SO much in the workshop I attended in May. I’m going to continue to push forward and accept failures, learn from criticisms and take more risks.

2. Seed Saving
We saved more okra and amaranth seeds than we can use. This year, we are going to start saving tomato and pepper seeds too.

3. Concealed Carry
Another goal we have not tackled. We found a range near us that offers the class, but I want to get some range time in and get comfortable holding, handling and shooting my gun.

4. Essential Oils
I’ve been using and diffusing essential oils on a weekly basis. I will continue to use them and learn more about natural remedies for common ailments.

5. Back to “prepping”
I want to step this up. It’s an easy one and it is silly that, beyond ordering a few kits from Amazon, we’ve not made progress.

Our goal is to get back to food rotation and copy canning so that we have at least 6 months of meals.

6. Curriculum Planning
This is the one goal that I feel REALLY good about. The boys and I have a routine that often gets disrupted…and that’s ok.

8. Stocks and Investing
Ray has learned quite a bit about the stock market and investing. I have not.

This year, I’d like to start an investment club with friends. It will force me to learn and ask questions about the stock market and investing.

9. Fitness
I have let this one slide. This year, I’ll try to have a set routine…especially because the boys can go to a Kids Get Fit class while I work out.

10. Blogging
I had 268 followers at the end of 2015 and I have 362 followers now. Not too shabby! However, I can do better. I’ve started to share my blog posts on more social networks like Twitter and Pinterest. I’ve also created an Instagram account for my blog so I can share pictures of what we are up to.

11. Tree Care
This year we planted more than 70 trees, but have done little to make sure they will thrive. We are taking a “survival of the fittest” stance, but I think that might really be an excuse for not putting the effort in to make sure they survive (ie, laziness).

I’m determined to prune, fertilize and care for all of these trees…even those that seem on the verge of death.

12. Propagation
In an effort to at least start this goal, we’ve watched two videos on propagation.

We’ll continue watching these videos so that we can execute what we’ve learned in the Spring.

13. Brewing
Nothing has changed since last year on this one.

“We know how to brew and we know how to make wine…but I don’t remember the last time we’ve actually done either. We’ll be focusing on getting our kegs full and learning more about making meads and cysers from fresh fruit.”

We have a 8 gallon bags of grapes, blackberries and aronia that we will be making into wine this year. No, really.

No, really we will
No excuses for failure
No, really we will

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Mischief Makers: The Visitor

Glitter and Nim sat at the table, munching marshmallows and brainstorming.

“We could climb Christmas bows,” said Glitter.

“I guess,” said Nim in a that-doesn’t-sound-like-very-much-fun voice.

“We could make a marshmallow pool and go for a swim,” said Glitter.

“Nah, we’ve done too much with marshmallows this season. We need to come up with something more Christmas-y.”

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Glitter paced back and forth on the counter, wracking her brain for a fun way to greet the boys in the morning. It was then that she remembered.

“Feathers!” she shouted as she galloped to the craft room.

Nim looked after her wondering if she’d lost her mind. In a flash she was back with two packages of feathers, one red and one white.

“I remember seeing these when I was searching for tape to put up the bowling alley,” she said. “I could use them to dress up as a partridge in a pear tree.”

Nim’s eyes lit up.

“Or, we can be two turtle doves,” said Nim zooming to Glitter and picking up the other package.

Excited, they both started to attach white and red feathers to themselves. Nim laughed when he spotted Leonard. He pointed to the stuffed rein-raffe.

“If we add Leonard, we can be three French hens!”

As they started to plaster feathers to Leonard, they heard a sing-song voice behind them.

“Could I join in? Then we could be four calling birds.”

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Nim spun around. Lil was perched on the top of a jar, smiling at them.

“Lil!” cried Nim. “What are you doing here?”

“Gee, happy to see you too Nim,” she joked.

Nim flew and gave her a big hug. Then, he turned to introduce her to Glitter.

“Lil, meet Glitter. She’s my new partner in mischief.”

Glitter pawed the ground and walked forward.

“Nice to finally meet you, Lil.”

“You too Glitter!” Lil said with enthusiasm. “I hear you’ve been a good influence on our Nim here.”

Glitter looked and Nim and smiled.

“Well, I think we’ve both been a good influence on each other.”

Nim agreed and smiled at both his new and his old partner.

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“How long can you stay? Maybe you can help us get into our three French hens costumes,” said Nim.

“I can stay until morning and help keep an eye on the boys.”

Nim looked at Lil in surprise.

“But,” he said. “What about the girls? Won’t they miss you?”

“The girls went out of town and won’t be back until tomorrow night so I’ll be able to stay all day!”

“Then…we really can be four calling birds!”

Nim and Glitter both beamed. Nim, because his best friend had come and Glitter because she genuinely liked Lil.

They helped each other get into costume and then took their places.

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“We kind of look like the chickens,” giggled Lil.

Nim, Lil and Glitter all laughed, sharing in the fun.

“The boys will be so excited to see you Lil!” said Nim.

“It will be fun to see them again too,” said Lil, smiling brightly.

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Nim grew serious, but just for a moment. He soon grinned gleefully and looked forward to the boys waking up.

He couldn’t wait to see their faces.

Kindness Act
Make cards for nursing home residents.

Nim’s Joke
What did Mrs. Claus say to Santa when she looked in the sky?
Looks like rain, dear.

Elfie

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